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Chapter 17

Mrs. Bird plunked the coffeepot down onto the breakfast table and surveyed the crowd with a baleful eye. "Cook wants to know how many to expect for dinner tonight, yer lordship. Like me, she ain't too keen on havin' a bunch of visitors arrive with no notice."

Jared picked up his coffee cup. "You may tell Cook that I happen to know precisely how much each of you is being paid. In your case, Mrs. Bird, there was a considerable increase because of your new duties. I am well aware that I am paying some of the highest wages in town and I expect the best service in return. Inform Cook that all of us will be present for dinner."

"Aye, yer lordship. But she's a mite annoyed. Don't blame me if she takes a notion to burn the soup."

Jared cocked a brow. "If she serves scorched soup tonight, she will be looking for a new position in the morning. The same goes for anyone else on the staff who feels unable to accommodate the requirements of this household."

Mrs. Bird snorted and bustled on back to the kitchens.

"Kindly take the dog with you, Mrs. Bird," Jared called after her.

Mrs. Bird stopped and turned around. "What's all the fancy new staff for, if I'm still expected to see to everything around here, I ask ye?" She snapped her fingers at Minotaur. "Out from under that table, you bloody monster. You don't need another sausage."

Minotaur slunk out from beneath the table, mouth full of sausage.

Ethan gave Jared an innocent look. "I didn't feed him the sausage, sir. Word of honor."

"I know who gave Minotaur the sausage." Jared cast a quelling glance at his father. "We are attempting to break him of the habit of dining with the family, sir. I would appreciate it if you would not encourage him."

"Right you are, son. Where did you acquire your housekeeper, may I ask?" Magnus sliced into a plump sausage. "Mouthy wench. Doesn't seem to have much respect for her employers."

"She came with the rest of the lot," Jared said absently.

Robert clapped his hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle.

Olympia looked up from her eggs. "You musn't mind Mrs. Bird. She's been with the household forever. I do not know what I would do without her."

"Hire another housekeeper, more'n likely," Thaddeus said. "One that doesn't scowl at your guests first thing in the morning."

"Oh, I could never let Mrs. Bird go," Olympia said quickly.

Jared propped his elbows on the table and placed his fingertips neatly together. He regarded his father with a thoughtful expression.

"You need not concern yourself with Mrs. Bird, sir," he said coolly. "She and I arrived at an understanding some time ago. And I must admit, she brought up an interesting point. Just how long will you and Uncle Thaddeus be staying with us?"

Magnus affected a hurt expression. "Trying to boot us out already, son? We just got here."

Thaddeus grinned. "Save your breath, lad. Your father and I ain't goin' anywhere until we help your lady work out the secret of the Lightbourne diary. Best count on us being around for a while."

"I was afraid of that." Jared gazed down the length of the table at Olympia. "I trust you will uncover the mystery very shortly, my dear or we shall be saddled with our uninvited guests indefinitely."

"I shall do my best, my lord." Olympia blushed faintly. She was not certain whether to be embarrassed by his rudeness or not. As far as she could tell neither Flamecrest nor Thaddeus appeared the least offended by Jared's blunt remarks.

"Very well, then, I shall leave the matter to you." Jared reached for his missing watch and grimaced when he failed to find it. "Must make a note to purchase a new one." He glanced at the tall clock and then looked at Ethan, Hugh, and Robert. "It is time for your lessons. Geography and mathematics this morning, I believe."

Thaddeus groaned. "How very dull."

"That's my boy," Magnus growled. "Give him a perfectly fine summer morning and he wastes it on geography and mathematics."

Robert gazed ingenuously at Jared. "Sir, we were hoping that we could be excused from our lessons this morning. His lordship, the Earl, says that boys our age should go fishing every summer morning."

"That's right," Ethan piped up. "And Uncle Thaddeus told us that when he was a lad he used to sail paper boats in a stream on summer mornings."

"And practice fighting with a real sword," Hugh put in helpfully.

"You are all three dismissed from breakfast," Jared said calmly. "I shall give you five minutes to get upstairs to the schoolroom and open your books."

"Yes, my lord." Robert jumped to his feet and made his bows.

"Yes, my lord." Ethan hopped up, bowed hastily, and dashed for the door.

"Yes, my lord." Hugh scrambled to follow his brothers.

Jared waited until they were out of the room before he fixed his father and uncle with a grim expression. "This household is run on a few simple but absolutely inflexible rules. The first rule is that I make the rules. And one of my rules is that the boys receive lessons every morning unless I decide otherwise. I will thank you not to interfere."

