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 FaLLEN IDOLS

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Spanish gold, mortal danger, and an attraction hotter than the Texas summer sun…

 

1992 Texas Coast

 

Marine archeologist Arleigh Prescott has new research to pinpoint the final undersea resting place of one of the richest Spanish galleons ever sunk off Texas waters.  But she’ll need the help of treasure hunter Cade Callahan to actually locate it.

 

While Cade is drawn by the allure of Spanish gold, Arleigh wants to see history preserved.  If that basic conflict—and the fiery passion that ignites between them--weren’t enough to complicate the search, modern-day pirates and an ancient curse also stand in their way.  Can they overcome their differences, defeat the pirates, find the treasure--and escape the curse?

Reviews
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Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone. That’s the first thing that popped in my head when I started reading Eve Gaddy’s Fallen Idols. It’s got everything a good romance should contain—a treasure hunt, a sexy boat captain, a strong, determined heroine, modern-day pirates, villains everywhere, and the priceless remains of a sunken ship just off the coast near Port Aransas that could bring either riches or death. This story has a unique cast of characters who are both lovable and diabolical. As I said—everything. And did I mention the sexy boat captain? There is enough steam here to make the ocean rise! If you want a good escape, hop on board and dive in!
 
Lenora Worth, New York Times, USA Today, and

Publishers Weekly Bestselling author 

author of The X-Mas Club

Excerpt from Fallen Idols
Chapter One

1992 Texas Coast

The Mahi Mahi Bar and Grill smelled like every coastal bar Arleigh Prescott had ever been in. Fish, saltwater, beer, and cigarette smoke fought for dominance. Mounted marlin, sailfish, wahoo, and tarpon hung on the walls and the locals lounged in the corners, smoking unfiltered Camels and waiting for tourists to come in asking for charter boat captains.

Which was exactly why she was here. The bartender, a shock of gray hair falling over his brow, his face lined from sun and age, spun a cardboard coaster her way and asked, “What’ll you have?”

“Information,” she said. “And a longneck.”

“I can handle the longneck, but the other depends on the question.”

“I need a treasure hunter. One who knows this area of the gulf, especially the coast. Any recommendations?”

The older man eyed Arleigh speculatively. “Well,” he drew the word out into four syllables and rubbed his nose before answering her question. “I guess you might try Cade Callahan. He could probably help you. ’Course, he’d have to decide he wanted to.”

“Where can I find him?”

“Here’s probably your best bet. Callahan’s in here most nights. Or I can give you his phone number. Just tell him Charlie Ridges gave it to you.”

“Thanks, Mr. Ridges. But I’d like to see him in person.”

“Charlie’s the name. He’ll be here before long, most likely. How ’bout that longneck while you wait?”

“Sounds good.” Cade Callahan. The answer to her problems. Maybe. Charlie was just the latest in a list of people she’d asked for information, and they all mentioned the same man.

One leg crossed over the other, she sipped her beer, her tennis shoe swinging in time to the country tune blaring nasally from the jukebox. From what she’d been told, the Mahi Mahi drew both locals and tourists. Today, most of its clients seemed to be of the former variety. She drank a bit, then peeled the label off her beer bottle—a habit she’d tried unsuccessfully to break. She glanced up to see a tall, black-haired man walk into the bar. The deep tan implied he either worked or played very hard, but she couldn’t quite classify him. Boat captain, she decided, then realized he must be the man she was waiting for when Charlie spoke to him and nodded over at her.

She watched him stride to her table, his long legs eating up the distance rapidly. Jesus, he could make a dead woman’s heart beat fast. The hard, uncompromising lines of his body coupled with the harsh strength of his face gave him a tough, dangerous, not quite civilized aura. Gorgeous blue eyes flickered over her briefly, indifferently. He must’ve been first in line when they handed out sex appeal. He didn’t even have to speak, he fairly oozed with it.

She found herself staring at him with her mouth practically hanging open, and snapped it shut. She didn’t want to feed an ego she figured was plenty healthy already.

