Several days later Mrs. Bird barged into the library with a tea tray.
"Strikes me that it's a mite too quiet around here lately." She plunked the tray down onto Olympia's desk. "Downright eerie and that's a fact."
Olympia reluctantly tore her attention away from the complicated language of Claire Lightbourne's diary. She scowled at Mrs. Bird. "Whatever do you mean? I thought the silence was rather pleasant. I vow this is the first real peace we've had since my nephews arrived."
The past few days had been nothing short of halcyon as far as Olympia was concerned. She could hardly believe the difference Jared Chillhurst had wrought in the household in such a short period of time.
There had been no muddy boots in the hall, no escaped frogs in her desk drawer, and no squabbling within hearing distance. All three boys had been on time for every meal and, even more impressive, each one had been neat and clean.
"T'ain't natural." Mrs. Bird poured tea into the single cup on the tray. "What's that pirate doin' up there in the schoolroom with those young hellions, I ask ye?"
"Mr. Chillhurst is not a pirate," Olympia said crisply. "I will thank you to cease referring to him as such. He is a tutor. An excellent one, judging by what we have seen thus far."
"Hah. He's up there torturin' them poor boys, that's what he's doin'. I'll wager he threatened to make 'em walk the plank if they don't behave."
Olympia smiled briefly. "We don't have a plank around here."
Mrs. Bird squinted. "Well, then, mayhap he's threatened to beat 'em with a cat o'nine tails if they don't do what he tells 'em."
"I'm certain Robert would have come to me immediately if Mr. Chillhurst had made dire threats," Olympia said.
"Not if that pirate threatened to slit poor Robert's throat for talkin'."
"Oh, for pity's sake, Mrs. Bird. You've been saying all along that my nephews needed a firm hand."
Mrs. Bird set the pot down on the tray and leaned over the desk. "Didn't say I wanted to see 'em terrified into obedience. When all is said and done, they're good boys."
Olympia tapped her quill pen on the desk. "Do you really believe Mr. Chillhurst has threatened them with violence in order to get them to behave properly?"
"Ain't nothin' else except a threat of violence would have gotten results like this in such a short period of time, if you ask me." Mrs. Bird looked meaningfully up at the ceiling.
Olympia followed her gaze. There were no thumps, bumps, or distant shouts to be heard from the floor above. The abnormal silence was a trifle unnerving, she thought.
"I suppose I had better see what is going on." Olympia rose reluctantly and closed the diary.
"Ye'll have to be crafty about it," Mrs. Bird warned. "Mr. Chillhurst appears to be bent on makin' a good impression on ye. Likely he cannot afford to lose the position. If he knows yer observin' him, he'll be on his best behavior."
"I'll be cautious." Olympia took a hasty sip of hot tea to fortify herself. When she was finished, she set the cup down and started determinedly for the door.
"One more thing afore I forget," Mrs. Bird called after her. "Squire Pettigrew sent a message around earlier sayin' he's back from London. He'll be callin' this afternoon. No doubt wants to help ye out with that last shipment of goods."
Olympia paused in the doorway. "Oh, dear. I forgot to notify him that I will no longer need his assistance in such matters."
Mrs. Bird frowned. "Why ever not?"
"Mr. Chillhurst has said he will handle those sorts of annoying little details for me."
Mrs. Bird's expression went from a disapproving frown to a look of genuine alarm. "Here now, what's that supposed to mean?"
"Just what it sounds like, Mrs. Bird. Mr. Chillhurst has kindly offered to take charge of disposing of Uncle Artemis's latest shipment."
"Ain't sure I like the sound of that offer. What if Chillhurst makes off with the goods?"
"Rubbish. If he had been going to do that, he would never have brought them to us in the first place. He would have absconded with them upon his arrival in Weymouth."
"Well, mayhap he intends to cheat ye, then," Mrs. Bird warned. "And how would ye know if he did? Ye'd only have his word that he got the best price he could for the lot. I told ye, the man looks like a pirate. Best have Squire Pettigrew handle things, just as he has in the past."
