Being rescued by a good-looking, bad-boy firefighter isn’t how Samantha Bennett expected to start her stay in Knights Bridge, Massachusetts. Now she has everyone’s attention—especially that of Justin Sloan, her rescuer, who wants to know why she was camped out in an abandoned old New England cider mill.
Samantha is a treasure hunter who has returned to Knights Bridge to solve a 300-year-old mystery and salvage her good name. Justin remembers her well. He’s the one who alerted her late mentor to her iffy past and got her fired. But just because he doesn’t trust her doesn’t mean he can resist her. Samantha is daring, determined, seized by wanderlust—everything that strong, stoic Justin never knew he wanted. Until now…
Originally published in 2014
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Samantha Bennett slipped her grandfather's antique silver flask into an outer pocket of her khaki safari jacket. He'd claimed the flask was from an old pirate chest, but she'd discovered in the three years since his death at ninety-six that not everything he'd told her had been factual. Harry Bennett had been a grand spinner of the strategic tall tale. He'd probably been drinking rum from the flask when he'd spun the pirate-chest story.
No rum for me, Samantha thought, glancing around her grandfather's cluttered office on the second floor of the Bennett house in Boston's Back Bay. She'd filled the flask with the smoky Scotch he had left in one of his crystal decanters. If she was going to hunt pirate's treasure, she figured she ought to have whiskey with her.
Although what could go wrong in little Knights Bridge, Massachusetts?
Her grandfather smiled at her from a framed black-and-white photograph hanging on the wood-paneled wall behind his massive oak desk. At the time of the photo he'd been forty-seven, roguishly handsome, wearing a jacket much like hers. He'd just arrived back in Boston after the Antarctic trip that had sealed his reputation as a world-class explorer and adventurer. It had almost killed him, too. Her couple of nights' camping in an out-of-the-way New England town hardly compared to an expedition to Antarctica.
She buttoned the flap of her jacket pocket. There were endless pockets inside and out. She was already forgetting where she'd put things-her phone, compass, matches, map, the earth-tone lipstick she'd grabbed at the last second, in case she went out to dinner one night during her stay in Knights Bridge.
Out to dinner? Where, with whom-and why?
If nothing else, a few days away from her grandfather's clutter would do her good. He had been born on a struggling New England farm and had died a wealthy man, if also a hopeless pack rat. Samantha hadn't realized just how much he'd collected in his long, active life until she'd been hired by his estate-meaning her father and her uncle-to go through his house and his London apartment. She swore she'd found gum wrappers from 1952. The man had saved everything.
The morning sun streamed through translucent panels that hung over bowfront windows framed by heavy charcoal velvet drapes. Her grandmother, who had died twenty-five years ago, when Samantha was four, had decorated the entire house herself, decreeing that gray and white were the perfect colors for this room, for when her husband was there, being contemplative and studious-which wasn't often, even in his later years. He'd spent little time in his office, mostly just long enough to stack up his latest finds.
Samantha appreciated the effect of the filtered sunlight on the original oil painting that she'd unearthed from the office closet a few weeks ago. The painting was unsigned and clearly an amateur work, but it had captivated her from the moment she'd taken it out into the light. It depicted an idyllic red-painted New England cider mill, with apples in wooden crates, barrels of cider and a water wheel capturing the runoff from a small stone-and-earth dam on a woodland stream. She'd assumed it was untitled but two days ago had discovered neat, faded handwriting on the lower edge of the simple wood frame.
The Mill at Cider Brook.
Her surprise had been so complete that she'd dipped into the Scotch decanter.
She didn't know if the mill depicted in the painting was real, but there was a Cider Brook in Knights Bridge, barely two hours west of Boston.
Of all places.
A quick internet search had produced a year-old notice that the town of Knights Bridge was selling an old cider mill in its possession. Had someone bought it? Was it still for sale?
Samantha had checked the closet for anything else her grandfather might have stuffed in there related to Cider Brook. Instead, she discovered a legal-size envelope containing about fifty yellowed, handwritten pages-the rough draft of a story called The Adventures of Captain Farraday and Lady Elizabeth.
She suspected but had no way to prove that the story was by the same hand as the painting, but it didn't matter. It had sealed the deal, and now she had Harry Bennett's antique silver flask tucked in her jacket and her plans made for her return to Knights Bridge-a town she had expected, and hoped, she would never have to visit again.
Plans more or less made, anyway. Samantha had no illusions about herself and knew she wasn't much on detailed planning.
Her first visit to the little town had been two and a half years ago, on a snowy March day a few months after her grandfather's death. She had expected to slip in and out of town without anyone's knowledge, but it hadn't worked out that way.