“Charlie said you wanted to see me. What are you fishing for?” His deep, resonant voice matched his looks, delivering the question in an abrupt, careless manner.

“Hello, Mr. Callahan. I’m Arleigh Prescott.”

He pulled out the chair she motioned at and lowered himself into it.

“I’m fishing for a treasure hunter. That’s you, from what I understand.”

“Nope. Not anymore.” He took a pull of his beer. “I run a charter fishing boat now.”

Arleigh dismissed the disclaimer with a wave of her hand. “You still know how, don’t you? I have a proposition for you. I need your expertise as a commercial salvor to help me find a shipwreck. Interested?”

Callahan’s eyes settled on her with just a trace of curiosity. His gaze slid over her face, took in her chest, lingered a moment on her legs. He raised his eyes to meet hers. “You don’t look like any treasure hunter I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m not. I’m a marine archaeologist.” She hadn’t missed the extensive trip his eyes had made, yet his expression gave nothing away. “I have a professional interest in this ship. Are you interested?”

He shrugged. “Not particularly. Have you got any idea how many people have told me they know where a treasure ship is? I assume it is a treasure ship?”

She nodded, not liking his tone.

“It always is. Well, Ms. Prescott, if you expect me to help you, tell me more. If I’d wanted to treasure hunt, I wouldn’t have moved to Texas. I would have stayed in Florida where it’s a lot more lucrative. What are you paying?”

Arleigh shifted in her seat, searching ineffectually for a more comfortable position. It didn’t seem to matter that he was ripping her proposition into little shreds. His voice washed over her like an inexorable tide, making her think of midnight…moonlight…sex. Especially sex. Looking at him only fed the fantasy further. It was an unsettling experience, one that was new to her, and she didn’t like it a bit.

“I can’t exactly pay you. I can offer you part of the treasure, though.”

“What a surprise,” Callahan said, his eyes conveying cynical disgust. Without saying another word, he stood and started to leave the table.

“Wait, Mr. Callahan.” Arleigh jumped up and seized hold of him, encountering a solidly muscled arm more akin to a steel bar than a human body part. “I’m serious. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Don’t you even want to know which ship?”

“No, but I have a feeling I’m going to find out anyway.” He gazed down at her and muttered, “Damn,” and something that might have been “a blonde” before he sighed and signaled the bartender to bring him another beer. “All right, which ship?”

Arleigh waited until he sat and had his beer in hand before she spoke again. “The Santo del Ascensión. I know where it is.”

Callahan choked in mid-sip, slamming the bottle down as quickly as he’d picked it up. “Are you nuts?”

She smiled slightly. “Not at all.”

“Hell, why start small, let’s just go right for the mother lode. That ship ranks up there with Nuestra Señora de Atocha in terms of treasure, Ms. Prescott.”

“I’m aware of that, and I’m deadly serious.”

“And certifiable. “ He laughed and shook his head. “The Ascensión is believed to have gone down near the shore of Padre Island. What good does that do me? The state of Texas will take everything even if you do find it. Maybe it doesn’t matter to a scholarly type like you, but it sure as hell does to me. Money motivates me. That’s why we call it treasure hunting.”

Hard-nosed as they come. She frowned at him. If she didn’t tell him, he wouldn’t help her. Damn it, she hated to deal with a treasure hunter as much as she hated begging. Careless, unscrupulous, opportunistic—those were the nicest words she could come up with in describing most of them. But Callahan, typical of her luck, was not only her best bet, he was her last option.

“The Ascensión didn’t go down where everyone thought it did. It sank much farther out.” She paused to let her words penetrate. “Outside state-controlled waters, so we could claim the treasure.”

“What’s your proof?” Callahan lounged back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him, and took a lengthy, appreciative swallow of beer. His gaze ran over her again, assessing her like she was some kind of fish he was trying to decide whether to keep or throw back.

“You expect to see my proof without agreeing to help me?”

“You’re going to have to prove it’s worth my time, lady. Spill it or I’m out of here.” He took another swallow and waited for her response, his doubt palpable.

