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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Birthright
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The fact that he looked as if he'd just rolled out of bed and hitched on a pair of old jeans as an afterthought added sexy to the mix.

She felt a pleasant little ripple in the blood she hadn't experienced in a very long time.

“Doug.” There was pride, delight and love in the single word. “Wondered when you were going to wander down. Good timing, as it happens. This is Lana. I told you about our Lana. Lana Campbell, my grandson, Doug Cullen.”

“It's nice to meet you.” She offered a hand. “We've missed each other whenever you've popped back home since I moved to Woodsboro.”

He shook her hand, scanned her face. “You're the lawyer.”

“Guilty. I just stopped in to tell Roger the latest on the Dolan development. And to hit on him. How long are you in town?”

“I'm not sure.”

A man of few words, she thought, and tried again. “You do a lot of traveling, acquiring and selling antiquarian books. It must be fascinating.”

“I like it.”

Roger leaped into the awkward pause. “I don't know what I'd do without Doug. Can't get around like I used to. He's got a feel for the business, too. A natural feel. I'd be retired and boring myself to death if he hadn't taken up the fieldwork.”

“It must be satisfying for both of you, to share an interest, and a family business.” Since Doug looked bored by the conversation, Lana turned to his grandfather. “Well, Roger, since you've blown me off, again, I'd better get back to work. See you at the meeting tomorrow night?”

“I'll be there.”

“Nice meeting you, Doug.”

“Yeah. See you around.”

When the door closed behind her, Roger let out a steam-kettle sigh. “ ‘See you around'? That's the best you can do when you're talking to a pretty woman? You're breaking my heart, boy.”

“There's no coffee. Upstairs. No coffee. No brain. I'm lucky I can speak in simple declarative sentences.”

“Got a pot in the back room,” Roger said in disgust, and jerked a thumb. “That girl's smart, pretty, interesting and,” he added as Doug moved behind the counter and through the door, “available.”

“I'm not looking for a woman.” The scent of coffee hit his senses and nearly made him weep. He poured a cup, burned his tongue on the first sip and knew all would, once again, be right with the world.

He sipped again, glancing back at his grandfather. “Pretty fancy piece for Woodsboro.”

“I thought you weren't looking.”

Now he grinned, and it changed his face from surly to approachable. “Looking, seeing. Different kettle.”

“She knows how to put herself together. Doesn't make her fancy.”

“No offense.” Douglas was amused by his grandfather's huffy tone. “I didn't know she was your girlfriend.”

“I was your age, she damn well would be.”

“Grandpa.” Revived by the coffee, Doug slung an arm over Roger's shoulders. “Age doesn't mean squat. I say you should go for it. Okay if I take this upstairs? I need to go clean up, head out to see Mom.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Roger waved him off. “See you around,” he muttered as Doug walked to the rear of the store. “Pitiful.”

allie Dunbrook sucked up the last of her Diet Pepsi as she fought Baltimore traffic. She'd timed her departure from Philadelphia—where she was supposed to be taking a three-month sabbatical—poorly. She saw that now.

But when the call had come through, requesting a
consultation, she hadn't considered travel time or rush-hour traffic. Or the basic insanity of the Baltimore Beltway at four-fifteen on a Wednesday afternoon.

Now she just had to deal with it.

She did so by blasting her horn and propelling her old and beloved Land Rover into an opening more suited to a Tonka toy. The dark thoughts of the driver she cut off didn't concern her in the least.

She'd been out of the field for seven weeks. Even the whiff of a chance to be back in again drove her as ruthlessly as she drove the four-wheeler.

She knew Leo Greenbaum well enough to have recognized the restrained excitement in his voice. Well enough to know he wasn't a man to ask her to drive to Baltimore to look at some bones unless they were very interesting bones.

Since she hadn't heard a murmur about the find in rural Maryland until that morning, she had a feeling no one had expected them to be particularly interesting.

God knew she needed another project. She was bored brainless writing papers for journals, lecturing, reading papers others in her field had written for the same journals. Archaeology wasn't classroom and publishing to Callie. To her it was digging, measuring, boiling in the sun, drowning in the rain, sinking in mud and being eaten alive by insects.

