The brutal death of a Swedish spy sends Nick Carter, Selena Connor and the rest of the Project team to Stockholm , where they find themselves pitted against a terrorist network hiding among the refugees flooding into the country.
The discovery of an artifact from the fourth century plunges the team into a search for one of the most elusive relics of Christendom: the Holy Grail. An ancient prophecy foretells the End of Days if the Grail falls into the wrong hands. The Project team aren't the only ones searching. The murderous fanatics of ISIS are determined to find it for themselves.
Nuclear Armageddon threatens America and finding the Grail is the only thing that can prevent disaster. Will the Project succeed before it's too late?
You won't want to put this book down.
What readers are saying...
"This is a well written, very descriptive, fast paced plot with lots of action and some twists and turns. In other words, like the other twelve books in this series. The main characters, already well developed, continue to evolve and be fleshed out. After thirteen books, the series is as fresh as the first one and keeps you looking forward to more."
"A well-written continuation of the series, with the usual twists, turns and cliff-hangers. I can't wait for number 14 in the series!"
"... another top-notch effort from the author."
PROLOGUE: Milan, 395 CE
The Emperor of Rome lay dying.
The odor of his decaying, swollen body filled the room. His two sons had been sent away with a final kiss a half hour before and now his confessor knelt by the bed reciting prayers. Two of the emperor's generals looked on.
Death was in the room.
The priest finished his prayers and bent to hear the emperor's whispered words.
"Anastasius...send them away."
The priest stood, an imposing figure in a black robe, a man who knew he spoke with the authority of God. His look was fierce.
"He commands you all to leave."
"We must witness the death."
The speaker was Stillicho, guardian of Honorius, the ten-year-old boy who would rule in the West. Next to him stood Flavius Rufinus, guardian of Theodosius' other son, Arcadius. He would rule in the East.
"Obey your emperor." The priest's voice was stern. "Soon enough you can do as you will."
The two men bowed and backed out of the room, closing the door behind them. Theodosius spoke to the priest again, his voice little more than a whisper.
"I will take it to the monastery, Majesty. All will be well."
"These men...Rufinus and the others. They are corrupt. They must not have it."
A violent fit of coughing seized him. He clutched at the covers and struggled for breath. Anastasius held the emperor's head and wiped mucus from his lips with a cloth.
The spasm passed. Theodosius fell back against his pillows. He raised a trembling hand and pointed at an ornate standing cabinet across the room.
The priest went to the cabinet and opened the door, reached in and took out a package the size of a loaf of bread, wrapped in cloth of gold. A harsh, gasping rattle made him turn in time to see Theodosius draw his final breath.
The last emperor of one Roman Empire was dead.
The priest closed the dead man's eyes, made the sign of the cross and said another prayer for Theodosius' soul. He slipped the package under his robes, into the secret pouch he'd sewn to hold it. Now there was nothing left to do but allow the vultures to assemble.
He threw open the doors. A dozen people waited in the antechamber.
"The emperor is dead."
"At last," Rufinus said.
He brushed rudely past the white-haired priest and went into the room, followed by the others.
Anastasius waited until they were all inside and then slipped away. Under his robes, the package felt hot against his body.
He was an old man, and a long journey lay before him.
The man in the picture was naked, nailed to the side of a wooden building. A circlet of barbed wire was jammed onto his head. Burns and gouges disfigured his body. He'd probably been dead by the time the birds went for his eyes.
It was a sunny, late autumn day in Virginia, the tail end of an Indian summer. The door to the patio was open and the smell of burning leaves was in the air.
The Project team had gathered in Director Elizabeth Harker's office. Elizabeth sat at her desk, her feet barely touching the floor. Most of the furniture in the world wasn't built for petite people like her. She made up for her size with intensity and intelligence.
She'd dressed in her usual combination of black pantsuit and milk white blouse. The blouse merged with her pale skin and set off her emerald green eyes, eyes that could crinkle with laughter or burn holes in someone who had earned her displeasure.
The picture cast a dark shadow across the beauty of the day outside. Selena Connor felt her stomach turn as she looked at the photograph.
She brushed a strand of reddish blonde hair away from her head with a nervous movement. Selena was what some would call a classic beauty. Her eyes were either blue or violet, depending on the light. High cheekbones, a natural beauty mark over her lip and full lips meant her face was memorable. She was someone people looked at twice.
Selena was one of the world's experts in ancient languages. She'd married Nick Carter almost a year before, but still used her maiden name for the times when she needed to call upon her reputation.
She handed the picture to Lamont Cameron, sitting next to her.
"What kind of sick mind would do something like that?"
