NO GREATER TREASURE

SAMPLE CHAPTER

CHAPTER ONE

Thursday, October 28, 1886

Kacey felt the excitement in the air. Even the grey misty fog that hung low over the water could not dampen the spirit of the day. New York harbor was literally filled with boats and paddle steamers such as the one she and her father were on. The Jubilee was a grand steamer with its decorative gingerbread trim and Kacey delighted in the gala atmosphere penetrating the fog. Children laughed and played around their mother’s skirts while adults seemed to be suspended in time as they awaited the dedication of the great Statue of Liberty. The copper lady had been too long in storage. She was ready to breath the salty air of the Atlantic, ready to welcome the weary voyager from the sea, ready to stand as the icon of freedom.

“Father, I’m so glad that we can be a part of this day. This is a perfect spot if only the fog would clear for more than a few minutes at a time. I caught a glimpse of her just a moment ago, and she’s magnificent.” Kacey marveled at the colossal height of the statue. She changed positions on the wooden seat that flanked the steamer’s railing to ease closer to her father.

Colin O’Reilly looked at his daughter and felt pride in the knowledge that he sat next to her. At twenty-two she was as lovely as her mother had been, but especially so today in her royal blue suit. The deep color accentuated the violet in her eyes as they sparkled with exhilaration while the coppery highlights of her upswept hair shone beneath the stylish hat.

Colin made to remove something from his eye with his free hand as he cleared his throat to speak. “Yes, yes, dear. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I only wish…well, that your mother could have seen it too. You know how she loved pomp and circumstance,” Colin’s voice trailed away as if he were transported momentarily to another time.

Kacey, whose full name was Katherine Colleen, was devoted to her father and she did not miss the sadness in his voice now. If only her mother had not died…, but she had and Kacey was determined not to leave her father. She would always take care of him, her hand tightened on his arm as she reaffirmed her goal.

Rafael Assante, a young Frenchman also awaiting the dedication ceremony, leaned on the railing of the Jubilee. For diversion he lazily turned to face the multitude of strangers and his attention was immediately taken by a young woman sitting with her arm wound around an older man’s elbow. His lips curled at the picture the attractive young woman and the older man made. So the old fellow had a mistress, he thought. Well, Well, and what a lovely creature at that. Rafe continued to stare until suddenly, violet eyes gazed back. His eyes seemed to lock with hers, each unable to look away. Struck by the disdain he saw in the depths of the young woman’s eyes, his appraisal of her took a swift turn. Bas bleu, he knew the type well and he usually avoided them like the plague. Blue stocking was the old English term, literary and stuffy. He much preffered the sweet, willing type, and this one neither appeared sweet nor willing. As a matter of fact, from the look she gave him he could almost feel the tar and feathers.

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Through the misting drizzle Kacey had gazed idly around the steamer’s deck filled with people. Then her eyes came to rest on a young man who seemed to be earnestly returning her attention. Normally she paid little interest to bold men who seemed to stare at her, but this man who wore a brown tweed suit and bowler hat seemed to be darkly amused. However, as soon as she realized how she was staring at the arrogant stranger, she quickly turned her head and removed her hand from her father’s arm. She seldom fidgeted, but for some reason the scrutiny of the man left her annoyed. She absentmindedly removed her gloves and placed them in her lap, once more casting a casual glance toward the stranger. She was appalled to see him coming toward her. Quickly, she turned her gaze to the harbour. Overhead, a seagull’s piercing cry rang out like a hawk that had spotted its prey.

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Rafe looked again at the older man beside the young woman. Of course, he thought he recognized him. That was Professor O’Reilly, his former archaeology instructor. A glimmer of wickedness filled his eyes as the muscle in his jaw twitched. Not forgetting the contempt which the girl seemed to hold for him, Rafe walked toward the couple and came within inches of the lady but addressed the man beside her, “Bonjour, Professor O’Reilly, this is a great occasion for both our countries, n’est-ce pas?”

Colin looked at Rafe and nodded. “Why, hello, Rafe. I thought you had returned to France when classes ended?”

