Read an Excerpt
Two Years Later
Olivia was seasick. The small ferry from Piraeus rolled and pitched in the Aegean Sea. No stabilizers on this old tub. Not many passengers except for the members of their expedition who'd all gone inside for the two-hour ride. She'd headed straight for the rail, taking large gulps of fresh air, trying to keep down the small breakfast she'd eaten on the dock before the boat left.
Keeping her breakfast down was not the only challenge Olivia faced. Even more difficult would be keeping the memories of her last trip to Hermapolis at bay. It was seven years ago, the summer she'd met Jack. A dream opportunity for a new young professor like herself to dig for a rare, multilayered tomb dating back to Alexander the Great.
She hadn't found the burial chamber she was looking for, but she'd found Jack Oakley, smart, tough, brave, ambitious, and so gorgeous he had taken her breath away. Sparks flew. Passion erupted like Vesuvius, the volcano that towered over Pompeii. Theirs was an instant attraction. Impossible to deny. Obvious to everyone within a few yards that they'd fallen madly in love. They were married in Italy in the fall.
Now she was back. Older and wiser. Another chance to dig for the tomb, to find some clay pots, jewelry or copper coins and to finally discover who was buried there. While she was there, she'd have a chance to face the site where she'd met Jack and make sure she was over him for good. She'd better be since she'd filed for divorce in the spring. It was just a formality, because their marriage existed only on paper.
She'd given the marriage her all; they both had. She hadn't heard from Jack since she'd filed, but he must know aswell as she did there was nothing left of their union. It was time to make it official.
In her field, when she'd done her best and worked hard, she'd gotten praised and promoted for her efforts. No wonder she went back to work. On this dig she could add to her list of accomplishments. She'd take advantage of the last chance to uncover this site before the owners closed it. She propped her elbows on the railing and kept her eyes on the horizon.
She whirled around. She must be hallucinating. It couldn't be Jack. If he was part of the team, she would have known. She would have seen his name on the list and she never would have come, no matter how tempting the chance to find the lost tomb.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, bracing herself against the railing so she wouldn't lose her balance and fall on her face.
"Same thing as you are. Heading for Hermapolis to dig for old bones. Chasing Alexander the Great. Trying to find out more about Macedonian culture." He gave her one of his old smiles that used to melt her bones. No longer. Never again. She was immune. She was a different person. With a stone wall around her heart.
"Oh, you mean now?" he asked. "I'm bringing you some tea and crackers.You always had a weak stomach."
She straightened and took a deep breath. "I did not. Well, only when the sea is rough."
"The first time I saw you, you were hanging over the rail. Could have been this rail right here."
He would have to remind her of that. Then as now he'd gone to get her something to settle her stomach. How could she resist a guy who'd do something like that for a total stranger? She'd immediately felt better. It wasn't so much the tea, it was having a good-looking man distract her. And Jack was that kind of man, no doubt about that. Dark wind-blown hair, blue knit polo that matched his eyes, khakis and bare feet in TopSiders. She couldn't tear her eyes away then and she couldn't do it now. And she did try.
He handed her the tea and the crackers, then pointed to a bench on the deck. "Sit down," he said.
She sat and sipped her tea, grateful to have something to do besides stare at her husband. Ex-husband. Separated husband. Estranged husband. Nothing quite fit. They weren't divorced yet, but they certainly weren't together. She hoped no one on the dig thought they were.
"You haven't told me " she said.
"Yes, I did. I'm here to finish what I started seven years ago."
Olivia held her breath. What did he mean? Only that he was more determined than ever to get to the bottom of that tomb on the farmer's field. So close and yet so far. So tantalizing every archaeologist in his right mind would give anything to get access to it. Just as she was. Nothing personal. Definitely not. He didn't mean her. He was talking about their work.
"In other words, we're all in this together. Excavating Hermapolis," he said. "Should be fun."
Fun? To work with your ex at the same place where you met? That was not her idea of fun. That was her idea of torture. "Why didn't you tell me you were on the team?" she demanded.
"Thought you might not come."
He knew perfectly well she wouldn't have come. Not after what he'd said before he left her. Not after what she'd done. Now was not the time to admit it. Now was the time to play it cool. "Of course I would. This could be the most monumental tomb of its kind ever found in Greece, as you well know. Your being part of the team is completely irrelevant to me," she said, proud of herself for sounding so detached. "Why would I give up a chance to look for the missing clay pots or the small idols?" Liar. She'd even given up trying to tear open the packet of crackers because her hands were shaking so badly. How she wished he was irrelevant. Maybe someday. But not today, that was clear.
He took the crackers out of her hand and ripped the package open. He noticed she had a problem. He never missed anything, damn him.
"So I still mean nothing to you," he said. "The only thing you care about is your research." There was a hint of bitterness in his voice, completely unjustified. What was he bitter about? Maybe it was the divorce. But who'd walked out? Not her. He sounded so casual, so all-knowing, she wanted to smack him on the face.
"That's why you wouldn't come with me to California," he said.
"You know why I didn't go with you," she said, glaring at him. "First you didn't ask me to come. Second I had nothing to do there of any significance and third "
"I didn't ask you to come," he said, "because even I had to make an appointment with your secretary to see you. You were that busy. You were always working."
