Hi there everyone. As I promised in my comments just a few months ago, I’m announcing the release of my new book, Merlin in Love. It is available at Amazon as an ebook or as a paperback. (The link I’ve posted here is for the Amazon US store. I’m still busy setting up the universal link to take everyone to the correct store for their country.)
I have a cat called Merlin, a beautiful big black fluffy cat with gorgeous green eyes. However, this story isn’t about him. Yes, it’s about that other Merlin, King Arthur’s Merlin. I don’t know how many of you watched the series of Merlin on Netflix and before that I believe it was on television. Yes, many years ago, I know, but I guess better late to the party than not at all. I was captivated by the series when I watched it late last year on Netflix. I binge watched it, and then watched it again. As many people who have loved that series would agree, the ending of the series was less than satisfactory, and left many of us hardened Merlin fans quite traumatized. I know this because of the many blog posts and comments I read all over the internet. So many of us needed proper closure, and some Merlin fans wrote fan fiction trying to give closure to everyone. What I have written here isn’t fan fiction, and is in no way a continuation of the Merlin series. However, the series piqued my interest in the Legend of Merlin, and I went way back to the legend as it was written in the 11th century. I took a little bit of the legend and added my own spin to it. As all my readers know by now, I like my heroes to have a bit of darkness in them, and Merlin seemed like the ideal hero to write about.
So I took the part of the legend where he was locked in a cave by the Lady of the Lake, and then had him rescued by Doctor Kendra Westbrook 1500 years later. The premise of the story is that Merlin had created a magical amulet for King Arthur which would have granted Arthur immortality, thus allowing him to rule forever. Unfortunately Nimue (the Lady of the Lake) and the lover of Merlin, found out about this and betrayed him to Mordred, in the process stealing the amulet from him and trapping him in a cave. The amulet survived through the centuries, along with Mordred, and in these modern times Merlin has to find Mordred and recover the amulet. But of course it’s not that simple, and I have sketched out for myself a storyline that will span several books. There will also be a surprise appearance of two characters from the Blackstone Trilogy.
As always I include the first three chapters below:
Merlin in Love
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2019 Niki Savage
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Niki Savage.
Driving always relaxed Kendra Westbrook. The plush, warm cabin of her black Mercedes S-Class felt like an artificial womb, a safe place. The classical music coming from the 3D surround sound system soothed her soul, but still she couldn’t stop thinking about the fragile young woman, Miranda Stevens, who had died just two hours ago, dead from a brain tumor. Kendra had fought the aggressive tumor, that Miranda had aptly named Medusa, for five years. It was a battle she was destined to lose, and this morning death had come as a welcome release for Miranda. But where was her release?
She had left the Yeovil District Hospital in a rush, unable to carry on with the duties of her day, fleeing instead to her family estate located a few miles outside of Glastonbury.
Yet the forty minute drive home had done nothing to calm her mind, so when she came within sight of the imposing iron gates of her estate, she had carried on driving, passing through Glastonbury before taking the A39 in the direction of Cheddar Gorge, hoping that the wonderful scenery of the Mendip Hills might soothe her mind.
That drive too had been a fruitless pursuit, and the time she had spent at various lookout points, staring at the view, had not delivered the peace she had hoped to receive. Feeling even emptier than before, she had turned for home, navigating her powerful Mercedes through the curves of Cheddar Gorge at a speed that required all her concentration.
Kendra frowned when her car inexplicably lost power. She coasted to a stop, using the last of the vehicle’s momentum to park in one of the many diagonal parking spaces that allowed motorists to pull off the road to admire the scenery of Cheddar Gorge. She sighed, examining the readings on the dashboard of the luxury sedan. The fuel tank was still half-full, so that wasn’t the problem. The ignition was still on, so she would have to assume that it was a fuel starvation problem, which meant it was a huge problem.
Damn, this was the last thing she needed. Kendra put the Mercedes into park, switched off the ignition, and unclipped her safety belt. She climbed out of the car and turned a full circle, staring up at the towering cliffs on either side of the road. The silence was eerie, broken only by the ticking sound the engine made as it started cooling.
She sighed again, and reached into her handbag for her iPhone X. But the phone had just a flat line where the little bars that indicated signal strength were supposed to be.
She stamped her right foot. “Bloody hell.”
Where were all the cars? Cheddar Gorge was a famous tourist attraction in Somerset, England, but it was the middle of the week in the middle of May, and still quite chilly, which could account for the lack of traffic. But she was sure if she waited a few minutes, a car would come by and she would be able to summon help.
She felt small next to the tall cliffs, and contemplated getting back into her car to get away from the icy wind that had suddenly come up. She shivered, grateful that she had changed from her normal hospital scrubs into blue jeans and comfortable boots before leaving the hospital. She reached into her car for her brown leather jacket, pulling it on over her long sleeved fleece sweater and zipping it up gratefully. Something was wrong. Everything was wrong. She felt unsettled and yet she couldn’t define why she felt that way.
She jumped in fright, even though her name had been spoken softly, just a whisper on the wind.
“Kendra.” She turned a full circle, trying to find the person speaking her name.
“Kendra, come to me, I need to talk to you.” The voice was louder now, and sounded like a man’s voice. How did he know her name?
“Where are you,” she asked, her voice trembling. This was surely something out of a horror movie. Where were all the cars?
“Please, I need your help,” the voice said, and this time it sounded as if it was coming from inside her head. “We don’t have much time, please, come to me.”
The doctor part of her psyche responded to the urgency in the man’s voice. Perhaps someone was injured.
“Where are you,” she asked, raising her voice over the wind that had strengthened enough to whip the strands of her long black hair into her face. She leaned into her car and grabbed a hair tie from her handbag. She straightened up again, and with practiced ease turned her face into the wind and tied her hair in a high ponytail. The familiarity of the action soothed her and she looked around, waiting for a reply from the man, but was met with only silence.
She stared hard at her surroundings, noticing for the first time a split between two of the cliffs, wide enough for two people to walk side by side, though dense vegetation covered the entrance. Everywhere else was just sheer cliff face. The man had to be there, somewhere at the end of that path. But if he had gone there, where was his car?
“Kendra, take the path,” the voice said, and this time she was sure her ears had not heard the voice. The man was speaking inside her head. How was this possible?
She wanted to take the path, but hesitated. How did she know that this person didn’t have ill intentions?
“You can trust me, Kendra,” the voice inside her head said in a soothing tone. “Come quickly, we don’t have much time. The storm is coming.”
She looked up at the sky, and noticed that the strengthening wind had dragged a few ominous looking clouds across the sky. How had that happened so quickly? A sense of urgency took hold of her, and she pushed her handbag out of sight beneath the driver’s seat. She transferred her Mercedes key fob to her pocket before she closed the driver’s door and touched the sensor on the door handle to lock all the doors. “I’m coming,” she said under her breath as she headed for the green vegetation at the base of the cliff.
“Thank you,” the voice said, and she wondered how he had heard her.
The vegetation wasn’t as dense as it had looked from a distance, and she pushed the leafy vegetation aside to see a rocky path leading upwards. She walked along the path for about five minutes, noticing that it was rising steadily, and wondered if it was supposed to take her to the top of the high cliffs on either side of her. That was more than just a casual walk. Her unease returned as her steps faltered. What was she doing, going off on a mad chase, following a ghostly voice into the wilderness?
Kendra had made up her mind to return to her car when she slipped on a smooth stone and heard a loud crack as she went down hard. Searing pain shot through her ankle, and she cried out as the pain travelled up her leg. The pain and the sharp crack she had heard told her she had broken her ankle, but her mind refused to believe it even as her boot tightened around her swelling ankle.
The chill of the stony path seeped through the fabric of her jeans, and she realized she was going into shock. How could she have been so stupid? She hadn’t told anyone where she was going, and nobody was expecting her anywhere. It could be twenty-four hours before her colleagues wondered where she was. But a storm was coming in, and she had no shelter. Her blood roared loudly in her ears as she tried to push herself into a sitting position, and then everything went dark.
~ . ~
Kendra returned to consciousness with a start, discovering that she was no longer lying on the cold stone path, but was instead on a bed of vegetation covered with some kind of material that felt warm and dry against her cheek. Her eyes flew open, and she gasped when saw an old man with shoulder-length white hair and a short white beard sitting on a rock a few feet away from her. He wore brown boots, brown trousers and a cream-colored belted tunic. She realized that the warm brown fabric beneath her was probably a cloak that he normally wore over his clothes. He had used his cloak to give her comfort, which meant that he cared about her well-being. So, he was probably not an axe-murderer.
“I have no axe,” the man said with a small chuckle.
Her eyes stretched wide. “Can you read my thoughts?” Even as she spoke the words, she realized how ludicrous her statement sounded.
The man smiled, and his brown eyes warmed with mirth. “Yes, I can. I have been looking forward to our meeting for many centuries.”
“Centuries,” she repeated, feeling stupid.
“Yes, you have an important part to play in saving the world from destruction.”
“Saving the world? Honestly, I must be dreaming this. I need to wake up,” Kendra said crossly, sitting up and drawing her legs beneath her, intending to rise to her feet. The scream she heard didn’t sound like her voice, but it had to be her, because the pain had her in a white-hot embrace, and it wasn’t letting go.
The man reached her in two strides, and made a soothing sound as he pushed her down on the vegetation mattress again. She didn’t resist, closing her eyes and biting back a moan as he straightened her legs.
“I’m going to take your boot off,” the man said, “so we can see what the damage is. Don’t move.”
Kendra fought her anxiety as she watched him undo the laces of her boot. Pain was coming, lots of it. But the man placed his hand over her boot and whispered a few words she couldn’t quite catch. The pain in her ankle disappeared, and she watched as he slowly slipped her boot off, and then her sock, revealing her ankle that was just as swollen and purple as she had expected. She could never walk back to her car unaided, but at least the pain had receded to just a dull ache, and she wondered if it had to do with the words the man had spoken.
“You have a broken ankle,” the man said.
“You don’t say,” she said irritably.
“I do not deserve your scorn, lady,” the man said sternly, authority in his voice.
Kendra glanced up quickly, trying to formulate a reply that died unsaid when she saw the coldness in his stare. This man was used to being obeyed. She swallowed hard, studying his face. The wrinkles around his eyes told of laughter, though the frown lines on his forehead told of worry and pain. His features were strong and regular, and not unattractive for a man his age, but his lips were set in a tight straight line, signaling that he was displeased with her behavior.
She felt like a scolded schoolgirl as she lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry.”
His face softened. “I think you and I got off on the wrong foot, so to speak.” He held his hand out to her. “My name is Taliesin. I’m a sorcerer who was in the service of King Arthur for many years.”
He spoke the words mildly, but with great assurance, which told Kendra that the man actually believed what he said, and didn’t know that he was crazy.
“I’m not crazy, Kendra,” Taliesin said in her mind.
“Nobody even knows for certain if King Arthur existed,” she said carefully, “and even if he did, that was many centuries ago.”
“Yes, almost fifteen centuries ago. He was a great king. I miss him every day, as I miss my friend Merlin also.”
“Merlin? Another legend? I remember these legends from when I was in school, but none of them are based on hard facts.”
“In the sixth century most people were fighting to survive, and didn’t have time to write things down for future generations. But it doesn’t make it less true.”
Kendra wished that she had ignored the voice in the wind and had stayed in her car while she waited for help.
“You’ve stepped through the door already, Kendra. There is no going back,” Taliesin said mildly, a tinge of sadness in his tone. “Your life will never be the same again.”
“You said our meeting has been foretold for centuries. Why? Why me?”
“Your family comes from a long line of healers. I knew your ancestor. He could heal with just a touch and a few spoken words. A talented man.” He stared hard at her. “It is a talent that is passed from the parent to the child, so it should have endured in your bloodline.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my parents didn’t have a talent like that, nor did my grandparents, and I certainly do not. If I had such a talent, don’t you think I would be using it to save my patients?”
“I see the thought causes you great pain, that you can’t save everyone.”
Kendra tried to empty her mind of thoughts, hating that he could see inside her head. “I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker.”
“You could be both, young Kendra. The fact that you heard me when I spoke telepathically tells me that you have the gift.”
“Is that why you’ve brought me here, to fill my head with nonsense?”
“We will talk more about recovering your talents later,” Taliesin said firmly. “For now, there is another task for which I require your assistance.”
“What is it?”
“My friend Merlin, for whom I had been a mentor for many years, has been trapped in a cave by Nimue, the Lady of the Lake.”
“More legends?” Kendra said sourly.
“If you would just open your mind to the possibility, and suspend your disbelief, you will soon see that I speak the truth.”
Kendra shrugged. “Right, so this Nimue trapped Merlin in a cave. That much I have also read in school. It is one of many legends regarding Merlin’s death.”
“Death? No, my friend Merlin is very much alive, but he needs help.”
“How did he manage to get himself caught like that? And why couldn’t he free himself,” she asked, exasperated that she was beginning to buy into Taliesin’s delusions.
Taliesin rose to his feet and returned to the rock that had provided a seat to him earlier. “It’s complicated. Merlin took Nimue on as an apprentice, but he fell in love with her. She used one of his own spells to trap him in a cave, unknown to us. We did not know that she was also the lover of Mordred, and that he had persuaded her to betray Merlin. She gave Mordred the amulet that Merlin had made for Arthur. Without the amulet to protect him, Arthur was fatally wounded by Mordred at the battle of Camlann. Mordred was unhurt, and is responsible for much of the misery in the world today.”
“That isn’t any legend I’ve ever heard,” Kendra said, feeling a little winded. It sounded so logical, and quite believable. “Mordred is still alive?”
“Yes, the amulet contained powerful magic, and made the wearer invincible and therefore immortal as long as he wore it around his neck. That was what Merlin had wanted to gift to Arthur, so that he could rule as king forever.”
“A grand plan indeed.”
“Yes, but though Merlin had told no one of the amulet, not even me, somehow Nimue must have found out about it. She plotted with Mordred to get hold of the amulet, and Merlin was so in love with Nimue that he never thought to question her loyalties. It was his undoing, and resulted in Arthur’s death on the battlefield.”
“But you say Merlin is alive? How is that possible?”
“We believed that Merlin had died and that his body was hidden from our gaze. It was only with the passing of time that it all became clearer to me. You see, since my earthly death about twenty years after Merlin disappeared, my spirit has had the ability to move through time at will, and I can manifest my physical form whenever I choose, such as today.”
Kendra gasped. “So you’re a ghost?”
Taliesin laughed. “No. When I left my earthly body behind, I entered a new plane of existence. I will always exist, and I’m here to guide Merlin in recovering the amulet that Mordred stole.”
“Anyway, as I was saying, one day I managed to return to the day that Merlin had disappeared, and I saw for myself what had happened.”
“Why couldn’t he escape?”
“Nimue had tricked him into designing the cave to imprison a sorcerer she claimed was planning to harm Arthur. So Merlin used his most powerful spells to make the cave walls impenetrable and protect them from the spells of the sorcerer. He taught Nimue the final spell that would seal the entrance, as they had decided that she would entice the sorcerer into the cave. But when Merlin went inside the cave a final time to inspect his work, Nimue sealed the entrance with Merlin’s spell.”
Kendra gasped. “Such cruelty is hard to understand, even now.”
“Cruel indeed,” Taliesin agreed. “She’d had no problem leaving Merlin to starve to death in darkness. Mordred’s hatred had infected her soul, so she gifted him the amulet she had stolen from Merlin, thereby ensuring Arthur’s death.”
“So Merlin couldn’t undo the spells he had cast to secure the cave.”
Taliesin shook his head. “The walls of the cave were impervious to his magic. Merlin was, is, a powerful sorcerer, and he had made sure that his spells could not be overturned. In the end, it was his own brilliance that kept him trapped.”
“So he died?”
“No, apparently not. Somehow, he has managed to survive. I do not know how, but I have seen it. The entrance of the cave opens and Merlin is inside, alive.”
“Why would the cave just open by itself after being impenetrable all these centuries.”
“Even magic doesn’t last forever. Eventually the spell weakens, though in this case it took many centuries to do so because it was such a powerful spell. Merlin would have known that the spell would eventually weaken, and it is my belief that he devised a way to survive.”
“Look Taliesin, I hate to break it to you, but someone who has spent fifteen centuries in darkness with only their own company, is going to be insane by the time they come out of there. Not to mention the vitamin D shortage and what would he have been eating all this time? And how could he even live this long?”
“I know what I saw. He was alive, but in poor shape. That’s why you are here. He will need care, and you are a doctor.”
“I’ll help where I can, but I don’t have any equipment with me, aside from the fact that I have a broken ankle.”
“So you will help, take him home with you and take care of him. You give me your word?”
What could be the harm? “Yes, you have my word.”
Taliesin smiled, clearly pleased. “Right, then let me fix your ankle before the cave opens.”
“Fix my ankle? Do you have bandages hidden behind that rock, and an x-ray machine?”
He rose to his feet and came to kneel beside her again. “I have none of the things you speak of, but I will heal your ankle nonetheless.”
He pressed the palm of his hand lightly against her ankle, and said a few words in a language she didn’t understand. Kendra felt something shift in her ankle though she felt no pain, and then she stared with disbelieving eyes as the bruising on her ankle faded and the swelling disappeared. “That’s incredible,” she said, sitting up and probing her ankle with careful fingers. “How did you do that?”
Taliesin winked. “Magic. You could do it too, if you rediscover your talent. Merlin could help you with that.”
“I’ve never known a sorcerer more powerful than Merlin. He will help you in return for you helping him. Come, put your boot on and let’s get going.”
After Kendra had laced up her boot, Taliesin held a hand out to help her up. She took it gratefully, murmuring her thanks. His hand was strong, warm, and dry and felt very much alive.
Taliesin picked up his cloak, and after shaking the leaves off, he fastened it around his neck with a simple leather buckle. He gazed at the darkening sky. “The storm is close. Come on.”
An ominous rumble confirmed that the storm was indeed close, and the wind strengthened, tugging with unseen fingers at her hair and clothing.
By the time they reached a place where the path widened into a small clearing, the wind was gusting hard enough through the narrow passage that Kendra worried about losing her footing. Taliesin seemed unfazed, and strode purposefully towards the opposite side of the clearing where an overhanging rock promised shelter from the coming rain.
Despite her jacket and jeans, Kendra shivered as she joined Taliesin beneath the overhang. “The wind is freezing,” she said before blowing on her cold fingers.
She jumped with fright as a loud crack of lighting lit up the darkened sky. “This was a bad idea. Being caught out in the open in a thunderstorm is asking for trouble.”
“But we’re not out in the open,” Taliesin said.
“Yes, but all this rock is a magnet for lightning. And we’re high up too.”
“I’ll keep us safe.” He held his hand out with his fingers spread and spoke words that she could not understand, moving his hand from side to side as he spoke, as if he was scrubbing the air in front of them. The strangest thing happened. Though Kendra could see that the wind was still blowing, she could no longer feel it. It was as if they were standing in a glass cubicle looking out at the storm.
Taliesin looked down at her. “Better?”
“Yes, much,” she said, but couldn’t suppress a shiver.
Without saying anything, Taliesin opened his cloak and wrapped it around her too, pulling her slender frame closer to his body. He was warm enough that she didn’t care about the intimacy of the gesture, and snuggled closer to him. His scent reminded her of grass and crushed flowers, as if he had slept somewhere in a grassy meadow.
“We’re safe from the lightning and the rain now. The storm is necessary because it will be a lightning strike that opens the cave,” Taliesin said, looking down at her.
She hadn’t realized that he was quite that tall, probably six foot four at least. She was taller than most women were at five foot eight, and yet she felt small next to him.
“How do you know this?” she asked.
“I have seen it. Everything has happened according to events foretold centuries ago, resulting in you and me standing here today, waiting.”
Kendra remained silent, unsure how to answer that statement. Just then, the main body of the storm arrived. Torrential rain lashed their shelter, interspersed with claps of thunder as lightning split the sky. Despite the shelter, Kendra was afraid, but she bit down hard on her bottom lip and took heart from the fact that Taliesin didn’t seem worried.
Just when she thought she couldn’t stand it a minute longer, she heard a mighty crash as the clearing lit up with white blue light. Rocks flew in all directions, and crashed against the invisible barrier that Taliesin had created. Instinctively Kendra recoiled, but Taliesin held her tight, keeping her safe. She stared incredulously at a dark opening that had appeared in the smooth rock on the opposite side of the clearing.
“There it is,” Taliesin said, smiling down at her. “Come, let’s go there.”
“But the lightning…”
“Is over, and so is the rain.”
As if by a prearranged signal, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and a sliver of sunshine lit the clearing in front of them.
Kendra stared at the sky in disbelief. The clouds had lifted, and the sun was shining through the gaps.
Taliesin had already left the shelter of the overhang, and Kendra hurried after him, catching up just as he reached the entrance of the cave. A burnt, bitter smell hung in the air. So that was what fried rocks smelled like, she thought as they entered the cave. It was dark inside. They should’ve brought flashlights, but Taliesin had already solved that problem. He held his hand out in front of him, and a ball of bright flame appeared in his palm.
“Ow, doesn’t that hurt,” Kendra whispered, even thought she had no idea why she was whispering.
“No, it doesn’t,” he whispered back. He tossed the ball of flame into the air, and it hovered above them as they walked further into the cave.
The cave appeared to be empty at first, but then Taliesin pointed at a shape on the ground near the back end of the cave. They rushed towards the shape, and Taliesin fell to his knees beside it.
Kendra hung back, fearful that they may have found a long since decomposed corpse. But Taliesin motioned her closer, so she kneeled beside him and examined the body in front of them. The man lay curled in a fetal position with his dark cloak tightly wrapped around his body. Clearly, he had been feeling the cold, but she was sure that he was no longer alive, as she could not see any movement that would imply that he was breathing.
Taliesin shook the man by the shoulder. “Merlin, old friend, I’m here.”
But there was no response.
Carefully Kendra touched the back of her fingers to Merlin’s forehead. His skin was cool to her touch, which told her absolutely nothing. “Let’s take him out of here into the light,” she requested. “Then I can examine him properly.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Taliesin said. He gathered Merlin’s limp body in his arms and straightened up without any effort.
