Poseidon's Daughter, page 1
DIANE A.S. STUCKART
Author of the Award-Winning
Leonardo da Vinci Mystery Series
and National Bestselling Author
of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery Series
(writing as Ali Brandon)
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 1996, 2012 by Diane Alexa Smart Stuckart
All rights reserved. No part of these pages may be used for any purpose other than for review or personal use. Reproduction in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, for other reasons is strictly prohibited without prior written permission.
Cover design by Diane A.S. Stuckart
Published by Really Smart Things
Printed in the United States of America
NOTE: Poseidon’s Daughter was first published in 1996 by Pinnacle Books under the title A Touch of Paradise (written by Alexa Smart). This novel retains most of the original text, but for creative purposes it has been re-edited by the author.
This is for my sister, Valerie…just because!
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
~ Foreword ~
~ Prologue ~
~ Chapter 1 ~
~ Chapter 2 ~
~ Chapter 3 ~
~ Chapter 4 ~
~ Chapter 5 ~
~ Chapter 6 ~
~ Chapter 7 ~
~ Chapter 8 ~
~ Chapter 9 ~
~ Chapter 10 ~
~ Chapter 11 ~
~ Chapter 12 ~
~ Chapter 13 ~
~ Chapter 14 ~
~ Chapter 15 ~
~ Chapter 16 ~
~ Chapter 17 ~
~ Chapter 18 ~
~ Chapter 19 ~
~ Chapter 20 ~
~ Chapter 21 ~
~ Chapter 22 ~
~ Chapter 23 ~
~ Chapter 24 ~
~ Chapter 25 ~
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
~ Foreword ~
There’s nothing quite so exciting—and humbling—for an author as the opportunity to take a long out-of-print work and bring it back to life for the enjoyment of a new crop of readers. Exciting, because you now have the chance to restore passages that your editor ruthlessly slashed the first time around. Humbling, because you’ve learned a lot about your craft over the years and now see the (to your mind) glaring plot holes and stylistic indulgences of a younger writer. And with the rapid expansion of ebook publishing, that opportunity can easily become reality for many authors, including me. Since the rights to my historical romances from the 1990s have finally reverted to me, I’ve decided to republish these novels under my current name and under their original titles.
My first thought was to do some major editing on these early works while incorporating the writing lessons I’ve learned over the course of my career. But I found that a published novel, once written, can’t so easily be rewritten…not and still retain its original literary soul. Starting a book over from scratch, or even heavily editing it, would make it into an entirely different story. Better to spruce it up a bit and let it go back into the world in much the same shape that it went out the first time, hoping that your readers will accept the novel for what it is, and your storytelling art for what it was.
And so I’m bringing you the third of my published romances, which will be the first offering from my personal literary label, Really Smart Things. Originally titled A TOUCH OF PARADISE and written under the name Alexa Smart, the novel now bears its original title, POSEIDON’S DAUGHTER, along with a modern new cover which echoes the original. And while I’ve cleaned up the text a little, including adding back my original first line, the story is pretty much as it was when first published.
Plot holes and stylistic indulgences aside, I do think that my story has held up quite well over the years. If you missed reading this tale of lost treasure and pirates and con-artists the first time out, I’m glad you’re taking a chance on the second incarnation. If you were one of the handful of brilliantly discerning readers who did read the original Pinnacle Books version, thanks for coming back. I hope you enjoy revisiting my story and characters. And, either way, please feel free to send your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out my website http://www.dianestuckart.com/ for information on my other published works, and updates on my other forthcoming historical romance reprints. Happy reading!
“…wonderful characters and a story filled with humor, pathos and a little larceny.”
~ ROMANTIC TIMES MAGAZINE
~ Prologue ~
Boston, Massachusetts Midsummer, 1883
“Sounds like a right good crowd, it does,” Wilkie Foote allowed, stepping forth from the darkened wings to twitch the backstage curtain. He peered past the resulting gap in the dusty black drapery to the audience beyond the sputtering footlights, and then gave a satisfied nod.
Indeed, the staid auditorium fairly boiled with activity. Beneath the prim glow of gas-lit chandeliers, black-suited, mustachioed gentlemen juggled walking sticks and doffed black silk hats, while their satin-and-lace draped ladies preened. Lavish fabrics and bright feathers swirled in a kaleidoscope of color and texture, and the accompanying tide of genteel conversation rose and fell in waves of enthusiasm.
What caught Wilkie's attention, however, was the abundance of precious stones in evidence.
From emerald stickpins to diamond tiaras, the enticing flash of jewels was everywhere. This audience was composed, not of scholars in search of new theories to mull over, but of high-society types eager to embrace the latest fad. Just the sort of people who gladly would part with a bit of blunt to support a fashionable cause.
Just the sort of people he and his partner routinely preyed upon.
