Category Archives: Excerpts from Crossfire
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.”
# # #
When Dr. Nancy Kendall, a trauma doctor from South Africa, took a stroll on a Mozambican beach, she had no idea how her life would change during her six-week holiday. She had gone to Mozambique to forget, but instead found a man who couldn’t remember his name or his past.
Driftwood is a 15000 word novella that I wrote to escape the monotony of editing a 96 000 word manuscript, which is of course, Crossfire: Hearts on Fire, the third book in the Crossfire Trilogy. My creative spirit needed relief from spending day after day analyzing words and sentences, and polishing my prose. While it is a necessary procedure, and those who have read my books know that I take it very seriously, it isn’t much fun.
Readers who have enjoyed the other two Crossfire novels will probably remember Karl Dietzen, Stefan’s cousin and right hand man. Though Karl is a secondary character in the series, he features prominently in Crossfire: Hearts on Fire, which prompted me to see if I could write a novella with Karl as a main character.
Driftwood takes place in the year 2000, three years before Stefan meets Marcelle, when he is still busy building Omega into the huge organization it was to become in later years. For readers who have grown to love Stefan, he doesn’t feature in Driftwood, except briefly near the end. But even that brief glimpse will give readers a strong insight into the kind of person he was before he met Marcelle.
Driftwood can stand alone as a romance novella, but also serves to introduce the Crossfire Series. So certainly, I am hoping that new readers will go on to pick up the rest of the series. For the next three months, Driftwood will be available on Amazon exclusively, but readers who use other platforms need not despair. If you have a PC, a tablet or a smartphone, you can go here to download the free kindle software that will enable you to read Driftwood.
And that’s not the only good news. Tomorrow (24th), Saturday (25th) and Sunday (26th), Driftwood will be free on Amazon. This is the first time I’m running a free promotion on Amazon, so take advantage while you can. And if you love it, please tell your friends, or drop a short review, if you have the time. A review can be a single sentence, such as these two from Nook readers. When I read that first review, I had a smile plastered on my face for three days straight. I don’t need long reviews, that first gut reaction is good enough for me.
Last night, I went to see Twilight: Breaking Dawn. This movie opened in South Africa about 5 weeks ago, but I waited until now to see it. To give you a little bit of background, I am a Twilight nut. I simply love the story (hate Bella, but love the story). I have read each of the Twilight books two to three times, and I have seen all of the Twilight movies at least 5 times.
What I loved about the movies was that they kept so closely to the book, and the characters were so well cast. I hate it when I read a book series, such as the Jason Bourne series, which I was also crazy about, and then a Jason Bourne movie comes out. I go there with great expectations, and what do I find? A completely different story, different plot, and a man with the face of a child, (yes, I love Matt Damon, but not in that role), who looks nothing like Jason Bourne. So, I’ve been burned before, but never by Twilight.
My thoughts on the movie, while not as exciting as the previous ones, I enjoyed it more than the book. Why? Well, part of the Breaking Dawn book was told by Jacob, and I am firmly Team Edward, so I didn’t enjoy seeing things from Jacob’s point of view, but that is purely a personal preference.
Anyway, the reason why I took five weeks to see Twilight: Breaking Dawn was because I was editing my second novel Crossfire: Fire & Ice. And when I’m working, nothing else matters. Perhaps I am too obsessed for my own good, but when my eyes were open, I was editing, and when I wasn’t editing, I could hear a clock ticking in the back of my mind. The reason for this was that a wonderful thing had happened. Readers had started contacting me via Twitter, via my email, and even on this blog, asking me about the sequel for Crossfire. I promised many of them that the sequel will be out by Christmas, and that was a promise I planned to keep. So here it is. Crossfire: Fire & Ice is available on Smashwords and on Amazon. For those of you who have patiently waited, I say thank you, and enjoy.
Chapter One is available here in a previous post.
Marcelle stood on the winners’ podium, surveying the expectant faces gazing up at her. She searched the crowd for the face of the person who gave her victories meaning, craving the mischievous wink, the smile full of promises.
He wasn’t there, could never be there again.
This time was always the worst for her, when he wasn’t there to share her triumph. Her face ached as she forced another smile, trying to share the mood of her exuberant fans. She wanted to go home, but that was just a futile dream. Once the podium ceremony was complete, there would be the obligatory interviews, where she would tell lies to eager reporters asking inane questions. To win the Carrefour Cycle Classic three years in a row was an exceptional achievement, but she could never tell them her victories made her sad. She could never tell them every day was a challenge.