He looked at it and shook his head.
"The human kind, I guess. The worst part of it."
Lamont was one of the four people who made up the field team, along with Nick Carter, Selena and Ronnie Peete. He'd been a Navy SEAL before Nick and Ronnie recruited him for the Project.
Lamont's face was a striking combination of colors and contrasts. Blue eyes had been handed down by forgotten ancestors in Ethiopia. A pinkish scar stood out on his coffee colored skin, a souvenir of Iraq that ran over his right eye and across his nose. One look told you he'd spent time in places where people had tried hard to kill him. When he smiled, it was the most natural thing in the world. When he was angry, he had the kind of face that frightened children.
Lamont passed the picture to Ronnie Peete.
Ronnie was the do everything member of the team. He could pick a lock or blow up a building with equal ease. Doing it all was part of what was required by a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines, his former occupation. He was a full blooded Navajo and looked it. It was easy to imagine him mounted bareback on a horse and riding hard at you with a war hammer in his hand.
He looked at the picture.
"That man died hard," he said.
He handed the photograph on to Nick, Selena's husband and the fourth member of the field team. Nick commanded the team in the field. He'd been a major in the Marines before Harker recruited him.
"Who is he?" Nick asked.
He handed the picture back to his boss.
"Vilgot Andersson," Elizabeth said. "The picture was taken in Sweden. He was part of a task force dealing with immigrants coming from the Middle East. Some of them are terrorists pretending to be refugees. Andersson discovered that someone was selling Middle East antiquities stolen from places captured by ISIS, like Palmyra and Nimrud. The Swedes think he was killed because he stumbled onto an ISIS cell, part of a larger network."
"I don't see what it's got to do with us."
"The Swedes are overwhelmed. The connection to ISIS is bad news. They've asked President Rice for help and we're it."
"Don't the Swedes vet these people when they come over the border?"
"It's a sensitive issue. Most of the refugees are Muslims from the Middle East and Africa. They've brought a huge wave of crime and violence into Sweden but the police are undermanned and hamstrung by the socialist government."
"Why doesn't their government do something about it?" Ronnie asked.
"The Swedish Social Democratic Party puts the welfare of the refugees ahead of its own people. Their policies are going to cost them the next election, but for the moment they're still in charge and pushing their agenda. People who complain are attacked in the press as xenophobic and racist."
"Does this mean we're going to Sweden?" Nick asked.
"What the President wants, he gets."
"What are we supposed to do over there?"
"Find out what Andersson knew. Or at least what the Swedes know that he knew. He would have filed reports. See if you can pin down a connection to ISIS. If you find something, follow it up. Use your best judgment, but remember that you're under their command as long as you're in the country.
"I don't see why Rice thinks we're the best people to do it."
"Maybe he just likes us," Lamont said.
"Lamont..." Harker's tone carried a warning note.
"We have an understanding with Sweden. They keep an eye on Russia for us, we help them out once in a while. Sending you over there is part of the quid pro quo. I'm sending all of you. Just in case you run into something serious."
"The guy in that picture ran into something serious," Ronnie said.
"He had to know something," Nick said. "Why torture him if they only wanted him dead?"
"It could be a message to the local Muslim population," Selena said.
"What do you mean?" Harker asked.
"The symbolism. That man was crucified. ISIS does that."
"So what's the message?" Lamont asked.
"Keep your mouth shut. We can make this happen to you."
"Was Andersson a cop?" Ronnie asked.
Harker tapped her fingers on her desktop. "No. He worked for KSI, the Office of Special Collection. That's more or less Sweden's equivalent of the CIA, though it's a lot smaller. You don't hear much about it in Sweden, or anywhere else."
"Swedish spies?" Ronnie asked. "Seems like everybody's got spies these days."
"KSI specializes in HUMINT, human intelligence. Andersson would have been working informants. You'll have to follow his trail."
"When do we leave?" Nick asked.
"Tomorrow. You're going commercial on SAS. National headquarters for KSI is in a suburb of Stockholm called Solna. I booked your flight. Your contact over there is a Major Otto Forsberg."
"Did you book a hotel for us?" Selena asked.
"No," Harker said, "I thought I'd leave that to you."
"Weapons?" Nick asked.
"The Swedes don't want you bringing them into the country."
"I don't like that."
"There's nothing I can do about it. If there's a problem, let me know and I'll see what I can do."
"I'd feel better if you'd send a package to the embassy, just in case."
"I can do that," Elizabeth said.
"What's the weather like this time of year?" Lamont asked.
"Cold. Be glad Stockholm doesn't get as cold as it does farther north."