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He soon learned that anyone could enroll in a literacy class at one of the public libraries; the mortals who taught them were volunteers who required no payment in return. Even better, most were held after sunset, to benefit those who were obligated to work during the day.

His first teacher, a retired librarian with seeming endless patience, had prevented him from giving up several times that first month. “Reading is like learning another language,” Mrs. Decker would say. “You can’t expect to be fluent from the start. You must learn, and practice what you learn.”

As Darkyn, Beau knew himself to be superior to mortals in almost every way; as a reader he discovered he was painfully slow, and made many mistakes. Mrs. Decker began asking him to stay behind after the class was dismissed to work with her for another half hour.

“You’re fighting this too much, my dear,” she’d told him after he’d struggled through a line from his primer. “Words are not bombs, ready to explode if you fumble them. Think of them more as gifts, under the Christmas tree, waiting to be unwrapped.” Her finger went to the line he’d mangled. “Sally. You know that’s the name for the little girl in the story. Blue is the color of the sky on a summer day. Ball is her brother’s favorite toy.”

Beau nodded, and sounded out the word in the middle of the line. “Kicks.” He thought for a moment. “What Sally wants to do to her brother’s…toy.”

Mrs. Decker had chuckled. “Exactly.”

Beau heard the shower shut off, and replaced the book in the case. Once he used l’attrait to bring the professor under his control, he would interrogate him and learn how much he knew about the renegades, and how best to lure their leader into Beau’s hands.

The bathroom door opened, and Alys walked out, her hands busy tucking a towel around her damp body. Beau was so astonished to see her that at first all he did was stare. She stopped as soon as she saw him, turned, and ran for the door.

Beau reached it before she did and slapped a hand against it to keep it shut. She spun around him, and without thinking, Beau clamped an arm around her waist. “You needn’t—”

She kicked back at him, knocking them both off-balance. As they fell forward, Beau brought up his free arm so that it would land on the carpet before her face, and used it to keep most of his weight off her.

“Be still,” he said into her arm as she wriggled under him. Her warm, damp body smelled of almond-scented soap over her own fiery scent. She was not afraid, he realized, but furious, and the scent he was shedding was not affecting her in the slightest. “I am not here to hurt you.”

Beau lifted up enough to roll her onto her back, but when she struck at his face, he pinned her wrists to the carpet. When he glanced down, he saw that her towel now lay wadded under her. That was what burned through his garments against his cool skin—the bare front of her body.

“I’ll fight you,” she promised, her voice echoing the trembling of her body, “and whatever you do to me, I will hurt you.”

“This is a mistake.” Beau started to lift himself from her, and then stopped. “I did not come here to assault you, or see you naked, or whatever you are thinking.”

“You’re on top of me,” she snapped. “I’m naked. You have an erection. What am I supposed to think?”

“I do not.…” Bloody hell, he was as hard as a club. Softening his voice, he said, “I apologize.”

“I’ll press charges,” she promised. “After I hurt you.”

Beau released her wrists, and pushed himself up, turning away as quickly as he could. “Cover yourself now, girl.” He could hear her crawling backward and wrapping the towel. “I came to see—”

She tried to get at the door again, and he was obliged to trap her against it.

“This didn’t work for you the last time,” Beau told her. “We can roll about on the floor again, or you can listen to me and stop trying to run out of here screaming.” She instantly opened her mouth and took in a deep breath, forcing him to clamp his hand over her lips. “That was not a suggestion.”

She made an angry, muffled sound.

“Listen to me. I can stuff something in your mouth”—Christ Jesus, why had he said that?—“or you can promise me you will not scream by nodding. What’s it to be, then?”

Over the edge of his hand, her eyes narrowed, and then she gave a single nod. As soon as he took his hand away, she said, “Would you please get off me?” When he shifted his body away from hers, she ducked under his arm and retreated a safe distance. “Now get out of here or I’ll call security.”

“I can’t. I have business with Dr. Stuart.” When she moved toward the phone, he added, “I did check with the front desk. The clerk said that his room number was seven fourteen, and unless they’ve changed the numbers in the last three minutes, this is room seven fourteen.”

She picked up the receiver, placing it on her shoulder before she hitched up the front of the towel. “How did you get in here?”