Olympia lost her patience. "I'm quite certain we can trust Mr. Chillhurst. Uncle Artemis did." She sailed through the door before Mrs. Bird could respond.
Out in the hall, Olympia picked up the skirts of her ankle-length printed muslin gown and went quickly up the stairs.
She paused on the landing and listened. It was quiet even up here.
She tiptoed down the hall to the schoolroom and put her ear to the door. The deep-sea rumble of Jared's voice filtered softly through the heavy wooden panels.
"It was an ill-conceived scheme from the start," Jared said. "But Captain Jack was prone to wild notions. The predilection later proved to be an unfortunate family trait."
"Does that mean there were other pirates in Captain Jack's family?" Ethan asked eagerly.
"Captain Jack preferred to be called a buccaneer," Jared said sternly. "And while I do not believe that there were any more in the clan, I fear there were several descendents suspected of engaging in the free-trade."
"What's the free-trade?" Hugh demanded.
"Smuggling," Jared explained dryly. "Captain Jack's family seat was on the Isle of Flame. It's an exceedingly beautiful place but very remote. Robert, show us where the Isle of Flame is located."
"Here," Robert said enthusiastically. "Off the Devon coast. See? There's a tiny dot right there."
"Very good, Robert." Jared said. "As you will see, the isle is an excellent site for smuggling. Convenient enough to the coasts of France and Spain, yet quite remote from the authorities. The preventive service is seldom seen in the vicinity and the local inhabitants may be counted upon not to talk to outsiders."
"Tell us about the smugglers," Ethan said.
"No, I want to hear about Captain Jack's plan to cross the Isthmus of Panama first," Robert said.
"Yes, tell us about the buccaneers' scheme to capture a Spanish galleon, Mr. Chillhurst," Hugh said eagerly. "You can tell us about the smugglers tomorrow."
"Very well," Jared agreed. "But first you should know not only how idiotic the notion was, but also how dangerous. The Isthmus of Panama is extremely treacherous terrain. It is densely forested and filled with many strange and deadly creatures. Many men have died trying to reach the sea on the other side."
"Why did Captain Jack and his crew want to cross the isthmus in the first place?" Ethan asked. "Why didn't they stay in the West Indies?"
"Gold," Jared said succinctly. "Captain Jack had a partner at the time. They had heard tales of the legendary treasure that Spain was routinely transporting from its colonies in America. The two buccaneers decided to see if they could slip across the Isthmus of Panama with a band of men, capture a Spanish ship or two, and get rich immediately."
"Bloody hell," Robert whispered in awe. "What an exciting venture. I wish I could have been with Captain Jack when he made the trip."
Olympia could stand it no longer. The words legendary treasure and buccaneers dazzled her. She was as enthralled as her nephews by Jared's tale. She opened the door very quietly and slipped stealthily into the room.
Ethan, Hugh, and Robert were grouped around the large globe that stood near the window. They did not look up as Olympia crept into the schoolroom. Their entire attention was riveted on the globe.
Jared was with them. He had one hand on the globe. In his other hand he gripped his dagger. The point of the blade rested in the region of the West Indies.
Olympia frowned at the sight of the dagger. She had not noticed it during the past two days. Jared no longer wore it strapped to his thigh as he had when he arrived. She had presumed he had packed it away in one of his trunks. But this morning he had obviously brought it into the classroom and there was no doubt but that he held the old blade with a certain casual ease.
He looks altogether dangerous, as usual, Olympia thought as she studied his grim features in the morning light. If one did not know him better, one might be rather wary. But she was getting to know him very well indeed because he had taken to joining her in the library after dinner in the evenings.
Jared had immediately established a pleasant habit of sharing a glass of brandy with her before retiring to the old gamekeeper's cottage. Last night he had read for a while and then talked at some length about his travels. Olympia had hung on every word.
