Chapter 1

Life is a lot like a Hoover vacuum, most of the time it just sucks. But maybe that's just me.

I sighed wearily as I stood up from a thorough preservation of yet another dead body. It was the eighth body I'd dug up in the past three hours, a portion of a mass grave my older brother, Keir was excavating as part of another one of his anthropological projects. It was how I'd spent my summers ever since he'd gotten that damned Ph.D. of his four years ago from Stanford. Why they ever gave a document certifying that even more certifiable bastard that he was Ph.D. material I'll never understand. The man was a raving lunatic. Ok so maybe he wasn't mental institution material by society's standards, but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who actually enjoys digging up dead bodies deserves a one-way ticket to the loony-bin.

I readjusted the earbuds hanging in my ears and changed the playlist on my iPod. One Republic's upbeat harmonious voice pierced the eerie silence that seemed to engulf the entire site. Jack Livingston, a second-year anthropology student and Blair Matthews were the only other living human beings in a ten-mile radius. They were currently digging about a mile away on the other side of the hill. The others were all underground exploring the caves Keir and his buddy Trevor had discovered only just last night. They'd practically peed their pants they were so excited. Freaks.

It's not that I hated history, I actually enjoyed it most of the time. But it was another thing entirely to have to dig it up during summer vacation while all my friends were back home swimming in their pools and going out on hot dates with college guys.

Not that I would have been able to actually go out on a date had I been home in Arlington. Both my parents had died within such a short time of each other shortly after I turned seven, and my brother Keir, eighteen at the time, stepped up and became my legal guardian. He'd raised me like his own daughter, rather than as his sister, and was extremely overprotective of me. I knew it was because he feared losing me the way he'd lost mom and dad, but sometimes it really rubbed me the wrong way. I'd been protected and coddled as a child, and restricted and imprisoned once I hit puberty. Heaven forbid that I actually enjoy life.

Which was why they'd sent me here. Camp Hell is what'd I'd fondly named the little portion of land Keir and his band of nerdy followers were exploring. Granted it was a very beautiful piece of land. India was always gorgeous this time of year, but damned if it wasn't hot, humid and horrid. It might have been relatively enjoyable if I'd actually been allowed to go out and see the sights, but no, I was stuck digging up 500 year-old dead people in a mass grave as part of Keir's little science project. Yeah my life was a Hoover vacuum alright. A never-ending vastness of suckiness.

I jabbed the dirt with my shovel again and heard a loud metallic clang as it came into contact with something I couldn't see. Oh, please don't let it be a body. I silently exhorted. If it had been a body, then I'd juset cracked a bone or two, and Keir would be seriously pissed at me. It was quite honestly the last thing I needed at the moment.

"Excuse me." The call was so quiet that for a moment I doubted I heard it. "Excuse me!"

My head swung around a little too quickly and I nearly whacked myself with my shovel. Cursing my ever-present clumsiness, I turned to see a tall, lanky man in a very expensive suit, carrying an equally expensive briefcase trying to traverse the trail down the hill.

It took him a few more moments before he finally reached me, but I made no move to make it easier on him. The man should have thought twice before dressing like that if he knew he was coming out to a place like this.

As he approached, looking none too pleased with his current surroundings, I dropped my shovel and wiped my mud-encrusted hands on my faded jeans. "Can I help you, sir?" I asked politely, putting on the 100-kilowat smile that I used whenever I was sweet-talking philanthropists into backing Keir's excavations.

"Miss K. Connelly?" He beseeched me. I knew from the heaviness of his breathing and the fresh sheen of sweat glazing his pasty face that he would have been really ticked off if I hadn't been. As it was, I wasn't so sure he was very pleased with what he saw either. I knew that my curly red hair was having one of the worst days of its life, and the long-sleeved denim shirt and jeans did nothing to accent my curvaceous figure. Not to mention that I was covered in at least a couple layers of dirt and grime, but that didn't mean he had to be so rude about it.

"Yes." I answered coolly, but politely before crossing my arms over my chest.

He fiddled with his briefcase before raking one last glance, up and along my body. The disdain in his eyes was evident. I had the sudden urge to deck him.

"My name is Dr. Daniel Carver. I'm with the law firm Pembrooke&Sterling."

I cocked an eyebrow. What the hell was a lawyer doing out here? "Never heard of it." I answered honestly.

This didn't seem to surprise him. "I'm here on behalf of a client. As I understand it, you have a gift for languages, especially dead ones. Am I correct?"

I did, a major one, or so several colleges had told me. But I wasn't a genius by any means. Ask any of my math teachers. I just happened to be able to find patterns in sentences and syntaxes that even the most trained linguist missed. "It depends." I responded noncommittally, not wanting to say anymore until I knew what this guy's intentions were.

"My client has recently acquired a manuscript written in a dead language no one in the historical community has ever encountered. It was only after consulting several linguists and historians that you were recommended to him."

I shook my head and tried not to look as tired as I felt. "I'm not available." While the idea of deciphering a new and undiscovered language really piqued my interest, something about this guy really set my hairs on edge. And if there was one thing I'd learned in my short nineteen years, it was that my instincts were hardly ever wrong.

My cool retort didn't seem to faze the good doctor in the least. "He's prepared to offer you two million dollars."

I choked. I mean I really choked. On my own saliva, no less. Well, can you blame me? It's not everyday that a nineteen year-old girl is offered two-freaking-million dollars. But despite the money, there was still something that wasn't right. "Why is he willing to pay so much money?"

