Friday, January 23, 2015

The Tempering Agent by Victoria Pitts Caine Excerpt

The Tempering Agent by Victoria Pitts Caine

Dr. Priscilla Hackling finds herself thrown back into the murder investigation of her fiancĂ©, Trey Whittington. While she was a suspect three years ago, she’s now working with the police to find the murderer, Egyptian artifact trafficker, Zarka El-Din.

During a sting operation in Siwa, she and Agent Donnie Barnes are drawn to each other but Priscilla, overcome by personal ghosts from her past, decides a relationship isn’t possible.

Priscilla realizes she’s the bait in the ruse and uncovers others involved with El-Din. Will she and Donnie reconcile and unravel the reason behind Trey’s death before El-Din kills her, too?


Priscilla Hackling chiseled and brushed away the crusted dirt of thousands of years when voices echoed above her. One she recognized, Rayhan, her trusted assistant. They grew louder, closer, but she chose to ignore them. She glanced at her chronometer—three o’clock. Her descent, right after day break, into the yawning mouth of the aperture had occurred without incident and brought her to the colorful glyphs which ran in vertical strips on a wall deep within the cavern. She studied them with care, assured she’d found a sealed compartment, the final burial place. She had worked for months at Sakkara just outside of Cairo, a section of the great necropolis of Memphis, the old kingdom capitol. In early 2010 the Department of Antiquities and the Cairo Museum had gained access to this area, the tomb of a lesser scribe of Unas. The stark, summer sunlight shifted across the opening of the dig.

The argument above ground intensified. She sighed, stored her tools in their worn, leather case, and walked across the expanse of the antechamber. She reached the ladder and, as it did every time, a quick flash played in her memory. The day she climbed out of a dig in southern Egypt, where Trey lay in a pool of his own blood, the twelve-jeweled breastplate of the priest torn from his fingers.

“Priscilla. Priscilla, can you come topside?” Rayhan’s urgent voice met her ears. She stood frozen on the first rung.

What could go wrong now? Her permits were in order, she had clearance from the Egyptian government—in fact, in a way worked for them—but this entire dig had been trouble. She gripped the worn wood and crawled out into the unrelenting afternoon heat. Rayhan stood not fifteen feet from her as he argued with a uniformed official and others roped off the area. From her experience, this dig would soon be over.

Priscilla took a patterned bandana from the hip pocket of her knee-length cargo pants and wiped her face and hands, then jammed the red fabric into her satchel. She extended her hand to the middle-aged officer.

“Priscilla Hackling.” She removed the hat from her short, strawberry blonde curls. “Is there a problem, sir?”

“I’m Captain Johnson.” He shifted his cap to shade his eyes and pointed toward the dig. “We need to close this project.”

Priscilla scrutinized the officer. Egyptian descent. English last name. “Johnson?”

“My father was English.”

She bit her bottom lip to squelch a smile. “At least we have that in common.” She waited for him to comment and when he didn’t, she continued. “The permits are in order. I’m working for the museum.”

“I know who you are, Dr. Hackling.” The captain crossed his arms over his chest and spread his legs into a defensive stance.

Anxiety fluttered in her chest. Why now? An important discovery lay under her feet; countless hours of work lost. “Then why are you shutting down my project? I’m right on the precipice of a major find.”

“I’m not. I’m preserving it. I’ll have guards on site day and night. No one will touch your dig while you’re needed elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere? This is my work. The museum has invested a large sum of money into the project hoping I’d find out who this scribe was and his importance to Unas. I’m certain the tomb is the architecture of Imhotep.”

“As I’ve said, the dig will be untouched. We’ve reopened the investigation of the murder of your fiancĂ©, Trey Whittington. I need you to come with me.”

Priscilla gasped. An unexpected jab twisted in her chest. Trey, the remarkable, handsome man she’d planned to spend the rest of her life with died three years ago. He had been a part of her since they’d met at the University of Cairo. They were both from England and in love with Egypt and each other. With limited success she’d moved on. She had to or she might as well have been buried with him. She’d told the authorities everything then. Why were they dredging it all up again?

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