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Chapter 18

"I was afraid of this." Thaddeus cast a grim eye over the crowded ballroom. "Looks like that son of yours ain't going to show at all, Magnus."

"Damn and blast." Magnus swiped a glass of champagne off a passing tray and downed the contents in a single gulp. "Knew he wasn't looking forward to the thing, but I thought he'd be gentleman enough to put in an appearance if only to avoid humiliating Olympia."

"I'm not humiliated," Olympia said forcefully. "I'm certain Chillhurst had a very good reason for having to go out this evening. You heard what Graves said. He received an urgent message."

"Bah, the only sort of message Jared would consider urgent is one having to do with his business affairs," Thaddeus muttered. He swept Olympia from head to toe with an appraising glance. "He don't know what he's missin'. Young Robert was right. Ye do look like a fairy-tale princess tonight, lass. Don't she look like a princess, Magnus?"

"Aye, that she does." Magnus smiled his charming pirate's smile. "A diamond of the first water. By tomorrow morning you'll be all the rage, m'dear. Damme, but that modiste was right about puttin' you in emerald green."

Olympia smiled. "I am glad you approve of your creation, my lord. I must say, I do not feel at all like my customary self tonight."

In truth, she did feel quite unreal. The ankle-length silk skirts of her high-waisted gown seemed to float on the very air around her. The bodice was cut far lower than anything else Olympia had ever worn and fitted with tiny off-the-shoulder sleeves.

Her hair had been parted in the center and drawn up into an elegant chignon. The style was trimmed with green satin flowers and artless little curls that danced around her ears. Her satin slippers and long kid gloves were the same gem-green as her gown.

Thaddeus, Magnus, and the modiste had all agreed that the only jewelry that could possibly be allowed was a pair of emerald earrings. Olympia had explained that she did not own any emerald earrings.

"I'll take care of the matter," Thaddeus had promised.

He had produced a pair of spectacular emerald and diamond earrings the afternoon of the ball. Olympia had been horrified.

"Where on earth did you get those?" she demanded suspiciously.

Thaddeus had contrived to look hurt. "They're a gift, lass."

"I could not possibly accept such a valuable gift, sir," she had said at once.

"Ain't me who purchased 'em for ye," Thaddeus had assured her with a sly wink. "It was your husband."

"Chillhurst bought these for me?" Olympia had stared at the jewels in wonder. She had been startled and secretly thrilled at the thought that Jared had taken time from his busy schedule to select a pair of earrings for her. "He chose them, himself?"

"What I meant," Thaddeus had explained very carefully, "is that he purchased 'em for ye in a manner of speakin'. True, he didn't actually pick 'em out for ye, but rest assured it was his money that paid for 'em."

"Oh." Olympia had promptly lost interest in the earrings.

"Here now, it's very nearly the same thing as buyin' 'em for ye himself, lass," Thaddeus had insisted. "The thing is, Chillhurst is a nice enough nephew but he ain't got no notion of style."

"That's right, girl," Magnus had said solemnly. "No notion of fashion at all. But he's the only one in the family since Captain Jack himself that's had the knack of makin' money, y'see."

Thaddeus had nodded cheerfully. "No gettin' around the fact that any blunt Magnus and I and everyone else in the clan has to spend came from Chillhurst in one way or another."

Olympia had scowled in annoyance. "In that case, I would think that you and the Earl and the rest of the family would treat Chillhurst with a bit more respect, sir."

"Oh, we're quite fond of the lad," Thaddeus had said. "Don't doubt it for a minute. But there's no denyin' he ain't out o' the same mold as the rest of us."

Robert, Hugh, and Ethan had been awestruck at the sight of Olympia as she had descended the stairs that evening.

"I say, you look beautiful, Aunt Olympia," Hugh had whispered.

"The most beautiful lady in the whole world," Ethan had added.

"Like a fairy-tale princess," Robert had concluded.

Olympia had been touched by their admiration. It had buoyed her up a bit after the letdown she had experienced upon discovering that Jared was not in the hall to witness her transformation.

The flare of disappointment had made her aware for the first time that she had been eagerly anticipating Jared's reaction to her new finery.

