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The Reef

Chapter One

Treasure. Gold doubloons and end pieces of eight. With luck, they
could be plucked from the seabed as easily as peaches from a tree.
Or so, Tate thought as she dived, her father said.

She knew it took a great deal more than luck, as ten years of
searching had already proven. It took money and time and exhausting
effort. It took skill and months of research and equipment.

But as she swam toward her father through the crystal blue
Caribbean, she was more than willing to play the game.

It wasn't a hardship to spend the summer of her twentieth year
diving off the coast of St. Kitts, skimming through gloriously warm
water among brilliantly hued fish and sculptures of rainbow coral.
Each dive was its own anticipation. What might lie beneath that
white sand, hidden among the fans and sea grass, buried under the
cleverly twisted formations of coral?

It wasn't the treasure, she knew. It was the hunt.

And occasionally, you did get lucky.

She remembered very well the first time she had lifted a silver
spoon from its bed of silt. The shock and the thrill of holding
that blackened cup in her fingers, wondering who had used it to
scoop up broth. A captain perhaps of some rich galleon. Or the
captain's lady.

And the time her mother had been cheerfully hacking away at a hunk
of conglomerate, the chunk of material formed by centuries of
chemical reactions under the sea. The sound of her squeal, then the
bray of delighted laughter when Marla Beaumont had unearthed a gold

The occasional luck allowed the Beaumonts to spend several months a
year hunting for more. For more luck, and more treasure.

As they swam side by side, Raymond Beaumont tapped his daughter's
arm, pointed. Together they watched a sea turtle paddle

The laugh in her father's eyes said everything. He had worked hard
all of his life, and was now reaping the rewards. For Tate, a
moment like this was as good as gold.

They swam together, bonded by a love of the sea, the silence, the
colors. A school of sergeant majors streaked by, their black and
gold stripes gleaming. For no more than the joy of it, Tate did a
slow roll and watched the sunlight strike the surface overhead. The
freedom of it had a laugh gurgling out in a spray of bubbles that
startled a curious grouper.

She dived deeper, following her father's strong kicks. The sand
could hold secrets. Any mound could be a plank of worm-eaten wood
from a Spanish galleon. That dark patch could blanket a pirate's
cache of silver. She reminded herself to pay attention, not to the
sea fans or hunks of coral, but to the signs of sunken

They were here in the balmy waters of the West Indies, searching
for every treasure hunter's dream. A virgin wreck reputed to hold a
king's treasure. This, their first dive, was to acquaint themselves
with the territory they had so meticulously researched through
books, maps and charts. They would test the currents, gauge the
tides. And maybe --- just maybe --- get lucky.

Aiming toward a hillock of sand, she began to fan briskly. Her
father had taught her this simple method of excavating sand when
Tate had delighted him by her boundless interest in his new hobby
of scuba diving.

Over the years, he'd taught her many other things. A respect for
the sea and what lived there. And what lay there, hidden. Her
fondest hope was to one day discover something, for him.

She glanced toward him now, watched the way he examined a low ridge
of coral. However much he dreamed of treasure made by man, Raymond
Beaumont loved the treasures made by the sea.

Finding nothing in the hillock, Tate moved off in pursuit of a
pretty striped shell. Out of the corner of her eyes, she caught the
blur of a dark shape coming toward her, swift and silent. Tate's
first and frozen thought was shark, and her heart stumbled. She
turned, as she had been taught, one hand reaching for her diver's
knife, and prepared to defend herself and her father.

The shape became a diver. Sleek and fast as a shark, perhaps, but a
man. Her breath whooshed out in a stream of bubbles before she
remembered to regulate it. The diver signaled to her, then to the
man swimming in his wake.

Tate found herself face mask to face mask with a recklessly
grinning face, eyes as blue as the sea around them. Dark hair
streamed in the current. She could see he was laughing at her,
undoubtedly having guessed her reaction to the unexpected company.
He held his hands up, a gesture of peace, until she sheathed her
knife. Then he winked and sent a fluid salute toward Ray.

