Priceless [NOOK Book]

Overview

The award-winning author whose tender and sensual love stories touch readers' hearts weaves her signature magic, unfolding an unforgettable tale of a man and a woman who find that love is the most precious treasure of all....
When underwater archaeologist Sam McGowan is asked to help salvage a sunken Confederate blockade runner, he's eager for the opportunity to investigate his own family history -- especially since the project is being handled by Gordon Chandler, a notable ...
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Priceless

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Overview

The award-winning author whose tender and sensual love stories touch readers' hearts weaves her signature magic, unfolding an unforgettable tale of a man and a woman who find that love is the most precious treasure of all....
When underwater archaeologist Sam McGowan is asked to help salvage a sunken Confederate blockade runner, he's eager for the opportunity to investigate his own family history -- especially since the project is being handled by Gordon Chandler, a notable authority in underwater salvaging. When he finds Gordon's daughter Rachel in charge, Sam is not pleased. She can't possibly be her father's match. But not only has Sam wildly underestimated Rachel's professional abilities, he has yet to discover the many other facets of this complex woman.
All her life, Rachel Chandler has dreamed of finding sunken treasure. While grateful to run her first solo operation, she resents having been assigned to run the salvage operation of a sunken blockade runner while her father is investigating a pirate ship. Most definitely, she does not want to work with a man who will question her every move. But when she and Sam stumble onto an unexpected cache of gems aboard the sunken wreck, they're drawn into something that fast becomes far more than just a working partnership. As Rachel and Sam start to dream of a future together, they also begin to realize that the fabulous treasure they have discovered holds more danger than they ever suspected.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451633061
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 11/16/2010
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 84,842
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Mariah Stewart
Mariah Stewart is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of thirty-one novels and three novellas and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal. She is a RITA finalist in romantic suspense and the recipient of the Award of Excellence for contemporary romance, a RIO Award for excellence in women's fiction, and a Reviewers Choice Award from Romantic Times Magazine. A three-time winner of the Golden Leaf Award presented by the New Jersey Romance Writers, Stewart was recently awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Gordon Chandler stood on the deck of the Albemarle and leaned over the railing. His head and shoulders cast an elongated shadow across the blue-green ocean below, where his children frolicked in the late afternoon sun, and he closed his eyes, impressing the scene upon his memory. Over the past several weeks, it had become painfully obvious to him that his vast stash of memories contained far more images of sunken hulls than of his son and his daughter at play, and he was stunned as well as saddened by the realization. Somehow, during all those years he'd spent carefully locating and digging artifacts from the ocean's floor, both Jared and Rachel had managed to grow into adults with precious little assistance from him.
Gordon was at a loss to explain how it had all happened so quickly.
After all, hadn't it been just yesterday that he'd bought Jared his first wet suit and taken him on that trip to the Florida Keys? And how long ago could it have been that he'd gifted Rachel with that small conch shell that she, even now, wore about her neck on a thin silver chain?
Gordon sighed and shook his head imperceptibly. The years had drifted past as stealthily as a sailboat on a calm sea, gently and without fanfare. Water through his fingers.
Jared had been nine years old the year that his father had taken him out of school for three weeks to spend most of the month of April tracking a Spanish galleon that had centuries ago gone down in a fierce hurricane off the coast of Florida. Gordon had wanted his son to be standing on the deck with him on the day that the remains of the Santa Maria Elena de Cordoba would see the light of day for the first time in four hundred years. He'd wanted Jared to understand that what kept his father away from his family for weeks, often months, at a time was not so much the hint of finding lost treasure as the chance to touch other times, other lives.
Jared was now thirty-two years old, Rachel, twenty-eight, and Gordon was still not certain of how much of their lives he had touched, beyond, of course, their choice of profession.
It never failed to humble Gordon to realize that both his children had chosen to follow in his footsteps, as he had followed in his father's, and his father had before him. Jared was the fourth generation of Chandler men to seek to uncover the mysteries hidden beneath the sea, Rachel the first woman. Both had joined Chandler and Associates upon graduating from college. Both had worked various operations, sometimes with their father, sometimes with each other, but the three Chandlers had never worked the same job at the same time. This latest venture, the salvaging of the True Wind, with all its legendary pirate treasure aboard, would mark the first time father, son, and daughter had worked together.
Somehow, despite his shortcomings as a father, both of his children had seemed to understand that the countless hours Gordon spent researching the location of each vessel was a journey toward fulfilling the legacy of every one of the men on board those doomed ships. That each salvaged ship brought to light the stories of a hundred or more men who had perished on an angry sea, and in the remains left on the ocean's floor, Gordon often learned just what it was that those men had believed was worth dying for.
For some, it had been gold.
The act of finding the treasures that Gordon had resurrected over the years had satisfied him in much the same way another might be pleased at having solved a particularly vexatious puzzle. True, the financial rewards he reaped were a means of supporting his family as well as his next salvage operation, but it was his respect for the past that drove him. Over the years, his strict honesty and his meticulous efforts to preserve his finds had earned him a reputation as a man who could be trusted equally with the treasure and with the integrity of the site. Gordon Chandler's name was always on the top of the list of men to call when there was an important salvage operation to be planned.
Gordon watched his son and his daughter as they swam through the gentle swells like true children of the sea. They were beautiful, as had been their mother, Amelia, who had died when Rachel was eight, Jared twelve. The death of one's wife might be expected to bring one home from the sea, and it had, though only briefly. Amelia, a concert pianist, having been away from home nearly as much as Gordon himself had been, had long since sweet-talked her Aunt Bess into moving in with her children. As soon as Gordon had been assured that Bess would stay on with them after Amelia's death, he had set off to research a ship -- suspected to be Sumerian -- that had been located off the coast of a small island in the Aegean.
And somehow, between that job and the next, and the one after that, his children had grown up without him. Somehow Jared had shot up to well over six feet tall, had grown broad shouldered and trim and handsome enough to catch the eyes of the young ladies wherever he went. And somehow, Rachel, who had always seemed to skip through her father's heart, a perpetual little girl made of spun glass, had grown into a strikingly beautiful woman, one who was not the least bit hesitant to let it be known that she was now made of much sterner stuff. A few short years out of college, Rachel was more competent a salvager than many of the men Gordon had worked with over the years. Smart and savvy, Rachel was as accurate in locating a ship, as sensitive and exacting in preserving all of the site's artifacts, as was Gordon himself.
