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Chapter 15

"I say," Hugh whispered when Jared unlocked the door at the top of the stairs in the Flamecrest mansion. "Will you look at that?"

"This is the best room of all. There are all sorts of interesting things in here," Ethan said. He crowded into the chamber behind his twin and surveyed the array of trunks and shrouded furniture that filled the room. "I'll wager there's a fortune in fabulous jewels hidden in one of those old trunks."

"I would not be at all surprised." Olympia held the candle higher and peered over the boys' heads to survey the vast, shadowed room. Huge, delicate cob-webs vibrated like tattered veils in the dim glow of the taper.

Ethan was right, she thought. This chamber, which appeared to be a storage room, was the most intriguing of the many rooms Jared had shown them on the tour through the old mansion.

It was not the most unusual chamber. That honor had to go to the gallery on the floor below which contained a staircase that led nowhere. It simply stopped midway up a stone wall. The room they were exploring now, however, contained the most interesting collection of bits and pieces, Olympia decided.

"There is no telling what one might discover in here," Olympia said.

"We'll likely uncover a ghost or two," Robert predicted with ghoulish delight. "This is a very eerie place, is it not? It looks just like one of the chambers in a haunted castle that is described in a book that I am reading."

"Ghosts," Hugh repeated in a voice that crackled with excitement and dread. "Do you really think there might be ghosts in here?"

"Perhaps the ghost of Captain Jack, himself," Ethan suggested in a voice laced with sepulchral horror. "Perhaps he walks through the walls and goes down that flight of stairs in the gallery."

Jared glanced at Ethan with slightly raised brows.

Olympia frowned in thought. "Now there's an interesting notion. The ghost of Captain Jack."

"Captain Jack died peacefully in his bed," Jared announced in a thoroughly dampening tone. "He was eighty-two at the time and he was laid to rest in the family plot on the Isle of Flame. This house had not even been built at the time of his death."

"Then who built this wonderful house, sir?" Hugh asked.

"Captain Jack's son, Captain Harry."

Hugh's eyes widened. "Your grandfather built it? I say, he must have been a very clever man."

"He was clever, all right," Jared said. "Clever at spending money. This house represents one of the more interesting methods he concocted to demolish a considerable portion of the family fortunes."

"What happened to the rest of your family fortunes?" Ethan asked.

"My father and uncle took care of most of the remainder. If it had not been for my mother, we would all have been sunk in poverty by now," Jared explained.

"What did your mother do to save you from poverty?" Robert asked.

"She gave me one of her necklaces." Jared met Olympia's eyes. "It had been given to her by my grandmother, who had received it from my great-grandmother."

"Claire Lightbourne?" Olympia asked, her eyes widening.

"Yes. It was fashioned of diamonds and rubies and was quite valuable. My mother gave it to me when I turned seventeen and told me to give it to the woman I eventually married. She meant for it to descend down through the family in an unbroken line of Flamecrest viscountesses. Mother was something of a romantic, you see."

"Aunt Olympia is the woman you eventually married," Robert pointed out. "Did you give the necklace to her?"

"Yes, did you give it to Aunt Olympia?" Hugh asked, obviously enthralled by the tale.

"No," Jared said without any sign of emotion. "I sold it on my nineteenth birthday."

"Sold it." Ethan grimaced with disappointment.

"You didn't, sir." Robert looked crestfallen.

Hugh stared at Jared. "You sold your great-grandmother's beautiful necklace? How could you when you knew it was supposed to go to your wife?"

"I used the money to help refit the one ship my family still owned at the time." Jared did not take his gaze off Olympia. "That ship became the foundation for all of my present business enterprises."

Olympia saw the bleak determination in him and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt how much it had cost him to sell his mother's necklace. "That was very practical of you, my lord," she said bracingly. "I am certain that your mother was proud that you used her necklace to rebuild the Flamecrest family fortunes."

"Not particularly," Jared said coolly. "My mother was as melodramatic as everyone else in my family. She wept when she learned how I had financed that first ship. That did not stop her from enjoying the results, however."

"What do you mean?" Hugh asked.

Jared made a motion with his hand that took in the vast mansion. "Mother gave many a fine party here in town. She loved to entertain and she spent a considerable amount on the balls and soirees she gave in this house. I remember one in particular where she arranged for a waterfall and a small lagoon of champagne to be created in one room."

