Quest for the Crystal Skull
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by David Ciambrone
Description: A crystal skull with a deadly secret leads two women on an adventure across two continents. Virginia Davies-Clark is on special assignment for the Smithsonian, helping to secure archaeological artifacts confiscated from smugglers--treasures worth millions. Since she's prone to dangerous situations, it's no surprise when Texas is hit by a raging hurricane and she's trapped on St. John's Island. What does surprise Virginia is running into her long time friend Donna Boletti. As the women prepare to ride out the storm at the beach front resort, they stumble on Virginia's murdered partner--and a mysterious crystal skull. It doesn't take long for the killers to come after them but Donna and Virginia turn the tables and get information about the skull. After the storm passes they escape the island, then go up against a strange cast of characters as they're pulled into the world of Voodoo in New Orleans. The body count climbs as everyone fights to get their hands on the treasure. When Virginia and Donna learn the people behind the murders are headquartered in Rome, their quest continues, in Italy. The women must infiltrate a fake antiques business, and deal with a lecherous porn producer in his mansion overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Will they expose the secret of the crystal skull without having to star in one of his art films?
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2010 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [381 KB]
Reading time: 245-343 min.
Virginia Davies-Clark thumped the steering wheel in frustration as fat, juicy raindrops splattered all over the windshield and hood of her rented Chevrolet Impala. The temperamental car deserved the punishment Mother Nature was inflicting. How dare it conk out in the driveway of the Mar Las Brisas Resort? Plucking her cell phone from the quagmire of store receipts and breath-mint wrappers crowding the passenger seat, Virginia felt her heart dip when she looked at the readout. As dead as her car. Recharging it would have been way too organized. What did she expect for having to drop everything and drive to the Texas barrier island on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico? She looked at the seat again. She was going to have to clean up the mess from the past few hectic days. But, somehow, right now, that didn't seem important.
She tried the ignition again. Nothing. "Son of a bitch!" She whacked the steering wheel again so hard, a quick flash of pain ricocheted up her arm. Well, she had lived through worse storms, and she'd live through this one. She had no choice. Funny, she'd spent the day warning the federal agents of the foolishness of remaining on a barrier island even in this less-than-deadly category three hurricane. Now she was about to ignore her own advice. She had come on a quick call from the Smithsonian's Central Security Service, or SCSS, to her office at the San Gabriel Museum, to help recover some artifacts stolen from the famous museum. Now she was reaping the reward. No good deed goes unpunished.
She climbed her five foot six curvy frame out of the Chevy and buffeted against a blast of wind and rain. The place was deserted. No one had been able to get on the island since early that afternoon, and everyone with a brain--and a real car, not a well-used rental--hit the causeway the minute the authorities announced the mandatory evacuation.
But Virginia stayed to help secure the last few artifacts they had recovered from a boat trying to beat the storm out into the gulf. In the smuggler's rush, the boat hit both a sandbar and the massive storm at the same time. Despite heavy seas, the SCSS agents and Customs Officers boarded the vessel and arrested the two men and one woman on board. Virginia, along with a SCSS agent secured the recovered boxes at an inn until the storm passed and they could arrange for the safe removal of the crates from the island. It took them and the entire Mar Las Brisas Resort staff to get the job done.
Now at well past five, everyone else had left, everyone but Virginia and another agent who stayed with her to protect the artifacts. Now she couldn't find him. The thick cloud cover caused an eerie late afternoon darkness and a creeping dread in her stomach. A quick glance down the long, flat beach road revealed no signs of life. The howling wind, even hours before actual landfall, bowed the towering queen palms like ballerinas in a backbend, their fronds extended straight. Only the very centerline of the road remained visible under at least five inches of water. She didn't need to see the wild, whipping surf across the street. She could tell by the thunderous roar that the tide already threatened the front porches of the beach houses. She could only pray the storm surge wouldn't flood the resort and her recovered artifacts. They had no time to get them off the island before the storm strengthened and turned towards them.
Bracing against a particularly vicious gust, she caught a glimmer of yellow through the curtain of rain. Were those headlights? Virginia squinted into the downpour and peered at the shimmering dots in the distance. Yes. Yes. Someone was still on St. John's! Did the other agent get a car going? With a quick glance down her rain-soaked body, she almost laughed out loud. Rain had left her white cotton top suctioned to her skin and made it transparent. She felt like she was in a giant wet t-shirt contest. Just what she needed, a strip show for another agent, or whoever drove that car. The threadbare cutoffs she'd pulled over her long tan legs ten minutes before weren't any drier. No doubt short blonde hair was plastered to her head. Oh, well. She'd vacationed on this island before and knew storms were not uncommon.
