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Authors: Trish Albright

Tags: #Romance

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BOOK: Siren's Secret
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“Are you a relative?” Samuel asked.

“Actually …” The stranger paused. “Yes. I’m Professor Hill. Lady Olivia’s cousin. I find myself in the regrettable position of informing her father of the news.”

That did it. A cousin? There was certainly a family resemblance. He wouldn’t have expected the dark beard and mustache, though. The man’s eyelashes were fair under the glasses. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked again.

Finally the man looked at him.

Silver gray eyes. They became more silver with Samuel’s inspection. As if reacting in worry. Or something else. The man looked away. Samuel didn’t. Something very unnatural about that mustache … and the skin was incredibly fair and smooth for a man.

He took a long drink of ale and laid it down with pleasure for the first time that day, closing his eyes. His sister always said his eyes gave him away—especially when he was willing to give in.

“Mr. Stafford, as a friend of Lady Olivia, I need your assistance. I need passage—”

“No.”

The gentleman sputtered. “But I haven’t finished.”

“I’ll take a message. I don’t take passengers. And I leave tomorrow, so write quick.”

“But … I need your help!”

“Yes, I can see that.” Samuel sat up and leaned over to the creature posing as Olivia’s cousin. She turned to him, eyes wide, as he loomed unnaturally close, her pupils following his index finger as it pressed gently over her lips to silence, then moved left and pressed down the edge of her false mustache where it had lifted.

He got off the stool and grabbed her off hers. His lips came down hard, his arm pulling her close as one free hand slid across her chest to her waist, discovering the secrets that lay beneath.

Her response was frozen, wide-eyed shock. Her arms sprung outward in surprise, unsure of what they should be doing—grabbing hold or pushing away.

Just as quickly, he released her and sat back down, leaving her to slide slowly back onto her seat, speechless.

“Yep. Same bad kissing.” He took a long drink of ale.

“Sir,” she gulped. “You’ve been drinking …”

“I’ll say!” the barkeep stated, staring at both of them. “I think that’s enough, Captain.” He took the pitcher away, leaving just his ale mug. “You’ll thank me later, ye will.”

Olivia flushed in embarrassment.

“Don’t worry, Al.” Samuel nodded in her direction. “This
he
is most definitely a
she.”

Mr. Stafford turned to her with a surprisingly happy grin. It made him look younger. Almost boyish. But she doubted he had ever been a boy.

“And by the way, your, um … outfit is tailored to your form most becomingly.”

“You needn’t announce it to the world, Stafford! That’s why it’s a
disguise.”

Al stood in front of Olivia and scowled. “I don’t serve women pitchers, sir—ma’am—whatever you are! I don’t know what yer game is, but take it elsewhere.” The barkeep took away the pitcher of ale that he’d brought for her.

“What about my money?”

“There’s the price of deception, missy,” he stated without apology.

“That’s prejudice against women.”

“Only if you are one,” Mr. Stafford said. “Which actually, you are claiming outwardly not to be, so I don’t think the argument would hold in court, were there a court willing to hear it—without laughing.”

“Well, I couldn’t dress as a woman and come down here alone. That’s also the price of being truthful and being a woman. Not to mention that I’m supposed to be dead, so it might be ruled impersonating a dead person. Who knows what the punishment is for—”

“Wait—” He grabbed her arm, furious. “You came down here alone? Where’s your groom? And Elizabeth?”

“Mrs. Tisdale? Why, at the hotel. And my groom thinks I am—”

“Hell, Olivia,” Mr. Stafford worried. “Tell me what is going on before I beat it out of you.”

“Don’t swear at me. And Oliver is more appropriate, considering my disguise.”

“You’re in a bar. Swearing happens, Ollie. Now what’s going on?”

“Nothing really. After Grayson’s death, which I think we both know was murder, I worried about my own safety—”

“Why is that?”

“Well, someone had already tried to kill me once. You don’t think I just jumped out a third-floor window at the museum, do you? If my dress hadn’t caught in the window, I would not have been able to grab the vines or the necktie of that murderous villain who tossed me, and I surely would have landed in a crushing heap. Then someone killed him, hoping no doubt to make it look like we’d had a tussle and both died unfortunately, but the vines slowed my descent enough to grasp the second-story window, and actually I later learned the vines were not vines, but climbing ivy, so truly I’m lucky to be alive, considering how flimsy ivy can be. And after Grayson was found dead, I thought it would be safest to not be where I should be for a while, so I went to a hotel with Mrs. Tisdale until we could find passage to Egypt.”