Kendra followed him out, looking around the cave as they left it. There was nothing in the cave, no loose stones, no dust, no vegetation or dripping water. It was a lifeless and sterile environment, and she imagined that was the reason why Merlin’s clothes weren’t dirty or dusty after so many centuries.
Once outside, Taliesin laid Merlin down on the dry ground beneath the overhang where they had stood while the storm raged.
Kendra got a good look at Merlin for the first time. His thick black hair hung way past his shoulders, and his full black beard reached his chest. The skin of his face was milky white, and his lips were blue, which wasn’t a good sign. His eyes were shut tight beneath dark eyebrows, and his chest didn’t appear to be moving.
She knelt beside him, put her ear to his chest, and listened carefully. After nearly a full minute, she heard a single, powerful heartbeat, and felt just a whisper of breath against her face. She sat back on her haunches, puzzled.
“What is it?” Taliesin asked, and for the first time Kendra could hear a touch of anxiety in his voice.
“It’s weird,” she said uncertainly. “I’m not sure if he’s alive, but I don’t think he’s dead. Maybe he’s dying, I’m not sure. I’ve never see anything like this.”
“Let me see,” Taliesin said, kneeling beside her. He placed an open hand on Merlin’s chest and closed his eyes. For more than a minute, he said nothing, and Kendra watched the concentration on his face.
Taliesin opened his eyes and looked at Kendra. “His spirit is still within him, though it’s hard to detect. I don’t know what spell Merlin has used, but it has put him into some kind of deep hibernation, very deep hibernation.” He unclasped Merlin’s brown cloak, undid the black belt that he wore over his blue tunic and lifted the material to show his abdomen and torso. The evidence of starvation was obvious. The muscles had wasted away, revealing a jutting ribcage and hollowed out abdomen.
Kendra pushed down the waistband of Merlin’s brown trousers and saw milky white skin stretched over sharp hipbones. She gasped. “No, this is terrible.”
“He must have put himself into this almost dead state to survive. We must not try to wake him until we have strengthened his body. If he wakes now he will die,” Taliesin said sadly.
Kendra wondered if he was also thinking about how desperate Merlin must have been, alone in the dark and starving to death. Her heart ached as she imagined his pain, and she tenderly stroked his forehead, willing him to hold on a little longer.
“We’ll have to get him to a hospital,” she said, looking up at Taliesin.
He shook his head firmly. “That would be a bad idea. Other seers, many of whom report to Mordred, might also know that the cave has opened and that Merlin is alive. They will be looking for him. You cannot take him anywhere public.”
Kendra thought for a moment. “Well, then the best thing would be to take him to my country estate. It’s about eighteen miles from here. Oh, but my car is broken. Damn, I forgot.”
“You’ll find that everything is in order again. Come, I’ll carry him to your car.”
The trip to the car was uneventful, and Taliesin didn’t even seem to notice the slight weight in his arms. Kendra followed behind, carrying Merlin’s cloak in her arms. When they reached the car, she opened the passenger door and turned on the ignition to allow her to adjust the passenger seat as flat as it would go. Taliesin carefully laid Merlin down on the seat and Kendra covered him with his cloak before buckling his safety belt.
Taliesin chuckled softly. “It’s a good thing he’s asleep. Can you imagine his reaction to driving in a car like this? His last memory was of horses and carts.”
“What do I do if he wakes up and freaks out? What if he hurts me?”
“He won’t wake for many days, young Kendra. He will have to regain a lot of strength before he returns to consciousness. Oh, one more thing, I need to help him with the language.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our language in the sixth century sounded nothing like today’s English. You won’t be able to understand a word Merlin says when he wakes. I’m going to transfer the modern English language to his brain, so that he’ll be able to communicate with you.”
“How will you do that?”
“Just watch.” Taliesin leaned into the car and placed a hand on Merlin’s forehead. He closed his eyes and murmured some words that Kendra couldn’t understand. It was all over in about twenty seconds, and Taliesin straightened up. “There, it is done. I will drop in regularly to check up on him, and when he wakes I will introduce you to him, so that he will know that you are a friend.” He turned away and glanced towards the path from which they had come. “I’m going back up there to wait for anyone who comes sniffing around looking for Merlin. I might be able to repair or conceal the cave entrance, which would buy us some time. I will see you soon, Kendra.”
“I look forward to it. Goodbye,” she replied. She climbed into her car and watched through the windscreen as Taliesin disappeared into the vegetation at the base of the path.
She glanced at Merlin. “Well, here goes nothing,” she said as she stepped on the brake pedal and pushed the ignition button. The engine roared to life, and she sighed with relief. “Right, let’s get you home.”
~ . ~
Mrs. Hawkins, Kendra’s housekeeper, was waiting when Kendra stopped in the small parking lot in front of her Victorian manor. The housekeeper was a tall, gray-haired, attractive woman who had a penchant for voluminous belted skirts and polo neck sweaters. Kendra had fond memories of Mrs. Hawkins playing with her in the garden when she was a small child and Mrs. Hawkins was still called Miss Sloane. Childless, Mrs. Hawkins had lost her husband to cancer twelve years earlier, and her pain had influenced Kendra’s decision to specialize in oncology. Mrs. Hawkins was a stern but kind woman and though she was the head of the household, she still insisted on cooking all Kendra’s meals.
Mr. Phipps, her head gardener was also there. A tall, brawny man, he and three helpers kept the huge gardens of her estate in excellent shape. She had phoned Mrs. Hawkins from the car and requested his presence because she wanted him to carry Merlin to one of the bedroom suites in the house.
She stepped from the Mercedes and Mrs. Hawkins smiled happily. “Good afternoon, my dear. I have Mr. Phipps here, just as you requested. What’s the problem?”
“I need him to carry my friend to one of the bedrooms. He has taken ill and I need to look after him.” She walked around to the passenger side of the car and opened the door. Carefully she unbuckled the safety belt, gathered Merlin’s cloak in her arms and then stood back. “Please could you bring him for me?”
Mr. Phipps picked Merlin up and Kendra led the way into the house. She picked one of the larger suites that consisted of a master bedroom with a private bathroom, a smaller bedroom, also with ensuite bathroom, and a living room. The second bedroom would be perfect to accommodate the male nurse she had phoned on the way home.
In the suite, she walked into the master bedroom and directed Mr. Phipps to lay Merlin down on his side on the double bed.
The gardener turned to her. “He’s just skin and bones, Miss Kendra.”
She smiled tightly but softened her expression by touching his arm affectionately. “He’s been very ill. I hope to help him get better. Please could you keep an eye on the gate? I’ve hired a nurse to look after my friend and I’m sure he’ll be here in the next two hours.”
“Of course, Miss Kendra,” he said, smiling fondly at her.
He had been the gardener for her parents also, and had seen her grow from a little girl to the woman she was today. Kendra knew she could trust him. “Please, not a word to anyone that my friend is here.” She glanced beyond him to where Mrs. Hawkins was hovering in the doorway. “Please let all the staff know that I don’t want my private business to be the talk of the neighborhood.” Apart from Mrs. Hawkins with her two kitchen assistants, and Mr. Phipps with his two assistants, Kendra had a staff of nine female domestic workers who kept the enormous manor in tiptop condition.
“Of course, my dear. I’ll speak to each one personally.”
“Also, no one is to interact with my friend under any circumstances. Tom, his nurse, will be the only person taking care of him, and he will direct you what he requires for himself and his patient.”
“Of course, I’ll see that all his needs are met.”
Kendra took her key fob from her pocket and handed it to Mr. Phipps. “Please could you park my car in the garage?”
“Of course, Miss Kendra, only a pleasure.” He smiled as he took the key fob and left the room.
“I’ll have a cup of tea and biscuits waiting for you when you’ve finished with him,” Mrs. Hawkins said she left.
“Thank you, Mrs. Hawkins.”
Kendra fetched blankets from the chest at the end of the bed and spread them over Merlin’s motionless form. “I’ll be back in a bit,” she said to him, though she knew that he probably couldn’t hear her.
She rushed from the room to the ground floor where she had set up a small surgery to take care of any accidents that might result from persons riding the horses that they stabled on her premises. The large stables and the exercise track about half a mile from her house provided her with a lucrative income, though she hardly needed it after the sizable inheritance and life insurance she had received after her parents had been killed in a helicopter crash three years earlier. She bit down hard on her bottom lip as the painful memory surfaced again. No, not now. She needed to concentrate on Merlin, and try to save his life.
In the surgery, she gathered supplies, drip sets, and IV bags containing Ringer’s lactate. She rushed upstairs to find Merlin as she had left him. After taking off his tunic, she searched for veins in both his emaciated arms, and soon had two drips set up, sending life-giving fluid and electrolytes into his body. She wished that Tom would arrive, because he was bringing vital supplies she had ordered from the dispensary while driving back from Cheddar Gorge. She wanted in particular the hand held test that could measure blood electrolytes and blood gases and a dozen other tests she sorely needed before she could decide on a treatment plan.
~ . ~
“Miss Kendra, I have Tom Walker here for you,” Mrs. Hawkins said from the doorway.
Kendra glanced up from where she had been attending to Merlin, listening to his heart and lungs with a stethoscope. She pulled the blankets back up to his chin.
“Tom, I’m so glad to see you,” she said as she rose to her feet and walked to greet him at the door. He wore a pair of blue hospital scrubs that matched his blue eyes, and she realized that she has rarely seen him wear anything else.
He ignored the hand she held out and grabbed her in a bear hug. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
She laughed and wriggled free. “Of course. Thank you for coming to me in my time of need.”
He smiled. “I’m a free lance nurse. That’s what I do.”
She touched his strong forearm affectionately. “And you do it so well. I’m glad you’re here, especially since I know you are particularly good at nursing coma patients.”
He glanced beyond her to the figure on the bed. “That’s him over there?”
“Um, yes. Let me introduce you.” She walked to stand beside the bed. “This is Merlin.”
Tom stared hard at Merlin. “Not a very common name these days. That beard will have to go. I prefer my patients clean-shaven.” He pulled the blankets down to Merlin’s waist and exclaimed when he saw the evidence of severe weight loss. “What’s going on here then? He’s in a terrible state.”
Kendra pulled the blankets up to Merlin’s chin again. “Yes, he is. He was in a nursing home and subjected to terrible neglect. His family requested that I remove him and take care of him until they can find a suitable nursing home for him.”
“How did he come to be like this?”
“Head injury. Motorbike accident, if I remember correctly.”
Tom glanced around the room. “Did they send his file with him?”
Damn! Kendra shook her head. “We didn’t part on good terms. I threatened to report them for neglect and thereafter everything went downhill. The family was still fighting with them when I left with Merlin.”
“You poor dear,” Mrs. Hawkins said from the doorway.
Kendra had forgotten about the housekeeper, but now at least she didn’t have to repeat her elaborate lie twice.
Tom seemed to believe her as he took a seat on the edge of the bed and took Merlin’s hand. He rested two fingers against Merlin’s bony wrist as he asked, “How are his vitals?”
“Um, not great. He had a very low heartbeat when we arrived, and his breaths per minute were also not ideal. But at least his lungs are clear, no sign of pneumonia. I’m giving him Ringer’s lactate, and I’ve injected a stimulant to get his blood pressure up. His heartbeat is up to forty beats per minute now and his breathing is more regular. Still I would like to get him on oxygen and I need to run blood tests. Did you pick up the stuff I ordered from the dispensary?”
Tom nodded. “Your man Phipps said that he would bring it upstairs.”
“Yes, here he is now,” Mrs. Hawkins said, standing aside to let Mr. Phipps pass.
“There’s more stuff coming,” Mr. Phipps said, “and I’ll also bring your bags, Master Tom.”
“Thank you,” Tom said, running his fingers through his short blond hair as he walked to the parcels. He began sorting through them, laying them out on the floor. “Let’s get him onto oxygen right away. And I better get him catheterized with all the fluid you’re pushing into him.”
“Yes, excellent idea. I’m going to leave you with him. Do what you do best. Um, I think you should also wash him and check for bedsores. I’ll expect a report as soon as you’ve finished.”
Mr. Phipps brought the last of the packages inside.
“Thank you,” Kendra said. “I hope that didn’t put your back out.”
The gardener laughed. “I’m as strong as an ox, Miss Kendra. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Tom interjected. “They’re delivering a hospital bed tomorrow, and I’m relying on you to help me get it upstairs.”
Tom stood a very solid six feet two inches and was quite capable of getting the bed upstairs himself, but Kendra realized that he was playing up to Mr. Phipps, always doing his best to make other people feel good. He had a lovely nature, perfect for his profession. She has known him for many years, and has always admired his compassion and his unending patience with the people under his care.
The housekeeper and the gardener left, and Kendra smiled at Tom. “Of course, the other bedroom is yours. Please let me know if you need anything more. We eat dinner at seven. You can eat downstairs with me or else Mrs. Hawkins can send your meal up here if you prefer not to leave Merlin alone. Let her know beforehand if you have any special needs.”
“Thanks, Kendra. I’ll also run the blood tests and let you know the results.”
“You’re a star for taking over. I need to contact the hospital and arrange to move appointments so I can take leave for a few weeks. New patients will have to be farmed out to other oncologists, Merlin is my priority now.”
“He’s lucky to have you,” Tom said, grinning.
“Hah, he’s even luckier to have you taking care of him. Again, thanks for coming at such short notice. I promise it will be worth your while.”
“You don’t really have to pay me double my normal rate. I know you offered, but it’s not necessary.”
“I want to. And the reason why I’m paying more is for your silence, Tom. Please don’t mention this to anyone, not even friends that you believe you can trust. I don’t want anyone to know he’s here.”
Tom frowned. “I get the feeling you’ve left a few details out, but I won’t push you, because I trust you. Just promise me that we’re not breaking any laws here.”
“This is a good thing we’re doing, Tom, and no we’re not breaking any laws, I promise you.”
He smiled. “That’s all I need to know. Off you go then, let me get on with it.”
~ . ~
Kendra returned to see Merlin a few hours later. Tom had everything ready for her at the coffee table in the living room, so she sat on the sofa and glanced through his neatly written notes. He remained standing in the doorway of Merlin’s room.
Kendra looked up at him. “Well, I’m happy with the results so far, but let’s add a protein IV to get his blood serum protein levels up.” She took a pen and added her instructions to Tom’s notes as she spoke. “We must also supplement magnesium, phosphates, thiamine and Vitamin D. I’ve ordered more IV supplies that they’ll send with the bed they’re delivering tomorrow.”
She put the notes down and rose to her feet to face Tom. “I’ve spoken to nutrition experts and they all said that what we really need to avoid is refeeding syndrome, so we have to continue to monitor his levels until his electrolytes are perfect. We also need to make sure that his insulin metabolism is working properly before trying to introduce any form of nutrition. Apparently, after such a long period of starvation his glucose metabolism would’ve shut down as his body switched to fat and muscle for survival. To start feeding him before we have corrected that will cause refeeding syndrome, which can kill him. They warned me very seriously about that, so we have to take heed.”
Tom smiled. “It sounds like you got a crash course in treating starvation this afternoon.”
“I’m glad I could reach the right people so easily. This isn’t something I’ve had to deal with before as it’s hardly in my scope of practice. But I think I have a handle on it now. No glucose enters his body until his blood results are perfect.”
“Agreed. That’s the short version,” Tom said, winking at her.
“Yes, yes, I know I do tend to go on a bit,” Kendra said. “I’m so used to explaining everything in detail to my patients that it’s become a habit. A bad habit.”
“Kendra, you’re a natural teacher. Now I also know what you know. Come, have a look, I’ve shaved his beard off. I’ve decided to leave his hair long for now, but we can revisit that if it becomes a problem.”
Kendra followed Tom into Merlin’s room. He was now dressed in a hospital gown and looked quite different without his beard. He had a strong jaw and high cheekbones, and at least his lips were no longer blue. His eyes were spaced slightly wider apart than what she would expect on an adult, giving him a childlike look. But there was no doubt that he was a grown man, probably in the prime of his life, or he would’ve been, had he been healthy.
She took a seat on the edge of his bed and used her stethoscope to listen to his heart and lungs. His heart was beating much stronger now, and she counted sixty beats per minute. Quite acceptable, and his breathing rate was now much closer to what she would consider normal. His response to her treatment has been remarkable, to say the least. But then again, there was probably some kind of magic involved.
“I nearly cut my finger on those cheekbones,” Tom said, interrupting her thoughts. “He has a different kind of face, don’t you think, as if he’s not quite from here.”
Kendra smiled as she rose from the bed and turned to Tom. “To be honest, I think once he has some meat on his bones again he might be quite handsome.”
“Mmm, hard to tell right now though. All I want is to feed him a hamburger. I hadn’t realized how much it would upset me to see a patient in such a poor state. What bastards would neglect someone who is so vulnerable?”
“Yes, it is upsetting. I don’t like it either, but together we’ll get him back to the best version of himself.”
“At least he doesn’t have any bedsores, which is amazing considering how bony he is,” Tom said thoughtfully. “That nursing home at least got one thing right.”
“I guess so,” Kendra agreed, and then immediately sought to change the subject. “So we haven’t yet discussed your working hours. Do you want Sundays off and half-day on Saturday? And of course, you can tell Delia that she’s welcome to visit you anytime she wants.”
Tom grimaced. “Delia and I are no more.”
“Oh no, you guys have been together for ages.”
“Not really, only about eighteen months. She said I’m too nice, too understanding. Apparently women want bad boys, and I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Do you remember Samantha, a couple of years ago? Now that I think back, she said something similar. Not in so many words, but the gist was the same. Boring was the word she used. Apparently women want conflict.”
“If Delia met a real bad boy she’ll wish she was back with you again, I promise you. Bad boys care for no one but themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.”
“Are you referring to Dr. Jarrod Hunter? I heard it was a bad breakup.”
Kendra blushed, embarrassed that she had given herself away so easily. “Um, bad breakup is an understatement. It has taken me over a year to pick myself up again. He cheated on me, made me doubt myself, made me question my self-worth, and yet the hardest thing I ever did was to tear myself away from him. He was the ultimate bad boy, and Delia can have him if she wants him. He’ll cure her of bad boys forever.”
“I guess. I really thought she was the one. I’m thirty-two already, Kendra. I’m desperate to start a family. I want to play with my children while I’m still young enough to enjoy them.”
“Don’t worry, Tom, I’m also getting on a bit. Twenty-nine going on thirty. Dr. Hunter took the best years of my youth, and now all I can hear in the background is my biological clock ticking.”
“We’re a sorry pair,” Tom said wryly. “Maybe we should start a support group.”
Kendra laughed. “You’re such a darling, Tom. No wonder we get along so well.”
* * * *
A week later Kendra found Tom sitting on a chair next to Merlin’s hospital bed, reading aloud to him from an old copy of Gone with the Wind. She wondered if Merlin could hear him, and if so, what he would think of Tom’s enthusiastic reading of the book, liberally sprinkled with comments and advice.
For a change, Tom wasn’t wearing his scrubs, and instead wore a pair of black jeans and boots with a blue long-sleeved sweatshirt. Kendra touched his shoulder. “Are you reading this for him, or for you?”
He laughed, and she noticed how the color of his shirt really brought out the blue of his eyes. “I’m using it as an instruction manual for us both. I was just telling Merlin here that this Scarlett chick was one confused lady, and would best be avoided by the likes of us.”
He reached over to the bed and affectionately tapped Merlin’s blanket-covered thigh. “Isn’t that right, Merlin? Girls like Scarlett are a no-no. That Rhett Butler had balls of steel to put up with her. Tell me you agree.”
Kendra laughed. “You two are talking like old friends.”
Tom grimaced. “Well, I talk, and he…breathes. And that’s about it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’ve never in all my years seen anything like this. Patients in a vegetative state normally show some movement. They make sounds and they open their eyes from time to time, but with Merlin, nothing. He’s like a corpse with a heartbeat. All signs point to him being in a deep, persistent coma, except that according to how we define coma, it shouldn’t last for years. So that means he should be in what we would call a persistent vegetative state. But he isn’t in a vegetative state. I’ve never seen a patient that is so still.”
“Maybe he’s just too weak to move a lot.”
Tom shrugged. “He should be gaining strength with the high energy protein shakes I’m giving him through his nasogastric tube. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but his angles are beginning to soften, you can see it in his face also. He’s still got a way to go, but he’s on the mend.”
Kendra looked down at Merlin, and had to agree with Tom. Though Merlin was still painfully thin, he no longer looked as if he was knocking at death’s door.
“You’re doing a great job with him, Tom. I’m grateful for your help.”
Mrs. Hawkins appeared in the doorway. “Miss Kendra, I have Dr. Jarrod Hunter downstairs. He wants to talk to you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hawkins. I’ll be there in a few moments.”
“I’ll tell him.” The housekeeper left.
Kendra looked at Tom, her blue eyes flashing dangerously. “You know, if I’d known he would have the gall to pitch up here, I would’ve left instructions not to let him through the gate.”
“You see him at work all the time. What’s the big deal?”
“This is my home, a place where he used to be welcome. He’s no longer welcome.”
“Well, best you tell him that.”
“I will.” Kendra strode out of the room, her cheeks heating as she headed downstairs to confront Jarrod, passing by Mrs. Hawkins along the way.
But her resolve failed as soon as she walked into the living room and saw him standing with his back to the fireplace. He wore a smart brown suit with a cream shirt and a green tie that picked up the green tones in his hazel eyes. He had a framed photo in his hand, which he casually replaced among the other photos that graced the shelf above the fireplace. She recognized it as a photo of her parents, and she hated that he had touched it. He turned back to face her again and took two steps towards her, smiling that smile that always used to buckle her knees.
She stood fast, biting the inside of her cheek to regain control. “Hello Jarrod,” she said coolly. “What brings you here?”
“Dr. Roberts asked me to look in on you. He thought that since we have some history, you might tell me why you left the hospital in such a hurry, and why you’ve asked for six weeks’ leave.”
Dr. John Roberts was the director in charge of the oncology section of the Yeovil District Hospital, and his request seemed quite reasonable, but for some reason Kendra felt like being difficult. “I’m entitled to leave, am I not?”
“Well, not quite so much leave, to be honest. What’s happened, Kendra? Let me help you,” he said, and the concern in his eyes was almost more than she could take.
“I’m fine, Jarrod. Just tired. I need some time away from the hospital.”