"A carpenter told me he saw a woman out here. You, Samantha?"
The carpenter had been her undoing. She didn't know who he was, but it didn't matter. She would be more careful on this trip, even if careful wasn't a Bennett trait.
This was her chance to put things right.
Samantha returned the painting to the closet, pulled the drapes, locked the doors and met her uncle and cousin out front. They had collected her grandfather's forty-year-old Mercedes from its parking space behind the house. It was a staid gray and had Massachusetts plates, but it was destined to stand out in Knights Bridge. In some ways, Harry Bennett's frugal upbringing had never left him. While he'd bought an expensive car, he'd decided to keep it until he ran it into the ground. It would have helped if he'd driven it once in a while, but he'd never liked to drive.
His younger son, however, loved to drive. Caleb Bennett was a rakishly handsome maritime historian in his early fifties. He and his wife, a rare-books specialist, lived outside London and were the parents of four, the eldest of whom, Isaac, a high-school senior, was strapped into the seat behind Samantha. Isaac and his father were heading to Amherst, the first stop on a tour of New England colleges. Samantha, who didn't own a car, was hitching a ride with them.
"This will be great," Caleb said as she got in next to him. "I can't remember the last time I drove into the New England countryside."
"Are you sure you don't want me to drive?"
"Nah. Sit back and enjoy yourself."
The three youngest Bennetts would be arriving in Boston with their mother that evening for a weeklong visit. At some point, Samantha's parents were due to arrive from the Scottish coast for an even shorter visit. A sort of family reunion. Her uncle and Isaac would pick her up in Knights Bridge on their way back to Boston.
Caleb pulled out onto busy Beacon Street. It was late September, a great time to be in Boston-or anywhere in New England. He glanced at Samantha. "You look as if you're about to walk the plank."
"Do I? I don't feel that way. I'm excited."
"That bastard Duncan McCaffrey fired you, Sam. Going back to Knights Bridge just picks the scab off a wound that should be healed by now."
Isaac leaned forward. "Duncan McCaffrey? The treasure hunter?"
Samantha's throat tightened, but she tried not to let them see her tension. She and Isaac shared the Bennett golden-brown hair and dark eyes, but he was lanky, angular and a gifted tennis player. She was active but had no patience for tennis, and, at five-five, she had obviously not inherited the Bennett height. Even her mother, Francesca, a marine archaeologist, was taller. Samantha considered herself lucky to have inherited her beautiful mother's high cheekbones and full mouth.
"That's right," she said finally. "I worked for Duncan for a short time. He's gone now. He died two years ago this past June."
"He fired your cousin three weeks before he died," Caleb put in.
Seventeen days, to be precise. Samantha let it go. "I didn't tell him things he believed he was entitled to know," she said.
Isaac's eyes widened. "You lied to Duncan McCaffrey?"
Her cousin sat back in the soft leather seat. "Wow. That's got to haunt you. Talk about bad timing. What does Knights Bridge have to do with him?"
"I've heard stories in treasure-hunting circles, but I don't have all the details. Apparently Duncan was searching for information on his birth parents and ended up buying property in Knights Bridge. His son inherited it. Dylan. He's now engaged to a woman from town."
"Wait," Isaac said. "You're going there for revenge because Duncan fired you?"
"No. I'm not going for revenge." Samantha took a breath, not knowing what to say to her cousin, especially with her uncle right next to her. She'd already told Caleb more than she'd meant to. She exhaled, her tone matter-of-fact as she continued, "I'm going to test a theory."
Caleb grimaced next to her. "You're stirring things up for no good reason."
"Dylan McCaffrey doesn't even have to know I'm there."
"Sam " There was a note of dread in Isaac's voice. "Sam, please tell me this trip isn't about pirates."
She swiveled around to look at him. "What, you don't like pirates, Isaac?"
"I got over pirates when I was twelve. Are you searching for the lost treasure of Captain Hook?"
"Show some respect, Isaac," his father said. "Samantha's an expert on East Coast privateers and pirates. Captain Hook is fictional. She's only interested in real pirates and such. Right, Sam?"
Samantha ignored the skeptical note in his voice. "I'm researching Captain Benjamin Farraday, a Boston privateer-turned-pirate who disappeared before he could be hanged for his crimes."
Isaac yawned as the Mercedes sped west on Storrow Drive, along the Charles River, which was dotted with small sailboats and Harvard rowers. "You think this Captain Farraday buried treasure in Knights Bridge?"
Her cousin groaned. "Sam, nobody believes in buried treasure anymore."