"Damme, here comes Parkerville," Magnus announced. "No doubt he'll be wantin' an introduction and a dance, just like the others." He glanced at Olympia. "Sure you don't want to take the floor, m'dear?"

"I told you, I do not know how to dance," Olympia said. Aunt Sophy and Aunt Ida had not considered dancing an important accomplishment for a young woman. They had favored instruction in Greek and Latin and geography.

"We'll take care of that little problem soon enough," Thaddeus whispered as an elderly, bewhiskered man drew close. "I'll engage a dancing instructor tomorrow."

"In the meantime, I'll handle old Parkerville," Magnus muttered under his breath. "Man always did have a talent for lechery." He inclined his head at the newcomer.

"Evening, Parkerville," Magnus boomed. "Been an age since we last ran into each other. How's your lovely lady wife?"

"Dead, thank you." Parkerville turned an oily smile on Olympia. "Heard you've got a daughter-in-law at long last, Flamecrest. Word has it your boy's been keepin' her tucked away out of sight until tonight. Now that I've seen her for myself, I can see why. You'll introduce me to her, will you not?"

"Of course." Magnus went through the introduction with a bored air.

Lord Parkerville took Olympia's gloved hand in his and lingered over the back of it. "Charmed, madam. May I have this dance?"

Olympia smiled distractedly as she wriggled her hand free from his grasp. "No, thank you, sir."

Parkerville looked deeply distressed. "Perhaps later?"

"I doubt it," Magnus said, with casual satisfaction. "My daughter-in-law is extremely particular in her choice of partners."

Parkerville glared at him. "Is that a fact, sir?"

"Yes, indeed." Magnus smiled benignly. "She hasn't danced with anyone all evening, in case you've failed to notice."

"I have not failed to notice," Parkerville said. "Nor has anyone else in the room." He gave Olympia a speculative smile. "We are all waiting to see whom she will favor."

Olympia did not care for the tone of his voice. "Sir, I do not… "

"Lady Chillhurst." Lord Aldridge emerged from the crowd and came to a halt in front of Olympia. "Delighted to see you here this evening."

Magnus assumed a threatening expression. "Do you know this man, my dear?"

"Oh, yes." Olympia smiled at Aldridge. "How nice to see you, sir. Is your wife with you?"

"She's about somewhere." Aldridge smiled hopefully. "I say, can I convince you to dance with me, madam? It would be my great honor to be the first to lead you out onto the floor."

"No, thank you," Olympia began. "You see, I do not…"

"Olympia. I mean, Lady Chillhurst." Gifford Seaton made his way through the throng to Olympia's side. "Heard you were here this evening. Everyone's talking about it." He surveyed her with surprise and open admiration. "Allow me to tell you, madam, that you look ravishing."

Magnus scowled at him. "You're young Seaton, ain't you? I recall meeting you when your sister was engaged to my son."

"Aye, I remember him, too." Thaddeus bristled. "I doubt that Chillhurst has seen fit to introduce you to Lady Chillhurst, Seaton, and we certainly do not intend to do so. Off with you, now."

Gifford gave him an annoyed glance. "Lady Chillhurst and I have already met. We have mutual interests." He turned back to Olympia. "Is that not right, madam?"

"Yes, quite correct." Olympia could feel the palpable tension in the atmosphere. "Please, gentlemen, do not embarrass me or your son by causing a scene. Mr. Seaton and I are acquainted."

Magnus and Thaddeus gave her disgruntled looks.

"If you say so," Magnus muttered. "Surprised Chillhurst allowed the introduction, if you don't mind my sayin' so."

"Chillhurst had nothing to do with it." Gifford gave Magnus a sarcastic smile. "I told you, Lady Chillhurst and I have mutual interests. We are both members of the Society for Travel and Exploration."

Magnus grimaced. Thaddeus continued to glower.

Olympia frowned severely at her new in-laws. "That is quite enough out of both of you. Mr. Seaton has as much right to be here tonight and to speak to me as anyone else."

Gifford smiled at her. "Thank you, madam. I trust I also have as much right to request a dance as anyone else here tonight."