Now she lived in Georgetown, Texas, and away from coastal hurricanes and California earthquakes. Why had she agreed to stay here? This was nuts. She'd known the storm was possible when she came. The tropical storm was supposed to hit Mississippi. Storms are fickle. That and the weatherman used a faulty crystal ball. She had been appointed a Special consultant to the SCSS last year because of her work as a museum curator at the San Gabriel Museum in Georgetown, and her knack of solving crimes, especially when related to artifacts and murder. She could argue with accountants and schmooze benefactors anytime; so here she was, in the middle of a hurricane instead of in her dry home or office in Central Texas.
Maybe, the person headed toward her was the other agent, or cop, or maybe a panicked tourist. At this point, Virginia didn't care what she looked like. As the car approached, Virginia heard the engine sputtering from the water intake. Arms waving, Virginia called out as the halogen lights of a Mercedes broke through the deluge. Definitely a tourist. Nobody on St. John's drove that car and no federal agent owned one either.
"Hey! Help! I'm stranded!" Relief washed through her as the vehicle veered to her side of the road and the passenger window slowly rolled down. "Oh! Thank you for--" She reached to grasp the door handle, then blinked into the rain as she made out the face of the driver. And blinked again. As if that could change who sat behind the steering wheel.
"Donna?" Of all the people in the world to appear in a storm, of all the possible inhabitants and visitors of St. John's Island, the last person on earth she expected was Donna Boletti.
"Hi, stranger," Donna said.
Virginia grinned. "Donna? Is that really you?" She hoped her old friend didn't hear the crack in her voice.
Donna reached across the seat and pushed the door open. "Well, hello to you, too, stranger. What the hell are you doing out here, anyway?"
"It's a long story but right now I'm stranded." She slid into the car and closed the door. She noticed Donna's tan silk blouse and designer denim shorts topping her tanned, shapely legs. Business must be good. "My car doesn't like the rain and is stalled. My phone's dead. I'm trying to find another man who's here, somewhere, without much luck. Now that the island is deserted, I'd like to get the hell off!"
Donna looked out the window at the Chevy sporting the rental car license plate frame. "The rental isn't working?" She looked over her shoulder, surprise warming her eyes. "You're driving an American car? I thought you were strictly a foreign car girl?"
"It runs." Virginia wiped the water from her face. "When it isn't trying to swim."
"I can't wait to hear how you managed to get into this fix." Donna chuckled. A gust of wind swayed the car.
"What are you doing on St. John's?" Virginia asked.
"I'm here checking out resorts and activities for my customers. I'm also setting a place up for one of my wealthier clients."
"Well, I got here a couple days ago, before this storm wasn't much bigger than a tropical depression. The weather bureau said it was headed east. I just rented a house on the beach at the south end of the island for my client and was checking it to make sure it was going to be safe. I didn't move fast enough, I guess." She gave Virginia a wry smile. "I'm a California girl like you, used to earthquakes, not hurricanes. You need a ride somewhere?"
"I'd like a ride to the mainland, but first I need to find another person who was here with me."
Donna nodded, a slow frown formed. "I take it this person isn't Andy."
"No. I'm here on business, sort of."
"This ought to be good. Let's see if we can find him and stay dry. She raised an eyebrow toward Virginia. "Well, at least one of us can stay dry." Donna turned her attention to the road, shifted gears and frowned as the car rumbled and the engine missed then died.
"What's the matter?"
Donna twisted the key. Nothing. She tried cranking the engine four more times to no avail. "Shit! Mercedes aren't supposed to do this." The wind rocked the car as she tried turning the engine over again. "Well crap, looks like my car doesn't like to swim, either."
The roaring surf grew loader as the sky darkened further and the rain seemed to be moving sideways.
Donna sat back and sighed. "Do you have a place to stay close by? One that's dry."
"I was staying right here." She tilted her head toward the resort's main building.
"Good thing. Looks like we're going to have to ride this one out." Lightening ripped the sky apart followed by a thundering boom. "Maybe your friend will show up with a functioning car and we can get the hell out of here."
As they opened their doors and stepped into the downpour, someone staggered out of the high shrubs next to the inn walkway. A man, his wet clothes dirty and torn, took a couple of uneasy steps then fell face down into a puddle of water.