After a long moment she unclenched her jaw. “One of the passengers kept a journal. The Ascensión didn’t sink close to shore like the other galleons in its fleet. It made it back out into the gulf to the deeper water before it capsized. There were very few survivors. I found the journal one of them wrote. That’s my proof.”

Callahan raised a brow.

“I’ve investigated it thoroughly. And I had a friend research the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain.” The expression in those beautiful blue eyes spoke volume. No words were necessary. “This didn’t just happen yesterday. The background work is complete and I’m ready to move on. I know the general area it sank. Now we just have to pinpoint it.”

“Yeah, easy as shootin’ ducks on a pond,” he said, disregarding her glare. “How deep is the area? If it’s too deep, it won’t be worthwhile even if you do find it.”

“The range is in one of the more shallow areas of the gulf, maybe one hundred feet, maximum.”

“A hundred’s pretty damn deep for salvage. How sure are you that the journal isn’t a fake?”

“Positive.” Cursing her tendency to blush, she leaned down to pick up her napkin in hopes of hiding the flush that rose in her cheeks. No, it wasn’t a fake, but if he knew all the facts, he wouldn’t help her. Most of the people at Texas A&M weren’t convinced of either the validity of her journal or the subsequent research she’d done. They thought all the ships of the fleet had gone down near the shore of Padre Island and they saw no reason to change their opinion. Funding for a search was too expensive to waste. The authorities at the school felt her theory was too uncertain to justify the enormous expense it would entail to verify it. She wouldn’t tell Callahan that, though. He was already skeptical enough.

“I’d have to look at your research before I’d agree. You may be a marine archaeologist, but I won’t just take your word on it if I’m spending my own money and time.”

“I won’t show it to you if you aren’t going to help me.”

“Afraid I’ll steal it from you?” Amusement filtered through his voice. That damnably deep, sonorous voice.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. It’s happened. I have no reason to trust you.” Especially when she didn’t even like him.

Callahan stared at her for a long moment. “Oh, what the hell. The fishing’s been crappy and I’ve been bored lately, anyway. I’m not a thief, Ms. Prescott, whatever else I might be. Let’s go see this famous journal of yours.” He drained the last of his beer and stood.

Arleigh paid for his beer, noticing he made no attempt to get the check. Probably used to women buying him drinks. “I can go get the journal and bring it to you.”

“Not a very trusting person, are you?” Callahan laughed at the look on her face.

“I used to live in Dallas.”

His eyes lit with amusement as he looked at her. “This is Port Aransas. We’re just a little bitty fishing town on the gulf coast.” His mouth curved into a smile. “Ask Charlie. I’m really not a dangerous person. He’ll vouch for me.”

Not dangerous? Damn it, his smile should be registered as lethal as an AK-47.

“You have to trust me sometime if we’re going to be working together,” he said. “Or should we just forget it right now?”

“I can take care of myself. I’m just not sure you’re the one for the job.” Aside from his looks and the killer smile, she didn’t see much to recommend him. Trust him? Not a chance. Some shipwreck investigations took years, but she was sure they could pinpoint the wreck site in a short period of time, given a reasonable amount of luck and decent equipment.

Cade Callahan’s name had cropped up with depressing regularity whenever she questioned anyone in the area. He’d been a Navy SEAL before he became a treasure hunter, so he obviously dived. People thought highly of him, even if she couldn’t figure out why. Besides, no one else fit her needs as well. She capitulated, ungracefully. “We’ll go to my house. You can follow in your car.”

 

* * *

Following Arleigh wasn’t hard, since the old pickup she crawled into was a junkyard fugitive, needing a paint job as well as a tune-up before it could qualify for salvage. She drove slowly along a deserted stretch of beach until she finally pulled up to a small house, almost a shack. It sat back from the beach and the dunes, on a stretch that had yet to have a big hotel, or anything else for that matter, built on it.

He parked and got out of his own truck—considerably newer than hers—and followed her to the house.

