Monday, October 28, 2013

Carved in Stone by Kate Douglas

Author: Kate Douglas
Title: Carved in Stone
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Archeologist and folklore expert Nate Murdock has discovered ancient stone carvings that will either revolutionize thinking in his field or get him laughed out of it entirely, and he’s hired world-renowned photographer Alex Martin to document his find and bolster his claim. When the alluring Alexandra Martin, not Alex, shows up for the job, Nate’s not sure whether to send her packing or take her into his arms.

Alexandra Martin, the daughter of the famed photographer and just as talented with a camera, is a dark-haired and dark-eyed beauty. Years ago her father built his reputation on photographs he’d stolen from her, and she’s out to prove once and for all that she’s the real deal. When the opportunity to work with the celebrated and ruggedly handsome Nate Murdock falls into her lap, she jumps at the chance—whether he likes it or not.

As tempers flare and accusations fly, the two dig in for a battle of wills and an uneasy truce at their remote mountainside camp. But when drug smugglers trap them in a cave and leave them to die, Nate and Alexandra realize they must trust each other—and the fiery passion growing between them—and surrender to a mysterious force as it guides them through a perilous escape and the acceptance of a powerful love as primal and compelling as the mountain itself. 


Full light was at least an hour away, but the pale glow in the eastern sky outlined the rocky monolith towering over Nate Murdock’s campsite. He stared at the massive rock wall, shoving aside the lingering unease he’d felt since his discovery. Up there, a bit to the east and high enough to make the area almost inaccessible, he’d found magic carved in stone barely a year ago.

And if he ever had the nerve to publish the truth about those amazing petroglyphs, he’d probably be laughed out of the department, not to mention his entire profession. Folding his arms across his chest, he allowed himself to think of all the possible repercussions.

They weren’t pretty.

Dr. Nathan Murdock, renowned professor of North American antiquities and folklore at UC Berkley, would probably have trouble finding a job flipping burgers.

He glanced in the direction of the tiny town of Weaverville. Alexander Martin had promised to be on site by six. If the photos by a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer couldn’t give Nate’s absurd hypothesis more credibility, he really didn’t know what to do next. The story was too big, too important, to let it go, but the risk—if he couldn’t prove his theory—would end his career.

Not could. Would.

Even tenure couldn’t save him if he ended up looking like a complete jackass. Turning away from the cliff, Nate grabbed his towel and soap. From the pale light in the sky, he had time for a quick wash-up before the photographer arrived.

And maybe enough time to figure out the approach he’d need to convince the rest of his department—and the world—that he’d found something so amazing, so unbelievable, it would change forever the way scientists looked at humanity’s movements in the New World.

Alex Martin watched the helicopter until it was no longer even a tiny speck in the early morning sky, until the pulsating thrump, thrump, thrump of its blades faded into the natural rhythms of the forest. She glanced at the mound of supplies and padded bags of expensive digital camera equipment piled at her feet, then turned and studied the silent campsite behind her.

Where the hell was he? That had to be the professor’s tent just beyond the fire pit, a small nylon dome shining bright blue in the early morning light, but there was no sign of Dr. Nathan Murdock. So far, she was less than impressed with the illustrious and much-renowned professor of antiquities and folklore. All she’d heard when she’d gotten the job was how lucky she was to have a chance to work with him.

You’d think the least he could do was be here to meet her, after only two days’ notice and explicit orders she be on site at the crack of dawn.

Alex spun slowly about, studying the unfamiliar surroundings that would be her home for the next six weeks. Tall pine and cedar trees bordered the secluded meadow on three sides. To the east, a rugged wall of rock thrust upward, dwarfing the huge trees.

The carvings must be there, somewhere near the top. What had Jessie called them? Prehistoric graffiti? She’d better not refer to them that way in front of the professor. When the anthropology department secretary at Berkeley had contacted Alex about the job, she'd said the petroglyphs were located near the top of a cliff, that whomever was hired needed to be comfortable with rock climbing and heights.

Other than that, though, there hadn’t been any specifics offered. Alex gazed at the sheer cliff rising high overhead. It would have been nice if the secretary had mentioned the climb was well over five hundred feet straight up a solid wall of what appeared to be granite.

Alex yawned and raised her arms over her head, linking her fingers to stretch the tired muscles in her back. She bent at the waist, touched the palms of her hands flat to the ground and looked between her knees at the pile of stuff she’d brought.

