An ancient scroll written in code is discovered in a New York museum. Selena Connor is called in to break the code and translate the writing. She's a world-class linguist, a member of the secretive, covert operations team known as the Project.
The scroll reveals clues to a treasure collected by King Solomon to build and maintain the First Jewish Temple. Hidden somewhere in the desert lands of Israel is a vast hoard of gold, the heritage of a nation.
Director Harker of the project sends the team out to see if they can discover where the treasure is hidden. Selena is determined to quit the dangers of the field, but this looks like a pleasant change from the usual mission. It's just a simple, archaeological expedition, after all. But nothing that involves the Project is ever simple.
Betrayal, murder, and shadowy enemies stalk the expedition, as Selena and her teammates follow the clues revealed by the scroll. Meanwhile, back in New York where it all began, a sinister plan is unfolding.
Will the Project survive their enemies and find Solomon's gold? Can they stop a plot that will kill two of the world's most important leaders and thousands of unsuspecting victims?
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Jerusalem, 587 B.C.E.
The High Priest of Israel bent over a low table, feverishly writing by the flickering light of an oil filled lamp.
There wasn't much time.
The heavy pounding of battering rams vibrated through the stones under his feet. Nebuchadnezzar's army would soon be through the gates. Once inside the walls, horror would descend on the people of the city.
King Zedekiah had betrayed his oath to the Babylonian king, thinking the Egyptians would defeat him. That mistake would now cost him his kingdom, his family, his eyes, and the lives of almost everyone in the city.
The temple would be sacked, the sacred treasures looted, the women raped before they were slain. Those not killed by the savage soldiers of Babylon would be taken off into slavery.
There were some things that could not be saved, but others would never fall into the hands of the dark king. The elders had seen what was coming. The ark was hidden, deep below the temple. The great golden menorah had been spirited away, a clever replica left in its place. The High Priest's concern now was for the legacy of Solomon.
An officer wearing armor and a short sword stood nearby, waiting for the priest to finish. He was a dark, wide man, hardened by combat, in the prime of his strength. His legs were like tree trunks, his bare arms knotted with muscle.
The soldier said, "Is it ready, Teacher?"
The High Priest rolled up the sheet of parchment and tied a piece of cloth around it. Then he took an empty pot from a shelf by the table. He placed the scroll inside the pot and sealed it. He picked up the lamp and held a stick of beeswax over the mouth of the pot, watching the flame melt the wax down over the sealed opening. When he was satisfied, he set the lamp and wax aside.
The officer stepped forward, his hand on the hilt of his short sword.
"You know where to take this?" the High Priest said.
"Yes, Teacher. You have told me many times."
"Be careful, the Edomites have risen against us. God will protect you, but you must leave now. Use the tunnel that goes under the east wall."
"Yes, Teacher," the soldier said again.
"Now," the priest said. "Do your duty."
"Daniel, my son. I am too old to escape and I must not be captured. I am weak, I will reveal where the King's treasure lies hidden. Babylon must not have it. You know I cannot take my own life. Do your duty."
Daniel knelt before his spiritual leader and grasped his feet.
"Forgive me, Teacher."
"You go with God's forgiveness and His blessing," the priest said.
The soldier stood.
"Do your duty," the High Priest said again.
Daniel drew his sword and drove it with a powerful blow into the aged priest's heart. The body toppled to the floor. Daniel sheathed the bloody sword and placed the pot in a leather satchel slung over his shoulder. He took a last look at the corpse of the man who had mentored him and headed for the secret tunnel that would take him under the walls and outside the city.
Hours later, Daniel looked back. Black smoke rose from the burning city. It seemed to him that he could hear the cries of the dying on the desert wind.
He turned and walked away, toward the rising sun.
January sleet drove against the glass patio doors of Elizabeth Harker's office. Inside Project HQ, it was pleasant and warm. A large, orange tomcat lay on his back and snored loudly in front of a blazing gas fireplace set in a corner of the room.
Anyone looking in through the windows would have thought they were observing a quiet domestic scene at someone's home. The building looked like an ordinary Virginia ranch house. In fact, it was one of the crucial nerve centers in America's endless war against those who would destroy her.
Elizabeth had dressed for the weather, keeping to her favorite color scheme of black and white. She wore a white silk blouse with a high collar and a black, open front sweater. She'd chosen black wool slacks and ankle high black boots that added an inch or so to her short height. An emerald pin in an abstract shape was pinned over her left breast. It picked up the deep green of her cat-like eyes.
Elizabeth was a petite woman. Some people made the mistake of dismissing her because of her size. It was a mistake they didn't make twice. She had a razor-sharp mind and courage big enough for someone many times larger than she was.
She settled into her chair, ready to work. Work was what kept her going. She didn't like to admit it, but there wasn't much else happening in her life. Even her relationship with Clarence Hood was overshadowed by work. Hood was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Elizabeth was Director of the Project, the President's secretive counter-terrorism unit.
