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Undiscovered (Treasure Hunter Security Book 1)

By:Anna Hackett

Chapter One

She was hot, dusty, and she'd never felt better.

Dr. Layne Rush walked across her dig, her boots sinking into the hot Egyptian sand. Ahead, she saw her team of archeologists and students kneeling over the new section of the dig, dusting sand away with brushes and small spades, methodically uncovering a recently discovered burial ground.

To her left, the yawning hole in the ground where they'd started the dig was like a large mouth, ringed on one side by a wooden scaffold.

In there, below the sands, was a fantastic tomb, and Layne was only beginning to unravel its secrets.

She paused and drew in a breath of warm desert air. To the east lay the Nile, the lifeblood of Egypt. She swiveled and watched the red-orange orb of the sun sinking into the Western Desert sands. All around, the dunes glowed. It made her think of gold.

Excitement was a hit to her bloodstream. Only days ago, they'd discovered some stunning golden artifacts down in the excavation. She'd found the first one-a small ushabti funerary figurine that would have been placed there to serve the tomb's as-yet-unknown occupant in the afterlife. After that, her team had discovered jewelry, a golden scarab, and a small amulet of a dog-like animal.

Stars started appearing in the sky, like tiny pinpricks of light through velvet. She breathed in again. The most exciting thing was the strange inscriptions carved into the dog amulet.

They had mentioned Zerzura.

Oh, Layne really wanted to believe Zerzura existed-a fabulous lost oasis in the desert, filled with treasure. She smiled as she watched the night darkness shroud the dunes. Her parents had read her bedtime stories of Zerzura as a child.

Thoughts of her parents, and the hard punch of grief that followed, made Layne's smile disappear. Unfortunately, life had taught her that fairytales didn't exist.

She shook off the melancholy. She'd made a life for herself, a career, and spent most of her time off on adventures on remote dig sites. She'd held treasures in her hands. She shared her love of history with anyone who'd listen. She hoped that if her mom and dad were still alive, they'd be proud of what she'd achieved.

Layne made her way toward the large square tents set up for dealing with the artifacts. One was for storage and one for study.

"Hey, Dr. Rush."

Layne spotted her assistant, Piper Ross, trudging up the dune toward her. The young woman was smart, opinionated, and not afraid to speak her mind. Her dark hair was cut short, the tips colored purple.

"Hi, Piper."

The young woman grinned. "Give you a whip and you'd look like something out of a movie." Piper swept a palm through the air. "Dr. Rush, dashing female adventurer."

Layne rolled her eyes. "Don't start. I still haven't lived down that last interview I did." What Layne had thought was a serious article on archeology had morphed into a story that turned her into a damned movie character. They'd even Photoshopped a whip in her hand and a hat on her head. "How's that new eastern quadrant coming along?"

"Excellent." Piper stopped, swiping her arm across her sweaty forehead. "I've got it all documented and photographed, and the tape laid out. We're ready to start digging tomorrow morning."

"Well done." Layne was hoping the new area would yield some excellent finds.

"Well, I am insanely good at my job-that's why you hired me, remember?" Piper grinned.

Layne tapped her chin. "Was that it? I thought it was because you kept me in a constant supply of Diet Coke and chocolate."

Piper snorted. "Here they call it Coke Light, remember?"

Layne screwed up her nose. "I remember. The damn stuff doesn't taste the same."

"Yes, you really have to suffer out here on these remote digs."

"Can the sarcasm, Ross. Or I might forget why I keep you around."

Piper laughed. "A few of us are heading into Dakhla for the evening. Want to come?"

Dakhla Oasis was a two-hour drive north-east of the dig site. A group of communities, including the main town of Mut, were centered on the oasis. It was also where most of their local workers came from, and where they got their supplies.

Layne shook her head. "No, but thanks for the offer. I want to spend a bit more time on the artifacts we found, and take another look at the tomb plans. The main burial chamber and sarcophagus have to be in there somewhere."

"Unless grave robbers got to it," Piper suggested.

Layne shook her head. "When that local boy discovered this place it was clearly undisturbed." In between the discovery that had made headlines and her university being awarded the right to dig, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities had kept tight security on the place. She knew the Ministry would have preferred to run the dig themselves, but they just didn't have the funding to run every dig in the country. "I'm going to find out who's buried here, Piper."   