Stafford stared at her a long moment. “Uh-huh.”

Al finished a pint of her ale while listening and slammed his mug in front of her. “This one’s trouble, Captain. That’s all I’m saying. You know I won’t be sharin’ nuthin’. I like yer business and all yer men. But this one”—Al pointed at her—“he’s trouble.” He leaned forward, nose to nose with her. “And I mean
he
in the loosest sense.”

Olivia refused to be intimidated. “Sir, you are very vociferous for one who knows nothing about my business.”

Al nodded, as if her words were proof, and waved a hand at her. “Like I said. Trouble.” He took himself and his mug away to help new arrivals, leaving Olivia with Mr. Stafford.

Olivia turned back to the bar and, frustrated that her ale was gone, reached over to finish Mr. Stafford’s. “I should be able to have a drink in a bar, no matter how I’m dressed.”

“You’d think.”

“Don’t you think so?” she insisted.

Mr. Stafford nodded. “Actually, I do. But that’s not the world we live in.”

Olivia turned in surprise, unable to keep the hopefulness from her voice. “Really?”

Those sensual lips responded like a dream. “Yeah. Really. You should see half of what my sister puts up with. I don’t wish it on my daughters.”

“You have daughters?”

“No, but I hope to. Someday. And I’d like things to be a bit easier for them.”

Olivia felt her insides soften. He not only understood, but he wanted a girl. More than one, even. “I would have thought you only wanted sons to take over the business. Girls can’t inherit or anything, and then you have dowries to provide, so economically they are less desirable …”

His smile faded. “Is that how you see yourself? Economically less desirable?”

“No, of course not.” She denied it, but couldn’t argue otherwise. At least not logically. Suddenly Olivia felt very world-weary. Her father valued her, she reminded herself.

“In America, anyone can inherit, but you’re changing the subject. Why would someone want to kill you?”

“Oh. That. Well.” She sighed. “Sometimes I talk to myself.”

He patted her back. “Not a lot of friends?”

“You can’t help yourself, can you Stafford?”

“With you? I’m afraid not.”

She ignored his lips twitching in humor and continued. “I was observing some hieroglyphics. That’s the ancient Egyptian—”

“I think we covered that.”

“Oh. Yes. Well, um. I happened to be in Grayson’s office and saw that Grayson had tried to translate them. He was, quite frankly, entirely wrong, and so I was saying that out loud, and moments later, I’m being choked. Very uncomfortably, I might add.”

Mr. Stafford’s face looked thunderous. Olivia leaned back defensively. “I’m now responsible for my maid’s death, and—and you know the rest …” Her voice petered off, uncertain how to interpret his response. “It’s all too unbearable. The only thing I can do is find a way to get to Egypt. My father will know what to do next. I know your ship is quite big, so—”

“The answer is still no.”

“Why? That’s very unreasonable.”

“Because you’re female.” At her gasp of confused outrage, he added, “I have a crew of forty-two. All men. I don’t need the headache. Who is with you at the hotel, besides Mrs. Tisdale? How many guards do you have keeping watch? Are they trustworthy?”

Olivia swallowed. She hadn’t thought to bring protection. And it was not as if there were anyone who could do it anyway. The household staff was relatively small.

“I thought it best to not tell anyone where we were off to. But today, after the murder of my maid, I sent my butler with a message for the authorities. Sturges is very trustworthy.” Feeling better, she argued, “We can stay in our cabins.”

“Where did you meet Sturges?”

“At our hotel, of course. I didn’t want to go home and risk being recognized—”

“No.” He shook his head thoughtfully, as if she’d said something wrong. It made her nervous. “How do you know he wasn’t followed? If someone is willing to break into your home to keep you silent, do you think they will give up that easily? They might have been watching your home waiting to see what would happen. Someone could have followed Sturges right to you. Be waiting for you right now.”

Olivia’s stomach felt hollow and nauseous. “Mrs. Tisdale. She’s all alone.” She tumbled from her seat, rushing blindly for the door.

“Hold on,” Samuel said. “We need to get help.”

“We?” She smiled. Relieved. Grateful.

