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Garden of Thorns

Garden of Thorns

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Garden of Thorns

4/5 (2 évaluations)
498 pages
8 heures
Jan 18, 2011


First print-published by Berkley Publishing Group, 1992

Mark Owen and Hilary Chase, who met at the excavation of a medieval Scottish priory in Dust to Dust, get back together in Fort Worth, Texas, his home town.

Hilary is working at a museum, curating a set of medieval artifacts recovered from the Nazis by famous explorer and writer Arthur Coburg. Only when he recently died did the existence of the artifacts come to light. Now his much younger wife, Dolores, wants to sell them to the museum.

Mark is helping British archaeologist Jenny Galliard excavate the Coburgs' eerie Victorian house, Osborne, a place scarred by two unsolved Jack-the-Ripper style murders.

The emotional scars of Hilary's past are still healing, much to Mark's sympathy and frustration combined. Putting together a relationship is hard enough without being drawn unwillingly into the dark secrets of the Coburg family.

No surprise Osborne is haunted. But Mark and Hilary are dismayed to find that Jenny Galliard is also haunted, by a mystery that dates not only back to World War II, but into medieval times.

A killer is still walking the shadows of Osborne House. Will Mark and Hilary survive long enough to find the solution to crimes both recent and distant, let alone long enough to find each other?

Jan 18, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

After starting out in science fiction and fantasy, Lillian Stewart Carl is now writing contemporary novels blending mystery, romance, and fantasy, along with short mystery and fantasy stories. Her work often includes paranormal themes. It always features plots based on history and archaeology. While she doesn’t write comedy, she believes in characters with a sense of humor. Her fantasies are set in a mythological, alternate-history Mediterranean and India. Her contemporary novels are set in Texas, in Ohio, in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, and in England and Scotland. Of her Shadows in Scarlet, Publishers Weekly says: "Presenting a delicious mix of romance and supernatural suspense, Carl (Ashes to Ashes) delivers yet another immensely readable tale. She has created an engaging cast and a very entertaining plot, spicing the mix with some interesting twists on the ghostly romantic suspense novel." Of her Lucifer's Crown, Library Journal says: "Blending historical mystery with a touch of the supernatural, the author creates an intriguing exploration of faith and redemption in a world that is at once both modern and timeless. Among many other novels, Lillian is the author of the Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron cross-genre mystery series: America’s exile and Scotland’s finest on the trail of all-too-living legends. Of The Secret Portrait, Kirkus says: Mystery, history and sexual tension blend with a taste of the wild beauty of the Highlands. Of The Burning Glass, Publishers Weekly says: "Authentic dialect, detailed descriptions of the castle and environs, and vivid characters recreate an area rich in history and legend. The tightly woven plot is certain to delight history fans with its dramatic collision of past and present." With John Helfers, Lillian co-edited The Vorkosigan Companion, a retrospective on Lois McMaster Bujold’s science fiction work, which was nominated for a Hugo award. Her first story collection, Along the Rim of Time, was published in 2000, and her second, The Muse and Other Stories of History, Mystery, and Myth, in 2008, including three stories that were reprinted in Year's Best mystery anthologies. Her books are available in both print and electronic editions, and her web site is http://www.lillianstewartcarl.com

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Garden of Thorns - Lillian Stewart Carl

What Reviewers are saying about Garden of Thorns

"...an onionskin plot, as layer after layer gets stripped away in new revelations...each little revelation...sends the story in a new direction....Carl creates a fine set of characters with a healthy dose of strengths and weaknesses... she spices up the mixture with a dash of humor and also an interesting piece of realism.—Timothy Lane, Fosfax

"...Carl is very good at having a main mystery and then filling in the gaps of the story with a lot of little sub plots and secondary characters that really make the book enjoyable. Also, Carl gives the reader some good background information on the Fort Worth area and educates the reader on archaeology and artifacts all without the reader even being aware that they are being taught, which is a nice side benefit. If you enjoy romantic mysteries, you will enjoy this one.—Debbie, Resident Scholar, AllReaders.com


Lillian Stewart Carl


Smashwords edition

Copyright 2011 Lillian Stewart Carl

This book is available in print at most online retailers.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Chapter One

The weathered brick of the house was a soft rose-gray, blending with the mist into something not quite real. Appropriate, Mark thought; he’d once had recurring nightmares about the place. His parents had had to turn off the nightly news so that the eleven-year-old boy could sleep without dreaming of knives glittering in the dark.