A small school of dolphin approached, passing close enough to the swimmers for Rachel to be splashed in the face by a lively youngster. From his position on the Albemarle -- the retired tug he'd bought and refitted years ago -- Gordon heard his daughter's laughter float above the waves, watched his son race gamely to keep up with the pod before dropping back as the animals sped out to sea, and was struck almost numb by the depth of his love for them both.
And yet Gordon knew with certainty that before the day ended, one of them would be fiercely disappointed and painfully angry, and he, Gordon, would be the cause.
Well, Gordon sighed, it couldn't be helped. If he'd passed up the unexpected offer from the Foundation for the Preservation of Eden's End, the job of bringing up the Melrose would have gone to another salvage firm, perhaps one who might not be as concerned with preserving the details of the historic vessel. And wasn't that the Foundation's primary purpose in wanting to salvage the Melrose, to find and preserve as many of the personal belongings of that ship's venerable captain as possible?
Of course, the fact that this particular operation would stand him in exceptionally good graces with the state of North Carolina -- with which Gordon was currently negotiating the rights to another ship he'd spent years tracking off Kitty Hawk -- had not been lost on Gordon.
Besides, it was a done deal. He and Norman Winter, the head of the Foundation, had shaken hands on it just a few hours earlier. Now Gordon would have to break the news to his children that one of them would have to leave the True Wind, and the certain joy of discovering its pirate treasures, to salvage Civil War artifacts from a sunken blockade runner that might, at best, yield arms and ammunition that had been intended to bolster the Confederate cause, but had, alas, lain untouched on the ocean floor for the past one hundred thirty-five years.
Noticing his father standing alone on deck, Jared paused to tread water and call, "Hey, Dad! You up for a race to the sandbar?"
Gordon laughed, the sandbar being a good quarter mile from the tug. "Another time, maybe. Actually, I was just about to ask you and your sister to come aboard. There's something I need to discuss with you."
"Ooh, that sounds ominous!" Rachel swam toward the ladder that was suspended from the side of the boat and hoisted herself up the rungs.
"How was your meeting in Wilmington?" she asked as she climbed aboard and paused briefly to squeeze the water out of her long auburn hair.
"Interesting. Most interesting. Actually, that's what I need to discuss with you and Jared."
"Who was the meeting with?" Jared followed his sister over the side of the boat.
"A man named Norman Winter."
"Norman Winter," Rachel repeated softly. "That name is familiar."
"Oh, I would expect that it would be. He's quite the philanthropist. Heads up the Foundation for the Preservation of Eden's End."
"Of course. I remember. He's a real Civil War buff. Gives lots of money to historical preservation groups in North Carolina."
"Didn't he recently endow a chair at Pamlico State?" Jared pulled a worn Duke sweatshirt over his head.
"Yes. And he's financed a number of historic preservation projects over the past few years."
"I read a magazine article about him not too long ago," Jared recalled. "He's apparently restoring an old plantation he bought outside of Wilmington."
"That would be Eden's End. Once the home of Captain Samuel Lawrence McGowan." Gordon nodded and opened the door leading to the small cabin he used as an office, motioning for his children to follow him inside. "McGowan was a hero of the War between the States, a loyal and venerated son of Dixie."
"Shed his life's blood for the cause, did he?" Rachel eased into a chair that stood near the worn rectangular table.
"Actually, McGowan never saw battle. At least, not on land, anyway. He was a blockade runner, kept Lee's troops in food and guns, and kept the ladies of Wilmington in parasols and hoop skirts. Wilmington was the last of the Southern ports to remain open during the Union blockade."
"He sounds like Rhett Butler." Rachel grinned.
"A real-life Rhett Butler." Gordon nodded.
Jared opened the small refrigerator and took out a beer. He held it up, wordlessly offering it first to his father, then to his sister, both of whom declined.
"I'll take a bottle of springwater if there's any left," Rachel told him.
"I brought some back with me this afternoon," Gordon said as he took a seat at the long wooden table that served as his desk.
"Great. I'll have one." With one hand, Rachel caught the small plastic bottle that was tossed in her direction by her brother, then turned her attention back to her father. "So, what's up with this Winter guy? I'm assuming there's a story here."
"Quite an interesting one." Gordon leaned back in his chair, tapping his fingers on the wooden arms. He'd have to make the story really interesting if he had any hope that either of his children would agree to join Winter on his quest for McGowan's vessel. "Were you aware that he funds the Foundation himself?"
"Wow. That's impressive." Jared popped the lid off the beer can and took a swig. "Where does his money come from?"
"He gave me the impression that he's a self-made man," Gordon told them.
"He must have made a lot," Rachel mused. "Foundations like that are hungry buggers. And it takes truckloads of cash to restore a plantation."
"He didn't go into detail, but he did allude to having made a lot of money in construction when he was younger, then invested well. Lucky in the market, I guess. He's doing a marvelous job restoring Eden's End, by the way."
"You've been there?" Rachel asked.
"This morning. That's where I met with Winter. He told me that he first became interested in historic preservation when he was in his early twenties and was working at Eden's End with the contractor who had been called in by the McGowan family to do some work on the old house."
"And he ended up buying it?" Jared leaned back in his seat, tilting the chair onto its two back legs.
"Years later, yes, when William McGowan passed away and the family put the house on the market."
"The house had remained in the same family since the Civil War?"
Gordon nodded. "Until just a few years ago, Rachel. Apparently William McGowan's widow was unable to keep up with the property, and agreed to sell it to Winter, who is supervising the restoration himself, by the way. He's meticulous about detail, and was dedicated to salvaging as much as he could of all the original structures."
"Commendable." Rachel took a long pull on the bottle of water.
"Yes, it is. And in the process of restoring the property, Winter has become somewhat of an expert on old Sam McGowan."
"There's a marine archaeologist named Sam McGowan. Dr. Sam McGowan," Jared said. "I worked with him on the Esmeralda off the Keys a few years back. Smart. Hard worker. Good diver. Great instincts. He taught graduate courses at East Carolina State for a while."
"Old Sam's great-great-grandson," Gordon told him. "And I heartily agree. Sam is all of those things. Our paths have crossed several times. As a matter of fact, I've been trying to talk him into joining Chandler and Associates for the past several years -- I think we're more than ready to hire our own resident archaeologist -- but so far, I haven't had much luck. Sam likes his independence, I suppose." Gordon smiled, "I'm glad you like him, son, since it appears that you may very well have a chance to work with him again."
"I'd welcome it. McGowan's a great guy. He's a man you can trust and respect. We got along really well."
"I can't tell you how happy I am to hear you say that, Jared, since Sam will be the archaeologist on the job that Winter has contracted Chandler and Associates to run."