"I say," Hugh whispered. "A whole waterfall of champagne."

Robert tilted his head inquiringly. "I'll wager you bought her necklace back after you got rich."

Jared's jaw tightened. "I attempted to do so but I was too late. The necklace had long since been destroyed by the jeweler who bought it. The stones had been removed and reset in various bracelets, rings, and brooches. The whole lot had been sold off into a variety of hands. It was impossible to find all the gems and put them back together."

"So it was lost forever," Hugh said with a dramatic sigh.

Jared inclined his head. "I'm afraid so."

Olympia lifted her chin. "It sounds to me as though you did the right thing, my lord. You are to be commended for taking the logical, practical approach under the circumstances and I suspect every member of your family is secretly glad that you did."

Jared lifted one shoulder in a seemingly negligent shrug and glanced around the dark chamber. The heavy key he had used to unlock the door dangled from the iron ring in his hand. "It makes no matter now, does it? The thing is done. As for ghosts and such, I doubt that you will discover anything of interest in here except some dusty furniture and a few moldering family portraits."

"Portraits." A surge of excitement swept through Olympia. "Of course. Mayhap there is a picture of Claire Lightbourne stored up here. Or even of Captain Jack, himself."

Jared swept the room with one last, dismissive glance. "Mayhap. You can search for them later, if you like. It is getting rather late and I suspect it is almost time for dinner." His hand went automatically to his empty watch pocket.

Olympia winced. Ethan, Hugh, and Robert stared at Jared's hand and held their breath.

Jared's mouth curved ruefully as his fingers brushed the empty pocket. He turned without comment and started toward the door. "Let us be off. We have wasted enough time on this tour."

The boys trailed reluctantly after him. Olympia took one last, wistful look around the chamber before following everyone else out the door. She consoled herself with the knowledge that she would be able to explore the room more thoroughly at another time.

Jared steepled his fingers and regarded his new butler with an assessing gaze. He had hired the man, himself, after telling Felix not to bother filling that particular post.

Felix had been surprised by the announcement that Jared planned to interview his own candidates for the position. "Never tell me you want to be bothered with the task of selecting a butler, Chillhurst."

"I fear I must handle the matter personally," Jared had said. "The position requires a unique set of qualities, you see."

Felix had stared at him uncomprehendingly. "Why is that?"

Jared had smiled slightly at his friend's bewilderment. "Because this person will be obliged to work with my present housekeeper who is a most unusual female."

"I told you to let me replace her with a trained and experienced housekeeper," Felix had muttered.

"I cannot do that. My wife would not hear of replacing Mrs. Bird. She is quite attached to her."

Felix had given Jared a strange look. "You are letting your wife dictate to you in such matters?"

Jared had opened his hand in a mocking gesture of resigned submission to the lot of a husband. "Let us say that I am happy to indulge my new bride."

Felix had snorted loudly. "I begin to believe you are telling me the truth when you say that you are a man caught up in the web of passion, Chillhurst. This is not like you, my friend. Perhaps you should consult a physician."

"Do you think so?"

Felix chuckled. "Yes, but I would not advise consulting the same one Beaumont is seeing. From all accounts the quack has had no luck in curing Beaumont of his unfortunate affliction."

The memory of Felix's advice on physicians made Jared smile faintly as he surveyed Mr. Graves of Bow Street.

Graves was suitably named, Jared thought. The man was tall, stoop-shouldered, and cadaverously thin. He wore the perpetually doleful expression of an undertaker. Jared had chosen him after interviewing several candidates from Bow Street because of the gleam of canny intelligence in the man's eyes.

"Now, then, do you understand your duties in this household?" Jared asked.

"Aye, m'lord, I believe I do." Graves tugged uncomfortably at his new black jacket. He was clearly not accustomed to such finery. "I'm to keep an eye on the inhabitants of this house and see to it that no one is admitted to the premises who is not known and approved of by yerself."

"Correct. You will also watch for any unusual or suspicious occurrences. I want a daily report of all events, no matter how mundane, that transpire while I am not in residence. Is that clear?"

"Aye, m'lord." Graves made a valiant effort to straighten his stooped shoulders. "Ye may depend upon me, sir. I done well by ye on the other matter, did I not?"

"Yes, Graves you did." Jared tapped his fingertips together. "You and your friend Fox did an excellent job collecting the evidence I needed to prove my theory."

"Fox and I are proud to give satisfaction, sir."