As silent greetings were exchanged, Tate studied the newcomers.
Their equipment was good, and included those necessary items of the
treasure seeker. The goody bag, the knife, the wrist compass and
diver's watch. The first man was young, lean in his black wet-suit.
His gesturing hands were wide-palmed, long-fingered, and carried
the nicks and scars of a veteran hunter.

The second man was bald, thick in the middle, but as agile as a
fish in his undersea movements. Tate could see he was reaching some
sort of tacit agreement with her father. She wanted to protest.
This was their spot. After all, they'd been there first.

But she could do no more than frown as her father curled his
fingers into an "okay" sign. The four of them spread out to

Tate went back to another mound to fan. Her father's research
indicated that four ships of the Spanish fleet had gone down north
of Nevis and St. Kitts during the hurricane of July 11, 1733. Two,
the San Cristobal and the Vaca, had been discovered and salvaged
years earlier, broken on the reefs near Dieppe Bay. This left,
undiscovered and untouched, the Santa Marguerite and the

Documents and manifests boasted that these ships carried much more
than cargoes of sugar from the islands. There were jewels and
porcelain and more than ten million pesos of gold and silver. In
addition, if true to the custom of the day, there would be the
hoards secreted by the passengers and seamen.

Both wrecks would be very rich indeed. More than that, discovery
would be one of the major finds of the century.

Finding nothing, Tate moved on, bearing north. The competition from
the other divers caused her to keep her eyes and her instincts
sharp. A school of gem-bright fish speared around her in a perfect
vee, a slice of color within color. Delighted, she swam through
their bubbles.

Competition or not, she would always enjoy the small things. She
explored tirelessly, fanning sand and studying fish with equal

It looked like a rock at first glance. Still, training had her
swimming toward it. She was no more than a yard away when something
streaked by her. She saw with faint irritation that scarred,
long-fingered hand reach down and close over the rock.

Jerk, she thought, and was about to turn away when she saw him work
it free. Not a rock at all, but the crusted handle of a sword that
he drew from the scabbard of the sea. Grinning around his
mouthpiece, he hefted it.

He had the nerve to salute her with it, cutting a swatch through
the water. As he headed up, Tate went after him. They broke the
surface in tandem.

She spit out her mouthpiece. "I saw it first."

"I don't think so." Still grinning, he levered up his face mask.
"Anyway, you were slow, and I wasn't. Finders keepers."

"Rules of salvage," she said, struggling for calm. "You were in my

"The way I see it, you were in mine. Better luck next time."

"Fate, honey." From the deck of the Adventure, Marla Beaumont waved
her hands and called out. "Lunch is ready. Invite your friend and
come aboard."

"Don't mind if I do." In a few powerful strokes, he was at the
stern of the Adventure. The sword hit the deck with a clatter, his
flippers followed.

Cursing the poor beginning to what had promised to be a wonderful
summer, Tate headed in. Ignoring his gallantly offered hand, she
hauled herself in just as her father and the other diver broke the

"Nice meeting you." He dragged a hand through his dripping hair and
smiled charmingly at Marla. "Matthew Lassiter."

"Marla Beaumont. Welcome aboard." Tate's mother beamed at Matthew
from under the wide brim of her flowered sunhat. She was a striking
woman, with porcelain skin and a willowy frame beneath loose and
flowing shirt and slacks. She tipped down her dark glasses in

"I see you've met my daughter, Tate, and my husband, Ray."

"In a manner of speaking." Matthew unhooked his weight belt, set it
and his mask aside. "Nice rig here."

"Oh yes, thank you." Marla looked proudly around the deck. She
wasn't a fan of housework, but there was nothing she liked better
than keeping the Adventure spit and polished. "And that's your boat
there." She gestured off the bow. "The Sea Devil."