“You left the door ajar.” She wore no ring on her wedding finger, and she didn’t behave like a wife. Beau’s lust darkened as he imagined her long, graceful body spread beneath some rutting, gray-haired scholar—but surely she was too young for that. “Forgive me, but who are you? The professor’s daughter?”

“I didn’t leave the door open.” Doubt flickered over her features, and her confusion made her seem even younger. “At least I don’t think I did.” She slowly replaced the receiver. “I’m Dr. Stuart. The only Dr. Stuart.”

“You can’t be.” He studied her. “I’m looking for Dr. Al Stuart.”

“That’s me,” she insisted. “A. L. Stuart. I use my initials for professional purposes.”

Beau dragged a hand through his hair. “You’re a woman, and hardly more than a child.”

“I’m twenty-six, and I earned my first PhD when I was twenty-one. Excuse me, but I’m uncomfortable talking to you like this.” She unzipped a backpack and bent over to rummage through it. “Why did you assume I was a man?”

Beau caught himself admiring the long, elegant lines of her bare legs. “Tremayne told me your name was Al Stuart. When we spoke in the bar, you knew I was looking for a man.”

“I didn’t know who you were or what you wanted, so I was simply being careful.” She straightened. “You should have mentioned that you were from the Hylord Foundation.”

He inclined his head. “I also happen to be cautious with strangers.”

“You mean, when you’re not tackling them?” She scooped up a robe from the end of the bed. “I have the preliminary excavation schedule prepared. I was going to fax it to Ireland in the morning.” She shrugged into the robe, turning her back to him as she let the towel drop to the floor and tied the belt. “I also plan to file progress reports twice a week, if that’s acceptable.” She faced him, her features completely composed, but her scent still hot with anger and something more. “Are you with Hylord’s local office? Should I e-mail a copy to you?”

Obviously the girl was immune to l’attrait, which meant he would have to rely on persuasion. “I have been sent by the—by Hylord—to oversee your project.”

That startled a laugh out of her. “You’re an archaeologist?” When he shook his head, her gaze went from his face to his chest and toes, and then flashed up again. “What other digs have you worked on?”

He couldn’t deceive her on that score. “This would be my first.”

Her jaw set. “I’m sorry, but I can’t have this.”

“It’s done,” he assured her. “I’m yours.”

Her scent abruptly cooled. “This project is very problematical. I have a great deal of work to do in a very short amount of time.” As even as her tone was, her eyes filled with some strange emotion, as if she regretted the words she spoke. “I can’t afford to be distracted by someone like you.”

She had no choice in the matter, but still her rejection rankled. “Why do you believe that I would be a hindrance?” He gestured at the carpet. “Other than the unfortunate tackling incident, which, I promise, will not be repeated.”

“In order to make accurate reports to the foundation on my progress, you’ll have to shadow me constantly.” Her lips twisted. “That is the real reason they sent you, isn’t it, Mr.…ah…?”

“Beauregard York.” He offered the Americanized name that he used when among mortals. “Do call me Beau.” He gave her his most fetching smile as he lied to her. “I was not sent here to spy on you, Dr. Stuart.”

“Logic dictates no other alternative,” she informed him. “Your foundation has been very generous, but they’ve also made several stipulations to ensure secrecy. This is the first major project I’ve conducted, making me unproven in the field. My peers already consider my theories to be everything from unfounded to ludicrous.”

Beau was surprised she could speak so calmly about it. “What would make them believe that?”

“When the Order of the Knights Templar was disbanded by the pope, some were able to escape. According to my research, at least one of them fled Europe for the Spanish Main, and then sailed from there to Florida. I believe he came here with a group of Spanish priests and with them founded a mission to convert the Timucua natives.” She hesitated, tugging at the belt of her robe. “My colleagues think that is nonsensical, but what they flatly refuse to accept is my theory as to the Templars’ other motive for coming here.”

“You have a second theory?”

She nodded. “Before he left the mission, the Templar concealed something very old and valuable there. I’ve never been able to precisely identify the artifact he left behind, but I have a very good idea of what it is. I’ve also published several articles in trade magazines about it, which is why my colleagues think I’m crazy.”

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