Until years later, her father mysteriously disappears. Ill-equipped to face her fears, and as life’s irony often has it, the duty falls upon Alex to solve the mystery and find her missing father.
Tasked to go with her, the inexperienced Sam Quinn joins her on an action-packed adventure through the treacherous African Savannah, where an abundance of danger, fear, and heartache confront them head on. As they come face to face with sabotage, crime, and betrayal that will test their inner strength and will to survive, the pair takes on an enemy they never saw coming.
Lara Croft meets Jason Bourne in this pulse-pounding clean adventure thriller where the pages turn themselves! Perfectly brought together with a dash of modern romance and Christian values, this first-in-series sets the stage for an epic clean suspense series!
Based on the true legend of Rhapta
About 2000 years ago, Rhapta was speculated to be the first real metropolis of Africa. The famed lost city was substantially known for its abundant produce of tortoiseshell and metal weapons among traders.
Rhapta soon became one of the wealthiest cities in the world and was mentioned in the Greco-Egyptian writer, Claudius Ptolemy's book Geography.
The fact that he captured his findings in his writings proves that they knew of the city's existence as far back as AD 50.
But approximately 1600 years ago, at the peak of its existence, the entire city suspiciously disappeared.
The city vanished without any trace and with it took bounds of artifacts and architectural insights.
For years, archaeologists, scholars, and divers have been baffled by its disappearance.
The exact location is not known. However, it is believed to have been somewhere off the coast of Tanzania, near Mafia Island.
A recent accidental discovery by a diver in 2016 has the world excited with the prospect that he found Rhapta.
At present, they are in search of artifacts or any proof that the suspected ruins are conclusively ruled to have been the lost city of Rhapta.
"Dad! I can't hear you! The line isn't very clear. Dad? What's going on? Hello? Dad, are you there?"
The crackling noise on the other end of the phone stopped for a brief second. Alex listened as the single gunshot resounded over the phone line.
"Daddy? Dad! Please say something. Dad? Hello?"
Her legs went numb beneath her body. With her phone still in hand, she fell to the floor, unable to breathe.
She shut her eyes and mumbled a prayer out loud.
Her mind was a wicked flurry of questions. She had no idea what just happened. Convinced it was all in her head, she raised the phone to her ear again.
"Daddy?" she called, sounding like a five-year-old, her voice trembling.
"Hello? Alex? Is that you?"
The voice startled her and ejected her off the floor. "Hello? Who's this?" She pressed the phone firmer to her ear.
"Alex, it's Eric. What did your father say to you?"
"What? Nothing, what do you mean? Where is he? I need to speak to him!"
"They took him, Alex! You need to find help! They shot me, and—"
"What? Who took him? Eric! WHO TOOK HIM? Hello? Are you there? Eric! Dad! Is anyone there?"
But Eric was silent and the all too familiar crackling sound at the other end of the phone echoed in her ears once again, blocking out any chance of hearing anyone speak. The sudden click and deafening silence confirmed the line had gone dead.
Her heart pulsed in her ears. The sequence of events that had just taken place was too hard to digest. With the phone still gripped in her hand she slumped to the floor, her legs folding numbly beneath her body. Paralyzed with fear, not knowing what had just happened, tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped onto her phone's screen. Her shaking fingers scrolled through the menu on her phone as she searched for the last incoming number. Defeated she stared at the words: number unlisted. It was as if someone had punched her in the stomach. She banged the phone against her head forcing her brain to straighten itself out and in a moment of clarity realized whom she should call for help.
Her fingers fumbled with the phone as she dialed the only person she could think of. Several times the phone threatened to slip through her trembling hands which were now shaking uncontrollably. Just calm down, Alex. Keep it together, she thought.
"Archaeology faculty, how may I direct your call?"
"Hello? Professor Keating, please? It's an emergency."
"Who may I ask is calling?"
"Alexandra… Alex, Professor Hunt's daughter. Please, I need to speak to Professor Keating now! Please hurry. It's a matter of life and death."
Pacing the small room, Alex swallowed hard in an attempt to wet her parched throat. She waited anxiously as the call transferred.
"Alex? What's wrong?"