Tate snorted at the name. It was certainly apt, she thought, for
the man, and the boat. Unlike the Adventure, the Sea Devil didn't
gleam. The old fishing boat badly needed painting. At a distance,
it looked like little more than a tub floating on the brilliant
platter of the sea.

"Nothing fancy," Matthew was saying, "but she runs." He walked over
to offer a hand to the other divers.

"Good eye, boy." Buck Lassiter slapped Matthew on the back. "This
boy was born with the knack," he said to Ray in a voice as rough as
broken glass, then belatedly held out a hand. "Buck Lassiter, my
nephew, Matthew."

Ignoring the introductions making their way around the deck, Tate
stowed her equipment, then tugged out of her wetsuit. While the
others admired the sword, she ducked into the deckhouse and cut
through to her cabin.

It wasn't anything unusual, she supposed as she found an oversized
T-shirt. Her parents were always making friends with strangers,
inviting them onboard, fixing them meals. Her father had simply
never developed the wary and suspicious manner of a veteran
treasure hunter. Instead her parents shimmered with Southern

Normally she found the trait endearing. She only wished they would
be a little choosy.

She heard her father offer cheerful congratulations to Matthew on
his find, and gritted her teeth.

Damn it, she'd seen it first.

Sulking, Matthew decided as he offered the sword to Ray for
examination. A peculiarly female trait. And there was no doubt the
little redhead was female. Her copper-toned hair might be cut short
as a boy's, but she'd certainly filled out that excuse for a bikini
just fine.

Pretty enough, too, he mused. Her face might have been all angles,
with cheekbones sharp enough to slice a man's exploring finger, but
she had big, delicious green eyes. Eyes, he recalled, that had shot
prickly little darts at him in the water, and out.

That only made annoying her more interesting.

Since they were going to be diving in the same pool for a while, he
might as well enjoy himself.

He was sitting cross-legged on the forward sundeck when Tate came
back out. She gave him a quick glance, having nearly talked herself
out of the sulks. His skin was bronzed, and against his chest
winked a silver piece of eight hanging from a chain. She wanted to
ask him about it, to hear where he'd found it, and how.

But he was smirking at her. Manners, pride and curiosity collided
with a wall that kept her unnaturally silent as conversation flowed
around her.

Matthew bit into one of Marla's generous ham sandwiches.

"Terrific, Mrs. Beaumont. A lot better than the swill Buck and I
are used to."

"You have some more of this potato salad." Flattered, she heaped a
mound on his paper plate. "And it's Marla, dear. Tate, you come on
and get yourself some lunch."

"Tate." Matthew squinted against the sun as he studied her.
"Unusual name."

"Marla's maiden name." Ray slipped an arm over his wife's
shoulders. He sat in wet bathing trunks, enjoying the warmth and
company. His silvered hair danced in the light breeze. "Tate here's
been diving since she was pint-sized. Couldn't ask for a better
partner. Marla loves the sea, loves to sail, but she barely swims a

With a chuckle, Marla refilled tall glasses of iced tea. "I like
looking at the water. Being in it's something different
altogether." She sat back placidly with her drink. "Once it gets
past my knees, I just panic. I always wonder if I drowned in a
former life. So for this one, I'm happy tending the boat."

"And a fine one she is." Buck had already assessed the Adventure. A
tidy thirty-eight footer, teak decking, fancy brightwork. He'd
guess she carried two staterooms, a full galley. Without his
prescription face mask, he could still make out the massive windows
of the pilothouse. He'd liked to have taken his fingers for a walk
through the engine and control station.

A look around later was in order, after he had his glasses. Even
without them, he calculated that the diamond on Marla's finger was
a good five carats, and the gold circle on her right hand was

He smelled money.

"So, Ray . . ." Casually, he tipped back his glass. "Matthew and
me, we've been diving around here for the past few weeks. Haven't
seen you."

"First dive today. We sailed down from North Carolina, started out
the day Tate finished her spring semester."

College girl. Matthew took a hard swallow of cold tea. Jesus. He
deliberately turned his gaze away from her legs and concentrated on
his lunch. All bets were definitely off, he decided. He was nearly
twenty-five and didn't mess with snotty college kids.