Changing the view and staring at the pile upside down didn't make the bags appear any smaller or lighter. Straightening her back and glancing again at the rugged face of rock didn’t make the climb look any easier. If anything, it looked worse as the sky grew brighter. She hadn't done any serious climbing for months, much less hauled camera gear hundreds of feet up a cliff.

Too late to back out now. Alex shivered, rubbing her hands over her flannel sleeves. What if Jessie was right?

It wouldn’t be the first time. She dragged her duffle bag and camera equipment closer to the campsite, kicking up small clouds of dust with her scuffed hiking boots.

The professor's tent sat near a carefully constructed stone fire pit. Two scarred cedar logs provided seating by the smoldering fire. A pot of coffee simmered over the hot coals.

The professor couldn't be far away. Cupping her hand to her mouth, she called out. "Dr. Murdock?"

Well, that sounded like a little kid looking for the monster in the closet. She cleared her throat and tried again, louder this time. "Dr. Murdock? It’s Alex Martin. Are you here?"

Jessie’s parting words popped into her head. Again. Honestly, Alex, I can't believe you're gonna spend six weeks in a tent with some guy you've never met. What if he's psychotic, or an ax murderer or has bad breath or something?

She'd just have to assume universities didn't give tenure to psychotics or ax murderers. Bad breath she could deal with. It wasn’t like she planned to kiss the old fart. And she'd brought her own tent.

She unrolled it and slipped the plastic tubes in place to form a small dome, and then pegged it securely to the ground next to—but not too close to—Murdock's tent.

The sun still hadn’t crested the mountains, but it was definitely light, and even though she never wore a watch, Alex knew it had to be after six. Where in the hell was the good doctor?

Curious, she stuck her head through the open flap on his tent and took a quick look. Everything was neatly in place, but nothing offered any clues about her new employer. Feeling guilty, she quickly backed away and glanced around the secluded meadow. Still no sign of him.

The way the secretary had talked about him, how well-respected he was, how many books he’d published and discoveries he’d made, the professor had to be at least in his sixties. Maybe even older. If her luck was running true to form he was probably old as the hills and lost in the woods.

A cartoon image of a cute little professor in short pants and pith helmet popped into her head.

Wishful thinking?

She should have asked the secretary what the guy was like beyond his credentials. She’d done a little research on him but hadn’t found a picture. He wasn’t on any social networking sites she’d checked, and she hadn’t been able to find out his age or whether he was married or single, straight or gay.

Not that it mattered.

After shoving her equipment through the open flap of her tent, Alex crawled inside and arranged her sleeping bag and gear. The sun must have broken over the mountains to the east, because the inside was beginning to feel like a sauna. She’d noticed their site would give them afternoon shade—as warm as it was beginning to feel, she decided to give Dr. Murdock points for a good campsite.

Wiping sweat from her forehead, she stripped off her warm flannel shirt and heavy blue jeans, slipped into a pair of worn sweats, grabbed a knapsack with her soap and towel, and then backed out of the small tent.

She’d checked out the campsite online and knew there was a good-sized creek nearby. The steady roar of falling water beckoned with the promise of a quick swim that should help wake her up a little better. After spending a sleepless night in a really seedy motel in order to get her morning flight, she figured it couldn’t hurt.

Heading along a well-used trail toward the sound of falling water, Alex glanced back at the two tents, one blue, one orange, sitting so close together. It looked terribly intimate, and she fixed the image of the cartoon professor firmly in her mind.

The least he could have done was be here to meet her. The helicopter pilot had assured Alex the professor was expecting her this morning, that he was anxious to get started after his original photographer had bailed out at the last minute.

Maybe the guy was a total jerk to work for. At least the project paid well, and she definitely needed the money.

And the recognition.

Muttering uneasily to herself, Alex headed down the well-worn trail in the direction of the creek. It suddenly dawned on her she was on her way to freshen up before meeting the man she'd be sleeping beside for the next six weeks.

Not that she was worried or anything. Just cautions. A woman always had to be cautious on jobs like this. Right?

She heard him first, off-key and high pitched, obviously trying to imitate Roy Orbison singing Pretty Woman, and failing miserably. Sheesh...the music definitely dated the guy. She added a little more gray to the visual, and while she couldn't see him on the overgrown trail, there was no way anyone could miss his voice. Alex paused a moment, then laughed when he cracked on the high note.