At least she was for the moment. In another few days, President-elect Corrigan would be sworn in, and she'd have a new boss. She wasn't certain the new president would see the Project for what it was: a covert, effective weapon against America's enemies. The future of her unit was something much on her mind.
At the moment, there was something more immediate she needed to deal with. It concerned two key members of her team, sitting on the couch across from her.
Nick Carter had the look of a professional warrior about him, from the hard appearance of a man who kept himself in shape, to a haircut that barely exceeded the military maximum. His face was square cut and serious looking. He wasn't what anyone would call handsome, but he didn't need to be. The lower part of his left ear was missing, where a bullet had clipped the earlobe. A loose, gray sport jacket concealed the pistol he carried in his shoulder holster. His eyes were smoky gray, flecked with bits of gold. Nick's eyes had seen things that would send most people screaming into the night. They reminded Elizabeth of the eyes of a wolf.
An Alpha wolf.
By contrast, Selena Connor's eyes were a dark blue that was more often violet. One of her cheekbones was a little higher than the other. Her reddish hair and the color of her eyes spoke of her Celtic ancestors. Her lips were full, sensuous. It gave her a deceptive look of femininity that served her well in the field. Enemies saw only a woman, and underestimated her.
She wore a white knit Irish sweater, black slacks and black boots. A soft cast on her leg was a reminder that she'd taken a bullet in the thigh during their last mission. The cast was due to come off in a few days. A cane rested by the arm of the couch.
"What is it that you wanted to see me about that we couldn't discuss with the whole team?" Elizabeth asked.
"We thought it better to talk with you privately," Nick said. "It isn't anything that the rest of the team can't hear, but we wanted you to hear it first."
"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Elizabeth said.
"Why don't you go ahead?" Nick said to Selena.
"Where shall I start?"
"Start with Junior."
"Junior?" Elizabeth said.
"I'm pregnant," Selena said. "I think about eight weeks."
Elizabeth's mouth dropped open. Selena laughed.
"I wish I had a picture of you right now, Elizabeth."
"How long have you known?"
"Not long. I didn't realize it until right before we left for Korea."
Elizabeth took a breath. "This changes things."
"You could say that," Nick said.
"I want to go back to what I was doing before I joined the Project," Selena said. "Working with ancient manuscripts. I've received several requests in the last couple of months to either present a lecture or examine a document. As a matter of fact, I want to go to New York to examine a new find. "
"Does this mean that you're quitting?" Elizabeth asked.
Selena took a deep breath. "Yes. Nick and I have talked it over. I don't want to risk the baby by going on missions like the one we just finished."
She tapped the cast on her leg.
"You'll have to replace me with someone new for the rough stuff. I'll still be available for anything else, if you want me here. I'd like to stay involved."
"Finding someone to take your place is going to take some time."
"I know, I'm sorry. This wasn't something we planned, but I don't feel I have a choice."
"No, of course not," Elizabeth said. "Actually, I think it's wonderful."
"I can't wait to see how Nick handles being a father," Elizabeth said.
Nick said, "You're not the only one."
Both women started laughing.
"Okay, okay." Nick waited for them to finish.
"I've been thinking about who we might bring on," he said. "There are three or four who come to mind. They're all active or former Special Forces. They have the skills and attitude we need."
"Do the others know you're quitting?" Elizabeth asked.
"Ronnie and Lamont both know I'm pregnant. They found out by accident."
"Then they'll be expecting something like this."
"I don't think it will come as a surprise."
Elizabeth picked up her pen and began fiddling with it. "I won't pretend I'm happy about it." She set the pen down. "Selena, I'd like to propose a compromise."
"What kind of compromise?"
"I don't want to lose your expertise. You stay on as a consultant. You keep your security clearance and access. All I ask is that you keep yourself available if I need you."
"As a consultant?"
"What changes is that you no longer go with the team on a combat mission. You're free to do whatever you like when it comes to lectures, consultations and the like. You keep your pistol and your identification."
"Why would I need a weapon, if I'm not going on missions?"
"You've been part of the team for a long time and we've made a lot of enemies along the way. For your own safety, I think you should continue to be armed. It's a lot easier if it's official. Besides, if I keep you on the payroll it's a requirement."
"I have to think about it," Selena said.
"Fair enough. Let me know your answer as soon as possible."
Elizabeth looked at Nick. "Nick, I want you to give me a list of the people you're thinking of. They'll need to be vetted. If they get through that, we'll go on from there."
"I don't think that's going to be a problem, Director. High security clearance is or was part of their job description."
"Good. Assuming they all get through that, we'll begin interviewing them."
"At least there's nothing going on at the moment," Selena said. "It gives you a chance to evaluate my replacement without the pressure of a mission on top of it."
"Let's hope it stays that way," Elizabeth said.