Come on, Mark told himself. That was fifteen years ago. You’re a man now, no longer a mouse. He walked briskly up the driveway, into the shadow of the live oaks, wishing he’d worn a jacket over his Don’t Mess with Texas T-shirt.

Behind him the buildings of the Fort Worth Cultural District were swallowed by the mist, and the noise of the cars along York Boulevard faded away. The Victorian dormers, gables, and gingerbreaded verandas of Osborne House solidified before him. Mark’s unnaturally loud steps slowed and stopped. Although the Coburgs hadn’t lived at Osborne for many years, it had been used for weddings, meetings, and parties until Arthur Coburg died here two years ago. Now the house was silent, emitting an elusive breath of decay.

Something moved inside one of the windows. Mark jerked back. No, that was a step behind him. He spun.

Good morning! You must be Mr. Owen.

All he’d seen was a reflection of the woman who faced him. He recognized her voice and hoped she hadn’t noticed his start. Dr. Galliard? Nice to meet you. Thank you for calling the other day.

I needed to put my assistant in the picture before we had a go at the excavation, she replied, in the beautifully moderated English accent he’d found so appealing on the telephone.

It’s just Mark, he told her.

And I’m Jenny.

Short for Jennifer?

No, for Guinevere, I’m afraid. But don’t tell anyone.

Mark smiled and shook her hand. Her grip was surprisingly warm for such a cool March morning. Your parents were very imaginative.

If only they had been.

Her tone had changed abruptly, going so dry he felt as if he should brush dust from his hand. Was it something I said? he wondered.

The waves of Jenny’s black hair were enlivened, not suppressed, by the damp air. They framed a face as strong and symmetrical as a Norman arch. The laugh lines accentuating her smile, and the crow’s feet defining her keen dark eyes, made her look over forty. But the outdoor work of an archaeologist was hardly ideal for her fair British complexion; she was probably in her late thirties. She was almost as tall as he, a couple of inches shy of six feet, and had what a couturier would call with a sniff, a full figure. A figure as firm as her handshake, Mark estimated with an approving glance.

His glance met hers coming the other way, and snicked in a fender bender of perception. She was appraising the attractiveness of his broad shoulders, his brush of brown hair, his tip-tilted gray eyes a friend had once compared to those of a Tolkien elf. But if he saw himself as a fictional character, it was part Holden Caulfield and part Pinocchio.

With an appreciative flick of her dark brows Jenny’s gaze moved innocently up the side of the house to the Tiffany windows in the topmost tower. Mark smothered a grin. He liked older women; they were honest, and not unduly bothered by their honesty.

I’m glad to see another human being, Jenny said. It was very kind of the Coburg Foundation to let me stay in the servants’ quarters, but Osborne is so large and isolated I was feeling like the proverbial last person on earth.

The place is kind of spooky, all right. Mark fell into step beside her. The leaves of the trees stirred fitfully, even though he felt no breeze. I hate to do this to you on our first day of work, but I’ll have to leave early this afternoon to go out to the airport and pick up a friend who just got a job at the Lloyd Museum.

Not that friend was the right word, he added to himself, but lover wasn’t right either, and she certainly wasn’t his prey.... His jaw tightened with tension, as it always did when he thought of Hilary.

They emerged from the shadow of the trees into watery sunlight. Already the mist was starting to burn off; the day would soon turn warm. No problem, Jenny said. All we’ll accomplish today is showing the volunteers the way to their own bums. The Lloyd, eh? What will he—she...

She—Hilary Chase. I met her last summer on that dig in Scotland.

Ah yes, the Rudesburn excavation. I just read the results—well done! Will Miss Chase be working with the Coburg Collections at the Lloyd?

Actually she’s hoping to reach the rarefied atmosphere of the Regensfeld artifacts. But she’s just starting out in art history, so she’ll probably be conserving, cataloguing, and gophering. But then, that’s where Dolores Coburg began, wasn’t it?

Yes it was. Jenny’s eyes widened into exaggerated caution. She raised her hands and with her extended forefingers made a cross, offering an editorial comment on the second Mrs. Coburg. I expect our employers to be prominent fixtures of the dig. That means diplomacy will be as important as science. Get it, Mark?

Yes, ma’am, I’ve got it.

Good. Shaking her head, Jenny stepped nimbly over the chipped concrete foundations of the old boundary wall and onto a rubble-strewn expanse of dirt.

The bulldozers had done their work. Osborne was no longer surrounded by the assortment of gas stations, small shops, and inexpensive frame houses that during the last forty years had insinuated themselves like cholesterol along the artery of York Boulevard. Now shoals of bricks, concrete chunks, and rusted support rods sketched an appropriate C around the house and demarcated stretches of featureless dirt and weeds. A brand new toolshed stood at the edge of the lawn.