To her, it was heaven.

When the radio station she had on segued into a news cycle, she switched to CDs. Talk wasn't any way to deal with vicious, ugly traffic. Snarling, mean-edged rock was.

Metallica snapped out, and instantly improved her mood.

She tapped her fingers on the wheel, then gripped it and punched through another opening. Her eyes, a deep, golden brown, gleamed behind her shaded glasses.

She wore her hair long because it was easier to pull it back or bunch it up under a hat—as it was now—than to worry about cutting and styling it. She also had enough healthy vanity to know the straight honey blond suited her.

Her eyes were long, the brows over them nearly
straight. As she approached thirty, her face had mellowed from cute to attractive. When she smiled, three dimples popped out. One in each tanned cheek, and the third just above the right corner of her mouth.

The gently curved chin didn't reveal what her ex-husband had called her rock-brained stubbornness.

But then again, she could say the same about him. And did, at every possible opportunity.

She tapped the brakes and swung, with barely any decrease in speed, into a parking lot.

Leonard G. Greenbaum and Associates was housed in a ten-story steel box that had, to Callie's mind, no redeeming aesthetic value. But the lab and its technicians were among the best in the country.

She pulled into a visitor's slot, hopped out into a vicious, soupy heat. Her feet began to sweat inside her Wolverines before she made it to the building's entrance.

The building's receptionist glanced over, saw a woman with a compact, athletic body, an ugly straw hat and terrific wire-framed sunglasses.

“Dr. Dunbrook for Dr. Greenbaum.”

“Sign in, please.”

She handed Callie a visitor's pass. “Third floor.”

Callie glanced at her watch as she strode to the elevators. She was only forty-five minutes later than she'd planned to be. But the Quarter Pounder she'd wolfed down on the drive was rapidly wearing off.

She wondered if she could hit Leo up for a meal.

She rode up to three, found another receptionist. This time she was asked to wait.

She was good at waiting. All right, Callie admitted as she dropped into a chair. Better at waiting than she'd once been. She used up her store of patience in her work. Could she help it if there wasn't much left over to spread around in other areas?

She could only work with what she had.

But Leo didn't keep her long.

He had a quick walk. It always reminded Callie of the way a corgi moved—rapid, stubby legs racing too fast for
the rest of the body. At five-four, he was an inch shorter than Callie herself and had a sleeked-back mane of walnut-brown hair, which he unashamedly dyed. His face was weathered, sun-beaten and narrow with his brown eyes in a permanent squint behind square, rimless glasses.

He wore, as he did habitually, baggy brown pants and a shirt of wrinkled cotton. Papers leaked out of every pocket.

He walked straight up to Callie and kissed her—and was the only man of her acquaintance not related to her who was permitted to do so.

“Looking good, Blondie.”

“You're not looking so bad yourself.”

“How was the drive?”

“Vicious. Make it worth my while, Leo.”

“Oh, I think I will. How's the family?” he asked as he led her back the way he'd come.

“Great. Mom and Dad got out of Dodge for a couple weeks. Beating the heat up in Maine. How's Clara?”

Leo shook his head at the thought of his wife. “She's taken up pottery. Expect a very ugly vase for Christmas.”

“And the kids?”

“Ben's playing with stocks and bonds, Melissa's juggling motherhood and dentistry. How did an old digger like me raise such normal kids?”

“Clara,” Callie told him as he opened a door and gestured her in.

Though she'd expected him to take her to one of the labs, she looked around his sunny, well-appointed office. “I'd forgotten what a slick setup you've got here, Leo. No burning desire to go back out and dig?”

“Oh, it comes over me now and again. Usually I just take a nap and it goes away. But this time . . . Take a look at this.”

He walked behind his desk, unlocked a drawer. He drew out a bone fragment in a sealed bag.

Callie took the bag and, hooking her glasses in the V of her shirt, examined the bone within. “Looks like part of a tibia. Given the size and fusion, probably from a young female. Very well preserved.”

