The conference food was as crappy as usual, the talks were boring, and Galen wished desperately to be home. He grabbed a soda out of the machine to take back up to his room at the end of the night, just because he was sick of iced tea and bad coffee. There was a candy machine next to the drink dispenser that made him think of Lydia and her request for a candy bar when he’d presented his open ended offer. Nobody could say she was in the relationship for his money. He’d have fetched champagne and caviar if she’d wanted it. She hadn’t even asked for it to be king-sized.

He was crabby and out of sorts after two days away from her, three without sex. Since he’d gone more than three years before meeting Lydia, it made no sense at all to feel deprived after less than a week. But damn it, he did.

“Hey, Galen, how was that panel on the Crusades?”

Oh shit, it was his department chair. Rawlings was an American historian who wouldn’t know medieval history if it bit him on the ass but he’d gotten invited to speak on a panel at this meeting about department funding of all things. And as department chair he’d been determined to “observe” Galen every second of the trip. No wonder Galen had a blistering headache.

“Hi, Barry. You mean the one on the Children’s Crusade? A little clichéd, not much new information, but it was well put together. The one on Charlemagne was pretty good though. Had slides of a bunch of new archaeological finds.”

“Good, good anything you can use to liven up the freshman classes. Visual aids are always encouraged.” What? Like he had a copy of those slides? Maybe next year the UCLA people would release them for sale but not before then. That was their conference meal ticket for a while. Sometimes he wondered if his boss even knew what words came out of his mouth. The man was good at getting grants and organizing schedules but he was mediocre at best as an academician. Galen mentally shrugged. That’s why the department had elected him chair—it kept him handling the administrative bullshit and let the real scholars teach.

A colleague from another Michigan school walked by and waved at the two men. Brad Hartman was a reasonable sort, about Galen’s own age or a few years older. Galen had done some research with Hartman a couple years ago when the man was a recent divorcee, gloomy and depressed. Tonight Hartman looked anything but. He was sporting a shiny new wedding band and a twenty-something blonde on his arm.

“Disgusting!” Rawlings hissed after Hartman passed by. “She looks more like his daughter than his wife.”

“I’d say that makes him a lucky guy.” Galen forced himself to chuckle.

“Ha! Makes him a horny old idiot.” Rawlings went on to rave about the lack of ethics and integrity in May-December relationships. Galen’s rubber chicken dinner turned to lead in his stomach as he remembered that a few years back Rawlings had been engaged to a younger woman, who had run off with most of his bank account.

If he’d had any doubts about his boss’s reaction to Galen seeing Lydia, now they were laid to rest. Galen’s life in the department would get very awkward indeed if it ever got out that he was involved with a former student.

When Galen got back to his room he ignored the soda. He opted instead for the ten dollar apiece single-shot bottles of whiskey from the mini-bar—all four of them.

Two more days of study and research had gotten Lydia no closer at all to understanding the scroll. She’d set it aside and worked on some of the other uncatalogued documents, quickly accounting for several, and adding others to the official reports. But she couldn’t get the ruby scroll out of her mind. That explained what she was doing in her office on a Sunday afternoon.

She had what looked like a reasonable translation. It was mostly a very old French dialect, with some Middle English and Latin thrown in, making her think a cleric had had something to do with it. Or a traveling minstrel maybe. The words almost made sense if you looked at it as maybe a song or a poem. In some ways it reminded her of the old folk ballad “Scarborough Fair” crossed with the Disney ditty “Bibbety-Bobbety-Boo.”

In fact some of the rhymes began to resonate in her brain, even when she wasn’t reading it. Like a song from the radio you couldn’t get out of your head. The one word she couldn’t translate was “Alcineath.”

She was beginning to think it was a name. If you looked at the scroll right, it might have been a love song about capturing the heart of a maiden by that name. At least she thought the word was some variant of damoisel for maiden. The ancient ink was smudged and blurry in a few places and didn’t always show up well on the copy she was working with.

And then there was the scroll tube and its secret compartment. She still hadn’t figured out what to do about that. Every time she thought about calling her boss and letting him know about the find, something distracted her and she forgot. Now the man was on vacation for the next two weeks. She wished Galen was home to talk to. She could use his logic and level headedness right about now.

She could use something else too. Her period was just about over and her body was objecting loudly to several days of abstinence. How had she gotten so spoiled in such a short time? She and Galen had been together for less than a week if you didn’t count that first frantic session in his office. She shouldn’t be lying awake at night wondering where he was and if he was sleeping alone, while her body ached for him.

It might have helped if he’d called more than once. He had on Thursday, his first night in Milwaukee, just to let he know he’d gotten there and the conference was underway. Mostly, she thought, he’d called to see if she was feeling better. That knowledge was like a warm hug wrapping around her heart. She knew he cared about her he just hadn’t figured out what to do about it yet. She clung to the hope that he eventually would. She didn’t want to contemplate the possibility of her life without Galen in it.

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