Jenny’s tartan flannel shirt shone like a beacon in the strengthening sun. Her Wellington boot drew a line in the earth—the one Mark was expected to toe, no doubt. I did a little preliminary sampling to define our working areas. The first trench goes there, in the garden, and the second here, where the carriage house and garage used to be. When did they burn—1975?

The same night Felicia Coburg was murdered in the house, said Mark. Killed the same way her mother-in-law was in 1912, sliced up like a delicatessen tray.

Jenny darted him a nonplussed look.

I’m a Fort Worth native, Mark explained, turning his glance over his shoulder into a shrug. I remember hearing about the case when I was a kid. You know how morbid kids are—helps them to face their fears, I guess.

Right. Jenny gestured. There’s our datum point.

Dutifully Mark pulled a tape measure from his pocket and headed toward a stake fixed like a sacred standing stone in the midst of the desolation.

One puff of wind, and then another, steadied into a breeze that sighed through the branches of the oaks. Mark and Jenny paced out the grid of the excavation and defined its squares with twine stretched between strategically placed pegs.

That task done, Mark put away his Swiss Army knife, mopped at the wind-driven dust gathering in the corners of his eyes, and squinted through the sunshine. From his vantage point he could see the smooth granite planes of the Lloyd, the campanile of Will Rogers Coliseum, and the silver dome of Casa Manana Theatre looking like a stranded spaceship. Beyond the Cultural District the land fell away in a springtime haze of pink, white, and tender green toward the river and the interstate. The warm wind carried a tang of dust and exhaust and the subtle sweetness of honeysuckle. Texas weather being what it was, that same wind could well stiffen into a blue norther and bring snow tomorrow.

Several cars turned into the drive and stopped on the expanse of gravel in front of the garage. A young man who looked more like an NFL linebacker than a scholar led an eclectic assortment of humanity across the rubble. Hey, Mark!

Preston! Mark called. I saw your name on the list! How’s it going? The two men exchanged a gesture that was part handshake and part high-five.

One more credit in field work and I’ll have that Master’s, said Preston. I see you decided a spring dig wouldn’t fry you too bad.

Mark had more than once estimated the time elapsed on an excavation by the slow transformation of sunburn into tan. I can’t help it, he retorted, if my ancestors evolved in a damp cave in darkest Wales.

Preston laughed, his teeth gleaming as brightly as his glasses. His ancestors were from sun-drenched Africa. We should trade specialties. I’ll work outside and you go dig trenches in the library stacks.

And to what documentation do we owe the honor of your presence?

A deed showing that the farm on this ridge belonged to one Lennart MortensonArthur Coburg’s great-grandfather. How about a dissertation titled ‘From Homestead to Mansion in Three Generations: The American Dream’?

Be sure to mention that the mansion is haunted by Arthur’s mother. The American nightmare, Horatio Alger directed by Hitchcock.

Preston’s glance at Osborne House, its copper-green roof camouflaged by trees, was considerably less wary than Mark’s. Do you believe the place is haunted?

I did when I was a kid, Mark replied. Not any more.

Jenny stepped forward to greet her acolytes, and Mark took the opportunity to look them over. One gawky teenager’s big eyes and springy ponytail reminded him of Hilary, although Hilary’s moments of awkwardness were charming glosses on her usual sweet soberness. This girl was probably Amy from Texas Wesleyan. He tried to match other faces with the names on his list—Hong from Texas Christian, Paratha from the University of Dallas, Guy from Denton.... Well, he’d sort them out quickly enough. The hard way, by supervising their work. Except for Preston, they were all rank beginners.

Jenny smoothly segued from welcoming pep talk into lecture. "Visualize archaeological strata as a posh gateau."

Fancy layer cake, Mark translated.

Jenny shot him another of her nonplussed looks and continued. The bottom sponge—the bottom layer of cake—was laid on the plate first. Then you have icing, then another cake layer. Sometimes there are nuts or fruits in the icing. Perhaps one whacking great cherry has even displaced a bit of the cake. The object is to cut as straight a balk, the side of the trench, as possible. That way the layers can be more easily read. You can’t interpret your finds without proper stratigraphy.

How’d you get to be dig assistant? Preston asked Mark under his breath. Especially to someone with as good a reputation as Galliard?

I applied to the Coburg Foundation, same as she did. Having been on a successful dig last summer didn’t hurt. Since I live here part of the year anyway, I didn’t generate too many travel expenses for them to pay.