“Best guess of age from visual study?”

“This is from western Maryland, right? Near a running creek. I don't like best guess. You got soil samples, stratigraphic report?”

“Ballpark. Come on, Blondie, play.”

“Jeez.” Her brow knitted as she turned the bag over in her hand. She wanted her fingers on bone. Her foot began to tap to her own inner rhythm. “I don't know the ground. Visual study, without benefit of testing, I'd make it three to five hundred years old. Could be somewhat older, depending on the silt deposits, the floodplain.”

She turned the bone over again, and her instincts began to quiver. “That's Civil War country, isn't it? This predates that. It's not from a Rebel soldier boy.”

“It predates the Civil War,” Leo agreed. “By about five thousand years.”

When Callie's head came up, he grinned at her like a lunatic. “Radiocarbon-dating report,” he said, and handed her a file.

Callie scanned the pages, noted that Leo had run the test twice, on three different samples taken from the site.

When she looked up again, she had the same maniacal grin as he. “Hot dog,” she said.


allie got lost on the way to Woodsboro. She'd taken directions from Leo, but when studying the map had noted a shortcut. It
have been a shortcut. Any logical person would have deemed it a shortcut—which was, in her opinion, exactly what the cartographer figured.

She had a long-standing feud with mapmakers.

She didn't mind being lost. She never stayed that way, after all. And the detour gave her a feel for the area.

Rugged, rolling hills riotously green with summer spilled into wide fields thick with row crops. Outcroppings of silver rock bumped through the green like gnarled knuckles and rippling finger bones.

It made her think of those ancient farmers, carving their rows with primitive tools, hacking into that rocky ground to grow their food. To make their place.

The man who rode his John Deere over those fields owed them a debt.

He wouldn't think of it as he plowed and planted and harvested. So she, and those like her, would think of it for him.

It was a good place, she decided, to work.

The higher hills were upholstered with forest that
climbed up toward a sky of glassy blue. Ridge tumbled into valley; valley rose toward ridge, giving the land texture and shadows and scope.

The sun sheened over the hip-high corn and gave it a wash of gold over green and gave a young chestnut gelding a bright playground for romping. Old houses made from local stone, or their contemporary counterparts of frame or brick or vinyl, stood on rises or flats with plenty of elbow room between them.

Cows lolled in the heat behind wire or split-rail fences.

The fields would give way to woods, thick with hardwoods and tangled with sumac and wild mimosa, then the hills would take over, bumpy with rock. The road twisted and turned to follow the snaking line of the creek, and overhead those trees arched to turn the road into a shady tunnel that dropped off on one side toward the water and rose up on the other in a jagged wall of limestone and granite.

She drove ten miles without passing another car.

She caught glimpses of more houses back in the trees, and others that were so close to the road she imagined if someone came to the door she could reach out and shake hands.

There were plenty of summer gardens in evidence, bright plops and splashes of color—heavy on the black-eyed Susans and tiger lilies.

She saw a snake, thick as her wrist, slither across the blacktop. Then a cat, pumpkin orange, skulking in the brush on the shoulder of the road.

Tapping her fingers on the wheel in time with the Dave Matthews Band, she speculated on the outcome if feline should meet reptile.

Her money was on the cat.

She rounded a curve and saw a woman standing on the side of the road pulling her mail out of a dull-gray mailbox. Though she barely glanced toward the Rover, the woman raised a hand in what Callie assumed was an absent and habitual greeting.

She answered the wave, and sang along with Dave as
she rode the roller coaster of a road through the sun and shade. When the road opened up again, she punched it, flying by a roll of farmland, a roadside motel, a scatter of homes, with the rise of mountains ahead.

Houses increased in number, decreased in size as she approached Woodsboro's town line.

She slowed, got caught by one of the two traffic lights the town boasted, and was pleased to note one of the businesses tucked near the corner of Main and Mountain Laurel was a pizza parlor. A liquor store stood on the other corner.

Good to know, she thought, and inched up as the light went green.

