Megan gets lost in books. Literally.
The Library of Athena, Book 2
Megan Montgomery is looking forward to a nice, quiet Easter holiday. No school, no homework, time with her friends. Then her father informs her Mr. Hemmlich, a potential client and archaeologist, is coming to stay with them for the entire week. Her dreams of goofing off go up in smoke—until Hemmlich arrives with his handsome teenage son in tow. Things are definitely looking up.
Megan’s excitement quickly turns to suspicion when Hemmlich starts asking questions about the manor and its builder, Sir Gregory. Is it just admiration for Sir Gregory’s work? Or could Hemmlich know about the Library of Athena, the secret room full of magic books hidden deep beneath the manor? It shouldn’t be possible.
But then again, if she can get sucked inside a book…
She found them in the parlor. The silver tea set sat on the coffee table, along with a plate of cookies. Her father sat in one of two overstuffed wingback chairs; he sipped his tea and munched on a cookie, all the time nodding to the two people who sat on the blue velvet-covered loveseat on the other side of the table.
Two people? I thought Dad said there would only be one guest.
The person on the left looked to be in his midfifties, with short salt-and-pepper hair and a well-groomed moustache. Ice blue eyes peered from behind round wire-framed glasses perched on the bridge of a long, thin nose, centered in an angular, lined face. He said something to Megan’s father, and Megan recognized his voice—it was the one she had heard on the landing, outside the secret door.
Next to him sat a boy about Megan’s age. His hair was dark, a bit longer than the man’s. His face was thin, but not pinched. His eyes were the same shade of ice blue, his nose the same shape as the man. The boy held a teacup in one long-fingered, well-manicured hand, a look of polite boredom on his face.
Megan realized she was staring at him, and looked away. She shuffled her feet and cleared her throat to announce her presence. Her father turned his head and smiled brightly.
“Ah, there you are.” He finished his cookie and waved her over. “This is my daughter, Megan. Megan, this is Herr Josef Hemmlich, and his son, Diedrich. Diedrich is also on a school holiday, so Herr Hemmlich asked if it was all right if he came along. I figured you’d be able to show him around.”
Megan gave Diedrich another quick appraisal. So here’s the third voice. Not an unpleasant surprise. I can totally live with it. Having a guest or two might not be so bad after all. She gave the visitors a small wave. “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.”
“We are most happy to meet you,” Hemmlich the elder said in a heavy German accent. He set his cup down on the table. “You have a beautiful home. Such a lovely country too—my son and I had no idea it was so…” He waved one hand in small circles, searching for the right word. “Quaint.”
Megan sat in the empty wingback chair, next to her father. “Uh, thank you.”
Mr. Hemmlich continued. “I was just telling your father that I am most interested in the history of your home. He tells me that it has been an asset of his firm since Sir Gregory’s death. It has an odd name, don’t you agree?”
Megan took a cookie from the plate on the table and slowly prepared herself a cup of tea. Her father said Mr. Hemmlich was a fan of Sir Gregory’s, but the question still surprised her.
“Yes, I guess,” she said, and took a sip of tea. “But Sir Gregory liked Ancient Greece, so then again, I guess not.”
“No, I suppose not,” Mr. Hemmlich replied with a thin smile. “Your father doesn’t seem to know much about Sir Gregory beyond what is public knowledge.”
Her father laughed. “I’ll readily admit it. I don’t have much time for leisurely pursuits. I sleep, eat and spend the occasional day in my home office, but otherwise I’m in the London office, doing my best to keep my clients happy.”
Megan gave her father a look that said subtle as a brick, Dad.
Her father took another cookie and tried to regain lost ground. “Megan is here by herself most of the time. Well, her and the staff, of course.”
Mr. Hemmlich fixed Megan with a pointed, piercing gaze. “Do you know much of Sir Gregory, Miss Montgomery?”
Megan tried not to choke on her tea. “Uh, not really.” She reached for a napkin. “I know a little more than my father, and that I learned from the servants and books. He was a prominent archaeologist in the thirties and forties. He also loved antiques and was an avid art collector. The big painting in the entrance hall, for example. The one by the front door, of the ballerinas? That’s an original Degas. He found it in a small curio shop in Paris.”