"Are all tutors as widely traveled as yourself, sir?" she had asked.
Jared had given her an unreadable look. "Ah, no. I have been rather fortunate in that regard. I have worked for some people whose business ventures frequently took them abroad. My employers chose to travel with their families."
Olympia nodded sagely. "Naturally they would wish their children's tutor to accompany them on an extended journey. What a wonderful career you selected for yourself."
"It it only lately that I have come to fully appreciate it." Jared rose from his chair, picked up the brandy decanter, and poured more of the amber liquid into her glass. "I see you have a rather nice chart depicting the South Seas on your wall."
"I have done a great deal of research on legends that originate in that part of the world." What with the combined effects of the fire and the brandy, Olympia was feeling pleasantly warm and quite relaxed. A woman of the world conversing with a man of the world, she thought with satisfaction.
Jared poured a bit more brandy into his own glass and replaced the decanter on the table. "One of my more interesting trips took me to a number of islands in that region," he said thoughtfully. He sank back into the depths of his chair.
"Really?" Olympia gazed at him in wonder. "That must have been thrilling."
"Oh, it was." Jared touched his fingertips together. "There are a variety of interesting legends from that part of the world, as you are no doubt well aware. One in particular rather intrigued me."
"I should love to hear about it," Olympia whispered. The library seemed to be filled with a dreamlike quality, as if the entire room, complete with Jared and herself inside, had been transported to another place and another time.
"It has to do with a pair of lovers who were not allowed to marry because the young woman's father was opposed to the match."
Olympia took another sip of brandy. "How very sad. What became of the lovers?"
"Their passion was such that they were determined to be together," Jared said. "So they arranged to meet secretly at night on the beach of a hidden cove."
"I suppose they talked until dawn." Olympia said wistfully. "No doubt they whispered words of poetry to each other. Confided their most intimate secrets. Dreamed of a future together."
Jared looked at her. "Actually, they spent the time making passionate love."
Olympia blinked. "On a beach?"
Olympia cleared her throat. "But wouldn't that have been somewhat uncomfortable? I mean what with the sand and all?"
Jared smiled slightly. "What is a little sand to a pair of lovers who are desperate for each other?"
"Yes, of course," Olympia said hastily. She hoped she had not sounded too terribly naive.
"And besides, this was a very special beach. It was sacred to a certain island deity who is said to have taken pity on the lovers."
Olympia was still not entirely convinced that making love in the sand was a particularly sound notion, but she certainly did not intend to argue the matter. "Do go on, sir. Tell me the rest of the legend."
"One night the lovers were discovered by the woman's irate father. He killed the young man."
"How terrible. What happened?"
"The young woman was grief-stricken, naturally. She waded out into the sea and disappeared. The deity in charge of the beach was outraged. He punished the young woman's father by turning all the sand on the beach into pearls."
"That was a punishment?" Olympia asked, startled.
"Yes." Jared smiled coolly. "The man was so excited about the discovery of the pearl beach that he went home to rouse the rest of his family. But the deity cast a magic spell over the cove, making it invisible to all those who searched for it."
"So this pearl beach was never found?"
Jared shook his head. "To this day the islanders still talk of it. Many have searched for it. But no one has ever seen it. It's said that it can only be discovered by a pair of lovers whose passion is as great as the two who used to meet there and make love in the moonlight."
Olympia sighed. "Just imagine risking all for love, Mr. Chillhurst."
"I have begun to believe that a great passion is like a great legend," Jared said quietly. "It is worth any risk."
A shiver coursed through Olympia. She felt first hot and then cold. "You are no doubt correct, sir. In any case, I thank you for the tale. I have never heard it and it is a lovely legend."
Jared looked deeply into her eyes. Something dark and disturbing moved in his own gaze. "Yes," he said softly. "Quite lovely."
In that moment Olympia could almost believe that he was speaking of her, not the legend. A sense of excitement stirred deep within her. It was similar to the thrill she got when she pursued a legend, but it was far more powerful. It left her feeling oddly shaken, a little giddy.