"We're going to spend the summer here," Ray went on. "Possibly
longer. Last winter, we dived off the coast of Mexico a few weeks.
Couple of good wrecks there, but mostly played out. We managed to
bring up a thing or two though. Some nice pottery, some clay

"And those lovely perfume bottles," Marla put in.

"Been at it awhile, then," Buck prompted.

"Ten years." Ray's eyes shone. "Fifteen since the first time I went
down." He leaned forward, hunter to hunter. "Friend of mine talked
me into scuba lessons. After I'd certified, I went with him to
Diamond Shoals. Only took one dive to hook me."

"Now he spends every free minute diving, planning a dive or talking
about the last dive." Marla let out her lusty laugh. Her eyes, the
same rich green as her daughter's, danced. "So I learned how to
handle a boat."

"Me, I've been hunting more than forty years." Buck scooped up the
last of his potato salad. He hadn't eaten so well in more than a
month. "In the blood. My father was the same. We salvaged off the
coast of Florida, before the government got so tight-assed. Me, my
father and my brother. The Lassiters."

"Yes, of course." Ray slapped a hand on his knee. "I've read about
you. Your father was Big Matt Lassiter. Found the El Diablo off
Conch Key in 'sixty-four."

" 'Sixty-three," Buck corrected, with a grin. "Found it, and the
fortune she held. The kind of gold a man dreams of, jewels, ingots
of silver. I held in my hand a gold chain with a figure of a
dragon. A fucking gold dragon," he said, then stopped, flushed.
"Beg pardon, ma'am."

"No need." Fascinated with the image, Marla urged another sandwich
on him. "What was it like?"

"Like nothing you can imagine." At ease again, Buck chomped into
ham. "There were rubies for its eyes, emeralds in its tail."
Bitterly, he looked down at his hands now and found them empty. "It
was worth five fortunes."

Caught up in the wonder, Ray stared. "Yes. I've seen pictures of
it. Diablo's Dragon. You brought it up. Extraordinary."

"The state closed in," Buck continued. "Kept us in court for years.
Claimed the three-mile limit started at the end of the reef, not at
shore. Bastards bled us dry before it was done. In the end they
took, and we lost. No better than pirates," he said and finished
off his drink.

"How terrible for you," Marla murmured. "To have done all that,
discovered all that, only to have it taken."

"Broke the old man's heart. Never did dive again." Buck moved his
shoulders. "Well, there are other wrecks. Other treasures." Buck
judged his man, and gambled. "Like the Santa Marguerite, the

"Yes, they're here." Ray met Buck's eye steadily. "I'm sure of

"Could be." Matthew picked up the sword, turned it over in his
hands. "Or it could be that both of them were swept out to sea.
There's no record of survivors. Only two ships crashed on the

Ray lifted a finger. "Ah, but witnesses of the day claim they saw
the Isabella and the Santa Marguerite go down. Survivors from the
other ships saw the waves rise and scuttle them."

Matthew lifted his gaze to Ray's, nodded. "Maybe."

"Matthew's a cynic," Buck commented. "Keeps me level. I'm going to
tell you something, Ray." He leaned forward, pale blue eyes keen.
"I've been doing research of my own. Five years on and off. Three
years ago, the boy and I spent better than six months combing these
waters --- mostly the two-mile stretch between St. Kitts and Nevis
and the peninsula area. We found this, we found that, but we didn't
find those two ships. But I know they're here."

"Well, now." Ray tugged on his bottom lip, a gesture that Tate knew
meant he was considering. "I think you were looking in the wrong
spot, Buck. Not that I want to say I'd know more about it. The
ships took off from Nevis, but from what I've been able to piece
together, the two lost wrecks made it farther north, just past the
tip of Saint Kitts before they broke."