“The best thing to do when you fall off a horse is to get back on, not take six weeks off,” he said, running his fingers through his thick brown hair that just touched his collar.
“What the hell are you talking about?” she said, fighting the urge to stamp her foot.
“I’m talking about your deceased patient, Miranda Stevens. You fought for her for five years, but it wasn’t meant to be. You need to make peace with that and move on. Other patients need you too. Some of them have specifically requested to see you and didn’t appreciate being farmed out to other doctors.”
Her blood heated again. “How dare you say it wasn’t meant to be? Some things are foretold for centuries. What would you know about that?”
“What? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, frowning.
“Nothing, forget I said anything,” she said derisively.
“Look, let me help you,” he said, holding his hands out towards her, palms up. “I can’t help but feel affection for you after our years together. I care what happens to you.”
Kendra laughed bitterly. “You care what happens to me? Well, I guess you weren’t too worried about me when you decided to screw Nancy right in our bloody bed! Did you not worry what it would do to me to come home and find the two of you? Where was your caring then, your affection, as you call it?”
His handsome face turned petulant. “Well, you were so distant. I needed someone.”
Kendra saw red, and her voice rose higher than she intended. “I was mourning the death of my parents, and instead of supporting me, you found yourself other entertainment. Don’t you dare to try and justify your actions!” she shouted, stamping her right foot so hard that a sharp pain shot up her leg.
“Look, if you’ll just stop shouting, we can talk about this another time,” he said irritably, clasping his hands behind his back and rocking on his heels. “I’m here on hospital business.”
She clenched her fists, fighting for control as she took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, “You must be the shallowest person I’ve ever met. I blame myself for not seeing through you earlier. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“But we work together at the hospital.”
“Hah, that was another lie that I bought into, that we could work together and be civilized,” she said, trying hard to keep her temper under control. “Every day that I’ve had to look into your stupid face and pretend nothing has happened was pure torture for me. And I blame myself for allowing you to treat me so badly.”
He held his hands out in a placating gesture. “Look, Kendra…”
“Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking!” she shouted, abandoning all attempts to control herself. “This charade ends now. You can tell Roberts that I quit! I’ll send him an email confirming it.”
“You’re being irrational.”
She smiled nastily. “Yes, Jarrod, this is what you’ve turned me into by pushing me beyond the limit of human endurance.”
“But you have to work,” he said, taking a step towards her.
She stood her ground, putting her hands on her hips. “Have to? Hah! I don’t have to anything. I have a huge trust fund, not to mention the millions that my parents left me. It would take me several lifetimes to spend that kind of money, and that’s only if I really try. I worked because I loved it, but even that you’ve taken from me. Now get out of my house!”
“Everything alright here,” Tom said behind her.
Jarrod’s eyes stretched at the sight of Tom, who looked so handsome with his blue eyes and blond hair, and Kendra took a perverse pleasure in that.
She turned to Tom, deliberately touching his forearm affectionately. “Yes, I’m fine. Jarrod was just leaving.”
She turned back to Jarrod, drawing herself up to her full height. “Weren’t you?”
Jarrod’s hazel green eyes blazed with fury, and two spots of high color burned on his cheeks. “Yes, I’m out of here,” he said coldly. “I see you’ve found new entertainment. I’ll relay your message to the director.”
He stormed out of the room and a few moments later the front door slammed.
Tom turned to Kendra. “Well, I hope you feel better after getting that off your chest.”
“I’m sorry, was I really loud?”
“You were so loud that Merlin nearly woke up.”
She hugged him hard. “You’re such a kidder.”
Tom returned her hug. “It’s good that you spoke up, and let him know that what he did was not OK. You’ve been keeping all that inside you, and it wasn’t doing you any good. You’ll feel better now. And if you’re doing medicine just for the love of it, why don’t you go into private practice. Then no one can tell you what to do.”
She sighed and reluctantly let go of him. “You’re right. It’s worth looking in to. But first we have to get Merlin back on his feet.”
“Back on his feet? Do you believe he might wake?”
Damn! “Um, well he has an uncle who believes that it’s just a matter of time.”
Tom stared hard at her. “But the rest of the family doesn’t. Have you landed us in the middle of a legal battle here? Have you kidnapped Merlin?”
Kendra gestured with her hands. “No, no, nothing like that. His uncle has been appointed as his guardian, and Merlin is here with his permission, so no laws have been broken.” She felt panicky with all the lies she was telling Tom, who was possibly her best friend at that point in time. “Merlin’s uncle is worried that they might petition the state to withhold care and let Merlin die. He feels that they can’t do that if they can’t find him.”
“So we really are in the middle of it. Would anyone have reason to believe that he might be here?”
She shook her head. “My connection with his uncle is obscure, to say the least. No one will look for Merlin here.”
Tom smiled. “Alright, I accept that, but only because it’s you.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s time for Merlin’s next feed anyway. Better get him good and strong for the day he decides to get out of that bed.”
She smiled, thinking how surprised Tom was going to be when Merlin opened his eyes for the first time.
* * * *
Another week passed without incident, save for an irate phone call from Dr. Roberts, demanding that she work a month of notice. Kendra refused, pointing out that they owed her more than that in accumulated leave. And then just like that she was unemployed, and her time was her own.
She filled her hours by helping Tom with Merlin, taking her horses out for long rides, and helping to muck out the stables to get some exercise. Other than that, she took long walks on her estate, wondering about her future and trying to decide what to do next. She came to the same conclusion every time, that her life was no longer her own. Everything depended on when Merlin opened his eyes, and when Taliesin returned, and what would result from all that.
And that moment arrived sooner than she thought. Kendra arrived home from one of her walks and took her boots off outside the back door, knowing Mrs. Hawkins would not tolerate muddy boots in the house. She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge in the kitchen and headed towards her room on her socks, pulling off her warm outer clothing along the way. The interior of the manor was maintained at a comfortable temperature, so she had started overheating as soon as she entered the kitchen.
In her bedroom she stripped down to her underwear and was about to walk to the bathroom for a shower when she heard shouts coming from Merlin’s suite, which was next door to her suite. Without missing a beat, she grabbed her robe off the hook behind the bathroom door and drew it on as she rushed towards Merlin’s room. She could hear the voices more clearly now, and one voice she didn’t recognize. Has Merlin regained consciousness?
The scene that greeted her would have been comical if only Merlin had not been a sorcerer, and probably capable of killing Tom with a single look.
Merlin was reaching for the IV line attached to his arm, while at the same time trying to get up from the bed. Tom was trying to prevent him from doing both, grabbing Merlin’s hands while at the same time using his weight to press Merlin down on the bed. He saw Kendra and shouted, “He’s awake, and he’s bloody crazy. Help me here.”
Kendra saw the agitation and confusion in Merlin’s eyes and stepped closer. “Merlin, calm down,” she said in her best doctor’s reassuring voice. “You are safe here. We’re not here to harm you. We are friends.”
Her words seemed to sink in, and Merlin stopped struggling as his eyes turned towards her.
She walked closer to the bed. “Tom, please let go of him. He’ll be fine now.”
Tom reluctantly complied, never taking his eyes off Merlin.
But the fight had left Merlin, and she imagined that fighting Tom’s superior strength had sapped what little energy he’d had in reserve.
“Tom, let me talk to Merlin for a few minutes. I think it would be best if you take your lunch break now,” she said, winking at him to soften her words, as if she was speaking only for Merlin’s benefit.
Tom offered her a tight little smile, but his eyes told her that he understood what she was trying to do, and he left the room.
Kendra pulled a nearby chair closer to Merlin’s bed, trying her best to be as nonthreatening as she could. She took a seat in the chair and looked earnestly at him. “My name is Kendra. I’m a doctor…a healer. Your friend Taliesin asked me to help you. We found you when the cave opened. You were in a bad way. That was two weeks ago.”
She waited, watching him as her words sunk in.
“Taliesin found me?” His voice, though weak, was slightly husky, and quite pleasant to the ear.
“Well, he found me first, and then took me to where the cave was. He said that the cave would open soon, and that he needed me there to take care of you. A big storm came up, and a lightning strike smashed the entrance of the cave open. We went inside and found you.”
Tears welled up in Merlin’s eyes. “You found me? I thought I had been abandoned.”
“Your friends would never abandon you.”
“And King Arthur, does he know I’m here?”
“Um, you’ll have to ask Taliesin about that. He said he would come back once you’re awake, so I think he will come soon.”
“Thank you for taking care of me.”
She nodded, overcome with emotion at the gratitude she saw in his eyes, which she only now noticed were as blue as the sky on a clear day.
He indicated the clear tubing of the IV attached to his arm. “What is this, and what is this metal in my arm?”
“Um, this puts a type of liquid into your veins that will help you to get better, and stronger.”
“Is it magic?”
“Um yes, it is my magic. As I’ve said, I’m a healer, and this is what I’ve used to get you stronger. This tube going into your nose enables me to put food in your stomach without you having to eat it, and this tube in your arm allows me to give you water without you having to drink it.” She pointed at the IV bag hanging from the drip stand beside his bed. “See, it looks just like water, but I have added um…magical substances to it to enable you to get better even while you were sleeping. And then, you have another tube inside you, there,” she pointed to the juncture of his thighs, “which carries your water away without wetting the bed. Please, you mustn’t pull on that tube, because it will hurt you. Tom will remove the tube when you are able to walk so that you can help yourself.”
“This is truly powerful magic that you have.”
“Yes, I’ve had to use the strongest magic that I had available. When we found you, you were dying, but you’re better now.”
“Thank you, again. But if you are a healer, why do you dress like a…harlot?”
He asked the question so innocently that Kendra couldn’t take offence. She looked down at herself and was mortified to discover that her white toweling robe, which she had belted in a hurry, was gaping open right to her waist, revealing her pink lacy bra and more skin than she would normally show a stranger. Oops. She grabbed the edges of her robe and belted it securely shut.
She looked up to see him still watching her with a steady blue gaze. Her cheeks warmed in embarrassment, but she tried to pretend that she hadn’t noticed. “Well, I was about to wash when I heard the shouting in here. I was concerned for your well-being so I came running without caring about my appearance. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.”
He smiled the sweetest smile she has ever seen. “I am not offended. I am charmed that you care so much for my health. And I…like what I see. You are pretty.”
She smiled at such an innocent compliment, given by a man who had no way of following up on his words.
“Thank you,” she said. “You are very sweet to say that.”
He smiled again and reached for her hand. He squeezed her fingers lightly. “I sense that the magic is strong within you. Generations of magic run through your veins.”
She nodded, not challenging his statement, puzzled that it was so similar to what Taliesin had said. Could they both really sense something that she wasn’t even aware of possessing?
“Merlin, Tom will be returning soon. Now, he doesn’t know that you’re a sorcerer. We brought you here in secrecy, and I want to keep it that way. Tom is here to take care of your needs. He will keep you clean and comfortable, and now that you are awake and are able to eat and drink, he will remove all these tubes.”
“Is he a servant?”
“No, he is a caretaker of sick people. You must treat him with respect, and please obey him when he requests it. He is a friend and has only your best interests at heart. You’re not allowed to use magic on him or harm him in any way, do you understand?”
Merlin nodded. “Yes, I will treat him well. And I will thank him for taking care of me these past two weeks.”
Kendra returned to her room and pulled on a blue toweling tracksuit, foregoing a shower for the moment, and went in search of Tom. Inwardly she was relieved. She had never imagined that she would be brave enough to give instructions to a sorcerer from the sixth century, or that he would be willing to take orders from her. She had no idea how great Merlin’s powers were, except that Taliesin had said he was one of the most powerful sorcerers he knew. So anything was possible. He could probably do terrible things to them if he was so inclined. But he didn’t appear to be so inclined, at least for now.
She believed that mentioning Taliesin’s name had helped, as well as promising that he would return. But her instincts told her that Merlin was a good person at heart. He had an innocence about him that was refreshing, and she wondered if that was just the way he was, or whether all people from that time were different from today. Or maybe she just noticed it because Jarrod’s duplicity has left her jaded.
Kendra found Tom in the kitchen, eating a sandwich at the kitchen table. He didn’t look up when she entered, and she wondered if he was angry. She took a seat on the opposite side of the table so that she sat facing him. “Thank you for keeping your cool when Merlin woke,” she said, reaching out a hand and resting it on his left forearm. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there when it happened.”
Tom looked up and grimaced. “There’s no way you could’ve known, or predicted the day. One moment he was still a living corpse, the next moment he opened his eyes and looked straight at me. I could see he was shocked out of his mind to see me. He cried out some words in a language I couldn’t understand, and he put his hand out towards me, like this.” Tom demonstrated the same outstretched palm with spread fingers she had seen Taliesin use. “I don’t know what he expected would happen, but the next moment he sat up and I could see he was getting ready to leave. He looked genuinely scared, and he kept speaking a language I couldn’t understand. So I did my best to stop him from hurting himself, and that’s when you came in. I wasn’t manhandling him, Kendra, just trying to protect him.”
“Tom, I never thought anything different. You’re the most caring, noble person I know. The thought didn’t even cross my mind.”
He smiled for the first time. “Thank you for thinking so highly of me. I appreciate it.”
Kendra smiled too. “So imagine that, he woke up, just like his uncle said he would.”
“Did you manage to speak to him? Does he speak English?”
“Yes, he does. I explained to him where he was and that his uncle would be coming to see him soon. He was calmer after that and he agreed to cooperate.”
“That’s good to hear. Look I understand it must have been confusing for him, and I can only imagine how I would’ve reacted under similar circumstances. I guess I was shocked too. I’ve never had a coma patient wake up on me like that, never. So it was a first for both of us.”
“Well, what’s important is how we go on from here. I’ve said to him that you will remove the IV’s, and if he’s able to walk to the toilet, also the catheter. Or what would you prefer?”
“I think I’ll take it out anyway. Better for his dignity now that he is awake. What’s more important is what shall we do about his diet? What do you want to feed him?”
“I think you should carry on with the protein shakes but let’s add a soft diet to that. Mashed up vegetables and soup should be good. Go easy on the dairy to start with, and once he’s fine with soft foods, we can move him on to meat and other foods. But please give him a liberal amount of probiotic powder with every meal. We’ll need to restock his gut bacteria to prevent him having stomach upsets.”
Tom grinned. “I’m way ahead of you there. I’ve been adding probiotics to all his protein shakes. Remember this is my specialty, looking after patients like him.”
“You’re a star,” Kendra said. “Another thing, don’t make any reference to what year it is, and keep newspapers away from him, also no television, radio or calendars. And no cell phone or tablet or any new technology.”
“I have no idea how many years he’s been under. Let’s leave it to his uncle to tell him that it is 2019. I’m sure he’ll be here in a few days.”
“I would’ve thought he’d be here as quick as he could.”
“Yes, he would’ve liked that, but he’s travelling on business. He said he would be here as soon as possible. Let’s go back upstairs so I can introduce you to Merlin properly.”
They entered Merlin’s room to find him staring at the ceiling with wide eyes, and he seemed relieved to see them.
Kendra smiled at him and walked to his bed with Tom following close behind.
“Hello Tom,” Merlin said. “Please accept my apologies for the drama earlier. Thank you for taking care of me.”
Kendra was pleasantly surprised that Merlin had wasted no time in following her request, and when she glanced at Tom, she saw that the words had clearly had the desired effect.
Tom smiled and offered a hand to Merlin in greeting. They shook hands, and Tom said, “Welcome back to the land of the living. I hope to make your stay as pleasant as possible.”
A smile lifted the corners of Merlin’s mouth and a mischievous light sparkled in his blue eyes. “Thank you. I see you have the talent to be court jester.”
Tom laughed. “I have many talents, young sir.”
Kendra wondered what Tom would think if he found out that Merlin was more than fifteen hundred years old. She hoped he would never find out.
* * * *
It’s rather a chilly day in Johannesburg today. Lots of rain and electric storms. Perfect weather to brew a cup of hot chocolate and get to writing. Except that my cats think this is perfect cuddle weather. I’ve trained Adelheid to move a bit to the side so I can use my left arm, but Yoda, who weighs around 6 kilograms, refuses to budge. So I’m trying to work around her. 😂😂
Hi everyone. Apologies for writing this post on my phone, so I’ll keep it short. I’m in hospital at the moment after undergoing a second thyroid operation on Tuesday. The first one was in mid August. In both operations the histology was positive for thyroid cancer. The good news is that I’m pretty sure that my fabulous surgeon (really, he’s a rockstar) got all of it out so this should be the end of it. I still have to ask myself what gives. Seems since 2015 my body has declared war on me, and I still have an operation on my right shoulder looming later this year or early next year. Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that Blackstone Resurrection is available at all retailers. And I must admit that it’s a huge relief to me that I published it on Monday night before going into hospital. Now all I have to do is concentrate on recovery and thinking about writing another book. A stand-alone book, I think. After three trilogies in a row I’m cured of writing more trilogies for now. 😂 LOL.
Again apologies to all of you who have waited so long for this third Blackstone book. Please click on the menu links above to find it at your preferred retailer. 🙂
Hi everyone. I have news regarding the release of the third book of the Blackstone Trilogy. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’ve had to push back the release date to the end of April, or possibly even later than that. I will make a more specific announcement closer to the time, but I want to reassure all of you that I remain committed to finishing Blackstone Resurrection as soon as I possibly can. Following below is the first four chapters of the manuscript, and I hope it will serve as a bit of solace for those of you who have been patiently waiting for this book. Again, please accept my apologies for the delay, I am doing the best I can under the circumstances.
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2017 Niki Savage
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Niki Savage.
Book 3 of the Blackstone Trilogy
“There must be a way,” Lily said, gently running her fingers through Aidan’s hair. He didn’t answer her, keeping his face pressed against her breasts, unwilling or unable to get back to his feet. He was in mourning already, even though she was strong and warm against his body. It scared her that he saw her death as a foregone conclusion, but she swallowed her fear, realizing that she was the strong one in the relationship now, possibly only because she failed to understand the gravity of the situation.
In Aidan’s horrified eyes, she had seen the agony of a nightmare repeating itself, a nightmare that had robbed him of his strength and willpower.
She glanced up at the darkening sky. Remaining on the roof of the mansion was becoming an unattractive option. Somehow, she had to get Aidan to his feet and to his bedroom.
She pressed her lips against his smooth black hair for a long second while stroking his back with both hands, trying to impart some strength to him. “Aidan, please I need you to come back to me.” She kissed his hair again. “Come on, we’ll face this together. We’ll find a way. Look at me, please.”
Slowly he raised his face to look at her, and she couldn’t hide her shock when she saw the twin tracks of tears on his cheeks. To see him so broken brought her protective instincts to the fore, and she hugged him fiercely. “Let’s go downstairs and get warm. We’ll think about this some more tomorrow.”
He made a half-hearted attempt to sit up before he thought better of it. “Leave me here. I’ll come down when I feel better.”
“I’m not going without you.” She slowly extricated herself from him and rose to her feet. “Come on. I don’t know you like this. Take my hand.”
He stared up at her for long seconds before his gaze shifted to the hand she held out to him. His hand trembled as he slowly reached up to grasp her fingers. She covered his hand with her other hand so that she had him in a firm grip. “That’s right,” she said as she shifted her weight onto her back foot. “OK. One, two, three.”
Aidan made it to his feet on the first attempt. He staggered for a few seconds before he found his centre, and stood there swaying. She kept hold of his hand and drew him close to her, alarmed at how cold his naked upper body felt beneath the palms of her hands. She looked up at him. “I love you. We’ll make it through this, I promise you.”
The despair was back in his eyes as he said in a wooden voice, “You don’t know what you’re saying. I’ve been through this before. There is no hope.”
~ . ~
Lily managed to get Aidan to his bedroom without too much trouble, and left him sitting on the side of his bed while she went into his bathroom and filled the bathtub with hot water. She was worried about his icy body temperature and believed that a warm bath would help him, as it had so often helped her. She added vanilla scented bath oil to the steaming water and took a deep breath as the soothing fragrance filled the air.
Steeling herself, she returned to the bedroom to find Aidan as she had left him, his shoulders slumped, his gaze fixed on the floor.
She took his arm and gently coaxed him to his feet. “Come, my love, let me take care of you. You’ll feel better after a hot bath.”
The expression in his eyes told her that he didn’t believe her, but he didn’t argue, allowing her to lead him to the bathroom.
He stood obediently next to the bath while she unfastened his jeans and slid them with his shorts down his legs. At her prompting, he lifted his feet and stepped out of the discarded garments, but still showed no inclination to help himself. She couldn’t help but notice that he had not stirred at her touch. Normally her hands on his body aroused him in seconds, but not this time.
His passivity scared her, but she tried her best not to let it show. “There you go. Into the bath with you,” she said, trying to sound positive rather than cheerful.
He climbed into the bath, sinking into the fragrant water and stretching his legs out in front of him. “Please join me,” he asked without looking up at her. His tone was hesitant, as if he expected her to refuse, but his need forced him to ask anyway.
“Of course,” she said, gripping the hem of her sundress and pulling the garment over her head. She peeled her panty off and put a gentle hand onto his shoulder. “Move forward a bit. I want to hold you in my arms.”
He cast a surprised glance at her, but obeyed wordlessly. She slipped in behind him, passing her legs on either side of his body so that he sat between her thighs. The water was deliciously hot, and her nipples contracted into hard points as her body adjusted to the heat.
She kissed the side of Aidan’s neck before winding her arms around his torso and pulling him onto her, so that they were both lying back in the fragrant water, his back pressed against her breasts and his head resting on her shoulder. “That’s better,” she breathed, kissing his earlobe tenderly.
“How can you still love me?” he asked, reaching up to cover the hand she had placed over his heart.
“How can I not love you?” she said, kissing the side of his neck again.
“But Zargun used my body to hurt you. I’m responsible for this just as much as he is.”
“Aidan, I love you, and nothing is going to change that. And I’m not ready to leave you alone on this earth yet. I’ll allow you this night to grieve, but tomorrow I expect you by my side, fighting this together.”
“How is it that you’re not affected by this?”
She sighed. “Doctors have been telling me for years that I’m going to die. But I’m still here. So a statement like that doesn’t scare me. I’m ready to fight this.”
Aidan lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently. “I wish I had your courage.” The tension slowly flowed from his body as he relaxed in her arms. He didn’t speak again, and after a while, she wondered if he had fallen asleep.
