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Authors: Trish Albright

Tags: #Romance

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BOOK: Siren's Secret
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“You speak of your sister as if you admire her.”

Stafford’s eyes narrowed on her, curious. “I do.”

“I thought you said she was a brat?”

“I’m allowed to call her that. No one else,” he said, his tone indicating that should be obvious.

She shook her head, bewildered, looking down, head bent. “That makes no sense.”

“You clearly never had a little sister.”

“No. No sisters.” He cared for his family? Could you care for people so clearly imperfect? “Nor a brother,” she added. She looked to see Stafford contemplating her. It was even more uncomfortable than his sexual regard. “Your sister is lucky, Mr. Stafford. Forgive me, please. I am unfamiliar with the workings of a large family. Strangely, I find that I am quite jealous.”

She looked down at her food. Goodness, she sounded pitiful. She used to be a welcome dining companion. What had become of her skills?

Stafford sighed loudly, commanding her attention. “That is a remarkable admission from so remarkable a woman.”

Olivia studied, to see if he teased, but he appeared sincere, smiling warmly at her. “Now you are being kind, Mr. Stafford.”

“I’m a kind man.”

He said it with false arrogance. It didn’t fool her.

“Yes,” she said, considering it deeply. “You are.” Then without thinking, she added, “It’s very strange.”

The others laughed, and Olivia recognized the silliness of the comment.

Mrs. Tisdale changed the topic. “Why don’t you tell us about your findings thus far on the tomb we are going to visit, Olivia.”

“The tomb?” Olivia asked, still distracted by thoughts of Mr. Stafford.

“Yes,” Mrs. Tisdale encouraged. “You remember. The purpose for this voyage.”

“Oh. Yes! Well …” Olivia proceeded to give them the background on how a servant of Lord Queensbury had accidentally fallen in a hole that turned out to be an entrance to an ancient tomb.

“One of the decade’s greatest discoveries was because someone tripped?” Andersen asked, astounded.

“Yes!” Olivia laughed. She loved that part of the story. “Sometimes things are right in front of you, it seems. Or under you, as the case may be.” She leaned in to continue. “Queensbury knew my father was in Cairo studying the ancient pyramids and had had some success documenting and understanding the intentions of the Egyptians.”

“With a great deal of help from you, Olivia,” Mrs. Tisdale explained.

Olivia shrugged it off.

“He invited my father to lead the academic portion of the venture, while he and others funded it.” Olivia noted, “They needed someone with my father’s expertise to organize the findings.”

“What do they know of the tomb site?” Mr. Riedell asked.

“It’s a large burial space, three floors deep, where many middle-class and local aristocracy are believed to be buried. And due to the ethnic mix of ancient Alexandria, many writings are in both Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics. This has given us an edge in understanding much of what is written. According to local oral history, this is the place that the last librarian was buried.” Olivia paused to emphasize. “The last librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria.”

There were no sounds of awe, but at least they were still rapt.

Olivia continued, “We have since been studying the many funerary cones outside the individual tombs and believe we have located the specific one.” Her voice lowered. “It was in Lord Grayson’s care until he was murdered, and the cone stolen.”

Now they were leaning in, alert. All except Stafford. He looked as though he wanted to expose her for trying to steal the cone herself.

“Good lord,” Mr. Riedell said, his eyes intent on Mrs. Tisdale. “It’s a wonder neither of you have been injured yet. Someone must know that your father and his colleagues are onto something.”

“Yes,” Olivia agreed. “The hopes are that this last librarian saved or kept copies of some of the scrolls and documents that were in the library. From what we can tell, the burial was around the time of Ptolemy the Sixth, possibly right after the library was destroyed. If even one item could be recovered, the information we’d gain would be nothing short of miraculous. People live for such a discovery. The contribution to our current knowledge would be exponential.”

“That’s assuming one thing, Lady Olivia,” Mr. Andersen said. “That we can read the language that history is written in.”

“Well …” Olivia faded off. No one believed that she had deciphered the language. It was a common reaction. She was allowed her theories, but it seemed no one wanted her to be right. Except maybe her father. And Mrs. Tisdale.

