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“Are you going out to the site tonight?”

Alys silenced them with a single, two-fingered whistle that made the desk clerk jump. “Sorry.” She scooped up the key cards to the rooms and began handing them out. “Charles, you have to share the bath with your roommate, which means no two-hour showers, please. Chan, once you’ve settled in, bring the GPR to my room; I’ll check it over myself. Brenda, your per diem covers food, not room service, eating experiences, alcohol, pay-per-view, massages, manicures, any form of personal grooming, or items from any of the hotel boutiques. Jordan, no one is going out to the site until tomorrow afternoon, and that includes me. Paolo, what guy is looking for me?”

“He didn’t give a name.” The exchange student from Madrid nodded toward the bar. “He went in there. He’s a big guy. He sounded British, I think.”

“You mean that tall, streaky-haired eye-candy man?” Brenda fluttered her hand over her heart. “He was delish. Seriously. Guy like that makes you want to run for a spoon.”

“Do try to curtail your cannibalistic urges,” Alys advised, frowning a little as the other interns snickered. “I suggest all of you go to your rooms, unpack, freshen up, call home, order some pizzas—no beer, please, Brenda—and get yourselves organized while you have the time.” She picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. “Work hours at the site begin at sunset and end at dawn, so stay up as late as you possibly can before you go to sleep. That will help reset your biorhythms.”

“I still think it’s beyond weird, that we can excavate the place only at night,” Alys heard Brenda say to Charles as they dragged their wheeled cases over to the elevators. “How are we supposed to find anything in the dark, out there in the middle of nowhere? Is she crazy?”

The elevator doors closed before Alys could hear the other intern’s response, but she could imagine it. Why do you think they call her Alys in Wonderland?

She didn’t blame the students; half of them probably weren’t planning to list the dig on their CVs. If she didn’t find anything to prove her theories, none of them would.

I am not going to fail.

Alys walked over to the bar, and stood just inside the open entryway to inspect the patrons. A big guy who might sound British. She saw businessmen with loosened ties and rumpled suits who sat nursing scotch and bourbon at the bar; a few women in cocktail dresses clustered in tight, martini- and margarita-studded constellations around tables so small they resembled stools.

A slight shift in the shadows drew Alys’s eyes to one man standing with his shoulders against a back wall.

The crystal chandeliers overhead sketched him with thin slashes of amber light, from the tigereye streaks in his thick sorrel hair to the blunt toes and buckled straps of his dull black boots. His shoulders and chest filled out his leather jacket with enough bulk to make Alys think bodybuilder, but the elegance of his strong hands belonged to a musician, and the long, beautifully muscled stretch of his legs suggested an athlete. He was the tallest and most well-built male in the bar.

Big guy.

He was watching her as well, and set aside a half glass of red wine before he started toward her, moving through the loose maze of tables and patrons without effort or notice of them.

Fascinated now, Alys began mentally compiling an observational construct of facts: No hesitancy intent gaze unhurried step tailored garments handmade boots red wine negligent grooming physically fit. The words and their associated images floated in her mind, weaving in and out of one another as she applied her acquired knowledge and her intuition to arrange them together into a cohesive assemblage.

Due to innate short- and long-term memory limits, forming such constructs was beyond most people’s capabilities; few had the natural capacity to acquire and retain the bewildering amount of data, much less sort it into multiple paradigms. Alys, however, had possessed the unique talent from birth.

From the connections she failed to make between her observations and her knowledge assemblage base, she concluded that he was not an academic, a hotel employee, or anyone with whom she had prior acquaintance. Nothing about his dress or demeanor indicated anything about him, except that he liked to drink wine.

For her that made him the rarest of men: a complete enigma.

The mystery man didn’t stop at a polite distance but walked up to her as if he meant to greet her with a hug. Unused to having her personal space invaded with such nonchalance, Alys took a cautious step back. At the same time a warm pocket of scent followed her, lacing the next breath she took with the piquant but luscious fragrance of burnt sugar and cream.


Alys realized her mouth was watering, and swallowed before she asked, “Are you the gentleman looking for Dr. Stuart?”

“I need a word with him, yes.” His voice played the words like low notes from a cello, and colored them with a faint accent. “Has he finally got himself here?”

Twenty years melted away as Alys stared at him and heard two different questions. Do you see that rock, child, the one sticking up from the path? And the old root just before it?