Olympia was shocked. "Chillhurst, you are talking to your elders."

Magnus grinned widely. "Damn right, son. Show a little respect, if you please."

Thaddeus chuckled wickedly. "That's the spirit, lass. Don't let him get away with sassing his elders."

Jared looked at Olympia as he got to his feet. "You need not concern yourself with my behavior, madam. I assure you I have been dealing with my elders long enough to know that unless I make myself clear from the start, they will turn this household into a menagerie in no time."

"I hardly think so," Olympia said stiffly.

"Trust me," Jared said. "I know them far better than you do. Good day to you, my dear. I shall see you at noon. Until then I shall be in the schoolroom." He inclined his head briefly toward his father and uncle. "Sirs."

"Off you go, son," Magnus said easily. "We'll still be here when you return."

"I was afraid of that," Jared said from the door.

He walked on out into the hall, leaving Olympia alone with Magnus and Thaddeus. She slanted them another anxious sidelong glance and was relieved to see that neither appeared in the least offended.

"Chillhurst prefers an orderly household," Olympia explained.

"No need to apologize, my dear." Magnus beamed at her. "The boy always was something of a stick-in-the-mud. There were times when his mother and I almost despaired of him."

"He's a good lad," Thaddeus assured her. "But he don't take after the rest of the family."

"In what way?" Olympia asked.

"No hot blood in him," Magnus said sadly. "He lacks the Flamecrest fire, if you know what I mean. Always on about his appointments or checking the time on his watch. Buries himself in his business affairs. No violent emotions, no strong passions. In short, a very abnormal member of the clan."

Olympia frowned at both men. "I do not think you understand Chillhurst very well at all."

"Fair enough," Thaddeus said. "He don't understand us, either."

"He's a man of refined sensibilities and deep passions," Olympia said earnestly.

"Bah. You'd never know he's got the blood of buccaneers in his veins, but he's a good lad, for all that." Thaddeus frowned. "Speaking of his watch, what happened to it?"

Olympia's mouth tightened. "Chillhurst used his beautiful watch to pay the ransom for my nephew."

Magnus stared at her. "You don't say. Just like him to purchase the boy's safety rather than go in with his dagger clenched between his teeth and two pistols blazing. A tradesman at heart. Who do you think kidnapped the boy?"

"Chillhurst suspects it may have been a trusted acquaintance who has since left the country," Olympia said. "I, however, am not so certain."

Thaddeus narrowed his eyes. "Let's discuss your notions on the subject m'dear."

Olympia glanced toward the door to make certain Jared had not returned unannounced. "Well, sirs, as to that, I have a strong suspicion that whoever kidnapped Robert was after the Lightbourne diary."

"Ah-hah." Magnus slammed the flat of his hand against the table so hard that the silverware jumped. "I agree. The diary is most likely at the bottom of all this. We're getting closer to the secret, Thaddeus. I can feel it in my bones."

Thaddeus's eyes gleamed. "Tell us what ye've learned so far, lass. Mayhap Magnus and I can assist you."

Enthusiasm soared through Olympia. "That would be wonderful. I would greatly appreciate your help. I must say, Chillhurst has taken a rather dampening approach to the matter."

Magnus heaved a heavy sigh. "That's my boy for ye. Damp as a fish. Now, then, let's get on with the matter. How far have ye got in the diary?"

"Very nearly all the way through." Olympia pushed aside her plate and folded her hands on the table. She eyed her two new assistants intently. "But although I've managed to translate most of the mysterious phrases, I have not been able to completely decipher their meanings."

"Let's have at 'em," Magnus said.

"Well, there's a phrase about the Master of the Siryn making peace with the Master of the Sea Serpent. Now, on the surface, that appears to be a fairly obvious reference to Captain Jack and Captain Yorke."

"Bit too late to patch up the quarrel," Thaddeus said. "Both been in their graves for years."

"I realize that. But I have begun to believe that it's necessary for the descendents of both families to meet in order to solve the mystery," Olympia explained. "I have found half of a treasure map. I suspect someone from Yorke's family has the other half."

"If that's the case, we'll never discover the treasure," Magnus said glumly.

"Damme." Thaddeus bunched a hand into a fist and struck the table forcefully. "To be so close only to learn we stand no chance of finding it."

"Why do you say that?" Olympia looked from one disappointed face to the other.