Reviewing Leo's directions in her mind, she made the turn on Main and headed west.

Structures along the main drag were neat, and old. Brick or wood or stone, they nestled comfortably against one another, fronted with covered porches or sunny stoops. Streetlights were old-timey carriage style, and the sidewalks were bricked. Flowers hung in pots from eaves, from poles and porch rails.

Flags hung still. American, and the bright decorative banners people liked to hoist to announce seasons and holidays.

The pedestrian traffic was as sparse and meandering as the vehicular. Just, Callie supposed, as it was meant to be on Main Street, U.S.A.

She noted a cafe, a hardware store, a small library and a smaller bookstore, several churches, a couple of banks, along with a number of professionals who advertised their services with small, discreet signs.

By the time she hit the second light, she had the west end of town recorded in her mind.

She made a right when the road split, followed its winding path. The woods were creeping in again. Thick, shadowy, secret.

She came over a rise, with the mountains filling the view. And there it was.

She pulled to the side of the road by the sign announcing:


A Dolan and Son Development

Snagging her camera and hitching a small pack over her shoulder, Callie climbed out. She took the long view first, scanning the terrain.

There was wide acreage of bottomland, and from the looks of the dirt mounded early in the excavation, it was plenty boggy. The trees—old oak, towering poplar, trash locust—ranged to the west and south and crowded around the run of the creek as if guarding it from interlopers.

Part of the site was roped off, and there the creek had widened into a good-sized pond.

On the little sketch Leo had drawn for her, it was called Simon's Hole.

She wondered who Simon had been and why the pond was named for him.

On the other side of the road was a stretch of farmland, a couple of weathered outbuildings, an old stone house and nasty-looking machines.

She spotted a big brown dog sprawled in a patch of shade. When he noticed her glance, he stirred himself to thump his tail in the dirt twice.

“No, don't get up,” she told him. “Too damn hot for socializing.”

The air hummed with a summer silence that was heat, insects and solitude.

Lifting her camera, she took a series of photos, and was just about to hop the construction fence when she heard, through the stillness, the sound of an approaching car.

It was another four-wheeler. One of the small, trim and, to Callie's mind, girlie deals that had largely replaced the station wagon in the suburbs. This one was flashy red and as clean as a showroom model.

The woman who slid out struck her as the same. Girlie, a bit flashy and showroom perfect.

With her sleek blond hair, the breezy yellow pants and top, she looked like a sunbeam.

“Dr. Dunbrook?” Lana offered a testing smile.

“That's right. You're Campbell?”

“Yes, Lana Campbell.” Now she offered a hand as well and shook Callie's enthusiastically. “I'm so glad to meet you. I'm sorry I'm late meeting you here. I had a little hitch with child care.”

“No problem. I just got here.”

“We're so pleased to have someone with your reputation and experience taking an interest in this. And no,” she said when Callie's eyebrows raised, “I'd never heard of you before all this started. I don't know anything about your field, but I'm learning. I'm a very fast learner.”

Lana looked back toward the roped-off area. “When we heard the bones were thousands of years old—”

“ ‘We' is the preservation organization you're representing?”

“Yes. This part of the county has a number of areas that are of significant historical importance. Civil War, Revolutionary, Native American.” She pushed back a wing of hair with her fingertip, and Callie saw the glint of her wedding band. “The Historical and Preservation Societies and a number of residents of Woodsboro and the surrounding area banded together to protest this development. The potential problems generated by twenty-five to thirty more houses, an estimated fifty more cars, fifty more children to be schooled, the—”

Callie held up a hand. “You don't have to sell me. Town politics aren't my field. I'm here to do a preliminary survey of the site—with Dolan's permission,” she added. “To this point he's been fully cooperative.”

“He won't stay that way.” Lana's lips tightened. “He wants this development. He's already sunk a great deal of money into it, and he has contracts on three of the houses already.”

“That's not my problem either. But it'll be his if he tries to block a dig.” Callie climbed nimbly over the fence, glanced back. “You might want to wait here. Ground's mucky over there. You'll screw up your shoes.”

