When MAYAN SECRETS will be live! at Samhain Publishing.
“Your ten minutes are up.” Tyre kept hold of her wrist and heat seared up her arm as he rubbed his thumb across her pulse. She felt the beating of his heart beneath her palm and pulled back. He was close enough to kiss. Close enough to feel his warmth, the smell of his soap and the kiss of Scotch on his breath.
Tyre leaned in another inch and ran his hand along her arm, both thrilling and terrifying her with his touch. He looked at her lips.
“I don’t think you want me to leave, Professor Twamley. I don’t think my ten minutes are up at all. In fact, I think you’re dying for me to kiss you. What a confused woman you are. One moment you’re terrified of me, the next…”
“You’re very much mistaken.”
“Am I? I don’t think so, but I’ll let it go for now, as I’ve more important business to attend to.”
Tyre turned away and reached for a worn leather satchel lying next to his coat on the couch. He pulled out a package wrapped in cloth and handed it to her.
Without looking, Troya knew, as if the explorer called her name across the centuries. Catherwood’s journal. Rasmussen had it. She sank to the couch and hugged the book to her chest. As she ran her hand across the fabric that encased it, the musty smell called to her, called her into the jungle, amidst the ruins, into the deepest recesses of her imagination.
“Is it real? You’re sure?” Her hands shook, and to her horror, she felt tears pool in her eyes.
“As real as I am.”
“At Uxmal, in the Northern Quadrant, the only area not completely explored. It looks like a dump, but I suspect it’s a small, rather ordinary Post-Classic building, probably a minor temple.”
“I don’t understand. Why would Catherwood have left his journal at the site? How did it survive?”
“Encased like a mummy, boxes within boxes, buried deeply. A few of the pages are burned, as if someone rescued it from a fire. I wasn’t looking for it, trust me. I have, at least for a short while longer, a permit to do some exploratory digging around that building. I decided to go down rather than wide, check out the stratigraphy first. We hit on this the first week. Shovel to metal, you could hear the find across the whole site. Thank God it was early, before the tourists and the guards started nosing around.”
“And you simply took it out of the country? This isn’t yours to keep!”
“I’m not an idiot! Damn, how else will you insult me tonight? Trust me, you’ll understand once you’ve had a chance to read it. You’d do the same thing, I assure you.”
“But it will deteriorate unless a conservator…” She lost her train of thought. All of her youthful fantasies of explorers trudging through deep jungles, of pyramids peeking out of the greenery, of unknown dangers and fascinating treasures—all started with one man—Frederick Catherwood. The artist, who drew and photographed antiquity over a century earlier, defined the mysterious past for several generations. His partner Stephens had written the text, but Catherwood brought it to life. Only a fraction of his work survived, the rest gone, presumed burned in a fire, or lost in the shipwreck that tragically took his life.
No one on the planet knew more about Catherwood than Troya Twamley. Her dissertation on his life and work had earned her a position at Hopkins and spawned a popular series of books for the general public on great explorers. Now Indiana Rasmussen was handing her the Holy Grail.
“May I?” A tear trickled down her cheek. Tyre smiled and inclined his head slightly.
“I didn’t come all this way for a drink. I won’t let you read the whole thing tonight. You’ll have to come to Mexico for that. But you can cop a glance.” He winked and Troya realized he seemed to truly understand what the treasure meant to her.
The cloth wrappings of the book released their musty smell more as she pulled away the layers, exposing a deep green leather casing, stained black over much of its surface.
The binding creaked as she opened the cover to expose a frontispiece sketch of a bearded man, sitting on a camp chair in the middle of a jungle. Troya caught her breath at the self-portrait and ran her palm across the page. An archaic, precise script, the one she knew so well, erased all doubt. She read aloud, and heard her voice crack. “Being the daybook of Frederick A. Catherwood, during his travels in the Yucatan, 1840.”
Troya glanced up at Tyre, who rested his chin in one palm and stared at her.
“I know of no other confirmed self-portrait of him. And I’ve looked, God, how I’ve looked.”
He smiled a bit more widely and nodded. Troya lifted the next leaf and cried out in glee. Her favorite spot in the world, the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal—a quick sketch only, with a few notes underneath and a date. Subsequent pages began the journal in earnest, and Troya began reading, but looked up to find Tyre reaching for the book.
“Your ten minutes are up, Troya.”
“No, please. You don’t understand…”
“I understand perfectly. That’s why I’m here. If you come to Uxmal, you’ll have all the time in the world to study it.” He pulled the book out of her hands and rewrapped it, tucked it into his bag.
He can’t mean this. It’s everything to me. I could call the authorities, Colin would know what to do. The Mexican archaeological service would skin him alive. Unless…unless SinJin Twaine arranged this somehow.
“What if I told the authorities what you’ve done? What you have?”
“And give up your chance to examine it before the Mexican archaeologists? Not likely. This is big, Professor.”
“I can read it here, tell you anything you need to know.” Just don’t take it away from me tonight.
“What did I ask you at the lecture? If I proved that the entrance to Xibalba is at Uxmal? It’s in there.”
“Tell me. I’m begging you.”
Tyre arched a brow. “I think I like the sound of you begging.”
“Knock it off. What’s in there?”
“Sex, torture, demons…the usual stuff.” His eyes flashed in amusement. He thinks you’re a frigid pill.
“You mean ancient rituals? Are you sure?”
“And a few modern ones. Some traditions evidently didn’t die out so easily. Catherwood found a little pagan love fest among the locals.”
“At the place where Earth and Hell meet, he calls it. The rituals of Xibalba. I plan on finding that place.”
“It’s allegorical, surely you realize that? There’s no building, no entrance to the Underworld! Entrance to the Underworld? There’s no Underworld!”
“Are you sure? Your hero believed it existed, in three dimensions, not simply in sculptures and rituals and scrolls.”
“Then he was mad.” As mad as you.
“I intend to find out. You must realize how big this is. Think, Troya.” He sat next to her and grabbed her hand, chilling her nerves again, turning her breath shallow. “Even if we only find a tomb, a sculpture, anything to mark the spot that the Mayans revered as a gateway to hell. Imagine. I’ll share it with you. But you have to help me decipher Catherwood’s ramblings. I’ll need you at the site. Sometimes he’s a bit…”
“Obtuse? Yes, I know. I can’t tell you how many times I read certain passages, only to abandon them. I think it’s because some of the landmarks he used are destroyed. Or if what you say is true, that he thought he found an entrance to Xibalba, perhaps he was actually mad.” No, it didn’t make sense. The man was meticulous, steady as a rock. Perhaps not as precise as his partner, Stephens, when it came to the written word. But his sketches were impeccable.
“You’ll come? Tomorrow?” His tone grew urgent again, and Troya wondered if there was more to his plea than he let on.
“Tomorrow! I’m off to Greece tomorrow. I can’t change everything…” Oh my God, what the hell should I do? “I’m booked, have a villa, a manuscript to finish…on sabbatical…”
“The dig permit runs out in four weeks. You’ll have nearly an entire year in Greece. You won’t pass this up. You can’t.”
“You don’t even know me.” But he knows what this journal means to me. And that’s more than Mike understood after three years of living with me.
“You’ll come. We’re at the Hacienda Uxmal, across the road from the site. You know the place, of course.” Tyre slung his satchel over his shoulder, picked up his coat and headed for the door.
Panic swept through Troya. Don’t leave! She was simply desperate to see more of the journal, not the man, she told herself. But now they seem inexorably linked, exerting the same irresistible pull. I want more.