"Professor! I didn't know whom else to call. I don't know what to do. I… they, they took him, and Eric got shot and…"
"Whoa! Stop for a second. Calm down, Alex. Take a breath. You're not making any sense. Who was taken, and who shot who?"
"My father, they took my father, and I can't make out if they shot him or, maybe they shot Eric, but I heard a gunshot and…"
"Okay slow down, Alex. Where are you?"
"I'm at home. Dad called but I couldn't hear him clearly, and then Eric spoke saying they took him and then they shot him. You have to find him, Professor!"
"Bugger. I knew your dad was up to something. Okay, make a cup of strong tea and sit tight. Let me make a couple of calls and see what I can find out, but for now, try to keep it together. I'll get to the bottom of this as soon as I can."
"But, Professor, I…" The line went dead in her ear.
"Hello. Professor," she repeated, but he had already put the phone down.
Irate, she threw the phone against the door. The back shot off and the battery slid underneath the couch. She swore under her breath at her stupidity and knelt down next to the couch to retrieve it. Her fingers fumbled with the battery and cell phone cover as she popped it back together.
"What have you gotten yourself into, Dad, and where are you?" she said out loud clicking the cover in place.
Chewing her thumbnail she walked back and forth between the kitchen and the sitting room. Her clothes felt too tight all of a sudden, and she found it hard to breathe. Her thumb left her mouth and fiddled with her now constricting medical bracelet on her wrist.
The thought of losing her father was too much for her to bear. Memories of her mother's death whirled through her mind. She frantically searched her desk for her pills and swallowed two, closing her eyes as she waited for the bitter sting to disappear and the medication to take effect. The prescription bottle in her hand stared back at her. The pills had become her lifeline.
Outside, the rain gently tapped on the windowpane. She walked over and traced the soft raindrops down the cold glass.
How could this happen again? she thought. When her mum died, her entire world fell apart. It had been so long since she felt the rain on her face. If her father never returned she would have no choice but to go outside again. The thought of it left her cold. She couldn't face that. She wasn't ready.
She paced the room again and fought against her taunting thoughts. She couldn't breathe. Not even with the exercises Dr. Jones gave her when situations like this called for it. Her chest felt tight, and her body appeared to be doing its own thing.
She reached for her phone and checked if she might have missed a call or message alert. She didn't. There were no missed calls and no messages. Disheartened, she realized she'd go crazy waiting for the professor to get back to her. She hurried over to her father's large messy desk in the corner of the room. Her hands hastily thrust the piles of papers onto the floor.
She rummaged through the desk with vigor. He always left her a note or a clue when he went on a mission. It had to be there somewhere. She paused, taking a couple of deep breaths as she continued the silent conversation in her head. He left three, maybe four days ago. He couldn't have gone far.
With trembling fingers, she sifted through the loose papers on his desk but her search returned no note or anything else of significance. Nothing––aside from a few student term papers, a couple of unopened letters, and a map.
Annoyed, she paced the room back and forth between the door and the desk trying to convince herself that he was fine. She recalled their last conversation.
He had made a flippant comment about setting off to find the truth that would set them both free from the past.
But there was no truth to be found. The reasons would never be clear, at least not to her.
Feelings of him being in serious trouble gnawed at her insides. Something was wrong. She was certain of it.
A loud knock jolted her back to reality. She scrammed toward the front door almost tripping on the loose rug on the floor. She barely had the chain off and a drenched Professor Keating pushed past her into the house.
"Professor Keating, did you find him?" But instinctively she already knew the answer to her overzealous question. Why else would he be there in person?
"No, Alex, I'm afraid I haven't, at least not yet. I did make some phone calls. My connections said he boarded a flight to Africa."
"Africa? What would he be doing halfway across the world? Are you sure?"
"I'm certain. We also found an email in your father's office from the University of Dar es Salaam requesting his help on a matter. They think they might have found the lost city of Rhapta."
