Authors: Teresa Reasor
“The analysis lab took possession of it from the coroner. It was obvious that it wasn’t contemporary. They’ll be dating it. It was theorized that when the cofferdams panels were sunk they bubbled up the debris that was covering the skull. A team will be going down tomorrow to see what else might be there. It’s probably been buried for some time. Was there any progress on the carvings on the stones today?”
A sharp glitter of interest had overpowered the woman’s normal bookish reserve and color tinged her cheeks. “Aye. ‘Tis Ogham that’s carved all over them. We’ll have to clean the lot of them before we can decipher it. Dr. Fraser wants to bring in an epigrapher to interpret the symbols.”
A waitress approached and took their orders.
Regan leaned toward Hannah. “I thought Ogham was an alphabet based on trees used on grave markers.”
“It is, but Dr. Fraser thinks it may be some kind of history or myth depicted on each one. He doesn’t want any mistakes. Besides, Scottish Ogham seems to be a bit more difficult to decipher than the Irish version. ‘Twould seem the Picts had a habit of borrowin’ words from other languages when writing their messages. They may have laced them with Old Norse. Some of the messages discovered in the past have been left undeciphered. Let’s hope that won’t be the case of our stones.”
Regan’s heart kicked into a gallop. She found the idea of the stone’s secrets remaining an unsolved mystery unacceptable. “I can’t see Nicodemus leaving that rock unturned after all the expense he’s gone to, can you?”
Hannah shook her head. “Since I’ve been cleaning them from the bottom up since the water’s been pumped out, I’d be a bit miffed if they didn’t at least attempt to decipher them.”
Regan turned the glass in her hands and watched the candlelight glow through her drink. “I wouldn’t mind helping with the translation.”
Hannah’s brows rose. “Are you interested in specializing in Linguistic Archaeology?”
Regan gave the idea a moment’s thought. “I don’t know. But I’d like to experience everything I can while I’m here, and I don’t mind hard work. And I certainly wouldn’t mind learning.”
Rick lowered his mug to the table. “I’m beginning to think you were right about what you said earlier today, Regan. We’re the best of the best, and we might each have something special to bring to the dig. I thought they’d pair us up with whoever’s in charge of an area we’re interested in and we’d be like an assistant of an assistant. But in the twenty-two hours I’ve been here, I’ve waded through slime to rescue two geese and worked on a salvage vessel recovering a magnetized wrench and of course there’s the skull none of us got to even touch.”
“Come now, Rick. The ROV was rather cool, was it not?” Stephen said laughter in his tone.
“Yeah, it was. Did Quinn let you anywhere near the controls, Regan?”
Regan shot him a wry grimace. “Like that was going to happen. Besides, he didn’t need my help with the controls. He plucked the wrench off the side of the cofferdam like a weed growing between sidewalk cracks.”
Stephen leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. “When I picked it up I dropped the thing and it stuck to the deck. The magnet was stronger than I’d have thought.”
Rick set aside his empty mug just as the waitress arrived at the table with their drinks. The woman whisked the empty mug away.
Hannah adjusted her glasses. “The lightning should have changed the magnetic field and actually diluted its strength.”
“What if the cofferdam were filled with some debris that was already magnetized, like lodestone?” Regan sipped the ginger beer and found it a bit like ginger ale only stronger. “Could lightning wipe out something already naturally magnetized?”
“There were iron deposits close by a hundred years ago. The old smelting plant isn’t there anymore, but there are bits of ore lying about. Lodestone and iron ore are usually mined together. Perhaps they hit a seam of the ore wherever they got the fill material for the dam.”
Regan looked around the table to see the other students nodding in agreement. “We’d have to take a core sample from the area of the dam we found the wrench to prove the theory. I can’t really see them going to that kind of trouble to solve the mystery.”
Hannah’s blue eyes crinkled at the corners behind her glasses as she smiled. “I’ve already gleaned if there’s a mystery about you want to be in the midst of it.”
“You’re wrong, Hannah.” Regan smiled. “I want to be the one to solve it.”
Henry entered the pub with the last two archaeology students in the team, Sheary and Helen. The three made their way to the table.
