A little while ago, while feeling nostalgic for my favorite characters, I reread the Crossfire Trilogy and also the Driftwood Trilogy, and an interesting thought occurred to me. Is the Driftwood Trilogy really a spinoff of the Crossfire Trilogy, or is it just a continuation of the story, with the prequel, in the form of Crossfire: Driftwood thrown in somewhere in the middle. And I wondered to myself if I shouldn’t rather rebrand and market the six books as the Crossfire Series instead. But then I wondered whether Crossfire: Driftwood shouldn’t then be the first book in the series. After all, chronologically Driftwood happened many years before Crossfire.
But then I remembered that I wrote Driftwood after finishing the Crossfire Trilogy, and that Driftwood demonstrated some of the fears and problems that Marcelle had carried over to the first Crossfire book. And I realized that Driftwood needed to be read with the knowledge of the Crossfire Trilogy already in mind. I think it heightens the tension a bit more that the reader can easily guess who the strange man is that Nancy finds on the beach, simply by his description, and it lends a particular note to the story that the reader has information that the main protagonist, Nancy does not have.
So in the end I decided that the order is correct, and that Driftwood should be the fourth book in the series, because it also answers a question that is posed in Crossfire: Hearts on Fire, which is why is Karl so bitter and twisted about Nancy?
So yes, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about this, mainly because when I look at sales figures, it is obvious to me that the Driftwood Trilogy has not had the same sales numbers as the Crossfire Trilogy. Not that it has sold badly at all, but what I mean is it is obvious to me that many people who read and enjoyed the Crossfire Trilogy didn’t go on to read the Driftwood Trilogy. It makes me wonder if I failed in my marketing of the two trilogies, and didn’t make it obvious enough that the two are connected?
This returns me to my first question, whether I shouldn’t rather rebrand the six books as one series. I would love some input on this, if anyone has an opinion. I don’t know if an author is allowed to love their own books, but I love the saga of Marcelle, Stefan, Kris, Karl and Nancy and their trials though the years. Those characters have been with me for a long time, because I wrote the Crossfire Trilogy way back in the nineties! And I realized upon reading it again that the Crossfire and Driftwood trilogies are primarily about betrayal and forgiveness. And whether love, whether romantic or familial love, can really overcome all.
And I really hope in real life that it can overcome all, because in this past year our family has experienced the lows of betrayal and anger as we were forced to go to court to protect a minor child from a predator. I can’t say too much about it, save to speak hypothetically. Let’s just say that there are predators who like to target single, sometimes desperate, women with a child or children of a certain age. Do you see where I’m going with this? And sometimes this woman is blind to what is happening, or what could potentially happen, and no amount of talking or reasoning will help, leaving her family no choice but to resort to the highest court in the country to keep this child safe, and keep this predator away from her.
We have provisionally succeeded, but the case is still on going, and the threats and abuse from the respondent in the case has been on going for this entire year. The cost to our family has been enormous, both financial and emotional, and our relationship with the respondent has been destroyed, which means we stand to lose everything, including our relationship with the child in question, if we should fail in our endeavor to protect her.
But I’ve always believed that the only way that evil can succeed in the world is if good people do nothing. And when I look at this beautiful child with her whole life still ahead of her, I know it will all be worth it in the end, knowing that we have prevented her childhood from being stolen from her. One day I will be able to face her and say to her that I did everything in my power to protect her. But the cost has been great, not the least in my productivity as a writer. I’ve been trying to get the third Blackstone book written, but all too often have found myself staring out of the window, my thoughts far away as I try to find a way to settle this whole affair peacefully, and try to heal the rift in our family at the same time.
And sometimes I have to wonder when things are going to improve. I mean 2015 was a pretty crap year health wise as I wrote in this blog post and this one . But still I managed to bring out Crossfire: Broken earlier this year, which I believe, and which some reviews have also mentioned, is one of my best books to date, in terms of the conflict and tension, and I must say that I loved writing it, because even though my body was hurting, it was an escape for me, and more importantly, I was fully immersed in my characters.
But now, my mind is restless and my soul is tortured. What do you say when your godchild says to you with tears in her eyes that sometimes she pinches herself to check if she isn’t a ghost, because her mother, (the respondent in this case) barely talks to her, and pushes her away when she wants to hug her. She is in agony, our family is in agony. I am in agony. But the child’s mother is filled with revenge and rage and hatred because she feels she has been wronged, and that we shouldn’t have interfered. It is monstrous, and unbelievable that in today’s times it should be so difficult to protect a child.
I must apologise for such a morbid post, but I felt that you guys deserve to hear the truth about why the third Blackstone book won’t be ready in December. I will do my best to complete it as soon as I can. I know that many of you are waiting to see what happens next, and I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m hoping that I might have it done by March at the latest. If I manage to finish it earlier, I will always announce it here first. 🙂
And what a relief, I have to say. I’m looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation, and then it’s back to work to finish the Blackstone Trilogy. So without further delay, Crossfire: Broken is available at Smashwords , Amazon , Itunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Thank you to all the readers who came to this blog to chat to me and chase me a little bit, I really needed it. Thanks again.
As I promised a few days ago, here are the first three chapters of the third Driftwood book, which is provisionally being called Crossfire: Broken.
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2016 Niki Savage
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Niki Savage.
Book 3 of the Driftwood Trilogy
Clad in a black leather teddy, the six foot tall blonde dominatrix shook out the coils of the bullwhip she held in her hand. Some distance in front of her stood her helpless victim, but in this case, not quite so helpless. He has chosen to be here, has even brought the whip he wanted her to use, and has decided for himself how many lashes she should give him. He wanted two hundred in total, divided into ten visits. His visits were irregular, mostly four weeks apart, but after his third visit he was absent for seven weeks, leaving her panicking at the prospect of losing her biggest paying customer.
