But when he looked again, she blinked at him as if she had trouble recalling the year.
Was there more to the girl than what first met the eye? Surely not.
He couldn’t keep calling her “the girl,” not even in his mind. “What’s your name?”
“Dr. Hall . . . Oh, you mean my first name.” She smiled at him, those amazing eyes lavishing him with happiness. “I’m Rosamund.”
Didn’t that just figure?
“My parents named me after Rosamund Clifford—”
“The Fair Rosamund, King Henry the Second’s mistress, reputedly the most beautiful woman in the world.” Could this Rosamund be any more unlike her? “Henry built Rosamund a bower and surrounded it by a maze to protect and keep her, yet somehow the wildly jealous El eanor of Aquitaine poisoned her and she died for love.”
“Most of that is romantic fantasy, of course, but you do know your history. And your linguistics.” This Rosamund, plain, unkempt, and appallingly dressed, viewed him with approval.
“History. Yes. That’s actually why I’m here.” He might as well give her a shot at his question. “I wanted to talk to Dr. Hall about a prophecy—”
“My goodness.” Rosamund blinked at him again. “You’re the second one today to ask me about that.”
aron went on alert. Not that he gave any indication of it. He put one hip up on the table and posed like a
model during a photo shoot: one hand slipped into his jacket pocket, the other casually at his side, a relaxed smile on his face. “The second one what?”
She fluttered like a hen disturbed from its nest.
Good. She was responding to his best James Bond sophistication.
Then she said, “Please be careful leaning against that table. If you jiggle it, the stela could fall, the stone could break, and the tablet is priceless. Irreplaceable.”
He straightened, and with a great deal more sternness, he asked, “The second one
“The second man to ask about a prophecy. Of course, I’m not the expert my mother was. Prophecies and legends were her specialty, but you can’t live and travel with a divination specialist without having some of it rub off on you. Of course my father knew an incredible amount, too, but he scoffed at any revelations that might have come true. He was a professional disbeliever.” She adjusted her glasses more firmly on her nose. “What did you want to know?”
Aaron tamped down his impatience and in that slow voice he had reserved just for her, he asked, “Who was the other man who inquired about prophecies?”
“He wasn’t like you.”
Aaron relaxed a little.
“He didn’t know anything about antiquities. Do you know he tried to touch a medieval manuscript with his bare hands?” Her horror was palpable.
Score one for our side.
Her eyes got wide, her frown faded, and her horror melted like cold ice cream covered with hot fudge. “But I imagine he gets away with that kind of arrogance all the time.”
“Why’s that?” Aaron did
like what was going on here.
“Because he is the most gorgeous man I’ve ever met in my life.” She clasped her latex-gloved hands above her heart and stared into space like a zombie.
Man, this girl annoyed him. He cleared his throat. “You know, I’m accounted to be quite handsome myself.”
She glanced at him. “Oh, you are. I noticed that right away. Very handsome.” Somewhere in the lost depths of her femininity, she seemed to recognize that she’d insulted him. Then she made matters worse. “But
is most glorious thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, in person. Well, no, actually I’ve never even seen an actor as good-looking as
” She breathed his name as if it were a holy incantation.
“You have to be kidding. His name is Lance?”
“Yes.” She seemed unaware of Aaron’s disgust. “As in . . . Sir Lancelot.”
“He has the most amazing blue eyes and smooth tan, and golden hair that curls around his head like a statue of Apollo Belvedere.”
“Tough competition,” Aaron acknowledged.
“He’s tall and has broad shoulders, and his jeans fit his gluteus maximus in a way I could not fail to notice. He wore a”—she apparently had to search for the word—“a golf shirt with an alligator on the pocket, and the cuff that surrounded his biceps brachii and triceps brachii emphasized their extraordinary formation.”
It figured that she could rip out the Latin names for the muscles, but was uncertain about what to call a
. “I had no idea Sir Lancelot wore Polo,” Aaron said dryly.
“Like a warrior serving his chosen maiden, he brought me an offering.”
“What offering?” Aaron looked around in alarm. Had this Lance Mathews brought explosives into the library?
“An espresso and a lemon scone.” She sighed with such pleasure, Aaron wondered what she would do for a lobster and a glass of chenin blanc.
His gaze dropped to those pink, full lips and imagined them opening to welcome a bite of shellfish, dripping with butter, and then expressing her appreciation with lavish kisses placed on his cheeks, his lips, his . . .
. This gig had ruined his sex life, and obviously it was starting to affect his mind. “Did he have any identifying features? A tattoo, a birthmark . . . ?”
She turned amazed violet eyes on him. “Yes.”
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I’m psychic that way.” He wasn’t psychic, just logical.
“His shirt was open down to the third button, and high over his sternum, he had a flame tattooed in blue and red and gold.” She placed her hand, palm down, on her breastbone just below her throat as if remembering the exact position of the mark that had so thrilled her.