"I'm not authorized to disclose that information." He countered swiftly. A little too swiftly for my liking.

Whatever it was about this guy that wasn't feeling kosher started to solidify in my mind. "Look, Dr. Carver, as much as the idea appeals to me—"

"Three million." He interrupted, seemingly unperturbed by my apparent refusal.

"Excuse me?" I'm surprised that I could actually speak after that. Three million big ones. A girl could buy a lot of Jimmy Choos with that. But after what happened the last time I'd contracted my services out…well let's just say I was a bit more than hesitant to take him up on his offer without more background information.

"You were recommended to us by one, Dr. Manuel Blake. He informed us that you would be a difficult sell."

Manuel. Of course. I should've known. Bastard was trying to get me back for refusing to go out on a date with him last year. As if it were my fault that the good doctor was more than twice my age and balding. Not to mention the fact that he still lived with his mother.

"Yes…of course he did. Dr. Carver, I don't know what Blake told you about me or my skills, but it's not 'bibbidi-bobbidi-boo' there's the translation. It's long, arduous work that could last years. And I'm not interested in a long-term job."

"Four million." He declared with resolution, absolutely convinced that I was going to accede.

And boy I wanted to. Man, I could buy my own freaking country with that much money. "Dr. Carver, it's not about the money," I was so going to hell for that lie. "I just don't think I'm prepared to invest the next ten or twenty years in this project."

"Ten million."

"Then again, I'm long overdue for an extended vacation." Oh, right. What girl with half a brain would turn down ten million dollars? That kind of money could browbeat any bad instincts about the whole shebacle. After all, I was probably just being paranoid.

Dr. Carver nodded, pulled out a business card with the name 'Arthur Gentry' written on the front, and a phone number and address on the back. "Edinburgh, Scotland?" I questioned, looking up at him curiously.

Again he nodded and handed me a plane ticket. "Your plane leaves tomorrow at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Don't worry about bringing any equipment, Mr. Gentry is more than willing to finance whatever you tools you'll need."

But I hadn't heard anything past 'Your plane leaves tomorrow.' "Whoa, whoa, whoa, tomorrow? There are people I have to tell, obligations I have to fulfill…" Not to mention that Keir was going to have conniptions…again.

"And you're being more than amply compensated for it." He was glaring at me as though I were an idiot to even contemplate turning down that much money. And he'd be right. But this idiot had common sense. Ten million dollars does not a happy brother make…unless I funneled a certain amount into his digs. That might be enough to push him over the edge.

"Alright." I said finally, after a few more moments of intensive brain-storming. "I'll go."

Five hours and three bodies later, I was sitting in my tent, still trying to figure out the best way to break it to Keir. My bags were packed and I was more than ready to leave, but Keir was going to be another issue altogether.

Some people might think it odd that a nineteen year-old woman would have to ask her older brother for permission to go somewhere, but Keir was more like my father than my brother. He'd raised me, protected me, coddled me even. With our parents dead, we were all we had, and I knew that he wasn't about to let me traipse halfway across the world without a fight. But it was way past time that I put my foot down and demand my independence. Even though I knew it was really going to hit him hard.

I got up and went to the door of my tent, then stopped again. Oh, what was I doing? I'd never even heard of this Gentry guy. I'd looked him up on the internet and he was listed as a very private collector, and everything appeared to be legit. But something was still bothering me. And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what.

Without even realizing I'd been pacing back and forth, I stopped, my back to the door. Maybe I should just call this Gentry guy and tell him that I couldn't make it. Family emergency. Oh, who was I kidding. The guy was offering me ten million dollars and I was trying to find a way to weasel out of it, because I was too chicken to go tell my brother that I was a big girl and could take care of myself now.

Get a grip Kessa, I chastised myself bitterly. You're nineteen years old, and it's time you started acting like it.

I took a deep breath, now determined to suck it up and tell my brother the truth. With a soft oath that would have made a sailor proud, I began to turn around back to the tent door, when a hand clamped around my head, pressing a cloth to my mouth.

At first, I was too shocked to react, then I felt myself getting drowsy, and I started to panic. I'd seen enough movies to know that the cloth he was currently shoving into my face was probably covered in chloroform.

I started struggling, kicking back into his shins with my heels, but that didn't seem to faze him in the least. It was then that I realized that both my hands were wrapped around his one, clawing desperately in a futile attempt to get him to let me go. So, I did the only thing that any woman bent on self-preservation would do when facing a man trying to do who-knows-what to her. I reached back with my hand and grabbed his balls, twisting as hard as I could.

He released me almost immediately, howling with pain. I didn't stop to look back at him, I made a mad dash for the door.

Unfortunately everything started to spin, and I began wondering which of the three tent doors in front of me led outside. I was breathing hard, choking on the oxygen I was so desperately trying to take into my lungs. But it seemed all for naught. My feet slipped out from under me, and I hit the ground with an ungraceful thud. I tried crawling, desperate to get out of harms way and find someone, anyone to help, but I could already feel darkness taking me.

I don't know how long I laid there, completely incapable of movement, but someone turned me over. I couldn't see his face, but I heard a low, rough voice curse. "Bitch."

If I could have actually moved my mouth I would have called him a choice word of my own, but my entire body seemed paralyzed. So when I felt him put the cloth back over my mouth, I couldn't even try to stop him.

A few seconds later, my body and mind became numb, and everything went black.

A/n: Please review and tell me what you think.