"Mr. Chillhurst… ?"
Jared removed his watch from his pocket. "I see it is very late," he said with obvious regret. "It is time I went back to my cottage. Perhaps tomorrow night I shall have an opportunity to describe a rather unusual custom that was practiced by the inhabitants of another South Seas island which I chanced to visit."
"I should like that very much," Olympia breathed.
"Good night, Miss Wingfield. I shall see you at breakfast."
"Good night, Mr. Chillhurst."
A shimmering sense of longing had welled up within Olympia as she accompanied Jared to the front door. She had stood watching as he walked off into the night and became one with it.
And then she had gone to bed and dreamed of being kissed by Jared on a beach scattered with pearls.
Now, in the bright light of day, she listened to him tell tales to her nephews and realized that Jared had very quickly become an important part of her small household. She was learning a great deal about this man who had the face of a pirate and she was finding that she liked him very much. Too much perhaps, she thought.
She must not forget that someday Jared would leave and she would again be alone with her library and no other adult companion with whom she could share the intellectual pleasures it contained.
At that moment Jared glanced up and saw her standing just inside the schoolroom. The corner of his mouth curved faintly.
"Good morning, Miss Wingfield. Was there something you wanted?"
"No, no," Olympia said quickly. "Please carry on. I merely wished to observe the lesson."
"By all means." Jared indicated the globe. "We are studying geography this morning."
"So I see." Olympia took a step closer.
Ethan grinned. "We are learning all about the West Indies, Aunt Olympia."
"And about a pirate named Captain Jack," Robert added.
Jared cleared his throat slightly. "It should be noted that Captain Jack was a buccaneer, not a pirate."
"What's the difference?" Hugh demanded.
"Very little, in point of fact," Jared said dryly. "But some people are quite insistent upon the distinction. Buccaneers sailed with a commission. In theory they were authorized by the crown or by local authorities in the West Indies to attack enemy ships. But it got rather complicated at times. Why was that, do you suppose, Robert?"
Robert straightened his shoulders. "Because so many different countries have colonies in the West Indies, I expect, sir."
"Precisely." Jared smiled approvingly. "Back in Captain Jack's time there were English, French, Dutch, and Spanish vessels in the region."
"And the buccaneers were not supposed to attack the ships and towns of their home countries, I'll wager," Ethan said. He frowned. "That would mean the English would have sailed against the French and the Spanish and the Dutch. The French would have attacked the English and the Spanish and the Dutch."
"It does sound rather complicated," Olympia said. She abandoned any pretense of being an interested observer of Jared's instructional methods. She hurried across the room to join her nephews. "What was this about a venture across the Isthmus of Panama in search of treasure?"
Jared's smile was slow and mysterious. "Would you care to join us while I tell the tale, Miss Wingfield?"
"Yes, indeed," Olympia said. She smiled gratefully at Jared. "I should like that very much. I am quite interested in such tales."
"I understand," Jared said softly. "Come a little closer, Miss Wingfield. I would not want you to miss a single thing."
Squire Pettigrew arrived at three o'clock that afternoon. Olympia was back in the library when she heard the clatter of the gig's wheels in the drive. She rose from the desk and went to the window to watch Pettigrew alight from his carriage.
Pettigrew was a heavily built man in his late forties. At one time he had been accounted a handsome fellow and he continued to act as if every female in the neighborhood still found him irresistible. Olympia did not understand what anyone had ever seen in the squire.
The truth was, Pettigrew could be a dreadful bore although Olympia was much too polite to say so. She knew that she was probably not a very good authority on the subject. After all, she found the majority of the males in Upper Tudway extremely dull and uninspiring. Their pursuits and interests rarely coincided with hers and men did tend to lecture so to females. Pettigrew was no exception. As far as Olympia could ascertain, his chief passions consisted of hounds, hunting, and farming.