A real stroke of luck for you.

If everything goes well. If it doesn’t, it’ll be the stroke of a guillotine. Mark drew his forefinger across his throat. Goodbye career. You’ll have to give me a job sweeping up in the library.

Preston snorted. Just keep batting those baby grays at the lady boss. You’ll do all right.

Mark punched at his friend’s arm. Preston grinned. Jenny’s voice wafted over the field. ...remember that by its very nature archaeological excavation destroys the evidence it uncovers. Records must be kept meticulously. Report anything and everything of interest—and by that I mean even changes in the color or texture of the dirt...

Gravel crunched in the driveway. Mark looked around. Among the inexpensive cars of the students a maroon BMW stood out like that archaeologically intrusive piece of fruit. A man slammed the driver’s door and adjusted his broad-brimmed hat, crouching a bit so he could see himself in the side mirror. The hat, his tweed leather-trimmed jacket, and his tooled leather cowboy boots broadcast the state of his bank account better than a check stub. It wasn’t just the boots’ tall, narrow heels that made his walk over the rubble a bandy-legged swagger.

A young woman shut the other door and drummed red fingernails on the car’s sleek finish, shooting a venomous glance toward the man’s back. She’d probably expected him to open the door and hand her out. They must be man and wife.... Mark remembered the grainy photos in the Star-Telegram society pages, the debutante parties six or seven years ago, the charity balls since. The couple was Arthur and Dolores Coburg’s daughter Sharon and her consort, Travis Ward.

Diplomatic alert, he said between his teeth.

Think I’ll go see a man about a dog, muttered Preston, and tried to conceal himself among the other students, with as much success as a lion lurking behind a knot of gazelles.

...artifacts from bottle caps to arrowheads. This hill, not far from a river, is a logical place for pre-Columbian hunter-gatherer encampments as well as the farms of 1850’s settlers. Jenny registered the approach of the Wards with a subtle arch of a brow. Mr. Baker, I believe you’ve had some dig experience. Would you be kind enough to distribute the hoes and trowels from the stack beside the tool shed?

Preston led the students away. Jenny strolled to Mark’s side and stood with her hands on her hips, shoulders back, chin up, like a general before a battle. Her face was expressionless; studiedly so, Mark thought, but the woman was still too much of a stranger for him to interpret her moods.

Sharon’s stiletto heels minced across the debris like a Miss America candidate down the runway in Atlantic City. In fact, she looked like a Miss America contestant, her smile so bright she seemed to have Vaseline on her teeth. A ruffled blouse and pink cashmere sweater topped jeans squeezing a body as taut and lean-hipped as an adolescent boy’s. Her hair was a brilliant gold, writhing in an expensive frizzle that made it look as if it hadn’t been combed in a week. Her face was shaded and blushed, her eyes lined, her lips colored with textbook precision. Mark wondered if her cornflower blue eyes were genuine or created by tinted contact lenses.

Good morning, Jenny said.

Howdy, said Travis. He took off his hat, pumped Jenny’s hand, then Mark’s, and replaced the hat. So you’re the lady archaeologist! Not what we expected, is she, hon?

Sharon’s smile never faltered. Her voice was a startling nasal twang. Dr. Galliard’s credentials are adequate to the situation, darling.

Now, honey, I only meant we’d expected someone, well, older.

What Travis probably meant, Mark thought, was that Jenny wasn’t a stereotypical academic husk.

Age hardly implies competence, Sharon told her husband, and looked at Mark. He choked on the musky aroma of her perfume. And you’re Dr. Owen?

Just Mr. Owen, Mark told her. No Ph.D. yet.

Her predatory gaze moved on, unimpressed, seeing nothing beyond the T-shirt and dirty jeans. Thus dismissed, Mark figured he could’ve safely slinked away, but he was much too curious to see how Jenny handled herself.

Would you like to inspect the layout of the excavation? she asked.

Find anything yet? Sharon returned.

We haven’t looked for anything. It’s early days yet.

The students trooped toward the site of the garage. Preston began a sotto voce rendition of Go Down Moses. Getting into the spirit, the students brandished their tools and joined the chorus with Let my people go!

Travis hiked back his jacket and thrust his hands into his pockets, his mouth hanging open with puzzlement. Perched on the mound of his stomach was a huge belt buckle, a relief sculpture of a man and woman making love. Mark looked down at his shoes, trying not to guffaw.