Wilkie dropped the curtain and rubbed his chapped hands in anticipation. “Ev'ry toff in the city is ‘ere,” he eagerly informed the well-dressed man beside him. “An’ they got money to burn, by the looks o' ‘em. This is the best scam yet, Mal—”
“Sir John,” his companion corrected, as he stroked his dashing brown mustache and then checked the time on his gold pocket watch. “Sir John Abbot, late of Berkshire in West Sussex, England. Do try to remember that, Wilkie...and do try to avoid using the word scam. It sounds so uncouth.”
Aggrieved, Wilkie fidgeted with the cuff of his gaudy servant's livery before glancing at the younger man's garb. The contrast was unmistakable...sleek black trousers and a crisp white shirt topped by a black silk tie and a well-tailored black evening coat. The man himself was equally impeccable, with his pomaded hair and neatly trimmed mustache and side-whiskers. His fingernails were so highly buffed that Wilkie fancied he could see reflected there his own pockmarked face and unruly shock of blond hair.
“Tain't 'alf fair,” he grumbled. “‘Ere, I put together all those fancy letters fer ye, but I always 'ave to play the valet. As for yer bleedin' name, 'tain't 'alf easy keepin' up wit’ it, seein' 'ow ye change it ev'ry week.”
“We have had this discussion countless times before,” the younger man said. He snapped shut his timepiece, so that the engraved coat-of-arms with its snarling wolf momentarily glinted in the dim light. “Your contribution to our work is immeasurable, given your talent at forgery. Still, I fear you fall short in the areas of proper dress and deportment, not to mention in your manner
“You don't mean we're quittin' this ‘ere game?”
“I think it best, after our stop in New York City.”
Momentarily forgetting his own grievance, Wilkie shrewdly narrowed his pale blue eyes. ”Yer thinkin' 'ow as that bleedin' pirate, O'Neill, ‘as followed us all the way from Savannah, right?”
“I have my suspicions. At any rate, I believe Sir John will conveniently disappear once we have collected this week's contributions to our scholarly fund.”
“Lor', I almost forgot.” Wilkie fumbled in his breast pocket and withdrew an envelope. “This came after you left the 'otel, ” he explained, handing over the post addressed in a woman's firm, graceful hand to the fictitious Sir John. “I'd wager 'ow it's from one o' them society females wot wants a titled gent for ‘erself.”
Wilkie noted the faint curl of distaste that twisted his partner's patrician lips at that observation, and he smothered his own answering grin. Throughout their travels on this side of the ocean, they had encountered numerous examples of that uniquely American phenomenon...fresh-faced young heiresses anxious to marry into the English aristocracy, possessed of doting fathers willing to pay a princely sum for the privilege.
“I fear you are correct, Wilkie,” the man conceded, scanning the enclosed sheet of ivory bond before reading it aloud.
“My dear sir, I have followed with great interest the newspaper accounts of your exploits and am intrigued by your theories—so much so that I would like to discuss a substantial monetary contribution to further such commendable scientific study. I understand that you are to be here in New York City two days hence, Thursday. A prior engagement prevents me from attending your scheduled lecture that evening, but perhaps you will do me the kindness of stopping by my town house beforehand—three o'clock would be most suitable—so we might talk. Respectfully, Miss Halia Davenport. ”
“Sounds right promising” Wilkie exclaimed over the growing buzz from the unseen audience. “Just pop over an’ whisper a few sweet words in 'er ear, then take 'er blunt. You want I should send 'er a reply 'ow as you'll be there?”
“It would seem the thing to do.” Malcolm frowned as he refolded the missive. “The name Davenport sounds familiar, somehow. I do believe I will consult my notes before I make that visit.”
“Sir John!” An unctuous voice drifted from the darkened hall behind them. A moment later, Horace Melbourne, founder of the Society to Promote Free Scientific Thought, appeared at the corridor's entrance.
Melbourne paused long enough to mop his balding pate with an oversized handkerchief; then, spotting the pair, he tucked away the square and trotted over to join them.
“My dear fellow, the response to your appearance this evening is gratifying, nay, unprecedented,” he burbled, grasping Malcolm's hand and pumping it with what Wilkie privately considered to be typical American over-enthusiasm. “Every seat in the house is taken, so perhaps you would care to begin?”
Not waiting for a reply, Melbourne released his hold and with the same vigor swept through the curtain toward the lectern waiting at center stage. As the accompanying polite applause died away, Wilkie caught snatches of the man's pompous introduction.
“Sir John Abbot...eminent classical scholar...all the way from England...startling revelations ...”
A second, equally restrained ovation followed this uninspired bit of pedantry. Wilkie glanced over at his partner, who nonchalantly smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle from his waistcoat, only to frown.
“Damn it all, Wilkie, I forgot my lucky watch fob,” he muttered as he transferred his anxious glance from the stage curtain to his flat midriff. “I can't go out there, not without it.”
“‘Ere now, it's just a cheap bit o' stamped metal,” Wilkie reassured him in an indulgent tone. “Tain't nothin' lucky about it—just ask the poor bloke what you stole it from.”
“I suppose you are right.” His expression, however, remained unconvinced as he strode past the yards of drapery and out onto the stage.
