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Chapter 11

Olympia put down her pen and gazed thoughtfully at the mysterious phrase she had just unraveled.

Seek the secret beneath the

Siryn's surging sea.

It made no sense, just as the warning about the Guardian made no sense. But Olympia was virtually certain it was another piece of the puzzle.

Before she could consider the problem further, a knock sounded on the study door.

"Enter," she called absently, her attention still on the new clue.

The door opened. Mrs. Bird, Robert, Ethan, and Hugh filed into the study and arranged themselves in a line in front of her desk. Minotaur ambled in behind Hugh and took up a position at the end of the column.

Olympia reluctantly looked up from the Lightbourne diary and found herself faced by a row of determined faces. She gazed back in bemusement.

"Good afternoon," Olympia said. "Is there a problem?"

"Aye," Mrs. Bird said. "There be a problem all right."

Robert, Ethan, and Hugh nodded in agreement.

"Perhaps you'd better see Mr. Chillhurst about it then," Olympia said, her attention still on the phrase that she had just finished transcribing. "He's very good at sorting out problems."

"Yer forgettin' that he be the Viscount Chillhurst now," Mrs. Bird said brusquely.

"Yes, Aunt Olympia," Ethan said helpfully, "You must address him as his lordship now."

"Oh, yes. You're quite right. It slipped my mind again. Very well, take the problem to his lordship." Olympia smiled distractedly. "I'm sure he'll deal with it. He always does."

Robert drew himself up stiffly. "Begging your pardon, Aunt Olympia, but you're the problem."

"I am?" Olympia looked to Mrs. Bird for explanations. "What is this all about?"

Mrs. Bird made fists of her hands on her broad hips and set her mouth in an inflexible line. "That bloody pirate says he's asked you to marry him."

Olympia was suddenly wary. "What of it?"

"He also says ye haven't accepted his proposal yet," Mrs. Bird continued.

Olympia gave her a determinedly reasonable smile. "I can hardly marry a viscount, can I?"

"Why not?" Robert demanded.

"Yes, why not?" Ethan chorused.

Olympia frowned. "Well, he's a viscount. Some day he'll be an earl. He needs a proper wife, not someone like me."

"What's wrong with you?" Hugh asked. "I like you just the way you are."

"Yes, you are a very nice sort of female," Robert said loyally.

"What's more, ye be the one his lordship ruined, Miss Olympia," Mrs. Bird muttered. "And ye be the one he wants to marry."

"I explained to Mr. Chillhurst, I mean, I explained to Lord Chillhurst, that you were not ruined after all," Ethan said. "I told him that you were really quite fit, but he still thinks you should marry him."

"That's right," Hugh added. "And we think you should marry him, too, Aunt Olympia. If you do not, he might decide to leave and we'll probably have to get a new tutor. We shall very likely not be able to find one who knows all about Captain Jack and how to measure the distance across a stream without crossing it and why a kite can fly."

"It's a matter of honor," Robert said darkly.

Olympia was stricken with yet another of the uneasy chills that she had been experiencing all day.

While it was very true that, as a woman of the world, she was not particularly concerned about her own reputation, there was no denying that Jared was a proud man. His honor would matter a great deal to him. If he truly felt that he had to marry her in order to satisfy his own sense of honor, she did not know what she could do about it.

"Who said that it was a matter of honor?" Olympia asked carefully. "Did Chillhurst tell you that, Robert?"

"I'm the one what told Master Robert that it was a matter of honor," Mrs. Bird said. "It's a fact and ye know it, Miss Olympia."

Olympia glanced at the expectant faces of her nephews. "Perhaps we should continue this conversation in private, Mrs. Bird."

"No," Robert said quickly, "we told his lordship that we would all speak to you about this."

Olympia eyed Robert closely. "Did you, indeed?"

"Yes and he seemed quite happy to have our assistance," Robert assured her.

"I see." Olympia straightened in her chair. For Jared to stoop to such tactics could only mean that he was quite determined to secure her compliance.