Jenny explained about the different trenches, about strata and artifacts and meticulous records. Sharon nodded and smiled. Whew, said Travis, dragging the word into two syllables. That’s too boggy a crossing for me. I’m sure glad y’all know what you’re doing.

That’s why you hired us, Jenny said.

How long will it take you to find everything? asked Sharon. The contractors have to start developing Victoria Square in April so we can open next fall. We already have tenants for the shops.

Not all the shops, hon, Travis said. We’re still negotiating on that jewelry boutique, and the picture gallery fell through....

What I’m trying to say, darling, asserted Sharon, is that this archaeological survey can’t drag on too long. There’s no point in fixing Osborne House up into such a nice restaurant and club if it’s still surrounded by dirt. Makes it a little hard on the valet parking. Her smile gleamed.

Maybe she took that smile off and put it in a box at night. Mark thought. Maybe she took off her whole face. Without her mask of cosmetics he could pass her on the street and never recognize her.

If the corners of Jenny’s mouth had crimped any tighter, or the corners of her eyes tilted with any more amusement, her courtesy would’ve turned sardonic. I really can’t predict, Mrs. Ward, just how long the survey will take. It depends on what we find.

I understand. You scholars are so lucky not to have to live in the real world. The point is, you see, that pieces of old pottery and stuff won’t provide lots of jobs like Victoria Square will. We have to think of the good of the community.

Presumably Jenny’s and Mark’s jobs, temporary academic foolishness, didn’t count. We’ll do the best we can, Jenny murmured, and turned pointedly toward the group of students.

Preston had them lined up on an unattributed patch of ground, showing them how to use their hoes. A smooth, slow, scooping motion. You’re not chopping cotton here.

Travis’s broad, blunt face, a sketch made with a child’s outsized crayon, looked slightly offended. He leaned closer to Mark and muttered, Think the Rangers will make it into the World Series this year?

What? Oh—ah—well, they’ve got Nolan Ryan, don’t they?

Yeah, sure, he’s a good pitcher, for an old coot over forty.

Jenny, approaching forty herself, winced. The sooner I can get the volunteers to work, the sooner we’ll have the survey finished and you can bring in your shops.

Much as we’d like to stay, Dr. Galliard, Sharon replied with a gracious nod, we have to be getting on over to the Lloyd. That big reception tomorrow night, you know—honestly, you can’t take your eyes off the caterers and the florists for a minute.

You’ve used those same florists for years, said Travis. If they haven’t figured out by now how to cram flowers into a jug....

Let’s go, darling, Sharon interrupted. "We’ll be seeing you tomorrow night, Dr. Galliard.

Thank you, Jenny said.

And you, too, Mr. Owen, of course. My mother and brother can’t wait to meet the good doctor’s second-in-command.

Mark said, Thank you. I’m looking forward to meeting them.

Don’t worry, Travis confided in a stage whisper, Dolores always serves good booze.

As the Wards walked back toward the driveway, their voices trailed behind them. My mother takes great care with her wine list, darling. I’d hardly call it ‘booze’.

I said it was good, hon. That’s all I meant.

They climbed into the BMW. Simultaneously the doors slammed. The car jerked around and roared down the drive in a spatter of gravel.

So that was one of the Coburgs. Despite Sharon’s polite words, Mark was willing to bet the others were hardly holding their breaths waiting to meet him, the hired help.

The problem with financial backers, said Jenny, is that they so seldom stay in back. Meditatively she unbuttoned and removed her flannel shirt. Beneath it she wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a lurid green Loch Ness Monster. Did you see that bloke’s belt buckle? Were they having me on?

Pulling your leg because you’ve never been in Texas before? No, I’m afraid they’re for real. Local products just as much as I am. Except some of us Texans believe our own publicity.

Right. The focus of her eyes shifted from somewhere beyond Mark’s back to his face. Her level look reminded him of the Duke of Wellington in Goya’s famous portrait—the squared jaw of resolution, the slightly narrowed eyes and flared nostrils of cynicism. She didn’t suffer fools gladly, he thought. Good. Neither did he.

A black bird with the long tail of a B-17 bomber glided into the nearest tree and uttered a rusty, grating squawk. Jenny looked up. What kind of bird is that?

A grackle. Sounds like it needs some oil, doesn’t it?

That it does. Her imperious expression cracked into a smile. With a decisive about-face she turned toward the volunteers. Let’s get to it.

Mark followed, wiping his forehead. As he’d predicted, the day was hot, and the warm wind didn’t bring much relief. He’d have to take a few extra minutes to run over to his apartment and shower and change before he went to meet Hilary.