“Not yet, monsieur. I wanted to see more of this country before I returned to France, and I could not miss this spectacular event.” Rafe momentarily moved his gaze to the flesh and blood woman seated beside the professor.

“Yes, yes. I know what you mean. That lady will stand in this harbour for centuries to come as a beacon to free men everywhere.” Rafe’s reaction to Kacey did not escape Colin, and a smile crossed his lips. He remembered the young chap’s reputation with the fairer sex around campus. Quite a string of young ladies’ hearts were broken. He deserved to be introduced to his daughter. Kacey was a dear to him and treated him with great care, but where young admirers were concerned, her tongue was as sharp as a scalpel. Colin’s eyes sparkled as he decided to play the devil’s advocate. He mischievously eyed his daughter as he spoke, “Rafe, this is my daughter, Katherine, but I’m sure she won’t mind your calling her Kacey, all her friends do.”

Rafe offered his hand to Kacey. “Bonjour, Mademoiselle Kacey.” The challenge in his mahogany eyes waved to her like a red flag.

Kacey reluctantly lifted her hand to reciprocate, but she was suprised when the young Frenchman firmly clasped her palm and quickly brought his lips to touch the back of her gloveless hand. His kiss on her skin was startling. The unwelcome caress left her with a warmth that rushed unwanted to her face and the unfamiliar heat annoyed her. But for her father’s sake, Kacey controlled her temper. She would try to be civil to the arrogant rogue. After all, it was only for a little while. She swiftly returned the branded hand to her lap.

Kacey’s anger was not lost on her father who seemed to enjoy the display. For further entertainment Colin continued, “Rafe, won’t you join us for dinner tonight? That is, if you are available?”

Kacey interrupted, “But Father, I’m sure Monsieur…,” she paused while Rafe filled the blank for her.

“Assante, mademoiselle, but please call me Rafe.”

The young man’s voice held an annoying quality for Kacey. He seemed so smooth, so suave, too much so. She continued to speak as she looked into his eyes and lifted her chin even higher, “I’m sure Monsieur Assante has plans for this evening, Father.”

But Colin remained undaunted. “Well, Rafe, do you have plans for dinner?”

Au contraire, monsieur, I would like very much to dine with you and mademoiselle.” Rafe felt honored by the invitation from Professor O’Reilly. He truly admired the professor and had learned much from him in his studies at Harvard. However, he had no idea the professor had a daughter. The situation intrigued him.

“Good, then you’ll join us at the Albermarle Hotel at six. Do you know where it’s located?” Colin felt pleased with himself. He rather liked the young fellow and looked forward to a stimulating evening.

Oui, monsieur. What a coincidence, that is where I am staying,” as he spoke Rafe’s eyes once again drifted toward Kacey and slowly surveyed the soft curves of her breasts that were enhanced by the fitted bodice. His gaze then trailed to the patrician lines of her creamy neck before returning to the professor.

Kacey did not miss the insolent perusal by the rakish man. Her blood simmered at the outright rudeness of him and in retaliation she lifted her chin even higher, if that were possible, and refused to look at the Frenchman. However, she declined to let him ruin her joy of the day and tried to bring the conversation back to the ceremony.

“Oh, Father, look through the opening in the fog, they are removing the veiling from her eyes.”

Colin followed his daughter’s gaze and looked at the colossal statue that was about to be officially unveiled. He thought of his Irish parents who had come to America and all the others who had fought hardships and oppression to start a new life. He felt a deep gratitude to the people of France for the gift and did not miss the opportunity to thank the young Frenchman still standing beside him.

“You know, Rafe, your people have presented us a remarkable gift. Such generosity touches me and I hope our countries will always be friends.”

Rafe beamed with intense pleasure. “Merci beaucoup, Professor O’Reilly. You have nothing to worry about, I think we shall be friends for a long time to come.”