Mrs. Bird appeared to realize that things had taken a new turn. After a sharp glance at Olympia's face, she shooed the boys toward the door. "Right, then. Ye three have had yer say. Run along upstairs. I'll finish talkin' to Miss Olympia."

Robert looked skeptical. "You will call us if you need us, Mrs. Bird?"

"Aye, I'll do that. Be off with ye now."

The three boys made their bows and marched back out of the room. Minotaur followed. As soon as the door of the study closed behind the little group, there was a rush of feet and the sound of dog claws on the floor.

Olympia listened to the pounding on the stairs and the thundering footsteps that followed in the upstairs hall. No one pounded and thundered that way when Jared was about, she thought.

"I take it his lordship is not at home?" Olympia said.

"No, Miss Olympia, his lordship has gone out for the afternoon." Mrs. Bird angled her chin. "Said he had important business. I wouldn't be surprised if he's out obtainin' a special license."

"Oh, dear." Olympia closed the diary and leaned back in her chair. "Whatever am I going to do, Mrs. Bird?"

"Marry the man."

"I cannot do that."

"Because ye don't think ye'll make him a suitable viscountess?"

"No, I expect I could learn whatever it is I need to know about being a viscountess. It cannot be all that difficult."

"Then what's the real reason ye won't marry him?"

Olympia glanced toward the window. "The real reason I cannot marry him is because he does not love me."

"Bah. I was afeared it were somethin' like that. Now ye listen to me, Miss Olympia, love ain't no reason fer marrying in the first place."

"I disagree, Mrs. Bird," Olympia said distantly. "I cannot imagine marrying a man who does not love me."

"Apparently ye don't mind havin' an affair with him," Mrs. Bird shot back.

Olympia winced at the arrow of truth. "You do not understand," she mumbled.

"I most certainly do understand. When are ye gonna learn to be practical? Ye want to know what yer real problem is?" Mrs. Bird leaned forward aggressively. "Ye've spent so many years with them books of yers, trackin' down strange legends and learnin' strange, foreign ways, that ye ain't learned to be logical about the important things."

Olympia rubbed her forehead. She had developed a headache this afternoon. She almost never had the headache. "He has only asked me to marry him because his fianc'ee saw us together yesterday in Winslow's Mechanical Museum."

"Fianc'ee." Mrs. Bird gave her a scandalized look. "That wicked pirate's got himself a fianc'ee? He's been livin' under yer roof, plotting to ruin you while he's got himself a fianc'ee stashed away someplace?"

"No, no, she's Lady Beaumont now." Olympia sighed. "The engagement was ended some three years ago, I believe."

"Why?" Mrs. Bird asked bluntly.

"They did not suit."

"Hah. There's more to the tale than that, I'll wager." Mrs. Bird got a strange look in her eye. "Might not hurt to find out what happened between his lordship and his fianc'ee three years ago."

"Why?" Olympia gave her a quick, searching glance. "It is certainly none of my affair."

"I ain't so sure about that. His lordship is a very unusual man, if you ask me. 'Course, the fancy often is a bit odd. All the same, I ain't never known one as strange as Lord Chillhurst."

"You have not known any members of the fancy, as you call them, at all, Mrs. Bird. What would you know about their normal behavior?"

"I know it ain't proper for one of 'em to pretend he's a tutor when he ain't," Mrs. Bird retorted.

"Chillhurst had his reasons."

"Did he now?" Mrs. Bird frowned as Olympia rubbed her forehead again. "What's wrong with yer head? Got the headache?"

"Yes. Perhaps I shall go upstairs and rest for a while."

"I'll get ye some of me camphor and ammoniac tonic. Works wonders."

"Thank you." Anything to get away from Mrs. Bird's arguments in favor of marriage to Jared, Olympia thought. She did not want to hear any more such logic. She was already fighting hard enough as it was to resist her heart's desire. She got to her feet.

The brass door knocker clanged sharply just as she started around her desk. Minotaur's muffled bark sounded from the floor above.

"I'll wager that's his lordship. Probably cannot open the door for himself now that he's a viscount." Mrs. Bird bustled out into the hall. "The fancy's an arrogant lot."