"Won't be able to turn up a descendent of Captain Edward Yorke," Thaddeus said sadly. "He never had a son. Whole bloody clan died out, as far as I know."

Olympia started to respond and then stopped when Graves spoke from the doorway.

"Beggin' yer pardon, madam." He held up a silver salver heaped with cards and invitations. "Morning post has arrived."

Olympia waved him away. "His lordship will see to those. He handles that sort of thing."

"Aye, madam." Graves started to withdraw.

"Hold a moment." Magnus looked at Graves. "Let's see what you've got there."

"They're merely invitations to various social affairs," Olympia explained, irritated by the interruption. "They've been pouring in ever since people realized that Chillhurst was in town."

"Is that right?" Thaddeus wrinkled his brows. "Been goin' to a lot of parties and soirees and such, have ye?"

"Oh, no," Olympia said, surprised. "Chillhurst throws them all away."

Magnus groaned. "Sounds like him. That boy never did know how to have fun. Let's open a few of those invitations and see what's happening in Society. Mayhap we'll find something interesting to do while we're in town, Thaddeus."

"Right you are." Thaddeus motioned Graves to give the salver to Olympia.

"I really don't think" Olympia broke off as Graves placed the salver full of cards and notes in front of her.

"Got to learn how to amuse yourself if you're going to spend the rest of your days with Chillhurst." Magnus regarded her with an affectionate glance. "Slit a few of those seals and let's see who's doing what this week."

"Very well, if you insist." Olympia reluctantly picked up one of the small white notes and frowned at the blob of wax that sealed it. "Do either of you have anything I can use to open this?"

Steel hissed softly against leather.

Olympia stared in amazement as daggers appeared in the hands of both of her in-laws. She gazed at the ornate hilts of the blades that Magnus and Thaddeus presented to her.

"Here you go, my girl," Magnus said.

Olympia remembered the blade that Jared had worn on his thigh the day he had arrived in Upper Tudway. "Does every man in the Flamecrest clan make a habit of carrying a dagger upon his person?"

"Family tradition." Thaddeus assured her. "Even my nephew keeps his handy."

" 'Course the dagger Chillhurst carries is special," Magnus said with a touch of pride. "Carried it myself for years until I passed it on to him. It's the one Captain Jack himself carried."

"Really?" Olympia forgot all about the pile of invitations in front of her. "I did not realize that Jared's blade once belonged to his great-grandfather."

"Damned fine piece of steel," Magnus said. "Saved Captain Jack's life more'n once. Saved my son's life, too, and that of Thaddeus's boys on one occasion. Captain Jack nicknamed it the Guardian."

"The Guardian." Olympia jumped to her feet. "You called Jared the Guardian."

"So he is." Magnus arched his brows. "Another family tradition. The man that carries the blade carries the title."

"Good grief. I hadn't realized." Olympia thought swiftly.

"What's up, lass?" Thaddeus demanded.

"Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. One of the mysterious phrases in the diary is 'Beware the Guardian's deadly kiss when you peer into its heart to find the key.' " Olympia whirled away from the table. "I must see that blade for myself."

She heard chairs scrape on the floor behind her as she dashed toward the door.

"What, ho," Thaddeus boomed. "She's off, Magnus. She's onto something."

"After her, man," Magnus roared.

Olympia did not wait for them. She ran out into the hall and took the stairs two at a time to the third floor.

When she reached the landing, she turned and raced down the corridor to the schoolroom. Breathing quickly, she reached for the knob, turned it, and threw open the door. It crashed against the wall.

Ethan, Hugh, and Robert were gathered around the globe. They turned to stare at her in astonishment.

Jared looked up and saw Olympia, noting her excited expression. "Is something wrong, my dear?"

"Yes, no, I do not know." Olympia heard Magnus and Thaddeus arrive in the doorway behind her. "Chillhurst, would you mind very much if I took a close look at your dagger?"

Jared glanced over her head to where his father and uncle stood. "What is going on here?"

"Damme if I know," Magnus said cheerfully. "The lass has got the wind in her sails. We're merely followin' in her wake."

Jared gave Olympia a repressive look. "If this has something to do with your study of the diary, my dear, it can wait until the afternoon. You know I do not like to have the lessons interrupted."

Olympia flushed. "Yes, I know, but this is extremely important, my lord. May I please examine the dagger?"

Jared hesitated and then shrugged in obvious resignation. He crossed the room to where his coat hung on a hook. He reached inside and removed the dagger from its sheath. Without a word he handed it, hilt first, to Olympia.

