Authors: Trish Albright
“The end of days,” the duchess finished.
Olivia froze, stunned at their collective response. “Gads. A trio of temptations.” Clearly something was going on that she was not informed about. “But this tomb …”
“It’s possible that the location of the realm was passed down through the ages. Or perhaps the librarian was merely a follower of Lilith, and this is a coincidence that people hope means more than it really does. We don’t know yet. None of us have explored the tomb. It’s heavily guarded, from what I’ve learned,” the duchess said.
The duke turned to his wife. “Wait.”
His wife froze, caught in her own web of secrets, it appeared.
“You know where the tomb is as well?” he asked.
“See how it feels?” Samuel said.
“I only made a few inquiries. I was worried about Lord Merryvale.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Olivia said. Olivia decided the women were on the same side. And that all men were bossy.
“So I guess we’re not really here to sightsee, visit the pyramids, and get away from the dreary weather?” The duke’s mouth twisted up with wry humor.
Olivia watched as the duchess shrugged, her eyes widening apologetically. “I thought it would be an opportunity to learn more while we were in the area, husband.”
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t believe it. “We’ll discuss this later.”
The duchess took the artifact and studied it, staring for a long time at the inscription on the end. She ran her fingers over the carved words. “The material at this end is not granite. It looks to be plaster.”
“Yes,” Olivia agreed. “It has been found at other ancient sites in the area. It would have made it easier to engrave.”
The duchess stared at it longer, then mumbled, “Or hide something.” She measured the size of the circular end, curious, then looked at her husband again. Only now she had a decidedly sad expression. “You can’t run from destiny, Joshua.”
He stood and took the artifact from her, handing it back to Olivia. “But you don’t have to run to it. And not so quickly.”
His wife nodded and took the hand he offered, squeezing it tightly. There was something melancholic in the action. As if they knew they did not have much time for holding hands or being together. Olivia frowned, worried. Before she could learn more, they were bidding their good evenings and promising to meet in the general dining area for breakfast.
The duchess turned and waited. Olivia reluctantly followed, leaving Stafford alone with his thoughts.
Two hours later, Olivia had paced several miles within her room.
Gads, she was restless tonight. No amount of deciphering could distract her. First, she was bombarded by the sounds of Elizabeth and Nathan in their marital bliss. Next, she had to witness the duke and duchess throughout the evening. Stafford was right. It was a love match. All that love was making her confused. Was it love? Or merely a very strong connection? Infatuation. Kindness mixed with lust. Was that what she felt for Stafford? Friendship and lust? That would account for her desire to be near him so much. Tonight it had been even more intense. She had wanted their knees to touch under the table.
And he was considerate. He always had been. When she’d first met him, when she was seasick, when Elizabeth had abandoned her for an American. He wasn’t kind only to her, either. She had seen it with his crew, with the slaves he had freed, with Nathan, with his sister.
Yes, he was bossy, but everyone had at least one flaw. She found she admired him—intensely.
It was awful.
Perhaps that was what people mistook for love—admiration, friendship, and lust. That would make for the core ingredients. Except that would mean she was in love. She shook her head. That was entirely impossible. She snorted. Even if she did discover this “love,” she would not give up her life for marriage. She would be trapped. She was going to decipher the writings in the great tombs of Egypt. There had to be hundreds yet to unearth. An entire history lost that she and her father could recover and share with the world. She would be acknowledged for her work and invited to speak at the top institutions.
For long moments, Olivia imagined the possibilities. Then she accepted the reality.
She was a woman.
No matter what contribution she made, a woman would not be invited to speak at the top institutions. She wasn’t even allowed to attend lectures at the top institutions. It was a bitter truth.
Then there was this other issue. Perhaps not all her father’s colleagues were in Alexandria for the right reasons. What if some of them did think the librarian’s tomb held secrets to an ancient treasure? How far would they go to get it?
She stopped. No. That all just seemed too silly to believe. She would not get caught up in myths. She dealt with facts.