Still grinning, she rounded a sharp turn in the trail—and collided full on with a very large, very naked man.

"Oh God! I'm sorry, I didn't...." Alex recoiled and abruptly turned away.

But not fast enough. Seared on her retinas was a broad, heavily muscled chest with a narrow pattern of dark hair that narrowed below his naval to point quite emphatically at...shit, shit, shit. If this was Nathan Murdock, he was definitely male, and definitely nowhere close to doddering old professor status.

She slapped her hand over her mouth to clamp off a nervous giggle when she realized she hadn't even noticed his face.

"Who the hell are you?" The falsetto was gone and this guy sounded pissed.

Just who the hell did he think he was? "Excuse me? Public trail, here, right? National forest and all that." She straightened her spine. Who the hell did he think he was? King of the mountain?

She turned deliberately, holding out her right hand, looking directly into the darkest eyes she had ever seen. "I'm guessing you’re Dr. Nathan Murdock. I’m Alex Martin, your photographer. The woman you hired, Dr. Murdock. Unless you’ve forgotten the desperate request that I show up immediately. Before six in the morning. Which I did, except I got tired waiting for you, and decided a quick swim was in order. It was a long trip. Had to leave really early in the morning to get here on time."

At least she'd managed to keep her voice steady. Alex locked eyes with the man, willing herself not to drop her gaze to the tantalizing view below his chin. Of course anything would be better than his scowl. She wondered how he'd look if he ever calmed down.

Right now, his deeply set eyes were narrow, angry slits. His lips, which might have otherwise been attractive, were pressed tightly together and heavy eyebrows met in angry knots over a long, slightly crooked nose. His square jaw was clenched, but she could almost make out laugh lines. Almost. She really had to use her imagination on that one.

This wasn't working. Imagination could only accomplish so much, and he was obviously really pissed. Sort of how she felt. She continued holding her hand out to him, silently daring him to grasp her outstretched fingers.

It was a dare she didn't expect him to take. The man was still, after all, buck naked. Holding her chin higher, she willed her hand not to tremble, kept her eyes steady, and the thought intruded that if she could pull this off without getting fired, she might even figure out how to exit gracefully.

Sure. Like that’s gonna happen.

His sudden, unexpected touch startled her. She felt a sharp spasm race from fingertips to shoulder as his rough palm suddenly grazed, then grasped hers, and his long, callused fingers wrapped tightly around her smaller hand.

Locked doubly now, eyes and hands completed a circuit that held Alex immobile, frozen in time and space for a heartbeat. Fighting the sudden desire to pull away and end the contact, in fact to end the entire embarrassing episode, she clasped his hand tighter.

He was magnificent, standing tall and tan in front of her, and the moment stretched on forever, though in reality, lasted only seconds.

She was absolutely beautiful, and Nate fought a silent struggle to control his suddenly active libido. It wasn't easy to ignore the fact that while he was standing here shaking hands with the sexiest woman he'd ever seen, he was also bare assed.

Obviously there’d been a mistake. The man he'd hired to document the petroglyphs was an experienced Pulitzer Prize winning photo-journalist, and this woman was no sixty year old man. Late twenties maybe. Very definitely female. Easily five ten or better with nut-brown skin, brilliant blue eyes and a tousled mass of black hair falling loosely to her waist. Tall and proud, she dared him to cover himself, dared him with a look that chilled him and sent fire through his veins in the same instant.

Her lips twitched and Nate saw a twinkle in the blue eyes that held him captive. Then she lost it completely. Pulling her hand free from his grasp she covered her mouth in a worthless attempt to stop the laughter that suddenly exploded, full and throaty and uninhibited.

Still laughing, she turned her back and Nate grabbed his towel off the tree branch. He wrapped it tightly around his waist, libido abruptly extinguished. The thought flashed through his mind that Miss Manners probably wouldn't consider laughter a polite response in this particular situation.

The damned woman kept laughing! At least her shoulders were shaking, even if she did seem to be fighting for control. Nate took a couple of deep breaths, aware his own lips were beginning to twitch. Talk about feeling ridiculous!

"I'm sorry. Really." Gasping for air, the woman grabbed a large white handkerchief out of her sweatshirt pocket. Still giggling, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "Look," she said, can we try this again?" She started to turn back to him, then halted. "You are decent now, aren't you?"