"Tanzania? That's absurd, 'found Rhapta' what rubbish. Everyone is fully aware Rhapta is merely a myth. A fabled maritime city that disappeared off the face of the earth nearly 1600 years ago! It's nothing but a story some wannabe writer concocted to gain fame. This stupid city doesn't exist! Everything is a ridiculous myth, nothing more. No one has ever found any factual evidence of—"
"Apparently, this time someone did find something. They claim to have found pieces of ancient pottery and gold coins and some human fossils dating back two thousand years. The tests came back positive confirming the fossils are most likely from Rhapta. I think your father must have found something really significant and was kidnapped."
He paused briefly, taking a deep breath before he continued.
"Alex, considering your mother lost her life chasing after precisely the same lost city, I realize this must be rather hard on you, but what if this is all true? What if all the facts and fables are true and Rhapta lies somewhere hidden or buried under the sea? Do you honestly think your parents would have spent their entire lives chasing after a phantom if they didn't believe any truth might lie within the legendary tale? Your father must have found something new that put him in this dangerous position. He's always had a nose for these things and he may finally be close to completing what your mother dreamed of doing all her life. She died trying, Alex."
"So he jumps on the first plane chasing this stupid fairytale only to land up dead like my mother. And what about me? What am I supposed to do if both my parents end up dead?"
Alex felt her sweater tighten around her neck again as she struggled to breathe. She pulled at the neckband, but it proved futile and provided little relief.
"Alex, perhaps you need to sit down for a moment."
In an instance of insanity, she tried ripping the sweater's neckband open. It was suffocating her and she fought to keep her emotions at bay.
"Alex, please. Sit down and try to stay calm. You will have to be strong now. We only have one way of finding your father."
She knew exactly what he was thinking and didn't like it one bit. Still tugging at her neck, she pre-empted his next sentence.
"You have to go to Tanzania and find him, Alex. You going is the only way."
She felt her body surge out of control. She was cold. No hot. Her heart beat fast and her lunch threatened to push up into her throat. The room spiraled out of control. Her stomach churned uncomfortably and a short moment later the room went black around her.
* * *
"Alex, it's Dr. Jones. Can you hear me?"
Alex winced at her aching head as she tried opening her eyes. Dizzy and confused, she groaned.
"Ah, welcome back. Try to relax for a bit. You fainted so just lie still for a moment. Here, have a sip of water."
The heavily sugared water left her tongue feeling furry.
"Better? You had a pretty hard knock on your head when you fell so don't try to stand up just yet."
"Alex, I'm truly sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I —"
"Perhaps not the best time to apologize, Professor. I'd wait for her to find her bearings first. She'll be okay."
Alex rubbed the back of her head and propped her elbows underneath her body as she recollected the events that led to her fainting.
"Absolutely not! No, not going to happen. I CAN'T GO!" she ranted, catching the two men off guard.
"Okay, calm down. You're confused," Dr. Jones responded.
"I am not going anywhere!" she repeated.
"Go where, Alex?" the perplexed physician replied, turning a questioning gaze at Professor Keating who had a suspiciously sheepish look on his face.
"Go where, Professor? What's she talking about?"
"Africa. Tanzania to be more precise, as a matter of fact."
"Africa? Have you lost your mind? To do what if I may ask?"
"To find her father. He's gone missing, and she's the only one who is equipped enough to find him."
"Oh no. No, no, no, no! No way on earth she can go gallivanting off to Africa! I'm afraid that is pretty nearly not going to be possible at all, Professor Keating. Out of the question! Let me explain. She—"
"Yes, yes, Doctor, I understand. She's still traumatized after having lost her mother much the same way and now the added upset of her missing father will be too much for her. I get it."
"No, as a matter of fact, I believe you do not. Unfortunately, this is a bit more complicated than a simple case of trauma. Alex has agoraphobia. She can't leave the house. She's clinically agoraphobic."
"Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an intense fear of certain places and situations, in normal circumstances set off by severe trauma. Alex hasn't been out of the house since her mother's death; apart from our exposure therapy sessions that is. Something like this would require an immense amount of courage and willpower for her to leave the house much less fly across the world in a cramped airplane."
Unimpressed by the textbook diagnosis, Professor Keating wasn't about to give up his fight.
"Alex, you may not have much of a choice in the matter. You would have to go. One of the archaeologists called me a short while ago. The people who captured your father are under the impression that he told you where the key is. If you don't go, they'll kill him. In short, they could blackmail you."