Lana hesitated, then sighed over her favorite sandals. She climbed the fence.

“Can you tell me something about the process? What you'll be doing?”

“Right now I'm going to be looking around, taking photographs, a few samples. Again with the landowner's permission.” She slanted a look at Lana. “Does Dolan know you're out here?”

“No. He wouldn't like it.” Lana picked her way around mounds of dirt and tried to keep up with Callie's leggy stride. “You've dated the bones,” she continued.

“Uh-huh. Jesus, how many people have been tramping around this place? Look at this shit.” Annoyed, Callie bent down to pick up an empty cigarette pack. She jammed it in her pocket.

As she got closer to the pond, her boots sank slightly in the soft dirt. “Creek floods,” she said almost to herself. “Been flooding when it needs to for thousands of years. Washes silt over the ground, layer by layer.”

She crouched down, peered into a messy hole. The footprints trampled through it made her shake her head. “Like it's a damn tourist spot.”

She took photos, absently handed the camera up to Lana. “We'll need to do some shovel tests over the site, do stratigraphy—”

“That's studying the strata, the layers of deposits in the ground. I've been cramming,” Lana added.

“Good for you. Anyway, no reason not to see what's right here.” Callie took a small hand trowel out of her pack and slithered down into the six-foot hole.

She began to dig, slowly, methodically while Lana stood above, swatting at gnats and wondering what she was supposed to do.

She'd expected an older woman, someone weathered and dedicated and full of fascinating stories. Someone who'd offer unrestricted support. What she had was a young, attractive woman who appeared to be disinterested, even cynical, about the area's current battle.

“Um. Do you often locate sites like this? Through serendipity.”

“Mmm-hmm. Accidental discovery's one way. Natural
causes—say, an earthquake—are another. Or surveys, aerial photography, subsurface detections. Lots of scientific ways to pinpoint a site. But serendipity's as good as any.”

“So this isn't that unusual.”

Callie stopped long enough to glance up. “If you're hoping to generate enough interest to keep the big, bad developer away, the method of finding the site isn't going to give you a very long run. The more we expand civilization, build cities, the more often we find remnants of other civilizations underneath.”

“But if the site itself is of significant scientific interest, I'll get my long run.”

“Most likely.” Callie went back to slow, careful digging.

“Aren't you going to bring in a team? I understood from my conversation with Dr. Greenbaum—”

“Teams take money, which equals grants, which equals paperwork. That's Leo's deal. Dolan's footing the bill, at the moment, for the prelim and the lab work.” She didn't bother to look up. “You figure he'll spring for a full team, the equipment, the housing, the lab fees for a formal dig?”

“No.” Lana let out a breath. “No, I don't. It wouldn't be in his best interest. We have some funds, and we're working on gathering more.”

“I just drove through part of your town, Ms. Campbell. My guess is you couldn't come up with enough to bring in more than a few college students with shovels and clipboards.”

Annoyance creased Lana's brow. “I'd think someone in your profession would be willing, even eager, to focus your time and energy on something like this, to work as hard as possible to keep this from being destroyed.”

“I didn't say I wasn't. Give me the camera.”

Impatient now, Lana edged closer, felt her sandals slide into dirt. “All I'm asking is that you—Oh God, is that another bone? Is that—”

“Adult femur,” Callie said, and none of the excitement that was churning in her blood was reflected in her voice. She took the camera, snapped shots from different angles.

“Are you going to take it into the lab?”

“No. It stays. I take it out of this wet ground, it'll dry out. I need proper containers before I excavate bone. But I'm taking this.” Delicately, Callie removed a flat, pointed stone from the damp wall of dirt. “Give me a hand up.”

Wincing only a little, Lana reached down and clasped Callie's filthy hand with her own. “What is it?”

“Spear point.” She crouched again, took a bag out of her pack and sealed the stone, labeled it. “I didn't know much about this area a couple of days ago. Nothing about the geological history. But I'm a fast learner, too.”

BOOK: Birthright
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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