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Kacey reveled in the luxurious warm bath. The rose-perfumed water trailed down her back and chest as she squeezed it from the washcloth. She had secured her lengthy titian tresses into a coil on top of her head so that she could slide lower into the tub without getting her hair wet. And she did just that trying to shut out the face of an arrogant young Frenchman who had upset her day. But now she had to face him over dinner. She had to admit the man was handsome. But what seemed to annoy Kacey more than anything was his arrogant stance and the way his head tilted when he looked at her with those laughing dark eyes. Why couldn’t she get him off her mind? After tonight that should be no trouble. She would make a point never to see him again. The thought seemed to calm Kacey and she reached for the thick white towel that lay on the table beside the tub. She stood and wrapped herself in the cotton folds as she stepped onto the plush red carpet.

The bath had revived Kacey and she felt she was ready to face anything the arrogant Frenchman could dispense from his expression or his tongue. She laid the towel on the side of the enameled tub and slipped her arms into a dressing gown of white lawn before she moved into her bedchamber to dress. She had brought two ensembles. One was a pale yellow velvet with a high-necked blouse of cream voile, and the other was a cinnamon woolen suit that almost matched the color of her hair. She decided on the yellow velvet and walked to the dressing table to brush and arrange her long tresses. After once more piling the curls into an attractive style, Kacey dusted her body with a delicately scented powder and donned the yellow frock. She then took a last minute look at her reflection before she joined her father in the sitting room. Her cheeks seemed paler than usual and she did not want the Monsieur Assante to think that she was pale and near the swooning point on his account. With more vigor than was needed she pinched each cheek then nodded her head as if to assure the looking-glass girl that she had done well.

The hotel suite that Kacey and her father occupied for the evening was opulent and she delighted in its grandeur. Elegant Norman lace covered the massive windows that framed Central Park in the distance where horse-drawn carriages could be seen sporting New York’s elite. For the past fifteen years Kacey’s father had taught archaeology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their home was adequate and comfortable, but it lacked the opulence of the suite they now occupied. And even though Kacey enjoyed the elegance from time to time, she preferred the cozy home that she and her father shared. As a professor he was not a rich man, but in the summers she accompanied him on many invitations to dig sites. What their lifestyle lacked in elegance was made up for in excitement.

Kacey still missed her mother, even though she had died twelve years earlier from a flu epidemic that swept the east coast. And as she did many times, she recalled her smiling face. She could almost feel the warm hug her mother would always give to her when she was a little girl. This evening, especially, she felt she needed her mother’s warm embrace. Her pulse raced at the thought of facing the arrogant Frenchman over dinner.

She took a deep breath and gained strength from knowing that her mother would be very proud of her recent graduation from the women’s affiliate of Harvard, the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. But, darkly amused, she couldn’t recall a course that taught her to deal with arrogant strangers that made one’s veins prickle from a mere glance? She was on her own.

Kacey’s long skirt rustled as she glided into the room where her father lightly dozed as he waited for her to ready herself for their dinner engagement. She nudged him gently.

“Father, I’m ready. Are you sure you feel like going?”

Colin smiled to himself at how Kacey fussed and fumed over him like a small puppy. He appreciated that she was so devoted to him but he also wanted her to go out more with people her own age. That was one reason he was looking forward to dining with Rafe. Rafe was the sort of chap who could turn a lady’s head and damnit all, Kacey’s head needed to be turned. He valued Kacey’s happiness above all else, but he was looking forward to grandchildren, too. Kacey was a good archaeologist but he wanted her to share with the right man what he had shared with her mother. And if she stayed on the course that she now traveled she would remain a spinster. There would be no grandchildren for him to enjoy in his old age. The idea did not appeal to him. He smiled at his daughter. “You look lovely dear. And of course I feel like going. Can’t a man take a leisurely nap before dinner without everyone thinking him about to kick the bucket?”

“Yes, Father. Of course you can,” Kacey said with mock contrition as she picked up her gloves from the entry table, “It’s just that I know how hard you push yourself sometimes and I worry about you.”

“Well don’t, darling. Save your worrying for the man you’ll marry someday.” Colin stood from the stuffed velvet chair to join his daughter.