But as Jenny had said, it was early days. He detoured to the tool pile, armed himself with a couple of trowels, and strode into battle.

Chapter Two

Clutching her purse and carry-on bag, Hilary ducked behind a couple of people as broad as they were tall and let them force a path through the crowded terminal. She peered around her unsuspecting escort, searching for Mark’s sturdy body and flashing grin. Her stomach quivered with nausea, whether because of nerves, or airplane food, or because she’d just started a prescription of birth-control pills, she couldn’t say.

He was leaning against a pillar, slapping a folded newspaper against his thigh and surveying the crush of passengers with that sharp-honed look she remembered altogether too well. Taking a deep breath—here we go—she zigzagged through the crowd. Mark! Here I am!

He jerked upright. Hilary!

Sorry I’m late. My flight into Chicago was delayed....

I was late, too—couldn’t find a parking place. No problem. They jockeyed, clashed carry-on and newspaper, and achieved a perfunctory hug. He kissed her cheek and ushered her through a revolving door into the baggage claim area. You cut your hair. Makes you look like Audrey Hepburn.

Hilary assumed he liked Audrey Hepburn, but didn’t think it was politic to ask. Thank you. A last indulgence before I left Paris. Her cheek tingled with the warm, slightly damp spot he’d kissed. Her stomach hiccupped. She considered what to say next. Nice to see you again, was true but banal. I thought I’d never see you again, was also true but begged too many questions along the lines of, Then why are you?

Thank you for your letters, she said at last.

Thank you for yours, he responded. The fellowship went all right?

Great. I spent lots of time in the Louvre, and we took field trips to the Loire chateaux. But all that French cooking—I’ve gained weight.

Mark playfully opened the placket of her coat far enough to peek at her tailored pants and silk blouse. Nope. You’re just right.

She wrenched away. Mark!

He dropped her coat and stiffened like a soldier put on report. There’re the bags. You still have that same set of Samsonite? Without waiting for her answer, he stepped toward the carousel.

Damn, she thought. He didn’t mean anything. I blew that one. Back to square one.

The Samsonite secured, they walked out to the parking lot discussing European politics, friends in Scotland, and Texas weather. As soon as they reached Mark’s mini-van, Hilary shed her coat and tossed it into the back. The car was so hot, Mark turned on the air conditioner.

He deftly extricated them from the spaghetti tangle of airport roads and zoomed onto the freeway, turning into the glare of the westering sun. Half of Hilary’s face was hot, the other cool, as she surreptitiously inspected Mark’s profile. Except for his short hair, she’d seen that profile on medieval effigies, brow, nose, and chin uncompromising planes, mouth chiseled so finely it would have been cold and severe except for the play of expression at its corners. The blue-green Madras shirt he wore set off his gray eyes. They were his most intriguing feature, illuminating his face without softening it, revealing his intelligence without betraying his thoughts.

He knew she was watching him. He said quietly, I didn’t think you were going to come back to the States so soon.

Ben’s back in prison, she told him. Parole violation.

Surely you wouldn’t have had to see him even if he was out! Mark glanced at her, his brows raised indignantly.

He’s my mother’s stepbrother, even though he’s closer to my brother’s age. We’re all one happy family, right?

Wrong. He raped you. That makes him a lot worse than just the black sheep of the family.

Hilary flinched. Yet Mark’s frankness was one of the things she liked in him. She’d been taught from infancy to sweep unpleasantness under the rug. Even though the Chase family carpet was by now mounded over a dump of denial, still everyone tiptoed around it, like Elizabethan aristocrats holding pomanders to their noses so they wouldn’t smell the stink of their own unwashed bodies. No, she said, I’m the black sheep. I should never have told anyone what Ben did to me. I just made trouble. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to people of our social standing.

Mark’s knuckles went white on the steering wheel. This time his glance was sharp and hot. That’s a load of bull, Hilary, and you know it.

Knowing intellectually and knowing emotionally were two different things. Despite the breeze of the air conditioner, she was sweating.

The highway was a shining strip of cellophane. Light reflected from the windows of other cars struck Hilary’s eyes like flashbulbs. The tall buildings of Fort Worth rose ahead, silhouetted against a vast blue sky that faded to pinkish gray at the horizon. It was because the land was flat that the sky looked so huge, she told herself. Still she felt that if she wasn’t careful, she’d slip into that greedy sky and fall forever.

Hilary? Mark asked. He fumbled for her hand.

Gratefully she clasped his fingers. My parents are getting divorced. They’re being very civilized about it—no raised voices, no accusing fingers. Just those sidelong glances at me, letting me know it’s all my fault.

