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Authors: Trish Albright

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BOOK: Siren's Secret
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Olivia’s mind went blank. She felt a hot breath caress her lips as if to tease. Then suddenly those lips, those sensual, devilish, lush lips were curling over her bottom one. Then her top. Gently, gently absorbing them bit by bit before—

She inhaled just as his mouth covered hers, a hand coming behind her neck, tilting and encasing the base of her head in command … and support. She swayed forward, her palms bracing against a hard chest, her heart pounding, then most stunning of all—she felt his heart pounding under her palms.

At her touch he released her, and she grasped the side of the carriage for balance.

“That should ease your conscience over the deception that came so easily to you, my lady.”

She stared silently. Then she slapped him. He well deserved it.

“That”—he rubbed his jaw—“took longer than expected. You must have liked it, Miss Prim.”

She slapped him again, this time without hesitation. “That’s
Lady
Prim, to you, sir.”

“My aunt was right. You really are
not the sort.”

“I beg your pardon?” She was outraged. And a little hurt.

“That is, the sort I should be considering for a wife.”

She was so surprised, she nearly slapped him again. “Sir, you are certainly not even close to what I would want in a husband, not to mention you come from a land of cultureless heathens. I cannot believe you thought it possible I would consider your suit.”

“Ouch. That is English gratitude then? I save you four times this eve from certain doom, and instead of sweet thanks, I get abuse.” He rubbed his other cheek as if genuinely wounded.

“Four times I did not ask for your help, sir, if indeed four can be counted.”

Samuel took a step foward, forcing her back up against the carriage.

“One—from falling to your death.” He put a palm over her left shoulder.

“Two—from suspicion when you tried to exit.” He put his other palm to the right of her. “Looking, I might say, far too suspicious.”

“Three”—his hand pulled at tightly wound hair and released it, his fingers threading through the silk—“when I allowed you to use me as your alibi, despite the fact that it portrayed me in a dishonorable light and may well have ruined any chance I have of finding an
amiable
wife in London.”

“I never said—”

“Your coy looks were quite enough.” He lowered his voice. “Olivia.”

Samuel felt her tremble. No, she was not immune to him. Not at all. Though clearly she would like to be.

“I find it best if people stick to their own kind, Mr. Stafford. None at home to suit? Surely that cannot be true.”

He lowered his head while pulling her forward, breathing his next words patiently into the shell of her delicate ear. “I’m not done.” He pulled back and revealed a folded paper. “Four—for effectively hiding this.”

She gaped and grabbed, but he stretched his arm out of her reach.

“I happened to notice, Olivia dear, that this is written in Lord Grayson’s hand.”

She stared at him, mute.

It was refreshing.

“Which, added to the dubious habit you have of hiding outside windows and lying to the authorities, puts you very high on the suspect list, Lady Olivia. Very high.”

“That is mine. Please return it. It has
nothing
to do with Grayson’s death. And it is vital that I have it to help my father.”

Samuel paused. “Help your father do what?”

She didn’t answer right away. A sure sign her brain was at work on something less than the truth.

“I work with my father. I help decode ancient languages and symbols. These are Egyptian hieroglyphics.”

“And?”

“And despite what you may think of me, I am one of the few who has successfully interpreted their meaning. Please. Grayson did truly copy that text, but for me to translate.”

Samuel sighed. “You’re lying again. At least, not telling the full truth.” He pretended to think it over. “Very well. Give me a kiss and I’ll let you have your Egyptian hieroglyphics.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Persuasion,” he corrected with a smile.

Hesitating, as if not sure he was serious, she contemplated the act.

Then she stepped forward.

He stepped back, noting her action with mock surprise, “You really want this.”

She didn’t speak, but put a determined hand forward. He caught it an inch from his pounding heart. “Take it.” He offered the paper.

She stared uncertain. As if not believing she was free of the kiss.

“I don’t have time to get involved in your web of lies, I’ve no interest in kissing an unwilling woman, and”—he shrugged—“truthfully, you’re not all that good at kissing anyway.”

Her sharp gasp indicated he’d gotten her where it hurt most. A lack of proficiency.