"As I told you, I have reason to believe that someone attempted to kidnap my wife's nephew on one occasion. In addition it is possible that someone made an effort to break into our former residence in Ibberton Street. I want you to keep an eye on things. I am not concerned so much with the possibility of theft as I am with the safety of my family."

"Understood, yer lordship."

"Very well, you will take up your tasks immediately." Jared frowned. "One more thing, Graves."

"Aye, m'lord?"

"You will make every effort to get along with our housekeeper, Mrs. Bird. I do not wish to be bothered with squabbles among the staff. Is that clear?"

Graves's eyes gleamed. "Aye, sir. Mrs. Bird and I have already made our acquaintance. A fine figure of a female, if ye don't mind me sayin' so, sir. Got plenty of spirit. Always did like a female with spirit."

Jared concealed a smile. "I see that I need not concern myself with the matter, then. You may go, Graves."

"Aye, yer lordship."

Jared waited until his new butler had left the library. Then he got to his feet and walked around his desk to stand at the window. The gardens were still in a sorry state but the big house, which had been closed up for years, had been completely transformed inside. Everything had been dusted off and polished to a rich gloss. The woodwork gleamed and the windows sparkled. The old monstrosity of a mansion had been miraculously turned into a home for his lively young charges and his wife, Jared reflected.

No, it was the other way around, he thought suddenly. The three boys and Olympia had transformed the house into a home.

After a few minutes of quiet reflection Jared went back to his desk and sat down behind it. He unlocked a drawer and removed his appointment journal. Opening it, he contemplated the series of notes he had made over the past few months.

There was no longer any way he could avoid the obvious conclusion. The evidence had grown too strong to be ignored. Jared wondered why he had put off the inevitable for so long. It was not like him to hesitate over such matters.

He had suspected the culprit from the beginning but he had been hoping that another explanation could be found for the embezzlement.

It was time to take practical action. He had played the fool long enough.

Word that Olympia was married to the Viscount Chillhurst spread like wildfire. She rather wished it had not.

Being a viscountess was turning out to be a great nuisance, she thought two days later as she was handed down from the ancient Flamecrest town coach. It seemed that one could not even go about on one's own when one had a title.

Jared had ordered the old coach to be taken out of storage, polished up, and horsed with a team of sturdy grays. He had then stipulated that Olympia be accompanied by one of the new footmen and a maid whenever she left the mansion.

The new maid, an anxious-to-please young woman of seventeen, dutifully followed Olympia out of the heavy coach and up the steps of the Musgrave Institution.

"You may wait on one of those benches, Lucy." Olympia waved toward the wooden benches in the hall outside the library. "I shall be back in an hour or so."

"Yes, ma'am." Lucy curtsied politely.

Olympia hurried into the vast library. The elderly librarian nodded in greeting.

"Good day to you, Lady Chillhurst. Regret any discourtesy I may have given in the past."

"Good morning, Boggs." Olympia stripped off her gloves and smiled at the man. "What is this business of some discourtesy? You have always been most gracious."

"Regret to say I was unaware that you were the Viscountess Chillhurst, madam." Boggs gave her an injured look.

"Oh that." Olympia waved the matter aside. She and Jared had discussed how to handle this sort of situation. "Of course you were unaware of the facts. My husband prefers his privacy and therefore we attempted to go about anonymously while here in town. But we have been discovered so his lordship has decided there is no longer any point trying to avoid the nonsense of having our identity known to all and sundry."

Boggs was clearly confused about why anyone with an illustrious title would wish to be anonymous but he was much too polite to comment. "Yes, madam."

"Will you mind very much if I go through the charts and maps in the West Indies cabinet one more time?"

"Not at all." Boggs bowed her into the map room. "Help yourself, madam. Already unlocked it for another member of the society. He's in there now, nosing about."

"Oh?" Olympia frowned slightly. "Mr. Torbert or Lord Aldridge?"

"No, Mr. Gifford Seaton," Boggs said.

"Mr. Seaton?" Olympia was so startled she nearly dropped her reticule. "I did not know he was a member of the society."

"Yes, indeed. Joined right after his sister married Lord Beaumont. That would have been about two years ago, I believe. Spends a great deal of time in the West Indies cabinet."

"I see." Olympia went to the door and looked into the musty room.

Gifford was standing in front of a large mahogany table, poring over a map he had unrolled. He glanced up and saw Olympia. His smile was calculating.