But when she leaned forward slightly to peek at his face, she found his eyes open.
“Aidan, are you feeling better? Do you want to go to bed now? Everything will look different in the morning, I promise you.”
“Yes, let’s go to bed.” He sat up abruptly, sloshing water over the sides of the bathtub. “I need to sleep, to forget for a while.”
He climbed from the bath, took a towel from the shelf and started drying himself. After he had finished, he wrapped the towel around his hips and walked to the twin basins to brush his teeth. Lily took heart from the fact that he seemed to be feeling better.
She climbed from the bath and toweled herself dry, hating the silence, but unable to think of anything to say. Apparently, Aidan felt the same way, because he left the bathroom without looking at her again or saying anything further. Through the open doorway, she watched as he draped his towel over the back of a chair before climbing naked between the sheets.
She decided to give him some space, and took a few minutes to apply a lavender scented body cream to her skin, noticing that her breasts were bigger, and that her nipples were dark pink and very sensitive. How had she not noticed these changes before?
She remembered Zargun’s remark that her breasts were getting bigger, and realized that he must have felt profound satisfaction as he said those words. But had his intention really been to kill her? Maybe he had just wanted them to be a family. Maybe he’d had a plan that would’ve allowed her to give birth to a live child and survive.
She stopped herself. Where were these thoughts coming from? Zargun didn’t love her. Even while tied to the bed he had been prepared to kill her by recharging from her energy field. He was a psychopath who cared for no one but himself. Whatever his reasons had been for impregnating her, none of them could’ve been good.
Aidan appeared to have fallen asleep by the time she entered his bedroom, leaving her to wonder if he wanted her to join him. Zargun had insisted that she sleep with him whenever he slept, but maybe Aidan wanted to go back to how they had been before.
She decided to follow her heart, and discarded her towel before slipping beneath the covers with him. She moved to his side of the bed and wrapped her arms around him while entangling her legs with his, filled with a desperate need to get as close to him as possible. His only response was a soft moan as he nuzzled his face against her neck, but it was enough for her, knowing that she could give him comfort.
~ . ~.
Lily woke abruptly. A glance at the bedside clock showed it was just after one in the morning. She remained motionless while trying to decide what had roused her. Then she heard it again.
“No, no,” Aidan mumbled against her neck, but she could hear the despair in his voice, as if he knew his pleas would be ignored.
He became more agitated, his arms tightening around her, as if he was trying to prevent someone from taking her away. “No, Elizabeth, don’t leave me.” His arms felt like iron bands around her body. Lily started struggling, fearing that he might not stop squeezing until her ribs snapped like twigs. “Aidan,” she gasped, “stop, you’re hurting me.”
“No, don’t leave me,” he cried, coming half-awake, his arms now impossibly tight around her.
Lily fought for air, unable to expand her lungs to draw a full breath. “Aidan, stop. Please.” she whispered hoarsely as bright lights filled her vision.
“Elizabeth!” Aidan shouted, and abruptly his grip relaxed, allowing her to draw a shuddering breath into her lungs.
Lily lay there for a few moments, limp with relief, gulping in huge breaths of air as she listened to Aidan sobbing into his pillow. It broke her heart to hear him cry, and she remembered that dream she’d had when he had found her in the woods, his sleeves dripping with blood, and he had cried when she rejected him. Well, she wouldn’t reject him now, or ever, she thought, filled with compassion for his plight
She switched the bedside lamp on, casting the room into soft light before she touched his shoulder. “Aidan?”
He spoke into the pillow, pain in his voice. “She left me. I begged her to stay, and she wanted to, but she couldn’t.”
Lily stroked her hand over his tense shoulders. “I wish I could help you feel better. I hate to see you in such pain.”
He reached for her and then his mouth was on hers as he kissed her with all the longing and desperation inside him. Lily responded, aroused beyond measure by his neediness, but wanting above all to provide him with comfort.
* * * *
Lily stretched luxuriously as the warmth of the sun’s rays caressed her face. She knew it was late even before she looked at her watch, because the sun had to be high in the sky to shine through the skylight above Aidan’s bed. She had overslept, hopelessly, deliciously, sated from Aidan’s lovemaking. He had held nothing back of himself, satisfying not only her sexual needs, but also filling her with his life force, resulting in an experience that was both surreal and energizing. She felt great, in fact, more than great. But where was Aidan? A note propped up on her bedside table held the answer. She folded it open to see Aidan’s neat handwriting. “Good morning, my love. You were sleeping so peacefully that I didn’t have the heart to wake you. I’m at the crystal garden. My flowers are in need of some tender loving care. See you soon. All my love, Aidan.”
Lucky flowers, Lily thought, shuddering with pleasure as she remembered how tenderly and lovingly Aidan’s hands had caressed her body just a few hours ago.
The thought was enough to get her out of bed and into the shower, eager to join him at the crystal garden.
~ . ~
Lily smiled in happy anticipation as she depressed the handle of the crystal door that led to the garden. Inside the greenhouse, the heady perfume of thousands of flowers in full bloom left her in no doubt that Aidan had been busy tending to his garden. She spotted him on the far side of the greenhouse and ran towards him with light steps, eager to be back in his arms.
But Aidan gave no sign that he had heard her approach. He stood in front of a magnificent rose bush, his fingers stretched out towards the fragrant roses, caressing the petals with a lover’s touch. The roses preened and leaned into his hand in the same way that Oscar often pressed his head against Aidan’s hand, eager for attention. Aidan seemed unaware of her presence, clearly deep in thought, so Lily stepped to the side so that she could enter his field of vision without startling him.
In the split second before he registered her presence, she saw the longing on his face, and the twin tracks of tears on his cheeks. She instantly regretted intruding on such a private moment, wishing that she had called out to him while still some distance away. But instead of turning away from her to hide his pain, Aidan reached for her, and she rushed into his arms, realizing that their relationship had changed forever, and for the better.
“Everything will be alright,” she whispered, dropping butterfly kisses on the stubble of his firm jaw. “We will fight this together.”
Aidan clung to her for long moments, taking deep, shuddering breaths as he tried to bring himself back under control. When she felt him beginning to relax, Lily led him to a nearby bench and sat down, tugging at his hand to encourage him to sit beside her.
He covered her hand with his and sighed deeply. “It’s such a privilege to visit the greenhouse again. I had to stay away because my radiation would’ve killed the plants, and worse, Elizabeth’s roses would’ve died too.”
“Those are her roses?”
“Yes, they are centuries old,” he said softly, and she felt a shudder rack his frame.
“Please, tell me about Elizabeth.”
He shook his head slowly, and the pain she saw in his eyes broke her heart. She tucked herself in under his arm and rested the flat of her palm against his chest, applying gentle pressure in the hope that he would find it comforting. “Please, Aidan, you can talk about her. I know that you loved her, and I know you love me too. Please, tell me about Elizabeth. Let me try to lighten your burden.”
“I added Elizabeth and the baby’s ashes to the soil because she had loved those roses so much,” Aidan said softly. “She had tended to them even when she was so weak that I had to carry her out to the garden. After she died, caring for her roses had been the only thing that kept me sane.” He sighed again. “After I turned the old servant’s quarters into crystal, I transferred the roses and their soil to the greenhouse, and they have been here ever since.”
“I’m sorry to ask, but how is it that you had their ashes? In the 18th century the burning of bodies was considered taboo.”
Aidan’s tensed, as if remembering something unpleasant. “Yes, you’re right. I had to go through the pretense of a burial, but I made sure that Elizabeth and the baby were preserved in a stone burial chamber, above ground. Once the people had left, I went in there and turned them to ash. I couldn’t bear the thought that inside that chamber their bodies would decay until they were unrecognizable. It seemed more fitting to reunite Elizabeth with her beloved roses, where I could visit her every day.”
“And your son?”
Aidan shrugged. “I put him with Elizabeth because I knew she would’ve wanted it like that, but I cared nothing for him. In fact, I hated him for taking her from me. And then, I hated myself more, because he was the product of my lust. He didn’t ask to be born.”
Lily stroked his thigh with the palm of her hand, feeling the tension in his muscles. “You’re being very hard on yourself. You’re only human, after all.”
“Am I human? I don’t think so. And I think if you had to ask Elizabeth, she would agree that I’m not human.”
Lily listened for a few moments to the chattering of the small birds flitting near the roof of the crystal greenhouse before she squeezed his thigh reassuringly. “I won’t let you do yourself down like this, Aidan,” she said firmly. “You’ve told me how it ended, but you haven’t told me about Elizabeth, and your life together.”
“Why do you want to know about her? All that is long past. I have you now, and I love you as much as I had loved her.” He pulled her onto his lap so that she sat facing him. “In fact, I love you more, I think.” His beautiful mouth twisted into a gentle smile that was a sharp contrast to the pain in his eyes. “I don’t have to hide from you, like I did with Elizabeth. You know everything about me, and yet you’re still here with me. You are my life.” He cradled her in his arms and took her mouth in a sweet, gentle kiss that seemed to last forever, and yet when he released her it didn’t feel long enough.
She settled against his chest, pressing her cheek to the region over his heart, and listened to its steady beat, wishing she could take his pain away from him.
Aidan was silent for close to a minute before he spoke, and Lily’s heart squeezed painfully when she heard the longing in his voice. “I felt like the luckiest man alive when I met Elizabeth. She had fiery red hair and a temperament to match. She challenged me at every turn, which, as you can imagine, was quite unusual in the early 18th century. Women those days were supposed to know their place. But I loved every minute of it. She had spent some time in Europe and could talk about a wide range of subjects. I was entranced, and after a suitable courtship, I asked her to marry me.”
“Did you have a big wedding?” Lily asked, slipping off his lap and settling beside him again. She was determined to put her feelings aside and allow Aidan to talk all he wanted.
“Yes. Elizabeth was the daughter of the governor of New York, so a huge wedding was expected. Due my standing in the community, and my financial means, the governor regarded me as a huge catch, so he was eager to show me off to all his friends and acquaintances. All two thousand of them, apparently. I hated the pretence, but went along with it for Elizabeth’s sake.”
Aidan remained silent for so long that Lily glanced up at his face and found him staring unseeingly into the distance, clearly lost in his memories. She wished that she hadn’t asked about Elizabeth. What was the point of him reliving everything now? All it was doing was making him sad all over again.
“We moved into the mansion, and for a while we were happy. But then the problems started.” He grimaced and clenched his hands into fists. “The governor wanted a grandchild to seal our union, and Elizabeth wanted a baby to keep her busy, because I was frequently away from home, tending to my many business interests. But of course, I was determined to make sure that Elizabeth never fell pregnant, because I didn’t want to lose her.”
“It must have been tricky with such limited options for contraception in those times.”
Aidan nodded slowly. “Yes, it complicated matters, and of course, Elizabeth believed that we were trying for a child, so that left me with even fewer options. But there was one method available to me that I used effectively for the first eight years of our marriage.”
“Oh. Can I ask what?”
Aidan looked at her, a slight frown on his forehead, and Lily blushed. “I’m sorry. I was just curious. I thought maybe it was some secret alien way, if it was available to you only.”
“Actually, you’re right about it being an alien way. I could see in Elizabeth’s energy field when she was fertile, so I always made sure that I was away on a business trip during those times. Of course, at the time I didn’t know that my semen was radioactive and therefore harmful to her anyway. Radioactivity was only discovered eighty years later, so there was no way I could have known, and I also had no way of knowing that my energy field was damaging her DNA every time we had sex. But with my constant absences, we were actually practicing something similar to the two-week rule that I implemented a century later with subsequent partners. I can only guess that was why she lasted so long, and I can only wonder what cancers she may have developed in later life if she hadn’t died so young. But the lack of a child took a toll on our marriage. As the years went by, Elizabeth became more and more withdrawn, believing that she was barren.”
Aidan sighed deeply and Lily glanced up at his face to see all his pain revealed. His expression turned bleak and he shrugged his shoulders as if trying to shake off his burden. “I hated seeing her like that, so I told her that the problem could lie with me, and that she shouldn’t assume that she was the infertile one in the marriage.”
“But how did she fall pregnant despite all your precautions?”
“I returned home early from a business trip to find Elizabeth hosting a dinner for her parents, her sisters and a few of our closest friends. She was overjoyed at my early return, and because I felt guilty for staying away so long, I changed into fresh clothing and mingled with the guests. I was also eager to show my in-laws that my love for Elizabeth was as strong as always and that our marriage, though childless, was a happy one. And strangely, as the evening wore on, it became easier and easier to show my affection, and even Elizabeth remarked that I appeared to be happy, a little drunk, and very affectionate.” Aidan grimaced. “Yes, I was drunk, but not from the wine. The cook had made a delicious dessert, so delicious that I, and many of the other guests, had indulged in a second helping. What I didn’t know was that milk and honey were among the many ingredients that made up the dessert.”
“Oh no,” Lily said, aghast.
“Yes,” Aidan replied grimly. “Of course you have firsthand experience of what happens when I, or in your case, Zargun, consumes milk and honey.”
Lily nodded quickly, her face heating as she remembered Zargun’s passionate embrace, and the wild sex that had followed.
Aidan touched a gentle finger to one of her glowing cheeks. “You did it to save me, Lily. And I love you all the more for it.” He kissed her forehead softly before he continued speaking. “Four months later, Elizabeth informed that she was pregnant. Of course, I was appalled, though I had to hide it from her. Everyone was ecstatic, but I was in mourning, mentally counting down the days to when I would be standing next to her grave.”
Lily lifted his hand to her mouth and kissed his palm. “I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how terrible it must have been for you.”
Aidan tightened his arm around her shoulders and dropped a kiss onto her hair. “It was horrible, looking back at it now. But at the time, I was trying so hard to save her that I didn’t even take a moment to think about how I felt. For the duration of her pregnancy, I stayed at home. Every night while she slept beside me, I repaired her energy field, hoping that I would be able to save her. I was still hampered by the fact that I knew nothing about my radioactivity, so I didn’t know there was a scientific explanation for what I regarded as my curse.” He shuddered. “I saw it in her aura when the baby died inside her. Looking back, I know now that the baby had died because his radioactivity had hardened the umbilical cord, leaving it unable to deliver nutrients and blood. I knew I would lose Elizabeth soon, because by then she was so weak that she couldn’t walk. Two days later, she went into labor, and died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn baby boy.”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “When she didn’t hear him cry out, she knew he was dead. She wept right to her last breath, devastated that she couldn’t at least have given me a child to comfort me.” He swallowed hard. “But I didn’t care about the child. I just wanted her, but she had slipped away from me.”
Lily fought her tears, but her voice sounded thick to her own ears as she said, “That’s what you were dreaming about last night.”
Aidan turned to her and gripped her shoulders urgently. “Get rid of it, Lily. Don’t let it kill you. I won’t survive it.” His eyes were glowing like those of a zealot, full of fervent hope. “Then Zargun would’ve failed.”
A cold hand gripped her heart. Murder her child, Aidan’s child. Could she do it? Life was precious. “Why didn’t Elizabeth have an abortion?”
“I never had the courage to tell her my secrets. Two centuries ago, people would’ve seen me as an abomination. I couldn’t bear to see her look at me in fear.”
“So you just watched her fade away and die? How could you do that to yourself, and to her?”
Aidan released his grip on her shoulders and sat back on the bench, his shoulders slumped as he stared at the green grass beneath his feet. “Elizabeth believed that her pregnancy was the answer to her prayers. Even if I could have convinced her to give up her child, abortions were illegal and dangerous two centuries ago. As the daughter of the governor, she would never have risked shaming him like that. So I was caught in an impossible situation, with few choices available to me.”
“But now you feel that the best choice is to kill your child, our child?”
Aidan gripped her shoulders hard. “Do you think that this is easy for me? I want nothing more than to have a family, to see a little girl or boy that is the product of our love. But if you go through with this pregnancy, I will lose you and the baby. So if I have to make a choice, I choose you, Lily. I can’t lose you, please.”
Lily shifted uncomfortably, unable to meet his eyes.
“Remember that Zargun made you pregnant to kill you, Lily. It was a cold, calculated act of hatred.”
“But perhaps he knew of a way that it could succeed. Maybe with today’s technology there is a way,” she said weakly.
He dropped his hands from her shoulders. “Lily, there is no way! Neither Zargun nor I can fix damaged DNA. We also cannot contain or nullify the radiation that the fetus will produce as it grows. And if we can’t do it, then medical technology can’t do it either. But the one thing that medical technology can do is to remove this fetus from your body before it kills you.”
“Please, let me think about it for a bit,” she said, lacing her fingers together and squeezing until her fingertips turned white.
“What’s there to think about? Please, I have seen the changes in your energy field already. Don’t do this to me. I’ll give you anything you want if you will just obey me in this.”
“Will you give me immortality?”
Aidan stiffened, but after a few moments he took her into his arms. “Yes, Lily. When the time is right, and if it is safe to do so, I will give you immortality.”
Lily sighed as she snuggled against Aidan’s hard body, dreaming of an eternity with him.
* * * *
Lily opened her eyes and lay still for a few minutes, listening to Aidan’s deep breathing next to her. He had said to her that he would be in the study, reading, because he had no need for sleep that night. And yet he was next to her, so maybe he had changed his mind. A strange kind of light filled the room, and then she saw something approaching her, a small ball of light that floated about four feet off the floor. The ball was golden, and incredibly bright, and yet somehow it didn’t hurt her eyes. In fact, as she stared at it, a strange peace came over her. She turned to Aidan, shaking his shoulder to wake him, but a voice that seemed to speak inside her head, said, “You don’t have to wake him. He has seen all this already, but he has been keeping it from you.”
“Who are you,” she asked in her mind, and she heard a tinkle of laughter that told her that the ball of light could hear her, as if they were telepathically connected. But the voice of the ball of light didn’t speak English, even though it clearly could understand it. It sounded like a dozen crystal wind chimes tinkling lightly in the breeze, and she wondered how she could understand it, or whether she was in some kind of dream world where language was of no relevance.
“It is a dream,” the ball of light said. “Until I have human form I can only talk to you in your dreams, Mommy.”
Lily stared hard, as if somehow the light could reveal more answers. “Please, who are you,” she whispered.
“I am the son of Zargun. I’m also your son, Mommy.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t understand now, but soon you’ll understand everything,” the light said. “Come with me on a journey through space and time, and I’ll show you the marvels of the universe.”
“But I can’t travel through space or time. I’m human.”
“That’s unfortunate,” the light said regretfully. “Still he denies you immortality. You have to ask yourself why he keeps dangling it just out of your reach. I have to leave you now, but just remember that there is always hope. Even when he tells you that all is lost, there is still a way.”
“Please tell me the way,” Lily asked. “If there is a way that we can both survive, please tell me.” But the light moved away from her without answering. The room darkened, but before it became pitch dark, Lily jerked awake, breathing hard. She was alone in the bed. Aidan sleeping beside her had been part of her dream. He was still in the study reading his book, and she was alone. Totally alone.
~ . ~
Lily broached the subject over breakfast, which consisted of delicious waffles slathered with maple syrup. “Aidan, I have to get back to New York. I’ve already missed two days of classes, and while I’m sure that Suzy has recorded most of our shared lectures for me, she won’t keep doing it if she doesn’t hear from me. Maybe she already thinks that I’ve pulled another disappearing act on her.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Aidan said before taking a long sip of coffee.
“Of course it would. Have you forgotten that I’m trying to finish my degree? I’m already a year behind because of what happened before. Please, I’ve been scoring well in my tests so far.”
“But it isn’t safe, Lily. In fact, I would prefer it if we left the country and went to one of my other homes.”
“We were back at the penthouse for more than three months already, and there were no problems.”
“I told you never to return to the penthouse. It was Zargun who took you back there, and it was only to use you as bait to draw out the St. Lucians. And he succeeded.”
Lily shuddered as she remembered the events of her kidnapping, and her stomach roiled in revulsion as she remembered O’Connell’s gruesome death. She pushed her plate away from her and sat back in her chair, trying to think of something fresh to drive the smell of boiled blood from her memory.
Aidan stepped around the table and wrapped her in his embrace. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, princess. You know I would never have done put you in danger like that.”
She turned into his embrace and pressed her face against his chest. “I know,” she whispered. “It’s just so confusing for me that someone who looks just like you was so cruel to me. I mean, it was your body, but someone else in charge. And sometimes I can’t distinguish the one from the other. I’m so sorry. I’ll try harder.”
“It’s alright. It’s only been a few days. Give me time, and I’ll make you forget him completely.”
“Yes, I’d like that,” she whispered. She released him. “But it will have to be in New York,” she said, keeping her tone firm. “Everything I know is here, and my friends are here, and I really do want to finish my degree.”
“Everything in me says that this is a bad idea, Lily. Please, let’s rather just pack up and leave. If you don’t want to leave the country then we can move to a different city. I can run my businesses from anywhere.”
Lily sighed. “Alright, let’s compromise. I’m prepared to move to another city, provided there is a university nearby offering the subjects I need to finish my degree.”
Aidan laughed softly. “You drive a hard bargain, Miss Childs.”
Lily softened. “I don’t want to cause you stress, Aidan. But there are things we have to take care of before we can leave. I’ll have to go to NYU to wrap up my affairs and to say goodbye to Suzy.”
“Please don’t tell her about the pregnancy. It’s a moot point anyway. I’ll make some enquiries to find out where we can have the abortion done. Please don’t ask Suzy for advice about that either.”
“I won’t,” Lily said softly, already having second thoughts about the abortion. After the dream she’d had the night before, she was more certain than ever that an abortion would be a mistake. Zargun must have had a plan, and the light that had visited her was the consciousness of her unborn baby, trying to tell her that all was not as it seemed.
* * * *
Suzy and Benjamin were sitting at their usual table at Starbucks, and the familiar sight calmed Lily. Normality at last, instead of aliens with superpowers and a radioactive boyfriend. The thought sparked a surge of guilt. It was hardly Aidan’s fault that he was radioactive. He didn’t ask for it, and would no doubt love to get rid of his superpowers as well as his psycho passenger.
Suzy saw her and waved enthusiastically. “Over here, Lily.”
Lily smiled as she made her way through the tables. “Hi guys,” she said when she reached them. She took a seat in the chair that Benjamin held out for her. “Thanks, Benji.”
He smiled fondly at her. “You’re welcome. Can I get you some coffee?”
