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Mission: Her Protection (Team 52 #1)
Author:Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Protection (Team 52 #1)

Anna Hackett



Chapter One



It was a beautiful day—ten below zero, and ice as far as the eye could see.

Dr. Rowan Schafer tugged at the fur-lined hood of her arctic parka, and stared across the unforgiving landscape of Ellesmere Island, the northernmost island in Canada. The Arctic Circle lay about fifteen hundred miles to the south, and large portions of the island were covered with glaciers and ice.

Rowan breathed in the fresh, frigid air. There was nowhere else she wanted to be.

Hefting her small pickaxe, she stepped closer to the wall of glacial ice in front of her. The retreating Gilman Glacier was proving a fascinating location. Her multi-disciplinary team of hydrologists, glaciologists, geophysicists, botanists, and climate scientists were more than happy to brave the cold for the chance to carry out their varied research projects. She began to chip away at the ice once more, searching for any interesting samples.

“Rowan.”

She spun and saw one of the members of her team headed her way. Dr. Isabel Silva’s parka was red like the rest of the team’s, but she wore a woolen hat in a shocking shade of pink over her black hair. Originally from Brazil, Rowan knew the paleobotanist disliked the cold.

“What’s the latest, Isabel?” Rowan asked.

“The sled on the snowmobile is almost full of samples.” The woman waved her hand in the air, like she always did when she was talking. “You should have seen the moss and lichen samples I pulled. There were loads of them in area 3-41. I can’t wait to get started on the tests.” She shivered. “And be out of this blasted cold.”

Rowan suppressed a smile. Scientists. She had her own degrees in hydrology and biology, with a minor in paleontology that had shocked her very academic parents. But on this expedition, she was here as leader to keep her team of fourteen fed, clothed, and alive.

“Okay, well, you and Dr. Fournier can run the samples back to base, and then come back to collect me and Dr. Jensen.”

Isabel broke into a smile. “You know Lars has a crush on you.”

Dr. Lars Jensen was a brilliant, young geophysicist. And yes, Rowan hadn’t missed his not-so-subtle attempts to ask her out.

“I’m not here looking for dates.”

“But he’s kind of cute.” Isabel grinned and winked. “In a nerdy kind of way.”

Rowan’s mouth firmed. Lars was also several years younger than her and, while sweet, didn’t interest her in that way. Besides, she’d had enough of people trying to set her up. Her mother was always trying to push various appropriate men on Rowan—men with the right credentials, the right degrees, and the right tenured positions. Neither of her parents cared about love or passion; they just cared about how many dissertations and doctorates people collected. Their daughter included.

She dragged in a breath. That was why she’d applied for this expedition—for a chance to get away, a chance for some adventure. “Finish with the samples, Isabel, then—”

Shouts from farther down the glacier had both women spinning. The two other scientists, their red coats bright against the white ice, were waving their arms.

“Wonder what they’ve found?” Rowan started down the ice.

Isabel followed. “Probably the remains of a mammoth or a mastodon. The weirdest things turn these guys on.”

Careful not to move too fast on the slippery surface, Rowan and Isabel reached the men.

“Dr. Schafer, you have to see this.” Lars’ blue eyes were bright, his nose red from the cold.

She crouched beside Dr. Marc Fournier. “What have you got?”

The older hydrologist scratched carefully at the ice with his pickaxe. “I have no idea.” His voice lilted with his French accent.

Rowan studied the discovery. Suspended in the ice, the circular object was about the size of her palm. It was dull-gray in color, and just the edge of it was protruding through the ice, thanks to the warming temperatures that were causing the glacier to retreat.

She touched the end of it with her gloved hand. It was firm, but smooth. “It’s not wood, or plant life.”

“Maybe stone?” Marc tapped it gently with the axe and it made a metallic echo.

Rowan blinked. “It can’t be metal.”

“The ice here is about five thousand years old,” Lars breathed.

Rowan stood. “Let’s get it out.”

With her arms crossed, she watched the scientists carefully work the ice away from the object. She knew that several thousand years ago, the fjords of the Hazen Plateau were populated by the mysterious and not-well understood Pre-Dorset and Dorset cultures. They’d made their homes in the Arctic, hunted and used simple tools. The Dorset disappeared when the Thule—ancestors to the Inuit—arrived, much later. Even the Viking Norse had once had communities on Ellesmere and neighboring Greenland.

Most of those former settlements had been near the coast. Scanning the ice around them, she thought it unlikely that there would have been settlements up here. And certainly not settlements that worked metal. The early people who’d made their home on Ellesmere hunted sea mammals like seals or land mammals like caribou.

Still, she was a scientist, and she knew better than to make assumptions without first gathering all the facts. Her drill team, who were farther up on the ice, were extracting ice core samples. Their studies were showing that roughly five thousand years ago, temperatures here were warmer than they were today. That meant the ice and glaciers on the island would have retreated then as well, and perhaps people had made their homes farther north than previously thought.

Marc pulled the object free with careful movements. It was still coated in a thin layer of ice.

“Are those markings?” Isabel breathed.

They sure looked like it. Rowan studied the scratches carved into the surface of the object. They looked like they could be some sort of writing or glyphs, but if that was the case, they were like nothing she’d ever seen before.

Lars frowned. “I don’t know. They could just be natural scoring, or erosion grooves.”

Rowan pushed a few errant strands of her dark-red hair off her face. “Since none of us are archeologists, we’re going to need an expert to take a look at it.”

“It’s probably five thousand years old,” Isabel added. “If it is man-made, with writing on it, it’ll blow all accepted historical theories out of the water.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Rowan said calmly. “It needs to be examined first. It could be natural.”

“Or alien,” Lars added.

As one, they swiveled to look at the younger man.

He shrugged, his cheeks turning red. “Just saying. Odds are that we aren’t alone in this universe. If—”

“Enough.” Rowan straightened, knowing once Lars got started on a subject, it was hard to get him to stop. “Pack it up, get it back to base, and store it with the rest of the samples. I’ll make some calls.” It killed her to put it aside, but this mystery object wasn’t their top priority. They had frozen plant and seed samples, and ice samples, that they needed to get back to their research labs.

Every curious instinct inside Rowan was singing, wanting to solve the mystery. God, if she had discovered something that threw accepted ancient history theories out, her parents would be horrified. She’d always been interested in archeology, but her parents had almost had heart attacks when she’d told them. They’d quietly organized other opportunities for her, and before she knew it, she’d been studying hydrology and biology. She’d managed to sneak in her paleontology studies where she could.