When she opened the door, a large reddish-gold dog greeted them. "Yes, Maggie, good girl," Arleigh said, petting her. She turned to Cade. "Let me introduce––" She broke off as the dog sniffed of the hand he held out and then allowed him to pet her.

"Beautiful dog," he said. "A golden retriever, I assume?"

"Yes. Maggie, this is Cade," she said, taking hold of his arm. "Friend, Maggie."

"Is she trained to protect you?"

"Yes. Which is why it surprised me she let you pet her even before I introduced you."

"What can I say? Dogs like me."

"Apparently," she said dryly. "Let me put her outside. I'll be right back."

The woman must do nothing but read, he thought, looking around. Clancy, Ludlum, Tolkien, Tolstoy; classics and contemporaries vied with each other for shelf space. She had everything from Shakespeare to Nora Roberts, to the latest Grisham, including a volume of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He smiled. A romantic. Now, why am I not surprised?

The books were jumbled haphazardly with cookbooks next to romances, textbooks next to science fiction. A computer sat on the dining room table, stacks of papers, books, pens, and coffee cups spilling over and around it. The computer and the books were about the only things she’d taken out of boxes, if the state of the living room was any clue to the rest of the house.

Arleigh walked back in, drying her hands on a paper towel.

"I don't think I've seen a golden trained as an attack dog before," Cade said.

"She's not an attack dog. But she is trained to protect me. She alerts me to strangers and usually needs to be told someone is a friend before she's at ease with them. She'd attack if someone was trying to hurt me, though." She disappeared into another room.

Moments later, she returned, handing the journal to Cade. “Here, but I’m not sure it’ll do you any good. Do you read Spanish?”

“Yes, I do, Ms. Prescott. Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Don’t be so touchy. Not everyone speaks Spanish, much less reads classical Spanish. And call me Arleigh. I hate it when you say Ms. Prescott in that snotty way. You sound like an English teacher I had once.”

He bit back a laugh. “Snotty? I was being polite.”

“Right. I think you need a review course.”

Cade scanned a few of the pages, ignoring her fidgeting. “Well, it looks authentic. Have you had it tested?” She shook her head. “Why not? Not enough money?”

“I had my reasons. It’s authentic. I told you I’d done a lot of research. It checks out, to the last detail. The hurricane occurred at the time he said, too. It’s chronicled in other sources.”

“Someone could have fabricated the entire thing. I need time to look at it more closely. Where did you get it?

“At an estate sale.”

He rolled his eyes upward. “Give me a break.”

“I know it sounds insane, but it’s true.”

Cade wondered if she were as crazy as she seemed, or merely extremely gullible. Boredom has gotten you into trouble before, Callahan. And so, by God, have women. This one was pretty enough to be real trouble, even dressed like a refugee from a fun run in a Cozumel T-shirt and wind shorts. Might even be beautiful if she’d make the effort. Damn, he always had been a sucker for blondes.

He sat on the couch and propped his feet up on her coffee table. “I have plenty of time.” Lacing his fingers behind his head he added, “Tell me about this estate sale.”

“I got there early, before they had anything organized. I came across the journal in one of the boxes of books. When I realized it was written in classical Spanish, I knew I had to have it. Of course, if anyone had been paying attention, it would have gone to a rare books buyer, and I could have kissed it goodbye.”

“You got lucky.”

“You bet I did. But I didn’t realize the value at the time either. I just wanted it because it was old and Spanish.”

“You had no idea it belonged to a survivor of the Ascensión.”

“Not until I read it. Can you imagine what I felt like when I realized it? The Ascensión.” She breathed in reverently. “My God, it’s still unbelievable.”

Cade watched the play of emotions glide across her face. Her eyes were green, deep cat’s-eye green, sparkling with excitement, enthusiasm, the joy of discovery.

“Yeah, unbelievable’s a pretty good word.” The Santo del Ascensión, dream ship of archaeologist and treasure hunter alike, was reputed to have carried one of the largest cargos of gold and silver ever. Jewels, artifacts, an almost incalculable cargo in terms of both monetary and historical value.