This was his fifth visit, and by the end of it, he would have received one hundred lashes in total. By now, their routine was familiar, with him already in position by the time she entered the room. It was a bit disappointing, because she would’ve liked to see his face before she punished him.
She had an intense interest in human nature, and wished that she knew why this beautiful man needed her to punish him so viciously. A bullwhip in her expert hands was a fearsome instrument. Though she was supremely skilled with the instrument, able to inflict maximum pain without breaking the skin, it was still a terrifying and excruciating experience.
None but the most hard core enthusiasts came to her for this particular treat, and even they often invoked the safe word by the fifth lash, and that was when she was going easy on them, using the bullwhip to terrify more than to injure. But it was enough for many of them to get turned on enough to get their reward, a fuck that blew their minds, because she was good at that too.
Which was why this man vexed her. She had noticed right from the start that he derived no sexual gratification from the whipping or the humiliation. Whatever pain or anger he felt, he internalized, because little of it showed on the outside. But she knew he felt the pain, because after their last meeting he had winced when putting his shirt back on. That wince had been enough to give her the sexual gratification she sought. This was a job, after all, but she wouldn’t be doing it if she didn’t enjoy it.
She focused on the man in front of her. He wasn’t secured to the rack, rather he gripped where the shackles protruded, which made it look as if he was restrained, but it was just an illusion. She knew it was for her benefit, and he has never let go of the shackles during a beating, maintaining the effect that he was helpless.
His back was smooth and tanned, showing no marks from the eighty lashes she had inflicted over the past four months, and she was proud of herself for that. He stood about six feet tall in his blue denims and black boots, and his thick black hair hung to where his neck met his shoulders. She remembered from before that he had piercing pale blue eyes, which he often hid by allowing his hair to fall into his eyes, playboy style. He always had a few days of dark stubble on his jaw, but it looked good on him. Again, she wondered why he felt in need of punishment, and she wondered about the precise amount of lashes he had requested.
But she had a job to do, so without further delay she sent the whip snaking in his direction. It let out a satisfying crack before it connected his skin, and she was gratified to see him flinch. Without giving him a moment to compose himself, she sent the lash in his direction again, harder this time.
The man sucked in a huge lungful of air after the fifth lash, and she wondered if he was about to scream, like so many of them did, but again he disappointed her, dropping his head and absorbing the pain. But she wanted his pain, wanted to see his pain, hear his pain, and so she sent the whip out again, her blood singing in her ears as the whip cracked before making contact. The man didn’t use his safe word, and she realized that this was what he wanted. She had been too easy on him until now. He wanted the pain, and she no longer cared why, intent on drawing her own satisfaction from hurting him.
~ . ~
The man hanging on the rack was in a world of agony. Fire consumed his entire body, and reignited every time the lash of the whip bit into his skin. Breathing was difficult, because the dominatrix wielding the whip gave him no time to recover between lashes. Finally the woman understood what he wanted, understood that he needed to be punished. Her blows were harder than before, and as a red haze of pain clouded his senses, he wondered if she had finally seen his black soul. If she knew what he had done, she wouldn’t stop beating him until he lay dead on the floor.
He wished that he had the courage to let his tormentor tie him up, so that he could feel the helplessness that ‘she’ must have felt. Even after all this time, he couldn’t say her name, not even in his thoughts. He wasn’t worthy, wouldn’t be worthy until all the poison had been bled from his soul. With every blow that rained on his back, more poison seeped from him. But would it ever be enough, or would he become addicted to the pain, needing more and more of it to feel the peace that came afterwards?
He bit back the cry that rose to his lips as the lash cut his skin, and after the fierce burn, he felt a warm rivulet of blood dribbling down his violated skin, soaking into the waistband of his jeans. Yes, his tormentor finally understood. He needed her to beat him like a bad dog. She had to make him pay for his sins.
~ . ~
By the time the dominatrix came to her senses, the man had multiple rivulets of blood dribbling down his back, but still he held on to the shackles on the rack. He had taken all twenty lashes without using the safe word, which made this a dangerous situation, for her as well as for him. If she couldn’t control herself, and he didn’t stop her, where would it end?
“It’s over,” she said loudly, expecting that he would let go of the shackles and reach for his shirt, as he had before.
But after letting go of the shackles, he slowly sank to the floor, remaining on his knees and hugging himself as if to keep the pain inside. She ripped her mask off and ran to him as fast as her stiletto boots allowed. From close up his wounds looked bad, and she cursed herself for losing control. She touched the man’s shoulder with her gloved hand, but he didn’t respond to her touch.
“Are you alright?” she asked, tugging more urgently at his shoulder.
He took a deep breath and turned to her. “Like that,” he said in a husky voice. “That’s what I want, just like that, every time.”
She was unaware that her mouth had dropped open as she stared at him, noticing how his blue eyes glittered in the dimly lit room, as if a light came from inside them. Whether it was the light of near insanity she couldn’t say for sure, but it made her feel sick to her stomach.
* * * *
Karl glanced at Nancy, who sat beside him on the veranda of her house in Sandton. On the large green lawn in front of them, Danny played with the boy from next door. After their return from their holiday on the North Coast of South Africa, Danny looked tanned and healthy, so different from the pale, emaciated child he had rescued from the Somali pirates.
At the same time as he remembered the rescue, the unwelcome image of Stefan broken and motionless on the deck of the pirate ship flashed through his mind. He moved uncomfortably, shaking his head slightly.
Nancy put a comforting hand on his thigh. “What’s wrong? You look as if the world’s just descended on your shoulders.”
He sighed. “It’s back to reality tomorrow, I guess.”
She stroked his thigh gently. “It doesn’t have to be.”
He turned to her, a slight frown on his forehead. “I don’t understand.”
“You could stay longer, or maybe forever.”
Karl’s frown deepened. “I thought we agreed that once we’re married, our home will be on La Montagne.”
“I know, but these past ten days have been heavenly. It was so nice to see you on the beach, just being a normal father to your son.”
“I am a normal father. What are you getting at?”
