Agent Bale rang the bell and waited on the porch surrounded in iron lace. The stone house was worth a small fortune now, but Heather Storrey wasn’t interested in money. The home had been her inheritance, passed down through her family.
She was the final chapter in her family’s legacy.
The door opened, and a ghost stared up at him. Not a real ghost but a woman who walked on both sides of the veil.
Heather smiled up at him. “David. Come in.”
She stepped back, allowing him to pass. There was a time a few years ago when she would have fused her lips to his and pulled him inside. No sense going down memory lane now. He cleared his throat and took a seat on her sofa.
She remained standing. “I think I know why you’re here.”
He crossed his long legs. “We lost Pokey.”
Her eyes shone with empathy, but her mouth curved into a knowing smile. “He’s not lost.”
She floated over to the chair, or at least she appeared to be floating. Heather favored gauzy floor-length skirts. They hid her shapely ivory legs from view, and from the sun. Heather was a stunning albino with long, practically white hair and bright nearly colorless blue eyes. Her pale skin had no use for sunshine.
She tucked her feet underneath her. “He came to see me last night. He wants to help you with…serpent men?” She raised a brow.
She knew about as much about David’s department as the pirate crew, but she suspected far more. David did his best not to confirm or deny anything.
“A cult. The Serpent Society. They have an addiction for holy relics and a fanatical belief that once they’re collected, the serpent will slither back into the Garden of Eden, opening the door for them to follow.”
“Wow.” Her laughter was like chiming bells. “From your tone, you obviously don’t believe that’s possible.”
Agent Bale almost smiled. “Still working on my subtlety.”
“How can I help?”
He leaned forward, elbows on his thighs. “We’ve got a meeting with them tonight at midnight. I need Pokey to scout the place and let me know what we’re walking into. If possible, I hope he’ll tell us where they’re keeping the Grail.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “As in Holy Grail?”
He had hoped he could enlist her help without naming the relic he was after, but she would have found out when she connected with Pokey anyway.
“Yes. That’s the one.” He nodded. “Of course, you’ll be reimbursed for your time.”
“I’ll be sure to send you an invoice.” Her eyes sparkled. “Keep in mind, Pokey isn’t your informant anymore. Spirits aren’t employees. I can’t guarantee you he’ll do what you ask and relay the information back to me.”
“They murdered him, Heather. He wanted me to contact you so he could help me get justice.”
“Get justice or get even?”
Heather’s stare bored into him, but he resisted the urge to squirm. “Justice.” He added, unable to lie to her, “Getting even will just be a perk.”
Her brow quirked, but she didn’t fight him any further. Heather got up and lit a small bundle of sage. Taking her seat again, she crossed her legs and closed her eyes as she drew in a long, slow breath. Her back straightened, and she slowly opened her eyes.
“He’s with us.”
Agent Bale’s pulse raced. “I have an address of the place we’re going to meet the Serpent Society members.”
She nodded, her gaze distant, staring into a world he couldn’t see. “He doesn’t need the address. He’s seen them preparing.” She paused, wetting her lips. “Pokey says they have the Grail but not in the place you’re meeting.”
“It’s a trap, then.”
Agent Bale frowned. “How so?”
Heather’s eyes met his, her focus back inside the confines of her living room. “They took the Grail from the sellers. They want to know who else was trying to buy it and why.”
Agent Bale rubbed his chin. Could the Serpent Society suspect the Grail’s previous owners were now immortal? He couldn’t ask that question without revealing too much to the medium.
He cleared his throat. “Does Pokey know if these men have already taken a sip?”
“How is it possible that even they don’t know where it is?”
Heather sighed. “He’s not coming through clearly.” Her gaze went distant again as she whispered, “Two identical boxes. Always on the move.” She rubbed her forehead. “I lost him.” She lifted her gaze. “Sorry, David. I’ll let you know if I connect with him later.”
He leaned back on the couch, his mind chewing on the new information. “At least they haven’t taken a drink.”
Her ice-blue eyes locked on his. “Be careful tonight.”
David nodded, his mind already working through possible scenarios for the meeting. “I’m always careful.”
She shook her head as she got to her feet. “Those herbs you keep in your pocket won’t heal you forever.”
He went to the door. “Maybe not, but they’ll get me through tonight.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Don’t forget your invoice.”
On the way back to his car, he checked his email on his phone, scanning the senders for Kingsley. Nothing. Agent Bale frowned.
Next problem. What was the historian hiding?
Charlotte left the newspaper archives convinced that Keegan must’ve been Rachel Darby’s anonymous benefactor. Most girls didn’t get to attend college back then, even when they came from good families.
An orphan girl attending Wesleyan Female College, as it was known in the 1800s, was definitely a news story, and the mystery of her tuition money made the article even more enticing.
But the story itself didn’t give her much to go on. The girl was grateful and graduated with a liberal arts degree. There were no other mentions of Rachel Darby in the archives. Dead end.
Instead of driving to her mother’s house, she headed for River Street. Plenty of tourists filled the sidewalk along the Savannah River. After she found a parking spot, Charlotte headed toward the large sails in the distance. The Sea Dog.