"Terrific." Jared grinned. "You just let me know where and when."
"Next Tuesday." Gordon met his son's eyes across the table. "Bowan Island Marina."
Eyes flickered, son to father, brother to sister, daughter to father.
Finally, Jared cleared his throat and said, "I think you must have left out part of your little story, Dad."
"I was getting to it, son. You know that Sam McGowan -- the first Sam -- was a blockade runner. In September of 1864 -- the twenty-first, actually -- McGowan's paddleboat was caught in a squall and sank. Winter is convinced he's found the wreck. He's struck a deal with the state of North Carolina for salvage rights, since he's planning to open part of the old McGowan plantation as a sort of Civil War museum."
"Okay, so he knows where the ship is and he's managed to get the rights to some of the booty." Jared, tapped out his impatience on the tabletop, much as his father had earlier tapped on the arms of his chair. "What's the big hurry?"
"He wants to open the exhibit on September twenty-first."
"Of this year?" Rachel's jaw dropped. "Dad, that's only five months from now."
"I'm aware of that," Gordon said calmly, preparing himself for the storm that was yet to come.
"Dad, this is crazy. How could you possibly carry out an operation like that in five months?"
"Not so very crazy, Jared, considering that the trickiest part has been done. Winter found the ship, all we have to do is figure out how to salvage it between now and September," Gordon said, only half tongue in cheek.
"Are you telling us that you have already committed to this?" Rachel pushed her chair back from the table.
"Yes. Yes, I did."
"Dad, how could you possibly get a crew together...the divers, the equipment..."
"Winter has a boat outfitted and ready to go."
"How could he do that so quickly?" Jared asked.
"He's been planning this for a long time, Jared. He's prepared." Gordon lifted a leather folder from an adjacent chair and set it on the table between his son and his daughter. Neither reached for it. "Winter has researched this very thoroughly. He has maps, historical documentation, and recently he came across accounts of the residents of Bowan Island who saw the boat go down. All he needs is someone to run the project, a few divers..."
"How can you run two jobs at the same time, Dad?" Jared asked pointedly.
"Obviously, I can't. One of you will take the lead on the Melrose project."
The silence was overwhelming.
"I was hoping that one of you would volunteer to take it," Gordon said levelly, looking from his son to his daughter. "Apparently I was overly optimistic."
"Dad, with all respect, I have waited ten years for a shot at the True Wind."
"Jared, you don't need to remind me that you were the one who tracked her down."
"Then you will understand why I'm not going to volunteer to give her up. If you tell me to go, I will, but I'm not going to walk away willingly." Jared turned in his chair to gaze at his sister. "Now, sweet cheeks here is always after you to give her a project of her own to run. I think this little gun runner might be just the thing to let her cut her teeth on."
"Oh, no!" Rachel stood up, shaking her head adamantly. "No, you don't, Jared. I've waited forever to dive on an undisturbed pirate ship. You've done it before -- several times, as I recall. Dad, Jared was the one who said he'd be happy to work with this McGowan guy anytime."
"You're the one who's always whining that she isn't taken seriously enough."
"I don't whine, Jared. And for the record..."
Gordon held up both hands, imploring his sparring children to cease.
"I was afraid this would happen." He sighed. "There's only one way to resolve this."
"Call Norman Winter and cancel?" Rachel asked ruefully, knowing full well that her father would never go back on his word. "Put him off until next September?"
"Winter wants to open his exhibit this September...the one hundred thirty-fifth anniversary of the sinking of the Melrose. Which just happens to be Sam McGowan's one hundred ninetieth birthday."
"McGowan was born and died on the same date?"
"Yes. He died on his fifty-fifth birthday. Which is also, coincidentally, Norman Winter's birthday."
"Oh, I get it," Jared said dryly. "Winter wants to bring the good captain up as a sort of birthday present. Dad, I don't know that that's a good enough reason to take one of us off the True Wind to go after this wreck. What does he expect to find, anyway, besides a few old guns and maybe McGowan's pocket watch?"
"Probably not much more than that. Which was one of the reasons I agreed to this job."
"Sorry, Dad, but I'm not following that bit of logic." Rachel shook her head.
"Winter has shown me exactly where the ship is resting. Sonar has backed him up. It will be a quick in and out. There might be, as Jared noted, some guns intended for the Confederate army, maybe some cargo meant for the civilians. Whether or not any of that survived all these years, well, that will depend on what the cargo was packed in and how deeply it's been buried. As you both know, some wooden trunks have remained intact for centuries. What Winter really appears to be most interested in is McGowan's personal items, cuff links, perhaps a sword, maybe some porcelain. The ship's log -- he mentioned that specifically -- if McGowan was wise enough to keep it in a watertight box."
"Seems like a lot of trouble to go to to recover so few items, none of which may be particularly valuable."
"It means a lot to Winter. McGowan was a genuine Civil War hero."
"I hope he's paying you a lot of money for this job," Rachel grumbled.
"Twice the going rate."
Rachel's eyebrows arched.
"Twice?"
"If we bring up the box with the ship's log and whatever else we find in time for Winter to open his exhibit at Eden's End by September twenty-first."
"No sweat," Jared said. "As you said, Dad, it should be a quick in and out."
"Good." Rachel smiled sweetly. "Then you won't miss much of what's happening on the True Wind while you're gone."
"I didn't say I'd go. I just meant that it sounds like a relatively easy job. Take it, Rach. Just think, your first solo job, a guaranteed success..."
"Thank you, but no. With your vastly greater experience -- of which you remind me at every possible opportunity -- you should be able to take the Melrose in record time." Rachel tossed her empty water bottle across the room and it somersaulted neatly into the recycling bin in the corner.
"I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but you're not leaving me a choice." Gordon stood up, his right hand rustling in his pocket for change. He held up a quarter. "You're going to have to flip for it."
Sister and brother glared at each other. Reluctantly, they both nodded their agreement.
"Go 'head, Rach." Jared gestured. "Call it."
Gordon tossed the coin into the air and caught it smartly, slapping it onto the back of his hand. He looked up at Rachel expectantly.
"Heads," she said.
Holding out his hand, Gordon uncovered the coin as both Jared and Rachel leaned forward anxiously.
Tails it was.
"Rachel, you have won the right to lead the expedition to salvage the Melrose." Gordon eyed her levelly.
"Thanks, Dad." Rachel couldn't meet his eyes. She just couldn't. Nor could she look at her brother, who would surely, while not gloating, be relieved that he had escaped what seemed at that moment to be the most burdensome of missions.
"If you'd like to take one of our divers, I believe I can arrange it with Winter."
"Can I pick Jared?" She batted her eyelashes in mock coyness, feigning innocence.
Gordon hesitated. Jared glowered.
"Just kidding." Rachel sighed heavily. "You won, fair and square, Jared. You stay. I go."
She went to the cabin door and pushed it open. She would have a lot of preparation if she was to meet Norman Winter on Tuesday.
"Rach, I'm sorry, sweetheart." Gordon reached for her hand. "The next one, I promise, is yours."
Rachel tried to force a smile but her mouth tightened into a thin, tense line. She hoisted the leather portfolio that her father had earlier placed on the table.
"Thanks, Dad. Now, if you'll excuse me, it looks as if I have a lot of reading to do."