"Oh, and you were so available? You signed up for every committee. You even went in on weekends."
"I had nothing better to do. You weren't around. I know, you loved your job. It was important to you, and you were good at it. I got that. What I didn't get was your indifference.You couldn't care less that I got that offer."
"That's not true. I was proud of you. It was a plum job."
"Oh, right. You were so proud you didn't even come to my farewell dinner the department threw for me."
"I told you "
"You told me you were busy. You were always busy. You couldn't have spared a few hours?"
"Why? You didn't need me there to tell you what a fantastic job you'd done for the university and how much they were going to miss you. I'm sure you heard it over and over from everyone else. Your ego just couldn't get enough."
His eyes narrowed. "Maybe so, but it would have been nice to hear it from you. It would have been nice to hear something from you. Instead I got a card from you saying 'Good Luck.' You weren't sorry to see me go, you were relieved."
"Don't tell me what I was. You have no idea what I felt." He couldn't know how it hurt to see him packing up and driving away. She wasn't made of stone. Not then, anyway. They were getting into dangerous territory by rehashing old problems now. She wasn't proud of how she'd acted the day he left or what she'd done to close the chapter on their life together.
"Look, Jack, now's really not the time to get into what happened then. It's history," she said. "All I ask is next time you join a dig I'm on just let me know."
"Why, so you can back out again?"
That was exactly what she'd do. What she should have done this time. But it was too late now, so she'd better make the best of it. "Why would I do that?" she asked casually. "The past is in the past. We had some good times, we worked well together. There's no reason why we can't do it again." Don't mention the bad times. Don't even go there.
Olivia was proud of herself. She sounded so rational, so over Jack. If she thought she was, it took ten minutes to tell her she wasn't. It was all this pent-up emotion, all the bottled-up anger. And maybe some unfinished business. If only she could stop trembling on the inside. Stop the memories from crowding in on her.
"That's good to know," he said calmly. "It will make the summer easier for both of us. All it takes is an ability to separate the brain from the emotions."
How many times had she heard him say that? She used to say it wasn't possible, while he insisted it was. Why argue? Arguing with Jack was pointless and painful. No one won. Everyone lost. "Nothing to it," she agreed.
"Now that we've settled that." He sat next to her and stretched his legs out in front of him as if they were casual acquaintances instead of a married couple who'd been at each other's throats a few minutes ago with recriminations and accusations.
How could he be so nonchalant? Because he didn't care. He'd moved on. Really moved on. She had to show him she'd done the same. She felt his eyes on her. He was scrutinizing her as if he were trying to classify her. Late Roman or Hellenistic. "You look better," he said.
"Thanks," she muttered. But she wondered, did he mean better than a few minutes ago or better than two years ago? She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of asking. What did it matter what he thought? Their marriage was over. "It's good we're working together again," he said. "One more time."
One more time? And then what? Would he sign those papers? Was he even going to acknowledge getting them? As of now he was treating her as if she was just another team member he had to work with. A difficult team member who had to be humored. Not someone who'd meant everything to him. Or so he'd said. Now she was someone who had to be treated carefully or she'd fly off the handle. It shouldn't bother her. But it did. She couldn't go on being tied to him legally but living apart.
She wanted to shake him. She wanted to scream, We met on this island. Doesn't it mean anything to you? We're married. But in name only. You have to admit it's over. We can't go on like this. Sign the papers. Let's stop pretending. Of course she didn't. "I read your article in Archaeology Digest," she said, desperately looking to change the subject. "Interesting conclusion." She didn't say wrong conclusion, but that's what she meant and he knew it.
His eyes glittered like the blue Aegean. Jack loved a challenge. That much hadn't changed. "That means you don't agree with me, doesn't it?" he asked.
"That the Age of the Pharaohs was brought about by climate change? That's ridiculous. You have no proof."
"Nobody has proof of anything. I thought I made a good case for it."
She shook her head. "In your dreams."
"Then what's your theory? Or haven't you got one?"
"Does it matter?" she asked.
"Of course it does. We always had some good discussions. No reason to quit now. I value your opinion, you know that." He put his arm on the back of the bench where it brushed against her shoulders. A small gesture, so familiar that it caused an ache that spread all the way to her heart. If he valued her opinions so much, why hadn't he asked for them in the two years he'd been gone? She'd barely heard a word from him.
He'd reminded her of the heated discussions they'd had about work, yes. Those were stimulating. But about their personal problems? No one mentioned those. That subject was off-limits. They'd both said things they shouldn't have. Things that left wounds too deep to forget. At least for her.
Suddenly the summer stretched ahead of her like a long road full of potholes. Dangerous, deep holes a person could fall into and never get out of. She'd have to try to ignore Jack as much as possible. She could talk to him if it was about work. She'd be walking a tightrope for more than two months. But she could do it. She had to.
If she could walk the tightrope and not fall off, she could get a lot out of this dig. There was the chance of finding an important tomb on this island, buried under thousands of years of civilization. She would get an article out of it, maybe a book. She would get along with Jack. She would forget the past. But right now he was so close she could smell the same citrus aftershave he always wore. He was too close for comfort.