What is the worst thing that could go wrong on a vacation? Maya Montgomery just wants a vacation with her son, that's it, but with her ex giving her trouble to the point of needing a restraining order, even relaxing involves a fight. At least until everyone in the hotel is kept inside with days of rain. After the way her ex has been all it will take is someone being nice to her and Carson is nothing but nice. Nice to look at, nice to talk to, nice to go to bed with. For once in her life, things are looking up, until her son is kidnapped and the note orders her to find a hidden treasure. Treasure not everyone is even convinced exists and her son's life depends on it. So much for a peaceful vacation.
Maya Montgomery felt dreary as yet another day of rain was on the horizon. A vacation on the Mediterranean meant sun didn’t it? Not five days of rain. Queirós Castle was all that lay at the end of the road they bounced along, which didn’t rank it high enough for a new road. In the Trás-os-Montes province of Portugal, it meant the back of the mountain. They bounced and tossed as the small van made its way up the hill.READ MORE
On the next road down the valley stood a Roman bridge, still in use, with the swollen water of the Tãmega River churning below.
“Middle of nowhere now, but this used to be one of the main routes into the country back in Napoleon’s day,” a man behind her said. The farthest province from Lisbon, some pockets easier to get to from Spain than from the rest of the country, was all Maya thought. Maya had a hard time not staring at him. He sat there in an unbuttoned shirt, and the bare skin she saw was sculpted as no mortal ever had been. He was pretty, not handsome pretty, the start of a beard the only sure sign he wasn’t a woman. The bare chest made it obvious, but his face, well yeah, just plain pretty. He was sitting next to a woman that made Maya feel like an old woman. Tall, statuesque, attractive enough to be a model.
“One of the few unspoiled places in the country,” the woman finally said. Her first words since they had arrived an hour before. Her backpack on her lap, she held it as if it was her baby.
They hit an especially lethal pothole and Maya’s head came an inch from hitting the roof. “Napoleon’s day is the last time they fixed this road,” she muttered under her breath. The Trás-os-Montes was the place to get off the beaten track. Maya could understand those two being there, young kids backpacking around.
“Oh cool!” her son Zach cried out as the hotel came into view. He was tall for his age, stocky like his father. Dark haired like his father. There wasn’t much of her to see in him. Queirós Castle, secure on its rocky perch with archers' loops in the thick walls and oil spouts at the base of the parapets overlooking the Tãmega River, would never succumb to the rain that hadn’t stopped in almost a week. The rocky ground, that was perfect for grapes, just couldn’t absorb all the water that fell. The castle, with its high granite castellated walls, a double-towered gatehouse, was now open as a hotel.
“I thought we would never get here,” the woman cried.
“You’re a guest too, then?” Maya asked.
“Theo, and that’s my girlfriend Magdalen.” The man announced. “We’re here for a week.”
“Maggie. Magdalen is my grandmother on Mykenos,” the Greek beauty snapped.
Maya smiled as the van pulled to a stop inside the hotel compound. Even in the rain, they were surrounded by groves of olive trees, row upon row of grape vines, and down in the valley cork trees, the earthy smell hitting her as soon as she exited. Rain quickly pulled the heat of the vehicle from her.
As Theo climbed out, Maya bit her lip when she swore his pants looked like they were going to fall off. Not the American fashion thing, this was more like low to show off the ridges of muscles still not human. He was muscular but tiny. Maya towered above him when they finally stood there in the rain. Eight-year-old Zach was almost as tall as he was. Maggie dwarfed him. Hope he’s good in bed, Maya wondered to herself still forcing herself to not laugh.
“Hurry inside. I’ll bring the bags in,” the driver ordered over the rain. “Genoveva, the cook, has Truta grelhados com laranja, that’s grilled trout with orange, for lunch.”
Grabbing Zach’s hand, Maya rushed up the stairs to be greeted inside by an older woman. Not a local by the blondish white hair, looking surprisingly young for what had to be sixty-five. “Let’s get you dry. My goodness, it’s pouring out there.”
“Started in 1309 by João Teixeira, despite being of another period, the now hotel was remodeled in the Manueline style later,” Theo announced before Maya had even gotten the umbrella closed.
Maggie plopped the carefully tended backpack on the floor with little regard. “Oh, give it a rest, Theo. I’ve been listening to that for days now.”
Theo looked annoyed. “South American gold, an entire ship, is always worth talking about. Could you imagine . . .”
“Like hell,” the older woman snorted. “They added on the inn wings about that time. What do you think paid for that?”
“What makes you such an expert?” Theo growled.
“Says so in the book that’s in all the rooms. My fourteenth visit here, plenty of time to read it once or twice.” The older woman grinned widely.
Theo grabbed Maggie’s hand, her bag, and pulled her to the reception desk.
The older woman chuckled. “If there was treasure here, do you really think the owner had to turn it into a hotel to keep it up? I’m Anne Lansky by the way, from Canada.”
“Maya and my son, Zach.” Maya looked around and found Zach missing. “Get out of the rain, you goof,” she called out, and a sheepish Zach came back in again.
“I think there’s been one like that young man every time I’ve been here. Ever since some website started the rumor there’s treasure about.”
“Treasure!” Zach cried and started jumping up and down.
“Just a rumor,” Anne laughed.
Maggie and Theo were already gone when they found their way in. “So what are we going to do first?” Maya asked as a key was put in her hand.
Zach spun around from his exploring. “The National park. We saw enough buildings with Rhiannon unless there are more castles.” Maya had worked under Rhiannon in the lab for several years before a job had opened up in Evora, Portugal. Maya had gotten the promotion and lost her life in the process. Rhiannon had shown them around for a week, not a single moment of unscheduled time, like she had always been as a boss. Now if Maya could just get to relax on her vacation, she might survive.
“It’s a mess with this rain. I tried going yesterday, but the vehicle got stuck,” a voice said behind them as the driver came with the bags. Deep, clear, and in English - unaccented, more to the point. Maya turned as Zach groaned with disappointment. Her mouth went dry at the sight of the speaker. Dark brown eyes that seduced her without saying a word. A goatee on his strong chin framed a delectable mouth and... Maya pulled her mind off the topic. A single mom too long, it didn’t take much to get her off track. Not with the right scenery.
“The village just down the road has all sorts of carved stone pigs you might like. Maybe the rain will stop soon.”
“Is it really as bad as all that?” the front desk receptionist piped up. “I didn’t realize the mud was so horrendous. Hasn't rain like this in fifty years, the older ones say.”
The man merely grinned. “Don’t worry about it. Now I know why my great- grandfather immigrated to America.”
A young man came through and grabbed their bags. Zach ran after him, leaving Maya to pull her eyes reluctantly off the ass of the man she had just seen. His face wasn’t the only nice part of him. Tall enough, too. Theo would look like a dwarf next to him, and while not even close to as muscular as the tiny man, he looked far more realistic. He could be the guy down the street who kept fit, not some model who spent his time on nothing but making his stomach look like a contour map of France.
“Carson, you promised to show me the village,” a new woman’s voice was heard as Maya turned the corner. Figures he was taken.
2008 CAPA award Nominee