She hesitated, acutely aware of the tender life form growing inside her. “Um, yes please, but make it decaf, thanks Benji.” He frowned for a second, no doubt remembering that she had once mentioned that she drank coffee for the caffeine, and that decaf was just a waste of money. But he didn’t argue, and walked to the counter to join the queue.
Lily turned to Suzy to see the same questioning look on her face. “But you don’t like decaf, girlfriend.”
Lily shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “Today I do. I’ve been feeling a bit jumpy lately.”
Suzy scanned her with shrewd eyes. “I’m not buying it. You look like death warmed up, and surprisingly un-jumpy. Why are you avoiding caffeine? Unless…” She stared harder, as if she was trying to see into Lily’s brain. “Are you?”
“Am I what, Suzy?” Lily snapped.
“Ooh, but you are grouchy today. Is it because of the morning sickness?”
Lily’s mouth fell open, and Suzy crowed with delight. “I knew it. Aidan has knocked you up.”
“Could you keep your voice down,” Lily hissed, grabbing Suzy’s forearm with enough force to get her attention.
“Aw, no need to get violent,” Suzy protested. “I think it’s wonderful. And you guys are getting married anyway.” But then she saw the empty space on Lily’s third finger. “You are still getting married, aren’t you? Where’s your ring?”
“Um, Aidan is having it resized. I’ll get it back within a few days.”
“But then why the funeral face? Isn’t Aidan happy about this?”
“No. He wants me to have an abortion.”
Lily almost gave her the real reason, but caught herself at the last moment. “This child will be born with severe birth defects. Aidan warned me right at the start that we could never have a family, and I accepted it.”
“I don’t understand. What kind of defects? And how can you be so sure?”
“It’s something that runs in his family.”
“But how come he’s around then?”
“Um, it’s a miracle he was normal. That’s why he has no brothers or sisters. All his siblings were stillborn as a result of massive birth defects.” Lily felt her throat tightening as the lies spilled from her mouth. Damn Suzy for being so observant. This wasn’t a conversation she had planned on having, and it was in direct conflict with Aidan’s instructions.
“Well then, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to make sure this baby isn’t normal before you decide to flush him or her?”
Lily felt physically sick at Suzy’s harsh description. Flush? Like flushing waste down a toilet. Could she dispose of Aidan’s, no Zargun’s offspring, so unfeelingly? But it was what Aidan expected of her. He had even said she would do it if she loved him.
“Earth to Lily, Earth to Lily,” Suzy said gently while stroking Lily’s arm.
Lily blinked, realizing that several minutes had passed, and that Suzy was still waiting for an answer.
“Quite frankly, I feel confused about this, so I think the best thing to do is to trust Aidan and do what he has asked me to do.”
“Is he going to go with you to the clinic?”
They hadn’t discussed that at all. But Aidan had said that he would find out about abortion clinics, so perhaps they would still have that discussion.
Suzy took her silence as a negative response. “I’ll go with you if he doesn’t want to, Lily. You’ll need someone there with you.”
Suzy’s eyes were kind, understanding, and Lily felt the turmoil in her mind calming. What would she do without her best friend, and how could she stand to leave her behind when they left New York?
“Thank you, Suzy. I’d appreciate that. But please don’t tell Benjamin.”
“Of course,” Suzy said, smiling at Benjamin as he returned to the table with Lily’s coffee.
Benji’s presence meant that the subject was off limits, and the conversation turned to everyday subjects while Lily drank her coffee, trying not to show her distaste for the decaffeinated brew, and wondering how to tell Suzy that she and Aidan were leaving again.
~ . ~
Everything seemed to be fine until they left Starbucks and headed towards their first class.
The pavement wobbled beneath Lily’s feet without warning. She grabbed Suzy’s arm for support. “Slow down,” she gasped. “I’m not feeling so good.”
Suzy stopped and turned to her with a concerned expression on her face. “What’s wrong?”
But Suzy’s voice had a strange echo, as if it was coming from far away, and then her face faded as Lily’s senses shut down. She vaguely heard Suzy’s scream as she felt herself falling to the pavement. And then there was nothing.
~ . ~
Lily opened her eyes and immediately realized that she was back at the mansion, in Aidan’s bed. The house was quiet, and she wondered where Aidan was. Then she heard his voice somewhere downstairs, and the happy laughter of a child. A few seconds later, she heard Aidan laughing too. She sat up. Aidan didn’t laugh very often. What was going on?
She climbed out of bed, and after pulling on her robe and pushing her feet into slippers, she cautiously made her way downstairs to the kitchen. Her mouth fell open at what she saw there.
Aidan was making waffles, but he wasn’t alone. A little boy, probably six years old, was helping him. The boy laughed as Aidan flicked a bit of flour in his direction. “No, Daddy. Mommy won’t like it if my clothes are dirty.”
Aidan crossed to him and after grabbing him in his arms, he swung him high, wresting a peal of laughter from the child. “Don’t worry, my boy. Go get changed quickly before Mommy wakes.”
The little boy ran to the door, but stopped when he saw Lily.
“Oh no, you’ve spoiled the surprise, Mommy,” he cried, disappointment in his voice.
Lily stared at him. He had Aidan’s pale skin and black hair, and she had no doubt that his boyishly pretty face would one day evolve into something similar to his father’s handsome features. But he had her green eyes. This was her child. Her and Aidan’s child.
She dropped to her knees in front of the boy and held her arms out to him.
Aidan smiled as the little boy ran into her arms. “You’re supposed to be sleeping, my love. We’re making waffles as a surprise for you on Mother’s Day.”
She laughed. “I’m sorry, but now we can all eat together.” She hugged the boy, loving how his warm little body nestled against hers. She kissed his soft cheek and he gave her a big wet kiss on her lips. “I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you too, my darling,” she whispered, hugging him harder, wondering why she couldn’t remember his name.
He looked at her with wide green eyes and said, “Why did you kill me, Mommy?”
And as she looked down, he became more and more transparent until he completely faded away. “Save me, Mommy,” she heard his final cry as he disappeared.
She screamed in anguish at her loss, and looked for Aidan, but he had disappeared too. The kitchen that had been warm and fragrant had transformed into a stark, dark room, and she was completely alone. Abandoned. “Aidan,” she screamed with all her might. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Come back, please. Aidan!”
Somebody shaking her shoulders pulled her out of her nightmare, and Lily opened her eyes to see Suzy’s concerned face above her. “What?” she croaked, trying to sit up, but her body wouldn’t obey her commands.
“Don’t move, Lily,” Suzy commanded. “You’re in hospital. You were having a bad dream, so I woke you.”
Lily licked dry lips and swallowed hard. “Water, please.”
Suzy helped her to drink cool water from a glass she fetched from the bedside table. “There you go. You gave us all a hell of a scare. Benji was as pale as a ghost by the time the ambulance arrived.”
“I’m sorry. What happened?”
“You fainted, and you wouldn’t wake up. So I called 911.”
“Look, will you stop apologizing. This wasn’t your fault. You’re pregnant, for heaven’s sake.”
“I saw him, in my dreams. He looked like Aidan but he had my eyes.”
Suzy’s face softened. “And he was normal?”
“Yes. He was six years old already.”
“So it was a good dream?”
Lily shuddered, remembering how the dream ended, but she remained quiet, not prepared to share her pain with Suzy.
A tall blonde woman in a doctor’s coat entered Lily’s hospital room, ending any further discussion. “Good day, Miss Childs. I’m Doctor Morgan, and I’m in charge of your treatment here.”
“Hello Doctor,” Lily said shakily. “Do you know what’s wrong with me?”
“You’re pregnant, young lady, and you had an inexplicable drop in blood pressure.” She examined the clipboard at the bottom of Lily’s bed. “Which seems to have corrected itself. All we did was to give you some fluids intravenously. It’s possible that you were dehydrated.”
Lily shook her head. “I wasn’t. I always make sure that I get enough fluids. It’s become a habit over the past years.”
The doctor stared at her for a moment, her blue eyes speculative behind the lenses of her glasses. “Yes, your friend told us you used to suffer from leukemia but that you’re in remission. Our tests have found no trace of the disease, so that couldn’t have been a factor in your collapse. But I’m very concerned, Miss Childs, because we were unable to rouse you. You were completely unconscious, for no apparent reason.”
Lily swallowed. “Is my baby normal?”
Doctor Morgan smiled, causing the skin around her eyes to crinkle, and Lily realized that she was older than she had first appeared. Late forties, at least, and clearly very capable. “No need to look so worried. We did an ultrasound scan to ascertain the health of the fetus, and everything looks fine. All your blood tests have come back normal too.”
“Would you be able to see if the baby has abnormalities, even at this early age?”
“Is there a reason why you’re worrying about this?”
“Well, my boyfriend mentioned that there are birth abnormalities in his family. He wants me to have an abortion.” Now she was buying into her own lie, and enacting it for Suzy’s benefit.
Doctor Morgan frowned. “Well, at this early stage I see no abnormalities, but the fetus still has to undergo a lot of maturing. If you could get more detailed information from him, we could look for specific abnormalities, but at this point you have a normal fourteen week old fetus, in perfect health. Perhaps you should make an appointment to see me later in the week, and bring your boyfriend along.”
Lily nodded. “I’ll try.” But she had no intention of returning. Medical technology couldn’t do anything for her. Yet her dream had seemed so real, and her anguish even more so. Perhaps she needed to discuss this with Aidan a little more. Perhaps he should travel six years into the future to see if they have a healthy little boy. In fact, why hasn’t he suggested it?
Doctor Morgan left the room, leaving Suzy behind. The redhead seemed excited. “Surely that’s good news, Lily. You have a healthy baby.”
“So far, I guess,” Lily said, gently rubbing her hand over her belly, deep in thought.
“Can I get you anything?” Suzy asked. “What about a bit of chocolate? I saw a vending machine in the passage outside.”
Lily forced a smile. “Thanks, I’d like that.” She didn’t really want chocolate, but she needed a few minutes of quiet without Suzy studying her every move.
~ . ~
Suzy burst into the room a short while later without the chocolate she had promised to bring.
Lily stared at her, puzzled by her pale features and wild eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“We have to get you out of here. I’ll explain later. Your life is in danger.”
Lily felt the world dip for a moment before she marshaled her strength. “Why? What’s going on?”
“I heard two men talking outside. They’re coming for you. They want to kidnap you, Lily. They must know you’re engaged to Aidan. We can’t waste any time. Let me help you out of bed. Can you stand?”
Whatever Suzy had heard had clearly shaken her to the core.
Lily swung her legs over the side of the bed, the sickening fear of her previous kidnapping boiling in her belly. Her legs took her weight easily, which was a huge relief, but the iciness of the hospital floor echoed the chill running down her spine. Suzy handed her clothes to her and pulled the curtain around the bed for privacy.
“I’ll keep watch. Please hurry.”
Lily dressed quickly, her breath coming in short gasps. What had Suzy heard that had sent her into such a state of alarm? Two men who wanted to kidnap her. Were they from the Order of St Lucian? Of course, there was probably still an alert out on her. The minute she had been admitted to hospital, red flags had probably gone up everywhere, and the news of her pregnancy had spread like wildfire. Of course, they had no idea that the pregnancy was doomed, and probably planned to imprison her until she gave birth.
How they planned to do this without Aidan finding her before she gave birth was a mystery to her. Did they not know that Aidan could time travel to this very moment and follow them to wherever they took her. As Aidan has often said to her, the St Lucians really had no idea of what he was capable of doing.
* * * *
The first inkling that Aidan had that something was wrong, was when he saw Oscar in the woods. The great cat was rushing towards him, skillfully avoiding the raised tree roots crisscrossing over the footpath through the woods. He didn’t need to read the alarm in the cat’s aura to see that he was upset. The animal’s ears were flattened against his head, and his body hair stood at all angles. His eyes were dark and wide with anxiety. Aidan frowned at the unusual sight, feeling a prickle of unease at the back of his neck.
He stopped and put his arms out to Oscar. “Come here, my boy. Have you been looking for me? What’s wrong?” He wasn’t expecting the cat to answer him. Rather he hoped that the soothing sound of his voice would calm the anxious animal.
Oscar leapt into his arms, driving Aidan backwards a few steps before he caught his balance. He cradled the distraught animal for a minute while whispering soothing words. “What’s the matter, Oscar? Come, let’s go home and I’ll light a warm fire for you.”
But as he took a few steps in the direction of the house, Oscar let out an ominous growl before baring his large canines with a loud hiss. Aidan froze. Whatever the problem was, it was at the mansion. Knowing how Oscar felt about strangers, he could only assume that there were strangers at the mansion. But how was that possible? Had the St Lucians somehow discovered the location of the estate? Impossible. But he didn’t intend to ignore the cat’s warning. He wasn’t far from the crystal greenhouse, so he walked in that direction, with Oscar close on his heels.
He opened the crystal door and Oscar followed him inside. The massive cat had his own entrance to the greenhouse, which also gave him access to a secret tunnel that led to the basement beneath the house. Aidan appreciated that Oscar had come to warn him instead of just taking shelter, but he wanted to make sure that the animal was safe before he took on whatever threat was at the mansion.
He gently fondled Oscar’s ears for a few moments. The animal huffed contentedly and pressed his head against Aidan’s hand.
Aidan smiled gently as he sank to his haunches. He gave Oscar one final stroke before he said, “Oscar, I want you to hide. You know what you have to do.” The cat’s ears had twitched at the word hide, and he stared back at Aidan with intelligence in his eyes. Aidan repeated, “Oscar, hide!” in a firm, commanding tone.
Without any further show of sentiment, Oscar loped off with long strides, heading towards the concealed entrance to the basement.
~ . ~
As he approached the mansion, Aidan saw a red BMW sedan parked in plain sight. How had the car managed to get through the gate? What had happened in the present while he had been in the future, trying to find a solution to his and Lily’s dilemma? He hadn’t found any solution, and had taken to the woods, walking for many hours before Oscar tracked him down.
He stopped while still in the shadows of the tall trees, and used his special senses to scan the mansion for foreign energy signatures, and found none. He recognized Suzy and Benjamin’s energy signatures from memory, and sighed in relief when he recognized Lily’s aura in her bedroom. But she was lying in bed, while Suzy hovered nearby. Benjamin was downstairs in the kitchen. Clearly, something had happened because he could see from Lily’s energy field that she was far from well.
Though he was upset that Lily had compromised the secrecy of his estate, Aidan decided to assume that Suzy and Benji were there to assist Lily, though he wondered why she hadn’t gone to the penthouse instead. Maybe something had happened that had left her doubting the security of the penthouse.
Aidan entered the house via the backdoor, and Benji whirled around from where he was perusing the contents of a kitchen cupboard. His surprise changed to a mixture of relief and embarrassment when he spotted Aidan. “Mr. Knight, I’m sorry to be scratching among your things like this, but Suzy wants me to make Lily a cup of tea.”
Aidan watched him squirm for a few moments before he forced a smile and said, “You’re a friend of Lily, and therefore a guest in my house. Please, make yourself at home.” He pointed to a cupboard on the left and said, “The tea and sugar is in there, and the cups and mugs are in the cupboard over there.” Again he indicated by pointing with his finger. “And there in the corner is the coffee machine. The capsules to make the coffee are in the cupboard above the coffee machine. Milk is in the fridge.”
“Thank you, sir,” Benjamin said, but made no move to get going with the tea.
“Please, call me Aidan.”
“Okay sir, I mean Aidan. Again, so sorry to barge into your home like this, but Lily said she wouldn’t be safe anywhere else. Apparently there were men at the hospital who…”
Aidan didn’t bother to listen to the rest as he bolted for the stairs and took them three at a time, desperate to make sure Lily was all right.
He burst into the room to find Suzy sitting on the edge of Lily’s bed. Suzy jumped to her feet but relaxed when she saw him. “Oh Aidan, I’m glad you’re here. Sorry I’m so jumpy, but we’ve had a rough morning.”
“What’s going on?” Aidan walked to the side of Lily’s bed was relieved to find her sleeping peacefully. Her aura looked weak, but he would remedy that as soon as they had some privacy.
“Lily fainted just after we left Starbucks this morning, and she wouldn’t wake up, so the paramedics took her to hospital, and even there it was almost two hours before she came around. The doctor said they tried everything, but she wouldn’t wake. They suspected low blood pressure, possibly because of the pregnancy.”
Aidan spun around to face her, unable to believe that Lily had ignored his orders to keep things quiet. “She told you she was pregnant?”
Suzy took a step back. “Um, no, but I kind of guessed when she ordered decaf coffee. I mean, she never drinks it. And anyway, they confirmed it at the hospital.”
“I see,” Aidan said, turning away from her, mostly to keep himself from incinerating her with a single gaze. He focused on Lily’s sleeping features. “What else did they say?”
“They said that she appeared to be having a healthy pregnancy, apart from the bout of low blood pressure.”
“I see,” Aidan said again.
Suzy cleared her throat loudly. “Um Aidan, Lily told me that you want her to have an abortion. She said that you have some family history with severe birth defects, and that you were worried about the health of the baby.”
Aidan whirled to face Suzy, furious that Lily had discussed their affairs with a busybody like Suzy.
Suzy swallowed hard, but didn’t back down. “But the doctor said the fetus is normal. She said that Lily must bring you to see her next week, so that you can discuss a plan going forward.”
“Suzy, while I thank you for your concern about Lily, I don’t think there’s any need for you to involve yourself in our private affairs.” Aidan said coldly, fighting his anger.
The redhead drew herself up to her full height. “Lily is my friend, and I can see how stressed she is, and how conflicted she is about having an abortion. You have no right to force her. It’s her body and she has the right to decide for herself.”
Aidan raised his eyebrows, impressed by her courage and her fervor, though this was hardly the time or the place, or the right occasion.
“Again I have to say that none of this has anything to do with you, Suzy. You’re a guest in my house, which is the only reason why I’ve tolerated this conversation. Now, why are you here?”
“Lily asked us to bring her here. She said the penthouse wasn’t safe. Those same men who had forced you to go into hiding were at the hospital, and they were plotting to kidnap Lily. I overheard them talking.”
“What did they say?” Aidan said, realizing that Suzy still believed the story that Zargun had concocted to explain their long absence, about how his life had been under threat, forcing them to flee New York.
“Something about that they were glad that the doctor had phoned them and that they hoped the other men would get there before Lily was discharged. And they were very excited about her pregnancy, and they said if the child was anything like his father, then this was a wonderful day indeed. They talked a bit funny, like very formal, which was why I started listening to their conversation. I was trying to feed some money into a vending machine when they arrived in the waiting room, but I got out of there as fast as I could to warn Lily. We sneaked out via the back stairs. She certainly has a lot of experience sneaking around in hospitals.” Suzy stopped speaking suddenly, and took a deep breath, staring at Aidan with apprehension in her eyes. “What are you going to do?”
Aidan sighed. “I’ll have to consult with my people about it, Suzy. Thanks for being there for Lily. Could you leave me alone with her for a while?”
Suzy nodded, at once businesslike. “Yes, of course. I’ll be downstairs with Benji.”
“Make yourselves at home,” Aidan said. “Tell Benji not to worry about the tea for Lily. We’ll be down in a little while.”
After Suzy had left, closing the door behind her, Aidan took a seat on the edge of Lily’s bed. She didn’t wake, and his heart ached when he saw the dark shadows beneath her closed eyes. She had been fine that morning at the penthouse, and his heart sank as he realized that the fetus was probably poisoning her already. What other explanation could there be for her collapse and long period of unconsciousness? But for now, he needed to spend some time repairing her energy field, and then replenish her strength reserves.
~ . ~
Lily woke suddenly, startled by the touch of soft lips on her eyelids. The scent of Aidan’s woody aromatic aftershave enveloped her at the same time as she opened her eyes to see his concerned face above hers.
He smiled and stroked light fingertips over her cheek. “Hi princess,” he whispered. “Let me help you get strong again.” He brought his mouth down on hers, and she relaxed, parting her lips to take him inside, reveling in the pulses of white light streaming into her body as she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer.
She reluctantly let go when he gently disentangled himself from her a short while later. “Thanks, I really needed that,” she said softly, reaching up to caress his cheek.
Aidan smiled, but the shadows in his eyes remained, and she sighed deeply. “What’s wrong?”
A muscle flexed in his jaw before he said softly, “What were you thinking, Lily, bringing them here? This is our stronghold, our secret retreat.”
“I didn’t know what else to do. There were men at the hospital, and I was sure they would know about the penthouse, from before, so I didn’t think it would be a good idea to go there.”
“What about Suzy’s house, or a hotel? What you’ve done now can’t be undone, unless I…”
“Don’t you dare! They are my friends. They’ve put themselves at risk to save me, and that’s how you want to reward them?”
He shrugged helplessly. “Do you have a better suggestion?”
“Yes, we trust them, because they’re our friends.”
“Really? You’re prepared to stake your life, and my freedom, on that friendship?”
Lily sat up, feeling a lot steadier. Aidan moved out of her way, and she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. “Look, I’m sorry. I panicked and made a mistake. But I’m sure that Suzy and Benji will keep quiet about this. And who would they tell anyway?”
Aidan didn’t look any happier. “This has been my home for centuries, Lily. I’m not happy, particularly now that the Order of St. Lucien knows that you’re pregnant. They won’t let this go, especially since their attempts at creating a child were unsuccessful.”
“You know that for sure?”
“Yes, while Zargun was in charge, he found and destroyed their secret research facility, as well as the scientists who were working on the project.”
Lily stared at him, aghast at his matter of fact manner. “Those people had families. They were just trying to earn a salary.”
Aidan frowned irritably. “Do you honestly believe that? Zargun found the dissected bodies of fifteen dead women and ten dead babies in the freezer room, as well as bottles containing various abominations of human life. Those scientists had been experimenting with my stolen semen, trying to create a superhuman being. They were zealots, not salary earners, and they deserved what they got.”
“Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry. I hate it when we’re at odds like this.” She reached for him, and he moved into her embrace. “We’re supposed to be a team and now that we have a new life to protect…” Aidan pulled away from her so suddenly that she stumbled forward, grappling at thin air.
“Are you crazy?” he said, his eyes wide with alarm. “Surely you don’t believe the lies you’ve been telling Suzy? This isn’t a fairytale. This new life will kill you if you don’t get rid of it. Please tell me that you understand this.”