His father glanced sideways at her. "You see? His mother's influence. He's got both feet planted firmly on the ground."
"He wants to go to Amherst College. That's Grandpa's alma mater." Samantha winked at her cousin in the backseat. "There's some Bennett in you."
Isaac rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me."
* * *
Dozing-and pretending to doze-on the drive west at least allowed Samantha to stop trying to convince her uncle that she hadn't lost her mind. He'd interrogated her on the contents of her backpack-he was pleased she had a first-aid kit and an emergency whistle-and her reasons for venturing to Knights Bridge on her own. "You and this damn pirate, Samantha. You 're obsessed with this Captain Benjamin Farraday of yours."
No argument from her.
She hadn't mentioned the cider mill painting and the story she'd discovered in his father's Boston office. She had enough to overcome with her uncle without telling him she was off to Knights Bridge because of an anonymous painting and the fanciful writings of an unknown author-a woman, Samantha would guess given the feminine handwriting. She had no doubt her uncle would have dismissed The Adventures of Captain Farraday and Lady Elizabeth as worthless to a proper historian and tossed the pages into the fire.
Samantha had copied them and brought them with her, possible clues to her pirate mystery, as well as a reminder of the reasons she was undertaking this mission and returning to Knights Bridge. It was a fun story. One particular passage had stuck in her mind.
Lady Elizabeth Fullerton refused to choke on the terrible rum the black-haired, black-eyed pirate had thrust at her. "What's your name?" she asked, returning the flask to him.
"Farraday. Benjamin Farraday. And yours?"
"Bess." She 'd already considered what name to give him. Something simple and not too far from the truth, so that she wouldn't forget. "Bess Fuller."
He grinned and leaned in close to her. He obviously didn't believe her. "Well, Bess Fuller, drink up. We've a long way to go before you'll see England again. You can thank me later for saving you."
"I'd rather have drowned than to be rescued by a pirate rogue."
It was a rousing tale of a spirited high-born British woman who'd been captured for ransom by a dastardly enemy of her remote but wealthy father and then "rescued" by a dashing pirate. Although entertaining, the story bore only marginal resemblance to the life of the real Farraday-at least his known life. There was much not yet known about the Boston-born pirate and his exploits.
Samantha had her grandfather to thank for sparking her interest in Captain Farraday. A few months before his death, he had plunked a copy of an eighteenth-century broadside in front of her. It detailed the crimes credited against Farraday, then a wanted man. "You like pirates, Sam. Check out this guy."
She had dived in. As her grandfather's health quickly had begun to fail, he loved for her to sit at his bedside and tell him every new development in her research. She had theorized that Farraday might have hidden treasure in the wilderness west of Boston, first as his personal insurance policy against his capture, arrest and ultimate execution, then to finance a new sloop to continue his raids on other ships.
She had little to go on-no proof beyond snippets here and there and her leaps to connect the dots of her research. She didn't know why her grandfather hadn't told her about the painting and the manuscript pages in his closet-he could have simply forgotten they were there. Now she suspected at least the story had brought Captain Farraday to his attention in the first place.
"Samantha-Samantha, we're here."
She sat up straight at her uncle's voice. "Right. So we are."
He slowed the old Mercedes as they came to the Knights Bridge town common, an oval-shaped green encircled by a narrow main street with classic homes, a town hall, a library, a general store and a few other businesses.
Caleb shuddered. "This place is straight out of 1910."
"It just looks that way on the surface." She pointed vaguely. "You can drop me off anywhere here."
He stopped in front of the Swift River Country Store. "What about mosquitoes? Ticks? I hope you packed DEET."
"DEET and Scotch," Samantha said lightly. "The necessities when hunting pirate treasure."
Caleb looked at his son. "You're going to be an engineer."
Isaac managed to stir enough to wish her luck. As she grabbed her pack out of the backseat, she caught him smirking and muttering something about hoping she found herself a sexy pirate of her own.
"This isn't about sexy pirates," she told him.
He gave her a knowing grin. "Right. It's about scholarship."
She ignored him. "Enjoy your college tour." She smiled at her uncle. "Thanks for the ride. I'll see you in a few days."
"Have fun. Steer clear of carpenters."
Samantha wished she hadn't told her uncle how Duncan McCaffrey had come to fire her. Being spotted in the snow by a small-town carpenter paled in comparison to some of the ways her father and his baby brother had gotten themselves into trouble over the years.
Caleb and Isaac didn't linger. Samantha waited for the Mercedes to disappear back out the winding road to the highway before she set off. There was nothing she needed to pick up at the general store. She didn't have to ask for directions-she had a paper map and a map on her phone, but she'd committed her route to memory.