Nevertheless, she knew very well that she was indebted to him for handling her uncle's periodic shipments and she was truly grateful for everything Pettigrew had done for her.
The library door opened just as Olympia sat down again. Pettigrew swaggered into the room. The strong scent of the eau de cologne he favored wafted ahead of him.
Pettigrew traveled quite frequently to London and took advantage of the opportunity to stay abreast of current fashion. This afternoon he was attired in a pair of trousers that were trimmed with an array of small pleats. His frock coat was extremely snug and cropped at the waist. The back of the coat fell in two long tails that reached his knees. Beneath it he wore an elaborately pleated shirt. His cravat was so high and rigid that Olympia suspected it was held in place with some sort of stiffener.
"Good afternoon, Miss Wingfield." Pettigrew gave her what was undoubtedly meant to be a charming smile as he walked toward the desk. "You're looking very fine today."
"Thank you, sir. Please sit down. I have some interesting news for you."
"Do you indeed?" Pettigrew swept the long tails of his coat aside with a practiced motion of his hand and sat down. "I suspect you are about to tell me of your uncle's latest shipment of goods. Never fear, my dear, I have already received word of it and stand ready to assist you, as always."
"That is very kind of you, sir, but the good news is that I will no longer require your services for such matters."
Pettigrew blinked rapidly several times as if he had a speck in his eye and then he went very still. "I beg your pardon?"
Olympia smiled warmly. "You have been extremely helpful, sir, and I am most grateful to you, but I cannot impose upon you any longer."
Pettigrew frowned. "Now see here, Miss Wingfield, I do not consider it an imposition to assist you in disposing of those shipments. Indeed, I feel it is my duty to aid you. I would be remiss in my obligations as a friend and neighbor were I to allow you to fall into the hands of the sort of unscrupulous scoundrels who would not hesitate to take advantage of an innocent such as yourself."
"You need not fear for Miss Wingfield," Jared said very quietly from the doorway. "She is in good hands."
"What the devil?" Pettigrew turned swiftly to face the door. He stared at Jared. "Who are you, sir? What are you talking about?"
Olympia sensed a sudden tension in the air between the two men. She hastened to diffuse it by making introductions. "Mr. Chillhurst is my nephews' new tutor. He has only been with us for a few days but already he has done wonders. The boys have been studying geography all morning and I'll wager they now know more about the West Indies than any other boy in Upper Tudway. Mr. Chillhurst, allow me to present Squire Pettigrew."
Jared closed the door behind himself and walked to the desk. "Mrs. Bird told me that he had arrived."
Pettigrew's gaze was fixed on the black velvet patch that covered Jared's eye. Then he scowled at Jared's bare throat and the open collar of his shirt. "Damme, man, you don't look like any tutor I ever saw. What is going on here?"
Olympia was irritated. "Mr. Chillhurst most certainly is a tutor. A very excellent one. Uncle Artemis sent him to me."
"Wingfield sent him?" Pettigrew shot her an annoyed look. "Are you quite certain?"
"Yes, of course, I'm certain." Olympia strove for patience. "And as it happens, Mr. Chillhurst is skilled in financial matters. He has offered to act as my man of affairs. That is why I shall no longer be requiring your assistance in disposing of my uncle's shipment, sir."
"Your man of affairs." Pettigrew was dumbfounded. "Now see here, you don't need a man of affairs. You've got me to look after your finances and such."
Jared sat down. He rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepled his fingers. "You heard Miss Wingfield, Pettigrew. She will no longer be requiring your services."
Pettigrew shot him a scathing glance and turned back to Olympia. "Miss Wingfield, I have warned you often of the dangers of dealing with persons whose backgrounds you know nothing about."
"Mr. Chillhurst is a perfectly respectable person," Olympia said firmly. "My uncle would not have employed him to work in this household if he were not a man of excellent character."
Pettigrew gave Jared a disparaging look. "Have you reviewed his references, Miss Wingfield?"
"My uncle took care of that sort of thing," Olympia said.