Olympia calculated the distance to the stairs. If she moved quickly she could seclude herself in her bedchamber before Jared tried to corner her in the study.

She was tiptoeing toward the door when she heard the sound of voices in the hall. She froze when she recognized two of the three.

"I'll see if her ladyship is at home," Mrs. Bird said in a tone Olympia had never heard her use before. It had an entirely new element of lofty disdain in it.

A moment later Mrs. Bird appeared in the doorway of the study. Her face was flushed red with excitement. "Two ladies and a gentleman have come to call," she hissed. "They asked for the Viscountess Chillhurst. They think yer already married to his lordship."

"I know. Damnation. This would have to happen."

"I put 'em in the front parlor."

"Tell them I am ill, Mrs. Bird."

Mrs. Bird drew herself up with the air of a general going into battle. "Ye'll have to see 'em or they'll wonder what's goin' on. We can handle this."

"Not without Chillhurst."

"Yes we can," Mrs. Bird nodded resolutely. "We'll pretend yer the viscountess. They'll never know the difference."

"Good grief, what a tangle. I am not up to dealing with this disaster, Mrs. Bird."

"Don't ye worry none. I'll take care of everything. Oh, here, the gentleman gave me their cards."

"Let me see them." Olympia took the cards, glanced at them, and groaned. "Lady Beaumont, Lady Kirkdale, and someone named Gifford Seaton."

"I'll fetch tea," Mrs. Bird said. "Don't fret. I'll remember to address ye as yer ladyship in front of yer guests."

She rushed from the room before Olympia could find a way to stop her.

With a sense of impending doom, Olympia went slowly down the hall to the front parlor. She wished Jared would miraculously arrive and deal with the situation. He was always so good at dealing with situations.

It occurred to her that if she did not convince him to carry on with their romantic liaison, he would probably leave and she would be obliged to handle these annoying interruptions on her own.

Of course, dealing with the details of daily life would constitute the least of her problems, she thought gloomily. When Jared left, her heart was going to break. She would not have the least notion of how to repair it.

Demetria and Constance were seated on opposite ends of the sofa. Dressed in blue and primrose, respectively, they formed an elegant tableau that was singularly out of place in the modest parlor.

A handsome man who appeared to be a couple of years younger than Olympia stood near the window. His hair was the same shade of blond as Demetria's. He was dressed in the first stare of fashion with an intricately tied cravat, pleated trousers, and a well-cut coat that was cropped at the waist.

"Lady Chillhurst." Demetria smiled serenely from the sofa but her cool eyes were bright with speculation. "You made the acquaintance of my very good friend, Lady Kirkdale, yesterday, I believe. Allow me to present my brother, Gifford Seaton."

"Mr. Seaton." Olympia inclined her head the way she had seen Jared do so often.

"Lady Chillhurst." Gifford smiled as he walked toward her with languid grace. He took Olympia's hand, bent over it, and brushed his lips lightly across her skin. "It is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Gifford insisted on paying this call," Demetria said blandly. "Constance and I decided to come with him."

Gifford was gazing raptly at Olympia. "You are not at all what I expected from my sister's description, madam."

"What on earth is that supposed to mean?" Olympia retrieved her hand. Her headache was making her irritable, she thought. She wished all of these beautifully dressed people would depart and leave her alone.

"I did not mean to offend you, madam," Gifford said quickly. "It is just that Demetria said you were obviously from the country and I thought perhaps you would be rather countrified in appearance. I had not expected you to be so charming."

"Thank you." Olympia was not certain how to respond to the compliment. "I suppose you had best sit down, Mr. Seaton. My housekeeper is preparing tea."

"We shall not be staying long," Constance said calmly. "We are only here out of curiosity, you understand."

Olympia eyed her uneasily. "Curiosity?"

Demetria gave a soft trill of laughter. "You must know, my dear, that Chillhurst and I were once engaged to be married. When my brother discovered yesterday that his lordship had finally wed, he could not resist learning a bit more about you."

Gifford's smile turned icy. "His lordship had very particular requirements in a wife. I was curious to see the lady who had met his very exacting specifications."

"I have not the least notion of what you are talking about," Olympia said.

