The Serpent in the Stone - By Nicki Greenwood

Chapter One

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.

Until now.

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