“Nasty habit, tattooing. One always worries about whether it was done in a sterile environment free of infection or disease.” Not that Aaron didn’t have plenty of friends who had plenty of marks, both natural and artificial, and he wouldn’t bare his back to anyone he deemed suspicious. But he really needed to jerk Dr. Hall out of her obviously delightful memories of Lance and back to the present . . . with him.
“Yes. So true. But my mother had a tattoo. Actually, two. They looked like pre-alphabetic symbols, and she had one on each of her index fingers.”
“Fascinating.” More fascinating than Rosamund realized.
She prattled on, oblivious to his interest. “I have one, too. Just a tiny one. On my—”
Intrigued and surprised, Aaron stepped closer.
Seeing his interest, she hastily backtracked. “Well, that doesn’t matter.”
“It did. It does! What is it? Where is it? And why did you have it done?” He couldn’t help smiling at her, all buttoned-up and clueless.
“It was a ritual tattooing done on an island in the South Pacific. A fascinating culture. I passed through puberty while in their care, so they initiated me into their society. It was a great honor.” She had answered his last question, but not the first two.
“You’ve got hidden depths.”
“I do, don’t I?” She looked up at him without seeming to notice he had shifted his charm into high gear. “Why do you think you need the prophecy?” she asked. “What do you think it’s going to do for you?”
One of the reasons Aaron was so good at what he did was his ability to think on his feet, and he did so now. “I work for the Gypsy Travel Agency. Have you heard of them?”
A small frown puckered her forehead as she thought. “The Gypsy Travel Agency advertises that it’s the oldest travel agency in New York City, specializing in trips to the wild places of the world under the auspices of Romany experts. Right?”
“Absolutely correct. Did you happen to hear on the news what happened this past week?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been working almost nonstop . . .” Her longing gaze strayed toward the stone tablet.
With brutal bluntness, he said, “The Gypsy Travel Agency’s building in SoHo was obliterated in a blast that took everything—all the books, all the knowledge, and most important and tragic, all of the experienced agents.”
Her attention returned to him in a rush. “How horrible for you! Do the demolitions experts know who did it?”
“There are a lot of theories, but no certainties.” At least, no certainties among the officials combing the site for evidence. Aaron and his friends knew all too well what had happened. “All the experts know is that the blast was tightly contained; nothing inside survived intact, yet the buildings around the Gypsy Travel Agency are untouched. The blast vaporized the agency.”
“I’m so sorry to hear this.” Her voice grew thick. “You must be devastated.”
“It’s difficult.” More difficult than he could explain.
“So you want the prophecy to see if this tragedy was predicted?”
“And you’re looking for answers about the future?”
“I’ll try and help.” Plucking a tissue from the box, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
She was a woman easily touched by sorrow, and almost too easy to manipulate. “You say your mother taught you about prophecies, and your father scoffed at them,” he said.
“My mother was an expert linguist, and she used that skill to translate prophecies. She believed certain prophecies were the work of accomplished seers. While she was alive, my father seemed to honor that belief, but once she had gone, my father taught me the hard truth. It is impossible to perceive which are genuine.”
“Because there’s a prophecy for everything. Everything that happens was predicted by someone.”
“So all we need to do is go to the prophecy for
and we’ll know what’s going to happen
“Exactly. But if you would follow me into the stacks . . .” She led him into the rows of metal shelving. She stopped halfway between the door and her workstation, and gestured from one far end to the other. “These are the prophecies for this millennium. Look.” She took down a book, blew off the dust, and flipped it open to page twenty-seven. “In this manuscript, written in the Aramaic script, there is a prophecy that claims that today is the first day of the Apocalypse.” She looked up at him. “Somewhere in the stacks, there is a prophecy that says yesterday was the first day of the Apocalypse, and one that says tomorrow will be the first day of the Apocalypse. Every day of every year has a prophecy that claims the Apocalypse starts on that day. One of them is probably right—can you tell me which one?”
He had understood the odds against success, but seeing it illustrated so graphically ripped the scales from his eyes. “Yet some prophecies have more value than others.” He argued because he had to. Because he and his friends desperately needed that prophecy.
“If the prophet has a track record of success, yes. Or if the manuscript was created on rare media or by monks or etched into the walls of . . . of . . .” She waved her hands, looking for inspiration.
“The Sacred Cave?” he suggested.
“Or if you can pinpoint the subject of the prophecy as being in the right place at the right time.”
She thought about that, then nodded. “That would work. Or at least help.”
“How did your mother decide which prophecies were real?”
Rosamund smiled a fond smile, picked up a fine brush, and whisked it over the stone tablet. “She said it was important to look at all the real factors, but in the end . . . she said it came down to her gut feeling.”
Yes, he understood that. “Do you ever get gut feelings?”
“When I get the flu.” She laughed too long at her own joke, then grew uncomfortable under his steady regard, and confessed, “I used to. Sometimes. But my father said gut feelings were nothing but wishful thinking, and I might as well depend on a fortune-teller’s crystal ball as on my intuition.”