"Lady Chillhurst." Gifford kept one hand on the edge of the unfurled map as he gave Olympia a small, elegant little bow. "How nice to see you. I had heard that you were in the habit of using the society's library."

"Good morning, Mr. Seaton. I did not realize until this moment that you are active in the Society for Travel and Exploration."

"I have read all of your papers that were published in the society's journal," Gifford murmured. "Extremely informative, if I may say so."

"How kind of you." Olympia was ridiculously pleased. The wariness she had experienced on seeing Gifford in the library subsided. She stepped closer to the table and glanced at the map. "I see you are studying the West Indies. Are you writing a paper or planning to travel there?"

"Either is a possibility." Gifford watched her closely. "I understand that you are also interested in the region, Lady Chillhurst. Boggs tells me you have been studying the charts and maps of the area."

"He is correct." She surveyed the map that Gifford had unrolled. "I have not had an opportunity to view this particular chart, however. It appears to be quite old."

"It is. I found it last month and had it put aside in a special drawer so that I could get to it readily."

"Really?" Olympia studied the map eagerly. "That is no doubt why I did not come across it in my earlier investigations."

"No doubt." Gifford hesitated and then gestured toward the map. "You are welcome to inspect it now, if you wish. I find it interesting because it depicts several small islands that I have never been able to locate on any other map in the society's collection."

"How very exciting." Olympia tossed aside her reticule and bent over the old sheet of parchment.

"I collect you are interested in uncharted islands in the West Indies, madam?"

"Yes, indeed." Olympia bent closer to the map, seeking familiar reference points that she had located on other charts of the area. The plain, undecorated chart was disappointing at first glance. "This is a very unusual depiction of the geography of the area. It is not nearly as elaborate as most."

"I am told it was drawn personally by a buccaneer who sailed the West Indies over a hundred years ago."

"A buccaneer's map?" Olympia looked up quickly and found Gifford staring at her intently. "Truly?"

He shrugged. "That's what Boggs told me. But who can be certain about such things? The map is not signed so there is no way to verify the name of the man who drew it."

"Fascinating." Olympia went back to perusing the map. "It certainly appears to be old."

"Yes." Gifford shifted slightly, moving to stand close beside her so that he could continue to study the map. "Lady Chillhurst, I would like to apologize for my behavior the other afternoon. I regret any offense."

"Do not concern yourself, sir." Olympia peered more closely at a small dot of land that she had not noticed on other maps. "I understand that there is a great deal of emotion involved in the matter."

"My sister and I have long been alone in the world," Gifford said. "Until she married Beaumont, our financial situation was extremely precarious. There were times when I feared we would both end our days in a workhouse or debtor's prison."

Sympathy welled up in Olympia. At least she had been spared such fears, thanks to the small inheritance she had received from Aunt Sophy and Aunt Ida.

"How very dreadful for both of you," Olympia said gently. "Did you have no relatives to whom you could turn?"

"None." Gifford's smile was rueful. "We lived on our wits, madam. And most of the time I regret to say that my sister carried the greater portion of the burden. For many years I was too young to be of much help. She took care of both of us until she could secure a good marriage."

"I see."

Gifford's mouth hardened. "My family was not always impoverished. Demetria and I were reduced to embarrassing circumstances because my father had no talent for financial matters. To make matters worse, he had a taste for the gaming hells. He shot himself the morning after he gambled away the last of his inheritance."

Olympia forgot all about the map on the table in front of her. The pain in Gifford's eyes could not be ignored. "I am extremely sorry to hear that."

"My grandmother was a great heiress, you know."

"She was?"

"Yes." Gifford assumed a far-away expression, as though he were looking into the past and seeing it clearly. "She had inherited a shipping empire from my great-grandfather and she managed it as well as any man."

"She must have been a very clever woman," Olympia said.

"They say she was extremely shrewd. There was a time when her ships sailed from America to the farthest corners of the globe, bringing back silk and spices and tea."


"Yes. My great-grandfather established his shipping business in Boston. My grandmother was raised there. She eventually married one of her captains. His name was Peter Seaton."

"Your grandfather?"

Gifford nodded. "I never knew him or my grandmother. My father was their only child. He inherited the business when his parents died. He sold the ships and then moved to England." Gifford's hand closed into a fist. "He married and then he proceeded to destroy the entire fortune."

"What happened to your mother?"