Regan studied the two women from Ireland. They had naturally gravitated toward one another, both being from the Green Isle. As they greeted the rest of the group, their brogue fell on the ear with a softer music, but no less rich a cadence than the Scots one flying about the room. Regan nodded a greeting and glanced toward the small stage where the high clear notes of a flute captured her attention.
Surprised, her brows rose as she recognized Quinn Douglas. With his lids partially lowered over his green gaze and his lips pursed to blow into the instrument, there was a singular concentration on his face that brought a flutter to the pit of her stomach. A scruffy five o’clock shadow darkened his jaw and chin. His collar lay open leaving a dusting of dark chest hair visible along his collarbone. There was a raw, dark sexuality about the man that triggered an innate response inside her. Every time she looked at him she felt hot and needy.
Was it only the lingering effects of the dream? Vision. How could she have dreamed about a man she had yet to meet? Having been intent on just surviving the afternoon before, her feelings had been pushed aside as the experience unfolded. Now, after having time to think about it, analyze it, her hands grew clammy, and her heart raced every time she allowed her mind to even tap the subject.
Was she growing as delusional as her real mother? The drugs she’d been addicted to had caused her ranting and raving. Hadn’t it?
But what if the next time she physically touched the stones, something similar happened? What if it hadn’t been a dream? The idea clogged her throat with anxiety, making it hard for her to breathe.
She was a scientist. It couldn’t be real. She’d had a nitrogen-induced hallucination. Her depth could have created the conditions conducive to the situation, or her gas mix may have been off. That’s all it had been. It had to be.
Applause drew her back to the present. Sheary nudged her arm and Regan turned her head to see the girl’s hazel eyes squinting with laughter. “Has the sight of all that manly muscle toying with his instrument put you into a sexual fantasy-induced coma, Regan?”
She blinked and her eyes traveled from Sheary’s wide smile back to the stage, where Quinn was putting his flute in a long case and joining his brothers at a table close by. The rest of the musicians, a trio with fiddle, keyboard, and guitar started another song. Lord, had she been staring at Quinn all this time?
“Actually, I believe between the three of them, there’s enough testosterone there to put us all under.” Helen winked at her. “Even the brother grim has something worthy of a few heart palpitations.”
“The brother grim?” Regan asked.
She leaned her arms on the table flashing a small bit of cleavage. “The oldest. Quinn. I’ve been here three days and never seen him smile. He’s always serious and all business. Now the two younger ones are open to a bit of fun. They bought us drinks the first night we arrived here.”
Regan folded a napkin to act as a coaster, salted it, and slid it beneath her glass. He had smiled at her that first morning they had spent together. And been angry and biting, as well. “Logan and Rob do seem a little more laid back.” But not much of a challenge. Regan shook her head at the thought. Since when had she needed any more challenges in her life than she already had?
She reached for her ginger beer and took a sip. The lemony ginger flavor of the drink was growing on her. She looked up to meet the gaze of a thin, pale-faced man sitting to the right of the stage. He appeared to be watching them. The way his dark eyes focused so intently on the group made her uncomfortable, and she lowered her gaze to her glass again.
“Hannah.” Regan tugged at the woman’s sleeve. “Who is that man?” she asked motioning beneath the table in his direction.
Hannah looked up pretending to be checking out the musicians on stage. “’Tis Sebastian Nicodemus and his assistant Andrew Argus. Argus is the one with the spooky eyes.”
Regan raised her brows and tried to catch a glimpse of Nicodemus without looking directly at the men. “Don’t tell Henry. He’ll go over and genuflect or something.”
Regan studied the fine boned slope of Nicodemus’s cheek and jaw. Deep shadow cut beneath his cheekbones. He had the dark eyes and hair of his Greek heritage and appeared to be in his mid or late thirties. But his skin looked sallow, as though he were much older.
“He doesn’t look well, does he?”
“No. Rumor has it that there’s something going on with him, but no news has been released. It might affect the stock values in his companies I suppose.” Though Hannah’s words were about business her expression was sympathetic.
