Her hands were shaking and she didn’t know why. Bethany stood and took the plates she was holding from her. “No reason to break the china,” she said cheerfully.
“I won’t do this unless you’re entirely willing,” Adam said.
“I…I am willing. If it can help. I’m willing to do just about anything,” she said. She lifted her hands. “What do I need to do?”
“Just relax, and trust me. Nothing more,” Adam said.
“That’s what all the guys say,” Bethany teased.
They all smiled. Then Genevieve looked seriously at Adam.
“I do trust you,” she said.
“Then we’ll begin.”
Terrified he was going to kill himself and Brent and whoever else might be on the road, Thor forced himself to stay calm and drove onto the shoulder. They were almost at the lab, but he needed a break.
Throwing the car into Park, he looked in the back seat again.
It was empty.
He stared at Brent.
“There was just someone in the back seat,” he said.
“Yes,” Brent agreed.
“He’s gone now.”
“He probably thought you were about to have a heart attack.”
“I nearly drove off the damned road.”
“Yes, I noticed that.” Brent smiled.
“I don’t fucking believe in ghosts! What the hell is this bull you all are pulling on everyone? Smoke and mirrors. How the hell are you doing it?”
Brent didn’t flinch. He just stared at him. “You tell me,” he said, calm, quiet. “You’re a logical man. You figure it out. Maybe there are things in this world that you can’t explain. Maybe there really was a ghost in your back seat.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Thor repeated stonily.
“Okay. Don’t believe in them. But shouldn’t I drive?” Brent asked.
“We have about four blocks to go,” Thor said. “I can drive.”
He pulled back out onto the road. He didn’t want to look into the rearview mirror, but he couldn’t help himself.
The kid was back, staring at him.
“You’re not there,” he snapped.
And then he drove on. Cautiously.
A strange wind was blowing. She was accustomed to the sea, loved the sea, and yet today something in the air was disturbing…frightening.
Or was fear creating the disturbance within her own spirit?
No one believed her, not even her own father. But then again, he was such a liar. Yet, she dared not decry him too passionately, lest the truth be known. And the truth was far worse….
She stared toward the horizon, certain help would come.
Then she turned and looked nervously at the ship’s guns. There seemed to be so many. She was a proud ship, but the ocean was vast, and any ship, no matter how proud, was but a speck on the sea.
She turned around, aware of the wind, and also aware of something else.
A strange and eerie silence. The ship shouldn’t be quiet.
A sensation of evil crept along her spine. She looked slowly around her. There should have been men in the rigging. The wind was changing and the men should have been shouting to one another, hurrying to trim the sails.
Not a single sailor was topside.
But he was.
Staring at her. With that smile she hated so much.
“What’s going on? Where is everyone?” she demanded.
“Gone,” he said simply, and smiled more broadly.
The chill along her spine became glacial.
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”
“They wanted to swim,” he said pleasantly, approaching her. Slowly. Still keeping his distance. He was enjoying himself.
She watched him very carefully, then looked to the horizon again.
Maybe she was hoping, maybe it was real, but she thought she saw another ship on the horizon. But the weather was changing so quickly. Calm seas began to roil. A mist seemed to have suddenly sprung up over the water, a sure sign of changing temperatures.
She was worrying about a storm, she realized, while he…
She was worrying about a storm rather than face the truth.
“You have…you have taken over the ship? But…the men are loyal to…”
“Seamen, dear girl, are most often loyal to the highest bidder,” he commented. “You forget the port from which we have just come. And that new men had to be hired on to replace those who took ill so seriously—and so suddenly. You forget so much—my dear.”
“I forget nothing! You, sir, lived in the recesses of your mind and imagined truth where there was none.”
“You betrayed me.”
“You betrayed us.”
“There was no ‘us’ for me to betray.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter anymore. History will tell the tale. And it will be the truth. The pirate destroyed all.”
Her eyes widened.
It was then that she saw what he was about. Saw the two men emerge from behind a pile of rigging.