Olympia smiled ruefully. "Yes, of course. Unfortunately, I fear I must refuse." She paused as her eye fell on the elaborate fob of Gifford's watch. "But I would like to speak to you for a few minutes if I may, sir."

Seaton's smile assumed a hint of triumph. "My pleasure, madam. Allow me to escort you to the buffet room."

Olympia took the arm that Gifford extended. She saw Magnus's eyes narrow. Thaddeus's scowl grew more fierce. She quelled them both with a look.

"I shall be back shortly, my lord," Olympia said to the Earl. "Please excuse me. I wish to discuss something important with Mr. Seaton."

"Well, well, well," Parkerville murmured behind the pair. "Now, this is an interesting development, is it not?"

Magnus and Thaddeus turned to him with thunderous expressions.

Olympia ignored them all and urged Gifford forward. "Come, sir, I have been most anxious to speak with you. I have a few questions I must ask you."

"What sort of questions?" Gifford guided her through the crush of brilliantly dressed people.

"About your watch."

Gifford gave her a startled glance. "What in blazes does my watch have to do with anything?"

"I'm not certain yet, but I would very much like to know why you chose the motif of a sea serpent for the decoration."

"Damnation." Gifford came to an abrupt halt near the open French doors. His eyes were very intent as he searched her face. "You know, don't you?"

"I believe so," Olympia said gently. "You are Captain Edward Yorke's great-grandson."

Gifford ran a hand through his carefully tousled hair. "Hellfire and damnation. I had a feeling you would guess the truth. Something about you made me think that you would add up all the parts and get the correct sum."

"You have no cause to be alarmed, Mr. Seaton. I see no reason why we cannot work together in this matter." Olympia eyed him curiously. "May I ask why you have kept your identity a secret?"

"I never lied about my identity," Gifford said wearily. "And neither did Demetria. Our family name is Seaton. We just never told Chillhurst who our great-grandfather was."

"Why ever not?"

"Because Captain Jack Ryder was my great-grandfather's sworn enemy, that's why not," Gifford burst out in a savage snarl. "Ryder believed that Yorke betrayed him to the Spanish but it's not true. He was betrayed by someone else. In any event Ryder escaped that damned Spanish vessel. He went back to England a rich man."

"Mr. Seaton, please, you will cause a scene."

Gifford flushed a dull red and glanced quickly about to see if anyone had overheard him. "Lady Chillhurst, could we discuss this outside in the gardens? I do not want half the ton listening to this conversation."

"Yes, of course." Worried by the obvious volatility of his emotions, Olympia allowed Gifford to lead her out into the balmy night. "Mr. Seaton, I understand your interest in the missing treasure, but I do not comprehend why you have been so secretive. That old feud between your great-grandfather and Chillhursts was finished long ago."

"You are wrong, madam. It was never finished." Muscles bunched in Gifford's arm. His hand clenched. "The Earl of Flamecrest vowed eternal vengeance against my family. He swore that he would never allow Edward Yorke to get his half of the treasure they had buried together on that damned island. He also swore that his descendents would honor his vow in the name of family honor."

"How do you know all this?"

"My grandmother left an accounting of the entire affair together with my great-grandfather's half of the map."

"So you do have the other half of the map?" Olympia asked eagerly.

"Of course. My grandmother left it to my father." Gifford's mouth twisted. "It was the only thing my father managed to leave to Demetria and me. He probably would have pawned that along with everything else if there had been a market for partial treasure maps."

"What did you learn from your grandmother's account of the affair?"

"Not much. Apparently she made an overture to the Flamecrest clan after her father's death. It was rebuffed. She urged my father to try again some day." Gifford sneered faintly. "For the sake of the old friendship that had once existed between Yorke and Ryder."

Olympia peered at him, trying to read his face in the deep shadows. "She tried to make peace?"

"Trust a female to try something so useless. The Flamecrests have never wanted to mend the quarrel. Harry, Captain Jack's son, sent word to my grand-mother saying he intended to honor his father's sworn vow. He would not allow the treasure to fall into the hands of any descendent of Edward Yorke. Claimed it was a matter of family honor."

"That's a Flamecrest for you," Olympia mused. "An emotional lot."

"It was not right," Gifford whispered fiercely. "Flamecrest and his family have prospered but Demetria and I had nothing. Nothing."