“Are you feeling unwell?” the man was asking her.

He has a British accent. That’s all. Annoyed with herself, Alys shook off the old memory. “I’m sorry; we’re rather busy at the moment. You should call the hotel later and make an appointment. Or you could give me your card and I’ll have Dr. Stuart call you.” In four weeks, when she’d finished the most important work of her career, she silently tacked on.

“I haven’t any cards.” He bent his head, and his cool breath whispered against her skin as he asked, “What is your name, love?”

Love. He called me love. Alys felt her astonished heart skip a beat before her mind sorted it out. British colloquialism, a term of friendly, casual address.

“My name is Alys.” Despite her refusal to help him, the man didn’t seem annoyed with her. His stance remained confident, his gaze direct. He’d also managed to eliminate another inch between them without her noticing. If he came any closer, he’d practically be on top of her.

Was he attempting to wheedle information from her by using physical intimidation? She couldn’t feel afraid of him, not with that voice. Not with the way it made her feel.

“You’ve a pretty name, Alys.” He stunned her again by lifting his hand and stroking the pad of his thumb along her cheek. “It suits you. Now be a good girl and go fetch Dr. Stuart for me.”

The light caress confused her, as most physical contact did. She’d learned that unsolicited touching by males was often a demonstration of sexual interest. Over the years she’d learned to anticipate and avoid some of that. This time, however, it didn’t irritate her. In fact she found his unwarranted touching disturbing—and exciting.

Indulgent tone relaxed features gentle physical contact. He seemed to be in a state of amusement. Pairing that with his directive, she concluded that he’d mistaken her for one of the interns.

He thinks I’m a kid.

Well, that was nothing new, and as good as he smelled and as comforting as his voice sounded, he was a stranger. Alys knew better than anyone what strangers were capable of. “I’m sorry, but I have to go now. It was nice to meet you. Good-bye.”

Beaumaris knew some humans were born with the natural ability to resist l’attrait, the scent produced by the Kyn that allowed them to influence and control mortals. A few were even immune to it, but those mortals were so rare that he had never before personally encountered one.

Until now.

He watched Alys as she retreated into the lobby, her limbs easy in her loose khaki garments, a thick bunch of her fiery hair bobbing from where she’d pulled it through the back of her cap. She intercepted a porter to speak with him before moving onto the elevators. Not once did she glance back at him again.

To her I am nothing more than a human male in a bar.

Beau had not bothered with mortal females for so long that the annoyance he now felt with this one gave him pause. Like all Kyn, he had indulged himself with human women from time to time, enjoying their welcoming warmth and the fragile sweetness of their passions. None had ever touched his heart, however, and over the centuries the lovers he had taken had become an endless procession of willing lips and caressing hands, the blur of their features fading from his memory even as he slipped out of their beds.

Alys. Even her name intrigued him.

This cheeky wench had been neither willing nor welcoming; perhaps that was what rendered her so singular. Her taste in clothing was nothing short of appalling, but even her wretchedly fitted garments could not disguise her charms. Tall and slender as a yearling filly, Alys had been graced with skin like sunlit snow, the eyes of a fawn, and the mouth of an enchantress.

Save for that startled look she had given him when he’d first spoken to her, she’d also shown as much interest in him as she might a potted plant.

Testing the depth of her resistance would please him to no end, but Beau had to find Stuart. Once she had disappeared from view, he began making his way along the bar. None of the men answered to the name or knew the man he sought. Exasperated, Beau went to the reception desk, and compelled the clerk to give him a key card to Stuart’s room on the seventh floor.

From outside the door to Stuart’s room he heard the sound of the shower, and let himself in. He didn’t interrupt the mortal’s bath, but used the time to inspect the man’s cases. He carried no weapons, but had filled one case with electronic gadgetry, and a second with large, old books. Beau opened one volume to read the title page, but the words were beyond his understanding.

He tossed the book back into the case, infuriated with his own anger. As a mortal he had been taught to fight, not read; in his immortal life shame had compelled him to hide his ignorance from the other Kyn. When the Realm had nearly fallen to Byrne’s bastard half brother and his Saracen conspirators, Beau had realized that his own, long-kept secrets could be revealed someday. A week after Jayr had been named suzeraina, Beau had gone into the city to seek a solution.

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