Jared smiled coldly at Pettigrew. "I assure you, sir, there is no cause for concern. I shall see to it that Miss Wingfield realizes a fair profit off the goods her uncle sent to her."
"And who's to say what that fair profit is?" Pettigrew retorted. "Miss Wingfield will have no way of knowing if you take advantage of her, will she? She will have to depend upon your word in the matter."
"Just as she has been forced to rely upon your word in the past," Jared said softly.
Pettigrew drew himself up. "Are you implying anything, sir? Because if so, let me inform you that I will not tolerate it."
"Not at all." Jared tapped his fingertips together in a slow, silent drumroll. "Miss Wingfield tells me that she realized nearly two hundred pounds off the last shipment."
"That is quite correct," Pettigrew said stiffly. "And she was extremely lucky to get that much out of it. Why, if it had not been for my contacts in London, she would probably have received no more than a mere hundred or hundred and fifty pounds."
Jared inclined his head. "It will be interesting to see if I can do as well on her behalf as you have done, will it not? Perhaps I shall even be able to improve upon your efforts."
"I say," Pettigrew sputtered indignantly. "I don't care for your attitude, sir."
"Your opinion of me is neither here nor there, is it?" Jared observed mildly. "But I assure you that I will pay close attention to Miss Wingfield's financial affairs. After all, she needs the money, does she not? A single woman burdened with the responsibility of three young boys can certainly use all the income she can get."
Pettigrew's heavy face turned an unpleasant shade of red. "Now see here, sir, I cannot allow you to take possession of Miss Wingfield's goods without so much as a by-your-leave. You might very well up and disappear with them for all we know."
"The goods have already disappeared, so to speak," Olympia said. "Mr. Chillhurst had them sent off to London this very morning."
Pettigrew's eyes widened in astonished fury. "Miss Wingfield, surely you have not done anything so rash as to allow this man to whisk your goods out of Upper Tudway."
Jared continued to tap his fingertips together. "They are safe enough, Pettigrew. They were dispatched under guard. A trusted acquaintance of mine will receive them when they reach London and see to their disposal."
"Good God, man." Pettigrew rounded on him. "What have you done? This is outright thievery. I shall inform the magistrate at once."
Olympia jumped to her feet. "That is quite enough. Mr. Pettigrew, I am satisfied that Mr. Chillhurst has only my best interests at heart. I really do not wish to be rude, sir, but I must insist that you cease prattling on in such an insulting fashion. Mr. Chillhurst might take offense."
"Yes." Jared drummed his fingertips together and looked as if he were contemplating the possibility. "I might."
Pettigrew's mouth worked for a moment but no words came out. Then he heaved himself up out of the chair and glowered at Olympia. "So be it, Miss Wingfield. If you choose to put your trust in a stranger rather than in a neighbor you have known for years, that is your affair. But I expect that you will regret this reckless piece of work. Your new tutor looks altogether too much like a bloody pirate to me and that's a fact."
Olympia was outraged. Jared was, after all, in her employ. It was up to her to defend him. "Really, Mr. Pettigrew, you go too far. I cannot allow you to speak in such a fashion to anyone on my staff. Good day to you, sir."
"Good day, Miss Wingfield." Pettigrew stalked to the door. "I only hope you have not lost a packet by trusting this… this person."
Olympia watched the door until it closed behind Pettigrew. Then she risked a quick, awkward glance at Jared. She was relieved to see that he had stopped tapping his fingers together. She suspected that the mannerism did not bode well.
"I apologize for that unfortunate little scene," Olympia said. "Pettigrew means well, but I believe he was somewhat insulted by the fact that I have turned my uncle's shipment over to you to handle."
"He called me a pirate."
Olympia cleared her throat delicately. "Yes, but please do not take offense. He is not entirely to blame for making such a remark. Indeed, Mrs. Bird commented upon the resemblance earlier. There is something about you, sir, that does tend to put one in mind of a pirate."