Gifford looked down at his tightly knotted hand. "She died when I was born."

"And now you have no one but your sister."

Gifford's eyes narrowed. "And she has no one but me. I trust you can understand why I was consumed with rage when Chillhurst ended the engagement. She had worked so hard to secure his interest. She had pawned the last of my mother's jewelry to buy the gowns she needed to impress him that summer."

Olympia touched his sleeve. "Mr. Seaton, I am very saddened to learn of your unfortunate family situation. But please do not blame my husband for what happened. I know him well enough to be quite certain that he did not end the engagement because he learned of your sister's financial circumstances."

"Demetria told me the truth and I prefer to believe her, not Chillhurst." Gifford turned abruptly away from the table. "It is all so damnably unfair."

"But your sister has made a financially secure marriage and seems content. You have the advantages of a connection with Lord Beaumont. Why are you not content, also?"

Gifford swung around to face her, his face tight with anger and despair. "Because it is not right. Don't you understand? It is not fair that Chillhurst has it all and we have nothing. Nothing."

"Mr. Seaton, I do not understand. It seems to me that you have everything you wanted."

Gifford made an obvious effort to regain control of himself. He closed his eyes briefly and drew a deep breath. "I beg your pardon, Lady Chillhurst. I do not know what came over me."

Olympia smiled uncertainly. "Perhaps we should change the subject. Shall we study this chart together?"

"Some other time, perhaps." Gifford drew his watch out of its pocket and glanced at the face. "I have another appointment."

"Yes, of course." Olympia looked at his watch, thinking of the one Jared had used to ransom Robert. "That is a very handsome watch. Can you tell me where I might buy one like it?"

Gifford frowned briefly. "I purchased it at a small shop in Bond Street. I had it and the fobs specially designed for me."

"I see." Intrigued, Olympia took a step closer. "That is a most unusual motif on the plaques and on the case. Is it some sort of serpent?"

"A sea serpent." Gifford slipped the watch back into his pocket. "A creature of myth and legend, you understand." His smile was not reflected in his eyes. "It is a symbol of a time when my family held its rightful place in the world. Now, if you will excuse me, I must be off."

"Good day to you, Mr. Seaton."

Olympia watched thoughtfully as Gifford strode from the room. When she was alone she turned back to the old chart on the table. But her mind was no longer on the poorly drawn map.

She was preoccupied with the elaborate design that decorated Gifford's watch and the attached fobs.

It was a strangely familiar motif.

"Welcome home, madam." Graves held the door of the Flamecrest mansion open as Olympia hurried up the steps. "We have guests."

"We do?" Olympia came to a halt in the hall and turned to look at the new butler. "Does Mrs. Bird know?"

"Yes, madam, she does." Graves chuckled. "And she's in a fine taking on account of it."

Mrs. Bird hove into view. "Is that you, Miss Olympia? About time you got home. His lordship tells me there's going to be two extra for dinner this evening. And on top of that, I'm expected to get two of the bedchambers ready. I'd like to know if this sort of thing is going to become a regular occurrence around here."

"Well, I really cannot answer that," Olympia said. "I have no notion of how many friends his lordship will be entertaining."

"These ain't friends," Mrs. Bird said ominously. "They're relations. His lordship's papa and his uncle." She lowered her voice and glanced around to ensure that the hall was empty. "His lordship's papa is an earl."

"Yes, I know." Olympia untied her bonnet strings. "I'm certain you can handle the problem of guests in the household, Mrs. Bird."

Graves smiled at Mrs. Bird with an infatuated expression. "Of course she can, madam. In the short time I have worked in this household, it has become clear to me that Mrs. Bird is a woman of great ability."

Mrs. Bird blushed a fiery shade of red. "I was just wantin' to know how often I'm going to be expected to handle this sort of thing, is all: Got to make plans, you know."

"Feel free to call upon me for assistance, Mrs. Bird," Graves intoned. "I stand ready to aid you in any way I can. Together, I feel sure we shall manage."

Mrs. Bird fluttered her lashes. "I suppose we'll get by somehow, then."

"Never doubt it," Graves said.

Olympia looked from one to the other. "Where is his lordship and our guests?"

"His lordship is in the library, madam," Graves said. "His guests are upstairs with the young gentlemen. I believe the Earl and his brother are telling stories to Masters Robert, Ethan, and Hugh."

