Rattled brings romantic suspense to the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert.
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Romantic Suspense by Kris Bock
The Victorio Peak treasure is the stuff of legends -- a heretic Spanish priest's gold mine, made even richer by the spoils of bandits and an Apache raider.
When Erin, a quiet history professor, uncovers a clue to a petroglyph map that may identify the lost treasure cave, she prepares for an adventure. But minutes after her discovery, a hit and run driver nearly kills her. The "accident" seems an unlikely coincidence, especially when followed by a series of break-ins and attacks. Apparently she's not the only one after the treasure. And is Drew, the handsome helicopter pilot who found her bleeding in a ditch, really a hero, or one of the enemy?
Erin won't give up an important historical find without a fight. She heads into the New Mexico wilderness with her brainy best friend Camie and a feisty orange cat. They'll need Drew's help as well to track down the treasure, even though Erin isn't sure she can trust him with her heart. The wilderness holds its own dangers, from wild animals and even wilder weather. Plus, the sinister men hunting Erin are determined to follow her all the way to the treasure, no matter where the twisted trail leads.
Just how far will Erin go to find the treasure and discover what she's really made of?
Kris Bock, brings romantic suspense to the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert.
Erin could hardly believe what she was seeing. Could this be it? After all this time waiting, searching, had she finally, finally, found what she was looking for?
She forced herself to sit back and take a deep breath. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t rush into things. She wanted to leap up and scream her excitement, but years of academic training held. Slow down, double-check everything, and make sure you are right!
She leaned forward and ran her fingers over the grainy photograph. With that one image, everything seemed to fall into place. This was the clue. It had to be.
She fumbled in her desk drawer for a magnifying glass and studied the symbols in the photo more closely. At a glance, they looked like your standard Indian petroglyphs. You could find them throughout the Southwest, tucked away in caves or scattered among boulder fields. She’d been on a hike just a few miles outside of town which took her past a wonderful series of handprints and spirals, and what looked strangely like a robot.
But this was different.
If she was right—and she had to be right—these symbols were a map. A map that could lead her to one of the greatest caches of buried treasure ever.
Erin flipped back a few pages, to the first photograph, the one that showed an overview of the boulder field. She confirmed that it had numbers identifying the specific rocks that the book then showed in detail. She could see a few outcroppings that would help orient anyone searching for those petroglyphs. The book also had a map of the area, and clear directions. She would be able to find the carved map. If the landscape hadn’t changed too much the last century, anyway.
She pushed that thought aside, jumped up, and did a little dance.
She reached for the phone. In a few seconds a voice said, “Yeah.” Erin could hear the sound of some tool on metal in the background.
“Camie? I found it!”
The working sounds stopped. Camie said, “You’d better not be talking about that sweater you lost.”
Erin laughed. “No, I found the clue! I know where the treasure is—well, at least, I think I’ve found the first clue that will—”
Camie cut her off. “Forget the disclaimers. You really found something? You mean, we might actually do this?”
The two women screamed into the phone at each other.
Erin collapsed into her desk chair, her cheeks sore from smiling. “I’m so excited I can hardly breathe. Look, are you at work? I’ll come by. I can get out of here in, oh, fifteen minutes, so I’ll see you in half an hour?” She leaned over her desk and gazed down at the photo in the battered old book. “I want to show you where we’re going. We need to make plans.”
“I’ll be here waiting.” Camie’s voice purred, with a touch of twang. “Honey, we’re going places.”
Erin hung up and gazed at the book a moment longer. Who would believe she’d found the clue to one of the most fabulous hidden treasures ever, in a battered old library book? The book must have been sitting there for years, quietly hoarding its secrets. But she had found it. Six months of research had led to this.
In the beginning, it had been a whim. Something to distract her from the tedium of teaching history classes at a small science college where students didn’t value history. Researching lost treasures was fun, and she’d written a few articles about it for magazines. Reading the books on lost mines and buried treasures, you’d think the entire country was covered with them. The Southwest had more than its fair share, from miners who lost track of their remote gold mines, to prospectors who had buried bags of gold and never returned to retrieve them, to bandits who had hidden stolen loot and been killed.
But among all the legends, all the fact and fiction, one story stood out. The Victorio Peak legend had it all. A Franciscan priest and a swindler. Torture, murder, a government cover-up. Where was the truth, among all the stories? Erin wanted to find out. Over time, and with Camie’s encouragement, she’d started to take the treasure hunt more seriously. It wasn’t so much for the treasure itself—that would most likely belong to the government or the landowners. But from the start, she’d recognized the potential, should she ever unearth new information. Forget academic publications; this was the kind of story which could capture the general imagination and catapult her into success as a writer of popular nonfiction. It would make her reputation, open up new job opportunities—change her life in ways she hardly dared dream.
She touched the book gently. The pages were falling out; she didn’t want to risk carrying it around. Instead, Erin snapped a picture of the petroglyphs with her phone. That would be enough to show Camie for now.
She put the book back on her shelf among the hundreds of others she either owned or had borrowed from various libraries. Then she flipped through her stack of topographic maps and found the right one in southern New Mexico. She tucked the phone and the map into the small waist pack she used when biking around town.