Jared's mouth curved. "I am glad that you are able to look beneath the surface, Miss Wingfield."
"Aunt Sophy and Aunt Ida taught me not to judge by appearances."
An enigmatic expression lit Jared's gaze. "I hope you will not be disappointed by the man you discover beneath the pirate's face."
"Oh, no," Olympia whispered. "I could not possibly be disappointed, sir."
The following evening Olympia sat at her desk and contemplated Jared's hair. The heavy, midnight black stuff was brushed back behind his ears and reached his collar. There was no question but that the style was unfashionable and that it contributed to Jared's rather savage appearance. But Olympia did not care. All she wanted to do was run her fingers through it.
Never in her life had she wanted to run her fingers through a man's hair.
Jared was sitting in an armchair in front of the fire, his booted feet stretched out in front of him. He was reading a book that he had selected from a nearby shelf.
The glow from the hearth etched his already stern features into even harsher lines. He had discarded his coat after dinner. Olympia had grown accustomed to the lack of a cravat but she found it almost overwhelming to be in the same room with Jared when he was in his shirtsleeves.
The disturbing sense of intimacy made her feel lightheaded. Whispering shivers of awareness coursed through her. She could not help but wonder if Jared was feeling anything at all other than tired after a long day.
It was nearly midnight but he still showed no signs of taking his leave. Mrs. Bird had retreated to her room after dinner. Ethan, Hugh, and Robert had gone to bed hours ago. Minotaur had been banished to the kitchen.
Olympia was alone with Jared and she was consumed with a strange, unfamiliar restlessness. The feelings had been increasing in intensity every night since Jared's arrival. As far as she could tell, he was not uncomfortable at all with these intimate evenings together in the library.
Olympia had a sudden urge to talk to him. She hesitated and then closed the Lightbourne diary with a loud snap.
Jared looked up from his book and smiled quizzically. "Making progress, Miss Wingfield?"
"I believe so," Olympia said. "Most of the entries are quite prosaic. On the surface, it's merely a journal of daily events. It appears to cover the period of Miss Lightbourne's engagement and the first few months of her marriage to a man named Mr. Ryder."
Jared's gaze was enigmatic. "Mr. Ryder?"
"She seems very happy with him." Olympia smiled wistfully. "She calls him her 'beloved Mr. Ryder.' "
"In fact, that's the only way in which she refers to him, even though he's her husband. Rather odd, but there you have it. She must have been a very proper sort of lady."
"So it would seem." There was an odd note in Jared's voice. He sounded almost relieved.
"As I said, for the most part the journal appears quite ordinary, except for the fact that it is written in a combination of English, Latin, and Greek. But every few pages I come across an odd series of numbers mixed in with a phrase that seems to make little sense. I believe those numbers and words are the clues for which I am searching."
"It sounds rather complicated but I suppose that is the way with codes."
"Yes." Olympia detected the lack of interest in his tone. She knew she should change the subject.
She was beginning to realize that, for some reason, the mystery of the Lightbourne diary held no intellectual appeal for Jared. In fact, he appeared to be positively bored by it. She was rather disappointed because she would have liked very much to discuss her discoveries with him.
Still, she could hardly complain if he wished to avoid that one topic, Olympia thought. Jared was, after all, more than happy to converse about virtually any other matter.
"You are at ease with Latin and Greek?" Jared asked casually.
"Oh, yes," Olympia assured him. "Aunt Sophy and Aunt Ida instructed me in both."
"You miss your aunts, do you not?"
"Very much. Aunt Ida died three years ago. Aunt Sophy followed her within six months. They were the only real family I had until my nephews arrived."
"You have been alone for some time."
"Yes." Olympia hesitated. "One of the things I miss most is the conversations we were all accustomed to share in the evenings. Do you know what it is like to have no one about with whom you can converse, Mr. Chillhurst?"
"Yes, Miss Wingfield," he said quietly. "I understand very well. I have felt the lack of such a close companion most of my life."