Lily sat on the edge of the bed again. “But the doctor said that the baby is normal in every respect. Maybe this time it will be different…”
“It won’t be any different,” Aidan shouted, his cheeks flushed with anger. “This baby will look perfect right up until the day it is born, perfectly dead. And you would have lost your life for nothing. Please, you have to listen to me.” He dropped to his knees in front of her and stared up into her eyes. “You have one chance to save yourself, one chance to stay with me. I love you, Lily. Please just do as I ask.”
Lily closed her eyes to shut out the sight of Aidan’s pleading face, wanting so much to give him what he wanted, but her conscience wouldn’t let her. Fat tears squeezed out from beneath her eyelids as she whispered, “I can’t do it, Aidan. I had a dream about you and me and our little boy in the kitchen, making waffles. He was six already, and so beautiful. But when I held him in my arms, he asked me why I had killed him, and then he faded away. I looked for you, but you had also disappeared, leaving me cold and alone. The dream left such a terrible ache inside me. I would do anything to avoid feeling like that again.”
All resistance left Aidan’s body as he slumped forward, burying his face in her lap. Eventually he stirred, and stared up at her with eyes that were far too dark. “When did you have this dream?”
“Um, while I was in the hospital, before I came round. Suzy thought I was having a nightmare, so she woke me up. It was a nice dream that ended horribly.”
“It was just a dream, Lily. Wishful thinking. We don’t have a six-year-old child, and we never will. I’m sorry, princess.”
The sadness in his voice was her undoing, and Lily burst into tears. She covered her face with her hands as sobs tore from her body. “I wish all this would just go away.”
“I wish it too. And it can go away, princess. We just have to deal with it, and then we can move on with our lives. Maybe Zargun didn’t realize that his mischief could be so easily undone.”
Lily stared at him, taken aback by his callousness. “Mischief? It’s a life, Aidan. A child. Your flesh and blood.”
He stared at her. “It isn’t a life. It’s your imminent death, growing inside you. You have to keep telling yourself that, Lily. You have to live, for yourself, for me, for us.”
… (to be continued)
A little while ago, while feeling nostalgic for my favorite characters, I reread the Crossfire Trilogy and also the Driftwood Trilogy, and an interesting thought occurred to me. Is the Driftwood Trilogy really a spinoff of the Crossfire Trilogy, or is it just a continuation of the story, with the prequel, in the form of Crossfire: Driftwood thrown in somewhere in the middle. And I wondered to myself if I shouldn’t rather rebrand and market the six books as the Crossfire Series instead. But then I wondered whether Crossfire: Driftwood shouldn’t then be the first book in the series. After all, chronologically Driftwood happened many years before Crossfire.
But then I remembered that I wrote Driftwood after finishing the Crossfire Trilogy, and that Driftwood demonstrated some of the fears and problems that Marcelle had carried over to the first Crossfire book. And I realized that Driftwood needed to be read with the knowledge of the Crossfire Trilogy already in mind. I think it heightens the tension a bit more that the reader can easily guess who the strange man is that Nancy finds on the beach, simply by his description, and it lends a particular note to the story that the reader has information that the main protagonist, Nancy does not have.
So in the end I decided that the order is correct, and that Driftwood should be the fourth book in the series, because it also answers a question that is posed in Crossfire: Hearts on Fire, which is why is Karl so bitter and twisted about Nancy?
So yes, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about this, mainly because when I look at sales figures, it is obvious to me that the Driftwood Trilogy has not had the same sales numbers as the Crossfire Trilogy. Not that it has sold badly at all, but what I mean is it is obvious to me that many people who read and enjoyed the Crossfire Trilogy didn’t go on to read the Driftwood Trilogy. It makes me wonder if I failed in my marketing of the two trilogies, and didn’t make it obvious enough that the two are connected?
This returns me to my first question, whether I shouldn’t rather rebrand the six books as one series. I would love some input on this, if anyone has an opinion. I don’t know if an author is allowed to love their own books, but I love the saga of Marcelle, Stefan, Kris, Karl and Nancy and their trials though the years. Those characters have been with me for a long time, because I wrote the Crossfire Trilogy way back in the nineties! And I realized upon reading it again that the Crossfire and Driftwood trilogies are primarily about betrayal and forgiveness. And whether love, whether romantic or familial love, can really overcome all.
And I really hope in real life that it can overcome all, because in this past year our family has experienced the lows of betrayal and anger as we were forced to go to court to protect a minor child from a predator. I can’t say too much about it, save to speak hypothetically. Let’s just say that there are predators who like to target single, sometimes desperate, women with a child or children of a certain age. Do you see where I’m going with this? And sometimes this woman is blind to what is happening, or what could potentially happen, and no amount of talking or reasoning will help, leaving her family no choice but to resort to the highest court in the country to keep this child safe, and keep this predator away from her.
We have provisionally succeeded, but the case is still on going, and the threats and abuse from the respondent in the case has been on going for this entire year. The cost to our family has been enormous, both financial and emotional, and our relationship with the respondent has been destroyed, which means we stand to lose everything, including our relationship with the child in question, if we should fail in our endeavor to protect her.
But I’ve always believed that the only way that evil can succeed in the world is if good people do nothing. And when I look at this beautiful child with her whole life still ahead of her, I know it will all be worth it in the end, knowing that we have prevented her childhood from being stolen from her. One day I will be able to face her and say to her that I did everything in my power to protect her. But the cost has been great, not the least in my productivity as a writer. I’ve been trying to get the third Blackstone book written, but all too often have found myself staring out of the window, my thoughts far away as I try to find a way to settle this whole affair peacefully, and try to heal the rift in our family at the same time.
And sometimes I have to wonder when things are going to improve. I mean 2015 was a pretty crap year health wise as I wrote in this blog post and this one . But still I managed to bring out Crossfire: Broken earlier this year, which I believe, and which some reviews have also mentioned, is one of my best books to date, in terms of the conflict and tension, and I must say that I loved writing it, because even though my body was hurting, it was an escape for me, and more importantly, I was fully immersed in my characters.
But now, my mind is restless and my soul is tortured. What do you say when your godchild says to you with tears in her eyes that sometimes she pinches herself to check if she isn’t a ghost, because her mother, (the respondent in this case) barely talks to her, and pushes her away when she wants to hug her. She is in agony, our family is in agony. I am in agony. But the child’s mother is filled with revenge and rage and hatred because she feels she has been wronged, and that we shouldn’t have interfered. It is monstrous, and unbelievable that in today’s times it should be so difficult to protect a child.
I must apologise for such a morbid post, but I felt that you guys deserve to hear the truth about why the third Blackstone book won’t be ready in December. I will do my best to complete it as soon as I can. I know that many of you are waiting to see what happens next, and I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m hoping that I might have it done by March at the latest. If I manage to finish it earlier, I will always announce it here first. 🙂
And what a relief, I have to say. I’m looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation, and then it’s back to work to finish the Blackstone Trilogy. So without further delay, Crossfire: Broken is available at Smashwords , Amazon , Itunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Thank you to all the readers who came to this blog to chat to me and chase me a little bit, I really needed it. Thanks again.
As I promised a few days ago, here are the first three chapters of the third Driftwood book, which is provisionally being called Crossfire: Broken.
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2016 Niki Savage
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Niki Savage.
Book 3 of the Driftwood Trilogy
Clad in a black leather teddy, the six foot tall blonde dominatrix shook out the coils of the bullwhip she held in her hand. Some distance in front of her stood her helpless victim, but in this case, not quite so helpless. He has chosen to be here, has even brought the whip he wanted her to use, and has decided for himself how many lashes she should give him. He wanted two hundred in total, divided into ten visits. His visits were irregular, mostly four weeks apart, but after his third visit he was absent for seven weeks, leaving her panicking at the prospect of losing her biggest paying customer.
This was his fifth visit, and by the end of it, he would have received one hundred lashes in total. By now, their routine was familiar, with him already in position by the time she entered the room. It was a bit disappointing, because she would’ve liked to see his face before she punished him.
She had an intense interest in human nature, and wished that she knew why this beautiful man needed her to punish him so viciously. A bullwhip in her expert hands was a fearsome instrument. Though she was supremely skilled with the instrument, able to inflict maximum pain without breaking the skin, it was still a terrifying and excruciating experience.
None but the most hard core enthusiasts came to her for this particular treat, and even they often invoked the safe word by the fifth lash, and that was when she was going easy on them, using the bullwhip to terrify more than to injure. But it was enough for many of them to get turned on enough to get their reward, a fuck that blew their minds, because she was good at that too.
Which was why this man vexed her. She had noticed right from the start that he derived no sexual gratification from the whipping or the humiliation. Whatever pain or anger he felt, he internalized, because little of it showed on the outside. But she knew he felt the pain, because after their last meeting he had winced when putting his shirt back on. That wince had been enough to give her the sexual gratification she sought. This was a job, after all, but she wouldn’t be doing it if she didn’t enjoy it.
She focused on the man in front of her. He wasn’t secured to the rack, rather he gripped where the shackles protruded, which made it look as if he was restrained, but it was just an illusion. She knew it was for her benefit, and he has never let go of the shackles during a beating, maintaining the effect that he was helpless.
His back was smooth and tanned, showing no marks from the eighty lashes she had inflicted over the past four months, and she was proud of herself for that. He stood about six feet tall in his blue denims and black boots, and his thick black hair hung to where his neck met his shoulders. She remembered from before that he had piercing pale blue eyes, which he often hid by allowing his hair to fall into his eyes, playboy style. He always had a few days of dark stubble on his jaw, but it looked good on him. Again, she wondered why he felt in need of punishment, and she wondered about the precise amount of lashes he had requested.
But she had a job to do, so without further delay she sent the whip snaking in his direction. It let out a satisfying crack before it connected his skin, and she was gratified to see him flinch. Without giving him a moment to compose himself, she sent the lash in his direction again, harder this time.
The man sucked in a huge lungful of air after the fifth lash, and she wondered if he was about to scream, like so many of them did, but again he disappointed her, dropping his head and absorbing the pain. But she wanted his pain, wanted to see his pain, hear his pain, and so she sent the whip out again, her blood singing in her ears as the whip cracked before making contact. The man didn’t use his safe word, and she realized that this was what he wanted. She had been too easy on him until now. He wanted the pain, and she no longer cared why, intent on drawing her own satisfaction from hurting him.
~ . ~
The man hanging on the rack was in a world of agony. Fire consumed his entire body, and reignited every time the lash of the whip bit into his skin. Breathing was difficult, because the dominatrix wielding the whip gave him no time to recover between lashes. Finally the woman understood what he wanted, understood that he needed to be punished. Her blows were harder than before, and as a red haze of pain clouded his senses, he wondered if she had finally seen his black soul. If she knew what he had done, she wouldn’t stop beating him until he lay dead on the floor.
He wished that he had the courage to let his tormentor tie him up, so that he could feel the helplessness that ‘she’ must have felt. Even after all this time, he couldn’t say her name, not even in his thoughts. He wasn’t worthy, wouldn’t be worthy until all the poison had been bled from his soul. With every blow that rained on his back, more poison seeped from him. But would it ever be enough, or would he become addicted to the pain, needing more and more of it to feel the peace that came afterwards?
He bit back the cry that rose to his lips as the lash cut his skin, and after the fierce burn, he felt a warm rivulet of blood dribbling down his violated skin, soaking into the waistband of his jeans. Yes, his tormentor finally understood. He needed her to beat him like a bad dog. She had to make him pay for his sins.
~ . ~
By the time the dominatrix came to her senses, the man had multiple rivulets of blood dribbling down his back, but still he held on to the shackles on the rack. He had taken all twenty lashes without using the safe word, which made this a dangerous situation, for her as well as for him. If she couldn’t control herself, and he didn’t stop her, where would it end?
“It’s over,” she said loudly, expecting that he would let go of the shackles and reach for his shirt, as he had before.
But after letting go of the shackles, he slowly sank to the floor, remaining on his knees and hugging himself as if to keep the pain inside. She ripped her mask off and ran to him as fast as her stiletto boots allowed. From close up his wounds looked bad, and she cursed herself for losing control. She touched the man’s shoulder with her gloved hand, but he didn’t respond to her touch.
“Are you alright?” she asked, tugging more urgently at his shoulder.
He took a deep breath and turned to her. “Like that,” he said in a husky voice. “That’s what I want, just like that, every time.”
She was unaware that her mouth had dropped open as she stared at him, noticing how his blue eyes glittered in the dimly lit room, as if a light came from inside them. Whether it was the light of near insanity she couldn’t say for sure, but it made her feel sick to her stomach.
* * * *
Karl glanced at Nancy, who sat beside him on the veranda of her house in Sandton. On the large green lawn in front of them, Danny played with the boy from next door. After their return from their holiday on the North Coast of South Africa, Danny looked tanned and healthy, so different from the pale, emaciated child he had rescued from the Somali pirates.
At the same time as he remembered the rescue, the unwelcome image of Stefan broken and motionless on the deck of the pirate ship flashed through his mind. He moved uncomfortably, shaking his head slightly.
Nancy put a comforting hand on his thigh. “What’s wrong? You look as if the world’s just descended on your shoulders.”
He sighed. “It’s back to reality tomorrow, I guess.”
She stroked his thigh gently. “It doesn’t have to be.”
He turned to her, a slight frown on his forehead. “I don’t understand.”
“You could stay longer, or maybe forever.”
Karl’s frown deepened. “I thought we agreed that once we’re married, our home will be on La Montagne.”
“I know, but these past ten days have been heavenly. It was so nice to see you on the beach, just being a normal father to your son.”
“I am a normal father. What are you getting at?”
“You’re not a normal father, Karl, not really. I worry about what might happen to Danny if you were suddenly…gone. He’s grown so attached to you that I fear he might never recover.”
“What’s brought this on?” he said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.
Nancy clasped both her hands in her lap. She stared at Danny and his friend clambering on the jungle gym for a few moments before she took a deep breath. “I can’t stop thinking about…Stefan and Marcelle. It’s been ten months, and nobody knows if Stefan’s even still alive. It’s so horrible, and I can’t imagine what Marcelle and her children must be going through.”
Karl clenched his teeth and counted to ten before he said, “Marcelle is tough, and she’s a good mother. She’ll get through this.”
“I don’t care how tough she is. The love of her life is missing, presumed dead, and one day her little boys are going to want to know where Stefan is.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Karl said, keeping his tone even while trying to relax the tension gathering between his shoulder blades.
“Have you seen Marcelle recently? I just assumed that I would run into her on La Montagne, but Charlotte told me she hasn’t been back since she left with her kids.”
Karl cleared his throat. “I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“While Stefan was in hospital you were all over her, and now you’re just ignoring her? Why?”
“I’ve been busy with the search for Stefan, and running Omega, and visiting you and Danny. And in between all that, I’ve led a few missions in Europe, and two in Africa. We’re running short of senior personnel with Heinrich and me sharing the administrative duties. I’m going to appoint a senior man to do the admin, because Heinrich and I are required in the field. Our expertise is wasted behind a desk.”
“But you’re safe there.”
Karl stiffened. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you think it’s time?”
“Karl, you have me, and you have Danny. Imagine how we would feel if one day…”
“Get to the point, Nancy.”
“I just mean I would sleep better if I knew you were safe. You asked me last week to marry you, and I said I would think about it. But all I’ve been able to think about is…” She pressed her hands to her mouth. “I can’t say it.”
Karl didn’t answer her, keeping his eyes focused on the boys playing in the yard.
When Nancy touched his arm, he stiffened. “Is this what you think about all day? Me dead and you alone? I thought we’d moved past that?”
“I can’t get past it. Every day I think about Marcelle and imagine her pain, and I know I wouldn’t survive it if that had to happen to us. Her children are too young to remember Stefan, but Danny is turning eight next year.”
“I’m trying to think where this conversation is leading. What are you trying to achieve here?”
“I want you to choose us. Choose life. Be with us.” When Karl didn’t answer she carried on fervently, “I’ll marry you and live on La Montagne with you. I’ll give up my job and my friends and everything I know. We can have more children, anything you want. I love you, so much.”
Karl jumped to his feet, his agitation not allowing him to remain seated. “I seem to recall we’ve had this conversation before.”
“I know what I said in Mozambique.”
“My viewpoint hasn’t changed.”
“You just learned to hide it a bit better, didn’t you?” Karl said, a sneer marring his handsome features. “You thought if you gave me time to get attached to Danny, I might give in this time, and let you neuter me for good.”
“Neuter? What do you mean?”
“What do you think it would do to me to watch my men go on missions while I sit behind a desk? I’m still a young man, and in the best shape of my life. My skills are in demand on the battlefield, and the war we’re fighting against terrorism is far from over.”
“What about Danny? I love him, but I’d prefer it if he remembered me as a man who fought for what he believed in, rather than a weakling who spent his time behind a desk so his wife could feel secure. Do you realize what you’re asking me do? You might as well cut my balls off and put them on your mantelpiece as a trophy.”
“That’s not what I want. Please, just listen to me.”
“I have listened to you. You’re singing the same tune you sang in Mozambique and I didn’t fall for it then, nor am I falling for it now.”
Nancy’s back stiffened. “You’re being very disrespectful. I don’t deserve this.” She wrung her hands together in her lap until her knuckles showed white. “I want you to think about this, and I want you to choose. I deserve more than what you’re giving me.”
Karl’s mouth fell open in surprise. “You mean my love isn’t enough? I’ve taken you back into my life, despite the circumstances of your rescue. Despite the fact that my best friend is missing, possibly dead, and his wife is in agony. I’ve looked past all that and loved you and Danny anyway. And now you say that isn’t enough.”
“True love demands sacrifice.”
Karl laughed incredulously. “Sacrifice? What about the sacrifice Marcelle has made? Her husband is gone. My friend is gone. We made sacrifices so that you could live. But what have you sacrificed?”
Nancy remained silent and dropped her gaze to her lap.
“Tell me!” he shouted with such vehemence that she jumped in her seat.
“I feel as if you hate me right now,” she said in a small voice.
“Hate is overrated as an emotion,” he said coldly. “I warned you if you started your shit again, I would walk away without looking back. Well, consider me gone.”
“But what about Danny?”
“I won’t let you use him as a weapon against me. Call me if you want him to visit and I’ll send the plane for him.” He shrugged. “Or don’t. But whatever you do, you’ll have to answer for it when he’s older.”
Nancy stared at him, her eyes bright with tears. “I guess I was a fool thinking this could work.”
“No, I was the fool to let you draw me back in again. Goodbye, Nancy.”
Without a further word, he strode into the house and grabbed his bags, still packed from their trip to the coast.
Five minutes later, he was in his rented BMW, speeding up the street, heading for the airport. But the anger seething inside him needed an outlet and a short while later he pulled into a side street and cut the engine.
For a few seconds he sat motionless, trying to bring himself under control. But his breathing increased as he lost the battle, and he roared with rage as he slammed both his fists onto the steering wheel, again and again as his fury rose inside him like a tidal wave.
Long minutes passed before his anger ebbed, leaving him wrung out and breathless.
He should have taken the time to say goodbye to Danny before he left, he thought, filled with regret as he imagined the boy’s surprise to find him gone. But Nancy had left him no choice. The moment she had started speaking about Marcelle the scene had been set for a confrontation.
He has made every effort to get over what happened to Marcelle and Stefan, and move on with his life, and it was partly the reason why he’s avoided contact with Marcelle. He moved uncomfortably at the thought, remembering the vow he had made. But instead of keeping his vow, he had chased his own happiness, enjoying a carefree holiday while Marcelle suffered and Stefan remained lost.
Inadvertently Nancy had reminded him of that fact, while at the same time pushing her own agenda. Instinctively he knew that getting out of there had been the right thing to do. He had left before he said things he could never recall. The amount of anger he still felt towards Nancy had astonished him. He thought he had moved past all that, but the mere mention of Marcelle and her pain about the loss of Stefan had brought it all to the fore again. Without knowing it, Nancy had pushed all the wrong buttons and sabotaged herself in the process.
The guilt settled heavily on his shoulders. He could never give Nancy what she wanted, and he could never give Marcelle back what she needed. But maybe he should at least try.
~ . ~
Karl checked into the Southern Sun Airport hotel but declined the porter’s offer to carry his bags to his room, preferring to do it himself. He had no choice but to stay overnight, because the Omega jet was only due to pick him up the next morning, and wasn’t even on route yet, which was fortunate. He picked up his phone and made the call to cancel the jet. He planned to take a commercial flight to his next destination.
* * * *
Marcelle sighed as she pushed open the door of her hotel room in Stuttgart, Germany. She had hoped that winning the world championships for a fourth time might lift her spirits, even if just for a little while, but after the press conference she had felt her mood plummeting. Perhaps the celebrations later would lift her spirits. Several of the French riders were staying in the same hotel, and they planned to meet in the bar downstairs later that evening.
After a long, hot shower, she dressed in a comfortable gray tracksuit and stretched out on top of the covers of the double bed. She was exhausted from her exertions earlier in the day, and fell asleep within minutes.
~ . ~
When she opened her eyes a few hours later, she saw Karl sitting on a chair beside her bed. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. But Karl still sat there, watching her with kindness in his eyes. Her heart plummeted. He had to be the bearer of bad news. She sat up, and without warning, tears spilled from her eyes. No, no, no, no.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sniff. “It’s just a bit of a shock, seeing you here. Is Stefan still alive?”
Karl leaned forward and took one of her hands in his. “To be honest, Tiger, we don’t know. It’s been ten months, and we’ve found no sign of him.”
She stared at the lines of hardship around his mouth, and wondered if Kris had them too. The twins were suffering, not knowing what had happened to the cousin that they had come to regard as a brother.
She flicked her tears away with impatient fingers, angry with herself for having such a fragile hold on her feelings. “So why are you here then?”
“Do I need a reason to see my favorite sister in law?”
Marcelle tried but failed to smile. “I guess not.” She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and rose to her feet.
Karl jumped to his feet and grabbed her shoulder to steady her as she swayed for a moment before finding her balance.
She grimaced. “Sorry, low blood pressure. I shouldn’t get up so fast. And today’s race was hard.”
“For you, Tiger? I can’t believe that.”
“I’m not as fit as I usually am. Yes, I could still give those girls a hiding, but I had to put a lot of effort into it.”