Olympia paused in the act of turning toward the library. "Stories?"

"About an individual known as Captain Jack, I believe, madam."

"Oh, well, I'm sure my nephews will be vastly entertained by those tales." Olympia reached for the knob of the library door.

"Allow me, madam." Graves sprang forward to open the door.

"Thank you," Olympia said politely, a little taken back by the unfamiliar service. "Do you do that all the time?"

"Yes, madam, I do. Part of my duties." Graves inclined his head and ushered her into the library.

Jared was sitting at his desk. He glanced up as Olympia entered the room. "Good day, my dear." He got to his feet. "I am glad to see you are home. We have visitors. My father and uncle have arrived."

"So I understand."

Jared waited until the door had closed behind her. Then he smiled invitingly.

Olympia hurled herself across the room and straight into his arms. She lifted her face for his kiss.

"I believe I rather like this business of being married," Jared mused when he finally raised his head.

"So do I." Olympia took a reluctant step back. "Jared, I have just had the most unusual conversation with Gifford Seaton. There are one or two points that I"

Jared's sensual smile vanished in a flash of anger. "What did you say?"

Olympia frowned. "There is no need to raise your voice, my lord. I can hear very well. I was just saying that I have come from a rather strange conversation with Mr. Seaton."

"Seaton talked to you?"

"Yes, that is what I am trying to tell you. We met in the society's library at the Musgrave Institution. It is the most amazing thing, sir, but it transpires that Mr. Seaton and I are both interested in the West Indies."

"That bastard," Jared said in a dangerously soft voice. "I told him to stay away from you."

Olympia glowered. "I do not think that you should call him such unpleasant names. Mr. Seaton is a troubled man. He has had a very difficult life."

"Seaton is a conniving, bloody-minded young scoundrel who is bent on mischief. I gave him strict orders to keep away from you."

"For heavens sake, Jared, it is not Mr. Seaton's fault that we encountered each other in the society's library."

"Do not be so certain of that. Seaton probably learned that you are in the habit of spending a great deal of time there and deliberately planned his own visit to coincide with yours."

"Really, Jared, you go too far. Mr. Seaton appeared to have a genuine scholarly interest in the West Indies. Indeed, he even allowed me to view a map that he has discovered in the library."

"I'll wager he had an ulterior motive for doing so." Jared sat down behind his desk, his expression grim. "Be that as it may, I shall handle the matter. In the meantime, you are to avoid any further contact with Seaton. Is that clear, madam?"

Olympia stared at him in shock. "That is quite enough, sir."

"Enough? I have not even begun. I will teach young Seaton a lesson he will not soon forget."

"Jared, I will not permit this sort of talk. Surely you do not think you can start issuing irrational orders and making wild statements like that simply because you are now my husband."

Jared eyed her coldly. "I am well aware that you prefer not to concern yourself with the pesky little details of day-to-day life, madam. For the most part that is neither here nor there. However, in regard to our marriage, there is one small detail which I fear you will have to note well."

Olympia narrowed her eyes. "And what is that small detail?"

Jared leaned back in his chair, rested his elbows on the arms and placed his fingertips together. "I am the master of this household. I will do what I think best and I will make decisions accordingly. You will obey those decisions, madam."

Olympia's mouth fell open. "I will do no such thing. Not unless I happen to agree with those decisions and I do not happen to agree with your edict regarding Mr. Seaton."

"Damnation, Olympia, I am your husband. You will do as I tell you."

"I will do as I bloody well please, just as I have always done," Olympia stormed. She heard the library door open behind her but she paid no attention. "You will listen to me, Mr. Chillhurst, and you will pay close attention. Do not forget that I took you on as a tutor in this household. When all is said and done, it seems obvious to me that you are still in my employ."

"That's a nonsensical thing to say," Jared shot back. "You are my wife, not my employer."

"That, sir, is a matter of opinion. As far as I am concerned, nothing has changed regarding our original arrangement."

"Everything has changed," Jared said between set teeth. "And that, madam, is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of legal record."

"What, ho." An unfamiliar voice broke into the argument before Olympia could respond.

"I say, what is going on around here?" another voice said from the door. "Are we interfering in a domestic quarrel, do y' think, Thaddeus?"

"It certainly appears that way," the first speaker said cheerfully. "Never saw your son in a temper, Magnus. Mayhap marriage is good for him."