Gifford sat down near the window. He seemed fascinated by Olympia. "You may as well know the facts before you go into Society, madam. 'Tis no secret that Chillhurst ended the engagement with my sister when he discovered the true state of her financial affairs. He had wrongly assumed that she was an heiress, you see."

"No, I do not see." Olympia felt like a mouse surrounded by three sleek cats who were bent on toying with her before they moved in for the kill.

Gifford's gaze narrowed. "Chillhurst made it clear three years ago that his only requirement in a wife was that she bring him a fortune."

"Gifford, please." Demetria gave her brother a repressive glance and then smiled wryly at Olympia. "Chillhurst bears a noble title, but even his own family admits that he has the heart of a merchant."

"With Chillhurst everything must come down to business," Gifford said sullenly.

"Now, Gifford, I am certain Lady Chillhurst suits him very well," Constance said, not unkindly. "She appears to be a very practical creature, herself."

"What makes you say that?" Olympia asked, startled. No one had ever called her practical.

Gifford frowned. "Well, it's obvious, is it not? You must have a fortune, else Chillhurst would never have married you. And lord knows he controls a bloody fortune. Yet he's got you tucked away here in an extremely unfashionable part of town." His gaze dismissed her plain muslin gown. "Furthermore, it's clear you do not spend much money on your clothes. One can only assume you have a fine sense of economy, madam."

"Chillhurst would appreciate that." Demetria's smile did not reach her eyes and her voice had a brittle quality. "I do believe he feared that I would spend his fortune into the ground. And he was very probably right. I must admit I do like pretty things."

Constance gave her an amused little smile. "Yes, you do, Demetria. And pretty things tend to be expensive."

"But they are worth every penny," Demetria said.

Gifford's eyes flickered unpleasantly. "Chillhurst has plenty of money. The man's rich as Croesus. He did not need to marry a fortune."

Olympia opened her mouth on an angry protest, but stopped when she caught the uneasy look Demetria exchanged with Constance.

With a flash of intuition Olympia suddenly comprehended the reason for the tension in the air. Demetria and her friend had not wanted to come here today. They were present in a vain effort to control Gifford. The man seethed with anger and pent-up frustration and all of the intense emotion appeared to be directed at Jared.

Olympia grew thoughtful.

Demetria rushed to distract attention from Gifford's rudeness. "You must forgive my brother. He is still smarting a bit even after all these years because Chillhurst very sensibly refused his challenge."

Olympia nearly stopped breathing. She stared at Demetria for an instant and then turned to Gifford. "Never tell me that you challenged Chillhurst to a duel?"

"No offense, madam, but I had no choice." Gifford got up restlessly and strode to the window. "He treated my sister in a most shabby fashion. I was forced to issue a challenge."

"Now, Gifford." Demetria shot her brother another uneasy glance. "There is no need to go into that old subject. It has been three years, after all, and I am happily married to another."

Olympia eyed Gifford's stiff shoulders. "I am certain there must be more to the story than you are telling me, Mr. Seaton."

Gifford shrugged. "I assure you, there is not. After Chillhurst ended the engagement, I called him out. Told him that as far as I was concerned, he had grossly insulted Demetria."

Demetria sighed softly. Constance touched her arm in a silent, comforting gesture.

"What did Chillhurst say when you accused him of insulting your sister?" Olympia asked curiously.

"He very properly offered his apologies," Demetria said smoothly. "Is that not right, Gifford?"

"Yes, damn him. That is exactly what he did. Offered his apologies and said he would not meet me on the field of honor. Bloody coward, that's what he is."

"Gifford, you should not say such things in front of Lady Chillhurst," Demetria said with a touch of desperation.

"Pay attention to your sister," Constance murmured.

"I'm only telling Lady Chillhurst the facts," Gifford stormed. "She ought to know the sort of man she married."

Olympia stared at Gifford. "Have you gone mad? My husband is no coward."

"Of course he's not," Demetria said quickly. "No one would dream of accusing Chillhurst of cowardice."

"Bah." Gifford's mouth tightened. "He's a coward, right enough."