It took all of Rachel's self-control to not slam the door of her cabin behind her. Tossing the leather folder on her narrow bunk, she crossed her arms over her chest and blew out the hot air of exasperation she'd been holding. Her right foot began to tap, and she forced the hot tears that welled in the corners of her eyes not to fall. Angry, disappointed, frustrated she might be, but she would not cry, any more than Jared would have cried had he lost the toss. Rachel had spent most of her life trying to live up to her father and her big brother. She would not do less than either of them would do now.
For several minutes she tried pacing off her warring emotions, but the small cabin was too tiny for her to walk far enough to work it out. She stood in the center of the small space and closed her eyes, imagining herself beneath a canopy of blue-green water, diving deeper and deeper into the darkness below, where she could lose herself, if only for a while, in the only true escape she'd ever found, and wished she could be there, on the bottom of the ocean, right at that minute. In her mind's eye, she watched herself head down toward the remains of the True Wind, seeking its form below her and dodging a sand shark along the way. Closer, closer, she swam through the cool water, eyeing the cracked hull of the ship, her heart beating excitedly as she drew nearer, her legs rhythmically propelling her onward, alone in a deep blue sea with a treasure unwittingly left behind by the pirate captain and his hapless crew over two hundred fifty years ago.
Of course in real life, she'd never make such a dive without a partner, but at this particular moment, company -- even if only imaginary -- was about the last thing she wanted.
Rachel sighed and reluctantly let the vision pass. Diving on the True Wind would have to wait for another day. Her father had given his word, and she had given hers. Dwelling on her loss would only make her bitter, and there was work to be done.
That Rachel felt absolutely no enthusiasm for the project at hand would not influence her total committment to its success. It would never occur to her to give any job -- even one she didn't want -- less than her best. She was Gordon Chandler's daughter, and she knew that much was expected of her. She would die before she'd disappoint.
Leaning over to retrieve the portfolio she'd earlier tossed aside, she slid its contents onto the mattress. A stack of marine charts, colored to show, among other navigational information, water depth and shoals, accompanied historical data relative to the ship, and a sketchy biography of Samuel L. McGowan himself. There was little about the Foundation and its director, Norman Winter, though the omission wasn't particularly unusual. Many philanthropists preferred to keep a low profile.
Rachel sat in the scaled-down chair at the small desk built into the narrow corner and shuffled through the charts. She was no stranger to the North Carolina waters, having cut her wreck-diving teeth on several of the sunken vessels off the area known as the Crystal Coast. As a college student, she'd spent summers with a classmate, Jill Simmons, on Emerald Isle, where they'd worked as waitresses at night and spent the days diving. Five years ago, Jill had married a businessman and moved to London. She now had a house in the Nottingham section of the city, two children, and a booming career as a sought-after interior decorator, but she had clung to her love of diving. Once every year, Rachel and Jill would meet at an agreed-upon location and they would spend a week diving, shopping, and catching up on each other's lives. This year they had gone to Curaçao. Next year would find them in Australia.
And the next few months would find Rachel off the coast of North Carolina tracking down a ship laden, not with pirate gold, but a cargo of guns that hadn't seen the light of day in almost one hundred thirty-five years.
She turned on the desk lamp and began to read.
She was still studying water depths around the vessel when she heard a light tap on her cabin door.
"Rach?" Jared called softly.
"It's unlocked."
For such a big man, Jared could move quietly when he wanted to. Rachel barely heard him enter the cabin.
"I brought you a sandwich. Turkey on whole wheat. A little mayo, a little lettuce. Three pickles on the side. Just the way you like it."
"Is it dinnertime already?" She turned to look up at him.
Jared filled the space of the small doorway. He wore cutoff shorts and an old tee, and held the plastic plate out to her as a peace offering. Rachel smiled in spite of herself. It would take a stronger soul than hers to remain angry with Jared for too long.
"Dinner's long past, Rach. It's almost nine."
"Oh. I didn't realize it was so late." She rubbed her hand on the back of her neck, which was stiff from being hunched over the desk for several hours. She pointed to the charts and said, "I've been doing a little light reading..."
"Mind if I take a look?"
"Help yourself." She lifted a stack of charts and said, "We'll trade. I get the food, you get the charts."
"Deal." He handed over the plate, took the sheaf of papers from her hand, and sat on the edge of the bunk.
"Hey, I know this area." He frowned. "I wonder why I never heard of the Melrose."
"I was wondering that myself," she said after she swallowed a bite of sandwich. "I've been diving in those waters a dozen or more times."
"Remember the first time we dove together in North Carolina?"
Rachel nodded. "You took me to the wreck of the Papoose, off Cape Lookout. Ninety feet underwater, and surrounded by sand tiger sharks. Not the type of thing a girl forgets. I thought Dad was going to kill you when he found out where you'd taken me." Rachel took another bite. "Great sandwich, by the way."
"Thanks." Jared grinned. "And you're right, Dad had a fit. But I never doubted for a minute that you could make that dive, and that you'd love it."
"I did love it, Jared, once I realized that the sharks weren't going to eat me. I must confess that I had a few antsy minutes there at first. Sitting on the ocean floor surrounded by a school of mean-looking carnivores was a whole new experience for me."
"And you did great, like I knew you would. Convincing Dad that you were ready hadn't been as easy."
"Dad always thought of me as this helpless little girl who needed someone watching after her. Sometimes I think he still does." She looked him squarely in the eyes and added, "Sometimes I think you do, too."
"No." Jared shook his head. "No, I know better. And in his heart, Dad does, too."
"You know, I think he was really torn today. On the one hand, I think he was afraid that you'd lose the toss. On the other, I think he was afraid you wouldn't."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That Dad really wants you with him on the True Wind. He knows that's what's right. It's your ship. On the other hand, he isn't so sure that I can handle the Melrose alone." Ire tinged her cheeks with a hint of color.
"Well, then, this is your chance to prove otherwise, isn't it?"
"As good a chance as I'll ever get."
"If there's anything I can do to help out..." Jared stood, his hands shoved into the pockets of his cutoff jeans.
"Yeah, I know where to find you." She nodded and smiled weakly.
"Have you decided if you'll take someone from our crew?"
"I really hate to do that, Jared. All of Dad's men are psyched for the True Wind. I'd hate to take any one of them off the job. And I don't know that I'll need an extra diver. Dad said that Winter already has a couple of divers, and you said the archaeologist..."
"Sam McGowan."
"Yes. You said he was a good diver."
"He's excellent."
"Well, that makes four, counting me. Enough for two sets of partners. I don't see where we'll need more than that for this job, judging from the information I've read tonight. I think the True Wind is more likely to need the rest of the crew."
"If you change your mind, you can always holler. We'll send someone out if need be." Jared grinned again. "Hell, if things get slow around here, I'll come for a day or two myself."
"I may just take you up on that." Rachel stood and handed her brother the empty plate. "Thanks for dinner, Jared. I appreciate the gesture as well as the food."
"Well, I can't have you skipping meals and fading away to nothing. You're the only sister I have. Besides, I needed to make sure that you were all right with this. If you weren't, Rach, I'd go."
"I appreciate that, but in all honesty, even if I'd won the toss, I'd probably have offered to go, in the end. It wouldn't have been fair otherwise, Jared. You were the first one to find out about the True Wind, you did all the research. Dad might never have even heard of it, if not for you." Rachel shook her head again. "The True Wind is yours, bucko."
Jared leaned over and kissed the top of his sister's head, a rare and unexpected gesture.
"Thanks, sis. That really means a lot to me."
"You'd do the same for me."
"Probably," he conceded, as he pushed open the cabin door. "I probably would have. But don't forget what I said, Rach. If you think of anything you need, anything you want..."
"Well, there is one thing." Rachel leaned against the doorjamb.
"Name it."
"Could you save me just one tiny little piece of the True Wind? Just one little square that no one touches, that I can sift through when I get back?"
"You're on, kid. One tiny square on the grid will remain untouched." Jared laughed as he ducked and went through the doorway. "Looks like you'll have the best of both worlds, Rach. By the end of the summer, you'll have a successful operation under your belt, and your chance for pirate gold. And who knows what you'll find on the Melrose."
Rachel wrinkled her nose.
"A bunch of old rusty guns, that's what I'll find on the Melrose."
"Well, even that should be interesting. You know what Dad always says."
"'Every wreck tells a story. A good salvor listens well.'" Rachel laughed as she repeated her father's favorite phrase. "Some stories are just more interesting than others."
She closed the door and went back to her desk, lamenting the certainty that any tale told by the Melrose would surely pale next to the True Wind's, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Copyright © 1999 by Marti Robb
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First Chapter