“Well it’s not as if you gave me time even to react. I assure you, my kissing is perfectly fine. Better than fine.”

“I have no doubt you rendezvous quite regularly, Lady Olivia. That was one comment that, I admit, came to you with too much ease to be faked.”

She sputtered. “That’s not—you—I—”

He didn’t give her the opportunity to recover. “Are you going to take this?”

She snatched the paper and jerked the carriage door open, ignoring his proffered hand as she scrambled to get away from him, clumsily getting tangled in her cloak and falling unceremoniously onto the carriage floor. He gave her a playful farewell swat on the behind and walked away before the sound of outraged curses could offend his gentlemanly ears.

Dawn’s light peeked above the trees as he joined his aunt.

“I see you were up to no good.”

“I think I’m just the good that snotty, supercilious wench needs.”

“I see.”

His aunt was wise enough to say no more. He breathed in, relieved to be free of the woman. Of course he would have to call on her before he left. Just to irritate her a bit more.

“Where do they live, this Lady Olivia and her companion?”

“I believe Merryvale’s townhouse is in Hyde Park, not too far from yours.”

“Merryvale?” Samuel sat up, alert. “I thought she was Yates?”

“Yes, dear, but her father is Merryvale. After the property. Nigel, Lord Merryvale. Her mother was Lady Merryvale. The daughter is just Yates.”

Samuel cursed.

“Don’t worry dear, you’ll catch on.”

“I’m certain.” Samuel thought of the message from Grayson he had slid into his boot. It was addressed to Nigel, Lord Merryvale, Royal Garden Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt.

What the hell were Olivia and her father mixed up in? And why was his sister going to visit?

Moreau had failed, and failure was not a word his mistress took well. He schooled his expression to one of ease, forcing himself to sit very still until she arrived. No doubt she had peepholes and spied on him even now. She entered, her hair covered with a cap, her eyes piercing, her demeanor that of one accustomed to wealth and power—and to having her orders carried out. Fortunately he had several years of impeccable service behind him.

She wasted no time. “I don’t like meeting. What news is of such importance?”

Moreau shivered. This woman always surprised him. Warm on the outside, ice underneath—at least if you were on the wrong side of her will.

“Lampley’s man got it.”

“You have nothing? Grayson must have been working on it. Surely some notes, journals?”

“He said he had ‘some scribbles.’ We believe Merryvale’s daughter took it, but we don’t know why. She might be working with someone else.”

“And Grayson?”

“We had to eliminate him, but not before he shared some vital and curious news.” Moreau paused. He had her attention. He hoped this information made up for the evening’s blunder. “The daughter is the one who understands the glyphs. Grayson said no one knows it. Merryvale and his daughter have worked closely for years, but it was always assumed she was more of an assistant researcher or secretary. Her last correspondence contained the translation that led to Merryvale’s discovery of the librarian’s tomb, but there was no actual text or explanation of the theory behind it. Just a suggestion to try it.”

“And?”

“According to Grayson, it led them straight to the site.”

“I knew it,” his mistress hissed, tossing a scowl to the silent man behind her.

Moreau continued. “If that’s true, her work is groundbreaking and entirely different from everyone else’s previous theories. From what I understand, no one else knows she is the source. They think Merryvale is the key.”

“She hasn’t even any formal education.” The other man finally spoke.

His mistress laughed. “Men are always surprised. Why is that? It is women who have figured out this prophecy and women who have defied us every time!”

“That’s why you’re the mastermind, my dear.”

She grunted. “How serious is the Merryvale team?”

Moreau weighed his answer. “The investors are committed, but conservative. According to Grayson, Merryvale has written for more funding. They are in a precarious position, yet on the brink of delivering a historic find. Of course,” Moreau added, “no one knows yet that Queensbury and Peel have died as a result of exploring the tomb. That information has been delayed, it seems.”

“Merryvale fears they wouldn’t fund him if things went awry,” the woman said. “And the local men are only following him for the money. There is opportunity for us to be of assistance.”

Moreau nodded. “As for Merryvale, he believes they have an archeological find that will lead them to lost treasures from the Great Library. He doesn’t know the big picture. We are quite safe, from that standpoint.”