Constance groaned. "I told you that it was not wise to accompany your brother on this call, Demetria."

"What was I supposed to do?" Demetria asked half under her breath. "He was bound and determined to come here today."

Olympia's headache was getting worse. "I believe I have had quite enough of entertaining callers this afternoon. I wish all of you would leave."

Demetria made soothing noises. "Please forgive my brother, Lady Chillhurst. He is of a hot-blooded temperament and quite protective of me. Gifford, you promised you would not cause a scene. Please apologize to Lady Chillhurst."

Gifford narrowed his eyes. "I will not apologize for the truth, Demetria."

"Apologize for your sister's sake, if nothing else," Constance said coolly. "I'm certain that none of us wants that old gossip resurrected. It will only cause a great deal of grief for all concerned." She paused delicately. "Beaumont would not be at all pleased to hear it."

Olympia noticed that the last comment appeared to have some effect. Gifford gave his sister and Constance a look of simmering frustration. Then he reluctantly turned to Olympia and inclined his head in a small bow.

"My apologies, madam."

Olympia had had enough. "I am not concerned with your apologies. As it happens, I am quite busy today. If you do not mind—"

"Do not think ill of us, Lady Chillhurst." Demetria adjusted her gloves. "It was all rather unpleasant at the time, but I have told Gifford often enough that what happened three years ago was for the best. Is that not correct, Constance?"

"Quite correct," Constance said. "If Chillhurst had not cried off the engagement, Demetria would never have married Beaumont. And I am convinced that she is far happier with him than she would ever have been with Chillhurst."

"There is no question about it." Demetria looked at Olympia. "Beaumont has been very good to me, madam. I am quite satisfied with my choice of husbands. I would not have you believing that I am pining after Chillhurst. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Gifford swore softly.

Olympia's head was throbbing very badly now. She wondered how a proper viscountess went about getting rid of unwanted guests in the parlor. She wished Chillhurst would return. He would know what to do.

"Tea, madam," Mrs. Bird announced from the doorway in her new, stentorian accents. "Shall I pour?"

Olympia looked up, grateful for the interruption. "Thank you, Mrs. Bird."

Mrs. Bird beamed as she lumbered triumphantly into the parlor. She clutched a massive tray ladened with what appeared to be every single piece of the ancient tea service that had come with the house. A smaller woman would have collapsed beneath the weight of the heavy, chipped crockery.

She set the tray down on a small table and went to work with a great deal of energy. Cups and saucers clattered. Spoons clashed.

Demetria and Constance eyed the tea tray and Mrs. Bird with some trepidation. Gifford's smile was derisive.

Olympia decided to make another attempt to clear the parlor of intruders.

"Do you know," she announced with grim determination, "I have not been feeling at all well this afternoon. I do not particularly care what the rest of you do, but I am going upstairs to my bedchamber immediately."

Everyone turned to gaze at her in astonishment.

"Here now, I just brung the tea," Mrs. Bird complained in an aggrieved tone. She hefted the heavy pot. "Ain't no one leavin' here until they've had a proper cup."

"I do not believe we have time for tea," Demetria said quickly. She rose from the sofa.

"No, indeed." Constance got to her feet. "We must be on our way."

"Don't ye fret, I'll pour it real quick-like." Mrs. Bird filled one of the cups and shoved it at Demetria. "Here ye go."

Demetria automatically reached for the cup and saucer. She failed to get a grip on it before Mrs. Bird let go of it.

The cup teetered and toppled. Tea splashed on Demetria's lovely blue gown. She gave a soft cry and stepped back hurriedly.

"Oh, dear," Olympia said in resignation.

"This gown was delivered only yesterday." Demetria brushed angrily at the damp spots. "It cost a fortune."

Constance produced a lacy white handkerchief and started to dab at the stains on Demetria's gown. "It's all right, Demetria. Beaumont will buy you a dozen new gowns."

"That is hardly the point, Constance." Demetria gave Mrs. Bird a disgusted glance. "The woman is incompetent, Lady Chillhurst. Why on earth do you tolerate her on your staff ?"