Olivia walked out onto her balcony and breathed. The air was perfect. Soothing, dry, and cool. Surprisingly she missed the lull of the sea at night. She tilted her face to the moon and tried to relax, slowing, finding peace.
Then she heard a cry—of pleasure.
Gads! Was everyone in the building fornicating? She marched back into her room and put on her professor breeches and a shirt.
There was another moan through the wall. Olivia covered her ears in frustration. Would they never go to sleep! She wondered if Stafford was still awake. Perhaps they could talk. She wanted to find out more about his sister. What had happened to her?
And it was also a good time for Olivia to explain that he should not become attached to her. He was attached to her. She was certain. And it was making her attached to him, which just would not do. She did best without attachments, as she’d been forced to learn lately. She could be like the great Librarian of Alexandria—or at least decipher all the work of the great librarian. With a mission like that, surely there would be time for little else.
She would have to tell Stafford. Quickly she pulled on her soft-soled boots. Stafford’s room was next door. She could easily cross to his balcony. What with all her recent climbing experience, a couple feet would be no problem. This would be simple.
She sensed he’d wanted to talk a bit longer tonight too. Not using the hall would avoid any impropriety. Now that they weren’t on the ship, she needed to be more careful.
Samuel hung his clothes over the changing wall. He was just about to climb into bed when a shadow on the balcony alerted him. Damn. This was inopportune. He rubbed the tingling at the back of his neck where little hairs had spiked. His weapons were on the other side of the room. He pressed his body against the wall and waited. As soon as the shadow stepped into the light of the room, he grasped the intruder tightly around the neck, choking a startled cry from the trespassing—
He breathed in the fresh, sweet scent of roses as pale hair swung over his arm. His body reacted instinctively, rapidly, and obviously. He swore. Extremely inopportune. Damn her. Her body struggled against him, panicked, doing nothing to curb the growing hardness between his legs.
He loosened his hold without releasing her. He could feel the bottom curve of her breasts where his arm wrapped around her midsection. His left hand stretched over one breast. A normal reaction when he had a woman in his arms.
She froze. “Stafford! It’s me.”
“Yes.” His thumb brushed over her full curve, and she gasped. He closed his eyes for control as the hardening nipple made the nerves of his fingertips sensitive and the rest of him more aware than he wanted to be. “Ollie,” his voice came out a harsh rasp. “This was not a good idea.” His hand rubbed lightly down her waist, then over and across her thighs where they met. It was a brief touch, but enough to know she wore nothing beneath her shirt and breeches.
not a good idea. But he was starting to be won over. His hand slid under the shirt.
“I couldn’t sleep.” She squirmed, trying to turn around. He tightened his grip to stop her from doing so. “I wanted to talk. I have to tell you something,” she said, breathless.
“Right.” God, save him from women who just wanted to talk. “Now is not the best time.”
“Ollie, just be still. I’m going to let you go, but don’t turn around until I permit it. Agreed?”
He squeezed to silence her, then very firmly placed her away from him. He had not yet reached a bed sheet when he heard her gasp. Quickly he wrapped the sheet around his waist. Then he wrapped it again, cursing. Nothing like getting caught without your pants on.
When he turned back around she was staring. Mouth open. Silent. The silent part was a nice change of pace.
“Stafford.” She stepped forward, her eyes glued to his chest.
He stepped back. She was in her professor clothes, but with the tangled hair, a loose shirt, and a hungry expression, she looked very
“Stafford?” She took another step forward.
He swallowed hard and took another step back. Against the bed. “What was it you wanted to tell me?” he reminded.
Her hand came out to touch him, and he caught the wrist in defense, his other hand tightening its grip on the sheet. He sucked in air, praying for control. She’d driven him mad all night with her dress stretching dangerously over her bosom. Then there were her knees bumping his under the table causing lightning shocks of awareness, added to her sly smile when she tilted her head up at him. She epitomized trouble. And if she came one step closer, it would be too much.
He would ravish her.
