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“I expect you have much to consider,” Leeds said, as if reading her mind. “There is no reason for me to return to Italy immediately, so if it would be agreeable to you, I should like to offer my services as tresora on a trial basis. Would a month be sufficient time for you to evaluate my performance? It may help you and your household to decide if I am the right man for the job.”

“I think it would.” Jayr glanced at Byrne, who was scowling. “This is very generous of you, Mr. Leeds.”

“My motives are not entirely unselfish,” the tresora admitted. “I should like to see if living in America and managing your household will suit me as well.”

None of the other candidates had made such an offer, and it would give the man a chance to prove himself. To me and Byrne. “That seems quite sensible,” Jayr said, and rose to her feet. “Very well, Mr. Leeds. You have your month.”

“Thank you, my lady.” He stood, giving her a respectful bow before turning to Byrne. “My lord, I know your mortal staff is still on holiday. Could you spare one of your men to show me about the premises?”

“I will give you the tour myself,” Jayr said before Aedan could answer. “I am interested to know how our arrangements compare to those in Europe.”

“I can tell you that we don’t have gift shops or snack cafés.” As a knock sounded on the door, Leeds went to it. “Your submersible bridges are enviable as well. Are they operated by hydraulics?”

Harlech eyed the tresora before he stepped inside. “Forgive the intrusion, my lady, but the stable master has asked if Lord Byrne would look at one of the mares. She may have the colic.”

“No trouble, Captain.” Jayr introduced him to Leeds. “Devan will be with us for at least the next month. Please advise the men accordingly.”

“Yes, my lady.” Harlech nodded to the tresora, who followed Jayr out into the corridor.

The phone rang while Alys was in the middle of running a diagnostic on the GPR, and when she ignored it, Chan asked, “Do you want me to get that, Dr. Stuart?”

“Right. Sure.” She watched the screen as she thumbed through the troubleshooting manual and studied the potential errors. Without the ground-penetrating radar fully operational, she would be digging blind, and with only four weeks to work, she couldn’t afford to guess where she might find some evidence of the fountain.

At least I won’t have to dodge him.

Being distracted yet again by the thought of Beauregard York annoyed and pleased Alys; she had no reason to dwell on the man, but the fact that she did illustrated how right she’d been to keep him off her team.

I can stuff something in your mouth.…

Attending an all-girls boarding school in Switzerland had effectively sheltered Alys from the opposite sex. Only when she had begun her studies at university did she first encounter the sexual side of social interaction. For a brief time she had even applied herself to study it, although the majority of sexual behaviors among her peers seemed largely a by-product of separation anxieties, self-esteem issues, or stress. She’d watched many of her classmates engage in short-term pseudo-relationships, which they used as cover for the physical liaisons they craved.

She’d also personally experimented with sex herself, several times. It had seemed more attractive than drinking alcohol, a small amount of which she quickly discovered made her violently ill, or the other mind-altering substances her fellow students indulged in, which she avoided because they were illegal. While the mechanics of sex were initially somewhat interesting, the actual pleasures involved were no more exciting or fulfilling to her than a 5K run, or several hours working out at the student gym.

The emotional outpourings and expectations of her partners, on the other hand, had alternately repelled and perplexed her. One of the boys she’d slept with, a computer programming major, had used their first postcoital interlude to profess an undying love for her. He’d also become instantly obnoxious when she refused to verbally reciprocate.

Explaining her opinion on the matter had not improved the situation. “Love is an artificial emotional construct. It provides justification for your pursuit of physical gratification, which you would otherwise consider shameful.” She’d been curious about the reason for that, which had prompted her to ask, “Did your parents raise you in an environment with an emphasis on religion?”

“If I wanted to screw a computer, Aly,” he’d told her as he’d jerked on his clothes, “I’d have borrowed one from the lab.”

After that, Alys had stopped engaging the opposite sex; being found less than a desirable partner had inflicted feelings of inadequacy for which she had no use. Her inability to form emotional bonds with others seemed to be an integral part of her disposition. Since she could no more change who she was than she could have told the computer geek that she loved him, Alys accepted her partner’s rejection and moved on.

In the years since she’d left college, Alys had learned to be less analytic and more personable in public. Now around others she kept her thoughts to herself while imitating those social behaviors that allowed her to function successfully within most groups. Until tonight, when Beau York had barged into her room, and knocked her to the floor.

