Authors: Nicki Greenwood
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Magic, #shapeshift
The Gifted Series, Book One
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
The Serpent in the Stone
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Nicki Greenwood
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
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Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
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First Faery Rose Edition, 2013
Print ISBN 978-1-61217-816-5
Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-817-2
The Gifted Series: Book One
Published in the United States of America
THE SERPENT IN THE STONE
3rd Place, 2006 Barclay Sterling Contest
for the phone call
Twenty years later, Sara Markham still struggled to erase the images of her father’s blood.
She rubbed at her aching temples. Last night, she’d relived the old nightmare again—Robert Markham, a noted archaeologist, found murdered at his ransacked university office. The papers and networks had a field day with it, splashing photos and speculation around like they were playing at a water park. No one stopped to think about the family whose life had been ripped apart. No one had any answers. Or clues. Or leads.
Yesterday, in his safe deposit box, she’d discovered a stone amulet and a beat-up book of fairy tales. What those things had to do with her father’s murder, she couldn’t have said, but they had been worth hiding in a little steel box for two decades.
God, I want coffee.
The ocean breeze misted across her face. Gulls wheeled overhead, their cries drowned out by rushing waves and the whine of the speedboat’s engine. Sara touched the stone pendant, secreted away under her sweater with the silver locket her father had given her on her tenth birthday. That was the day all hell had broken snarling off its chain and rampaged through her once-normal life. Celebrating it had been unbearable. Forgetting, impossible.
The amulet and her father’s work were definitely connected. He had never in his life done anything without purpose. Now, the trail of clues had led her, her sister Faith, and their own team of archaeologists here: Hvitmar, Shetland, a tiny uninhabited island at the archipelago’s northernmost tip. She hoped—and feared—she’d find the answer to that lifelong “Why?” hidden under the soil of this lonely scrap of earth in the middle of the ocean. Maybe then, they could put his soul to rest at last.
Faith spoke over the noise of the engine. “Lambertson says the island is normally quiet. Nothing but seals and birds. The earthquake last month opened a fissure wide enough to see the field wall buried a few meters down.”
Faith’s flaxen hair caught the sunlight as they sped along. As twins went, they were polar opposites: Sara with the chestnut hair and hazel eyes of their mother, Faith as blond and blue-eyed as their late father. Like night and day, particularly in the way they handled the secret they’d shared since that tragic birthday. Sara thought it a curse. Faith embraced it. But they’d always had each other.
After all, they’d never met another gifted person with whom to share the burden—let alone a multi-gifted one. Paranormal power bonded them as surely as blood.
Dustin Sennett looked back over his shoulder from the driver’s seat. “There it is. Looks nice and inviting,” he said, pointing.
Sure enough, the profile of Hvitmar reared up from the sea ahead. Sheer cliffs on its southern end sloped off gradually to the north.
Sara crossed her fingers. Not superstitious. Just...cautious.
“You don’t think Lamb will try to hand this off to Flintrop’s firm if we find something, do you?” Faith asked. Her tone snapped with dislike. She and their competitor, Alan Flintrop, had dated briefly, but Flintrop, L.L.C had been scooping projects out from under Gemini, Limited’s nose too long for that to last. And this, of all projects, was too important to lose.
“Lamb knows how much we want this,” Sara said, though she wasn’t so sure herself. Their old mentor and Robert’s onetime partner, James Lambertson, had offered them the project and even loaned them two men from his own London-based firm to help. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t call on Flintrop’s larger, better-supplied firm if their find proved major. She seethed just thinking about it.
They neared the dock at the island’s southern end. When they reached the pilings, Dustin cut the motor and moored the boat. Thomas Callander began unloading supplies. Sara shouldered her own pack and stepped onto the dock, surprised at the warmth in the air. For late winter, it sure felt like spring. At least they wouldn’t freeze on this project.
The fissure lay on the island’s north end, a mile or so from the dock. She groaned at the thought of trudging that whole distance loaded down with supplies, but there was no other boat access. Their larger equipment had been flown in a couple days ago. Absorbed in planning, she walked along beside Faith without seeing her surroundings, until her sister paused and nudged her arm. “What?”