Two long years have dragged by since the death of her husband, Jean-Michel Deschamps, Formula One racing driver, darling of the French crowds, and thrice World Champion. He had died too young, meeting his fate at 150 miles per hour as the spectators screamed in disbelief and dread.
Cold overcast conditions had persisted during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix, and the sun had not come out for her since that traumatic day. The shock remained fresh in her memory, when she had stared in horror as her husband’s car had spun out of control, cart wheeling in a ghoulish display of acrobatics before slamming into a safety wall.
In the ambulance, she had held his hand as the paramedics tried to keep him alive. Despite their efforts, the Frenchman slipped into a coma, the result of severe head injuries. He died a week later, without regaining consciousness. France declared a day of mourning for her favorite son, and immediately arranged a huge funeral.
As the anguished nation grieved, a stunned Marcelle had stared at the walls, still hearing her husband’s voice in the quiet apartment, unwilling to believe he had left her alone. During his illustrious career, Jean-Michel had twice walked away from spectacular crashes, the only occasions when his phenomenal skills had failed him. It had given rise to a superstitious rumor that he led a charmed life, and even she had started to believe it. At the age of thirty-two, the champion had been riding the crest of the wave, sure to capture the World Title for the fourth time in eight years.
After the funeral, she had fled France, seeking refuge from the prying eyes of the press and the grief of the French public. In solitude and blessed anonymity, she tried to come to terms with the loss of her husband.
Three months later, she returned to her adopted country, her grief buried deep, and picked up the pieces of her life. Her racing career flourished as she became nearly unbeatable, training harder and longer to fill the empty hours. Each day she longed anew for the red agony of muscles pushed too hard and lungs taxed to the limit, as she searched for the black void where pain didn’t exist.
The Mayor of Paris brought her attention back to the present as he held a massive gold cup towards her. She schooled her face into a warm smile and accepted the trophy, kissing the tall Frenchman on each cheek.
The young victor kept her speech short, thanking her team, her team manager and her sponsors. She spoke fluent French, and the crowd cheered. Everybody loves a winner, and she looked like one. She was lean and strong, with slim hips and tight buttocks attesting to the many hours she spent honing her body. Her legs were long and tanned, perhaps too muscular for a woman, but perfect for one of the top female cyclists of all time.
People often stared at her, as if a mere glance wasn’t enough to satisfy their curiosity. The source of their fascination came from the contrast between her tanned skin and her light grey eyes. Dark grey rings circled each iris, and in the right light, only the rings were visible. Most people found this mesmerizing, if somewhat creepy.
Marcelle knew people stared, and cultivated a long fringe, which she could flick forward to hide her eyes whenever she felt the need. Her shiny hair hung halfway to her shoulders, and the color was phenomenal, impossible to duplicate in a salon. The base color was dark honey blonde, but the sun had bleached many strands until they became gold, white blond and strawberry blond.
Certainly, the rest of her face warranted a second look. Her skin was flawless, her teeth regular and gleaming white, and her rosy lips held an unspoken promise for those who cared to fantasize about their softness.
Her trademark easy smile and cheeky dimples was just a memory in the minds of those who knew the young widow before her husband died. Some claimed they occasionally caught a glimpse of the woman she used to be, but most agreed she had lost the light that used to shine from within her.
She was the picture of health as she raised the cup above her head in triumph. The gesture was for the benefit of the press photographers only. She hugged the two women who had come second and third. At a slender five foot eight, she was an attractive contrast to their more muscled bodies. Of course, she wore the rainbow jersey of the current World Champion, a jersey she had made her own.
~ . ~
An hour later, Marcelle had freed herself from the reporters and autograph hunters. In the change rooms, she pulled on her tracksuit and sneakers, foregoing a shower in her haste to get home. Hefting her heavy trophy and her kitbag, she made her way towards her car, a racing red Ferrari Testa Rossa, a present from Jean-Michel.
The bus had left with the rest of the team, along with her racing bikes and equipment, so she was free to drive straight home. There she planned to relax in a warm tub to soothe her aching muscles. The Ferrari let out a joyous roar as she turned the ignition key and pumped the throttle.
As she shifted into gear, she reflected on the huge apartment waiting for her, empty without Jean-Michel. Though they had often been apart for weeks because of busy racing schedules, this was different. The future looked bleak to the young widow as she threaded through the early evening Paris traffic. Tomorrow was Monday, the start of another week. The thought provoked a deep sigh.
Now the heat of competition had died down, she could feel tendrils of ice growing in her chest again. In the beginning, when the grief had been raw and new, she had welcomed the ice, had craved the insulation it gave her from the agony of loss.
