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The norte that met Jeanne and Dr. Remy Primston on their January afternoon arrival in Cancún drove tourists off the beaches and into the restaurants, bars, and enclosed shopping markets. Yet Jeanne refused to let the weather dampen her spirit. Two months from now, her dream would come true . . . provided one Captain Gabriel Avery agreed to sign on with the expedition on her terms.
Three hours, a warm meal, and a dry change of clothes later, she read aloud the sign suspended over a hodgepodge of local shops along the waterfront where Remy parked their rented car. "Marina Garza. This must be it."
"Garza with a g," Remy muttered, flipping through his Spanish dictionary at warp speed.
"Garza means gull," she translated for her companion. Her high-school Spanish was coming in handy, even though it needed a thorough dusting off. "It's the address that Pablo Montoya sent us." She double-checked the e-mail that she'd printed off, then tucked it back in her purse.
Far below the hotel zone on the lagoon side of the resort, the Marina Garza was definitely off the beaten path. Ahead of them, a single weather-warped dock protruded from a cluster of mostly closed shops on the grassy, scrub-dotted waterfront south of Cancún. Somewhere among the weathered and rusty boats tied up there was the one she'd prayed for--the Fallen Angel. Appropriately named, given Blaine's investigation that had revealed its captain as a renegade.
"This looks promising," her companion drawled distastefully as he grabbed his umbrella from the backseat. "And I don't like the idea of gallivanting around Mexico after dark. You can't trust these people."
"I just can't wait till tomorrow, Remy. This guy is our last chance," Jeanne told him with a hint of apology. She linked her arm in his. "Remember, Blaine cleared the man." Reluctantly, granted, but Captain Avery was okayed.
Jeanne realized that it was partly because her former professor and mentor, Dr. Remy Primston, would accompany her. A Boston blue blood, Primston was twenty years Jeanne's senior. Thanks to his support, Jeanne had done the incredible. She'd put together the financial backing for this expedition to search for an eighteenth-century Spanish ship that had sunk off the Yucatán coast with a cargo of gold and silver, according to the letters written by its surviving captain and crew. If--no, when--they found the treasure and artifacts, they would be split between the Mexican government and the investors.
"Your brother's report makes him sound like a last chance."
"Just because Avery's made some odd choices in his life doesn't detract from the fact that he's a good captain and familiar with the waters. And his boat passed a recent inspection. That's all we need. Besides, you know we are on a tight budget," Jeanne reminded him.
"Aren't we always?" Remy complained, digging in his jacket pocket. Withdrawing prescription nasal spray, he took a deep sniff in each nostril. "This weather is murder on my sinuses."
Remy got out of the car and, stiff as a royal steward, opened it for her, holding his oversized black umbrella overhead to shelter her from what had turned to misting rain. That was Remy, always making her feel like a queen.
"Señor Montoya said that Captain Avery lives on his boat here at the marina," she said upon getting out.
"Watch your step, dear." Remy offered her his arm for support. "That dock looks none too safe when it's dry, much less when it's rain soaked."
With the practical soles of her sandals clicking on the weather-warped planks, Jeanne started down the dock, but halfway down the length of the pier, they met a young Mexican fisherman who directed them to the only building in the cluster on the waterfront that appeared open--the cantina.
"Why don't we return to our dry hotel and see Captain Avery in the morning?" Remy suggested, looking askance at the neon-red sign that proclaimed Cantina Gaviota.
"Because he might be chartered for tomorrow, and I want--" Jeanne hesitated. "No, I need to know if he'll consider doing the job."
"Well, I should think this Avery would jump at the chance after all his failed endeavors," Remy muttered under his breath, ushering Jeanne past a rickety picnic table that sat beneath a sagging, sun-bleached awning that covered the front of the building.
"He found the Gitano," Jeanne reminded him, undaunted. Her brothers had learned that Avery had made one big discovery, an eighteenth-century pirate vessel laden with treasure and artifacts--followed by others that nearly bankrupted him. It had lured him away from his marine biology studies just short of receiving his doctorate.
"And even his failed endeavors provide invaluable experience," she added.
Despite the open windows along its stucco walls, the Cantina Gaviota was rank with cigarette and cigar smoke. Upon entering, Jeanne felt the interest of a dozen or so observers turning upon her and her companion. In his tailored jacket and silk tie, Remy stood out like a Rembrandt at a yard sale. As for her, even if she'd donned her casual jeans and T-shirt, her sun-lightened golden brown hair was a stark contrast to the raven black of the natives gathered there.
Aside from a voluptuous waitress who slanted dark-lashed eyes in Jeanne's direction, there was only one other woman in the place, if one could call the very young, doe-eyed waif that. Obviously pregnant, she watched a group of men play cards at a table covered with empty beer bottles and assorted currency. Between the card game and the next table where the young woman sat, a big black dog lay curled up asleep.
"Yes?" the waitress asked, breaking her long appraisal of Jeanne and her companion. "You want table? Beer?"
Jeanne shook her head. "No, we're looking for Captain Gabriel Avery. We were told he was here."
The woman arched one of her pencil-thin brows, and with a jerk of her head, she nodded to the card table. "There. Eh, Gabriel!" she shouted across the room, rolling the last syllable of the name off her tongue as elle. "These peoples they wish to speak to you."
"Oh, joy," Remy murmured under his breath. "Isn't this just grand?"
Forcing down a quiver of anxiety, Jeanne watched as one of the men pulled a well-chewed but unlit cigar from the side of his mouth and shoved it in an empty beer bottle. Curiosity narrowing his gaze at her, he moved away from the table and rose . . . and rose.