When my parents got divorced, he said, I thought it was my fault. Of course, I was only fifteen, I didn’t know any better. And they were anything but civilized. It was open warfare. I suppose I could blame my own divorce on my parents.

Because you wouldn’t have found yourself in a shotgun marriage at seventeen if they hadn’t turned on each other and on you? I’ve always thought it was a little too easy to blame your problems on someone else.

In my case, yes. But not in yours. His hand bounced hers against the upholstery, admonishing her to behave.

All right, I can blame Ben for a hell of a lot. But still.... Damn it, I wasn’t going to dump this on you so quickly. I’m sorry.

It’s better to get it out of the way. With a firm squeeze Mark released Hilary’s hand and put his own back on the steering wheel. So your job at the Lloyd isn’t only a career move but an escape?

Yes. I thought if everything worked out, I could get my Master’s next year, and maybe find permanent job. I feel hypocritical living even partially on my father’s money.

Good move, then, to avoid paying rent here by house-sitting.

Condo-sitting, rather. The owners won’t be back until May.

You could’ve moved in with me—I have a funky little garage apartment a few blocks from Osborne House. I’ve been staying there off and on for years. My landlady makes the best tamales you’ve ever eaten.

The stream of traffic slowed, narrowing to ooze past a pickup and a Cadillac that had apparently decided to move into the same lane at the same time. Police cars bracketed the accident, their red and blue lights pale in the sunshine. Behind them flags the size of football fields rippled over a car dealership, the Stars and Stripes and the Lone Star given equal billing.

Exhaust seeped into the car and again Hilary gulped down nausea. She still felt the thrumming of the airplane’s jet engines and wondered how long it would be before she came down with a migraine. She’d known this reunion would be awkward.

Mark had considered her moving in with him, which would’ve meant confronting issues of family and intimacy she wasn’t ready to confront. And yet, why had she turned down job offers in Milwaukee and Sacramento to come here, pills in her carry-on, if not to confront those issues?

Mark studied the road as if he had an exam on it. She’d ignore what he’d said, he’d ignore it, they’d sweep it under the rug.... Did you get the dig started? she asked.

Sure did. Looks real promising.

Do you like Dr. Galliard?

Yes, I do. And respect her, which is more important. She’s a real pro. Reminded me of the Duke of Wellington.

One of those women you’d call handsome rather than pretty?

Mark laughed. Well, yeah, but I meant in manner, not looks. You should’ve seen her dealing with Sharon Coburg Ward.

I get to meet the Coburgs at a reception tomorrow. Nice of them to invite me—I won’t officially be an employee of the Lloyd until Wednesday.

I gather what the Coburgs want is what the Coburgs get, particularly at the Lloyd. That new wing to house Arthur’s souvenirs is a pretty tempting carrot, but the deal hasn’t gone through yet.

Hilary smiled indulgently at his cavalier dismissal of one of the country’s important art hoards as Arthur’s souvenirs. Do you think they’ll add the Regensfeld artifacts to the Coburg Collection?

Oh my gosh, Mark exclaimed, I plumb forgot to tell you. Take a gander at that newspaper—the suit over the artifacts was settled today.

Oh! Hilary reached back to the middle seat and grabbed the paper. A headline in the corner of the front page read, Artwork to return to Germany. The article was short and to the point, the reporter assuming the average Fort Worthian had a low tolerance for medieval religious artifacts, no matter how controversial.

When she looked up, they were on an elevated stretch of road beside the downtown area. A garden surrounding a series of pools and waterfalls added a grace note to the stark glass and steel towers. On the horizon the sun was swollen and blood-red. Hilary squinted. Her temples twinged. No, she ordered herself. You’re not going to get a headache.

She said, So the Regensfelders decided it’d be cheaper to pay ransom than to hire lawyers and fight for their artifacts? They’re probably right—East Germany doesn’t have much cash for food, let alone artwork.

Please! Not ‘ransom’ but ‘finder’s fee’! Mark peered out the windshield like a mole, his mouth crimped with sarcasm.

Well, Hilary conceded, Arthur Coburg did save the artifacts from the Russians in 1945. God only knows what would’ve happened to them if he hadn’t. They were at Osborne House until he died, weren’t they?

Now they’re at the Lloyd. Until what’s-his-name, the art expert, takes them away. Next month, I gather.

What’s-his-name is Nicholas Vasarian. I’ve been hearing about him for years. Hilary folded the newspaper and tucked it into her carry-on. I’d kill to work with those artifacts—one of them is a Giotto, you know.