As the months passed by, the ice turned out to be an enemy. Soon it had taken over, threatening to choke the life out of her as it crushed her lungs and froze her heart. The ice filled her with a constant feeling of fear, telling her she was one half of a whole, and wouldn’t survive alone. She never told anyone about the ice, because it sounded crazy, even to her own ears.
The logical side of her mind told her there was no ice, and that the icy numbness of shock she had felt after Jean-Michel’s death had turned into dread, which had manifested as a cold chill in her body. The desperate fluttering she felt at times in her chest and the difficulty breathing was most likely a panic attack, when the anxiety became too much.
Her logical mind told her so, but she preferred to give it a name, and imagine the ice was an outside force that invaded her body. It was easier to focus on the ice than on the pain that shredded her insides into mincemeat.
Only in competition and training could she generate enough heat to melt the ice, allowing her to breathe freely. Occasionally the effect lasted for several hours afterwards, allowing her to feel again, which presented a new problem. Without the pain of exertion, she would concentrate too much on the pain inside, and find herself curled up on her side, biting her clenched fist to stop her screams.
Sometimes fire melted the ice during the night, when she dreamed of Jean-Michel, and the fire that consumed him. She had come to recognize the fire as symbolic of her guilt, and in her dreams, the fire burned her until she woke from the sound of her own screams. Those were her two realities, fire or ice, neither of which eased her mind.
~ . ~
Marcelle decided to pick up her mail on the way home. She didn’t want her home address to be common knowledge, and rented a private box at a small post office near the outskirts of Paris. It coincided most often with her regular route home, which was why she had chosen it.
After parking near the entrance, she directed a worried glance at her quiet surroundings, wondering if she should rather come back during business hours. She decided against it, jogging over the gravel towards the mirrored doors. It would only take a minute.
She hurriedly entered the lobby after shoving open the swing doors, but had gone only a few steps when her right foot hooked on something. The speed of her passage allowed no time for recovery. She sprawled headlong onto her stomach, skidding over the smooth tiles with outstretched arms, feeling something hard digging into her hip.
She jumped to her feet, alarm bells jangling in her brain, the adrenalin rush rendering her breathless. What? Where? Who?
Nobody pounced on her.
She noticed the dark outline of a man sitting against the wall. His outstretched legs had tripped her. He seemed unaware of her presence, and as if to reiterate the fact, toppled over to the side, coming to rest with his face against the tiles.
She waited, holding her breath. Nothing more happened, and in the silence, she heard the man’s rasping, labored breathing. Clearly, he needed help. She expelled her breath and moved towards him. Her left foot collided against something, sending it skittering a few feet forward. She bent down and picked up the object. The gun’s grip was slippery with blood, and she grimaced at the uncomfortable sensation, holding it between thumb and forefinger. More cautious now, she crept towards the fallen man.
She nudged him with a foot. ”
M’sieur, can you hear me?”
The man gave her no reply, but as her eyes became accustomed to the gloom, she could see him more clearly. He was dressed in black, and was perhaps six feet tall. Tangled blond hair hung to his shoulders, matted with blood trickling from a wound on his left temple. Blood from the same wound covered the left side of his face, partly obscuring his features. His face was deathly pale, and she knew the stain beneath him was blood, too much of it.
She was about to sink to her knees to help the man, when she heard the crunch of a shoe in the gravel outside the door. She froze. Friend or foe? Before she could react, a slender, swarthy man of medium height pushed the doors open, a gun in his hand.
The man advanced towards her, dark eyes darting from her to the fallen stranger and back. “Has fate robbed me of my destiny? Has the great warrior died like a dog in the streets?” He spoke French with a thick accent, contempt in every word.
Marcelle swallowed, unsure if she should answer. The man clearly hadn’t seen the gun in her hand, because he lowered his weapon, his confidence making him careless. She turned to conceal her firearm further, wrapping her fingers around the butt, no longer caring about the blood on the weapon.
“You have been helping him, perhaps? You are one of his people?” The man’s tone carried a threat she took to heart. He took another step towards the blond stranger, who did indeed look dead. If he wasn’t, she knew he would be soon. She would have to act fast.
She brought her gun into view, pointing it at the gunman. “That’s close enough,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
The aspiring killer turned to face his new adversary. The smirk left his face when he saw the weapon, but after scrutinizing her for a second, he smiled. “If you were one of his people, I would be dead already, I think.” He took a step towards her. “Do you want to die for a man you don’t even know?” He shook his head. “I think not, but if you give me the gun, I’ll let you drive away in your fancy Ferrari.”