"Neither did the present Earl of Flamecrest until he had the wit to turn his business over to his son," Olympia retorted. "Sir, there is another thing I do not comprehend. If you hated my husband's family so much, why on earth did your sister consent to marry Chillhurst?"

"She never intended to go through with the marriage," Gifford said. "In fact, she never intended to get herself engaged to him in the first place."

"I do not understand."

Gifford sighed impatiently. "I convinced Demetria to arrange an introduction. We had heard that Chillhurst was searching for a bride. Demetria found a way to get herself introduced to him through a connection that would intrigue him."

"Felix Hartwell."

"Yes. She learned that Hartwell was his trusted man of affairs and she found a way to meet him. Demetria is very beautiful." Brotherly pride shone in Gifford's eyes. "No man can resist her."

"So Mr. Hartwell saw to it that Demetria received an invitation to the Isle of Flame."

"Correct. Naturally, as her brother, I was invited to go with her. I thought that if I had an opportunity to search the Flamecrest family castle, I might be able to turn up the missing half of the map."

"What happened?"

Gifford laughed sourly. "We were not in the house more than a few days before Chillhurst asked Demetria to marry him. Demetria accepted because we had not yet found the map. I told her that I just needed a little more time."

"Good heavens," Olympia murmured. "I'd had no notion that Chillhurst had gone about searching for a wife in such a logical, practical fashion. It is not at all like him, you understand."

"On the contrary. It is very like him from what I know of him. The man has no blood at all in his veins."

"That's not true. I believe he must have formed a tendre for your sister," Olympia said slowly. "He would never have asked her to marry him otherwise."

Gifford looked at her as if she were a simpleton but he did not argue. "Be that as it may, the fact is, he did ask her to marry him. Which gave me more time to hunt for the missing half of the map."

"Which you never found," Olympia said with cool satisfaction. "It serves you right, sir, if you do not mind my saying so. You should never have gone about it in such a sneaky manner."

"I had no choice," Gifford raged softly. "Captain Jack Ryder refused to allow my great-grandfather to hunt for his share of the treasure out of sheer spite and all of his descendents have been just as spiteful."

Olympia wrinkled her nose. "It is quite obvious that we are dealing with two passionate, highly emotional families, not just one. I think the time has come to make peace. Do you not agree, Mr. Seaton?"

"Never." Gifford's eyes flashed with fury. "Not after the way Chillhurst treated my sister. I shall never forgive or forget."

"For heavens sake, Mr. Seaton, it does not sound as though your sister particularly wanted to marry him in the first place. And as for yourself, you were just using her and her engagement as an excuse to prowl through the Flamecrest castle. You can hardly act the offended party."

"The point is Chillhurst insulted her," Gifford said with righteous indignation. "He ended the engagement in a most cruel fashion simply because he discovered she was not an heiress. I only wish he had not been too cowardly to meet me on the field of honor."

Olympia touched his arm. "I realize this is a very emotional subject for you. Please believe me when I say that I am certain Chillhurst did not end the engagement merely because he learned that your sister was not an heiress."

"Oh, I know he insists that he ended it because he and Demetria did not suit, but that was a lie. I know the truth. He was quite content with the engagement for several days. Then, one afternoon, he simply ended it without any warning."

"No warning at all?"

Gifford's eyes slitted angrily. "Demetria and I and Lady Kirkdale were ordered to pack and leave within the hour."

Olympia gazed at him in startled surprise. "Lady Kirkdale was with you at the Isle of Flame?"

"Yes, of course," Gifford said irritably. "There were a number of guests there, and she came along as Demetria's companion. She has been Demetria's very great friend for several years. It was Lady Kirkdale who later introduced Demetria to Beaumont, you know."

"I see."

Gifford's hand clenched and unclenched. "Madam, your loyalty to your husband is laudable, but I must tell you that you have a sadly misguided view of him. I regret to inform you that, based on what I know of him, it is impossible to believe that he married you because he loved you."

"I really do not wish to discuss such a personal matter, sir."

Gifford gave her a pitying look. "My poor, naive lady. What could you, an innocent who has spent all her life in the country, know of a man like Chillhurst?"