Compared to the men at the bar, Gabe Avery was a giant--at least six foot three. His dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and a tattoo of some sort peeked out from under the tight sleeve of his dark T-shirt. Bronzed and nicely muscled, his was the kind of build that came from work rather than dutiful hours at a gym. He looked like a modern-day pirate--no doubt it was good for business--and it made Jeanne just a little nervous.
Turning, he said something to the expectant mother and folded some money into her hand. Jeanne couldn't help but wonder if she was his wife. If so . . . Revulsion swept through her. The girl looked to be in her teens, far too young and inexperienced for a man like--
Jeanne hit the mental brakes. It's not my place to judge, she told herself.
"Gracias, Gabriel," the mother-to-be said, casting a shy smile at him before retreating through a side door.
Stepping over the dog on the floor with the lift of a long, sturdy denim-clad leg, Avery closed the distance between them in three easy strides, the dog now at his heels, and peered down at Jeanne. Make that six foot four . . . or more, she thought, a little intimidated.
"I'm Gabe Avery. How may I help you?"
His British accent took Jeanne by surprise, though she knew that Avery was from Bermuda. "I-I'm Dr. Jeanne Madison, Captain Avery. And this is my colleague, Dr. Remy Primston."
A rakish smile tugging at his lips, Gabe lifted Jeanne's hand to his lips. "Enchanted, doctora."
It was hard to say how much of his behavior was truly chivalrous and how much was the drink she smelled on his breath, but to Jeanne's notion, all the man needed was a patch over one of those devilish eyes to conjure an image of the perfect rake. This was certainly not the potbellied, scuffy-bearded type she'd expected . . . unless his heavy five o'clock shadow counted.
As he straightened, the captain nodded to Remy. "Doctor."
"We're sorry to interrupt your evening, but--"
Avery cut her off. "No problem. Playing poker with clients is hardly riveting entertainment."
"Have you a civilized place where we might talk?" Remy glanced about the room with a pronounced lack of hope. "Somewhere less"--he waved his hand across his nose--"polluted with smoke?"
"Wherever the lovely lady wishes to go." Avery winked, bold as Punch, right in front of Remy.
The captain wasn't at all her type, but whatever it was quickening in her stomach didn't seem to realize that that was the case. "Maybe the picnic table outside," Jeanne suggested, hoping it was sturdier than it looked. And maybe the fresh air would settle her scrambled senses.
"I'll be fine, but it's a bit chilly out there," Avery pointed out.
"We won't be long," Jeanne assured him. "The smoke irritates Remy's sinuses."
"Suit yourself." Avery turned to the waitress. "Nina, don't be clearing the table," he warned. "My beer is half-full. I expect it to be waiting when I return."
Lord, You've enabled worse than this. Please make this guy the answer to my prayers.
"I suppose I should be thankful that those other hooligans won't be joining us," Remy grumbled under his breath. "Why I ever let you convince me to go out after dark is beyond me."
"Fear not, doc," Gabe announced, swinging one long leg and then the other over the bench opposite Jeanne and Remy at the wood plank table. "S'long as you're with me and Nemo"--he reached down and petted the dog that had caught up with him--"no problem. Although . . ." He leaned forward on folded elbows, with an appreciative leer. "Your old man is right on one account. A gringa as lovely as yourself shouldn't be out and about at night alone."
"Well . . ." Remy took off his jacket and laid it on the bench for Jeanne to sit on. "She does have me."
Keen blue eyes shifted to the professor, from his face to the silk tie lying against the starched white of his shirt at an undisturbed right angle with his waist. "Right, Jack."
Remy puffed like a blowfish. "That's Dr. Primston." He patted the jacket, prompting Jeanne to sit.
"Nemo!" Avery shouted as the dog shot over the table, evidently misunderstanding that the gesture was not directed at him.
Jeanne snatched up the garment before Remy's shock at seeing a lunging hulk of grateful "Woof" thawed.
Avery collared the dog and hauled him off the table, his amusement barely concealed by his reprimand. "Bad boy. Where are your manners?"
"That b-beast should be impounded," Remy stammered.
"Remy, you did pat the seat." Jeanne smothered her own humor as she handed him his jacket. "And while your offer is sweet, the seat's dry."
Just to be sure, Jeanne ran her hand over the rough raised grain of the old wood on the sly, lest Nemo misunderstand again, and stepped over the bench to sit down. Better to put her cards on the table before the two males--or the dog, which Avery coerced into lying at his feet--started marking territory.
"The reason we're here, Captain Avery, is to hire your boat for an archeological excavation."
The mild amusement he'd taken from Remy's bluster faded from Avery's face. "What's the name of the wreck you're looking for?"
"The Luna Azul." Jeanne's pulse tripped at the mention of the ship's name.
Avery scowled. "Never heard of it," he said after a moment's thought.
"Not many people have," Jeanne explained. "It was a Spanish merchantman that sank off the Yucatán in 1702."
"Suffice it to say that my"--Remy rubbed the word in Avery's face--"department at Texas A&M Galveston and the Institute of Nautical Archeology have confirmed through our Spanish associates in Seville that the Luna Azul, under the command of one Captain Alfonso Ortiz, was part of a small treasure fleet bound for Havana."
At the mention of treasure, Avery bit like a large-mouthed bass. "How much treasure?"
"Twenty million by today's standard," Jeanne told him. "But we have more information than the archives in Seville has."
Avery leaned forward, the glint of interest hardening in his countenance.
"My brother found a bundle of letters and a ship's log in a cave in Mexicalli--"
"Where?" Avery asked.
"A village in the mountains near Cuernavaca."
"That's a far cry from the Yucatán."
Remy bristled beside Jeanne. "If you can harness your rude penchant for interruption long enough, Avery, perhaps the lady might enlighten you, make our offer, and then we can be away from this backside of Cancún."
Jeanne shot Remy an exasperated look. If this was a hint of what lay ahead, heaven help her.