She nearly turned back twice, but the concern in her mother’s voice pushed her onward. It seemed impossible, but what if her poking around to help Agent Bale really did lead the Serpent Society to her door? She didn’t have children or a spouse, and no real friends to speak of.
Her only weak spot would be her mother.
Crazy. Her mom probably just needed money for the electric bill again and couldn’t take a rain check on dinner for fear they’d turn off her power.
But she could’ve asked for money over the phone.
She flinched, freezing as she looked up at the ship. “Colton?”
“Aye!” he shouted from the deck. “What are you doing here?”
“Can I come on board?” Asking to come on board a ship was something she’d never imagined she’d say. Acid bubbled in her stomach.
“Come on up.” He crossed to the opening on the deck and removed the chain across the gangplank.
Charlotte forced herself to move. When she’d visited before, it had been dark, and Keegan had hustled her aboard with his gun drawn. No time to think and no light to see the water below.
After a couple of tentative steps, Colton took her hand and helped her onto the deck. “Welcome aboard.”
“Thanks.” She glanced around and back up to Colton. “Any idea where I can find Keegan?”
He raised a brow. “You don’t have his number? I thought you two were—”
“No. We didn’t exchange numbers.”
Colton patted his pockets and cursed under his breath. “Damn phone. Bane of this era.”
Another man came up the stairs from the lower deck. He was taller than Charlotte but a couple of inches shorter than Colton. His dark hair was slicked back and a little long, just past his collar.
His brown eyes met hers, and a smile curved his lips as he approached. “You must be our historian.” He offered his hand.
She shook it slowly, cataloging his features. “You’re part of the Sea Dog crew?”
“John Smyth at your service.” He tipped his head.
Her pulse raced. This was the boatswain. In her research, the Sea Dog had no trouble recruiting crew because their boatswain had a reputation for honesty among pirates. He was known for being fair and making sure every man got his cut from every boon.
She released his hand. “Sorry. I’ve spent my life researching the privateers in this area. Meeting you in person is…amazing.”
He chuckled, then looked at Colton. “I’ll help the historian so you can finish tying the ship down for the night and get home.”
“Thanks, John.” Colton focused on Charlotte. “Good to see you again.”
He walked away, and she turned to John. “I need Keegan’s phone number.”
He smiled but didn’t reach for his cell phone. “What would you like to know about our ship’s pilot?”
She raised a brow. “I just need to call him.”
“You like learning about the past, right?” John’s expression sobered. “I was hoping you might have done some digging into the past today.”
She raised a brow. “Into what exactly? My part in this is helping to find the Grail.”
“All well and good, but my mate Keegan has taken a shine to you, and that could be dangerous for him. It’s my job to look after the crew.”
Charlotte rested a fist on her hip. “Are you saying I’m a danger to Keegan?”
“No.” He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone. “But he’s a mite older than you, lass, and if we get that cup, he’s likely to continue sailing the seas long after you’re gone.” His gaze locked on hers. “And that can be dangerous.”
Charlotte groaned, dropping her hand to her side. “I don’t have time for riddles. Either tell me to back off or give me his number. I need to talk to him.”
John scrolled through his phone. “We almost lost our pilot to madness once. I can’t let that happen again.”
Charlotte frowned. What was with this guy? Then his comment about digging into the past clicked. “Does this have to do with Rachel Darby?”
His head snapped up. “You did get the records.”
“Yeah, a courier left them on my desk this morning.” Charlotte crossed her arms. “Mind telling me what the hell is going on?”
John sighed. “I sent the courier from my office. Keegan told me you’re intelligent. I figured you would find what you needed to, and I’ll get the file back to the diocese before they ever realize it was gone.”
Her head was spinning, desperate for some logical explanation. “The diocese doesn’t allow anyone to see the records unless the request is from one of the children who lived there.”
“That’s why I stole them, lass.” He winked. “We’re still pirates, remember?”
Charlotte rubbed her forehead. “Why steal the records and give them to me? You obviously know where I work. You could’ve just come in and told me about the girl from Keegan’s past.”
“I made a promise to him that I would never speak her name again, and my word is my bond.”
“Was Rachel Darby his daughter?”
“No.” John shook his head. “But he loved her and her mother. When yellow fever took her mother, Samuel went mad with grief. Imagine wanting to die, to end the pain, and having no means to do it.” John stared out at the water. “Decades went by before his head cleared.”
“If immortality is such torture, why is he so eager to take another sip from the cup?”
“Because he is loyal to his crew to a fault.” John cleared his throat. “I wanted you to understand why I need you to stay away from him. Love destroyed him once. He wouldn’t survive again.”
She stared into the twilight sky. This was why he freaked out after they had sex. That’s all it could be for him. Just sex. No emotional attachments. Anything more risked his sanity.
Charlotte focused on John again. “Skye told me Colton’s not going to drink this time. He’ll age, and someday, he’ll die.”
John nodded. “And our pilot is already grieving him like he’s six feet under.” He sighed. “Please, lass. Finish your work and walk away.”
“I’m not in love with Keegan.” She crossed her arms.
His knowing gaze bore into her. “It’s not you I’m worried about.”