Mark exited the freeway and turned north. The sudden release from the light and heat of the sun made the breath of the air conditioner seem colder. Hilary shivered. Almost there?

Just up the way. It’s not too far from the Lloyd. I’ll come get you tomorrow on my lunch hour and take you to the car lease place.

Thank you, Mark.

You’re welcome, Hilary. They shared a quick, affectionate smile.

The townhouse’s blond brick facade rose behind a yard in which a redbud tree bloomed like a twist of cotton candy. The condos on either side seemed well kept, and more than one late model car was parked along the quiet, tree-lined street.

Hilary thought the suspicious woman next door would demand a driver’s license and a major credit card before disgorging the key, but at last Hilary was inside her temporary home. It turned out to be comfortable rather than stylish, the owners going in for overstuffed furniture and mementos from their various trips. Ceiling fans added a tropical touch. The plants were yellowed and drooping—probably the neighbor was supposed to have watered them. Mark wrestled Hilary’s suitcases to her bedroom upstairs while she found a watering can and fussed over her new charges.

When she started to unpack, he stood in the bedroom doorway, discussing Osborne House and the Coburgs—not surprising that he’d study up on the people who disbursed his salary. And who had a hand in disbursing hers, Hilary told herself. She, too, had researched the famous family.

I’ve always wondered, Mark said, why a gently reared Englishwoman, a lady-in-waiting of Queen Victoria’s yet, would choose to live in Fort Worth in 1870. Talk about culture shock!

She was in love, Hilary suggested.

With Walter Mortensen or his money?

I think relationships were a lot more cut and dried back then—fewer options, whether for better or for worse. Hilary set a bottle of Guerlain perfume so smartly on the dressing table that it snicked. She did have a headache, and she probably hadn’t packed her aspirin.

Amelia and Walter begat Victoria, named after the Queen, but always called Vicky. In 1892 Vicky married another English expatriate, a man named Edward Coburg. With letters of recommendation from Buckingham Palace, no less, though no one really knows what his background was.

Birth and baptismal certificates? Passports? Letters? Photos?

Supposedly Arthur burned everything of his father’s back in the twenties, and he never kept pictures of his parents at Osborne.

Strange. Hilary shook out her skirts and blouses and hung them in the closet. One of her satin underwear cases was spilling lacy unmentionables across the spread. She glanced at Mark, but he was staring into space. She whisked the suggestive items into the dresser drawer.

Vicky and Edward, Mark went on, named the house her parents built for them ‘Osborne’ after the Queen’s villa on the Isle of Wight. A respectful bow toward Amelia’s former employer? Or something else?

You mean the rumor that Edward was really an illegitimate son of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII? The King certainly collected professional beauties. ‘Grand horizontals’ they were called, like performing automata. Hilary shook her head incredulously.

Coburg was one of the royal family’s German names, said Mark. They were more German than British, actually.

As our Scottish friends reminded us more than once. Hilary closed the suitcases and wedged them into the closet. She laid the newspaper on the dresser and put her carry-on bag with its incriminating pharmaceuticals behind the bathroom door. Her bag of knitting she set by the door; the repetitive knit-purl-cable, magically growing a sweater out of strands of yarn, was more calming than a tranquilizer.

Mark stretched. Supposedly Edward Coburg received an income from England all his life—again, no receipts or ledgers survive. And that money was just lagniappe. Vicky was an only child, wealthy in her own right.

Maybe that’s why Edward killed her and then himself. The room had grown dark while Hilary unpacked. Her blunt statement was loud in the shadowed silence. She turned on the bedside lamp.

Mark stepped from the doorway into the room, a moth drawn by the light. For a moment she thought his face had gone more taut than usual. But he asked, Would you like dinner? quite equably. Mexican? Chinese? Side of cow?

Mexican, please. What passes for Mexican in Indianapolis is mostly wishful thinking. They serve Old Dutch brand taco sauce.

Sacrilege! Mark rolled his eyes in horror.

Hilary took a couple of the aspirin she found in the medicine cabinet, checked the broom handle locking the patio door off the dining room, and turned on the light in the entry. Would you mind taking me by a grocery store? All that’s in the kitchen is a jar of pickle juice and some petrified raisin bran.

You’ve got it. Mark ushered her back into the van.

The twilight air was refreshingly cool. They turned right onto another residential street, then left onto a wide boulevard, streetlamps spilling yellow light into the dusk. The restaurant was decorated with red, green, and white streamers, and cheerful music played inside. When

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