“You’re not a normal father, Karl, not really. I worry about what might happen to Danny if you were suddenly…gone. He’s grown so attached to you that I fear he might never recover.”
“What’s brought this on?” he said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.
Nancy clasped both her hands in her lap. She stared at Danny and his friend clambering on the jungle gym for a few moments before she took a deep breath. “I can’t stop thinking about…Stefan and Marcelle. It’s been ten months, and nobody knows if Stefan’s even still alive. It’s so horrible, and I can’t imagine what Marcelle and her children must be going through.”
Karl clenched his teeth and counted to ten before he said, “Marcelle is tough, and she’s a good mother. She’ll get through this.”
“I don’t care how tough she is. The love of her life is missing, presumed dead, and one day her little boys are going to want to know where Stefan is.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Karl said, keeping his tone even while trying to relax the tension gathering between his shoulder blades.
“Have you seen Marcelle recently? I just assumed that I would run into her on La Montagne, but Charlotte told me she hasn’t been back since she left with her kids.”
Karl cleared his throat. “I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“While Stefan was in hospital you were all over her, and now you’re just ignoring her? Why?”
“I’ve been busy with the search for Stefan, and running Omega, and visiting you and Danny. And in between all that, I’ve led a few missions in Europe, and two in Africa. We’re running short of senior personnel with Heinrich and me sharing the administrative duties. I’m going to appoint a senior man to do the admin, because Heinrich and I are required in the field. Our expertise is wasted behind a desk.”
“But you’re safe there.”
Karl stiffened. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you think it’s time?”
“Karl, you have me, and you have Danny. Imagine how we would feel if one day…”
“Get to the point, Nancy.”
“I just mean I would sleep better if I knew you were safe. You asked me last week to marry you, and I said I would think about it. But all I’ve been able to think about is…” She pressed her hands to her mouth. “I can’t say it.”
Karl didn’t answer her, keeping his eyes focused on the boys playing in the yard.
When Nancy touched his arm, he stiffened. “Is this what you think about all day? Me dead and you alone? I thought we’d moved past that?”
“I can’t get past it. Every day I think about Marcelle and imagine her pain, and I know I wouldn’t survive it if that had to happen to us. Her children are too young to remember Stefan, but Danny is turning eight next year.”
“I’m trying to think where this conversation is leading. What are you trying to achieve here?”
“I want you to choose us. Choose life. Be with us.” When Karl didn’t answer she carried on fervently, “I’ll marry you and live on La Montagne with you. I’ll give up my job and my friends and everything I know. We can have more children, anything you want. I love you, so much.”
Karl jumped to his feet, his agitation not allowing him to remain seated. “I seem to recall we’ve had this conversation before.”
“I know what I said in Mozambique.”
“My viewpoint hasn’t changed.”
“You just learned to hide it a bit better, didn’t you?” Karl said, a sneer marring his handsome features. “You thought if you gave me time to get attached to Danny, I might give in this time, and let you neuter me for good.”
“Neuter? What do you mean?”
“What do you think it would do to me to watch my men go on missions while I sit behind a desk? I’m still a young man, and in the best shape of my life. My skills are in demand on the battlefield, and the war we’re fighting against terrorism is far from over.”
“What about Danny? I love him, but I’d prefer it if he remembered me as a man who fought for what he believed in, rather than a weakling who spent his time behind a desk so his wife could feel secure. Do you realize what you’re asking me do? You might as well cut my balls off and put them on your mantelpiece as a trophy.”
“That’s not what I want. Please, just listen to me.”
“I have listened to you. You’re singing the same tune you sang in Mozambique and I didn’t fall for it then, nor am I falling for it now.”
Nancy’s back stiffened. “You’re being very disrespectful. I don’t deserve this.” She wrung her hands together in her lap until her knuckles showed white. “I want you to think about this, and I want you to choose. I deserve more than what you’re giving me.”
Karl’s mouth fell open in surprise. “You mean my love isn’t enough? I’ve taken you back into my life, despite the circumstances of your rescue. Despite the fact that my best friend is missing, possibly dead, and his wife is in agony. I’ve looked past all that and loved you and Danny anyway. And now you say that isn’t enough.”
“True love demands sacrifice.”
Karl laughed incredulously. “Sacrifice? What about the sacrifice Marcelle has made? Her husband is gone. My friend is gone. We made sacrifices so that you could live. But what have you sacrificed?”
Nancy remained silent and dropped her gaze to her lap.
“Tell me!” he shouted with such vehemence that she jumped in her seat.
“I feel as if you hate me right now,” she said in a small voice.
“Hate is overrated as an emotion,” he said coldly. “I warned you if you started your shit again, I would walk away without looking back. Well, consider me gone.”
“But what about Danny?”
“I won’t let you use him as a weapon against me. Call me if you want him to visit and I’ll send the plane for him.” He shrugged. “Or don’t. But whatever you do, you’ll have to answer for it when he’s older.”
Nancy stared at him, her eyes bright with tears. “I guess I was a fool thinking this could work.”
“No, I was the fool to let you draw me back in again. Goodbye, Nancy.”
Without a further word, he strode into the house and grabbed his bags, still packed from their trip to the coast.
Five minutes later, he was in his rented BMW, speeding up the street, heading for the airport. But the anger seething inside him needed an outlet and a short while later he pulled into a side street and cut the engine.
For a few seconds he sat motionless, trying to bring himself under control. But his breathing increased as he lost the battle, and he roared with rage as he slammed both his fists onto the steering wheel, again and again as his fury rose inside him like a tidal wave.
Long minutes passed before his anger ebbed, leaving him wrung out and breathless.
He should have taken the time to say goodbye to Danny before he left, he thought, filled with regret as he imagined the boy’s surprise to find him gone. But Nancy had left him no choice. The moment she had started speaking about Marcelle the scene had been set for a confrontation.