“Of course.” Olivia didn’t say any more. Mrs. Tisdale looked about to defend her, but Olivia caught her eye and shook her head, causing Mrs. Tisdale to press her lips shut.

Who would believe that a woman had unlocked the secrets of ancient Egyptians, especially when men more learned than she had tried and failed? Only when she reached the tomb would she be able to prove her value. But she had to find her father first.

“Lady Olivia, you were saying?” Mr. Riedell encouraged.

“Oh, yes. Just that we could be on the cusp of a great discovery. It’s very exciting.”

Someone continued the discussion, but Olivia had already drawn within herself. She hadn’t figured out all the symbols. That was the crux of it. The star, she believed, represented the librarian’s expertise in astronomy. The symbol in the center of the star she did not recognize. But it had not seemed like any of the others. Maybe not Egyptian … Greek? Or was it a personal mark, perhaps a symbol for a club … or better, a secret society? That would be deliciously exciting. Unlikely, but thrilling to imagine.

She vaguely heard Mrs. Tisdale say, “We’ve lost her now.”

She smiled appropriately. Mrs. Tisdale knew her well enough. Olivia went back to her conjectures. If the librarian had been an astronomer and the sign was inside the star, it made sense that it represented something to do with the stars, measuring the stars, studying the stars. Hadn’t there been some books on board about astronomy and celestial navigation? She searched the cabin.

“What do you need?” Mr. Stafford asked.

She continued to stare vaguely, trying to reach for an answer. “The symbol. The one that doesn’t fit. I think it was partly a mathematical equation. If that’s possible. No. That’s not right. But …” She stood, struggling for clarity, and faced the bookshelves.

Mr. Stafford pulled a volume out and handed it over. “Mathematics.”

“Astronomy too.”

He stacked two more. “These are the better ones.”

“Is it too much to hope for anything on alchemical sciences?”

He smiled. Then left the room and came back with a fourth heavy volume.

When added to her load, they piled up to her nose. She could barely hold them. “Well, then. If you’ll excuse me for the evening.” She tried to make an appropriate bow but nearly dropped the stack as the books slid to the right.

Mr. Stafford caught them, his lips curling up in a smile, distracting her momentarily. She stared. A delicious mouth, indeed. Then she shook off the disrupting sensation tingling her lips and let him guide her to the door and down to her cabin.

“Got it?”

“Uh-huh. Thank you, Stafford. See you tomorrow.” Perhaps the symbol was a mathematics and chemistry combination. A recipe? An element? The possibilities were swirling in her mind. She barely registered the door closing, or the softly muttered words.

“Yep. I knew you were trouble,” he said.

Chapter Six

Samuel didn’t know how much trouble Olivia was going to be until she finally left her cabin and starting “thinking” on deck. It turned out she couldn’t think and walk at the same time.

Several days of deep contemplation and six mishaps later, his men adeptly moved with lightning speed, clearing buckets, lines, and other equipment from her path. She was making her fifth turn about the deck that morning, not aware the hatch she had walked over several times already was now open. His boatswain and some men were bringing up gear in preparation for their stop at Gibraltar. He waited for her to lift her head. Instead she lifted her journal to write down a word.

Samuel leapt to the deck just below him, rushed forward, and gently wrapped an arm around her waist, deftly lifting her over the danger and setting her on her way again.

She looked up, surprised, then offered a quick hello before continuing on a new course. He watched, bemused, as she walked into a wall. It startled her. She blinked and looked around, as if confused about where she was and how she got there. One of the younger men directed her to a ladder. She smiled and nodded vaguely, reaching to climb the ladder in her skirts.

The sailor watched.

Samuel strode over and grabbed the youth by the scruff of his neck, redirecting his body and—more important—his roving eyes in the other direction.

He turned to help Olivia and instead got his face whipped with a swish of material. Suddenly the world went away and his head was surrounded with provocatively soft, white underskirts.

“Bloody …” he muttered to himself. He’d become a mutterer since she’d come aboard. He pushed the skirts away defensively and made a quick turn to the crew, already aware of their smirks. Their grins disappeared.

“Back to work,” he barked.

Samuel followed Olivia, lest she fall. It seemed to be something she did with uncommon regularity. He was amazed he hadn’t had to set a broken bone yet.