Buck's lips curved. "I figure the same. It's a big sea, Ray." He
flicked a glance toward Matthew and was rewarded with a careless
shrug. "I've got forty years experience, and the boy's been diving
since he could walk. What I don't have is financial backing."

As a man who had worked his way up to CEO of a top brokerage firm
before his early retirement, Ray knew a deal when it was placed on
the table. "You're looking for a partnership, Buck. We'd have to
talk about that. Discuss terms, percentages." Rising, Ray flashed a
smile. "Why don't we step into my office?"

"Well, then." Marla smiled as her husband and Buck stepped into the
deckhouse. "I think I'm going to sit in the shade and nap over my
book. You children entertain yourselves." She moved off under a
striped awning and settled down with her iced tea and a paperback

"I guess I'll go over and clean up my booty." Matthew reached for a
large plastic bag. "Mind if I borrow this?" Without waiting for a
response, he loaded his gear into it, then hefted his tanks. "Want
to give me a hand?"


He only lifted a brow. "I figured you might want to see how this
cleans up." He gestured with the sword, waited to see if her
curiosity would overpower her irritation. He didn't wait

With a mutter, she snatched the plastic bag and took it down the
ladder to the swim step and over the side with her.

The Sea Devil looked worse close up. Tate judged its sway in the
current expertly and hauled herself over the rail. She caught a
faint whiff of fish.

Gear was carefully stowed and secured. But the deck needed washing
as much as it needed painting. The windows on the tiny wheelhouse
where a hammock swung were smudged and smeared with salt and smoke.
A couple of overturned buckets, and a second hammock, served as

"It's not the Queen Mary." Matthew stored his tanks. "But it's not
the Titanic either. She ain't pretty, but she's seaworthy."

He took the bag from her and stored his wetsuit in a large plastic
garbage can. "Want a drink?"

Tate took another slow look around. "Got anything

He flipped open the lid of an ice chest, fished out a Pepsi. Tate
caught it on the fly and sat down on a bucket. "You're living on

"That's right." He went into the wheelhouse. When she heard him
rattling around, she reached over to stroke the sword he'd laid
across the other bucket.

Had it graced the belt of some Spanish captain with lace at his
cuffs and recklessness in his soul? Had he killed buccaneers with
it, or worn it for style? Perhaps he had gripped it in a
white-knuckled hand as the wind and the waves had battered his

And no one since then had felt its weight.

She looked up, saw Matthew standing at the wheelhouse door watching
her. Furiously embarrassed, Tate snatched her hand back, took a
casual drink from her Pepsi.

"We have a sword at home,'' she said evenly. "Sixteenth century."
She didn't add that they had only the hilt, and that it was

"Good for you." He took the sword, settled with it on the deck. He
was already regretting the impulsive invitation. It didn't do much
good for him to keep repeating to himself that she was too young.
Not with her T-shirt wet and molded against her, and those creamy,
just sun-kissed legs looking longer than they had a right to. And
that voice --- half whiskey, half prim lemonade --- didn't belong
to a child, but to a woman. Or it should have.

She frowned, watching him patiently working on the corrosion. She
hadn't expected those scarred, rough-looking hands to be

"Why do you want partners?"

He didn't look up. "Didn't say I did."

"But your uncle --- "

"That's Buck." Matthew lifted a shoulder. "He handles the

She propped her elbows on her knees, her chin in the heels of her
hands. "What do you handle?"

He glanced up then, and his eyes, restless despite the patience of
his hands, clashed with hers. "The hunt."

She understood that, exactly, and smiled at him with an eagerness
that ignored the sword between them. "It's wonderful, isn't it?
Thinking about what could be there, and that you might be the one
to find it. Where did you find the coin?" At his baffled look, she
grinned and reached out to touch the disk of silver at his chest.
"The piece of eight."

"My first real salvage dive," he told her, wishing she didn't look
so appealingly fresh and friendly. "California. We lived there for
a while. What are you doing diving for treasure instead of driving
some college boy nuts?"

