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To celebrate, here’s:
If men were as easy to decipher as Maya glyphs, then perhaps Jaid would have been able to translate “beware” carved in her boyfriend’s handsome forehead and saved herself the trouble.
Watching Dr. Geoffrey Malcolm, golden boy of the Mesoamerica Center of the University of Texas, she wanted to march to the podium where he was schmoozing the audience and plant her fist on his perfect aristocratic nose. He hadn’t cheated on her with another woman. No, he’d done something much worse: he’d stolen her research, and then compounded that theft by getting it wrong.
“As you can see, this glyph speaks of Sky, the three-stoned Hearth,” Geoffrey said in a southern drawl as smooth and rich as a shot of Jack Daniels whiskey. “The Jaguar God rises toward Sky each day, but then dies each night and paddles his way through the Underworld. Xibalba is known as the Place of Fright, full of demons called cizins, which derives from ‘fart.’ Evidently, all demons in hell have a gas problem.”
Jaid rolled her eyes. Out of all the things he could talk about, he’d chosen farting death gods. Of course, the chuckling audience loved every minute of it. An annoying voice in her head that sounded remarkably like her father couldn’t resist pointing out that they hadn’t asked her to speak.
“Now here’s another important glyph from the creation story. This one is Tulan Zuyua, which means Seven Caves, Seven Canyons, sometimes also called the Place of Cattail Reeds. It’s supposedly the place of origin for the Maya, but the location differs widely among the various tribes. Some people think it refers to Teotihuacan in Mexico; others speculate it’s the Candelaria Caves in Alta Verapaz. All we really know is it was a wet and swampy place.”
He doodled on the transparency, making a shaky but identifiable glyph for the Guatemalan ruin, Utatlan. “The Maya loved building new cities and calling them some derivative of the Place of Cattail Reeds. Even Copan has a few symbols that refer to it as the place of creation.”
Every word drew her step by simmering step down the aisle until he finally noticed her approach. Instead of guilt that his little impromptu lecture on her stolen research material had been discovered, he smiled to disguise the next poisoned barb. “In fact, there are so many places of creation that some archaeologists feel compelled to visit them all.”
Murmurs buzzed excitedly from the audience. Those who recognized Dr. Jaid Merritt knew her very famous father, Dr. Charles Merritt, who’d spent his entire life tromping through the jungles of Guatemala and highlands of the Yucatan searching for lost Maya secrets.
She gave Geoffrey a hard, tight smile. “Do you care to expand on that commonality, Dr. Malcolm?”
To hide his discomfort, he upped the wattage of his million-dollar white smile and blinked at her innocently. “All people have creation stories. The commonality shows that each Maya city wanted to be the center of the world.”
Even now, the stark contrast of the exotic dark eyes he’d inherited from his Spanish mother and his shining golden hair caught her attention. His good looks and charm had baited the hook, but what had pulled her to the shore were the long talks they’d shared about the Maya. Other couples talked about movies, books, or sports. They’d shared a love for Mesoamerican history.
Too bad he couldn’t decipher a glyph to save his life.
“Surely if you understand the creation story and how the Jaguar God travels through day and night, then you know that this glyph–” She took the dry-erase marker out of his hand and corrected his drawing. A few dots and marks, who would notice if one was missing or out of place? Only someone who knows what she’s doing! “Seven Caves, Seven Canyons in this situation doesn’t refer to the Place of Cattail Reeds, the place of creation, but to Xibalba. You’re in hell, Dr. Malcolm, not heaven.”
Chuckles from the audience made him flush hotly. “At least I’ve been to the center of the world.”
Inept he might be, but as her lover, he knew how best to hurt her. She lowered her voice and leaned closer, keeping a polite smile on her face for the audience. “If I left anything at your place, I’ll pick it up tomorrow. Next time, you might want to make accurate copies of my translation so you don’t make such an obvious error.”
Turning, she sauntered up the aisle, smile firmly in place. “Who needs to muck around in the jungle with snakes and mosquitoes to translate a glyph when we have computers and digital cameras? All the prestige, none of the malaria.”
Laughter and applause followed her out the auditorium, but she wasn’t elated. She wasn’t even hurt, not really. She hadn’t convinced herself that she loved Geoffrey, so losing him was no blow to her heart.
She no longer had a heart, because it’d been sacrificed long ago in a Maya ruin.
Ignoring the dull twinge in her right knee, Jaid trudged upstairs to her office. If she hadn’t forgotten the midterm composition books on her desk, then she’d never have returned to campus and learned about Geoffrey’s lecture. Okay, forgotten wasn’t exactly the right word. Deliberately avoided was more accurate.
The only thing she hated more than grading was lecturing. However, if she wasn’t actively researching a dig for the university, they wanted her to teach. Publishing research with her father was good, but it wasn’t good enough.