He has made every effort to get over what happened to Marcelle and Stefan, and move on with his life, and it was partly the reason why he’s avoided contact with Marcelle. He moved uncomfortably at the thought, remembering the vow he had made. But instead of keeping his vow, he had chased his own happiness, enjoying a carefree holiday while Marcelle suffered and Stefan remained lost.
Inadvertently Nancy had reminded him of that fact, while at the same time pushing her own agenda. Instinctively he knew that getting out of there had been the right thing to do. He had left before he said things he could never recall. The amount of anger he still felt towards Nancy had astonished him. He thought he had moved past all that, but the mere mention of Marcelle and her pain about the loss of Stefan had brought it all to the fore again. Without knowing it, Nancy had pushed all the wrong buttons and sabotaged herself in the process.
The guilt settled heavily on his shoulders. He could never give Nancy what she wanted, and he could never give Marcelle back what she needed. But maybe he should at least try.
~ . ~
Karl checked into the Southern Sun Airport hotel but declined the porter’s offer to carry his bags to his room, preferring to do it himself. He had no choice but to stay overnight, because the Omega jet was only due to pick him up the next morning, and wasn’t even on route yet, which was fortunate. He picked up his phone and made the call to cancel the jet. He planned to take a commercial flight to his next destination.
* * * *
Marcelle sighed as she pushed open the door of her hotel room in Stuttgart, Germany. She had hoped that winning the world championships for a fourth time might lift her spirits, even if just for a little while, but after the press conference she had felt her mood plummeting. Perhaps the celebrations later would lift her spirits. Several of the French riders were staying in the same hotel, and they planned to meet in the bar downstairs later that evening.
After a long, hot shower, she dressed in a comfortable gray tracksuit and stretched out on top of the covers of the double bed. She was exhausted from her exertions earlier in the day, and fell asleep within minutes.
~ . ~
When she opened her eyes a few hours later, she saw Karl sitting on a chair beside her bed. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. But Karl still sat there, watching her with kindness in his eyes. Her heart plummeted. He had to be the bearer of bad news. She sat up, and without warning, tears spilled from her eyes. No, no, no, no.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sniff. “It’s just a bit of a shock, seeing you here. Is Stefan still alive?”
Karl leaned forward and took one of her hands in his. “To be honest, Tiger, we don’t know. It’s been ten months, and we’ve found no sign of him.”
She stared at the lines of hardship around his mouth, and wondered if Kris had them too. The twins were suffering, not knowing what had happened to the cousin that they had come to regard as a brother.
She flicked her tears away with impatient fingers, angry with herself for having such a fragile hold on her feelings. “So why are you here then?”
“Do I need a reason to see my favorite sister in law?”
Marcelle tried but failed to smile. “I guess not.” She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and rose to her feet.
Karl jumped to his feet and grabbed her shoulder to steady her as she swayed for a moment before finding her balance.
She grimaced. “Sorry, low blood pressure. I shouldn’t get up so fast. And today’s race was hard.”
“For you, Tiger? I can’t believe that.”
“I’m not as fit as I usually am. Yes, I could still give those girls a hiding, but I had to put a lot of effort into it.”
“Well, congratulations. World champion again. But I thought you were planning to sit this season out, and have a baby.”
Marcelle led the way to a couch and sat down. Karl settled next to her.
“Yes, that was the plan,” she said. At Karl’s questioning expression she continued, “They implanted four embryos, and not one of them took. Actually, one of them did take, but I miscarried after six weeks.”
Karl pulled her into his arms. “I’m so sorry. I know you had hoped to draw comfort from carrying Jean-Michel’s child.”
She snuggled against his chest. “Even that has been denied me. The doctors said we can try again in a few months, but I’ve decided against it. I’ve realized that I’m really in a bad headspace right now. The miscarriage was probably nature’s way of protecting me. I’m hardly in a fit state to deal with the hormone changes of pregnancy.”
“So you started training again.”
“Yes, though I had missed most of the season, I trained and gained enough fitness to participate in the Tour de Feminin, and that brought me to race fitness to do world champs. And here I am.”
“And where are the boys?”
“With their grandparents. They’re happy to take care of them. They feel as if they’re getting a second chance with Jean-Michel. They’ve shown me his baby photos, and the resemblance is uncanny. Perhaps this will help them to heal too.”
“But what about Nicky?”
“They regard me as their daughter, and Nicky is a part of me, so as far they’re concerned he’s family too. They call him Nicholas instead of Nikolai, but I guess the French form is easier for them to pronounce.”
“When last did you see them?”
She sat up, moving out of his embrace. “About two months ago,” she said, an expression of guilt passing over her face. “But the season is over now, so I’ll be returning to the farm to be with them again. I’m sure they haven’t even missed me.”
“Are they talking yet?”
Marcelle smiled softly. “Just baby talk so far, but I’m sure they’ll get there.”
“Well, the reason I’m here is to invite you to La Montagne for the off season, the same as always. It’s your home too, you know.”
She shrugged, tears glistening in her eyes. “How can it be my home if Stefan isn’t there?”
“But we’re there, and your friends are there. Everyone would love to see the twins and spend some time with you. You’re family. Please Marcelle. Even if you just come for a month to brush up on your training. Remember you’re a rich woman, and therefore a target for kidnapping. I’m glad to see you’re still wearing your watch.”
Marcelle lovingly stroked over the gleaming timepiece on her wrist. “I never take it off. I don’t want to disappear without a trace again.”
“How do you think I tracked you to Germany?” Karl said with a wink. “Have you considered getting something similar for the twins? If you bring them to La Montagne we can explore a few options for a wrist or ankle band.”
“Actually that’s a great idea.” A shadow flitted across her face. “If I had to lose them too, I don’t know what I would do. But I guess they’re safe for now. I mean the world doesn’t even know of their existence. I was on La Montagne for my entire pregnancy, so there were no paparazzi pictures to entertain the public.”
“Best we keep it that way. Can you imagine if they knew? You wouldn’t have a moment of peace.”