"I'm always decent," he insisted, reaching for his last shred of dignity. "I just wasn't dressed. You can turn around now."

Alex liked this softer version of his voice, warm and deep without the anger. She turned, hand outstretched from long habit. She retracted it immediately when she realized he was using his right hand to hold a very small pink towel around his lean hips.

Somehow, the towel made him look even more naked than before. A dark flush spread across her face and neck. She looked somewhere off to the right of his left ear, past the long auburn hair that curled damply to his shoulders. "Look," she said, struggling to keep her voice matter-of-fact, "it's obvious you've already bathed, so why don't I just meet you back at camp after I clean up? I’ve had a long night and a very early wake-up call."

“Okay.” He stretched the word and she could tell that he was fighting to keep his lips from curving into a smile. "I guess we can save the formal introductions for later." He picked up a small knapsack hanging from a nearby branch, almost losing his towel in the process. He fumbled with the towel a moment then headed back up the trail, obviously trying to look nonchalant and failing miserably.

Alex couldn't stop grinning as she stole a quick glance at her new employer. The tiny pink towel molded his lean hips, dark hair covered his long, muscular legs, and rubber flip flops flapped and slapped against the soles of his feet. She contemplated describing the scene to Jessie, right down to the man's wonderfully broad shoulders and gorgeous rear end.

Maybe she'd leave out the part about the flip flops.

As soon as he disappeared around the curve in the trail, Alex undressed and rinsed off in the freezing mountain creek. The sun was well above the eastern plateau by the time she stretched out on her belly on a warm flat rock at the water's edge. Leaning over, she rinsed her long hair in the swiftly running stream, soaking up the sun's rays that quickly heated her back.

The air was cool, but the sunlight felt good against her bare skin. She lay there a moment, wondering about the man, why he'd been so shocked by her presence. Other than the obvious, of course. She giggled, picturing the pink towel.

“Crap!” She scrambled into a sitting position. What if that wasn’t Nathan Murdock? The man hadn’t given his name. She shivered as a chill raced along her spine, then just as quickly she relaxed. That had to be Dr. Murdock. The pilot wouldn't have taken her to the wrong campsite.

Maybe she wasn't quite what Murdock expected. Alex grinned, wringing the water out of her long hair. Professor Murdock definitely wasn't what she expected! But what if Jessie was right? What if this job was a mistake? She'd certainly tried to argue Alex out of coming.

Of course, Jessie liked to argue about everything. They'd been raised as sisters, and they certainly fought like sisters, but this disagreement had been worse than usual. Staring into the swirling water, Alex thought about their argument.

She’d been trying to convince Jessie just how much she needed this assignment. How else was she ever going to get her reputation back?

A job like this—high profile work with a reputable professor—could go a long way toward fixing the whole mess.

As usual, Jessie had disagreed. "The studio's finally coming together. We've got at least two months of remodeling before we can open and—"

"And you're perfectly capable of handling it." Alex had refused to budge. Okay. So Jessie was worried about her. What else was new? Why couldn't Jessie see she had to do this? The professor at UC Berkeley didn't want to hire the great Alexander Martin. His secretary had called the studio and specifically requested Alex. Alex had done her best to try and convince Jessie how important this was to her career, but Jessie wouldn't even listen.

"It always comes down to your father, doesn't it?”

Alex had never seen her so angry, especially when she’d gotten right in Alex’s face and practically yelled at her.

“When are you gonna quit competing with him?” She’d practically sneered when she said added, “You can't win! The man's a cheat and a liar. My god, he stole your work, and you keep making excuses for him.”

Then she’d slammed her fist down on the worn countertop, and looked Alex straight in the eyes. "The man's a bastard!" she’d said. “He’s not worth it.”

Alex shuddered, the pain from Jessie's harsh words still fresh, but Alex knew she was just as guilty of fighting dirty. She’d been oh, so controlled when she’d replied, "I don't want to argue, especially about my father. Besides, it's common knowledge that if you're going to call anyone a bastard, that would be me."

Ashamed, Jessie had burst into tears.


It was such an ugly word. A terrible burden to give an innocent child. Alex wondered if she'd ever be able to lay it down. She knew that it really wasn’t that big a deal, not in today’s world, but when she’d been small, she’d heard it often enough. Alexander’s poor little bastard. She was nobody’s poor anything, but the pain never seemed to lessen. Still, Jessie's angry words had awakened long buried questions.