Just looking at the man gave her a strange, anxious feeling, and she shifted her attention to Hannah. “I’ve done some research on him. He has the reputation for being, not just ruthless, but cutthroat, in business. He recently wanted to purchase a telecommunications company. When the board opposed the sale, he bought all their top corporate advertisers. When they were on the brink of bankruptcy he swooped in and bought the corporation for less than his original offer.”
Hannah frowned and studied the golden hued beer in her glass. “Definitely not someone to mess about with.”
“No. I hope United Scotland hasn’t gotten in bed with a devil. There has to be something in it for him.”
Hannah leaned forward to cup her glass. “The Scottish government won’t allow him to take anything from the site. Perhaps it’s just a philanthropic legacy he wants to leave behind. In case of his death.”
Regan shook her head. His record in business or his life didn’t read that way. But who knew? “Wonder why he’d choose to frequent this pub?”
“’Twas one of the best known hotels in the area at one time. Queen Victoria once stayed here. It was turned into a bed and breakfast for a while, then closed. Nicodemus has rented it for the summer and opened the pub for the locals and us. Look, Dr. Fraser’s joined them.”
Shit. Quinn was bound to have reported her dive to Fraser. He was the last person on the planet she wanted to run into right now. Regan slouched in her seat hoping to be lost amongst the group.
She listened to the good-natured bickering as the boys tried to impress the girls, and the girls flirted with them. All except Hannah. The woman’s reserve, the way she sat back and observed the rest of the team reminded Regan of herself. It inspired a feeling of kinship.
Rob and Logan wound their way between tables. They paused beside their group.
“May we join you?” Rob asked.
“Sure,” Sheary said and slid her chair to one side to make room.
Logan slipped a chair between Hannah’s and Regan’s and sat down. His smile widened as he rested his arms on the back of their chairs. “How are you ladies doing tonight?”
Hannah raised one brow, and Regan’s lips twitched.
“We’re fine, Logan,” Regan answered when it seemed Hannah wasn’t going to.
“How long have you been working at the salvaging business?” she asked after a moment’s pause.
“Since I was sixteen. My parents passed away and Quinn started running the business where our da left off. ‘Tis been nearly seven years now, three with a new ship. We do mostly ship recovery and repairs. And there was an oil spill we helped clean up. This is the second time we’ve been involved in an archaeological recovery.”
“With Historic Scotland regulating all discoveries, I’m sure it would be difficult to turn a profit doing archaeological work,” Hannah said.
“When we first bought the new salvage ship we did a recovery funded by a grant. ‘Tis too expensive to finance such projects without backers. And with all the regulations, you have to turn over all your discoveries to museums. You don’t have to worry about the Douglas brothers taking on anything like that again. Once was enough.”
Regan smiled at Hannah’s reaction. She’d been all ready to cite historical preservation and protection of artifacts, and he’d knocked the wind right out of her sails.
Logan’s arm tightened around Hannah’s shoulder. “This is an island, love. There are enough shipping accidents to keep us busy and ensure we earn a living, without our going out treasure hunting.”
A large presence loomed beside her and Regan looked up to find Quinn standing there. His gaze rested on Logan’s arm draped over her shoulders before it moved on to his brother’s face. Something passed between the two. Logan shifted and dropped his arm from her chair.
“Will you pull up a chair and join us, Quinn?” he asked.
“No.” Quinn’s gaze settled on Regan. “Would you like to dance, lass?”
Regan’s gaze shifted to the table where Dr. Fraser had sat earlier. He was gone, though Nicodemus and his assistant remained. She glanced at the small dance area where several couples were swaying to a slow tune playing on a small jukebox in the corner.
“The lads are taking a break, and I have some time, if you’re free.”
Regan rose and he grasped her hand and led her to the dance floor.
“I noticed you’re not drinking,” he said. He drew her against him.
Regan stiffened and fought a strong desire to press closer to him. It wasn’t just attraction. It was stronger. It was recognition and acceptance.
These feelings aren’t real.
She looked up to find him studying her.
“Alcohol and I don’t do well together. I have no tolerance for it.” In the present circumstances perhaps it was a good thing.
“That’s a shame. Scotland is known for its fine whisky. We have some very good beers and ales, too.” Quinn’s hand rested against the small of her back molding her closer as he swayed to the music.