“That’s why I took them straight to the farm. I had promised Jean-Michel that his children would grow up on the farm and get to know the wine business. Of course, I had hoped that he would be the one teaching them, but his father is still young enough to do it, so I guess that’s fine. But it would only be fair for them to spend time on La Montagne too, so that Nicky can learn about what his father has built.”
Karl smiled, but he had a sad look in his eyes. Clearly, he didn’t have much hope of finding Stefan after more than ten months.
“But I’ll continue to keep their existence a secret. They haven’t been to my apartment even. Not even my teammates know I have two children. Only Claude knows, and Anthony, and of course Doc Louis. But not Pierre-Henri. I still haven’t forgiven him for that time he gave me amphetamines and nearly killed me.”
Karl nodded. “Stefan wanted to sort him out for that, but the doc made him promise to behave.”
“Is Stefan really gone, Karl? Have you looked, really looked?”
“We’ve used all of Omega’s resources, and we’ll keep doing so. Sooner or later he has to surface.”
“If he’s still alive.”
Karl grimaced. “If he’s still alive.”
Marcelle stared down at her hands. “The thing I miss the most is being held. I miss his arms holding me tight when I feel like I’m ready to fall apart. I need his arms around me now, but I’m alone. I thought that winning the world champs would make me feel lighter, but it only lasted a few minutes.”
Karl moved closer and put his arms around her, cradling the back of her head in the palm of his right hand before pressing her face against his chest. “I’ll hold you, Marcelle, for as long as you need me to. I know it’s not the same, but it’s all I can offer.”
# # #
I had promised a few readers a while ago that I would put the first three chapters of Somali Sunrise up here on my blog as a teaser. So here it is, edited but not yet completely polished. Enjoy!
Crossfire: Somali Sunrise
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2015 by Niki Savage
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.
Nancy watched bubbles rising above her head as she rose slowly to the surface. A meter above, she could see the pink flippers of Peter Coleman, the owner of the yacht that had brought them there. He kicked gently to keep himself afloat, waiting for her.
She broke the surface of the water, and spat out her mouthpiece. “Wow, that was incredible,” she said, pulling her diving mask downwards and tucking it under her chin.
Peter turned to her, shaking the water from his shaggy blond hair. “I hate to say I told you so. Not many divers know about this reef.”
Nancy smiled, and turned to swim towards the ladder hanging off the stern of the yacht. “I agree, that reef we dived yesterday felt a little crowded.”
Peter followed, kicking easily to keep up with her. “There’s another reef further up the channel. I’ll take you there tomorrow.”
Nancy handed her diving goggles and scuba tank to a crew member’s waiting hand, and allowed him to help her onboard. Once on deck, she shook her shoulder length blonde hair vigorously to rid the strands of water.
She sensed Peter behind her, and felt him unzipping her wetsuit. She started stripping off her wetsuit as she turned around to return the favor. But the expression on Peter’s face froze her hand in midair.
Nancy felt as if the air around her body had turned to treacle as she fought to turn back, to see what had provoked such an expression of horror on Peter’s face.
A gasp flew from her lips when she saw her six-year-old son, Daniel, his little face pinched into an expression of extreme distress. The cause of his distress was the black barrel of a big pistol pressed against his temple. Peter must have sensed the muscles in her legs tensing for action, because he wrapped a brawny arm around her waist, and lifted her off the deck, preventing her from rushing towards her son.
“Shh Nancy,” he whispered. “Be very still.”
She tried to bring her rapid breathing under control as her gaze focused on the face of the man who held the gun to her child’s head. He was tall and slender, with terrible scars on the left side of his face and neck. He wore ill-fitting clothes one might expect to see on a homeless person, and was too dark to be Mozambican. She noticed several missing teeth as he grinned triumphantly at her, but the rigid scar tissue on his left cheek didn’t allow much movement of his skin, giving him a lopsided appearance. “That would be most unwise,” he said, shaking his head from side to side. “Your friend is giving you good advice.”
Now Nancy looked beyond his ragtag appearance, and saw his dark eyes glittering shrewdly. This man was in charge, she realized, and fought her urge to attack him. From her days on the road as a trauma doctor, she had come face to face with enough killers to know that this man wouldn’t hesitate to make good on his threat.
She glanced at the other people on the deck. Apart from the two crewmembers who worked for Peter, she saw at least eight members of the man’s party. Some had covered the lower half of their faces with scarves, but all had the same gangly build, and the same ragged and ill-fitting clothing that their leader wore. All had automatic weapons, held at the ready, just in case threatening Daniel’s life didn’t have the desired effect.
Peter spoke behind her, assuming command. “What do you want from us?”
“I’m taking command of this yacht. My men will lock each of you in your cabins for the rest of the voyage, and then you will be held hostage until your families pay the ransom we demand.” His English was good, but he had an accent Nancy couldn’t quite place.
“What’s our destination?” she asked, trying to moisten her lips.
The man laughed. “The port of Eyl in Somalia.”
Nancy swallowed hard at the sight of Daniel’s distressed face. How could she persuade this man to give her son back to her?
Two armed men prodded the two crewmen in the direction of their cabins, leaving Peter and Nancy on deck, watching the man who held Daniel hostage.
Nancy stared at her son, trying to reassure him without speaking, and apologizing at the same time for placing him in harm’s way.
Then it was Peter’s turn. Nancy watched with growing alarm as Peter walked ahead of his captors to his cabin. She felt vulnerable without his secure presence next to her, and without him holding her back, she had to fight her impulse to run to her son and crush him in her embrace.
But Daniel took matters into his own hands, taking advantage of a moment of inattention from his aggressor to wrench free and flee towards her. Nancy scooped him up in her arms, cradling him protectively as he squirmed, trying to get closer to her.
But she had just a few seconds before he was ripped from her arms again. She tried to grab him back, but the man had already lifted him high, out of her reach. Danny screamed, kicking at the face of the man who held him, catching him a glancing blow on his already scarred cheek.