“Well, congratulations. World champion again. But I thought you were planning to sit this season out, and have a baby.”
Marcelle led the way to a couch and sat down. Karl settled next to her.
“Yes, that was the plan,” she said. At Karl’s questioning expression she continued, “They implanted four embryos, and not one of them took. Actually, one of them did take, but I miscarried after six weeks.”
Karl pulled her into his arms. “I’m so sorry. I know you had hoped to draw comfort from carrying Jean-Michel’s child.”
She snuggled against his chest. “Even that has been denied me. The doctors said we can try again in a few months, but I’ve decided against it. I’ve realized that I’m really in a bad headspace right now. The miscarriage was probably nature’s way of protecting me. I’m hardly in a fit state to deal with the hormone changes of pregnancy.”
“So you started training again.”
“Yes, though I had missed most of the season, I trained and gained enough fitness to participate in the Tour de Feminin, and that brought me to race fitness to do world champs. And here I am.”
“And where are the boys?”
“With their grandparents. They’re happy to take care of them. They feel as if they’re getting a second chance with Jean-Michel. They’ve shown me his baby photos, and the resemblance is uncanny. Perhaps this will help them to heal too.”
“But what about Nicky?”
“They regard me as their daughter, and Nicky is a part of me, so as far they’re concerned he’s family too. They call him Nicholas instead of Nikolai, but I guess the French form is easier for them to pronounce.”
“When last did you see them?”
She sat up, moving out of his embrace. “About two months ago,” she said, an expression of guilt passing over her face. “But the season is over now, so I’ll be returning to the farm to be with them again. I’m sure they haven’t even missed me.”
“Are they talking yet?”
Marcelle smiled softly. “Just baby talk so far, but I’m sure they’ll get there.”
“Well, the reason I’m here is to invite you to La Montagne for the off season, the same as always. It’s your home too, you know.”
She shrugged, tears glistening in her eyes. “How can it be my home if Stefan isn’t there?”
“But we’re there, and your friends are there. Everyone would love to see the twins and spend some time with you. You’re family. Please Marcelle. Even if you just come for a month to brush up on your training. Remember you’re a rich woman, and therefore a target for kidnapping. I’m glad to see you’re still wearing your watch.”
Marcelle lovingly stroked over the gleaming timepiece on her wrist. “I never take it off. I don’t want to disappear without a trace again.”
“How do you think I tracked you to Germany?” Karl said with a wink. “Have you considered getting something similar for the twins? If you bring them to La Montagne we can explore a few options for a wrist or ankle band.”
“Actually that’s a great idea.” A shadow flitted across her face. “If I had to lose them too, I don’t know what I would do. But I guess they’re safe for now. I mean the world doesn’t even know of their existence. I was on La Montagne for my entire pregnancy, so there were no paparazzi pictures to entertain the public.”
“Best we keep it that way. Can you imagine if they knew? You wouldn’t have a moment of peace.”
“That’s why I took them straight to the farm. I had promised Jean-Michel that his children would grow up on the farm and get to know the wine business. Of course, I had hoped that he would be the one teaching them, but his father is still young enough to do it, so I guess that’s fine. But it would only be fair for them to spend time on La Montagne too, so that Nicky can learn about what his father has built.”
Karl smiled, but he had a sad look in his eyes. Clearly, he didn’t have much hope of finding Stefan after more than ten months.
“But I’ll continue to keep their existence a secret. They haven’t been to my apartment even. Not even my teammates know I have two children. Only Claude knows, and Anthony, and of course Doc Louis. But not Pierre-Henri. I still haven’t forgiven him for that time he gave me amphetamines and nearly killed me.”
Karl nodded. “Stefan wanted to sort him out for that, but the doc made him promise to behave.”
“Is Stefan really gone, Karl? Have you looked, really looked?”
“We’ve used all of Omega’s resources, and we’ll keep doing so. Sooner or later he has to surface.”
“If he’s still alive.”
Karl grimaced. “If he’s still alive.”
Marcelle stared down at her hands. “The thing I miss the most is being held. I miss his arms holding me tight when I feel like I’m ready to fall apart. I need his arms around me now, but I’m alone. I thought that winning the world champs would make me feel lighter, but it only lasted a few minutes.”
Karl moved closer and put his arms around her, cradling the back of her head in the palm of his right hand before pressing her face against his chest. “I’ll hold you, Marcelle, for as long as you need me to. I know it’s not the same, but it’s all I can offer.”
# # #
Some of the best naps I’ve enjoyed have been on a recliner, specifically the one I normally use when I write. A few years ago, after the second operation on my right knee, my orthopaedic surgeon suggested to me that sitting at a desk with my knees bent at ninety degrees might not be the best option for me. Being a writer, which normally would involve sitting at a desk, I thought about this for a while, and came up with a great solution, which resulted in me buying my first recliner. Of course I wasn’t trying to write while in a reclined position. What I was really interested in was the front part of the recliner that elevated my feet, which kept my knees in a slightly flexed position, just as my doctor suggested.
I also bought one of those laptop stands with the cooling fans built in, so that I could rest my laptop on my thighs. And that’s how I’ve been writing the past couple of years. Of course the best benefit of writing like that, is that even with the backrest of the recliner in the upright position, it’s really comfortable. This can present a problem at times, because sometimes, when I’m really thinking deeply about what’s going to happen next, and I get into a bit of a dreamy state, I drop off to sleep.
The advantage of that is that it allows my subconscious to come to the rescue and supply me with the next part of the story, and it’s really great when that happens. If not, I’ve lost an hour or two of the day, oops. I think that part of the reason why I fall asleep is that I’m constantly running in the red when it comes to sleep, so any time I get too comfortable I run the risk of dropping off.
Why am I running in the red, you might ask. Well, to summarize, somewhere around the age of thirty five I developed a fear of sleeping. That was when, for some inexplicable reason, I started waking up at three in the morning, in the middle of a fight or flight reaction. Medically it’s called a panic attack, or an anxiety attack, but basically it’s the result of a massive release of adrenalin while asleep, and boy is that a nasty way to wake up. You’re filled with intense fear, except that there nothing there to be afraid of, your heart is hammering, you’re hyperventilating and shivering and consumed with an insane desire to go outside and just run. From what? There’s nothing there. But try telling your body that.
Of course all medical technology could offer was sedation, which didn’t work, mainly because I found that while it could dull your senses, it didn’t take care of the panic, and I hated not being in control, so I gave that up after a short while.
Sleeping became a problem, but by resisting my body’s desire to sleep, I inadvertently stumbled onto the solution. By going to bed at three in the morning, I avoided the panic attack and normally slept through until eight, by which time the house was normally so noisy that it was difficult for me to continue sleeping. So that’s five hours at least. Certainly better than nothing, but an hour in the afternoon is often irresistible.
And what do I normally do until three in the morning? I watch TV, read, work on my latest manuscript, or just wander around the house. Being a bit of an introvert (more than just a bit), I’ve grown to relish the silence in the house while my family is sleeping, and quite frankly, after ten years it has become a habit.
But let’s get back to the fact that I’ve had some of my best naps on a recliner. Just an update to my post, “Disappointed“, I did finally have my knee operation on February 18, when all my blood levels were back to normal. I then had to wait a few months for my knee to heal before I could have my shoulder fixed up. And all that from one misstep off a ladder? Freakin’ unbelievable. Anyway, before I went to hospital on May 28 for the operation on my left shoulder, I wondered to myself how I would sleep for the six weeks that my arm would be in a sling. And then I remembered about my recliner, and how it would probably be a great idea to sleep on my back in a slightly raised position.
My mind made up, a few days before my operation I bought a new recliner for my bedroom. Of course my kitties all had to test drive it first, but when they realized that I was giving them my bed, with the electric blanket permanently switched on, they decided I could have my recliner.And wow, I wish I had realized before how comfortable this would be. I used to wake up in the morning feeling as if I was broken, mainly due to five heavy kitties piling onto me the minute I got horizontal, twisting my body into all kinds of unnatural positions. Just try to imagine having traction that’s pulling in five different directions all at the same time.
I found there are two advantages to sleeping on a recliner. Firstly I’m held in position very securely, so no chance of turning onto my side by accident and hurting my shoulder. And because I’m sleeping on my back, no sleep wrinkles from mashing my face into a pillow. What a bonus, I look younger already. 😉 I’m seriously considering continuing to sleep this way even once my shoulder is healed, which could take a while. Even though I can stop using the sling in about two weeks time, I’m still looking at a few months of physiotherapy before this arm will be anything close to fully functional.
But I know the burning question here is whether I’m able to work on the next Blackstone book while my shoulder is healing. Well, for the first two weeks after the operation my left arm was completely out of action, and I spent my time watching TV and listening to music and reading and trying anything that kept me from going out of my mind. Yep, I hate being helpless and the truth of the matter is you need two hands for just about everything.
Accepting help from my family for things that I took for granted was difficult for me. One weekend we went to my brother’s house for a barbeque, after my sister had helped me dress, my mother had tied up my hair and my father had laced up my boots. And at the barbecue my sister casually leaned over and cut my meat into small little blocks that I could just pick up with a fork. Yes, that’s love and I felt about five years old. Ugh.
Anyway, those of you who want to know what was wrong with my shoulder. In the fall that I described in the post, “Disappointed”, what had actually happened was that I had torn my bicep tendon and injured my AC joint, which is a little joint on the top of the shoulder that helps with the rotation of your shoulder. Anytime you reach across your body, let’s say to put on your safety belt, you’ve used your AC joint. And if you reach up for something above your head, your AC joint is at work again.
So anyway, after the operation my doc said that he had managed to repair the tendon successfully, but he’d had to shave away a lot of bone to get my AC joint functional again, which in fact had already been compromised even before I fell. According to him it was one of the worst cases of shoulder impingement he had ever seen, which explained why my left arm had been practically useless before the operation. Basically the narrowing of my AC joint, combined with the injury sustained in the fall had trapped the tendons of my shoulder resulting in pain and reduced mobility.
I remember even while finishing Somali Sunrise that I had been in intense pain from my shoulder, and had to take regular breaks because my chest muscles kept cramping. Oh, the pain of creation. 😉
The good news is that by the third week after my shoulder operation I was able to get back into a regular schedule of writing. I managed that by propping my elbow up on the arm of my new recliner, thereby supporting my shoulder, and then releasing the clip of my sling so that I could rest the heel of my hand on the palm rest of my laptop. From there it was easy for me to reach the keys of my laptop and type quite comfortably without straining my shoulder or upper arm at all. I include a photo for illustration.Of course, Yoda, one of my kitties, decided that she would help to keep my arm steady by providing support. She’s such a little darling and guards me day and night. I think she senses that I need a little extra help at the moment. And of course we enjoy wonderful naps together.
But I’m quite confident that I’m on schedule to publish the third Blackstone book by December. And as always, I’ll announce it here first.
I had promised a few readers a while ago that I would put the first three chapters of Somali Sunrise up here on my blog as a teaser. So here it is, edited but not yet completely polished. Enjoy!
Crossfire: Somali Sunrise
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2015 by Niki Savage
Nancy watched bubbles rising above her head as she rose slowly to the surface. A meter above, she could see the pink flippers of Peter Coleman, the owner of the yacht that had brought them there. He kicked gently to keep himself afloat, waiting for her.
She broke the surface of the water, and spat out her mouthpiece. “Wow, that was incredible,” she said, pulling her diving mask downwards and tucking it under her chin.
Peter turned to her, shaking the water from his shaggy blond hair. “I hate to say I told you so. Not many divers know about this reef.”
Nancy smiled, and turned to swim towards the ladder hanging off the stern of the yacht. “I agree, that reef we dived yesterday felt a little crowded.”
Peter followed, kicking easily to keep up with her. “There’s another reef further up the channel. I’ll take you there tomorrow.”
Nancy handed her diving goggles and scuba tank to a crew member’s waiting hand, and allowed him to help her onboard. Once on deck, she shook her shoulder length blonde hair vigorously to rid the strands of water.
She sensed Peter behind her, and felt him unzipping her wetsuit. She started stripping off her wetsuit as she turned around to return the favor. But the expression on Peter’s face froze her hand in midair.
Nancy felt as if the air around her body had turned to treacle as she fought to turn back, to see what had provoked such an expression of horror on Peter’s face.
A gasp flew from her lips when she saw her six-year-old son, Daniel, his little face pinched into an expression of extreme distress. The cause of his distress was the black barrel of a big pistol pressed against his temple. Peter must have sensed the muscles in her legs tensing for action, because he wrapped a brawny arm around her waist, and lifted her off the deck, preventing her from rushing towards her son.
“Shh Nancy,” he whispered. “Be very still.”
She tried to bring her rapid breathing under control as her gaze focused on the face of the man who held the gun to her child’s head. He was tall and slender, with terrible scars on the left side of his face and neck. He wore ill-fitting clothes one might expect to see on a homeless person, and was too dark to be Mozambican. She noticed several missing teeth as he grinned triumphantly at her, but the rigid scar tissue on his left cheek didn’t allow much movement of his skin, giving him a lopsided appearance. “That would be most unwise,” he said, shaking his head from side to side. “Your friend is giving you good advice.”
Now Nancy looked beyond his ragtag appearance, and saw his dark eyes glittering shrewdly. This man was in charge, she realized, and fought her urge to attack him. From her days on the road as a trauma doctor, she had come face to face with enough killers to know that this man wouldn’t hesitate to make good on his threat.
She glanced at the other people on the deck. Apart from the two crewmembers who worked for Peter, she saw at least eight members of the man’s party. Some had covered the lower half of their faces with scarves, but all had the same gangly build, and the same ragged and ill-fitting clothing that their leader wore. All had automatic weapons, held at the ready, just in case threatening Daniel’s life didn’t have the desired effect.
Peter spoke behind her, assuming command. “What do you want from us?”
“I’m taking command of this yacht. My men will lock each of you in your cabins for the rest of the voyage, and then you will be held hostage until your families pay the ransom we demand.” His English was good, but he had an accent Nancy couldn’t quite place.
“What’s our destination?” she asked, trying to moisten her lips.
The man laughed. “The port of Eyl in Somalia.”
Nancy swallowed hard at the sight of Daniel’s distressed face. How could she persuade this man to give her son back to her?
Two armed men prodded the two crewmen in the direction of their cabins, leaving Peter and Nancy on deck, watching the man who held Daniel hostage.
Nancy stared at her son, trying to reassure him without speaking, and apologizing at the same time for placing him in harm’s way.
Then it was Peter’s turn. Nancy watched with growing alarm as Peter walked ahead of his captors to his cabin. She felt vulnerable without his secure presence next to her, and without him holding her back, she had to fight her impulse to run to her son and crush him in her embrace.
But Daniel took matters into his own hands, taking advantage of a moment of inattention from his aggressor to wrench free and flee towards her. Nancy scooped him up in her arms, cradling him protectively as he squirmed, trying to get closer to her.
But she had just a few seconds before he was ripped from her arms again. She tried to grab him back, but the man had already lifted him high, out of her reach. Danny screamed, kicking at the face of the man who held him, catching him a glancing blow on his already scarred cheek.
The man swore in an unknown language, and flung Danny towards the hard deck. The boy landed with a thud, and lay still for a few seconds, clearly winded. Nancy took a step in his direction, but stopped in her tracks when a bullet slammed into the deck just a few inches in front of her right foot. She screamed in despair, torn between helping her child and trying to stay alive.
Danny slowly pushed himself to his feet. He wiped his tears away in a childish gesture, but when he looked at her, his green eyes were wise beyond his years. “I’m okay, Mommy. Don’t worry.”
And at that moment, in his eyes, she saw Karl. “Thank you, Danny.” She looked at their kidnapper, who stood with his weapon ready to kill or maim. Drawing strength from her son, she straightened up. “We’ll cooperate. Please don’t hurt us.”
The man flashed his lopsided grin. “We don’t want to kill you, but if you force us, we will wound you, and here in Africa a bullet wound can turn bad very quickly.”
“I’m a doctor,” Nancy said. “It would be to your advantage to keep me healthy, so that I can help the others, and any of your men, if necessary.”
He seemed to consider that for a few moments. “You’re right. But to make sure you obey, I will keep your son with me.”
“No!” Nancy shouted without thinking, but then she took a deep breath and calmed herself. “It would be to your advantage to keep me healthy and happy, if you want my cooperation.”
“Okay, the boy stays with you, but if you give me any trouble, I will take him from you and drag him behind the yacht, understand?”
Nancy nodded, nauseated by the image created by the pirate’s words.
Danny ran towards her, and hugged her legs tight. She stroked his copper red hair. “Thank you for being so brave, sweetheart,” she said softly. “Everything will be okay now.” But she knew it was a lie. They were in trouble, deep trouble. She reached up and fingered the little silver cylinder that hung from a fine chain around her neck. As always she drew strength from the gesture, and straightened her back as she looked at her captor. “Can we go to our cabin, please?”
The man nodded, and gestured with the barrel of his weapon.
Nancy picked Danny up and hugged him to her as she headed for their cabin, uncomfortably aware of the gun barrel pointing at her spine.
* * * *
Nancy opened her eyes slowly. Above her she saw the light fitted to the low ceiling of the cabin. She focused on the light, trying not to remember the events of the previous afternoon.
But the memories forced themselves into her consciousness, and she sat up quickly, taking deep breaths, fighting her anxiety. And she had reason to be anxious. Though nobody had come to their cabin during the night, she had heard angry shouts at odd intervals, and through the thin cabin walls, had heard the unmistakable sound of fists on flesh, and voices screaming, and objects crashing to the floor.
It had sent chills down her spine as her imagination supplied her with horrible images to match the sounds. She had remained sleepless for most of the night, cradling Danny’s sleeping body in her arms, wishing that she had left him behind with her aunt, who had been more than willing to look after him for two weeks. But somehow returning to Mozambique with her copper haired child had felt right.
In her silly fantasy world she had imagined running into Karl on one of the many beaches, though she had no reason to expect that he would return to Mozambique. Or that he was even still alive. Perhaps her precious little boy was all that remained of the man she had loved. And the thought brought tears to her eyes, just like so many times before.
Danny stirred, and lifted a sleep tousled head. “Mommy, why are you crying?”
She blinked her tears away before turning to him, forcing a bright smile. “Sometimes grownups get sad for no reason, baby. I’m just a sentimental fool.”
“What does senti…mental mean?”
She smiled again. “Well, like crying about sad movies, and sad books. Lately I’m very sentimental.”
He hugged her tight. “I don’t want to be sentim…mental, ever.”
She hugged him back. “Don’t worry, baby. You’re strong and brave, just like your daddy.”
He frowned. “Where’s my daddy?”
Nancy took a deep breath as she tried to negotiate the minefield she had created for herself. “Your daddy had to go away for a very long time, to save the world.”
“Like a superhero?”
“Mmm, yes, a bit like a superhero.”
“But when will he come back?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head hopelessly. “He’ll come when the time is right.”
She wondered when the time would be right to destroy the fantasy she had created in her son’s mind. It was a story she had fabricated after he had returned from preschool one day and asked, “Why don’t I have a daddy?”
She had tried to create a favorable image of Karl for her son, and it had evolved into a superhero story. And even though in the last year she had tried to tone it down, he refused to let go of the fantasy. It had become part of his identity.
“Is Daddy like Superman?” His green eyes glowed with excitement. “Or Ironman? Ooh, that would be so cool. What’s he like, mommy.”
She sighed, choosing her words carefully. Danny watched far too many comics. How could she tell him that his father is…was…a ruthless mass murderer? “Um, he’s more like GI Joe, my darling.”
“Yes, keeping the world safe from baddies,” Danny said with a triumphant smile. “I love my daddy.”
Nancy forced a tight smile. She should have told her son from the start that his daddy died before he was born. Why had she encouraged the fantasy? But she knew why. In her mind she had her own fantasy, where Karl returned to tell her that he had given up his life of murder and mayhem to settle down with her. Perhaps that’s why she couldn’t tell Danny that his father was dead, because then her hope would be gone too.
Danny prodded her arm. “Mommy, are those men outside baddies?”
She nodded. “They’re very bad people, the baddest ever. But we must listen to what they say, so that they don’t hurt us.”
She gathered him in her arms, knowing that he wanted to be a big boy for her but he felt just like a baby in her arms. She held him tight, knowing in that instant that she would do anything to protect him.
“Mommy! You’re squashing me.”
She let go, but not before giving him a tickle. “I can’t help it. I love you so much I want to eat you up, a little bit at a time.”
He giggled. “Starting with my toes?”
“Yes, and specifically with this foot.” She reached for his right foot, and he scampered across the bed with a squeal of laughter.
But she didn’t chase after him like she normally did. A hard crash rattled the cabin walls, and they both froze, listening. Danny hurried back to her, and the fear was back in his eyes. Nancy felt dread crawling up her spine. What was happening?
They heard another crash, and hard footsteps on the deck above them. And then Nancy heard the voice of the man with the scarred face, and another voice that spoke with authority. They appeared to be having a heated discussion.
She listened with a dry mouth, keeping a protective hand on Danny’s shoulder. He looked up at her. “Mommy?”
“Shhh sweetheart, be very quiet.”
The voices above rose to a crescendo and Nancy listened with growing trepidation. Though she couldn’t understand the words, which sounded like Arabic to her, she could hear that the man with the scarred face was losing ground. His replies became shorter and shorter, while the other man dominated the conversation.
Then the voices grew quiet, but a minute later she heard hard footsteps outside their door, and then it burst open. Nancy threw herself over Danny, pushing him into the mattress to protect him from whatever violence might come through the door.
But instead a hard voice said, “Get up,” as the barrel of a weapon prodded her spine painfully.
She raised herself off Danny, relieved to see he had not suffered any damage, and pushed herself to her feet. The man with the automatic weapon had the bottom half of his face covered, but from his clothes she recognized him as one of the men she had seen on deck the day before.
Though she couldn’t see the expression on his face, his pupils were dilated, and his eyes glittered madly. She could see he was high on some kind of amphetamine, and worried about his forefinger poised on the trigger of what looked like an AK47. One slip and a barrage of bullets would cut her and Danny in half. He gestured with the barrel of the weapon. “You come to the deck. Bring passports.”
She grabbed their passports from her handbag, and then reached a hand to Danny. “Come sweetheart. Let’s go with this man.”