Staring into the clear waters of the creek, Alex wondered again about the unwed seventeen year old girl who had died giving her life. She knew so little about her mother, a woman whose Mayan Indian heritage was stamped strongly upon her own features.

Was that why her father had never married her mother? Because she was Indian? Alex wondered if she'd ever know the truth. Wondered what her life might have been like if things had been different.

But they weren't, and she'd learned long ago that wishing for what might have been didn't solve a thing. Leave it to Jessie to reawaken painful memories best forgotten.

Dammit! Jessie could manage the remodeling, and by the time this job was finished, the studio would be almost ready to open.

Jessie accused her of being a control freak. Alex had to agree. Win or lose, at least her future was in her own hands.

Her mother obviously hadn't had that choice.

Now she was dead.

Unlike her mother, Alex Martin's life was controlled by no man.

She felt his presence before she saw him. Turning quickly, she grabbed a towel to cover her nudity. He stood not ten feet away, fully dressed, watching her, holding two cups of coffee.

"I thought you might like a cup," he offered casually. A broad smile creased his face and he held the steaming mug out to her. He acted as if seeing her naked was an everyday occurrence.

His cavalier attitude angered Alex more than it embarrassed her, but she knew immediately why he was here. Typical, she thought, the way men always need to even the score.

"You might have waited until I finished bathing." Alex's voice trembled with anger, infuriating her even more. What if he took the audible quiver in her words as a sign of weakness? She grabbed her sweats and glared pointedly in Nathan's direction.

He didn't move. Alex ignored the coffee he offered. "Do you mind?" she hissed, clutching the towel and the folded bundle of sweats close against her body.

"Mind what?"

His wide-eyed innocent look goaded her even further, and Alex recognized the precise moment when temper overrode common sense. She glanced at the fist-sized rocks along the streambed, and thought longingly of the kind of damage she would love to do.

But she had other weapons.

Proudly she stood up and dropped the towel, giving Nate an unhurried look at her long legs, small breasts and the dark thatch at her center. She glared at him, letting him feel her anger. Then, very slowly, she proceeded to dress.

What had he been thinking, to pull such a childish stunt?

Nathan stared, transfixed, as she carefully pulled her sweatpants on, and then slipped the worn sweatshirt over her head. She didn't say a word. She didn't have to...her blazing eyes spoke volumes.

This wasn't quite what he'd expected, but earlier she'd sent him off feeling embarrassed and foolish. Coming back to catch her at her bath seemed like a perfectly acceptable way to even the score.

But by the time she pushed her long black hair out of her eyes and tossed it back over her shoulders, Nate's mouth was dry. When she stepped close, reached out with one slender hand and silently accepted the coffee mug still clenched in his trembling fingers, he could hardly resist the urge to wipe the sweat beading his upper lip.

As she took the cup, Nate made a strategic decision to beat a hasty retreat back to camp. Gritting his teeth in angry frustration he turned away and stomped along the brushy trail, muttering to himself as he shoved the rich green foliage out of his way.

He wasn't certain who she was or what she was doing here, but there was no denying the fact his body was achingly aware of every curve and line of her dusky figure. Her small, firm breasts with their dark nipples beaded from the morning chill, the sleek line of her torso and the perfect curve from small waist to rounded hip to long, long legs. And all that thick, glorious hair, sleekly wet now, combed back from her fascinating face, hanging long enough to curl around her hips.

It was bad enough that she didn't belong here. It was even worse she had interrupted his morning bath. But the last straw, the thing that really ticked him off, was the fact he was responding deep in his gut not to her almost primitive beauty, but to something as unprovocative as the sound of her footsteps stamping angrily behind him along the trail that led to camp.

Carved in Stone is a very unique story with quite a few twists and turns, I was fascinated to find that both the lead characters are flawed, they have a past and things aren't as wonderful as you would hope them to be. I really enjoyed the build of the plot of course for me personally I was hooked from the beginning when I found that I got to go along with an archeological experience, the fact that Kate managed to add paranormal in the mix was outstanding.
Ever full of surprises I wasn't expecting the ending to turn out the way it did but I also liked that there was redemption to be found.
Carved in Stone is exciting, suspenseful, realistic with a whole new up do!
I look forward to reading more works like this in the very near future!

Until next time book lovers...

Krissys Bookshelf Reviews received a digital copy in exchange for an honest review. 
All thoughts, comments and ratings are my own.
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