One was huge, with burly arms. She’d seen him before, when the first mate had been railing at him for some dereliction of duty.
He was winding a length of thick rope.
The second man dragged a canvas bag of ballast with him.
“You should have loved me,” he said softly.
She turned, desperate to crawl over the railing and cast herself into the sea while some margin of hope remained.
She felt their hands, dragging her back.
She screamed. Screamed as if the sound could break the heavens, penetrate earth and sky, somehow bring salvation. But they were on her. Huge and heavily muscled. She had not a prayer. She knew that when the first blow struck her cheek and she went reeling. She fought the loss of consciousness, knowing her fate, disbelieving, and yet still…
There was a ship on the horizon. A distance away, still, but closing. Oh God, oh God, dear Father in Heaven, forgive me…
The rope was tied securely around both her ankles and the bag of ballast. Still, she bit, scratched, screamed, cursed….
She was lifted.
As she hit the water, she heard the first boom of cannon fire.
S heridan’s real facilities were in the northern part of the state. Still, he had managed to do a good job of making it look as if he had kept a research lab in town for at least a decade.
A grad student sat sentinel in the antechamber; specialists the professor had called here were busy at various locales throughout the complex of rooms—too many, Thor thought, considering the few artifacts they had turned up thus far.
Sheridan led Thor and Brent into his office, ignoring his people as if they were no more than honeybees buzzing around, expected to produce.
“The letter was written by Anne, and signed with a flourish. She had lovely penmanship,” Sheridan told them, warming to his subject. His desk was laden with papers and books. Thor wasn’t quite sure how the man could find anything.
Sheridan looked up at them triumphantly. “There was far more going on than one might have expected,” he announced.
“Like what?” Thor asked.
“I’ll read you my translation. The ink was poor in a few spots, but…imagine, almost perfectly preserved after all these years.”
“Professor, if you would?” Thor said, trying to hide his impatience.
He didn’t need Sheridan going all intellectually ADD on him at the moment. He’d been trying to keep it together since he’d slammed his way out of the car.
Who would have expected this dive would be the one on which he found the woman he loved.
And lost his mind.
If he’d seen a ghost, he should be considering a long vacation. If he hadn’t seen a ghost, something criminal was going on with Adam Harrison and his gang.
He stopped thinking and started listening when Sheridan began to read.
Today I awoke afraid, as I had not been before. I was aghast at the lies being told, yet did not dare to utter the truth.
But I know he will come.
And for all that is reputation and all that is legend about the man, I know that one thing is true: his love for me. He will see the battle is swift and sure. He will see that the good do not die. He will be merciful. For me.
But while I wait, I am afraid, so I will write my prayers.
Sheridan stopped speaking and looked up at them as if he had just translated the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“That’s it?” Thor asked.
“Yes, that’s it!” Sheridan exploded. “Can’t you see? There was a conspiracy going on aboard the Marie Josephine. Of course, I don’t know why Anne was afraid, who she feared, or who she thought would come to her rescue, but…we will know more. I’ll continue translating what I have, and you’ll bring me more.”
“Professor,” Thor reminded him, “another body has been discovered.”
“Yes, yes, sad.”
“There’s a killer loose in the Keys,” Brent commented.
Sheridan stared at him, frowning. “And you’re professional salvage divers. What’s going on is sad, but I don’t see why it has to delay your work.”
“I’m afraid it’s going to have to, Professor,” Thor said. “The police have asked us to keep the area clear until they’ve had time to look for evidence.”
“But you can help them—while you look for the Marie Josephine,” Sheridan said.
“I’ll get back to you as soon as I have more information,” Thor told him, cutting the conversation short.
Sheridan rose. “We’re working on grant money, you know. This lab…it costs a fortune to run. We’ve got to get back to work. We’re going to need much more to justify our expenses.”
“I’ll keep you posted, I promise,” Thor told him.
As they left the offices, Thor tossed the keys to Brent, who caught them, looking surprised. “Just drive,” Thor said wearily.
To Victor’s amazement, they didn’t arrest him. Even after they had said they were going to do so.