Tate tossed her head and tried her hand at sophistication. "Boys
are easy," she drawled, and slid down to sit on the deck across
from him. "I like challenges."

The quick twist in his gut warned him. "Careful, little girl," he

"I'm twenty," she said with all the frigid pride of burgeoning
womanhood. Or she would be, she amended, by summer's end. "Why are
you out here diving for treasure instead of working for a

Now he grinned. "Because I'm good. If you'd been better, you'd have
this, and I wouldn't."

Rather than dignify that with a response, she took another sip of
Pepsi. "Why isn't your father along? Has he given up diving?"

"In a manner of speaking. He's dead."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"Nine years ago," Matthew continued, and kept cleaning the sword.
"We were doing some hunting off of Australia."

"A diving accident?"

"No. He was too good to have an accident." He picked up the can
she'd set down, took a swallow. "He was murdered."

It took Tate a moment. Matthew had spoken so matter-of-factly that
the word "murder" didn't register. "My God, how --- "

"I don't know, for sure." Nor did he know why he had told her. "He
went down alive; we brought him up dead. Hand me that rag."

"But --- "

"That was the end of it," he said and reached for the rag himself.
"No use dwelling on the past."

She had an urge to lay a hand on his scarred one, but judged,
correctly, that he'd snap it off at the wrist. "An odd statement
from a treasure hunter."

"Babe, it's what it brings you now that counts. And this ain't

Distracted, she looked back down at the hilt. As Matthew rubbed,
she began to see the gleam. "Silver," she murmured. "It's silver. A
mark of rank. I knew it."

"It's a nice piece."

Forgetting everything but the find, she leaned closer, let her
fingertip skim along the gleam. "I think it's

His eyes smiled. "Do you?"

"I'm majoring in marine archeology." She gave her bangs an
impatient push. "It could have belonged to the captain."

"Or any other of officer," Matthew said dryly. "But it'll keep me
in beer and shrimp for a while."

Stunned, she jerked back. "You're going to sell it? You're just
going to sell it? For money?"

"I'm not going to sell it for clamshells."

"But don't you want to know where it came from, who it came from ?

"Not particularly." He turned the cleaned portion of the hilt
toward the sun, watched it glint in the light. "There's an antique
dealer on Saint Bart's who'll give me a square deal."

"That's horrible. That's . . ." She searched for the worst insult
she could imagine. "Ignorant." In a flash, she was on her feet. "To
just sell it that way. For all you know, it may have belonged to
the captain of the Isabella or the Santa Marguerite. That would be
a historic find. It could belong in a museum."

Amateurs, Matthew thought in disgust. "It belongs where I put it."
He rose fluidly. "I found it."

Her heart stuttered at the thought of it wasting away in some dusty
antique shop, or worse, being bought by some careless tourist who
would hang it on the wall of his den.

"I'll give you a hundred dollars for it."

His grin flashed. "Red, I could get more than that by melting down
the hilt."

She paled at the thought. "You wouldn't do that. You couldn't."
When he only cocked his head, she bit her lip. The stereo system
she envisioned gracing her college dorm room would have to wait.
"Two hundred then. It's all I have saved."

"I'll take my chances on Saint Bart's."

Color flooded back into her cheeks. "You're nothing but an

"You're right. And you're an idealist." He smiled as she stood in
front of him, hands fisted, eyes fired. Over her shoulder, he
caught movement on the deck of the Adventure. "And for better or
worse, Red, it looks like we're partners."

"Over my dead body."

He took her by the shoulders. For one startled minute, she thought
he meant to heave her overboard. But he simply turned her until she
faced her own boat.

Her heart sank as she watched her father and Buck Lassiter shake

Excerpted from THE REEF © Copyright 2002 by Nora Roberts.
Reprinted with permission by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of
Penguin Putnam Inc. All rights reserved.


The Reef
by by Nora Roberts

  • Genres: Fiction, Romance
  • paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Jove
  • ISBN-10: 051512608X
  • ISBN-13: 9780515126082