She took the blade cautiously and touched the lethal tip. "Beware the Guardian's deadly kiss," she whispered. She studied the intricate design of the hilt. "Your father tells me this dagger belonged to your great-grandfather and that it is called the Guardian."

Jared slanted his father an ironic glance. "Another nonsensical family legend."

Olympia turned the blade over in her hand. "Is there any way to remove the hilt?"

"It can be done," Jared said slowly. "But why would you wish to do so?"

She looked up eagerly. "Because I wish to peer into the heart of the Guardian."

Jared took the blade from her, his eyes on her face. "Very well. It is obvious that there is no other way to satisfy your curiosity."

Olympia smiled. "Thank you, sir."

A short while later, Jared eased the chased hilt free of the blade shaft. He glanced into the hollow interior of the hilt. "Bloody hell."

"What is it?" Robert asked eagerly. "What do you see, sir?"

"Yes, what is it?" Ethan demanded as he and Hugh crowded close.

Jared looked at Olympia and smiled wryly. "I believe the honors belong to my lady."

Olympia whisked the hilt out of his hand and peered into it. There was an aged piece of paper neatly tucked inside. "There is something in here."

"Damme," Thaddeus muttered.

"Remove it, lass. The anticipation is going to be the death of me," Magnus said.

Fingers trembling with excitement, Olympia tugged the folded paper out of the hilt. She opened it carefully and studied what was written on it. "I believe these numbers will prove to be the longitude and latitude of the mysterious isle where the treasure is hidden."

Jared put his hand on the globe. "Read them to me."

Olympia read the numbers aloud. "They must be in the vicinity of the West Indies."

"They are." Jared gazed thoughtfully at a spot on the globe that was slightly north of Jamaica. "From all accounts Captain Jack was an excellent mathematician. He could calculate longitude and latitude with great accuracy."

"By God, son," Magnus said in ringing tones. "Your lady has done it. She's found the key to the treasure."

"So it would seem," Jared said slowly.

"Not quite," Olympia said.

Everyone turned to look at her.

"What do you mean?" Thaddeus demanded. "We have in our hands the precise information we need to sail to that damned island where Captain Jack hid the treasure."

"Yes, but we only have half of the map of the island, itself," Olympia said. "The other half is still missing. I grow more and more convinced that Captain Yorke's descendents hold the other half of the map."

"Then all is lost." Magnus slammed his fist into his palm. "There are no bloody descendents."

"Could try digging up the whole island, I suppose," Thaddeus said thoughtfully.

Jared gave him a derisive glance. "Assuming you could even find the island, it is highly doubtful that you could discover the treasure by digging at random."

"We could help you, sir," Robert volunteered.

"We are very good at digging," Hugh assured Jared.

"So is Minotaur," Ethan said.

"Enough." Jared held up a hand for silence. "Olympia is quite right. We do not have all the pieces of the puzzle yet. The search for clues must go on."

Olympia gazed at the scrap of paper that had been hidden in the dagger hilt. "We must try to discover if any of the Yorkes are still around."

Magnus frowned. "Told you, the line died out. Captain Yorke had no son to carry on the name, as far as I know."

"What about a daughter?" Olympia asked quietly.

A stunned silence fell on the room.

"Damme," Thaddeus muttered. "Hadn't thought about that."

"A daughter can pass along a family treasure or secret just as well as any son," Olympia said. "Indeed, only yesterday Mr. Seaton was telling me the tale of how his grandmother ran a shipping empire that she had inherited from her father."

Jared's indulgent expression vanished. His gaze turned cold. "I will not have Seaton involved in this, is that clear, Olympia?"

"Yes, of course. Excuse me." Olympia turned toward the door. "I must get back to the diary. There are one or two points I wish to check."

Magnus and Thaddeus swung around to follow her.

"Allow us to assist you," Magnus called.

"No, I really do not think that would be helpful," Olympia said. "I will let you know when I have something to add to our investigations."

"Well, we'll just have to amuse ourselves in some other fashion," Thaddeus said. He glanced speculatively at Jared. "What are ye teachin' the boys, lad?"

"You will not amuse yourselves in this schoolroom," Jared said. "I will tolerate no further interruptions today."

"The lad always was a killjoy," Magnus muttered to Olympia as he held the door for her. "Call us when you are ready for us, my dear."

"Very well." Olympia looked at him. "What are you two going to do today?"