“Do you know what the students have started calling you?” Geoffrey strolled down the hall as relaxed as though he promenaded in the park. “The Un-Indiana Jones, because you never go on a dig.”
The name stung but she refused to show any emotion. None of them knew what she’d gone through on that last dig over twenty years ago. No tremendous discovery was worth such a terrible price. “I was called Jaid ‘the Ferret’ Merritt as a kid, too. I thought you were above such grade-school games.”
Sighing softly, he nodded. “We can’t be at each other’s throats and hope to work together.”
“I’m not at your throat.” Jaid unlocked her office door. “I was very polite. I’ll continue to be polite, no matter how much I want to hit you.”
She flipped on the light and set her leather carryall on her desk. Opening the bag, she shifted her current research notes aside to make room for the towering stack of composition books. This would take her the rest of the night to grade, and at least a glass or two of wine.
Maybe she’d grade half tonight and half tomorrow.
Or wait until the weekend and do them all at once. She heaved a long-suffering sigh. This might take the whole bottle of wine.
“I really am sorry, you know.” Geoffrey propped a shoulder against the door. Even slouching, he managed to look elegant. “You’re always doodling glyphs and leaving them lying around. Even when we’re at dinner you draw on your napkin, or reach into that pack and pull out the latest photograph from your father. I can’t help but see and be intrigued. I love the Maya as much as you do.”
“The Maya are all I know. Thanks to my father’s research, I was practically born on a dig, so I can’t help living and breathing glyphs.”
“Do you translate glyphs because you love doing it, or for your father?”
She shot a glare at Geoffrey. “Don’t bring him into this.”
“You translate one new glyph and the first thing you do is send it to him. Meanwhile, he’s scanning in a dozen more for you to translate. Don’t you get tired of doing all your work for him?”
He stepped closer and reached out to touch her, but she flinched away. His hand dropped to his side and he actually looked hurt. The bastard stole her research and he managed to look hurt.
“I understand the desire to dedicate yourself to a cause in honor of your parents. You know what happened to my mother.”
Biting her lip, she nodded but didn’t meet his gaze. His mother had been killed at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City when Geoffrey was just a boy. His father had never forgiven himself for being away at a dig when the massacre occurred, and he’d refused to ever return to Guatemala, even after the civil war had ended.
“I honor my mother’s memory, but I don’t study the Maya because she was killed by a corrupt government trying to wipe away the last traces of their indigenous people. I study the Maya because they fascinate me. When was the last time you allowed yourself to enjoy what you’re doing, instead of slaving away for your father? Don’t you see that he’s using you? If you spent a fraction of your time writing up your own research, you wouldn’t have to teach so much.”
“He puts my name on all his research findings.”
“So you’ll settle for always being the famous Dr. Charles Merritt’s daughter, not Dr. Jaid Merritt who singlehandedly translated and documented hundreds of glyphs. Do you know what a treasure you’ve created in that database? How easily you could publish your own definitive book on the Maya written word? And you’re only twenty-seven! You’d be the most famous epigrapher in the world, and you’ve still got an entire lifetime of research ahead of you.”
“This isn’t about me. This is about you stealing my research.”
“Oh, give me a break, Jaid. You left one scribbled note at my place, half wadded up and thrown on the floor by the trash can. I unfolded it, smoothed it, and immediately saw how I could use it. It was your trash. You’re too brilliant to waste time on something as insignificant as what I presented tonight and you know it.”
“Don’t turn this back on me,” she retorted. “You never loved me at all, did you? You were merely biding your time to steal something.”
“I never took anything from you.” His brow creased and he held his hands palms up. He certainly appeared to be confused and honest, but she’d been blinded by his smile and charm before. “I do care for you, but you’re right. I don’t love you. How can anyone love you when it’s impossible for you to love anybody back? But I am worried about you, Jaid. For the last few months, you’ve been running yourself ragged. How many times have I helped you catch up on grading this semester? Or covered your office hours so you could cram in one more translation? You’re killing yourself to make another great discovery for your father.”
Jaid picked up her satchel, marched to the door, locked it, and headed for the stairs without a word.
Following her, Geoffrey said, “At least let me give you a ride home.”
“It’s not far,” she replied stiffly, refusing to look at him.
“Jaid, please. I know it’s only a few blocks, but it’s dark.” He touched her elbow, and when she didn’t jerk away, he settled his hand more firmly. “I’ll drive you home and pick up anything I might have left at your house.”
Ah, her knight in shining armor. She’d yelled at him, dumped him, yet even now, he insisted on seeing her home safely. A cold, hard lump swelled in her throat, trying to choke her. Why did she insist on seeking out every little tarnish and ding in any man’s armor? She knew why, and so did Geoffrey.
Some things a girl never outgrew, let alone forgave, once she finally realized nothing she did would ever win her father’s love.