Elements of Mystery takes chemistry to a new level in the ongoing series of mystery novels by author Terri Talley Venters.

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“Thanks for traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to join me on this excavation, Tommy,” Victoria Ventures said. She hugged her ruggedly handsome colleague.

“When a beautiful woman calls and asks me to leave the harsh winter in Scotland to play in the dirt with her in sunny Florida, I take the first flight out of Edinburgh,” Tommy Garrison said.

“You came at the best time, we finally cut through all the bureaucratic red tape so now we can start getting our hands dirty,” Victoria said.

“How did you find this place?” Tommy asked.

“A condo developer demolished an old hotel near Disney World.  When they dug the hole for the basement, they found an entrance to a cave,” Victoria said.

“Just a cave?  I thought you mentioned an excavation every archeologist dreams about,” Tommy asked.

“I promise you, Tommy, it will be! I haven’t told you the best part yet, come on,” Victoria said with a wink.
They walked the cave system for over an hour, covering the distance of almost four miles. They barely spoke as they hiked through the spider web-like tunnel system. Victoria’s excellent physical condition made it easy to keep up the intense pace. Her excitement to show Tommy her discovery motivated her to practically run to the find of a lifetime.

“I’m glad you marked the path with ropes, if I got lost I’d never find my way out again,” Tommy said.

“I’ve walked this tunnel so many times I don’t even need the rope anymore. But it’s good to have just in case,” she said.

“Like the guy who killed the Minotaur in Crete, didn’t he use a rope to find his way back out of the labyrinth?” Tommy asked.

“I forgot how nerdy you are,” Victoria said.  She laughed, poking fun of her college boyfriend.

“Yuk! Did something die down here?  It smells like rotten-eggs,” Tommy said, holding his nose to mitigate the foul smell.

“We’re getting close now. You’re smelling the sulfur commonly found in hot spring water,” Victoria said.

“This all reminds me of how they discovered the ancient roman baths, in Bath, England. During the Victorian era, hot water started leaking in someone’s basement.  They started digging and uncovered the archeological find of the century,” Tommy said.

“Sorry I’m walking so fast, but I’m anxious to see the look on your face when you see what I found,” Victoria said.

“You mean what your team found,” Tommy said correcting her.

“What I’m about to show you no one else has seen, at least no one still living,” Victoria said. She grinned at the joy of teasing Tommy. His perplexed look proved priceless.

“I’ve been in a holding pattern waiting for you to arrive. I need a diving partner, and no one will take the risk. The cave dead ends into a hot spring,” Victoria said.

“Sounds fascinating, but I imagine the fear of diving in an undiscovered hot spring sounds intimidating,” Tommy said.

“It’s not exactly undiscovered. In fact someone discovered it thousands of years ago. They left markings. The Ancient Egyptians discovered it before the Spanish did 500 years ago.

“Okay, now you just gave me the biggest hard on. Did you say the Ancient Egyptians were here?” Tommy asked.

“Yes, but I’m not an expert in hieroglyphics, that’s one of the reasons I called you. I merely possess the most basic knowledge, and I don’t recognize much,” Victoria said.

“No one has ever found evidence of the Ancient Egyptians in the new world. But we studied Egyptian hieroglyphs together in graduate school.  I’m surprised you’re so rusty. I recall feeling furious when you earned an ‘A’ when I got stuck with a ‘B+’,” Tommy said.

“Do you regret turning down your fellowship at Harvard to be with your father in Scotland after his heart attack?” Victoria asked.

“Not as much as I regret not staying in the States to be with you,” Tommy said, feeling his heart ache for the missed opportunity with his college sweetheart.

“You’re here with me now,” Victoria said, smiling through her bashful feelings.

“So if the Spanish found this cave in the 1500s, why haven’t we heard anything about the discovery?” Tommy asked.

“I think I know why this place is still a secret. Look here. Our predecessors left warnings,” Victoria said. She shined a light on the cave wall a few yards away from the start of the hot springs.  She and Tommy stared at the engravings.

“Don’t feel bad for not recognizing the hieroglyphics, they’re not Ancient Egyptian,” he said.

“What are they?” she asked.

“Something older, Sumerian perhaps,” he said.

“The one below it is written in Spanish,” she said as she translated.

Do not touch the water, or you will watch everyone you love die
Ponce De Leon

“Come on,  We’re almost there,” Victoria said.

She grabbed Tommy’s hand and led him to the start of the hot springs.  She pulled out her lighter and ignited the incense to mask the pungent smell of sulfur. She shined her flashlights on the control box for the lights she recently installed.  She placed her finger above the “on” switch and looked at Tommy.

“Ready?  3, 2, 1,” she said, as she pressed the switch and the lights shone brightly on the hot water springs.  A layer of steam hovered several inches above the milky water.

“Oh my God, the only thing stopping me from diving in is Ponce De Leon’s warning,” Tommy said.

“I have a confession to make,” Victoria said, grinning up at Tommy.

“No, please don’t tell me you risked your life by touching the water?” Tommy asked.

“Only by accident. The other day when I installed the lights, I tripped and stumbled. My hand automatically reacted by going down to brace my fall.  It accidentally landed in the water,” Victoria said. She held her right hand up to show Tommy.

Tommy gently took her hand in his and examined it. He enjoyed the intimate moment of caressing Victoria’s hand. He ran the tips of his fingers over her soft skin as he admired her youthful hand.  He instinctively pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it.

“Your hand is as beautiful as I remember. It’s like you never dug in the dirt in your life,” Tommy said, still holding her hand as his strong feelings for Victoria came rushing back, filling his heart with love again.

“I know.  That’s just it, until the other day, my right hand looked as rugged and aged as my left.  Here, look,” she said, holding her left hand next to her right to allow Tommy to compare the astounding difference between the two.
Tommy looked at her hands and he jerked his head back, shocked at the sight before him. While Victoria’s right hand appeared youthful and unblemished, her left resembled his own–wrinkled, rugged, and covered with tiny scars from digging in the dirt for a living.

“When I noticed the change, I initially thought it healed from the medicinal powers of the hot, sulfur spring water.  But then I did an experiment, and I realized this is something much more,” she said.

“Victoria, no, what are you saying?  It can’t be,” Tommy said.

“My cat is fifteen years old and ready to be put to sleep, but I can’t muster the courage to say goodbye,” Victoria said.

“You still have that calico cat from college, Amaretto?” Tommy asked.

“Yes, I brought her down here, carried her in one of those papoose things mothers use to tote their infants around.  I submerged her in the water for only a second, and now she’s as good as new,” she said.
Tommy stared at Victoria incredulously, his eyes bulged from his head as the shock settled in.  “Do you mean you discovered…”

“The Fountain Of Youth.”

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