“Stafford,” she breathed softly, one last time, her other hand finally making contact.
She didn’t take her eyes from his. It unnerved. He could see the outright hunger on her face, and it did nothing for his control—nor did the palm splaying against his chest and sliding seductively downward over his abdomen. It was too much.
He hissed for control.
Then he lost it.
Samuel grasped her by the waist, spun the two of them around, tossed her on the bed, then followed. His body covered hers completely as she reached around his neck to weave a hand through his hair. Her other hand teased mercilessly, nails grazing over his shoulder and down his biceps. He caught her face in his palms, her white-blonde hair in disarray against the pillow. Her eyes were cloudy with emotion, her mouth slightly open, beckoning him. And her body arched into him, wanton.
It was really more than he should be expected to resist.
Then she spoke. A deep, husky whisper. “Yes.”
“Yes,” he agreed.
Their breath mingled as he lowered his mouth to hers, taking his time—for once at leisure—tasting her, feeling the shape and curve and fullness of her lips with his. His own sigh of pleasure was more of a groan as he lightly grazed his lips over her cheek to her ear, mouthing the delicate shell before breathing softly into her ear, “I want you.”
She arched again, her head tilting back. “Yes.”
“Umm.” Samuel grasped her hair, smiling. “Who knew you could be so agreeable?”
Her eyes flashed open, and she looked at him in surprise. Then she laughed. As if surprised by her own laughter, she stopped, then laughed again with understanding and delight.
“You find something illuminating, my love?”
She nodded but didn’t share. Her eyes went cloudy again, her head lifting for him, wanting his mouth against her. He obeyed, and she wrapped her arms around his neck tightly, pulling him close.
Olivia forgot her purpose, her mission, her mind. She only felt. Who knew a man so powerful could be so gentle?
His large hands stroked down her body, learning her, soothing her, waking her. It had all been leading to this. She could see it clearly now. Feel it clearly—with her skin, her muscles, her heart.
It felt wonderful.
His fingertips grazed underneath her shirt and tickled her belly button. She grinned at him, their eyes meeting, the intimacy of the moment capturing them both. Then his expression softened, and he gently kissed her again, slowly rekindling the fire in her lips, her heart. She gasped as a warm hand slid lightly between her legs.
She didn’t know she’d said it aloud. Some part of her mind heard the hungry groan. She would have sworn it was someone else. There was also a knocking sound on the wall. Indeed, she decided everyone in the hotel was …
Olivia gasped again, losing that train of thought. Gads, he was experienced. Her breeches were loosened without her awareness. She decided she didn’t care. His hand grazed over her skin again. Near her hip, across her belly, down her thigh, then there …
“Yes,” she arched. “Oh, Stafford, please.” She took his lips to hers, greedy for him, ignoring the continued knocking. He rolled over, taking her on top of him, and pulled her shirt free so her chest could be against his. Skin on skin. They both breathed with pleasure, their eyes meeting again, each relishing the moment, smiling at the wicked pleasure. Olivia could feel his heart pounding rapidly under her hand, equal in pace to her own. She couldn’t seem to get enough air. She closed her eyes and slid against him, the sensation evoking a groan from Samuel that made her grin with delight.
If this was love, love was
Her lips curled with wicked delight as they brushed against his throat intending to work their way up for a kiss.
She opened her mouth to say his name.
“Samuel!” It was shouted.
Not by her.
Olivia lifted her head in time to see the door burst open.
Gads! His sister!
Olivia saw only the color and shape of the visitors before she was tossed into the air and flipped roughly to the floor. The gentle intoxication of the previous minutes shattered with the invasion of not one, but
“Good Lord, Samuel! She’s English!” his sister shouted.
Olivia scrambled across the floor, still mostly hidden, and grabbed the shirt that had landed there earlier in the frenzy of desire. She pulled it on.
Samuel finally stood, and Olivia heard a gasp that could only be Elizabeth’s. She peeked over the edge of the bed, then ducked back down, cowering.