"Nonsense. I assure you I am not nearly as naive as you believe. I received an excellent and far-reaching education, thanks to my aunts and I have pursued my own studies quite diligently. I am very much a woman of the world."

"Then you must realize that he married you only because he believed you could find the secret of the Lightbourne diary."

"Rubbish. My husband would never marry for such a paltry reason. He is not at all interested in the missing treasure. He has no need of it. He is a very wealthy man in his own right."

"Do you not comprehend? Money is the only thing Chillhurst does care about. A man like that can never have enough to satisfy him."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I spent nearly a month in his household," Gifford's voice rose in exasperation. "I learned a great deal about Chillhurst in that time and the most important thing I learned is that he has no warmth or feeling in him for anything or anyone except his business affairs. He's a damned cold fish."

"Chillhurst is not a cold fish and I will thank you not to insult him. Furthermore, I assure you that he did not marry me to obtain the secret of the diary. I would very much appreciate it if you would refrain from spreading such a wicked rumor."

"But it must be the reason he married you. Why else would a man like that marry a woman with no fortune?"

"Mr. Seaton, please do not say anything more. I am sure you will regret it."

Gifford seized her upper arms and gazed down at her with grave concern. "Lady Chillhurst," he began and then paused. His voice thickened with emotion as he continued. "My dear Olympia, if I may be so bold. I know what you must be going through. You are an innocent pawn in this matter. I would be honored if you would allow me to aid you in any way that I can."

"Take your hands off my wife." Jared's voice was as cold as the steel blade of the Guardian. "Or I will very likely kill you here and now, Seaton, rather than at a more convenient time."

"Chillhurst." Gifford released Olympia and swung around to confront Jared.

"Jared, you decided to attend the ball, after all," Olympia said. "I am so glad."

Jared ignored her. "I warned you to stay away from my wife, Seaton," he said very softly.

"You bloody bastard." Gifford's voice was laced with disgust. "So you finally decided to put in an appearance tonight. Everyone wondered if you would bother. I trust you realize that your poor wife has been thoroughly humiliated by your absence?"

"Nonsense," Olympia said briskly. "I was not in the least embarrassed."

Neither man paid any attention to her. Jared regarded Gifford with an expression of cold boredom. But Olympia saw the dangerous gleam in his eye.

"I shall deal with you later, Seaton." Jared took Olympia's arm.

"I shall look forward to it." Gifford inclined his head in a mocking little bow. "But we both know that you will never find a convenient time in your appointment journal to meet me, will you? You certainly could not find one the last time."

Olympia was well aware that Jared's temper was on a very short leash. "Mr. Seaton, hush. Pray, do not say another word, I beg you. My husband is very slow to anger but I fear that you are pushing him to the very brink of his control."

Gifford's expression turned scornful. "You need not concern yourself on my account, Lady Chillhurst. There is no danger of a duel. Your husband does not believe in taking such risks in the name of honor, do you, Chillhurst?"

Olympia began to panic. "Mr. Seaton, you do not know what you are doing."

"I think he knows very well what he is doing," Jared said. "Come, my dear. I grow weary of the conversation." He took Olympia's arm and started walking back toward the ballroom.

"Yes, of course." Olympia was so relieved that no challenge had been issued that she picked up her emerald skirts and almost broke into a run.

Jared glanced down at her, amused. "Are you in such a hurry to dance with me, then, madam? I am honored."

"Oh, Jared, I thought for a moment there that you would allow Mr. Seaton to goad you into a stupid duel." Olympia smiled tremulously. "I was very concerned."

"You need not be concerned, my dear."

"Thank heavens. I must say, I never cease to be amazed at the degree of restraint you are able to exert over your darker passions, sir. It is most impressive."

"Thank you. I make every effort. Most of the time."

She gave him an apologetic glance. "I was afraid you would be deeply offended by some of the nonsense Mr. Seaton was spouting."

"May I inquire what you were doing out in the gardens with him?"

"Heavens, I almost forgot." The excitement Olympia had experienced earlier returned. "I went out there because Mr. Seaton wished to speak privately with me."