In truth, anyone would have been grateful at a moment like this to have a man like Mr. Stafford at their side. He wasn’t just fierce looking, but he gave the impression he had dealt with trouble very effectively in the past. It gave Olivia confidence.

“Thank you, Stafford. I have no doubt that between your brawn and my brain, we can effectively subdue any villain that comes our way.”

“Right,” he mumbled. “Now I’m scared.”

* * *

He hadn’t meant to frighten her. Actually he’d meant to frighten some
sense
into her, but he didn’t like the whitening of her face or the pale silver her eyes turned when she was afraid. They rode quickly to check on Mrs. Tisdale, but the hour ride from the wharf wore on Lady Olivia, and he had no doubt her day had been rough already.

He’d brought Nathan Riedell, his first mate, and Kelley, his boatswain, known for his burly arms and fighting skills. Kelley scouted the outside of the building while he, Nathan, and Olivia entered the hotel.

“You are clear on the plan.” Samuel pulled her aside on the stairs to assure himself.

“Yes.” Her eyes shone brightly, reflecting his image. She appeared focused, but not fearful. Mostly worried and angry. If there was someone waiting for her, Samuel would put his money on Olivia.

They paused outside the room, Nathan opposite him in the doorway. Olivia reached for the door in front of him. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her back a bit from the door. He didn’t want to risk gunshot. Samuel rapped on the door, and when there was no response, Olivia called out.

“Mrs. Tisdale? Are you there?”

He rapped again. Nothing. Olivia tensed against him. “It’s me. I’ve lost my key, I’m afraid. Can you open up?” Silence.

Samuel carefully pulled Olivia behind him and tried the door. Locked. He took Olivia’s key and opened it, pushing the door open.

The room had been torn apart.

He pushed Olivia farther back and held up a hand to indicate she should wait outside. She scowled and he kept a steady glare, waiting for her nod. She gave it reluctantly.

Samuel slid into the small sitting room, with Nathan behind him. The balcony door was open, and a breeze ruffled the curtains. The bedroom doors were closed. It felt like a trap. Nothing to do but wait.

He motioned Nathan to one side and he took the other, their guns focused on opposite doors. Then he saw Olivia peek in. He shook his head to indicate she should stay out. She looked about to obey until something caught her attention.

Mrs. Tisdale. On the balcony. A hand over her mouth. A gun to her head.

“Why you—” Olivia spoke in surprised fury.

Stunned, Samuel watched Olivia run full force directly at the man with the gun.

“No!” he shouted. Unfortunately, it signaled the others who awaited them.

Two men burst out of the bedrooms. Nathan shot one and Samuel finished the other with his bare hands, intending to save his bullet for the man with the hostage.

Only, Olivia was in the way.

The man on the balcony aimed his gun at her.

Samuel’s heart stopped, but Mrs. Tisdale used her entire body to knock the man off his mark. The bullet struck the window, shattering glass. Mrs. Tisdale fell to the floor of the balcony, while Olivia flew at the attacker like a streak of lightning, oblivious to the danger of falling from the balcony.

The edge of the short, ornate railing was not enough to stop the weight of two adults teetering off balance. Samuel saw the moment they both realized their peril. The man grasped at Olivia trying to pull himself to safety. Olivia howled in panic, making a wild swing for the grate, realizing, no doubt, the extent of her idiocy.

They both went over.

There was a jolt on the rail. Then a loud creak as the metal bent.

Samuel watched the impending disaster helplessly, tripping over Mrs. Tisdale and nearly toppling over himself in an effort to save Olivia. On the other side, she hung off the balcony, one hand clinging to the rail, the other holding a rope that came down from the roof above. Obviously how the men had entered.

Samuel heard Olivia’s cry of pain as she clung desperately against the weight of a man crawling over her to safety. The moment the man’s face was near, Samuel drove his fist through it. The villain dropped to a heap on the paving below.

Meanwhile, the fragile rail broke.

“Ahh!”

Samuel reacted as Olivia slipped farther from his reach, her hands sliding down the rope and very near the end of it.

Kelley shouted from above, “Captain? Are you ’right? Got a dead one here! Want me to finish that one?”

Olivia squeaked, understanding but needing every breath to hold on.

“It’s Professor Hill!” Samuel barked. “Don’t shoot!”

Olivia looked up, her hat gone, wig torn off, hair in disarray, and her eyes twin lights of terror.

BOOK: Siren's Secret
12.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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