Her stomach rumbled, a reminder that she’d been so caught up in her work she’d skipped lunch. She forced herself to stop and have a bowl of cereal. She ate standing up in the kitchen while her mind raced through the planning of the treasure hunt. The timing was perfect; she’d made her students’ final papers due the previous week, before finals. She just had to turn in grades and field a few tearful last-minute requests for extensions, and she’d be done for the semester. What better way to spend the summer, than hunting for buried treasure?
Erin shook her head. Who would’ve thought that she, the quiet, studious girl who’d spent her entire adult life in academia in one way or another, would be planning such an adventure?
She checked that the front door was locked, a habit left over from living in bigger cities, grabbed her bike helmet, and went out the back.
Erin wheeled the bike around the front of her house and mounted. At the corner, she paused and looked both ways. The long frontage road was dangerously narrow, with a cement wall on one side and a ditch on the other. Fortunately, traffic was normally light, and at this time of day the road lay empty. Erin pushed off, still grinning from her find. She rode on the right side, by the ditch, instead of facing traffic, because it was just too scary to ride alongside the wall when a car passed.
She’d gone a block when she heard the hum of a car engine as it pulled out from a side street behind her. She rode along the very edge of the pavement, even though the car would have plenty of room to pass her without oncoming traffic.
Erin glanced over her shoulder. The black SUV twenty feet behind her hadn’t bothered to pull out into the road at all. Jerk. When would drivers learn to share the road with bicyclists? Erin pulled onto the two-foot wide gravel strip between the pavement and the ditch. She couldn’t stop without risking a skid, but she slowed so the SUV could pass.
The engine roared. Erin glanced back again.
Black metal bore down on her. Her heart lurched and the bike wobbled. This guy was crazy! She whipped her gaze forward, rose up in the seat, and pumped the pedals with all her power, skimming along inches from the ditch. He was just trying to scare her. She’d get his license plate and—
She felt the bumper hit her back tire. The bike seemed to leap into the air, and she went flying. The dried mud and weeds of the ditch seemed to rise up to meet her.
She didn’t even have time to scream.
Erin floated in darkness. Where was she? What was happening? Why did she feel like she would throw up if she tried to move?
Something was tugging at her waist. Hands? A vague thought floated through her consciousness—don’t move an accident victim. She tried to speak, though she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say. Call 911? Help? Maybe the hands were help. Somebody was there, anyway. She wasn’t alone. She tried to open her eyes, tried to ask what had happened.
The tugging at her waist stopped. She thought she heard a murmur of voices. The slam of a car door jolted her so she flinched. She only noticed the car engine when it revved up and moved away.
Silence. The air lay hot and heavy over her. The pain started to fragment into specific sensations—pounding in her head, a shooting pain in her neck, burning in her hands, knees, and one elbow, grass prickling her left cheek. She could hear the faint murmur of traffic on the highway, on the other side of the cement divider. But that was all.
What had happened to the person trying to help her? Had she imagined it?
Blackness threatened to draw her in. She had to resist it. Erin sucked in a breath and tried to focus through the pain. She’d had an accident. She was alone in a ditch. It could be hours before someone found her. She had to move, get up to the road at least. She shouldn’t move, but she had to.
She opened her eyes and saw a haze of yellow slashes. She blinked and tried to focus. The colors shimmered and would not turn into solid shapes. She blinked rapidly, tears threatening to blur her vision more. Oh God—what was wrong with her eyes?
Finally she understood. Weeds were growing inches from her eyes, too close for her to focus. She lay on her stomach, head turned to the side. If she concentrated, she could feel the ground despite all the aches.
Erin flexed her right hand until she felt the ground beneath her. She waited until her brain understood where her arm was. She took a deep breath and gritted her teeth. With a groan, she pushed with her hand. Pain shot through her body like flashes of lightening as she rolled over. She lay gasping.
Had she said that? She didn’t think so. She forced her eyes open. She gazed up into a face, almost close enough to kiss. Blue eyes stared down at her. They seem to grow larger, filling her vision like the sky, drawing her in like a pool of cool water. For a moment she forgot the pain.
“Hold on,” a man’s voice said. “Don’t try to move. I’m calling for help.”
Help. Yes, help would be good. She sighed and closed her eyes.
“Stay with me,” the voice demanded. Annoying. She wanted to sleep.
She heard more words, something about an accident, but didn’t try to make sense of them. Her head pounded.
A hand grabbed her wrist. “Don’t move.” Had she? She must have, her arm was in the air, her fingers brushing her head, although it felt strange, wrong, swollen and stiff and distant. Oh, right—she was wearing her bike helmet. She always wore her helmet. You never knew when you might have an accident.
The strange hand gently guided her arm down until it lay alongside her again. Erin whimpered.
Rough fingertips brushed her cheek. “You’ll be all right,” the voice said. “Everything is going to be okay.”
Oh, good, Erin thought. That was all right then.
“Look at me. Stay with me.”
Erin blinked against the brightness until the blur above her resolved into those blue eyes. She could get lost in those eyes. She wanted to get lost and let everything else slip away.
The pain in her head started to shriek.
No, it was something outside. A siren, wailing ever louder as it drew closer. Lights flashed in the corner of her vision. She moaned and closed her eyes against the pain.
The voice whispered over her, husky and gentle. “You’re all right now. You’ll be all right.”