Danny must have heard the urgency in her voice, because he climbed off the bed and took her hand. “Let’s go, Mommy.”
~ . ~
On the deck the two crewmen and Peter Coleman already waited, looking exhausted and bruised. Clearly they had not had a restful night. Peter glanced at her, concern in his eyes, and Nancy felt guilty that her face was unblemished while he had bruises on his face. But he had bruised knuckles too, and Nancy wondered which poor soul on board had ended up on the wrong side of those mighty fists.
She led Danny to stand beside Peter, and only then did she look at the stranger standing beside the scarred man. He was better dressed than the others, and had a more muscular build, no doubt the result of a better diet. Everything about him said that he was the man in charge. The cause of the hard crash earlier also became clear. A vessel bigger than the yacht had taken the yacht in tow, its powerful engines churning the sea to white foam as the thick towrope strained between the two vessels.
The stranger didn’t carry a machine gun, but had a handgun jammed into the belt of his trousers. He stared at Nancy with dark eyes, and though she showed no reaction on the outside, her insides chilled. This man was bad news. She had scored a small victory over Scarface the day before, but this man was made of different material. She could see there would be no negotiating with him.
He looked at Scarface. “Get passports,” he instructed.
Scarface nodded at one of his men who came forward and gathered everyone’s passports. Nancy kept Danny’s hand in hers, terrified for him more than for herself. But he seemed to be holding up, looking at the pirates with calm eyes.
The man in charge flicked through the passports. Then he looked up. “My name is Mahmud, but you can call me Captain. Okay?”
Nancy nodded grudgingly along with the others, but something in her expression must have attracted his attention. He looked through the passports until he found hers. Then he looked up. “Doctor Nancy Kendall, travelling with her son, Danny.”
A cold trickle of dread dribbled down her spine, but Nancy nodded without speaking, trying not to show her fear.
Captain Mahmud strode closer and peered at her face. “There’s something wrong here.”
She kept her eyes focused on the deck, silently praying that he’ll lose interest.
He stepped back again, and looked at Peter and the two crewmembers. “Everyone here has been beaten, except this one.” He turned to Scarface. “Why?”
Scarface tried to save face. “She’s doctor. She can help.”
Mahmud laughed. “You fool. She’s doctor, but he is too,” he said, pointing at Peter. “And we don’t need their help. They are our prisoners. And we do to our prisoners exactly what we want.”
And without a further word he backhanded Nancy, mashing her lower lip against her teeth, sending her flying backwards. She landed awkwardly, and something hard connected the back of her head.
“Get up,” she heard Mahmud scream, and footsteps approached her position.
Nancy struggled to her feet, her senses swimming, but Mahmud never reached her.
With a growl Peter charged him, smashing a fist into the pirate’s face before his charge carried them both to the ground.
They were a blur of fighting bodies, and it was obvious to Nancy that Peter was winning the fight. But then a shot rang out, and everybody froze, and Nancy screamed when she saw that Scarface held Danny suspended above the rail. The little boy screamed in fear, squirming like a fish on the end of a hook, staring in terror at the rushing water far below him.
Peter rose to his feet, dread on his face. One of the pirates punished him with a rifle butt to his kidneys, but he remained standing.
Mahmud took a little longer to get up, blood pouring from his mouth and nose.
Scarface shook Danny as he shouted, “I said if you don’t behave I will throw him in the sea. Must I do it, Boss?”
Mahmud shook his head. “No, bring him back here.”
Scarface shifted his grip, preparing to bring Danny back over the railing, but a second later he was grabbing at air as Danny slipped from his grasp and disappeared with a single thin cry.
Nancy screamed, feeling as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the air, but a second later a big shape barreled past her and Peter dived over the railing, going after Danny.
Nancy sank to the ground as chaos ensued around her, with Mahmud and Scarface screaming, and several of the pirates running to the railing to see if they could spot Peter or Danny. One of the crewmen ran to the stern of the yacht and threw two life preservers over the railing.
Mahmud grabbed his radio and screamed into the mouthpiece. A few seconds later the vessel in front of them shut off its engines, and in the sudden silence all Nancy could hear was a sharp keening cry. But she stopped when she realized the cry was coming from her bloodied mouth. She couldn’t get her legs to work. As much as she also wanted to run to the railing to look for her son, her body wouldn’t move.
Nothing these men could do to her now could be worse than the pain tearing her soul apart. If she ever met Karl again, how would she explain that she had put their son in harm’s way? She imagined his green eyes turning dark with sorrow for a child he had never known. And it was her fault, for keeping Danny away from his father.
Everybody ignored her as the towrope was detached and the crewmembers were instructed to turn the yacht around and search for Peter and Danny.
Under the threat of guns the two crewmembers soon had the yacht travelling back the direction they had come, and two of the pirates stood at the railing with binoculars, scanning the waves for signs of life.
Nancy lost interest. Too much time had passed already. Her son was gone, along with the brave man who had wanted to be a father for him, and a husband for her. She knew now that Peter had loved her more than life itself, and had thought nothing of sacrificing himself to try to save her son. But a tiny sliver of hope remained alive in her.
Karl had fallen overboard and had survived for two days in the ocean before washing out on the beach. If Peter had reached Danny in time, and then swam for the life preservers, survival was possible. But Danny was so small, she argued with herself. He could swim, but would he have remained afloat long enough for Peter to find him?
The tears came, pouring down her face and mingling with the blood on her chin. She tried to wipe the fluid away with her hands, but they shook so badly that all she managed to do was make the mess worse.
She gave up, and dropped her face into her hands, crying Danny’s name over and over.
~ . ~
A long time later, a wet little hand touched her shoulder. “Mommy?”
She looked up. It was Danny, wet and pale, but alive. His eyes were red, both from crying and the salty seawater, but he wasn’t crying anymore. He wrapped his little arms around her neck and climbed onto her lap. “I’m okay, Mommy, don’t cry.”
And Nancy knew it wasn’t a dream, because beyond Danny she could see a sodden Peter on the deck, lying unmoving as three of the pirates kicked him mercilessly. That was his reward for saving her child’s life, to be beaten like an animal. Hatred rose in her chest, and if hate alone could have killed these men, they would all have dropped dead in an instant. But instead she had to watch helplessly as they hurt Peter, even though he could no longer feel it.
Eventually Mahmud called a halt, and the three men dragged Peter towards her. He was a big man, six foot four and well over two hundred and fifty pounds, and the strain showed on their faces. They dropped him in front of her, and turned him over so that he lay on his back. Both his cheekbones had been split, and blood poured from his ruined mouth. Almost immediately Nancy heard him beginning to choke as blood ran back down his throat. She quickly moved forward and turned him onto his side to open his airway. She wanted to scream and rage at the unfairness of it all, but held her tongue, afraid that Mahmud would lash out again.
Someone grabbed a fistful of her blonde hair, and dragged her to her feet. It was Mahmud, and he held his bloodied face close to hers as he hissed, “Disobedience will be punished immediately. Look at him. Where’s your strong man now?”
Nancy swallowed her hatred down. “We’ll be good, I promise.”
“Good.” He turned to Scarface. “Take them below.” He gestured towards the two crewmen. “And them too.”
Nancy and Danny were herded below with the crewmen, and allowed to return to their cabin. She saw as the men struggled past her half open door with Peter’s limp body, and went to the doorway to find Scarface outside. “Please,” she whispered. “Put him in here with us so I can take care of him.”
He shook his head. “No, he has been punished. He must suffer.”
“He could die, and then you won’t get any ransom for him.”
That gave him pause for a moment, and then he shouted something to the three men. They struggled back in his direction, and at his instruction, deposited Peter on one of the twin beds in the cabin. Nancy felt a small sense of elation at her victory. At least now she could help Peter instead of wondering whether he was dead or alive.
As soon as the door closed behind Scarface, who had given her a last menacing frown to remind her to behave, Nancy changed Danny into dry clothes, rubbing his frozen skin briskly with the towel. Then she sent him to play in the bathroom with some of his toys. To his credit, he didn’t argue, even though the bathroom was small and cramped.
A minute later she heard him racing his toy cars along the smooth floor of the shower. Children were far more resilient than adults, she thought.
She focused on Peter, who still lay unmoving, rapidly soaking the mattress with his wet clothes. Quickly she stripped his clothing off, leaving him only with his undershorts. Then she pushed the other bed closer, and expertly rolled him onto it, giving him the benefit of the dry mattress. She covered him with the sheets before reaching under the covers and pulling off his damp undershorts.
Though she and Peter had known each other for many years, their relationship had never become physical. Somehow, after Karl, she just couldn’t give herself to another man. Bringing Danny along on the diving trip had been just another way of ensuring that Peter wouldn’t be sharing her cabin. And yet here he was, in her cabin. The irony wasn’t lost on her.
She pulled her medical bag from one of the small closets, and started examining Peter.
Thirty minutes later she sat on the damp twin bed and sighed deeply, feeling a little desperate. The merciless kicks those pirates had rained upon Peter’s muscular physique appeared to have done little damage. His ribs were bruised, but not broken, and though he had a lot of bruises, they weren’t life threatening.
But that was where the good news ended. His face had suffered some damage, and she had stitched the deep gashes on his cheekbones and forehead. Miraculously his nose had remained unbroken, allowing him unimpeded breathing. But she suspected that Peter had a bad concussion, the extent of which she couldn’t be sure of until a few more hours have passed, or he regained consciousness. She needed a cat scan of Peter’s brain, and he probably required surgery, but none of that was possible in the middle of the ocean.
Danny came from the bathroom. “Is Uncle Peter going to be okay, mommy?” His little face expressed concern for the man he had known his whole life.
Nancy tried to smile. “I think so. We have to wait for him to wake up, just to be sure.”
Danny climbed onto Peter’s bed and snuggled up beside him. “I’ll stay here with him, and call you when he wakes up.”
Despite the circumstances Nancy smiled when she saw the love in Danny’s eyes. Her son loved this big blond bear of a man, and why wouldn’t he? Peter was a wonderful man, with a soft heart that belied the strength of his physique. His patients adored him, both for his kind heart, and his ruggedly handsome looks. She remembered Peter holding Danny when he was just days old, and the sight of her precious son cradled in those big hands had brought tears to her eyes, and right there she had asked Peter to be Danny’s godfather, an honor he took seriously, becoming a substitute father to her son. Peter had never asked her about Danny’s father, and for that she had been grateful, knowing that he didn’t judge her.
But Peter wanted more than that, and had told her so, more than once. Their friendship had changed to a strong relationship more than a year ago, and Nancy knew that her colleagues fully expected that she would marry Peter eventually. A match made in heaven, they called it, speculating what beautiful children she and Peter would produce with their blonde good looks.
But now tears filled her eyes as she stared at his bruised face, and the seriousness of their plight came to sit in her stomach like a cold stone. Life was short, and there was no guarantee that they would get out of this situation alive.
And right there she made her decision. Why not Peter? What was she holding out for? Karl wasn’t coming back for her. He had probably forgotten her the second that black helicopter carried him far away over the ocean, back to his life of violence and killing. Peter loved her. He would never hurt her like Karl had hurt her. He was the kind of man she could grow old with, if they survived their immediate perils. As soon as he opened his eyes, she’ll tell him yes.
And when they arrive home, she’ll put on the engagement ring he had given her three months ago, when he had proposed marriage. He had insisted that she keep the ring, even though she had asked for time to think. Well, she was finished with thinking. This was the right thing to do, for her and for Danny.
* * * *
Due to the length of Peter’s unconsciousness, Nancy had been forced to put up a drip and catheterize him. Then she occupied her time with bathing and changing Danny and making sure he ate some of the fruit that was on a bowl on a small table in the cabin. She didn’t eat any of it, worrying about their food supply, seeing as the pirates have shown no inclination to feed them. But they had some bottled water in the cabin, and in her medical pack she had some electrolyte replacement powders as well as a few chocolate bars and energy bars. Whether that would keep a six year old satisfied, only time would tell.
It was nearly lunchtime when Peter moaned, and opened sluggish eyes. Nancy had been sitting next to his bed, and reached out to touch his shoulder. “I’m here, Peter,” she whispered.
He turned his head and focused on her. “Nancy?”
“How do you feel? Can you see alright?”
“Everything’s a bit blurry,” he whispered, blinking his eyes.
“You’ve suffered a head injury.”
Nancy went ice cold. Peter not remembering what happened was another bad sign, and coupled with his hours of unconsciousness didn’t bode well for a good outcome. Telling him now about the pirates and what had happened would raise his stress levels, along with his blood pressure, which was the last thing she wanted. So she decided to lie.
“You fell, darling. On the deck. It happened so fast, and you hit your head on the railing. We’re on our way back to port, so you can get to a hospital. Just relax.”
“And I’m here, in your cabin, in your bed?”
“Because I’ve decided, Peter. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I want to be with you. I love you, and I want to marry you.”
“I can hardly believe it,” he whispered. “Why now?”
“Because I nearly lost you today, and it scared the hell out of me. I realized how much I love you.”
“I love you too,” he said before sighing deeply. “But I’m so incredibly tired, and I have a terrible headache. Can I save the jumping for joy for later?”
Danny came storming into the room. “Uncle Peter! You’re awake.”
Peter summoned a smile, even though it had to hurt, and stretched a hand out to the boy. “Hey little man. Are you looking after your mommy?”
Danny crawled all the way up the bed on all fours and snuggled under Peter’s arm. “Yes, I am. But you saved me. I was so scared, and the waves were so big, but you grabbed me. Thank you.”
Peter frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Nancy drowned out Danny’s explanation by saying. “He fell overboard, and you went after him. You saved him, and then when you came back onboard you slipped and fell.” She winked at Danny, willing him to play along. Luckily the child trusted her enough to obey.
“You mean I did the bravest thing ever and I can’t remember it?”
Nancy realized he was trying to be his usual self, for Danny’s sake.
Danny giggled. “Yes, you’re a superhero, even if you can’t remember it. Is it sore?”
“My head hurts a little bit,” Peter said with a grimace. “And I feel as if a horde of donkeys have run all over me, but I’ll survive.”
Nancy took Danny by the arm. “If you look in Mommy’s handbag, there’s a chocolate treat there for you.”
He jumped up. “Thanks Mommy!”
“And then you can play with your cars again, and let mommy and Uncle Peter talk for a little bit.”
“Yes Mommy.” He found her handbag and after grabbing his treat, disappeared into the bathroom to play with his toys.
When they were alone again, Peter looked at her. “You realize I’m a doctor too?”
“What are you hiding from me?”
Nancy suppressed a sob. “I’m trying to keep you comfortable, Peter. Your head injury is serious. You’ve been unconscious for hours, and your pupil sizes are unequal. Your temperature is up, and your face is flushed, and your heart rate has dropped below sixty. Somewhere in your brain you’re bleeding, causing intracranial pressure.”
“What are you hiding from me?” he asked again.
“I don’t think we’ll make it to port in time.” She tried her best to remain calm, but couldn’t help the tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.”
He reached for her and she lay down beside him, resting her head on his chest.
“I want to remember you just like this, sleeping in my arms,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
“The crew will look after you.”
“Okay.” She clenched her fists, trying to remain calm.
About thirty minutes passed before he spoke again. “Remember… that little house… I mean church? With the red flowers… the red roses outside?”
“We should get married there.”
“Yes, we will.”
He didn’t say anything more, and she thought he may have gone to sleep again. But then she felt him tense. “Nancy?”
“Yes, my love.”
“I can’t see. Everything is dark. Don’t leave me.”
“I’m right here. I won’t leave you.” She wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him. “I’m here. I’m here.”
But he didn’t speak again. For many minutes Nancy didn’t move, listening to the strong beat of his heart. But it was too slow, yet another symptom that his brain injury was severe. Perhaps if she pretended it wasn’t true, things could go back to normal.
Nearly twenty minutes passed before she sat up and fetched her pupil torch. She tried hard to steel herself, trying to assume the persona she normally reserved for giving bad news to families.
But when she examined Peter’s pupil reactions, the shock was too much. His right pupil was blown, which was the medical term to signify that it was completely dilated. Due to the increased pressure in Peter’s skull, most likely from brain tissue swelling, or from a bleed, some brain death had already occurred.
The other pupil still responded to light, but sluggishly. Peter was gone already, even though it could take several hours before his body followed. She could do nothing more for him. She was an excellent trauma surgeon, and if she could have transported him to a hospital in time, and into theatre, she could have saved him, but here in this godforsaken place, she was helpless. The only comfort she had was that he had not died alone, which was what would have happened if the pirates had taken him to his cabin, as they had originally intended.
After making Peter comfortable again, Nancy looked for Danny, and discovered that he had taken a pillow and blanket into the bathroom and made a bed for himself. Poor child, she thought. He was exhausted, and there was more horror to come. She left him there, fast asleep, and returned to Peter.
She was exhausted, and hungry, and emotionally she was completely spent. Her brain needed a respite from the tension, and her soul needed to recharge before she could grieve for Peter. She lay down beside him again, and snuggled her face into the hollow of his shoulder. It was a safe place, allowing her to experience his warmth and closeness without having to listen as his heart slowed even further, and his breathing became labored.
Just before sleep took her, she remembered lying like this with Karl on that first day when he had been so desperately ill, and had needed her body heat. She imagined the whisper of his breath against her face. Then there had been hope for recovery, and indeed Karl had made an excellent recovery. For Peter the fight was over, and now it was just a question of time, waiting for his body to die. And for her there was the horror of knowing that if he didn’t die by morning, she would have to give him a lethal dose of morphine, putting him down like an injured animal.
~ . ~
Nancy’s dreams were troubled and gruesome, and mostly involved Karl arriving on the yacht with fire in his eyes and a bloody knife in his grasp, and killing every pirate on board while Danny cheered him on. The dream was macabre and bizarre and she awoke feeling sick.
Peter was ominously quiet. She stilled the cry that rose to her lips, and pressed her ear to his chest. No breathing. No heartbeat. She checked his pupils. Both were blown, and unresponsive to light. He was dead.
She sat stunned for a few minutes, hate and grief flooding through her. Hate for the pirates who had killed Peter, and grief for the future that she and Peter would never have.
But she had to restore his dignity before the pirates came back. Already it was a blessing that the pirates had left them alone for most of the day. She had draped Peter’s wet shorts and shirt over a chair, and now discovered that they were dry, though slightly stiff from the saltwater. But they would have to do. Biting back her tears, she removed the catheter and the drip and dressed him again.
She would have to find a way to alert Scarface to take Peter out of there before Danny woke. He had suffered enough traumas for one day without discovering that his hero was dead.
After she had finished dressing Peter, she covered him with a sheet. As distasteful as the prospect was, she would have to call Scarface. She tried the door, and was surprised to find it unlocked.
Gingerly she stepped into the narrow passage. “Hello,” she called softly.
She heard the shuffle of feet, and saw a pair of feet descending the steps before materializing into one of the pirates. He didn’t look friendly.
She swallowed hard before she said, “Please tell your boss that the big man is dead. Tell him Peter is dead.”
She saw the whites of his eyes flash for a second, and realized that the man was deathly afraid of delivering the news.
He grabbed her by the arm, and urged her towards the stairs. “No, you tell. You tell.”
She had little choice, and soon found herself on deck, face to face with Scarface and Mahmud.
The man pointed at her and repeated, “You tell.”
One side of Scarface’s mouth turned up in a sneer. “What is it?”
“Peter is dead,” she said more calmly than she felt.
Mahmud’s eyes practically bulged from his head. “What? What you do? What you do?”
He grabbed her by the throat and started shaking her. Nancy couldn’t breathe. Her mouth stretched wide as stars and dark spots appeared in her vision. But an eternity later she found herself on the deck, coughing painfully.
Mahmud stood over her, clearly still furious. He grabbed her with a hard right hand and plucked her to her feet. “How did he die?”
Nancy coughed a few times before she could speak. “The men who kicked him hurt his brain. Bleeding in his brain killed him. He died while I was asleep.”
By now Scarface had gone below deck with three men. They reappeared, carrying Peter’s lifeless body. Now Nancy was glad that she had dressed him. It was already undignified how carelessly they carried him, without him being naked as well. But what distressed her more was Danny walking behind the men, rubbing sleepy eyes. She grabbed him as they passed her, and pressed his face against her thigh. “Don’t look, Danny. Keep your eyes on Mommy.”
“What’s wrong with Uncle Peter?”
She stared imploringly at Mahmud. “Please can I take my son below deck? He doesn’t need to see this.” She had a good idea what was going to happen next.
But Mahmud laughed unpleasantly. “Do you think I care about your son? Or what he sees? He stays, and so do you.”
He walked forward to examine Peter’s body. “It’s a pity. We could have asked a big ransom for him.” He looked up at her. “Now we will just have to ask double for you and your boy.”
He gave orders to four of the men in a language that Nancy didn’t understand, but the meaning soon became clear when they each took hold of one of Peter’s limbs and started carrying him to the railing. She bit her lip to stop from screaming. It’s just a body, she told herself. It wasn’t Peter anymore.
But she couldn’t bear the thought of him abandoned to the tides, almost certainly being eaten by sharks or one of the many predators in the sea. Those beloved hands had stroked her hair when she felt sad, and that strong body had held her close and comforted her after a hard day of disappointments. It wasn’t just another body. It was Peter, and he didn’t deserve this.
Just at the moment that they swung Peter over the rail, Danny broke from her grasp, and turned. The splash as Peter’s body hit the water was drowned out by Danny’s howl. He stormed to where Peter had disappeared over the railing, screaming uncontrollably. “Nooooo! Noooo! Mommeeeeeee!”
Nancy ran after him, desperate to get to him before one of the pirates did. But she was too late. Scarface lashed out and backhanded Danny so hard that he stopped in his tracks, and dropped to the deck in a boneless heap.
Nancy reached him a moment later, and scooped him up in her arms. “Does that make you feel like a big man, you fucking bastard! He’s a child. Can’t you tell the difference?”
To his credit, Scarface looked guilty for about two seconds, but when he noticed Mahmud’s eyes on him, he recovered his bravado. “Shut up, woman, or we throw him overboard too.”
Nancy retreated, clutching Danny to her chest. “No! I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And the bile tasted bitter in her mouth as she swallowed her hatred and realized the hopelessness of their situation.
* * * *