Olympia met his steady gaze and knew that he was giving her a small peek into his very soul. Fair enough, she thought. She had just given him a glimpse of her own. Her hand shook as she took a sip of her brandy.
"No one here in Upper Tudway is interested in the customs and legends of other lands," Olympia confided. "Not even Mr. Draycott it seems, although for a while I had hoped…" Her voice trailed off.
Jared's hand tightened around his glass. "Draycott is not interested in such matters, Miss Wingfield, but I am."
"I sensed that you were, sir. You are truly a man of the world." Olympia gazed down into her brandy and then raised her head to look at him again. "Last night you mentioned that you had heard about some rather unusual customs practiced by peoples of a certain South Seas island."
"Ah, yes." Jared closed his book and gazed into the fire. "Very interesting courtship customs among the islanders."
"You promised to go into greater detail this evening, if you will recall," Olympia prompted.
"Certainly." Jared took a sip of his brandy and assumed a contemplative expression. "Apparently it is the habit among the islanders for the prospective suitor to take his lady to a place in the jungle that is considered to be magical. I'm told it's a lagoon where a large waterfall cascades down a wall of rock."
"I see. It sounds very lovely." Olympia took another sip of her brandy. "What happens next?"
"If the lady wishes to be courted she allows the man to kiss her beneath the waterfall." Jared turned the glass in his hands. "He gives her a token of his affections to signify his love. Legend has it that any union which begins in such a fashion will prove harmonious and fruitful."
"How interesting." Olympia wondered what it would be like to be kissed by Jared. He looked so lean and strong and powerful sitting here with her. He could doubtless pick her up with just one hand, she thought.
She wondered what it would feel like to have Jared lift her right up off her feet.
And hold her against his chest.
And cover her mouth with his own.
Appalled at the direction of her thoughts, Olympia gave a start and fumbled with her glass. Brandy splashed on the desk.
"Are you all right, Miss Wingfield?"
"Yes, yes, of course." Olympia hurriedly righted the glass and set it down. Mortified by her own clumsiness, she dabbed at the spilled brandy with a handkerchief and cast about wildly for something intellectual to say.
"Speaking of interesting tokens of affection in the South Seas." Olympia concentrated on wiping up the last of the brandy. "I, myself, have recently read about a very unusual practice carried on in that part of the world."
"Have you, Miss Wingfield?"
"It seems that among the inhabitants of one of the islands it is the custom for the groom to present his bride with a large golden object in the shape of a phallus."
There was a deep silence from the other side of the room. Olympia glanced up, wondering if Jared had failed to hear her. A strange sensation went through her when she saw the disturbing expression on his face.
"A golden phallus?" Jared asked.
"Why, yes." Olympia dropped the brandy-soaked handkerchief onto the desk. "A very odd custom, wouldn't you say, sir? What do you suppose one does with a large golden phallus?"
"I cannot say offhand, but I suspect there is a very interesting answer to that question."
"No doubt." Olympia sighed. "But I shall probably never learn the answer because I shall likely never travel to the South Seas."
Jared put down his brandy glass and got to his feet. "As you have pointed out to me, Miss Wingfield, one does not have to travel widely in order to gain experience of the world."
"True enough." She watched him as he walked deliberately toward her. "Is there something the matter, Mr. Chillhurst?"
"Yes." He walked around her desk, reached down, and lifted Olympia straight up out of the chair. "There is something I wish to learn tonight, Miss Wingfield, and only you know the answer."
"Mr. Chillhurst." Olympia could hardly breathe. Excitement flashed through her. She felt as though she were about to melt. "What is your question, sir?"
"Will you kiss me, Miss Wingfield?"
Olympia was so shaken she could not find the words to respond. She did the only thing she could. She put her arms around Jared's neck and lifted her mouth to his in silent invitation.
She knew with sudden and absolute certainty that she had been waiting all of her life for this moment.
"Siren." Jared's arms closed very tightly around her as he crushed her lips beneath his own.