Authors: Elizabeth Hunter
A Hidden Fire
An Elemental Mystery
By Elizabeth Hunter
A Hidden Fire
Copyright © 2011
by Elizabeth Hunter
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design: Flash in the Can Productions
Formatted by: Amy Eye
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for teaching me not to wait
To the many friends and family who have helped me to write this book, I would like to express my sincerest thanks.
This book has been a labor of love for so many. Please forgive me if I forget someone. Thanks to my beta readers: Kristy, Kelli, Sarah, Lindsay, Molly, and Sandra. To my editing team: Caroline and Amy, and to the authors and friends that read and gave generous feedback. Thank you all so much.
To all my readers online, who offered so much encouragement and enthusiasm. Thank you for the gift of your time and attention.
To my family, for their encouragement and faith. To my husband and son, in particular, thank you for enduring all the long nights and sleepy mornings. Thanks for the hugs and encouragement when I needed it most.
Any success I have is the result of God’s gracious gifts to me, including the gifts of your love and support.
Thank you all most sincerely.
But the queen cherished the wound in her veins…
and was consumed by the hidden fire.
, Book IV
he man stole down the hallway, his footsteps echoing in the dimly lit basement of the library. He made his way quietly, brushing aside the dark hair that fell into his eyes as he looked down. The security guard turned the corner and approached, his eyes drawn to the tall figure that glided toward him.
The guard cocked his head, trying to see past the hair covering the man’s eyes as he neared him in the flickering service lights.
“Sir, are you looking for the lobby? You’re really not supposed to be down here.”
He did not speak but continued walking directly toward the portly security guard. As he passed the guard, he held out his hand, silently brushing his finger tips along the guard’s forearm before he continued down the hall, around the corner, and up the nearest staircase, never halting in his steady pace.
The guard stilled for a moment before shaking his head. He looked around the passage and wondered why he was in the hallway leading toward the old storage rooms. Checking his watch to see if his break was over, he noticed the second hand seemed to have stopped. He shook his wrist slightly before taking it off and putting it in his pocket.
“Stupid, cheap thing…” he muttered as he turned and headed back toward the break room. In the distance, he thought he heard a door in the stairwell click close.
Waiting in the deserted stacks near the bank of computer terminals on Friday evening, the man read a periodical while he observed the student-study area. His eyes scanned to the left, suddenly alert to the plain, blond girl who took a seat on the edge of the bank of computers. He observed her pull out an economics textbook and sneak a quick sip of her diet soda before she put it back in her bag. The corner of his mouth lifted, pleased by how little attention the girl had drawn from the librarian at the desk and the surrounding students.
He approached, shifting his leather messenger bag so he could sit down at the computer next to her. Taking out his own drink, he smiled politely when the girl glanced at him. He saw her cheeks fill with color as she took in his pale skin, startling green eyes, and dark curls.
“Hello,” he whispered, angling his shoulders toward the student.
“Hi,” she whispered back.
“Are the librarians here strict about having a drink out? I’m new at the university.” He leaned toward her and noticed the scent of her fruity shampoo. He twitched his nose but remained angled toward the young woman as she responded.
“Um…not really near the stacks, but they’re kind of strict by the computers,” she said, her hands twisting in her lap.
When he smiled, she blushed and looked back to her economics textbook which still lay closed on the desk in front of her. She fumbled it open and glanced at his bag, which lay near his feet.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Are you a student here?”
He smiled and whispered back, “I just started some research work at the university.”
“Oh, that’s cool. I’m Hannah. I’m a sophomore…economics.”
“That’s a fascinating subject, Hannah.” He tried to meet her eyes, but she was still looking down at her textbook as she leafed through it.
“Oh,” she laughed. “You don’t have to be nice. I know most people aren’t really that interested in economics.”
“I’m interested in everything,” he said, willing her to look up. When she did, he set his elbow next to her economics textbook and reached over with his right hand, lightly touching her forearm as he spoke. “Are you a good student, Hannah?”
She gazed into his eyes, rapt with attention and unaware of the small hairs all over her body as they lifted, drawn toward the man sitting next to her.