"That is absurd! It's ridiculous. Don't you understand? The key doesn't exist. Never did. There is no key!" She raised her voice more than she intended.
Alex shook her head. "I'm afraid you're going to have to send someone else or go yourself, Professor! I can't do it. It's not that I don't want to. I simply can't. You're going to have to help him, Professor."
"Alex, I wouldn't ask this of you if I wasn't convinced you're the best option we have right now. You know your mother's work inside and out. You've done all the research on Rhapta, and you speak the language fluently. That day, the day that your mother…you might have found Rhapta at that very moment and didn't even realize how close you were. Look, I understand this is going to be terrible for you but finding Rhapta was your mother's dream. The two of you were on the cusp of one of the world's most significant discoveries. We can't let her dream all go to waste. Don't allow her death to have been in vain. Your mother wouldn't have wanted you to pine away, locked up in this house forever. Archaeology is in your blood. It's your very DNA. You're a Hunt, Alex. It's your legacy."
Alex sat in silence as she felt the needle disappear into her arm. Whatever Dr. Jones injected made her feel like she was floating on air.
"Alex, please, you have to. Do this for your mother."
Though now surprisingly calm, Alex had every intention of punching Keating's lights out over his last sleazy salesman 'do this for your mother' stab. She could still recall the events of that day as if it just happened. She knew her mother would have wanted her to continue her life's work but to relive the entire ordeal on top of her father's disappearance was too much to ask. She paused her internal thoughts. There was a strong possibility that her father might still be alive. She couldn't sit back and do nothing.
As she pondered her fate, the two men continued.
"Doctor, can't you give her some miracle pill to take the edge off her situation? Help her take control over this or something? If she doesn't go out there and find him it's very likely that her father will end up getting killed too. We have to put an end to this once and for all. These people are savages. They will never stop until they find the treasure and as long as they think her father or she has knowledge of the key or any of the so-called treasure they will keep going and might very well come after her here."
"Professor, I mean no disrespect, but Alex and I have gone through years of therapy and behavioral treatments. She has her meds, but until she's psychologically ready, my hands are tied. Agoraphobia is not a physical ailment. It's a mental disease. One that either lingers forever or, best case, can be controlled with anti-depressants when the patient is ready. It is entirely a matter of being psychologically and emotionally ready. Once that happens, she can manage the disease as the symptoms occur. But, if you push a patient too hard at the wrong time, the consequences can easily go the other way and that could land her in an institution for the rest of her life. We simply have no way of telling where she's at right now."
The doctor paused and scratched his brow for a second before he continued.
"There was a recent case study so we might have a very slim chance here. Something we might be able to try IF she's willing. However, I must stress, this particular therapy method currently stands unproven, so I offer no guarantees. Theoretically, the treatment should work—if we're lucky."
"Sounds good to me, Doctor. We should at least try. This is a matter of life and death so we might not have any other option."
"You two are talking as if I'm not here. May I remind you that it's my and my father's lives you're playing with here? You should send in the police, or the army or something, a team of professionals. I'm an archaeologist, not a soldier!"
"What's this therapy you mentioned, Doctor?" Keating ignored her and continued his conversation with the doctor.
"Well, the only other possible recourse is if you have someone accompany her. Preferably someone with a medical background who is stable and trustworthy and who will help her through the panic attacks. It will have to be someone she knows she could trust and who will be with her every step of the way."
"Forget it." Alex suddenly surprised them. "I don't need a babysitter or a nurse. I'm quite capable of looking after myself. I'll go to Africa on my own, but only because my father's life depends on it. I'll fetch him and bring him back. Nothing more! No hunting down lost cities or relics or anything of the sort. I don't need to find Rhapta, and I am dead sure that I don't need the fame. Is that clear, Professor?"
"Clear as daylight, Alex. However, I just need you to think about the bit about not finding Rhapta and what you're walking away from. Just sleep on it. We have new evidence that the city does, in fact, exist. Lying somewhere in Tanzania waiting for us to unlock all her secrets and relics. The evidence is sufficient enough. As an archaeologist, you are duty-bound to help us discover ancient history. A discovery of this stature can reveal valuable links to another history unknown to the world. Please consider the prospect. If not for me then do it at least for your parents."