"So I concluded." Jared drew her to a halt just outside the glittering ballroom. "A great many other people here tonight apparently came to the same conclusion. There was certainly no shortage of whispers as I walked into the room."

"Oh, dear."

"Perhaps you will enlighten me as to the nature of this very private conversation?"

"Yes, of course." Olympia was almost bubbling now. "Jared, you will never credit what I have discovered. Gifford Seaton and his sister are the direct descendents of Captain Edward Yorke. They have possession of the other half of the treasure map."

"Good lord." Whatever Jared had been expecting to hear, that was obviously not it. He stared at her, astounded. "Are you certain?"

"Absolutely certain." Olympia smiled proudly. "I began to suspect the truth after I heard a brief history of his family and after I learned that Mr. Seaton was as interested in maps of the West Indies as I was. Then I chanced to see his watch and recognized the motif of the design on it."

"What motif is that?"

"It is a picture of a sea serpent." Olympia could not keep the triumph from her voice. "The same sort of sea serpent that is pictured on the prow of the ship on one of the endpapers of the Lightbourne diary."

"The emblem of Yorke's ship?"

"Precisely. Tonight I confronted him with my information and he admitted that he was, indeed, Yorke's great-grandson. That is what we were discussing out in the gardens."

"Bloody hell."

"He and Demetria are descendents of Yorke's daughter and that is why they do not bear Yorke's name."

Jared looked thoughtful. "So someone really was after the map all along."

"Yes." Olympia touched his arm. "Please do not be offended, Jared, but I must tell you that the reason Demetria arranged to meet you three years ago was so that her brother could search for the missing portion of the map."

"She persuaded Hartwell to introduce her to me solely so that idiot brother of hers could look for a legendary treasure map?" Jared sounded thoroughly disgusted.

"I'm certain Mr. Hartwell did not know her true intentions," Olympia said quickly.

"Then again, perhaps he did and thought to use the knowledge in some manner in the future." Jared said. "Perhaps he was as taken with her beauty as every other man generally is. But that is neither here nor there now."

"Quite right," Olympia agreed quickly. She did not want Jared to dwell too long on thoughts of Demetria's beauty. "It is all in the past, my lord."

Jared surveyed her from head to toe. "I regret I was not able to escort you here tonight, my dear."

Olympia warmed beneath the admiration she saw in his gaze. "Do not concern yourself, Jared. I know you received an urgent message. Graves told me about it."

"The message was that Hartwell was still in London."

Olympia was shocked. "You went out to find him tonight?"

"Yes. I went to his former premises because I had been told he might be there. But he was not around and there was no sign that he had returned. I am convinced that the information that I received in the note was incorrect."

"Thank goodness." Olympia relaxed. "I am very glad to hear that. I hope that wretched man will stay out of England forever."

"So do I." Jared took her hand and led her toward the French doors. "Now that I am here at long last, I trust you will favor me with a waltz, my dear?"

Olympia heaved a sigh of regret. "I only wish that I could. I am very sorry, Jared, but I do not know how to dance the waltz."

"Ah, but I do."

"You do?"

"I took the trouble to learn three years ago when I realized that I was going to have to court a wife. I have never made use of the skill, but I do not believe that I have completely forgotten it."

"I see." He had learned the skill in order to court Demetria, Olympia thought dourly. "I wish that I could partner you. The waltz appears to be a very exciting dance."

"We shall find out together just how exciting it is." Jared drew her through the curious crowd and led her out onto the dance floor.

Olympia was nearly overcome with anxiety. "Jared, please, I do not wish to embarrass you."

"You could never embarrass me, Olympia." He fitted his hand to the small of her back. "Now, pay attention and follow my instructions. I am a tutor, after all."

"Quite true." Olympia smiled slowly as the music swirled around her. "You do have a rare talent for instruction, Mr. Chillhurst."


The message from Demetria reached Olympia the following morning just as she was preparing to go back to work on the Lightbourne diary.

Madam:

I must speak with you at once about a matter of grave urgency. Please do not tell anyone about this note and above all do not inform your husband that you are to meet with me. A life is at stake.

Yrs,

Lady B.

A cold chill swept through Olympia. She leaped to her feet and ran to the door.


Chapter 17 | Deception | Chapter 19