“Yes, I get excellent grades.”
“Why are you here on a Friday night?”
“I don’t have a lot of friends, and boys never ask me out,” she said. “I like to come here so I’m not alone in my dorm room.”
“Do you have time to help me?”
“Yes. I don’t really have any school work I need to finish.”
“Excellent.” The man leaned toward her and murmured in the young woman’s ear. She turned on the computer as he spoke, opening a search engine and typing in the phrases he murmured. He hooked his ankle with hers under the table, letting his pale skin maintain contact as he took notes in a small brown book he drew from his messenger bag. Every now and then he would lean over and whisper further instructions in the girl’s ear.
A little over two hours later, he leaned back in his chair, frowning as he surveyed his notes. He looked at the large clock on the wall opposite him and at his unwitting assistant before he closed his notebook, put it back in his leather bag, and scooted away from Hannah. Keeping one hand on her shoulder and letting his fingers stroke her neck, he whispered in her ear one more time before he straightened and walked swiftly away from the computer terminals.
He kept his head down, striding toward the darkened glass of the lobby and the pressing heat of the September evening. Once he reached the doors, he looked up, and his gaze briefly met a black-haired girl’s before he pushed out into the humid night and left behind the harsh fluorescent lights of Houston University’s main campus library.
He walked down the concrete steps and through the alley of darkened oak trees, taking out his keys as he neared a charcoal grey, vintage Mustang. He unlocked the car, got in, and started the engine, listening with pleasure to the rhythm of the perfectly tuned engine.
Backing out, he flicked the radio knob to the local campus station and rolled the window down as he enjoyed the lick of warm, humid air along his skin.
He sped toward the lights of downtown, bypassing the tall buildings and speeding along Buffalo Bayou as he drove toward the gates of his secluded home. He turned into the short drive before the gate and tapped in the entry code with the end of a stainless steel pen he drew from the chain around his neck.
The Mustang drove forward, winding its way through the dimly lit property. He pulled his car into the brick garage behind his home and walked through the small courtyard between the outbuilding and the main house. He stopped, listening to the burbling fountain and admiring the honeysuckle vine that trailed up the garage wall and suffused the small courtyard with fragrance.
All the lights were on in the kitchen when he entered the house, and he immediately grabbed a pencil on the counter to dim them. He walked up the back stairs to his dark bedroom, disrobing and hanging his clothes in the large closet before he walked down the main stairwell, wrapped only in a large, finely spun towel. As he passed the second floor landing, he was stopped by an accented voice coming from the library.
“Back so soon?”
He turned to look at the older gentleman who was reading in front of the lit fireplace.
“A fire, Caspar?”
The older man shrugged. “I turned the air-conditioning down so it at least felt like fall.”
He chuckled. “Whatever you prefer. And the library was a bit disappointing.”
“Trouble finding an assistant?”
“No, I found a rather good one, in fact. I might meet her again. No, the Lincoln documents were not what I’d hoped.”
The man shrugged his shoulders. “The client isn’t going anywhere.”
“Off for your swim then?”
He nodded and started to move down the stairs again.
“Will you be needing anything tonight?”
He walked up the stairs and back toward the library. “Nothing, thank you.”
“Enjoy the pool. It’s a beautiful night.”
“Enjoy your air-conditioning… and your fire,” he said with a minute smile ghosting his lips.
He heard Caspar chuckle as he continued down the stairs. The man walked through the sitting room and past the breakfast area where Caspar ate in the morning to the French doors leading onto the brick patio.
He folded his towel on the back of a pool chaise and quickly dove into the water, cutting through the green-lit pool with effortless efficiency.
He swam up and down the mirrored rectangle for hours, enjoying the stretch of his lean muscles and the calming buoyancy of the salt water that filled the pool.
When the lights of the secluded yard switched off automatically at two in the morning, he floated on the surface. He hung there for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling of the warm, humid air on his face as his body was supported by the water at his back. Then he dove down, sitting on the bottom of the pool for another hour, looking up as he watched the moon track across the night sky.