Lad sets too bloody much stock by ‘is so-called good luck pieces, Wilkie thought with an undignified snort as he took up his position at the curtains. He waited until the applause died away, then adjusted the velvet hangings so that he remained hidden from the audience and yet had a clear view of the proceedings on stage.
Settling himself against a discarded section of wooden scenery, he folded his arms and waited for the show to commence. He had heard the same speech nigh on a dozen times and understood but a portion of it; still, he never tired of seeing his partner at work.
“Ladies, gentlemen, distinguished guests,” began the younger man's silken voice...the same voice that had parted many a woman from her virtue and many a gentleman from his blunt. “I am honored by your presence here today—”
The tongue o' an angel an’ the conscience o' old Nick, 'is-self.
Wilkie shook his head in admiration as the younger man began to weave the well-rehearsed threads of his tale across the loom that was his audience. Through the years, Malcolm had used that same talent to talk the pair of them into the finest homes and pocketbooks that London and the Continent had to offer... and talk them out of a tight spot or two, as well. In the process, they had amassed and spent more than one respectable fortune, yet something kept his friend ever in search of some newer, more elaborate swindle.
”—what most scholars refuse to believe, even in the face of hard evidence.”
Malcolm's voice rose on a quiver of passion, only to break off as he slowly surveyed his audience. Wilkie, who had been silently mouthing the familiar words along with him, paused. Even tucked away as he was behind the curtain, he could tell that the audience's earlier air of polite interest had sharpened to palpable curiosity.
”I, too, was skeptical at the start,” Malcolm finally went on, “but a decade of study has convinced me that these documents which have fallen into my hands are indeed genuine. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I am privileged tonight to speak the words that have been denied to countless other scholars for more than two millennia.”
“I, Sir John Abbot, have rediscovered the long-lost continent of Atlantis.”
~ Chapter 1 ~
New York City
Halia Davenport paced the cramped study of her modest brownstone and mulled over her choice of weapons. It was a limited selection, at best. Still, she methodically reviewed each one, spreading them out in her mind like a surgeon arranging his scalpels and speculums upon a tray.
The fireplace poker? No, it was unwieldy and too apt to be wrenched from her grasp. She hesitated over the wicked-looking carving knife she knew was sheathed in a wooden block in the kitchen downstairs, only to reject it on much the same grounds.
She gave a moment's more consideration to the crossed pair of foils hanging over the mantelpiece. At her father's urging, she had long ago acquired a rudimentary knowledge of swordsmanship; still, she could hardly picture herself marching a man through the city streets at the point of a blade. She was left with one choice.
With an air of determination, she settled in the worn leather chair behind the battered expanse of her father's desk. Until just a few days ago, its contents had remained undisturbed since his disappearance in the Caribbean almost three months earlier.
She had clung for several weeks to the hope that he would be found—adrift on a makeshift raft, perhaps, or else aboard some foreign vessel. That had not happened. However, other disturbing events had compelled her to keep a careful watch over her father's papers.
First, had come the anonymous letters. Then, several weeks after Arvin Davenport had been declared missing, some unknown person had broken into the library and made off with a portion of his notes.
She reached for the drawer pull. Her previous look had not turned up the document she sought, a missing page from her father's final journal. How long that page had been gone, she was not sure. She might have gu
But why take just that single page, when the tiny library was filled with scholarly dissertations?
Halia shook her head. Only she knew of Arvin Davenport’s secret obsession, a fixation that would have earned him the scorn of his fellow scholars, had they known. And only a fellow antiquarian would have more than a passing interest in the subject.
Still troubled over those questions, she reached for the flat, rectangular black morocco box that she had discovered in her first search of the desk. She had not bothered to open it then, instinctively sensing what lay within its ominous-looking confines. Now, she gingerly placed it on the desktop and unfastened the stiff latches before raising the lid.
The revolver nestled jewel-like upon a layer of red velvet, far larger than she had imagined. The harsh gleam of its polished steel barrel contrasted with the soft glow of its pearl-inlaid handle...male and female elements combined to form a work both deadly and beautiful.
Halia eased the weapon from its case. Then, with a shiver of loathing, she hefted it in both hands in imitation of the gunfighters she had seen portrayed upon the lurid covers of countless penny dreadfuls. The pistol fitted her grasp as if it had been molded to her hands.
She laid the pistol back on the desk and rubbed her fingers along her skirt in a reflexive attempt to banish the taint of it. She had never known her father to own any sort of weapon, save for the antiques that were part of his research. No doubt he had purchased the gun a few weeks before his death... but why?
She blinked back a sudden onrush of tears and let her gaze linger upon the tiny silver-framed photograph propped atop the desk. It was a formal portrait, taken last year after their final trip together to the Caribbean. Father and daughter met the camera's impassive lens with keen gazes rendered an identical shade of tan by the film, though in reality his eyes were the bright blue of a sunlit sea and hers, the pale green of a storm-tossed ocean.