The man swore in an unknown language, and flung Danny towards the hard deck. The boy landed with a thud, and lay still for a few seconds, clearly winded. Nancy took a step in his direction, but stopped in her tracks when a bullet slammed into the deck just a few inches in front of her right foot. She screamed in despair, torn between helping her child and trying to stay alive.
Danny slowly pushed himself to his feet. He wiped his tears away in a childish gesture, but when he looked at her, his green eyes were wise beyond his years. “I’m okay, Mommy. Don’t worry.”
And at that moment, in his eyes, she saw Karl. “Thank you, Danny.” She looked at their kidnapper, who stood with his weapon ready to kill or maim. Drawing strength from her son, she straightened up. “We’ll cooperate. Please don’t hurt us.”
The man flashed his lopsided grin. “We don’t want to kill you, but if you force us, we will wound you, and here in Africa a bullet wound can turn bad very quickly.”
“I’m a doctor,” Nancy said. “It would be to your advantage to keep me healthy, so that I can help the others, and any of your men, if necessary.”
He seemed to consider that for a few moments. “You’re right. But to make sure you obey, I will keep your son with me.”
“No!” Nancy shouted without thinking, but then she took a deep breath and calmed herself. “It would be to your advantage to keep me healthy and happy, if you want my cooperation.”
“Okay, the boy stays with you, but if you give me any trouble, I will take him from you and drag him behind the yacht, understand?”
Nancy nodded, nauseated by the image created by the pirate’s words.
Danny ran towards her, and hugged her legs tight. She stroked his copper red hair. “Thank you for being so brave, sweetheart,” she said softly. “Everything will be okay now.” But she knew it was a lie. They were in trouble, deep trouble. She reached up and fingered the little silver cylinder that hung from a fine chain around her neck. As always she drew strength from the gesture, and straightened her back as she looked at her captor. “Can we go to our cabin, please?”
The man nodded, and gestured with the barrel of his weapon.
Nancy picked Danny up and hugged him to her as she headed for their cabin, uncomfortably aware of the gun barrel pointing at her spine.
* * * *
Nancy opened her eyes slowly. Above her she saw the light fitted to the low ceiling of the cabin. She focused on the light, trying not to remember the events of the previous afternoon.
But the memories forced themselves into her consciousness, and she sat up quickly, taking deep breaths, fighting her anxiety. And she had reason to be anxious. Though nobody had come to their cabin during the night, she had heard angry shouts at odd intervals, and through the thin cabin walls, had heard the unmistakable sound of fists on flesh, and voices screaming, and objects crashing to the floor.
It had sent chills down her spine as her imagination supplied her with horrible images to match the sounds. She had remained sleepless for most of the night, cradling Danny’s sleeping body in her arms, wishing that she had left him behind with her aunt, who had been more than willing to look after him for two weeks. But somehow returning to Mozambique with her copper haired child had felt right.
In her silly fantasy world she had imagined running into Karl on one of the many beaches, though she had no reason to expect that he would return to Mozambique. Or that he was even still alive. Perhaps her precious little boy was all that remained of the man she had loved. And the thought brought tears to her eyes, just like so many times before.
Danny stirred, and lifted a sleep tousled head. “Mommy, why are you crying?”
She blinked her tears away before turning to him, forcing a bright smile. “Sometimes grownups get sad for no reason, baby. I’m just a sentimental fool.”
“What does senti…mental mean?”
She smiled again. “Well, like crying about sad movies, and sad books. Lately I’m very sentimental.”
He hugged her tight. “I don’t want to be sentim…mental, ever.”
She hugged him back. “Don’t worry, baby. You’re strong and brave, just like your daddy.”
He frowned. “Where’s my daddy?”
Nancy took a deep breath as she tried to negotiate the minefield she had created for herself. “Your daddy had to go away for a very long time, to save the world.”
“Like a superhero?”
“Mmm, yes, a bit like a superhero.”
“But when will he come back?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head hopelessly. “He’ll come when the time is right.”
She wondered when the time would be right to destroy the fantasy she had created in her son’s mind. It was a story she had fabricated after he had returned from preschool one day and asked, “Why don’t I have a daddy?”
She had tried to create a favorable image of Karl for her son, and it had evolved into a superhero story. And even though in the last year she had tried to tone it down, he refused to let go of the fantasy. It had become part of his identity.
“Is Daddy like Superman?” His green eyes glowed with excitement. “Or Ironman? Ooh, that would be so cool. What’s he like, mommy.”
She sighed, choosing her words carefully. Danny watched far too many comics. How could she tell him that his father is…was…a ruthless mass murderer? “Um, he’s more like GI Joe, my darling.”
“Yes, keeping the world safe from baddies,” Danny said with a triumphant smile. “I love my daddy.”
Nancy forced a tight smile. She should have told her son from the start that his daddy died before he was born. Why had she encouraged the fantasy? But she knew why. In her mind she had her own fantasy, where Karl returned to tell her that he had given up his life of murder and mayhem to settle down with her. Perhaps that’s why she couldn’t tell Danny that his father was dead, because then her hope would be gone too.
Danny prodded her arm. “Mommy, are those men outside baddies?”
She nodded. “They’re very bad people, the baddest ever. But we must listen to what they say, so that they don’t hurt us.”
She gathered him in her arms, knowing that he wanted to be a big boy for her but he felt just like a baby in her arms. She held him tight, knowing in that instant that she would do anything to protect him.
“Mommy! You’re squashing me.”
She let go, but not before giving him a tickle. “I can’t help it. I love you so much I want to eat you up, a little bit at a time.”
He giggled. “Starting with my toes?”
“Yes, and specifically with this foot.” She reached for his right foot, and he scampered across the bed with a squeal of laughter.
But she didn’t chase after him like she normally did. A hard crash rattled the cabin walls, and they both froze, listening. Danny hurried back to her, and the fear was back in his eyes. Nancy felt dread crawling up her spine. What was happening?