She stared into his cold eyes, seeing the soul of a killer, not believing him for a minute. How could she leave the stranger to his deadly mercies? The gunman had made his intentions clear. Technically, she would be an accessory to murder.
When she didn’t respond, the killer’s tone hardened. “If we wait for my friends to arrive, they’ll kill you, but they might want to have some fun first, when they see what a sexy girl you are.” He took another step towards her, stretching out his hand. “Come on, we both know you won’t shoot. Give me the gun, before it’s too late.”
Marcelle stared at him, remembering another time, another place. Hatred rose in her chest, threatening to cut off her breathing. Her finger tightened around the trigger as her eyes turned to stone.
* * * *
This is just a little taste of my novel “Crossfire” which is available on Kindle and Smashwords. It is an action romance (does such a genre exist?) of approx 70 000 words and this excerpt below is the first chapter. All comments are welcome.
Time stood still for a long moment as the April sun sank behind tall buildings, rushing shadows applauding the victorious darkness. No birdsong comforted the sun as she bled from mortal wounds. Silence reigned in the industrial area on the outskirts of Paris, abandoned for the weekend.
A black crow sat on a rooftop, silhouetted against the bloodied battleground of the sky. The bird shook shiny feathers, peering at a large cat foraging in the alley. The cat scattered without warning, and then the bird heard it too, heavy footfalls, approaching fast.
A man appeared, running unsteadily, one outstretched hand using the filthy wall of the narrow alley for balance, and the other pressed against his abdomen. As the crow watched, the lean stranger stumbled and fell. Curious, the scavenger leaned forward with more interest. The man dragged himself back to his feet, uneasily glancing over his shoulder before resuming his run. The bird watched him go.
If the wounded man had seen the crow, he gave no sign as he continued his headlong flight into the dusk. He ran with the desperation of a hunted animal, intent only on survival. Though darkness exerted a stranglehold on the light, the fleeing man knew his ally wouldn’t triumph soon enough to save him. The deserted streets confirmed what he already knew, that he couldn’t expect help from anyone. Perhaps it was better this way. He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if more innocents died in the crossfire.
The man knew he had reached the end of his strength reserves. He had run nearly two kilometers since escaping the hail of death directed at himself and his men. With every beat of his heart, he could feel more blood pouring out of the ragged exit wounds the bullets had left.
By now, his assailants knew he had escaped their ambush. Soon they’ll start combing the area, baying like bloodhounds at the scent of his spilled blood. The grim thought prompted a new turn of speed from his tired legs.
Then, he saw it. A yellow La Poste sign. He knew security gates barred the locked inner doors of the building’s lobby, but the outer swing doors couldn’t lock. The open doors allowed customers to collect their mail from the locked post boxes outside of normal hours.
His clouding vision fixed on the building, the man lurched towards his sanctuary, his boots crunching in the coarse gravel. The post office would afford him refuge, and a chance to fight. Undetected, he could remain there until dark, and then go to the emergency rendezvous.
He fell against the mirrored swing doors, using his momentum to push them open as he cast a final glance over his shoulder. He hung there for a moment, swallowing hard as he tried to still his ragged breathing, listening for sounds of pursuit.
Reassured, he picked a spot about ten feet from the entrance, and sank to the floor, resting his back against the wall, stretching his legs out in front of him. A moan escaped past tight lips as the pain threatened to overwhelm his senses. He pushed the darkness away, gritting his teeth. Pain signaled life, even as it promised possible death. The thought reminded him he had no time to waste.
Awkwardly he removed a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic from the belt of his jeans. His left arm was useless to him as he tried to reload the gun, but after a few failed attempts, the full magazine slid into the weapon. Feeling a surge of triumph, the man clasped the pistol between his knees and pulled the slide back with his right hand, feeding a bullet into the chamber. He put the gun on the floor next to him, ready for use. He repeated the process with a second identical pistol, afterwards pushing the weapon back into one of two holsters nestling in the small of his back.
His immediate survival assured, he put his right hand beneath his black leather jacket, trying to assess his injuries. He found his shirt and jeans soaked with blood, but he didn’t have the means, or the energy, to stop the bleeding. Shock had him in an icy grasp, stealing away his resolve. Nausea coiled in his stomach, and he shivered as an ominous chill infiltrated his body.
Fighting his failing senses, he realized he didn’t have the strength to walk to the emergency meeting. His assailants will find him, and corner him, in this cold, dark place. He’ll fight, but save one bullet for his own use, if things start to look hopeless. They’ll never take him alive, not again.
* * * *
Chapter Two is in the next post.