Why can’t I stop thinking about him?

It wasn’t merely the ghost of his voice, whispering in her head. If the handsome Brit could distract her this much from her work, then his presence at the site would probably reduce her female interns into a pack of fawning little acolytes. Brenda, whose interest in the opposite sex was already a little too well developed, would likely spend the entire four weeks scheming her way into the man’s tent.

Something twisted in her middle as Alys imagined finding her student sleeping with Beau. Is that how he manages things? By seducing coeds?

“Dr. Stuart?” Chan had to repeat her name two more times before she looked up to see him holding out the receiver. “It’s some English guy.”

“Again?” She noticed how tired the intern looked, and checked her watch. “Goodness, it’s almost dawn, Chan. Go get some sleep. I’ll take care of this.”

Alys waited until the student left before she spoke into the phone. “Look, Mr. York, I thought I was clear.”

“Good evening, Dr. Stuart.” The caller was English, but his melodic voice sounded nothing like Beau York’s. “This is Richard Tremayne. I do hope I am not disturbing your rest.”

“Mr. Tremayne.” Alys had never spoken directly to the chairman of the Hylord Foundation, and for a moment she blanked. “Ah, no, I haven’t been to bed yet.” Why was he calling her? Not to check on the arrangements. “How may I help you?”

“I gather you met my man York earlier this evening,” Tremayne said, “and refused to permit him to join your project. May I ask why you found him so objectionable?”

Beau had called Tremayne? That seemed unlikely. How could a project manager have direct access to the foundation’s chairman? And why would he?

“Dr. Stuart?”

Alys couldn’t very well interrogate Tremayne, nor did she want to cause trouble for Beau. She certainly couldn’t tell the chairman of the Hylord Foundation that his employee’s voice had shaken her down to her heels.

Be professional. “I have nothing against Mr. York, sir. He seemed like a very congenial and capable person. I simply don’t need him.” Or his beautiful body. Or his gorgeous face. Or that stupendous erection.

Tremayne’s voice went flat. “Doctor, you are aware that my foundation has invested close to half a million U.S. dollars in your project.”

Of course he’d bring up the money; it was the only power he had over her. “Yes, sir, and I am grateful for the opportunity to—”

“Given the number of charlatans and scoundrels operating under the guise of scientific research,” Tremayne continued, as if she hadn’t spoken, “I have a keen interest in protecting my investments. York will assure that everything at the site runs smoothly and according to schedule.”

Alys had tried to avoid maligning Beau, but now his boss was giving her no choice.

“Mr. Tremayne, you do understand how highly specialized my work is. Mr. York isn’t an archaeologist, and he’s never worked on any excavation in the past. He will be unfamiliar with the tools and equipment we use as well as the methods we employ during a dig. However gifted he is at resource or personnel management, he has nothing to contribute to the success of this project. I simply can’t use him.”

“On the contrary, Doctor.” Each word he spoke drilled into her ear, as sharp and welcome as a probing ice pick. “Mr. York will be a part of your team, and oversee all of your fieldwork, or the foundation will immediately withdraw all funding for the project.”

Alys rubbed her aching temple. “Under the circumstances I have no choice but to agree. Please let Mr. York know we’ll begin work at the site tomorrow evening.”

“Thank you, Doctor. I feel sure you and Mr. York will get on very well, and I look forward to reviewing reports on your progress. Good-bye.” The line clicked.

Alys’s stomach rolled as she put down the receiver, and the taste of bile in her throat sent her hurrying into the bathroom. After she emptied her stomach into the toilet, she staggered to her feet to rinse out her mouth and wash her face.

She reached behind her neck to unfasten her necklace, which felt like it weighed a ton, and set it on the counter before she glanced at her reflection. Sweat soaked her unruly red hair, plastering the underlying layer to her skull; her face had gone so pale her violet eyes and reddened mouth looked like huge bruises. Her ears still buzzed from the unpleasant sharpness of Tremayne’s voice when he’d delivered his final ultimatum. Fortunately the nausea had receded, and after she brushed her teeth, she cautiously drank a half glass of water. She generally had a cast-iron stomach, but the stress of talking to Tremayne had been considerable—almost painful.

Alys saw a glimmer of light reflecting from her eye and leaned closer. The gold ring around the outside of her violet irises seemed larger now, although the mirror might be magnifying it.

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