The elder Hemmlich cocked his head to one side. “How do you know that? Sir Gregory’s personal art collection is well documented, so I know the piece. I don’t recall ever hearing anything about how he acquired it, however.”
Her father looked puzzled. “Yes, Meg, how do you know? I don’t remember hearing that before either.”
“Uh, Miranda must have told me.” Megan stuffed the rest of the cookie into her mouth and chewed. Inwardly, she kicked herself. She had almost slipped up. Miranda had told her the painting had been Sir Gregory’s favorite, but not where he had found it. That bit of information she discovered in Gregory Archibald’s own journal, hidden with the key and poem beneath the hearthstone in her room.
Mr. Hemmlich nodded. The light reflected off his glasses and threw little beams around the room. “Those firsthand accounts are always the most rewarding. They have that little bit of personality that makes them so much better than reading about things in books.”
He gave Megan a look that for some reason made her nervous. “Perhaps the servants would be willing to regale me with their tales sometime during my visit?”
“I’m sure they would,” Megan’s father said.
Mr. Hemmlich continued to give Megan that strange look, and Megan tried not to squirm beneath his gaze. What is with this guy?
Megan’s father appeared not to notice. “I’ll arrange it myself, later in the week. You can interview them in the lounge.” He pointed to Diedrich, who had put down his cup and now sat comfortably with his long legs crossed. “Diedrich here is just about your age, Meg. He also likes horses.”
Diedrich gave Megan a humble look. “I ride at home,” he said with a small shrug. His voice was rich and warm, and his accent was not as pronounced as his father’s.
Mr. Hemmlich finally broke his eye contact with Megan. “Don’t be so modest.” He patted his son on the knee. “Diedrich is a dressage champion. He is an outstanding rider, the best at his school.”
“Pater, please,” Diedrich said, and blushed. “It is a hobby, nothing more.” He turned his blue eyes up to meet Megan’s green ones. They were the same color as his father’s, yes, but unlike the older man’s, Megan saw warmth that his father’s did not have.
Megan swallowed hard—she suddenly couldn’t remember what she was going to say. “Um…uh…” she stammered. When her tongue finally unlocked, she said, “Sure, we can go riding. There are plenty of trails, and our horses are very, uh…gentle.”
Smooth, Megan, very smooth. You sound like an idiot. She didn’t know what had gotten into her. It wasn’t like this was the first boy she’d ever talked to. Diedrich just seemed so much more confident and much less childish than the boys she was used to.
Diedrich’s gaze was steady. “That would be lovely.” He had a crooked smile that lit up his whole face. Megan thought she would melt into a puddle right there on the floor. She was sure everyone in the room could hear her heart beat—it was going a mile a minute.
There was an awkward silence. Megan pushed a curl behind her ear and searched for something incredibly witty to say. She just opened her mouth when Bailey strode into the room.
“Dinner is served.”
He turned on his heel and left.
Megan’s father stood. “Come, I’ll take you to the dining room. Wait until you taste our cook’s food, it’s fantastic.”
Mr. Hemmlich stood up and straightened his dark gray suit coat. “I’m sure it will be quite acceptable.” He joined Megan’s father and they walked toward the door. “Come, Diedrich, don’t dawdle.”
Diedrich also stood. His back was straight, and he was taller than his father. “It would be rude to leave without waiting for our hostess. We must wait for Megan.”
Megan felt the heat rise in her cheeks. She lowered her eyes to her lap. She couldn’t stand, because her legs felt like they were made of gelatin. If she stood now she would fall right over. “Oh, you don’t have to wait for me. I’ll meet you there. I’ll be fine, really.”
Diedrich held his hand out to her. “I won’t hear of it. It would be my pleasure to escort you to dinner.”
Megan balled her trembling hands into fists to try and calm them. She took a deep breath, which she let out slowly, then reached up and slipped a hand inside his. “Thank you.” Her voice shook, her face felt ready to burst into flames.
Diedrich helped her stand and led her toward the door, where the two older men waited.
“All set then?” her father said, and Megan heard the stifled laugh in his voice. She glared at him. He wiped the look of amusement off his face, but his eyes still danced. “Let’s go eat.”