Alex felt Mitch’s eyes trace her with a vivid indication that yesterday’s incident remained fresh in his mind. She cleared her throat and turned towards Chuck. “What are you two up to that’s got you looking so guilty?”
Chuck reached back and pushed aside a clump of balmy leaves. “See for yourself.”
Alex had no choice but to brush against Mitch as she stooped forward to peer through the foliage. That sensation was disregarded at the first glimpse of the disturbing tableau.
By relocating to this portion of the rain forest, she had intended to search for a temple, but this structure was not what she had in mind.
“I take it you weren’t aware of this four-star resort?” Mitch’s deep voice sounded beside her.
Letting the leaves fall back into place, Alex met his eyes. “No, I wasn’t.”
Outwardly, she strove for composure. Inside, her body trembled with the repercussions of her miscalculation. By all rights she should be at least forty miles away from the last reported missing persons case. A husband and wife team—private citizens who chose archeology as a hobby. Their journal had been discovered some fifty miles from here. It documented their trek through the Tikal, but nowhere did it infer any trouble or signs of a secreted compound.
The Pastorellis’ last contact with the outside world was nearly a year ago.
“Dare I state the obvious?” Chuck offered. “That this doesn’t look cool.”
Alex ignored the comment, and instead started back towards camp, hacking at branches with the methodic precision of a mad man.
“Hey!” Chuck charged ahead of her, his knife at the ready. “I was doing that.” He eyed the ineffective path. “Guess just not too well.”
Sensing her urgency, and perhaps her brief spiral into insanity, Chuck resumed his task, slicing through glutinous limbs until the jungle swallowed him in its deep green throat.
Mitch caught up with her. She felt his fingers secure her arm as he tugged her to a halt.
“Tell me,” he commanded.
In the deepest shadows of the rainforest, a chill overtook Alex as she stared helplessly at the hand on her arm.
“Tell you what?”
“You know what it is. That place. You know what it is.”
Once again, in Mitch’s eyes Alex saw refuge. How much she longed to slip into these lagoons and engulf herself in their secret depths. But even her precious lagoons harbored crocodiles.
She did not want to hypothesize on the giant cement exclamation point that proved what a mistake she had made.
“No,” she answered.
She could sense his frustration before she heard him add, “What are you going to do?”
He knew she was withholding something, and yet instead of pushing, he simply asked, what are you going to do? It nearly made her feel a connection with this man−as if he was an unexpected ally in a world where no one was trusted.
Her throat constricted. “I will protect them.”
It was an unconditional statement. Mitch watched the resolve on her face and realized that Alex would go to any length to assure the safety of her team, and the notion didn’t sit well with him.
“How?” he challenged. “Alex, my career has kept me in close quarters with places like that,” his arm swung back towards the underbrush. “They saw us. Trust me. You think we were discreet? Don’t anticipate that.”
There wasn’t even a flinch. Not a single indication that she was afraid. Calm eyes assessed him.
“I am not a fool,” she whispered. “Obviously that structure is not on any of our maps, but I’ve spent the better part of a year down here. I have my suspicions as to who inhabits it. It was a tactical mistake to be in this region. A mistake I am quickly going to resolve.”
“Who do you think it is?”
She shrugged. “Guatemala hosts any number of denizens. Poachers, looters, drug runners. What am I supposed to do, curl up in the fetal position? You don’t make historical discoveries in the fetal position.” She didn’t wait for a response. “When I had a home, I lived in Sarasota. I could go to the 7-Eleven and run into poachers, looters and drug runners in the parking lot.”
“But in that 7-Eleven parking lot you could scream for help.” Mitch looked up at the canopy of trees obscuring the sun. “Here in the jungle, no one is going to hear you.”
“Do you want me to say that I’m scared?” There was an edge to her voice. She glanced into the tunnel Chuck had forged. “Even if I were, I can’t let them see that. They’re depending on me to keep them safe.”
Mitch followed her line of vision through that channel and located the flash of red and gold charging through the brush far ahead.
He turned back to her. “Look at me.”
Alex stared into the jungle.
“Look at me,” he commanded.
Verdant irises slid in his direction.
“Who is going to keep you safe, Alexandra?”