"Mrs. Bird is an excellent housekeeper," Olympia said loyally.

" 'Course I am." Mrs. Bird waved the teapot in a threatening manner. "I work for a genuine viscount, don't I?" Tea splashed onto the carpet.

"Good lord," Constance said with awed amusement. "This is really quite extraordinary. Wait until we see our friends at the Newburys' card party this evening. They will not believe the tale."

"You have no right to gossip about us," Olympia snapped. She got to her feet and gathered herself for another eviction attempt.

A series of loud yelps sounded out in the hall.

Hugh's voice called from the top of the stairs. "Come back up here, Minotaur. Here, boy. Come back."

A loud, piercing whistle followed. Dog claws scrabbled on the wooden floor.

An instant later Minotaur bounded into the parlor. The dog lurched forward to greet Olympia's guests. En route, his massive tail swiped the tea tray and sent two more cups crashing to the floor.

"Bloody hell," Mrs. Bird grumbled. "Now I'll have to fetch some more."

"Do not bother on our account," Demetria said hastily.

Constance reeled back in alarm as Minotaur charged the sofa. "Get that creature away from us."

Minotaur turned his huge head at the sound of her voice and, tongue lolling, veered toward her.

"I say." Gifford looked confused. He started across the room with the obvious intention of grabbing the dog's collar.

Minotaur barked in delight, apparently having concluded that the stranger wanted to play a game.

Olympia heard the front door open and close. She whirled around and saw Jared step into the hall. She went to the parlor entrance and confronted him with her hands on her hips.

"There you are, sir. It's about time you got here."

"Something wrong?" Jared asked politely.

Olympia waved a hand to encompass the noisy, chaotic scene behind her. "I wish you would do something about all these people in my parlor."

Jared walked forward and surveyed the room with calm interest.

"Minotaur," he said quietly.

Minotaur stopped trying to dodge Gifford's grasp and dashed across the room. He skidded to a halt in front of Jared, sat back on his haunches, and looked up for approval.

Jared rested his hand on the top of Minotaur's head and the dog grinned.

"Go," Jared ordered quietly. "Upstairs, Minotaur."

Minotaur rose obediently and trotted quickly out of the parlor.

Jared glanced at Mrs. Bird. "Never mind the tea, Mrs. Bird."

"But they ain't had any yet," Mrs. Bird protested.

Jared looked at Gifford with chilling politeness. "I'm quite certain that our guests do not have time for tea. You and your companions were just about to leave, were you not, Mr. Seaton?"

Gifford gave Jared a look of smoldering dislike as he brushed dog hair off the sleeve of his coat. "Yes, as a matter of fact, we were. I'm certain we've all had enough of this bedlam."

"Good day, Lady Chillhurst," Demetria said.

She and Constance walked quickly toward the door. Gifford stalked after them.

Jared stepped aside to allow everyone out of the parlor.

Olympia saw Demetria slant a mocking glance at Jared as she went through the door.

"You were always a rather strange sort, Chillhurst, but this household is quite remarkable, even for a member of your odd family. What on earth are you about, my lord?"

"My domestic arrangements need not concern you, madam," Jared said. "Do not return to this house without an invitation."

"Bastard," Gifford muttered on his way out the door. "I only hope your poor wife knows what she's gotten herself into by marrying you."

"Hush, Gifford," Demetria said. "Come along. We have other calls to make this afternoon."

"I doubt they will be as amusing as this one," Constance murmured.

The visitors made their way out onto the front steps. Jared closed the door behind them without bothering to see them into their waiting carriage. He turned to Olympia.

"You will not receive any of those three again," he said. "Is that clear?"

It was the last straw as far as Olympia was concerned. She stalked toward the stairs. "Do not give me orders, Chillhurst. Lest you forget, I am still the one in charge of this household and you are a member of my staff. You will kindly remember your place and behave accordingly."

Jared ignored her outburst. "Olympia, I wish to speak with you."

"Not now, sir. This has been a most unpleasant day. I am going to my bedchamber to rest before dinner." Halfway up the stairs, she paused and glared back at him. "By the by, sir, did you truly sink so low as to press my nephews and Mrs. Bird to speak to me on the subject of marriage?"

