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The Crystal Key

Jessica's breath caught in her throat as the slab of stone slid aside revealing a vault built into the temple wall. A strange scent disguised in honeysuckle, yet pungent and bitter, wafted through the room. She gagged, tried to turn away, to flee; but Alfredo, usually so gentle, so kind, dragged her forward. Everyone was silent, now, and in the stillness she could hear the blood singing in her ears, like far-off voices keening. When something in the vault began to glow, she tried again to turn away; but the soft glimmer of light was irresistible. Inexorably it drew her gaze and, in the end, she could only stand, transfixed, staring, aware of nothing except that shimmering thing resting there where it had remained for centuries, in the dark, alone, waiting ....

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


F. Jacquelyn Hallquist

     Jackie Hallquist is a resident of the Great Pacific Northwest where she shares her home with six, thoroughly spoiled and completely charming, cats. Although she has done many things in the past: school teacher, fuller brush delivery person, archaeologist, piano teacher, secretary, homemaker and mother; currently she divides her time between writing and computer games. She has traveled widely, both here and abroad; loves good food -- especially Sunday brunch; and plans, someday, to take a round-the-world cruise. Everybody needs a dream....

Reviews

"If you can't get enough of Romancing the Stone", you won't want to miss F. Jacqueline Hallquist's story of a semi-adventurous ornithologist who sets out to learn what really happened to her twin brother and ends up being mistaken for a witch. There's no question Ms. Hallquist has written a thoroughly rousing thriller. Her book overflows with colorful characters and the exotic locales of Belize. Her passion and talent for painting both with vivid, sensuous imagery immediately carries the reader into the setting and holds them there. It's a rollicking good tale that will keep you turning pages."

Elizabeth K. Burton -- Blue Iris Journal
Excerpt

Prologue

MOONLIGHT silvered the stone-paved plaza, shimmered on the stone walls of the ancient temple pyramids. It turned heaps of fallen rock into miniature castles, and etched the encroaching jungle growth -- gnarled roots and trees and vines -- in black silhouette against the star-encrusted night sky.

In front of the temple, his tall body only partially concealed in the shadow cast by a Chac Mool, Jesse Markham stood, probing the darkness with a finely-tuned sixth sense. Like all good archaeologists, he had learned to rely on this ability to feel the unseen. There was something here, something that watched and waited....

Patient, unmoving, he searched the dark with eyes and ears. Nothing moved; but from a niche in a crumbling stone wall came the hoot of an owl; from deep in the jungle, the grunting cry of a jaguar; from the canopy high over head the rustle of leaves, like the ghostly voices of long dead priests.

A peculiar tingling sensation washed over him. He tensed, instantly alert. Whatever it was, it was very near. If only he had time to search....

But he didn't. For now he had to get back to the States. Pronto. He had to reachChris, tell him what Angelique, that redheaded she-devil, had said. Would Chris believe?

Jesse shrugged. He wouldn't if he hadn't stumbled on that piece of crystal. There was no real proof that it was the key the French woman had described, but it surely fit her description. And when he had held it over his flashlight, when the refracted light from the prism had flashed through it, into his eyes... or had he only imagined that strange, floating sensation, the tinkle of bells? The Children of Light... was it possible? Whatever, thank God he had been able to send that rod of crystal back to Jessica. She'd keep it safe.

The moon, riding high in the heavens, filled the ancient ball court where Jesse stood with brilliant blue-white light. He tried to picture the place as it would have been a thousand years before, tried to envision the teams of Mayan Indians competing there for the honor of dying on a sacrificial altar of the rain god, Chaq.

In the dim and distant past, this place, Lubaantun, had been a vast complex of temples, palaces, and courtyards. A Mayan ceremonial center erected atop an immense man-made plateau, in its glory days it had risen above the treetops to tower over the surrounding jungle. Then, it had teemed with life -- and death. Perhaps that's what he sensed....

The breeze stilled. The moon began to sink toward the horizon. Silence filled the plaza. Jesse relaxed. A green-eyed woman with a blaze of white through her dark hair filled his mind: Jessica, his twin sister. A half-smile touched his lips as he thought how indignant she would be if she knew what he was really doing in Belize. He could only hope Chris wouldn't spill the beans...Christopher Fox: Jesse's best friend, his sister's constant suitor.

No, Chris wouldn't tell her. They had agreed that the less she knew about their plans, the better. At this point, there was nothing she could do to help. But, when she did find out... Jesse laughed softly, visualizing the scene. Jessica had a temper.

He knew someone else who had a temper -- a nasty temper. Shadrach Spindell. If that bastard ever suspected that he and Chris were friends, that they had joined this dig for the sole purpose of keeping Spindell from ransacking a heretofore undiscovered site, destroying irreplaceable artifacts, there'd be hell to pay. And if Jessica were involved, being a woman wouldn't protect her. So, the decision to placate her with a little white lie had been the right one.

He stretched, yawned. It was time he crawled into the sack. The helicopter he had chartered before leaving Punta Gorda should arrive at dawn. This time tomorrow, he'd be home.

Still he hesitated, suddenly aware that the silence was complete: no call of bird, no cry of animal, no sound from the French woman's camp on the far side of the square. He tensed, eased himself erect, slowly stepped forward.

He gasped, cried out as pain, sudden, sharp, burned into his leg. He jerked back, looked down. A snake, big, heavy, beady eyes glittering in the moonlight; a fer de lance, and Jesse knew his chances for survival were slim. He drew a deep breath, cried out, "Help! Angelique, help me!"

The venom poured through his veins, robbing him of strength. Like a puppet whose strings have been cut, he crumpled to the ground. He was barely conscious when they rolled him onto his back, barely aware of the French woman who knelt beside him, stared into his face. In the moonlight her hair, hair that blazed red in the sunlight, was black.

"Eh bien... il est mort," she said, matter of factly. In one smooth motion, she stood, turned away. "He is dead...or soon will be."