“Now, Father, don’t start. You know I’m never going to marry. You are the only man in my life. Besides, you couldn’t get along without me,” Kacey said with a loving smugness in her voice as she pulled on her gloves before turning to assist her father with his dinner jacket.

“You are probably right, dear. Don’t pay any attention to this old relic.” Colin patronizingly put his arm around his daughter’s shoulder and led her out the door toward the hotel’s dining room.

Kacey felt a strange exhiliration when she and her father entered the hotel lobby. She straightened herself to her full five-foot-five, and with regal grace stood beside him as she saw Rafe coming towards them. This time she had on her gloves and she smiled to herself as she mused, let’s see what he will do about that.

Colin addressed the young man while he offered his hand in friendship, “Good evening, Rafe.”

Bonsoir, professor.” Rafe shook hands with the older man before turning to Kacey with a look of lazy amusement in his smile. “Bonsoir, mademoiselle.” He once more reached for her hand and brought his lips to the unfeeling material of her glove.

Kacey was very much aware of his masculine charm that put her feminine defenses on alert. His hair was too black and his eyes too dark. For an instant she felt as though he were the hunter and she was the hunted. Ridiculously, she pictured herself wrapped in his arms, his lips pressed against hers. To her dismay the vision was not as repugnant as she tried to convince herself. Mentally she shook herself and quickly regained her composure before she said, “Good evening, Monsieur Assante. I trust you have had an enjoyable day?”

Au Oui, mademoiselle, a most enjoyable day. I have been in the company of two most exquisite ladies. Certainly, a memory that I can take back to France with me.”

His voice, deep and sensual, sent a ripple of awareness through her. “And when will that be, monsieur?” Kacey felt it could not be soon enough.

Colin broke into the conversation before Rafe could reply, “I believe our table is ready, and I don’t know about you two but I am famished.” He touched his daughter’s elbow and escorted her into the dining room partially filled with people.

Rafe had followed and pulled out a chair for Kacey.

“Thank you,” she acknowledged as she gathered the long folds of her skirt to one side and seated herself.

The two men also sat down, and shortly a waiter arrived to take their orders. When he disappeared into the kitchen Colin began the conversation.

“So Rafe, when do you have to return to France?”

“Monsieur, I am sorry to say that my father is ill and I am leaving by steamer tomorrow morning to return home,” his voice seemed husky with regret.

“That’s too bad. I’m sorry about your father and I’m sorry you are leaving so soon. I would have liked to spend more time discussing your future as an archaeologist. You know, there’s nothing else like it. The thrill of making a great discovery is something that we all dream of but only a few live to see. And with the digs going on right now in South America and Egypt the possibilities are absolutely endless. I hope your father is much better by the time you get back to France,” Colin said.

Rafe nodded his head at the kindness in the professor’s voice and replied, “Merci, I’m sure he will be.”

The waiter brought the food and poured French wine into elegant stemmed crystal. Kacey sat across from her father and Rafe was seated next to her. She could not deny that she was very much aware of his nearness, and although she was truly sorry about his father, she was glad that he was returning to France. She absentmindedly reached for the glass of wine and sipped its soothing nectar.

Colin noticed that his standoffish daughter was drinking more wine than usual and he could not help the smile that formed on his lips. He ate his meal with enthusiasm then said, “You know, Rafe, I would like to keep in touch with you and learn of your father’s health. Post a letter when you get to France and let us know how things are going. And I can keep you updated on what’s happening here in archaeology. Kacey has always accompanied me on digs. She is quite an accomplished archaeologist herself.”

Rafe spoke in a tone filled with awe, “I am impressed that such a femme fatale is so…talented in matters of the mind. How very intriguing.” His dark eyes bore into Kacey’s own.

She did not miss the patronizing tone of the man’s voice, and she shot him a withering gaze. “Why Monsieur Assante, are you saying that intelligent women should not be beautiful as well? Or are you amazed that any woman has any intelligence?”

Rafe took in the quick flutter of silky dark lashes and the sparks that flew from violet eyes, now a shade darker than before. His eyes grew openly amused before he burst out laughing.

Colin joined him with a chuckle.

