Exclusive Excerpt: The Lake of Learning - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

For over a decade Cassiopeia Vitt has been building an authentic French castle, using only materials and techniques from the 13th century. But when a treasure is unearthed at the construction site—an ancient Book of Hours—a multitude of questions are raised, all pointing to an ancient and forgotten religious sect.

Once the Cathars existed all across southern France, challenging Rome and attracting the faithful by the tens of thousands. Eventually, in 1208, the Pope declared them heretics and ordered a crusade—the first where Christians killed Christians—and thousands were slaughtered, the Cathars all but exterminated. Now a piece of that past has re-emerged, one that holds the key to the hiding place of the most precious object the Cathars possessed. And when more than one person becomes interested in that secret, in particular a thief and a billionaire, the race is on.

From the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, to the crest of mysterious Montségur, to a forgotten cavern beneath the Pyrenees, Cassiopeia is drawn deeper and deeper into a civil war between two people obsessed with revenge and murder.

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Cassiopeia Vitt

Book 2

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Excerpt: The Lake of Learning
By Steve Berry & M.J. Rose

Exclusive Excerpt: The Lake of Learning

Out this week is THE LAKE OF LEARNING—the latest Cassiopeia Vitt novella from New York Times bestselling authors Steve Berry & M.J. Rose.  I’m thrilled to share a sneak peek of this suspenseful pageturner below!

Then there were the artifacts.

On a table against the wall stood a Tibetan buddha.  Several other busts rested atop pedestals.  Shelves displayed old volumes of biology and nature, well bound in cloth casings.  One cabinet with glass-fronted drawers held oracle bones and what appeared to be megalodon teeth.  A stereoscope displayed a collection of centuries- old views.  It all had the feel of a museum, untouched by human warmth.

“I couldn’t be happier to see you,” Beláncourt said, staying with French, standing from his desk and walking toward her.

He was dressed, as yesterday, unwrinkled, in a dark suit, stiff-collared shirt, and silk tie.  His face was smoothly shaved, his hair brushed into place, the brown eyes clear and steady.  The woman who’d escorted her poured a glass of Evian and squeezed a slice of lime into it.  She accepted the glass and enjoyed a few sips.  “I’m not sure you’ll be so happy to see me after you’ve heard what I have to say.”

He looked perplexed.  “I’m a grown man.  I can handle it.”

“Your attempt to steal the book this morning failed.”

His expression changed from one of bewilderment to concern.  “I’m disturbed to hear that something like that happened.  Truly, I am.  But, I assure you, my attempts never fail.”

“And yet you’ve failed twice with me.”

He chuckled.  “I like you.  You’re direct, and that is refreshing.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t say the same about you.”

“I assure you, I made no attempt to steal that book.  None at all.”

“And why don’t I believe you?”

“Because I’m suspect in your eyes.  And I understand how you would think I might try such a thing.  But, again, it was not me.”

For all the distaste she held for Beláncourt, something troubled her.  Either he was a world-class liar, which was possible, or he really didn’t know what she was talking about.

“I assume you’re not here, then, to sell me the manuscript,” he said.

She enjoyed more of the water and decided a little misdirection on her part would be good.  “You went to a lot of trouble creating this office.  Quite an effort.”

“I don’t care for ordinary.  I prefer things to be different.”

“This space certainly qualifies.”

She liked strong men.  But where Cotton tempered his strength with humility and compassion, Beláncourt oozed pride and arrogance.  And that she detested.  But she detected no lies, no embellishing flourishes to provide a stronger feeling of truth.  No warning flags.  “Someone tried to steal the manuscript this morning.  A woman, we believe.  Her head was hooded.  She managed to escape, but we were able to save the book.”

“That’s good to hear.  But I don’t steal things.  I buy them.  That book is worth, at most, a hundred thousand euros.  I’d gladly pay twice that right now.”

“You were quite emphatic yesterday that your next offer would be much different,” she said.  “You were right.  It is different.  Now you’re offering double its value?”

“You have no idea what my offer yesterday would have been.  We never got that far in our discussion.”

Good point.  “Surely you can see how I would assume that you were behind the theft, trying to obtain the book for nothing.”

He nodded.  “But it was not me.”

Which begged the question.  “Then who?”

He shrugged.  “Could be an art thief, after something to sell.  There are many who make their living peddling stolen objects.  The person probably saw the same internet postings we all did and thought it an easy thing to acquire, considering the remoteness of your property.”

That was entirely plausible.  Still.  “Why is the book so important to you?”

“I collect objects of knowledge and beauty.  Books of Hours are of a particular interest.  I saw the images online and they spoke to me.  I had to have it.”

Now she felt he was lying.  This was not about art.  Or a collector’s lust.  Something else was at play here.

“I have one of the largest private collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world,” he said.  “I would love to show them to you.”

Now he was trying charm.

Monsieur Beláncourt, I don’t believe in coincidences.  I’m still not totally convinced you were not behind the theft attempt today.  But I will take you at your word.  I came to tell you again, to your face, that the manuscript is not for sale.  Please stop your efforts to obtain it.”  She paused.  “Whatever they might be.”

“I’m afraid that is quite impossible.”

Now she was puzzled.  “Why?”

He stood at attention, hands folded behind his back.  “As I mentioned, I would never steal anything.  But my statement to you yesterday still holds.  My next offer will not be anything close to two hundred thousand euros.”

There was that arrogance again.

“As you will soon learn,” he said, “the ways I go about obtaining what I want are much more effective than robbery.”

She did not like the sound of that.

His lean face creased into an irritating smile.

Au revoir, mademoiselle.”

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