“We are never safe. That is your mistake. Too many people are already aware.” She folded her hands in front of her as if in prayer, then after a moment laid them deliberately on the desk before her. “Get the artifact, open the tomb, and recover the missing piece.” She fingered the large medallion around her neck. “Send us updates weekly via the secure route as previously arranged. Finish the task, Moreau, and you’ll be richly rewarded.”

Moreau nodded, thankful he was still in favor. “What should we do about Lady Olivia?”

“Get her,” she said, as if it were obvious.

“And then?”

“Convince her to work with us.”

“What if she won’t?”

“What if she won’t?” the woman repeated, grasping the medallion in her palm. “Then make sure”—she looked him steadily in the eye—“she doesn’t work with anyone else … ever again.”

Chapter Three

By the time she returned home, the sun had risen. Olivia didn’t get much sleep. How could she? She was a terrible thief and a rotten kisser!

Gads. What had she been doing with her life the last four and twenty years? Staring at books? Well yes, but that was not the point.

The afternoon sun disappeared behind clouds as Olivia paced the sitting room, her heel digging viciously into the carpet at each turn. Not that she had wanted to marry yet—but someday. When her father was more self-sufficient. He needed her, after all. And she liked being able to help. It allowed her to be on the periphery of great discoveries, even if she would never be part of the inner circle.

She pivoted and continued pacing to the other side of the room. When her father had sent his first finds back from Egypt it had been as if she had been born to go there herself. The symbols seemed familiar somehow. She had always found languages easy, even those of the classics, but her first sight of the Egyptian written language had resonated with something inside her that even her father noted was a bit eerie. And he was nothing if not clinical in his observations. Once she had started documenting his notes on Egypt, everything else became secondary.

That was why she hadn’t married.

Plus, she needed a challenge. All the men in her circles, at least those near enough to her in age, were idiots. Well, not all, just the single ones. They wanted only to drink, play cards, race horses, and pursue loose women. Marriage to an idiot would not be a good solution. So why bother kissing any of them? Granted, she should have been better at kissing. She hadn’t thought to develop that skill prior to marriage.

“You are in tizzy, Olivia. What is the matter?” Mrs. Tisdale finished her letter and sealed it.

Olivia stopped and contemplated sharing her personal assessment. Then she thought better of it. There was a matter more important to discuss than her failure to marry.

“Is that your note to Lady Grayson?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Tisdale rang for Sturges, the butler, to collect Olivia’s and her own condolences for delivery. When he entered, Olivia requested tea as well. “Strong tea,” she added, getting the attention of both. Sturges left to complete the task. Olivia clasped her hands together for control.

In addition to being utterly infuriated with the arrogant Mr. Stafford, she had a constant awareness of something else closing in.

“I fear we are in grave danger, Mrs. Tisdale.”

Mrs. Tisdale paused, then calmly folded her hands on her lap and waited.

Olivia finally confessed the previous evening’s ordeal—without mentioning the stealing part, only that she was examining a funerary cone when someone had tried to kill her. By the time she finished the tale, Mrs. Tisdale was white.

“Olivia, if they know who you are and that you might have this script translated by Grayson, they could come back!”

“But Grayson hadn’t interpreted the symbols yet. In fact, his conclusions were quite off.”

“They won’t know that.” Her voice was low. “We cannot stay in this house.”

Olivia pressed her lips, nodding. “I was thinking that too.”

“And you need to inform the authorities.”

Olivia didn’t respond to that. Sturges entered with tea and stared at them curiously as they sat in silence.

“Anything else, m’lady?”

“No. Thank you, Sturges.”

Mrs. Tisdale waited until he was gone. “Olivia? You need to go to the magistrate. If you wait, you endanger not just your reputation, but your life. Olivia—”

“I can’t! It’s impossible!” Before Mrs. Tisdale could cajole her further, she spouted the truth, unable to contain her villainy any longer. “I stole a relic from the museum! The men who attacked me took it. At least I assume they did, before they decided to try to kill each other. In any case, I cannot explain that to the authorities. They might think I had something to do with Grayson’s death. And now, due to my failure, my father’s life might be in danger!”

BOOK: Siren's Secret
7.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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