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How did you leave this world, Liam O'Shea? Did someone you trust betray you? Did you curse the Sinclairs as you died?
Good grief, she was getting as bad as Homer. "Why are you telling me this now?" she asked. "If you're worried that I'll suffer from this 'curse'--"
"You already have, Brat. I don't want you to come to a bad end like the rest of us."
"Damn it, Homer." She leaned fiercely over the bed. "You're not making any sense."
He pushed up with a burst of strength. "I know why you withdrew from the challenges of life, MacKenzie. Maybe you didn't realize it. You lost too much too early. Couldn't risk losing more, saw what happened to anyone who did. I can't blame you. But now I have to ask you to take a risk. Not only for me and for our family, but for yourself."
A chill ran through Mac, a premonition of sudden and terrifying change. "Homer, I--"
"I have a mission for you, MacKenzie. An old man's last request. And your first quest. Fitting."
He looked at her squarely, all the old stubborn authority behind a stare that could quell the most rebellious student. "It all happened in that jungle, Mac. And this"--he gathered up the stone Maya pendant in one clawed hand--"this is the symbol of an act that's haunted our family. Haunted me. A Sinclair betrayed O'Shea and left him without anyone to avenge him, to expose the truth. A Sinclair deliberately covered it up. I want to be able to leave this world knowing one Sinclair tried to make amends."
The heavy feeling of anticipation coiled more tightly in Mac's stomach. "Make amends how?"
"By returning this chunk of stone to the place Perry found it. By standing in that jungle, among those ruins, and asking Liam O'Shea's forgiveness."
It was as bad as she thought. "You want me to go to Guatemala?"
He sighed and passed a hand over his eyes. "I wouldn't ask this of you, Brat, if I didn't--"
"Look at me, Homer." She concealed her desperation, all the fear for Homer's sanity and of her own limitations. "I wasn't built for great things or wild adventures or breaking family curses, even if I did once beat up the neighborhood bully." She attempted a smile. "Isn't there something I could do a little closer to home?"
"No." He slapped the bedspread. "No way out of this, Brat. For your own sake. I know in my heart this has to be done. It's not logical. I don't pretend it is. But I ask it of you." His breath grew short and his face flushed with emotion. "I'll even beg if I have to, but you have to go back there and set things right. At the place where it happened."
Mac noted his rapid breathing and high color with alarm. "Homer, lie back. Calm down. You're going to--"
"Die. That's the truth, Brat, no escaping it. But I'm not leaving until I have your promise. That you'll go down there when I'm gone and do what I ask, no matter how crazy you think it is."
"Promise me," he wheezed, hands clutched on the bedspread in a stranglehold. "Promise me, Brat."
There was no choice. She would give anything in the world to keep him alive for one more hour.
"I promise," she whispered.
All at once the tension drained from his body, and he slumped boneless against the sheets. "Good. Then I can sleep."
"Not the big sleep. Not yet. Got to make sure you make all the necessary arrangements," he muttered. But his voice was already fading, his lids heavy. He knocked his glasses from his nose and closed his eyes. "Do it soon, Brat. Don't wait too long. For your own sake."
There was no answer to his obsession. Not now. Perhaps later, when he'd rested...
"What about dinner?" she asked.
"Not hungry, Brat. Shriveled old men don't need much." He opened one eye. "Wouldn't hurt you to eat more yourself. You're skin and bones."
You just noticed? she thought as she pulled the comforter up around him and adjusted the pillows. He was already asleep and snoring unevenly when she retrieved the envelope, abandoned letter and his glasses from the bed.
She almost left the envelope and pendant with Homer's glasses on the bedside table. But he'd be upset if he woke to find them there, and she'd promised. Shaking her head, Mac absently looped the pendant's thong over her head and tucked the envelope under her arm as she walked to the kitchen.
No point now in preparing the gourmet microwave dinner she'd planned for herself and Homer. She fixed herself a sandwich instead, straddled a chair at the tilted kitchen table and idly fingered the pendant as she ate.
Guatemala. It seemed worlds away from the cool, musty rooms of the museum, the safe, almost windowless walls and aisles of antiquities, the silence and solitude and certainty of who she was. The reality of a hot, steamy, primitive jungle was something she could only imagine. Off on a quest to end a curse that surely didn't exist.
Legendary curses had supposedly haunted the robbers of Egyptian tombs. Maybe that extended to Maya tombs as well. Liam and Perry had taken something from a burial chamber, and then Perry had turned inexplicably on his friend and thus sealed his own family's fate. Payback by the angry spirit-owners of those ancient ruins...
Mac groaned and dropped her head in her hands. She definitely didn't believe in curses or bad karma. But Homer did. In the end that was all that mattered. She had given her word. If it meant Homer could go in peace, if she could give him one last gift, it would be worth it.
Resignation was already beginning to set in.
If you did this, Peregrine Sinclair, I think I'm going to add to the curse. I've never had to go searching for a ghost and ask its forgiveness.
If a man like Liam O'Shea would ever forgive. Pretty funny: two deceased men suddenly had her future in their long-decomposed hands.
Talk about morbid, Mac.
But she knew what she was good at, and it wasn't going on a quest or doing anything flamboyant or daring that would mark her out from a thousand other average women.
Hell, she wasn't even much good at being an average woman. Not the way men apparently expected, anyway. She'd just never caught the hang of it, and probably never would.
Without thinking she pulled the old photograph out of the envelope and spread it flat on the table top. I can guess the kind of woman you'd go for, Liam O'Shea. And wondered why such a thought even entered her mind.
Because he's on the other side of a century, not to mention dead.
If you're not even a match for a dead guy, you're hopeless, Mac.
She smiled at her own fancy and started on the dishes. No. Except for Homer's troubling and unexpected obsession, it wasn't too likely that some supposed past evil would ever be much of a burden on MacKenzie Sinclair. No more than the slight weight of the pendant hanging around her neck.