They heard another crash, and hard footsteps on the deck above them. And then Nancy heard the voice of the man with the scarred face, and another voice that spoke with authority. They appeared to be having a heated discussion.
She listened with a dry mouth, keeping a protective hand on Danny’s shoulder. He looked up at her. “Mommy?”
“Shhh sweetheart, be very quiet.”
The voices above rose to a crescendo and Nancy listened with growing trepidation. Though she couldn’t understand the words, which sounded like Arabic to her, she could hear that the man with the scarred face was losing ground. His replies became shorter and shorter, while the other man dominated the conversation.
Then the voices grew quiet, but a minute later she heard hard footsteps outside their door, and then it burst open. Nancy threw herself over Danny, pushing him into the mattress to protect him from whatever violence might come through the door.
But instead a hard voice said, “Get up,” as the barrel of a weapon prodded her spine painfully.
She raised herself off Danny, relieved to see he had not suffered any damage, and pushed herself to her feet. The man with the automatic weapon had the bottom half of his face covered, but from his clothes she recognized him as one of the men she had seen on deck the day before.
Though she couldn’t see the expression on his face, his pupils were dilated, and his eyes glittered madly. She could see he was high on some kind of amphetamine, and worried about his forefinger poised on the trigger of what looked like an AK47. One slip and a barrage of bullets would cut her and Danny in half. He gestured with the barrel of the weapon. “You come to the deck. Bring passports.”
She grabbed their passports from her handbag, and then reached a hand to Danny. “Come sweetheart. Let’s go with this man.”
Danny must have heard the urgency in her voice, because he climbed off the bed and took her hand. “Let’s go, Mommy.”
~ . ~
On the deck the two crewmen and Peter Coleman already waited, looking exhausted and bruised. Clearly they had not had a restful night. Peter glanced at her, concern in his eyes, and Nancy felt guilty that her face was unblemished while he had bruises on his face. But he had bruised knuckles too, and Nancy wondered which poor soul on board had ended up on the wrong side of those mighty fists.
She led Danny to stand beside Peter, and only then did she look at the stranger standing beside the scarred man. He was better dressed than the others, and had a more muscular build, no doubt the result of a better diet. Everything about him said that he was the man in charge. The cause of the hard crash earlier also became clear. A vessel bigger than the yacht had taken the yacht in tow, its powerful engines churning the sea to white foam as the thick towrope strained between the two vessels.
The stranger didn’t carry a machine gun, but had a handgun jammed into the belt of his trousers. He stared at Nancy with dark eyes, and though she showed no reaction on the outside, her insides chilled. This man was bad news. She had scored a small victory over Scarface the day before, but this man was made of different material. She could see there would be no negotiating with him.
He looked at Scarface. “Get passports,” he instructed.
Scarface nodded at one of his men who came forward and gathered everyone’s passports. Nancy kept Danny’s hand in hers, terrified for him more than for herself. But he seemed to be holding up, looking at the pirates with calm eyes.
The man in charge flicked through the passports. Then he looked up. “My name is Mahmud, but you can call me Captain. Okay?”
Nancy nodded grudgingly along with the others, but something in her expression must have attracted his attention. He looked through the passports until he found hers. Then he looked up. “Doctor Nancy Kendall, travelling with her son, Danny.”
A cold trickle of dread dribbled down her spine, but Nancy nodded without speaking, trying not to show her fear.
Captain Mahmud strode closer and peered at her face. “There’s something wrong here.”
She kept her eyes focused on the deck, silently praying that he’ll lose interest.
He stepped back again, and looked at Peter and the two crewmembers. “Everyone here has been beaten, except this one.” He turned to Scarface. “Why?”
Scarface tried to save face. “She’s doctor. She can help.”
Mahmud laughed. “You fool. She’s doctor, but he is too,” he said, pointing at Peter. “And we don’t need their help. They are our prisoners. And we do to our prisoners exactly what we want.”
And without a further word he backhanded Nancy, mashing her lower lip against her teeth, sending her flying backwards. She landed awkwardly, and something hard connected the back of her head.
“Get up,” she heard Mahmud scream, and footsteps approached her position.
Nancy struggled to her feet, her senses swimming, but Mahmud never reached her.
With a growl Peter charged him, smashing a fist into the pirate’s face before his charge carried them both to the ground.
They were a blur of fighting bodies, and it was obvious to Nancy that Peter was winning the fight. But then a shot rang out, and everybody froze, and Nancy screamed when she saw that Scarface held Danny suspended above the rail. The little boy screamed in fear, squirming like a fish on the end of a hook, staring in terror at the rushing water far below him.
Peter rose to his feet, dread on his face. One of the pirates punished him with a rifle butt to his kidneys, but he remained standing.
Mahmud took a little longer to get up, blood pouring from his mouth and nose.
Scarface shook Danny as he shouted, “I said if you don’t behave I will throw him in the sea. Must I do it, Boss?”
Mahmud shook his head. “No, bring him back here.”
Scarface shifted his grip, preparing to bring Danny back over the railing, but a second later he was grabbing at air as Danny slipped from his grasp and disappeared with a single thin cry.
Nancy screamed, feeling as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the air, but a second later a big shape barreled past her and Peter dived over the railing, going after Danny.
Nancy sank to the ground as chaos ensued around her, with Mahmud and Scarface screaming, and several of the pirates running to the railing to see if they could spot Peter or Danny. One of the crewmen ran to the stern of the yacht and threw two life preservers over the railing.
Mahmud grabbed his radio and screamed into the mouthpiece. A few seconds later the vessel in front of them shut off its engines, and in the sudden silence all Nancy could hear was a sharp keening cry. But she stopped when she realized the cry was coming from her bloodied mouth. She couldn’t get her legs to work. As much as she also wanted to run to the railing to look for her son, her body wouldn’t move.