Chapter One

Gordon Chandler stood on the deck of the Albemarle and leaned over the railing. His head and shoulders cast an elongated shadow across the blue-green ocean below, where his children frolicked in the late afternoon sun, and he closed his eyes, impressing the scene upon his memory. Over the past several weeks, it had become painfully obvious to him that his vast stash of memories contained far more images of sunken hulls than of his son and his daughter at play, and he was stunned as well as saddened by the realization. Somehow, during all those years he'd spent carefully locating and digging artifacts from the ocean's floor, both Jared and Rachel had managed to grow into adults with precious little assistance from him.

Gordon was at a loss to explain how it had all happened so quickly.

After all, hadn't it been just yesterday that he'd bought Jared his first wet suit and taken him on that trip to the Florida Keys? And how long ago could it have been that he'd gifted Rachel with that small conch shell that she, even now, wore about her neck on a thin silver chain?

Gordon sighed and shook his head imperceptibly. The years had drifted past as stealthily as a sailboat on a calm sea, gently and without fanfare. Water through his fingers.

Jared had been nine years old the year that his father had taken him out of school for three weeks to spend most of the month of April tracking a Spanish galleon that had centuries ago gone down in a fierce hurricane off the coast of Florida. Gordon had wanted his son to be standing on the deck with him on the day that the remains of the Santa Maria Elena de Cordoba would see the light of day for the fit Gordon had resurrected over the years had satisfied him in much the same way another might be pleased at having solved a particularly vexatious puzzle. True, the financial rewards he reaped were a means of supporting his family as well as his next salvage operation, but it was his respect for the past that drove him. Over the years, his strict honesty and his meticulous efforts to preserve his finds had earned him a reputation as a man who could be trusted equally with the treasure and with the integrity of the site. Gordon Chandler's name was always on the top of the list of men to call when there was an important salvage operation to be planned.

Gordon watched his son and his daughter as they swam through the gentle swells like true children of the sea. They were beautiful, as had been their mother, Amelia, who had died when Rachel was eight, Jared twelve. The death of one's wife might be expected to bring one home from the sea, and it had, though only briefly. Amelia, a concert pianist, having been away from home nearly as much as Gordon himself had been, had long since sweet-talked her Aunt Bess into moving in with her children. As soon as Gordon had been assured that Bess would stay on with them after Amelia's death, he had set off to research a ship -- suspected to be Sumerian -- that had been located off the coast of a small island in the Aegean.

And somehow, between that job and the next, and the one after that, his children had grown up without him. Somehow Jared had shot up to well over six feet tall, had grown broad shouldered and trim and handsome enough to catch the eyes of the young ladies wherever he went. And somehow, Rachel, who had always seemed to skip through her father's h eart, a perpetual little girl made of spun glass, had grown into a strikingly beautiful woman, one who was not the least bit hesitant to let it be known that she was now made of much sterner stuff. A few short years out of college, Rachel was more competent a salvager than many of the men Gordon had worked with over the years. Smart and savvy, Rachel was as accurate in locating a ship, as sensitive and exacting in preserving all of the site's artifacts, as was Gordon himself.

A small school of dolphin approached, passing close enough to the swimmers for Rachel to be splashed in the face by a lively youngster. From his position on the Albemarle -- the retired tug he'd bought and refitted years ago -- Gordon heard his daughter's laughter float above the waves, watched his son race gamely to keep up with the pod before dropping back as the animals sped out to sea, and was struck almost numb by the depth of his love for them both.

And yet Gordon knew with certainty that before the day ended, one of them would be fiercely disappointed and painfully angry, and he, Gordon, would be the cause.

Well, Gordon sighed, it couldn't be helped. If he'd passed up the unexpected offer from the Foundation for the Preservation of Eden's End, the job of bringing up the Melrose would have gone to another salvage firm, perhaps one who might not be as concerned with preserving the details of the historic vessel. And wasn't that the Foundation's primary purpose in wanting to salvage the Melrose, to find and preserve as many of the personal belongings of that ship's venerable captain as possible?

Of course, the fact that this particular operation would stand him in exceptionally good graces with the state of North Carolina -- with which Gordon was currently negotiating the rights to another ship he'd spent years tracking off Kitty Hawk -- had not been lost on Gordon.

Besides, it was a done deal. He and Norman Winter, the head of the Foundation, had shaken hands on it just a few hours earlier. Now Gordon would have to break the news to his children that one of them would have to leave the True Wind, and the certain joy of discovering its pirate treasures, to salvage Civil War artifacts from a sunken blockade runner that might, at best, yield arms and ammunition that had been intended to bolster the Confederate cause, but had, alas, lain untouched on the ocean floor for the past one hundred thirty-five years.

Noticing his father standing alone on deck, Jared paused to tread water and call, "Hey, Dad! You up for a race to the sandbar?"

Gordon laughed, the sandbar being a good quarter mile from the tug. "Another time, maybe. Actually, I was just about to ask you and your sister to come aboard. There's something I need to discuss with you."

"Ooh, that sounds ominous!" Rachel swam toward the ladder that was suspended from the side of the boat and hoisted herself up the rungs.

"How was your meeting in Wilmington?" she asked as she climbed aboard and paused briefly to squeeze the water out of her long auburn hair.