Faith jerked her chin ahead of them. Sara looked up to find a tent staked near the southern cliffs.
Someone had beaten them here.
She marched toward the tent, fully expecting to see Alan Flintrop and his smug, toast-of-New-York’s-anthropology-circles smile. Instead, she found a man in a denim jacket and blue jeans, sitting in a camp chair and writing in a small leather book. She dropped her bag. “Who are you?”
The man looked up, and she formed a quick impression of stubble and magazine-worthy good looks.
His storm-blue gaze traveled over her figure, sending tiny frissons of awareness—and hazy recognition—through her body.
A fringe of chocolate brown forelock couldn
t quite hide the thin scar over one of his eyebrows.
t seem surprised to see her, which sent her hackles up instantly as he laid aside his book and stood up.
he said, and held out his hand.
Suspicion elbowed her interest aside.
Why did she know that name?
She slid her hand into his.
She felt her eyes change color from hazel to emerald, the way most people felt rippling gooseflesh across the skin.
The influx of power sent a chill up her spine.
His grip tightened on her hand, convulsive, and then his thoughts rushed into her mind in a flurry of images.
Her grade school playground. Todd Garrett was picking on her sister again. He’d plucked Faith’s locket, a golden one, from around her neck and was taunting her with it. When Sara reached out, her sister’s necklace flew unaided across the schoolyard and into her hand. She looked up, scared and shocked at what she’d done, and her gaze locked onto that of a boy with storm-blue eyes.
Sara screwed her eyes shut to cut the images off.
She reopened them cautiously, though she knew they would have turned back to their normal color the moment she closed them.
This man knew what she was. If he remembered. If he believed what he’d seen. She’d guarded the secret of her gifts ever since that first instance, that unprepared childhood fumble. Fear sliced through her and she stamped it back.
What in God
s name was he doing here?
Fighting to control the dread galloping along her nerves, she risked another look at him.
The expression on his face spoke volumes.
Hell yes, he remembered.
t wanted to believe what he
d seen then, and didn
Hating the savage righteousness clawing through his gut, he pulled his hand from hers and fisted it, as if digging his nails into his palm could stop the proof in its tracks.
This was why he’d followed her to Shetland. This was why he’d volunteered to do a birding project on this godforsaken little speck in the ocean. Hell, he’d been torn between watching her and avoiding her for the past twenty years. He’d often wondered—against his will—what happened to her after they graduated high school. Did she still have her power? Had he been mistaken?
No question now.
Her eyes had changed color.
This woman, this slip of a woman, had power just like—
He stifled the rest of that thought and forced a smile.
We work at the university together.
I teach in the biology department.
he added, tilting his head toward the cliffs, where scores of seabirds circled in the salty air.
Her gaze scoured him.
d grown, what the hell had he expected?
But time had been unfairly kind to Sara—Doctor—Markham.
He tried to ignore the curves of her body and the way her hair blew loose around her shoulders.
The way she held herself rigid in the flight-ready pose of cornered prey.
She looked like a wild creature herself, belonging more to wind and water than to his childhood nightmares.
Like a selkie
The ferryman who brought him to Hvitmar had told him stories about the mythical seals-turned-women that haunted the Shetland coastlines and took human mates.
Not so crazy right now.
Behind Sara stood another woman, tall and blond, with a knapsack over her shoulder and an interested stare on her face.
On her right were two men, carrying bags of their own.
m doing a study on the local birds,
Ian said at last.
Sara crossed her arms.
On my island?
s quite a coincidence.
The image of the selkie evaporated in a cloud of territorial insult.
He forgot what she was.
This island is big enough for two researchers,
t interfere with my birds, and I won
t interfere with your dig.
Her voice went frosty.
You know about the dig?
Yeah, I know about the dig.
And even now, part of him wished more and more that he
d never learned of it.
The blond woman bent and hoisted up the pack by Sara
ll go set up the tents,
she said, and she and the men hurried away.