Jared walked to the foot of the stairs and gripped the newel post. "Yes, Olympia, I did."

"You should be ashamed of yourself, sir."

"I am quite desperate, Olympia." Jared smiled a strange, wistful smile. "I will do anything, say anything, sink to any depths, resort to any tactic in order to make you my wife."

He meant it, Olympia thought. In spite of her foul mood and aching head, a thrill of excitement went through her. The last of her resistance melted like wax in a fire.

"There is no need for any more such maneuvers, sir," she said, still annoyed with him and vividly aware of the risk she was taking. "I have decided to marry you."

Jared's hand tightened fiercely around the carved top of the newel post. "You have?"

"Yes."

"Thank you, Olympia. I shall endeavor to see that you do not regret your decision."

"I very probably shall regret it," she said waspishly, "but I cannot see any help for it. Please leave me alone for a while."

"Olympia, wait one moment." Jared searched her face. "May I ask why you changed your mind since I last saw you, my dear?"

"No." Olympia continued on up the steps.

"Olympia, please, I must know the answer. My curiosity will eat me alive. Did the boys convince you to change your mind?"

"No."

"Mrs. Bird, perhaps? I know she is very concerned about your reputation, even if you are not."

"Mrs. Bird had nothing to do with my decision." Olympia was nearly to the top of the stairs.

"Then why have you agreed to marry me?" Jared called.

Olympia paused on the landing and looked down at him with cool hauteur. "I changed my mind, sir, because I have come to realize that you excel at the task of superintending a household."

"What of it?" Jared asked warily.

"Why, it's quite simple, sir. I dare not lose you. Good staff is so very hard to get, you know."

Jared gazed at her in amazement. "Olympia, surely you are not marrying me simply because I can provide you with an orderly household."

"Personally, I think that is an excellent reason for marriage. Oh, there is one more thing, sir."

Jared's gaze narrowed. "Yes?"

"Do you happen to know what the word Siryn might refer to?"

He blinked. "A siren is a mythical creature who lured unwary sailors to their doom."

"Not that sort of siren," she said impatiently. "I mean Siryn spelled with a y."

"Siryn was the name of the ship that Captain Jack sailed while he pursued his career as a buccaneer in the West Indies," Jared said. "Why do you ask?"

She gripped the railing. "Are you certain?"

Jared shrugged. "That is what my father claims."

"The drawings on the endpapers," Olympia whispered.

Jared frowned. "What about it?"

"The drawings on the endpapers of the diary are pictures of old-fashioned vessels sailing on storm-tossed seas, surging seas, if you will recall. One ship bears the figure of a woman on the prow. A siren, perhaps."

"I am told Captain Jack's ship had such a prow figure."

Olympia forgot about her headache. She picked up her skirts and flew back down the stairs.

"Olympia, wait. Where are you going?" Jared demanded as she rushed past him.

"I'll be in my study." She turned in the doorway. "I am going to be very busy for a while, Mr. Chillhurst. See to it that I am not disturbed."

Jared's brows rose. "Of course, Miss Wingfield. As a member of your household staff, it is my pleasure to carry out your instructions."

Olympia slammed the study door in his face. She went over to her desk and opened Claire Lightbourne's diary.

She stood gazing down at the design which decorated the endpapers at the front of the diary for a long time and then, very slowly, she picked up a penknife.

Five minutes later she tugged back the picture of the Siryn sailing the surging sea and discovered the map that had been tucked beneath it.

It was a map of an island. An uncharted island in the West Indies. But it was not a complete map, Olympia saw. It had been torn in half.

The other half was missing.

There was a sentence written on the bottom of the map fragment.

The Siryn and the Serpent must be joined, two halves of a whole, a lock that awaits a key.

Olympia quickly turned to the back of the diary and looked at the picture of the ship that sailed a tumultuous sea. Sure enough, the figure on the prow was that of a serpent.

Eagerly Olympia pried up the back endpaper.

There was no sign of the other half of the map.


Chapter 10 | Deception | Chapter 12