"Interesting. Most interesting. Actually, that's what I need to discuss with you and Jared."

"Who was the meeting with?" Jared followed his sister over the side of the boat.

"A man named Norman Winter."

"Norman Winter," Rachel repeated softly. "That name is familiar."

"Oh, I would expect that it would be. He's quite the philanthropist. Heads up the Foundation fo r the Preservation of Eden's End."

"Of course. I remember. He's a real Civil War buff. Gives lots of money to historical preservation groups in North Carolina."

"Didn't he recently endow a chair at Pamlico State?" Jared pulled a worn Duke sweatshirt over his head.

"Yes. And he's financed a number of historic preservation projects over the past few years."

"I read a magazine article about him not too long ago," Jared recalled. "He's apparently restoring an old plantation he bought outside of Wilmington."

"That would be Eden's End. Once the home of Captain Samuel Lawrence McGowan." Gordon nodded and opened the door leading to the small cabin he used as an office, motioning for his children to follow him inside. "McGowan was a hero of the War between the States, a loyal and venerated son of Dixie."

"Shed his life's blood for the cause, did he?" Rachel eased into a chair that stood near the worn rectangular table.

"Actually, McGowan never saw battle. At least, not on land, anyway. He was a blockade runner, kept Lee's troops in food and guns, and kept the ladies of Wilmington in parasols and hoop skirts. Wilmington was the last of the Southern ports to remain open during the Union blockade."

"He sounds like Rhett Butler." Rachel grinned.

"A real-life Rhett Butler." Gordon nodded.

Jared opened the small refrigerator and took out a beer. He held it up, wordlessly offering it first to his father, then to his sister, both of whom declined.

"I'll take a bottle of springwater if there's any left," Rachel told him.

"I brought some back with me this afternoon," Gordon said as he took a seat at the long wooden table that served as his desk.

"Great. I'll have one." With one hand, Rachel c aught the small plastic bottle that was tossed in her direction by her brother, then turned her attention back to her father. "So, what's up with this Winter guy? I'm assuming there's a story here."

"Quite an interesting one." Gordon leaned back in his chair, tapping his fingers on the wooden arms. He'd have to make the story really interesting if he had any hope that either of his children would agree to join Winter on his quest for McGowan's vessel. "Were you aware that he funds the Foundation himself?"

"Wow. That's impressive." Jared popped the lid off the beer can and took a swig. "Where does his money come from?"

"He gave me the impression that he's a self-made man," Gordon told them.

"He must have made a lot," Rachel mused. "Foundations like that are hungry buggers. And it takes truckloads of cash to restore a plantation."

"He didn't go into detail, but he did allude to having made a lot of money in construction when he was younger, then invested well. Lucky in the market, I guess. He's doing a marvelous job restoring Eden's End, by the way."

"You've been there?" Rachel asked.

"This morning. That's where I met with Winter. He told me that he first became interested in historic preservation when he was in his early twenties and was working at Eden's End with the contractor who had been called in by the McGowan family to do some work on the old house."

"And he ended up buying it?" Jared leaned back in his seat, tilting the chair onto its two back legs.

"Years later, yes, when William McGowan passed away and the family put the house on the market."

"The house had remained in the same family since the Civil War?"

Gordon nodded. "Until just a few years ago, Rachel. Appa rently William McGowan's widow was unable to keep up with the property, and agreed to sell it to Winter, who is supervising the restoration himself, by the way. He's meticulous about detail, and was dedicated to salvaging as much as he could of all the original structures."

"Commendable." Rachel took a long pull on the bottle of water.

"Yes, it is. And in the process of restoring the property, Winter has become somewhat of an expert on old Sam McGowan."

"There's a marine archaeologist named Sam McGowan. Dr. Sam McGowan," Jared said. "I worked with him on the Esmeralda off the Keys a few years back. Smart. Hard worker. Good diver. Great instincts. He taught graduate courses at East Carolina State for a while."

"Old Sam's great-great-grandson," Gordon told him. "And I heartily agree. Sam is all of those things. Our paths have crossed several times. As a matter of fact, I've been trying to talk him into joining Chandler and Associates for the past several years -- I think we're more than ready to hire our own resident archaeologist -- but so far, I haven't had much luck. Sam likes his independence, I suppose." Gordon smiled, "I'm glad you like him, son, since it appears that you may very well have a chance to work with him again."

"I'd welcome it. McGowan's a great guy. He's a man you can trust and respect. We got along really well."

"I can't tell you how happy I am to hear you say that, Jared, since Sam will be the archaeologist on the job that Winter has contracted Chandler and Associates to run."

"Terrific." Jared grinned. "You just let me know where and when."

"Next Tuesday." Gordon met his son's eyes across the table. "Bowan Island Marina."

Eyes flickered, son to father, b rother to sister, daughter to father.

Finally, Jared cleared his throat and said, "I think you must have left out part of your little story, Dad."

"I was getting to it, son. You know that Sam McGowan -- the first Sam -- was a blockade runner. In September of 1864 -- the twenty-first, actually -- McGowan's paddleboat was caught in a squall and sank. Winter is convinced he's found the wreck. He's struck a deal with the state of North Carolina for salvage rights, since he's planning to open part of the old McGowan plantation as a sort of Civil War museum."

"Okay, so he knows where the ship is and he's managed to get the rights to some of the booty." Jared, tapped out his impatience on the tabletop, much as his father had earlier tapped on the arms of his chair. "What's the big hurry?"

"He wants to open the exhibit on September twenty-first."

"Of this year?" Rachel's jaw dropped. "Dad, that's only five months from now."

"I'm aware of that," Gordon said calmly, preparing himself for the storm that was yet to come.

"Dad, this is crazy. How could you possibly carry out an operation like that in five months?"

"Not so very crazy, Jared, considering that the trickiest part has been done. Winter found the ship, all we have to do is figure out how to salvage it between now and September," Gordon said, only half tongue in cheek.

"Are you telling us that you have already committed to this?" Rachel pushed her chair back from the table.

"Yes. Yes, I did."

"Dad, how could you possibly get a crew together...the divers, the equipment..."

"Winter has a boat outfitted and ready to go."

"How could he do that so quickly?" Jared asked.

"He's been planning this for a long time, Jared. He's prepar ed." Gordon lifted a leather folder from an adjacent chair and set it on the table between his son and his daughter. Neither reached for it. "Winter has researched this very thoroughly. He has maps, historical documentation, and recently he came across accounts of the residents of Bowan Island who saw the boat go down. All he needs is someone to run the project, a few divers..."

"How can you run two jobs at the same time, Dad?" Jared asked pointedly.

"Obviously, I can't. One of you will take the lead on the Melrose project."

The silence was overwhelming.

"I was hoping that one of you would volunteer to take it," Gordon said levelly, looking from his son to his daughter. "Apparently I was overly optimistic."

