Wednesday morning, Lydia stared at the pile of photocopies on her desk, closed her eyes and counted to ten. When she opened them again, the papers were still there. Damn it. One of her first assignments as curator was to inventory the collection and compare it to the official catalog provided by the Kroner estate.

It seemed everyone knew Professor Kroner had gotten a bit dotty in his old age, except her. The man had already been retired by the time Lydia came to SMU, so she’d only met him once at a fundraiser. None of the selection committee who’d hired her had bothered to inform her that the collection might be a little messed up.

Messed up was an understatement. Not only had the old guy created his own unique filing system that she was just beginning to decipher but there were more books and scrolls in the boxes than could be accounted for on the list. So lucky, her, she had to figure out the provenance and value of all the leftovers before she could have the fun of really digging into and studying the manuscripts. She dragged the copies in here so she could work in her own office instead of poring over the originals in one of the conservation labs.

She had a raging stress headache and the cramps weren’t helping. Her period had started this morning, much to her relief. And Galen’s, as expressed by a huge sigh when she’d called him.

But damned if she wasn’t pissed off at him as well. They’d made love twice before he left her apartment Saturday morning. Then he’d stopped by again Saturday night—this time with a big box of jumbo-sized condoms. She’d seen him every single night and they’d gone at it like rabid minks each and every time. They’d also spent hours just talking. She was finally starting to think they had an actual relationship—despite the fact that he’d yet to be seen with her in public, other than on her porch with no one around.

Then that morning she’d woken up spotting. By noon, she was certain—and feeling like crap. But she’d dutifully called his cell, like he’d asked her to. His thanking all the gods was a little over the top in her opinion. It wasn’t like she’d wanted to be pregnant, but did he have to be so openly ecstatic about it? Yeesh!

She shoved the papers aside so she could cross her arms on the desk and lay her head down. She’d taken some ibuprofen a few minutes ago. Surely the world wouldn’t end if she just rested here for a bit until it kicked in. The thought of food made her nauseous so she’d skipped lunch. When a knock sounded on her office door she nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Hey there.” One of the student library pages stood in the doorway with a bundle wrapped in green paper. “These came to the front desk for you.”

Flowers? For her? Stunned, she reached for the bundle, carefully lifting the glass vase from the younger woman’s hand. Her lower lip trembled. They had to be from Galen—no one had ever sent her flowers before in her life. She set the vase on her desk and tore off the wrapping.

“From your boyfriend?”

Lydia glanced at the student’s name badge and smiled wryly. “I’m not sure, Tiffany. Starting to look like maybe he is.” Even if he was an ass sometimes.

Tiffany returned the grin, admiring the tastefully elegant bouquet of yellow roses in a smoked glass vase that Lydia revealed. “Well, I’d say this was a positive step in that direction. He has taste too. Those long-stems aren’t cheap and the vase is gorgeous.” With a bouncy little wave, she walked away, leaving Lydia to read the card and ponder the implications.

“Congratulations on the new job—GF.” A little late for that sentiment but as good an excuse as any to send flowers she supposed. If someone at the desk had read the card, it sure sounded better than “Glad you’re not knocked up.” She inhaled deeply of the roses’ sultry perfume and felt better than she had all day. She even hummed a little as she got back to work on the mystery documents.

By five o’clock, she’d unraveled a few mysteries, but her headache had returned with a vengeance. One of the documents, a scroll, had her so confused she’d gone back into the lab and put the gloves on to study the original. It was in a beautiful gem-studded scroll case that had to be worth a fortune, all on its own. It appeared to be a poem, of sorts, written in an odd dialect of Middle French that she was having more trouble than usual translating. It looked like some kind of poem.

Something about the scroll case caught her eye and she picked it up to examine it more closely. “What the hell?” She touched what looked like a tiny imperfection and the finial on the end of the case shifted—revealing a tiny secret compartment. There was a clatter as a small object dropped onto the table.

She picked up the fallen object—a gold ring. That it was ancient was never for a moment in question. There was something eerily compelling about the serpentine gold carving and the dull gleam of the large cabochon ruby. On closer examination she saw that the stone carried an intaglio carving of a coiled serpent deep in its blood-red depths. The design matched the illuminations on the scroll and the carvings on the case, telling her that the three pieces were indeed part of a set.

What was she supposed to do with this? All the documents and related artifacts were technically the property of the university. But this ring was something above and beyond. It belonged in a museum. One with better security than their little campus showcase.

It was summer and well after the dinner hour, so she knew it would be hard to contact anyone in the English department today. She’d call her boss first thing in the morning and fill him in on the new developments. For now she’d lock the ring back up with the scroll and its case. The library facilities were as secure as anywhere on campus. Then she’d go home and put an icepack on her head and a heating pad on her aching lower back. Maybe she’d have a glass or two of wine as a muscle relaxant.

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