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The Man From Atlantis
By Judith McWilliams
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJenna Farron instinctively froze as the ominous sound of a rattle echoed through the still, desert air. A chill feathered over her hot skin. As she hastily scanned the barren, rocky ground below, she wondered what a rattlesnake was doing out in the open. Normally, they had better sense than to subject their delicate bodies to the blistering heat of a July afternoon.
Jenna's stomach did a sudden flip-flop as she caught a flash of movement about twenty feet down the slope of the hill. She had been told that diamondback rattlers commonly grew to more than six feet, but knowing that intellectually and finding herself only a few yards from ten feet of slithering death, was quite another matter.
Blind fear engulfed her as the snake lifted its head and stared directly at her. She tried to comfort herself with the fact that there was a snake-bite kit back in her truck, not more than a mile away. And, if for some reason she couldn't reach the truck, she could always call for help. She touched the cellular phone strapped to her waistband like a talisman. She might be alone, but she was far from helpless.
She forced herself to remain motionless as the rattler suddenly slithered away, disappearing behind a large boulder.
Jenna let her breath out on a long, relieved sigh. The things they didn't tell you when you were studying to be an archaeologist, she thought ruefully as she pulled her hat off and ran her trembling fingers through short black hair, leaving behind yellowish dust streaks.
Turning to her left, away from the direction the rattler had gone, Jenna lost her balance on a loose piece of shale and began to slide down the side of the hill in a cascade of rocks and dirt. Frantically, she struggled to grab something, anything, to slow her descent. About three-quarters of the way down the steep incline, she managed to catch hold of a shrub, bringing herself to a sudden stop.
Looking down, her eyes narrowed as she caught a glimpse of blue in the rocks near the base of the hill.
A vein of turquoise? She awkwardly scrambled down the rest of the way to the thin line of blue. No, not turquoise, she realized. The color wasn't quite right, and the stone was too smooth. In fact ... Jenna felt a sudden surge of excitement. It looked worked!
Hurriedly yanking her rock hammer out of her belt, she hunched down beside the blue stone and began to carefully chip away at the loose rocks around it. Working with as much speed as she could muster in the stifling heat, she swept and scraped and tossed the rocks away until she'd uncovered a piece of the bluish substance almost as tall as she was and about four feet wide.
Gingerly she ran her hand over the slick surface, pausing when she discovered a series of depressions. Flexing her fingers slightly, she stretched them to fit the indentations and then watched in disbelief as, with a rasping, creaking sound, the surface split and one side slowly rolled to the left.
Filled with a confusing mixture of excitement and fear, Jenna slowly counted to one hundred. When nothing else happened, she unhooked her halogen flashlight from her equipment belt and aimed the beam into the yawning blackness of the opening. The space inside appeared huge. A cave? she wondered.
She shone the light on the ground inside. It wasn't entirely natural, she realized, but paved with the same blue, marblelike material that had sealed the opening. Someone with a high degree of technology at their command had either built this or modified it. But who? Certainly not the prehistoric Indians she was investigating.
Unable to resist the lure, Jenna cautiously entered and swung her light around the chamber. The pale yellow beam arced to her right, over a box about seven feet long and three feet wide. It looked like ... a coffin. A quiver of foreboding danced over her skin, raising goose bumps. Nervously she widened the arc of her flashlight, frustrated by her poor vision.
Jenna slowly approached the box. Standing on tiptoe, she awkwardly leaned over and peered through the crystal-clear lid. Her breath escaped in a disbelieving whoosh and her eyes widened incredulously. The sound of her own raspy breathing whistling through her open mouth finally penetrated her sense of shock. She blinked, closed her mouth and took a deep, sustaining breath. And then a second, when one wasn't enough.
"It's just a man," she assured herself aloud, focusing her flashlight on leanly chiseled features, and shortly cut, golden-yellow hair that reminded her of the first spring daffodils. His eyes were closed, but for some inexplicable reason Jenna was certain they were blue.
Had been blue, Jenna corrected herself. A powerful wave of loss slammed through her, leaving her feeling totally bereft. As if she'd just lost something of infinite value.
"Stop it," she ordered herself. "You aren't some impressionable primitive to be thrown off-balance by a ..."
A what? Jenna wondered in confusion. What was this place? Who had built it, and how had they managed to preserve the man so perfectly? So very perfectly. Her eyes traced along the powerful thrust of his clean-shaven jaw, down the length of his neck to the broad expanse of his chest and lingered on the mat of golden curls with just the faintest tinge of red in them. Like antique gold jewelry, she thought fancifully. Her fingers tingled with an urge to touch it. To explore its texture. She clenched her hands into fists to dispel the compulsion and continued her inspection.
Following the trail of his body hair as it arrowed down his flat belly, she caught her breath as a surge of some unexpected emotion flooded her, momentarily short-circuiting her thought processes.
Excerpted from The Man From Atlantis by Judith McWilliams Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.