Once more Kacey felt the man’s conceit to be too much. She forced a laugh to cover her own growing irritation as she reached again for her wine goblet to finish off its remnants. The waiter was quickly there to pour more of the red liquid into her glass. Kacey knew she had already had enough of the wine but she took another sip and pressed Rafe for a reply. “So, monsieur, are you afraid to answer my question?”

Rafe’s lighthearted laughter had weakened to a grin. He raised his goblet in toast to Kacey. “As we say in France, mademoiselle, touche.”

She felt deep satisfaction at having outwitted the witty Monsieur Assante. Her eyebrows rose in amazement that he conceded the verbal banter, and her lips widened into a smile as she reached for her fork and took a bite of the roast duck. She felt much better, but that was short-lived as she heard the Frenchman speak.

“Professor, I have hired a carriage to ride through Central Park. I hope you and Mademoiselle Kacey will join me later as this is my last night in New York?”

“Why certainly, that sounds like a rather enjoyable evening. We didn’t have anything planned did we, dear?” Colin asked, knowing full well they didn’t.

“Well, no Father, not tonight. But we do have theatre tickets for tomorrow evening.”

“Yes, yes, my dear, I haven’t forgotten. Sarah Bernhardt will be appearing. Have you seen the lovely Miss Bernhardt, Rafe?” Not waiting for Rafe to reply, Colin answered his own question, “But of course you have, she is an exquisitely delicate creature and captivates her audience.” Then as if to get himself back on track, Colin added as he retrieved his pocket watch from its niche inside his coat, “What time should we expect the carriage, Rafe? It’s nearly seven-thirty now.”

“Eight o’clock, monsieur.”

“We had better hurry then, I have to go back to our suite and what about you Kacey?” Colin asked.

Kacey fumbled for something to say. “Why, uh yes, I need to pick up a wrap, the night air will be chilly,” she said, rising from the chair.

The two men also stood, then Rafe flashed a smile and bowed his head in acknowledgment. “I will wait in the lobby for you then.”

Kacey thought the Frenchman looked rather like the cat who was about to swallow the mouse. She had reservations about going for a ride with him, but what could it hurt? Her father would be along. She had no desire to be alone with the man and besides, after tonight she would never see him again. With these thoughts she made her way along beside her father to their suite. When she had retrieved her cloak she and her father left to meet Rafe in the lobby.

He was waiting for them as he had said, and the three went out the door to find the victoria parked at the curb awaiting their arrival. Rafe assisted Kacey into the carriage and turned to do the same for the professor. However, Colin’s expression held a disturbed quality as he said, “Gads, I just remembered I have some important papers to go over tonight. I’m sorry Rafe, but I will have to decline your offer.”

At his words Kacey had stood again but Colin shook his head and motioned for his daughter to be seated again as he said, “Now dear, you go ahead and enjoy the ride. I don’t know how those papers could have slipped my mind but there’s no reason for you not to go.”

Kacey felt appalled and trapped at the same time. She sputtered, “But Father, I don’t have to go if you’re not going. Perhaps Monsieur Assante, would rather ask someone else. I’m sure he was looking forward to your company,” she said as a last resort.

Rafe employed a mock look of hurt on his face while his eyes held challenge. “Mademoiselle, I am wounded. You do not want to ride with me?”

He was laughing at her and Kacey knew it. Her blood raced, not from his dark good looks, but because she could never bypass an outright dare, especially from conceited males. Kacey threw caution to the wind.

“Why, monsieur, of course I’d love to go. I merely thought that perhaps you would prefer to ask er… someone else.”

Rafe’s smile was as intimate as a kiss. “Au contraire, mademoiselle, I would be honored to be in the company of one so lovely as you.” Then he turned to Colin and extended his hand. “I understand, professor. And if I don’t see you before I leave, I’ll be in touch with you when I get back to France. I’ll bring your daughter back safely, monsieur. Au Revoir.”

Colin shook Rafe’s proffered hand. “I know you will Rafe, and I’ll keep you posted. Goodbye, lad.” Colin looked at Kacey. “Enjoy the ride, dear.” He knew her well and by now she was seething with fury. He also knew she would get over it. He turned and walked toward the entrance to the hotel.