"Dad, with all respect, I have waited ten years for a shot at the True Wind."

"Jared, you don't need to remind me that you were the one who tracked her down."

"Then you will understand why I'm not going to volunteer to give her up. If you tell me to go, I will, but I'm not going to walk away willingly." Jared turned in his chair to gaze at his sister. "Now, sweet cheeks here is always after you to give her a project of her own to run. I think this little gun runner might be just the thing to let her cut her teeth on."

"Oh, no!" Rachel stood up, shaking her head adamantly. "No, you don't, Jared. I've waited forever to dive on an undisturbed pirate ship. You've done it before -- several times, as I recall. Dad, Jared was the one who said he'd be happy to work with this McGowan guy anytime."

"You're the one who's always whining that she isn't taken seriously enough."

"I don't whine, Jared. And for the record..."

Gordon held up both hands, imploring his sparring ch ildren to cease.

"I was afraid this would happen." He sighed. "There's only one way to resolve this."

"Call Norman Winter and cancel?" Rachel asked ruefully, knowing full well that her father would never go back on his word. "Put him off until next September?"

"Winter wants to open his exhibit this September...the one hundred thirty-fifth anniversary of the sinking of the Melrose. Which just happens to be Sam McGowan's one hundred ninetieth birthday."

"McGowan was born and died on the same date?"

"Yes. He died on his fifty-fifth birthday. Which is also, coincidentally, Norman Winter's birthday."

"Oh, I get it," Jared said dryly. "Winter wants to bring the good captain up as a sort of birthday present. Dad, I don't know that that's a good enough reason to take one of us off the True Wind to go after this wreck. What does he expect to find, anyway, besides a few old guns and maybe McGowan's pocket watch?"

"Probably not much more than that. Which was one of the reasons I agreed to this job."

"Sorry, Dad, but I'm not following that bit of logic." Rachel shook her head.

"Winter has shown me exactly where the ship is resting. Sonar has backed him up. It will be a quick in and out. There might be, as Jared noted, some guns intended for the Confederate army, maybe some cargo meant for the civilians. Whether or not any of that survived all these years, well, that will depend on what the cargo was packed in and how deeply it's been buried. As you both know, some wooden trunks have remained intact for centuries. What Winter really appears to be most interested in is McGowan's personal items, cuff links, perhaps a sword, maybe some porcelain. The ship's log -- he mentioned that specifically -- if McGowan was wise enough to keep it in a watertight box."

"Seems like a lot of trouble to go to to recover so few items, none of which may be particularly valuable."

"It means a lot to Winter. McGowan was a genuine Civil War hero."

"I hope he's paying you a lot of money for this job," Rachel grumbled.

"Twice the going rate."

Rachel's eyebrows arched.

"Twice?"

"If we bring up the box with the ship's log and whatever else we find in time for Winter to open his exhibit at Eden's End by September twenty-first."

"No sweat," Jared said. "As you said, Dad, it should be a quick in and out."

"Good." Rachel smiled sweetly. "Then you won't miss much of what's happening on the True Wind while you're gone."

"I didn't say I'd go. I just meant that it sounds like a relatively easy job. Take it, Rach. Just think, your first solo job, a guaranteed success..."

"Thank you, but no. With your vastly greater experience -- of which you remind me at every possible opportunity -- you should be able to take the Melrose in record time." Rachel tossed her empty water bottle across the room and it somersaulted neatly into the recycling bin in the corner.

"I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but you're not leaving me a choice." Gordon stood up, his right hand rustling in his pocket for change. He held up a quarter. "You're going to have to flip for it."

Sister and brother glared at each other. Reluctantly, they both nodded their agreement.

"Go 'head, Rach." Jared gestured. "Call it."

Gordon tossed the coin into the air and caught it smartly, slapping it onto the back of his hand. He looked up at Rachel expectantly.

"Heads," she said.

Holding out his hand, Gordon uncovered the coin as both Jared and Rachel leaned forward anxiously.

Tails it was.

"Rachel, you have won the right to lead the expedition to salvage the Melrose." Gordon eyed her levelly.

"Thanks, Dad." Rachel couldn't meet his eyes. She just couldn't. Nor could she look at her brother, who would surely, while not gloating, be relieved that he had escaped what seemed at that moment to be the most burdensome of missions.

"If you'd like to take one of our divers, I believe I can arrange it with Winter."

"Can I pick Jared?" She batted her eyelashes in mock coyness, feigning innocence.

Gordon hesitated. Jared glowered.

"Just kidding." Rachel sighed heavily. "You won, fair and square, Jared. You stay. I go."

She went to the cabin door and pushed it open. She would have a lot of preparation if she was to meet Norman Winter on Tuesday.

"Rach, I'm sorry, sweetheart." Gordon reached for her hand. "The next one, I promise, is yours."

Rachel tried to force a smile but her mouth tightened into a thin, tense line. She hoisted the leather portfolio that her father had earlier placed on the table.

"Thanks, Dad. Now, if you'll excuse me, it looks as if I have a lot of reading to do."


It took all of Rachel's self-control to not slam the door of her cabin behind her. Tossing the leather folder on her narrow bunk, she crossed her arms over her chest and blew out the hot air of exasperation she'd been holding. Her right foot began to tap, and she forced the hot tears that welled in the corners of her eyes not to fall. Angry, disappointed, frustrated she might be, but she would not cry, any more than Jared would have cried had he lost the toss. Rachel had spent most of her lif e trying to live up to her father and her big brother. She would not do less than either of them would do now.

For several minutes she tried pacing off her warring emotions, but the small cabin was too tiny for her to walk far enough to work it out. She stood in the center of the small space and closed her eyes, imagining herself beneath a canopy of blue-green water, diving deeper and deeper into the darkness below, where she could lose herself, if only for a while, in the only true escape she'd ever found, and wished she could be there, on the bottom of the ocean, right at that minute. In her mind's eye, she watched herself head down toward the remains of the True Wind, seeking its form below her and dodging a sand shark along the way. Closer, closer, she swam through the cool water, eyeing the cracked hull of the ship, her heart beating excitedly as she drew nearer, her legs rhythmically propelling her onward, alone in a deep blue sea with a treasure unwittingly left behind by the pirate captain and his hapless crew over two hundred fifty years ago.

Of course in real life, she'd never make such a dive without a partner, but at this particular moment, company -- even if only imaginary -- was about the last thing she wanted.

Rachel sighed and reluctantly let the vision pass. Diving on the True Wind would have to wait for another day. Her father had given his word, and she had given hers. Dwelling on her loss would only make her bitter, and there was work to be done.

That Rachel felt absolutely no enthusiasm for the project at hand would not influence her total committment to its success. It would never occur to her to give any job -- even one she didn't want -- less than her be st. She was Gordon Chandler's daughter, and she knew that much was expected of her. She would die before she'd disappoint.