Alex walked over to her father's antique desk and skimmed over the contents. History ran through her father's veins. She couldn't escape that. Keating was sure as heck pushing her beyond her comfort zone, but for the sake of her father, she really didn't have any other option.
Her mother, and obviously now her father too, believed this quest was worth risking their lives for. She should trust in their knowledge and experience and believe they might just be on to something big. Besides, Keating was correct of course. A discovery of this magnitude could provide valuable insights into newly discovered cultures and if this killed her too, then so be it.
Perhaps then all those treasure hunters who scour the world thinking they are on the verge of discovering ancient secrets and treasures would realize some secrets need to stay buried forever.
"Are you sure you can do this, Alex?" Dr. Jones asked nervously. "You've made a lot of progress, but this might be too much for you to take on. Your meds will only do so much."
"Well, if the stuff has the same effect as what you just gave me, then, by all means, Doctor, stock me up."
Professor Keating rushed to her side. "Alex, I'll send one of my best students with you as a backup and book you a first-class seat. Anything to make the trip more comfortable for you. Just say the word."
"Students will weigh me down, Professor, I don't need them. I told you. I can do this on my own."
The doctor interjected. "Well, if I may, Alex, I don't think that's wise. If you have an episode in the middle of a dangerous situation, the consequences could potentially be fatal. To have someone with you at all times will be vital to you getting through this."
Alex swept her hair out of her face and ignored his advice.
"I'll need something to knock me out on the plane and the ground team ready when I land, that's all. Oh, and a small supply of these meds you just gave me, Doc. I'll manage the rest on my own."
"Alex, you need to be very sure this is what you want to do," the doctor cautioned again.
Her words echoed in her head. She had no idea how she was supposed to do this and why she agreed, but she knew she couldn't sit back and do nothing. As always, he was most likely right. She could never do this on her own and would probably end up dead, but she had to try.
"Thank you, Doctor, but we are talking about my father's life. How can I not at least try? If his life depends on me risking mine to save his, then I have to do what anyone else in my position would do. When my mother most needed me, I let her down. I am not about to do the same to my father."
Relic hunting was in her blood. She knew nothing else. Born to the famous Hunt explorers, escaping their legacy was impossible. She'd been to more countries hunting down treasures and ancient artifacts than most people will ever experience. Her childhood memories were not of birthday parties and learning how to ride a bicycle. Instead, her young life was filled with camel rides across the desert and swimming through crocodile-infested swamps.
Her father's words rang in her head. 'The excitement lies in the next chase. That's what makes life great.' No two days were ever the same. Most children only dream of going on wild adventures like she did instead of sitting through repetitious school lessons and bedtime routines. Just the world and all its experiences. A once in a lifetime organic education filled with firsthand lessons in eight different languages. Living with tribes in Peru or making clay pots in Egypt. Her life was never dull or without instruction.
The professor was right. Relic hunting was in her genes. She learned firsthand from the best explorers known to mankind. With the right ground team and resources, she could find her father and bring him home alive.
* * *
When Alex was eventually alone again, she sat down behind her desk. Her eye caught her emergency medical bracelet dangling around her wrist. Beneath the thin silver chain was the bright pink scar she got while sliding down the sharp sandy cliffs of the Kingdom of Mustang in Northern Nepal. Those mysterious caves were quite a find. That was, in reality, her first official expedition and she loved every living moment of the mission.
She caught herself smiling as she recalled the memories and realized how much she missed the adrenaline rush. The sheer exhilaration shooting through her veins when she conquered treacherous places where modern man had never been, the threat of danger contradicted by the mesmerizing tranquility that comes from being one with nature.
The silver medical tag around her wrist stared back at her. Alexandra Hunt – Agoraphobic.
For the last three years, she'd been staring at those words. Was this who she had become? Was this what the rest of her life looked like? She flipped the bracelet over and pushed it down against her skin. She was a Hunt. There was no escaping that, and if her mother were still alive, she'd tell her.