They made it to the top deck safely, and, as if waking up from her state, Olivia
finally
recognized his presence. And she smiled.

His gut clenched. He swore again, rubbing at the tingling sensation on the back of his neck.

He wasn’t used to this from her. That smile. This one in particular. It tore at him. It was guileless. And she was not a guileless woman. He smiled back, despite himself. He had witnessed a few of her smiles over the last several days since she had gained her sea legs. The smile she used for polite dinner conversation. The half smile with the lifted brow when she’d made some dry remark or observation. The triumphant smile when she was filled with excitement over a new conclusion to write in her secret journal on hieroglyphics. Hell.
That
smile had nearly blown him off the ship the first time. She’d been bubbly with excitement and chatted nonstop about the completely illogical process that enabled her to “logically” come to her recent deduction.

He’d been caught up in her excitement, energized. Until she realized the implications of her new discovery, and her brain went back into itself. He recognized now the familiar transformation. Her smile would fade, the excited gray eyes turned back to the sharp silver, staring distantly. Then she’d disappear for the rest of the afternoon. He’d concluded that kind of brilliance must be lonely. Especially for a woman living a restricted existence in London.

He scratched his stubbly jaw. And then there was this smile.

The smile of discovery.

The smile she gave when most aware of her surroundings and suddenly filled with awe. And this time he was in her line of sight when she’d set it free. It made him think he had done something good—even when he hadn’t. It also made him protective. She might be a walking library of information, but she was completely inexperienced in the real world.

He was walking to her when suddenly the smile disappeared. He froze. She had a thoughtful frown. His stomach dropped—until he realized she looked past him. He turned to the location of her displeasure.

Elizabeth and Nathan were on the forward top deck enjoying the warm breeze and view of the coast as the ship sailed into the Bay of Gibraltar. Elizabeth turned and called them over. He watched Olivia go, inserting herself between the couple. While Olivia had had her nose in her books, they had become a couple. It seemed Olivia was only just figuring out that mystery. He worried over her sudden mood change and stiffened back.

“It’s magnificent! Is it not, Olivia?”

She nodded, gazing out.
“Gibraltar.
From the Arabic
Jebal Tarik,
or Mountain of Tarik. It dates from the capture of the peninsula by the Moorish leader Tarik in 711.”

Nathan grinned with humor. “But magnificent, nonetheless.” He stepped back a bit to give the women room and joined Samuel.

“Sorry,” Samuel said.

“Nothing to be sorry about, Captain.” Nathan enjoyed the moment, appearing relaxed. “You’ll be taking a boat into shore later?”

He nodded. “With twelve men. You’ll stay here.”

“Expecting trouble?”

“Not sure. The fish are quiet.”

Olivia popped her head into their conversation, curious. “What does that mean? ‘The fish are quiet.’ You really can hear the fish?” She cut off suddenly, having the sense to realize his scowl meant silence. At least he had trained her that much.

“You must admit, it’s a strange expression,” she mumbled.

“Not for this crew, Lady Olivia,” Nathan said. “Excuse me, while I prepare your team, Captain.” He nodded to them both, then offered to escort Elizabeth to her cabin.

Olivia watched them leave together. They shared a warm glance, before Nathan, attentive to Mrs. Tisdale’s comfort, helped her onto the ladder. Olivia’s throat tightened. This would not do at all. She turned her attention to Stafford. He seemed fully aware of the situation and undisturbed. Best she inform him. “She would never leave England, you know.”

“Why not?” Samuel asked, understanding her reference to Elizabeth.

“More to the point, why?” Olivia stated with certainty.

His voice turned harsh. “For freedom, independence, and the opportunity to have a life of her own. And for the most obvious reason of all.”

Olivia bristled. “What’s that?”

He shook his head at her. “Good God, Olivia. You have to be the most obtuse woman I have ever met.”

Olivia’s mouth dropped open in surprise.

“For love, you idiot! You have heard of that?”

Olivia closed her mouth and shook her head at the possibility. “This is flirtation. Mrs. Tisdale is bored. Her life is good in England.”

“Wasting away, ignored, unimportant, the invisible companion to some lonely rich girl.”

BOOK: Siren's Secret
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