One Hot Winter's Night

By: Serenity Woods

Chapter 1

“How come Lara Croft never froze her butt off like this in Tomb Raider?”

Dr Cat Livingstone grumbled aloud to the cold air, her voice muffled by her black balaclava. Why, out of all the possible careers in the world, had she chosen to be an archaeologist? True, travelling across the globe hunting for artefacts was exciting, but this was plain ridiculous. The temperature in the snowy Swedish forest had fallen to minus fifteen degrees Celsius, and she wore three layers of clothing beneath her huge, padded snowsuit.

She huddled in the dog sled, her face like an ice cube even though she wore a balaclava and thick reindeer-fur hat; she shivered as the huskies dragged the sled across the snow, and cursed her employer with copious, colourful swear words.

“…And next time the museum tell me they ‘absolutely must have’ a precious, ancient artefact, I’ll tell them to stick it up their—”

“Did you say something?” Niklas shouted the words from his position on the sled behind her, and she jumped.

“How much longer?” She had to yell to the musher over the crunch and crackle of the snow and the dogs’ excited yapping.

“We’re nearly there.” Niklas pointed ahead. Yellow light glimmered through the trees, and he directed the huskies toward the wooden house.

She sighed, relieved. “Thank God.” Wiggling her toes in the thick boots, she hoped she didn’t have frostbite. How did people live in this ridiculous climate? She’d only been in Kiruna a few hours, and she was already turning into one of the ice sculptures she’d seen outside the tiny airport. Maybe they were actually tourists who had stayed outside for too long without the proper outerwear. Nothing would surprise her in this strange country where the sun didn’t rise at all for three weeks of the year.

As the sled stopped, Niklas jumped off and ran forward to check on the dogs. Cat struggled to get out of the seat on her own and eventually admitted defeat, waiting for him to come and give her a hand up, helpless in her thick suit. “I feel like the Michelin Man,” she complained as he heaved her to her feet.

“The clothing’s necessary for the cold weather,” he said.

“I know—it was a joke…”

He looked at her blankly before striding up to the house. Cat rolled her eyes, waddling after him, sure any moment she was going to fall flat on her face.

However, as her boots scrunched in the thick snow, the realization struck her. She was actually there—the necklace was nearly hers. She welcomed the fierce thump of her heart, pleased with the proof that she wasn’t cryogenically frozen as she’d feared. Lifting up her goggles awkwardly with her thick gloves, she gasped as the cold air bit into her face.

Niklas banged on the front door. It opened a crack, and a slim, blonde woman in her late forties or early fifties peeped out. Niklas spoke to her in Swedish while Cat waited, tapping her foot. The woman looked over at her and said something, and Niklas beckoned Cat in.

Heart still pounding, she followed the two of them into the house, and the woman closed the door behind them. Thick rugs decorated the floor and a log fire crackled in the grate. The warm air was a welcome relief after the cold outdoors.

Cat looked across at Niklas, her excitement making her impatient. “Well?”

He’d lifted up his own goggles and taken off his hat and balaclava, revealing his thick brown beard and bushy eyebrows. “This is Ragnara,” he said.

Cat nodded at the woman and gave her a brief smile before turning back to Niklas. “Does she have the necklace?”

“One moment, please.” He turned to the woman and began to speak Swedish to her again. Cat tried to hide her impatience. Only gradually did she become aware something was wrong.

“What’s going on?”

Niklas frowned. “It’s not here.”

Cat’s heart took a nosedive and disappointment flooded through her. “I don’t believe it. My contact told me he’d overheard her saying she’d inherited it. She described it perfectly.”

“You mistake me—I meant to say it was here. But this morning a man turned up claiming to be from the British Museum. She sold the necklace to him.”

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