Rafe seated himself beside Kacey in the victoria and motioned for the driver to go ahead. He did not attempt to move closer to Kacey but instead began conversation, “I trust you are comfortable, mademoiselle…may I call you Kacey?”

“If you feel you must, monsieur.” Kacey knew the words sounded tart as soon as they pealed from her lips. She tried to relax as she sat stiffly in the corner of the carriage. She knew she was being ridiculous. She was not some schoolgirl who swooned at every handsome male who crossed her path.

“Yes, I must. And I would like for you to call me Rafe. Would it be so difficult for you?”

“Monsieur, I see no reason to call you by your first name since you will be returning to France tomorrow and I probably will never see you again. So if we can just get on with the ride I would be most happy.” Kacey was appalled at her own words. She was not normally this short with anyone. Rafe Assante definitely brought out the worst in her, she thought.

Kacey’s words fired Rafe but he fought to keep his emotions under control. The shrew has a tongue like a blade. She needs to be taught a lesson.

Oui, mademoiselle, we will get on with the ride, as you put it.” At Rafe’s words he motioned for the driver to speed up. The quick lurch of the horses bounced Kacey toward the middle of the seat and when she landed she suddenly found herself in the arms of Rafael Assante. She struggled inwardly against the strength and warmth of his embrace. Something inside her wanted to stay in the fold of his arms, but another force inside her resisted the man’s masculine appeal. She wanted no part of an attachment now and she did not yield to her traitorous body.

She fought against the material of his suit and his rock hard strength and knew even before she felt seering lips that he was going to kiss her. Once again, just for an instant, her body grew weak and melted into his arms before realization dawned on her. His lips crushed against hers and an unfamiliar feeling formed in the pit of her stomach where remnants of emotion seemed to gather and arrange the muscles of her abdomen into a hugh knot. She was swimming through a haze of feelings and desires previously unknown to her, but rationale won over and Kacey pushed Rafe away.

He was the first to speak. “Au, cherie, so the cool Mademoiselle O’Reilly does have feelings after all, n’est-ce pas?”

Kacey was glad of the semi-darkness that hid the flush in her cheeks. However, the humility she was feeling was overcome by a much stronger emotion that filled her being. She tried to mask her confusion by lashing out at Rafe. “Why you, you… scoundrel, how dare you? Wait until my father hears of your outrageous behavior.”

Rafe pretended innocence. “Why, mademoiselle, you practically threw yourself at me. You see I am on my side of the carriage.” His tone changed to a low, husky pitch as he leaned close to her ear and added, “You won’t tell your father about this, cherie, you enjoyed it as much as I did.”

“You’re very sure of yourself aren’t you, monsieur? What would you say if I told you that I think you are despicable?”    “I’d say you are treading on dangerous territory, cherie. I think your lips said otherwise a moment ago.”

The threat in his voice made Kacey’s heart race even faster.

“Monsieur, you’re no gentleman. Take me back to the hotel this instant.”

“You are right, cherie, I am no gentleman, and I don’t usually let spoiled females dictate what I should do. But I will do as you say. I’ve never been one to force my attentions on a lady. Shall we say I’ve never had to.” Rafe leaned forward and gave instructions to the driver to turn the carriage around then settled back against the leather seat.

The arrogance of the man irritated Kacey beyond reason and she seemed to have no control of her tongue. “Oh, I have no doubt as to your prowess with women, monsieur. It’s just that you got hold of the wrong person this time. You should learn to better pick your…ladies in the future.”

Rafe’s voice hardened ruthlessly as he looked at Kacey. “I assure you, mademoiselle, I won’t make the same mistake again.”

The edge to his voice caused Kacey to glance his way as the victoria passed under a street light. She was stopped short by the threat she saw in his hooded eyes. Neither did she miss the passion that burned there. She sat back in her seat and silently continued the remainder of the drive back to her hotel with the arrogant Rafael Assante, whom she hoped to never see again.

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