Excerpt, ATLANTIS UNLEASHED
Archaeology Department, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Dr. Keely McDermott folded her arms, realizing that both of the men in her cramped office could read her body language like a red warning flag, but not giving much of a damn. “I don’t care how prestigious it is, or what an honor, or which government is asking. I need a vacation.”
The powerful-looking man in the black suit opened his mouth to speak, but she held up a hand to stop him. “Look, Mr. Liam--"
“Just Liam,” he said, a trace of impatience in his voice.
She studied his chiseled cheekbones and the waves of silken black hair that were just a shade too long for him to be a standard-issue government flunky. The breadth of his shoulders and chest combined with his towering height didn’t add up to cubicle jockey, either. Not with that kind of muscle. But since when did civil servants start looking like ancient warriors?
Ancient warriors? Where did that thought come from?
Keely blinked. For half a second there, his midnight-blue eyes had seemed to flash silver at her. She wasn’t just tired, she was at a whole new level beyond tired. Zombiefied, maybe. She glanced at her discarded gloves, which lay on her desk. But she didn’t need them; everything had been cleared. She was safe in her office. “Okay, Liam. Here’s the thing.”
She lifted her shoulders and rolled her neck to try to alleviate the tension that had knotted her up into hunchback status. “I spent eighteen months out of the past twenty working the Lupercale. Eighteen months, three cave-ins, one mugging, and two trips to the emergency room.” She shook her head. “You’d think my Italian would have improved more by now.”
George Grenning spoke up from where he hunched in a chair by the door, seemingly trying to fit his lanky frame into the smallest possible space. He’d worked with her for five years and was head of her department, but he still didn’t seem to have any self-confidence, even though he was her boss and had fifteen years on her. “You’ve been back a week, Keely, and still haven’t told me much about it. The Lupercale. The actual cave where a she-wolf nursed Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. I’d give my left arm to have been invited on that dig.”
Keely’s eyes narrowed, but George’s open, affable face showed only a touch of awe, no envy. Archaelogy was a small world, and academic politics lent themselves more to backstabbing professional jealousy than any true camaraderie, as she’d learned, painfully, through her own experiences. Even though he outranked her in the office and in the field, her special . . . talent . . . meant that she was highly in demand.
Highly in demand, in spite of the fact that nobody knew she was anything but normal.
Liam turned the full effect of his “I am in command” stare on George, who shriveled even further. “Dr. Grenning, while I appreciate professional curiosity, I have very little time. Perhaps you could excuse us while Dr. McDermott and I discuss the parameters of our request?”
Keely almost laughed at the sheer nerve of the man. He’d just dismissed George from her office. “George stays,” she said flatly, lifting her soda can. Maybe a little caffeine would help. “And you’re not the only one with very little time. I said no, so perhaps you should be on your way?”
Liam clenched his jaw, and the illusion of pleasant persuasion he’d worn like a mask faded, leaving stark arrogance and command stamped on his features. “I would be more than pleased to accept your denial, except that my high prince has tasked me with this mission,” he gritted out. “We are aware of your Gift, Lady Keely. We know you are an object reader, and as such you possess a Gift believed long lost in the waters of time. For that reason, and because of your reputation as a brilliant archaeologist of impeccable integrity, it is my honor to invite you to Atlantis.”
Keely’s laughter got trapped in her throat as she looked into his eyes, which now smouldered with pure liquid silver, distracting her. “How do you do that thing with the eyes? And, seriously? Atlantis? The lost continent? You--"
The beginning of his statement suddenly registered, and she shot an alarmed look at George, who was staring avidly at the psycho who claimed to be from Atlantis. “My what? I don’t know what you’re talking about, and clearly you’re a nutcase. Atlantis, right. Sure, let me pencil that in.”
She pretended to scan her desk calendar. “I can fit that in two weeks from now, right after I excavate Oz.”
Liam never cracked a smile. “I know not this Oz, but your priorities just changed.”
- copyright Alesia Holliday, writing as Alyssa Day, 2008 for Berkley Sensation