“Are you always so cynical?” she asked him.

“Yeah. It saves time.”

“Read it for yourself. Then tell me it doesn’t get you excited.”

“Excited? I can think of other ways,” he murmured, looking at Arleigh. “So, what did you do next?” He still thought it was a pipe dream, but it beat the hell out of going home alone and watching the tube.

“I presented it as my thesis, and they blew me out of the water. They weren’t interested, period, end of discussion.” She frowned and then shrugged it off. “A friend of mine was doing research at the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Joan’s a classical Spanish scholar. She did the research there and came up with a good bit of corroborating data.”

“They still didn’t buy it.” No big surprise. He’d had experience with archaeological academia.

“No, but I know I’m right. If you’d look over the research, you’d think so too.”

“Look, sweetheart,” Cade said, “treasure hunter isn’t synonymous with stupid. Why should I believe you when you can’t convince the faculty of your school?”

“My mistake. I thought a treasure hunter might not be as narrow-minded as archaeologists are prone to be. I thought you might have vision, and not be so addicted to protocol and procedure that you can’t see what’s staring you in the face. They don’t want to change their opinion because it would mean a total revision in their thinking. It would mean admitting the academic world is full of shit about this particular treasure fleet. I’m telling you,” she slapped the table for emphasis, “the Ascensión is nowhere near where they think it is.”

Arleigh’s passion was amusing, Cade thought, even a little contagious. And he got a real charge out of watching her try to get him to accept her theory. She was a marine archaeologist, all right. Idealistic, enthusiastic, determined to get her way. And damned easy on the eyes.

“There’s not a reason in the world why I shouldn’t search for it,” Arleigh finished. “Besides the historical significance, I wouldn’t mind finding a fortune, either.”

“Did you leave school?”

“Hell, yes.”

“You can’t get a decent job in marine archaeology without at least a master’s, if not a Ph.D.”

“You must not have listened to anything I said. I fought about this for more than two years and I finally got fed up.”

“Still, without a degree…” He waited to see if she’d take the bait.

“What does a degree have to do with anything? Are you going to help me find the Ascensión, or not?”

Temptation. What treasure hunter in his right mind would scoff at a chance to find the Ascensión? The Atocha, the Spanish galleon Mel Fisher found off Florida years ago now, was reputedly worth $400 million. The Ascensión could easily be worth that much, maybe more. It wouldn’t hurt to investigate her theory a little more thoroughly. Besides, she was pretty enough to tempt him in another way. Definitely tempting, he mused, his gaze drawn back to a full and inviting mouth.

A marine archaeologist, for God’s sake. Most archaeologists thought treasure hunters were pirates intent on making a quick buck, regardless of the destruction to the historical integrity of the site.

Still, serious treasure hunters nowadays usually employed an archaeologist along with their other help. The academic archaeologists considered it a mere facade, a sop thrown on the conscience of those who should know better.

Arleigh Prescott must be desperate, or she wouldn’t have come to him. Curiosity had burned him before, but like the cat, he couldn’t resist. And his curiosity wasn’t the only thing she’d aroused. “Okay, I’ll consider it. There are some things we need to get straightened out first, though.”

“Oh? Like what?” The tone warned him her temper was revved and about to blow.

He grinned. “Obviously, we have to find backers. You can’t look for a sunken galleon without money. I haven’t got much, and you evidently don’t either. And, as for equipment, I have a minimal amount. Not enough to start with. It’s expensive as hell.”

“I’m well aware of that. Getting funds would be one of your responsibilities.”

“In a treasure hunt, money is everyone’s responsibility. There’s never enough.” Arleigh started to say something, but he interrupted her, “But none of that really matters right now. First, I need to see your research and see if it convinces me you might be right.”

“I can show you every step of my research and the rationale behind the conclusions I reached.” Her eyes narrowed, flashed. She eyed him like she wanted to deck him. “Just who do you think you are, anyway?”

“Your last hope.” He rose and gave her another cynical smile. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. I’ll be in touch.”