"Bloody hell," Jared muttered. He glanced toward the door. "Madam, allow me to present my father, the Earl of Flamecrest and my uncle, Thaddeus Ryder. Gentlemen, my wife."

Olympia turned around and found herself confronting two extremely dashing men of mature years. Handsome, silver-haired, and dressed to the nines, they smiled at her with a wicked charm that had no doubt captivated many a female heart.

"Flamecrest, at your service," the taller of the two men said as he made an elegant bow. "It is a pleasure to meet you, madam."

"Thaddeus Ryder." The second man grinned cheerfully. "Glad to see Jared's finally done his duty by the family. Don't suppose you've had time to find the key to Captain Jack's treasure yet, have ye?"

Jared gave an exclamation of sheer disgust. "Damnation, Uncle. Have you no sense of discretion?"

Thaddeus looked at him in surprise. "No need to be discreet now, lad. She's one of the family."

"Best of all possible situations, if ye ask me," Magnus said with a gleaming smile for Olympia. "No need to sneak about like a thief in the night trying to worm the secret out of her. She'll be glad to tell us everything she learns about the treasure, won't ye, m'dear?"

Olympia studied both men with great interest. "I will be happy to share whatever I can with all of you, but I think you should both know that someone else is after the treasure."

"God's teeth." Magnus's grin became a snarl of outrage. "I was afraid of that." He looked at his brother. "Did I not say that I had a chill in me bones, Thaddeus?"

Thaddeus looked grave. "Aye, so ye did, Magnus. So ye did. And premonitions are always to be respected in our clan. We all know that." He studied Olympia. "Any notion of who might be after the family treasure, m'dear?"

Olympia realized with a great sense of relief that she was at last in the company of people who understood her concerns and who would not mock her fears. "Well, my idea of who is behind the threats may strike you as unlikely, sir. Chillhurst has certainly refused to give it any credence."

Magnus wrinkled his nose. "My son is smart enough about some things, but he's got no imagination. Do not pay him any heed. Tell us your thoughts, girl."

Out of the corner of her eye, Olympia saw Jared's mouth tighten. She ignored it. "I believe that something or someone known as the Guardian is after Captain Jack's treasure."

"The Guardian." Magnus stared at her in amazement.

Thaddeus appeared equally dumbfounded as well as slightly confused. "Guardian, eh?"

Olympia nodded quickly. "The diary contains a clear warning about a Guardian of some sort."

Magnus and Thaddeus looked at each other and then they both looked at Olympia.

"Well, if that's the case, ye got nothing to worry about, do ye, m'dear?" Magnus explained with an air of great patience.

Thaddeus beamed. "Precisely."

Jared spoke up in an ominous tone. "I would prefer that this subject be abandoned at once."

"Why? What do you know of this Guardian?" Olympia asked Magnus.

Magnus arched one bushy brow in a hauntingly familiar gesture. "The Guardian is your husband, m'dear. Has my son failed to tell ye that he has borne the great honor and responsibility of that title since he was nineteen?"

"Family's called him the Guardian since the night he rescued my two lads from a bit of a scrape with a smuggler," Thaddeus said.

Olympia could not believe her ears. For a moment she was speechless. She recovered and whirled around to confront Jared. "No, he did not bother to mention that small fact."

Jared put his hands on the arms of the chair and started to rise. "Now, Olympia, I can explain"

Olympia was furious. "Mr. Chillhurst, you have deceived me from the very beginning of our association. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. I have made allowances for your fierce passions and emotions all along, but in this, sir, you go too far. How could you not tell me that you were the Guardian?"

"Damn it, Olympia, it is nonsense. You have been concerned about some legendary ghost who is after the secret of the diary. I am neither a legend nor a ghost and I could not care less about the damned treasure."

"Mr. Chillhurst, I must tell you that you have not been of any assistance at all in this matter. Indeed, you have made my task more difficult at every turn by refusing to take an interest in the search for the diary's secret. I am very annoyed with you, sir."

"So I see," Jared muttered. "But what good does it do to know that my father saddled me with the idiotic title of the Guardian when I was nineteen years old? The information cannot possibly assist you in your search."

Olympia drew herself up. "That remains to be seen, Mr. Chillhurst."

"Olympia, wait"

But Olympia was not in a mood to wait. Another piece of the puzzle had been discovered. She needed to think about it. She rushed out of the library without a backward glance.

Chapter 14 | Deception | Chapter 16