Leaning over to retrieve the portfolio she'd earlier tossed aside, she slid its contents onto the mattress. A stack of marine charts, colored to show, among other navigational information, water depth and shoals, accompanied historical data relative to the ship, and a sketchy biography of Samuel L. McGowan himself. There was little about the Foundation and its director, Norman Winter, though the omission wasn't particularly unusual. Many philanthropists preferred to keep a low profile.

Rachel sat in the scaled-down chair at the small desk built into the narrow corner and shuffled through the charts. She was no stranger to the North Carolina waters, having cut her wreck-diving teeth on several of the sunken vessels off the area known as the Crystal Coast. As a college student, she'd spent summers with a classmate, Jill Simmons, on Emerald Isle, where they'd worked as waitresses at night and spent the days diving. Five years ago, Jill had married a businessman and moved to London. She now had a house in the Nottingham section of the city, two children, and a booming career as a sought-after interior decorator, but she had clung to her love of diving. Once every year, Rachel and Jill would meet at an agreed-upon location and they would spend a week diving, shopping, and catching up on each other's lives. This year they had gone to Curaçao. Next year would find them in Australia.

And the next few months would find Rachel off the coast of North Carolina tracking down a ship laden, not with pirate gold, but a cargo of guns that hadn't seen the light of day in almost one hun dred thirty-five years.

She turned on the desk lamp and began to read.

She was still studying water depths around the vessel when she heard a light tap on her cabin door.

"Rach?" Jared called softly.

"It's unlocked."

For such a big man, Jared could move quietly when he wanted to. Rachel barely heard him enter the cabin.

"I brought you a sandwich. Turkey on whole wheat. A little mayo, a little lettuce. Three pickles on the side. Just the way you like it."

"Is it dinnertime already?" She turned to look up at him.

Jared filled the space of the small doorway. He wore cutoff shorts and an old tee, and held the plastic plate out to her as a peace offering. Rachel smiled in spite of herself. It would take a stronger soul than hers to remain angry with Jared for too long.

"Dinner's long past, Rach. It's almost nine."

"Oh. I didn't realize it was so late." She rubbed her hand on the back of her neck, which was stiff from being hunched over the desk for several hours. She pointed to the charts and said, "I've been doing a little light reading..."

"Mind if I take a look?"

"Help yourself." She lifted a stack of charts and said, "We'll trade. I get the food, you get the charts."

"Deal." He handed over the plate, took the sheaf of papers from her hand, and sat on the edge of the bunk.

"Hey, I know this area." He frowned. "I wonder why I never heard of the Melrose."

"I was wondering that myself," she said after she swallowed a bite of sandwich. "I've been diving in those waters a dozen or more times."

"Remember the first time we dove together in North Carolina?"

Rachel nodded. "You took me to the wreck of the Papoose, off Cape Lookout. Ninety feet underwater, and sur rounded by sand tiger sharks. Not the type of thing a girl forgets. I thought Dad was going to kill you when he found out where you'd taken me." Rachel took another bite. "Great sandwich, by the way."

"Thanks." Jared grinned. "And you're right, Dad had a fit. But I never doubted for a minute that you could make that dive, and that you'd love it."

"I did love it, Jared, once I realized that the sharks weren't going to eat me. I must confess that I had a few antsy minutes there at first. Sitting on the ocean floor surrounded by a school of mean-looking carnivores was a whole new experience for me."

"And you did great, like I knew you would. Convincing Dad that you were ready hadn't been as easy."

"Dad always thought of me as this helpless little girl who needed someone watching after her. Sometimes I think he still does." She looked him squarely in the eyes and added, "Sometimes I think you do, too."

"No." Jared shook his head. "No, I know better. And in his heart, Dad does, too."

"You know, I think he was really torn today. On the one hand, I think he was afraid that you'd lose the toss. On the other, I think he was afraid you wouldn't."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"That Dad really wants you with him on the True Wind. He knows that's what's right. It's your ship. On the other hand, he isn't so sure that I can handle the Melrose alone." Ire tinged her cheeks with a hint of color.

"Well, then, this is your chance to prove otherwise, isn't it?"

"As good a chance as I'll ever get."

"If there's anything I can do to help out..." Jared stood, his hands shoved into the pockets of his cutoff jeans.

"Yeah, I know where to find you." She nodded and smiled weakly.

"Hav e you decided if you'll take someone from our crew?"

"I really hate to do that, Jared. All of Dad's men are psyched for the True Wind. I'd hate to take any one of them off the job. And I don't know that I'll need an extra diver. Dad said that Winter already has a couple of divers, and you said the archaeologist..."

"Sam McGowan."

"Yes. You said he was a good diver."

"He's excellent."

"Well, that makes four, counting me. Enough for two sets of partners. I don't see where we'll need more than that for this job, judging from the information I've read tonight. I think the True Wind is more likely to need the rest of the crew."

"If you change your mind, you can always holler. We'll send someone out if need be." Jared grinned again. "Hell, if things get slow around here, I'll come for a day or two myself."

"I may just take you up on that." Rachel stood and handed her brother the empty plate. "Thanks for dinner, Jared. I appreciate the gesture as well as the food."

"Well, I can't have you skipping meals and fading away to nothing. You're the only sister I have. Besides, I needed to make sure that you were all right with this. If you weren't, Rach, I'd go."

"I appreciate that, but in all honesty, even if I'd won the toss, I'd probably have offered to go, in the end. It wouldn't have been fair otherwise, Jared. You were the first one to find out about the True Wind, you did all the research. Dad might never have even heard of it, if not for you." Rachel shook her head again. "The True Wind is yours, bucko."

Jared leaned over and kissed the top of his sister's head, a rare and unexpected gesture.

"Thanks, sis. That really means a lot to me."

"You'd do the sa me for me."

"Probably," he conceded, as he pushed open the cabin door. "I probably would have. But don't forget what I said, Rach. If you think of anything you need, anything you want..."

"Well, there is one thing." Rachel leaned against the doorjamb.

"Name it."

"Could you save me just one tiny little piece of the True Wind? Just one little square that no one touches, that I can sift through when I get back?"

"You're on, kid. One tiny square on the grid will remain untouched." Jared laughed as he ducked and went through the doorway. "Looks like you'll have the best of both worlds, Rach. By the end of the summer, you'll have a successful operation under your belt, and your chance for pirate gold. And who knows what you'll find on the Melrose."

Rachel wrinkled her nose.

"A bunch of old rusty guns, that's what I'll find on the Melrose."

"Well, even that should be interesting. You know what Dad always says."

"'Every wreck tells a story. A good salvor listens well.'" Rachel laughed as she repeated her father's favorite phrase. "Some stories are just more interesting than others."

She closed the door and went back to her desk, lamenting the certainty that any tale told by the Melrose would surely pale next to the True Wind's, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Copyright © 1999 by Marti Robb

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