Magnus and Thaddeus exchanged speculative glances. Then Magnus smiled brilliantly at Olympia.

"I believe we'll sort through a few of those invitations you received a few minutes ago. I'll wager my son hasn't bothered to introduce you to the polite world, has he?"

Jared swore softly. "Olympia is not interested in going about in Society, sir."

"How do you know that?" Magnus demanded. "It's obvious she ain't had a chance to experience Society yet. You go on back to your bloody lessons, son. Leave your wife's social activities to us."

Olympia looked from one stubborn male face to the other. "The thing is," she said uneasily, "I really do not have a thing to wear."

Magnus patted her shoulder in an indulgent, fatherly fashion. "You leave that to Thaddeus and me, my dear. The two of us cut quite a dash in our youth. And our wives were considered diamonds of the first water, God rest their souls. We have a fine sense of style, do we not, Thaddeus?"

"Aye, Magnus, that we do." Thaddeus started to close the schoolroom door. He paused to lean back into the room. "Better hunt up a tailor this afternoon, lad. You won't want to embarrass your wife."

"Damn it, Uncle" Jared began.

Thaddeus closed the door on the protest and grinned cheerfully at Olympia. "Run along and see what you can discover in that diary, my dear. I'll send for a fashionable modiste and some samples. Should be able to get you outfitted with a couple of decent gowns in no time."

"As you wish," Olympia said absently. She clutched the scrap of paper that she had removed from the dagger. Her mind was churning with fresh notions. "Pray excuse me. I really must get back to work."


Against his better judgment, Jared was waiting dutifully in the hall at nine o'clock the following evening. He was wearing a black coat, breeches, and the crisply folded cravat that had been ordained by his father. The heavy old town coach was at the bottom of the steps ready to whisk the Flamecrest clan off to a ball at the home of Lord and Lady Huntington.

Jared did not know the Huntingtons but Magnus had assured him that Lady Huntington was an old acquaintance from the days when he had courted Jared's mother.

"Couldn't ask for a better hostess to launch Olympia into the ton." Magnus had rubbed his hands together with glee as he explained the plan to Jared. "Knows all the right people and they'll all be there."

"I do not see any reason to launch my wife anywhere," Jared had grumbled. "She's perfectly content with her present round of activities. I do not think she will enjoy going out into Society."

"That only goes to show how much you know about women, son." Magnus had shaken his head in despair. "Don't know how you managed to land yourself a spirited female like Olympia."

Jared had slanted his father a thoughtful glance. "I collect that you approve of your new daughter-in-law?"

Magnus had practically chortled. "She'll fit right in to the family."

Jared smiled wryly at the memory of the conversation and then glanced impatiently at the hall clock. Neither Magnus nor Thaddeus had come downstairs yet. He had not seen Olympia at all since noon.

Jared was anticipating her appearance with some trepidation. He knew his father and uncle had been closeted with the modiste and her minions for several hours the previous day. A gown had been delivered at five this afternoon along with several mysterious boxes but he had no notion of what to expect.

He had seen enough of current fashion in town to know that low-cut bodices and thin, delicate fabrics were all the crack.

If Olympia's gown proved to be too outrageous, Jared decided, he would simply refuse to allow her to leave the house. A man had to stand his ground on some things.

Graves appeared from the opening behind the staircase. Jared frowned when he saw that his new butler appeared even more dour than usual.

"Beggin' yer pardon, m'lord. Message just arrived at the kitchen door for ye. Figured ye'd want it right away." He held out a sealed note.

Jared took the note from him and glanced at the poor handwriting. "What the devil is this?"

"Don't know, m'lord. The boy said it was urgent."

"Bloody hell." He ripped open the note and scanned the contents.

Sir:

Regret to inform you that the gentleman in question has not left the country after all. An associate saw him not more than an hour ago. I believe him to be headed toward his old place of business. Thought you might care to meet me there as soon as possible. I will wait for you in the alley behind the premises.

Yrs,

Fox

Jared glanced once more at the top of the stairs as he folded the note. "This has to do with our old problem, Graves. Please do not inform my wife about it. She will only worry. Tell her that I will meet up with her later at the Huntingtons'."

"Right you are, sir." Graves opened the door. "Perhaps I should accompany you?"

"No need. Fox will be there."

Jared went out the door and down the steps. He wondered what he would do if he managed to get his hands on Felix Hartwell.


Chapter 16 | Deception | Chapter 18