The younger woman shook her head. "Well, just remember, all work and no play makes Dr. Rush very boring and in need of getting laid."

Layne rolled her eyes. "I'll worry about my personal life, thanks for your concern."

Piper stuck her hand on her hip. "You haven't dated since Dr. Stevens."

Ugh. Just hearing her colleague's name made Layne's stomach turn over. Dr. Evan Stevens had been a colossal mistake. He was tall and handsome, in a clean-cut way that suited his academic career as a professor of the Classics and History.

He'd been nice, intelligent. They'd liked the same restaurants. The sex hadn't been stellar, but it was fine. Layne had honestly thought he was someone she could come to love. More than anything, Layne wanted it all-a career, to travel, a husband who loved her, and most importantly, a family of her own. She wanted the love she remembered her parents sharing. She wanted the career they'd only dreamed of for her.

Maybe that had blinded her to the fact that Evan was an asshole hiding in an expensive suit.

Layne waved a hand dismissively. "I've told you before, I don't want to hear that man's name."

"I know you guys had a bad breakup … "

Ha. Piper didn't know half of it. Evan had stolen some of Layne's research and passed it off as his own. And he'd had the gall to tell her she was bad in bed. Moron.

"Look, go," Layne said. "Head into the oasis, soak in the springs, relax. You've got a lot of work to do tomorrow in the hot sun."

Piper groaned. "Don't remind me."

But Layne could see the twinkle of excitement in the young woman's eye. Layne saw it in her own every day. Being on a dig was always like that. Uncovering a piece of history … she could never truly describe how it made her feel. To touch something that someone had made, used, and cherished thousands of years ago. To uncover its secrets and try to piece together where it fit into the story of the world. To see what they could learn from it that might help them understand more about humanity.

She found it endlessly fascinating. Best job in the world.

After waving Piper off, Layne headed to the storage tent. The canvas door was still rolled up and secured at the top. As she stepped inside, the temperature dropped a little. Now that the sun had set, the temperature would drop even more. Nights in the desert, even in spring, could be chilly. She'd need to get to the portable shower they had set up and rinse off before it got too cold.

She'd lost count of the number of digs she'd been on. In the jungle, in the desert, under cities, by the ocean. She didn't care where they were, she just loved the challenge and thrill of uncovering the past.

Layne flicked on the battery-powered lantern hanging on the side of the tent. Makeshift shelves lined the space. Most were bare, waiting for the treasures they had yet to discover. But the first shelf was lined with shards of pottery, faience amulets, and stone carvings. But it was the locked box at the base of the shelf she was most interested in.

She quickly dialed in the code on the tumbler-style lock and lifted the lid.

God. She stroked the ushabti reverently, its gold surface glowing in the lantern-light. Her parents would have loved to have seen this. To know their daughter had been the one to find it.

The necklace was still in pieces, but back in their lab in Cairo, someone would piece it back together. The chunky golden scarab would fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. She carefully lifted the small, dog-like amulet. It was slightly smaller than the scarab, and the canine had a slender body like a greyhound, and a long, stiff tail that was forked at the end. She was sure this was a set-animal, the symbol of the Egyptian god, Seth. She stroked the hieroglyphs on the animal's body and the symbols that spelled Zerzura.

Unfortunately, none of the hieroglyphs here made sense. She'd spent hours working on them. They were gibberish.

There was a noise behind her. A scrape of a boot in sand.

She turned, wondering who else had stayed behind.

A fist collided with her face in a vicious blow.

Pain exploded through Layne's cheek and she tasted blood. The blow sent her sprawling into the sand, the set-animal carving falling from her fingers.

Layne couldn't seem to focus. She lay there, her cheek to the sand, trying to clear her head. Her face throbbed and she heard voices talking in Arabic.

A black boot appeared in her line of sight.

A hand reached down and picked up the set-animal.

She swallowed, trying to get her brain working. Then she heard another voice. Deep, cool tones with a clipped British accent that made her blood run cold.

"Move it. I want it done. Fast."