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A Map To Destiny by Ellis, Nicole (1)

1

“You’re all set.” Laney Lindstrom pushed a pile of books across the counter to an elderly woman. She held up the printed receipt. “Do you want me to stick this in a book to help you remember the due dates?”

The woman nodded. “Thank you, dear. And remember, if that new Norah Lee mystery comes in, I want it first—before Millie Dean gets her grubby hands on it.”

Laney tried to hide a smile. “I’ll try to grab it before it goes out on the shelves. Have a nice day, Mrs. Andersen.”

The woman placed her books in a collapsible, metal rolling cart and wheeled them out of the library. Laney glanced at the clock. Almost noon. Her skin itched in anticipation of lunchtime. The last few minutes seemed to drag on forever, but when the clock struck noon, Laney waved at her coworker, grabbed her lunch from her office, and slipped downstairs to the basement.

The main area of the library hummed with patrons selecting books, studying and chatting with the librarians. But down here in the archives, everything was still. She gobbled an apple, followed by a ham and cheese sandwich, then washed her hands and walked over to the bookshelf where she’d stashed the latest acquisition to the library’s local history collection. She’d majored in anthropology in college, with a specialization in the colonization of Florida. As a librarian in the small town of Fortune’s Bay, Florida, she was able to continue studying what she loved.

She sniffed the air in appreciation. Her sister Becki might think she was crazy, but she’d always loved the slightly musty odor of old books. There it was. A History of Southwest Florida. The library owned numerous histories of the area, but this one was different. This book, rather more like a journal, was a firsthand account, written by an early settler to the area. She removed the tome from the shelf and sat down with it at the long table that stretched along the back wall of the basement. Running her fingers over the book’s aged spine, she opened it and started reading.

Her lunch break was almost over when she came across something that made her pause. The settler had described discovering the remains of a shipwreck off Agre Island while sponge diving. Excitement welled up in her chest. As far as she knew, there weren’t any known shipwrecks in that area.

The metal legs of the chair screeched across the cracked linoleum floor as she shoved it back from the table. She walked purposefully over to the reference materials they kept in the basement and grabbed a book off the shelf about local shipwrecks. She thumbed through it, finding the page she was searching for at the back. The map showed no known shipwrecks near Agre Island, a small island just offshore, a few miles north of Fortune’s Bay. The place it should be was now in state-owned waters.

How was it possible that there could be a shipwreck so nearby that was virtually undiscovered? Was the settler telling the truth? Could he have found something back in the early 1900s that no one had located since?

Chartering a boat to go out there would be expensive and she didn’t have funds to spare for a wild goose chase. But how else could she determine if this was real or not? If it was, it could be the biggest find of her life. This was what she’d always dreamed of in school, but had never thought would ever happen—to be a part of history.

She stared at the book on shipwrecks, flipping idly past the map to the back page. A man with a heavy beard, that disguised his most of his features, smiled back at her, his rakish grin giving him a pirate-like appearance. His biography caught her eye. He was a professor at the same college she’d attended in Ambright but must have started teaching there after she graduated. She was pretty sure she would have remembered him as a professor in the Anthropology Department. He was noted as a prominent scholar of shipwrecks in the area—after all, he had written the book on them.

With trembling fingers, she pulled out her phone and tried to search for his name on the internet. Unfortunately, there was no cell signal in the basement. She carefully re-shelved the books and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time in her hurry to get outside where she could obtain a good signal.

“Laney,” her coworker Andrea called out as she flew past the circulation desk, “are you coming back?”

Laney nodded vigorously and held up her phone. “Got to make a phone call,” she shouted over her shoulder. She didn’t wait to hear if Andrea responded.

Under a palm tree at the back of the library, she entered the professor’s name and college in the search engine. The phone number for the Anthropology Department popped up and she tapped it to make the call.

It rang twice and then a woman picked up. In a chipper voice, she said, “Hello, Ambright College Anthropology Department. How may I help you?”

“Hi. I’m calling for Jack LaFlamme.” She held her breath, waiting for the receptionist to respond. If the shipwreck did exist, she was pretty sure it hadn’t been documented, but Jack LaFlamme would know for sure.

“Professor LaFlamme is teaching a class right now, but he should be back in his office soon. May I take a message?” the woman asked pleasantly.

Laney’s stomach dropped. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to her that he wouldn’t be there, waiting patiently for her phone call. Her heart raced with excitement. She didn’t want to wait to talk to him, but it appeared she didn’t have a choice. “Uh, sure. My name is Laney Lindstrom. I’m calling from Fortune’s Bay and I had a question for the professor about a shipwreck from the 1800s off Agre Island. I don’t see it in his book, but I thought he might be aware of it.”

On the other end of the line, she heard a pen scribbling on a notepad.

“Okay. I’ve got that down. What was your phone number?”

Laney gave the woman her number, who assured her that the professor would call her as soon as he was able to do so. After the woman hung up, Laney rested against the rough bark of the palm tree for a moment.

It had to be at least ninety degrees outside—perfect for wearing a bathing suit, but not well-suited for her skirt and pantyhose. Her thick brunette hair hung heavy against her neck in the hot Florida sun, and she wound it up in a bun atop her head, holding it in place with her hand while she considered her options.

If he didn’t call back, what was her next step? This find could be major—if it was real. I’ll give him a day and then I’m going out to Agre Island, she resolved. It wasn’t that far off the coast—she could probably afford to rent or borrow a motorboat for the day and get out there on her own.

With that decided, she walked back toward the library doors. The air-conditioning blasted her as soon as she pushed the door open. Later, she’d be wishing for a sweater, but for now, the cold felt heavenly on her overheated skin.

“Are you okay?” Andrea asked, scanning her face.

Laney pasted on a smile although her insides were in turmoil. “I’m fine. I just had to make a phone call. You know how bad cell phone service is in here.”

Andrea rolled her eyes. “I know. I was talking to my mom yesterday in the break room and the call dropped. I had to spend thirty minutes convincing her that I hadn’t hung up on her.”

Laney nodded. “Ugh. I hope she wasn’t too mad. I’ll take over out here. You can head to lunch.”

“Thanks,” Andrea said. “I’ll be back in an hour, okay?”

“I’ll be here.” Laney glanced at her phone. With any luck, the professor wouldn’t call her back until Andrea had returned from lunch. She didn’t want to risk having such an important phone call ruined by poor cell service.

Her phone remained silent, and by the end of her shift she concluded that he wasn’t going to call her back. Now what? Should she go out to Agre Island on her own, or try calling him again? Spring Break for the local colleges started the next day, so if she didn’t hear from him by then, she had no way to reach the professor, and she’d be out of luck.