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.
* * * *
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. 🙂
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.”
# # #
Beter late than never, is what I always say. I had promised that my new book, Lily’s Reprieve, would be available at the end of January 2013. And I almost made it, except I was two weeks late. 😉 But sometimes life intrudes, and I’m sticking to that story. Lily’s Reprieve, which is book one of The Blackstone Trilogy, is available now at Barnes & Noble, Apple Itunes, Smashwords and Kobo.
This is my first foray into paranormal romance, so I have made the book free at Smashwords, and it will soon be free at all retailers except Amazon. I plan to add two more books to the series to complete the Blackstone Trilogy.
I have included a picture of the cover for Lily’s Reprieve. If anyone is wondering what is on the cover, I am happy to explain. That is what it looks like when the gorgeous, yummy, handsome and sexy Aidan Knight disappears in a brilliant flash of light. Why, do you ask? Well, you’ll have to download the book to find out.
***** UPDATE Hearts on Fire is available at all major ebook retailers***** UPDATE
Hearts on Fire is finally available at Barnes and Noble, at the iBookstore and Sony. I would like to thank #Smashwords for working tirelessly to ensure that everyone can obtain my books, no matter where they are in the world, or what device they are using.
***** UPDATE Hearts on Fire is available at all major ebook retailers***** UPDATE
I have noticed from search engine results and from the comments section that readers are looking for Crossfire: Hearts on Fire at Barnes &Noble, the Apple iBook Store and the Sony store. For now, Hearts on Fire can be found at Amazon , Smashwords , Diesel and Kobo.
As a South African, I cannot publish directly to B&N and the iBook store, or even Sony. So I go through Smashwords, who distributes to these online stores. It takes a little while, because Smashwords does a manual review of the book to ensure that they are happy with it before they will give it Premium Distribution. Normally it takes about two weeks for the review, after which they will send it to the various stores. I have found that for the Apple store and for B&N it takes a further two weeks to appear, but with the Sony store, it’s normally a few days.
So, realistically, Hearts on Fire won’t be available at B&N or the Apple iBook store before maybe June 10, or even later. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news. Because Smashwords is a distributor for these stores, they have all the formats available in their own retail store. So it doesn’t matter if you have a Nook, a Sony reader, an iPad or an iPhone, you will find the correct format at Smashwords. So for those of you who want to read the third and final book in the Crossfire Trilogy now, please make your way to Smashwords by clicking on the link.
I have also had some enquiries regarding the spinoff novella Driftwood that I wrote for Kindle, which is only available at Amazon. Driftwood will be available at the other stores around the middle of June. Yes, that was a little experiment of mine, which I regret, and I will certainly never again make any book of mine exclusively available at any particular store.
Crossfire, the first book in the Crossfire Trilogy, is available for free at all major online retailers. Everyone, that is, except Amazon. Unlike Smashwords, Amazon does not give me the freedom to decide if I want to give a book away. There is a way around it, though. If enough customers report a lower price elsewhere, Amazon will usually match the price, which in this case, will make Crossfire a free book at Amazon. It’s very easy to do. Just go to the Crossfire page at Amazon, and click on the link that says ‘tell us about a lower price.’ Then you put in the link for B&N or iBook Store or Sony where Crossfire is free, and you’re done. If enough people do that, Amazon will have to react, and I would really appreciate the help.
The trend I’m seeing at the moment is that Amazon customers download the free copy of Crossfire from Smashwords, and then go on to purchase the second and third one from Amazon. This would make it impossible for their collection to be displayed together, because the free copy will be listed as a personal document on their kindle, whereas the Amazon purchased copies will be listed as books. So, please help, it will only take a few minutes of your time.
I would like to thank everyone who has purchased books in the Crossfire Trilogy, and certainly from the feedback I’ve had so far, the books have been well received.
It is now 04:14 on a Wednesday morning in South Africa, but I know somewhere in the world, it’s still Tuesday. So I think that still counts. I kept my promise, and Crossfire: Hearts on Fire is available on Smashwords and Amazon.
By the way, for those who read the first few chapters of Hearts on Fire at the end of Fire & Ice, it would be worth it to start Hearts on Fire from the beginning, because I made a few changes to those first few chapters.
Happy reading to all, and thanks for your patience. (I’m going to bed now, and I plan to sleep for a week.)