Nothing these men could do to her now could be worse than the pain tearing her soul apart. If she ever met Karl again, how would she explain that she had put their son in harm’s way? She imagined his green eyes turning dark with sorrow for a child he had never known. And it was her fault, for keeping Danny away from his father.
Everybody ignored her as the towrope was detached and the crewmembers were instructed to turn the yacht around and search for Peter and Danny.
Under the threat of guns the two crewmembers soon had the yacht travelling back the direction they had come, and two of the pirates stood at the railing with binoculars, scanning the waves for signs of life.
Nancy lost interest. Too much time had passed already. Her son was gone, along with the brave man who had wanted to be a father for him, and a husband for her. She knew now that Peter had loved her more than life itself, and had thought nothing of sacrificing himself to try to save her son. But a tiny sliver of hope remained alive in her.
Karl had fallen overboard and had survived for two days in the ocean before washing out on the beach. If Peter had reached Danny in time, and then swam for the life preservers, survival was possible. But Danny was so small, she argued with herself. He could swim, but would he have remained afloat long enough for Peter to find him?
The tears came, pouring down her face and mingling with the blood on her chin. She tried to wipe the fluid away with her hands, but they shook so badly that all she managed to do was make the mess worse.
She gave up, and dropped her face into her hands, crying Danny’s name over and over.
~ . ~
A long time later, a wet little hand touched her shoulder. “Mommy?”
She looked up. It was Danny, wet and pale, but alive. His eyes were red, both from crying and the salty seawater, but he wasn’t crying anymore. He wrapped his little arms around her neck and climbed onto her lap. “I’m okay, Mommy, don’t cry.”
And Nancy knew it wasn’t a dream, because beyond Danny she could see a sodden Peter on the deck, lying unmoving as three of the pirates kicked him mercilessly. That was his reward for saving her child’s life, to be beaten like an animal. Hatred rose in her chest, and if hate alone could have killed these men, they would all have dropped dead in an instant. But instead she had to watch helplessly as they hurt Peter, even though he could no longer feel it.
Eventually Mahmud called a halt, and the three men dragged Peter towards her. He was a big man, six foot four and well over two hundred and fifty pounds, and the strain showed on their faces. They dropped him in front of her, and turned him over so that he lay on his back. Both his cheekbones had been split, and blood poured from his ruined mouth. Almost immediately Nancy heard him beginning to choke as blood ran back down his throat. She quickly moved forward and turned him onto his side to open his airway. She wanted to scream and rage at the unfairness of it all, but held her tongue, afraid that Mahmud would lash out again.
Someone grabbed a fistful of her blonde hair, and dragged her to her feet. It was Mahmud, and he held his bloodied face close to hers as he hissed, “Disobedience will be punished immediately. Look at him. Where’s your strong man now?”
Nancy swallowed her hatred down. “We’ll be good, I promise.”
“Good.” He turned to Scarface. “Take them below.” He gestured towards the two crewmen. “And them too.”
Nancy and Danny were herded below with the crewmen, and allowed to return to their cabin. She saw as the men struggled past her half open door with Peter’s limp body, and went to the doorway to find Scarface outside. “Please,” she whispered. “Put him in here with us so I can take care of him.”
He shook his head. “No, he has been punished. He must suffer.”
“He could die, and then you won’t get any ransom for him.”
That gave him pause for a moment, and then he shouted something to the three men. They struggled back in his direction, and at his instruction, deposited Peter on one of the twin beds in the cabin. Nancy felt a small sense of elation at her victory. At least now she could help Peter instead of wondering whether he was dead or alive.
As soon as the door closed behind Scarface, who had given her a last menacing frown to remind her to behave, Nancy changed Danny into dry clothes, rubbing his frozen skin briskly with the towel. Then she sent him to play in the bathroom with some of his toys. To his credit, he didn’t argue, even though the bathroom was small and cramped.
A minute later she heard him racing his toy cars along the smooth floor of the shower. Children were far more resilient than adults, she thought.
She focused on Peter, who still lay unmoving, rapidly soaking the mattress with his wet clothes. Quickly she stripped his clothing off, leaving him only with his undershorts. Then she pushed the other bed closer, and expertly rolled him onto it, giving him the benefit of the dry mattress. She covered him with the sheets before reaching under the covers and pulling off his damp undershorts.
Though she and Peter had known each other for many years, their relationship had never become physical. Somehow, after Karl, she just couldn’t give herself to another man. Bringing Danny along on the diving trip had been just another way of ensuring that Peter wouldn’t be sharing her cabin. And yet here he was, in her cabin. The irony wasn’t lost on her.
She pulled her medical bag from one of the small closets, and started examining Peter.
Thirty minutes later she sat on the damp twin bed and sighed deeply, feeling a little desperate. The merciless kicks those pirates had rained upon Peter’s muscular physique appeared to have done little damage. His ribs were bruised, but not broken, and though he had a lot of bruises, they weren’t life threatening.
But that was where the good news ended. His face had suffered some damage, and she had stitched the deep gashes on his cheekbones and forehead. Miraculously his nose had remained unbroken, allowing him unimpeded breathing. But she suspected that Peter had a bad concussion, the extent of which she couldn’t be sure of until a few more hours have passed, or he regained consciousness. She needed a cat scan of Peter’s brain, and he probably required surgery, but none of that was possible in the middle of the ocean.
Danny came from the bathroom. “Is Uncle Peter going to be okay, mommy?” His little face expressed concern for the man he had known his whole life.
Nancy tried to smile. “I think so. We have to wait for him to wake up, just to be sure.”
Danny climbed onto Peter’s bed and snuggled up beside him. “I’ll stay here with him, and call you when he wakes up.”
Despite the circumstances Nancy smiled when she saw the love in Danny’s eyes. Her son loved this big blond bear of a man, and why wouldn’t he? Peter was a wonderful man, with a soft heart that belied the strength of his physique. His patients adored him, both for his kind heart, and his ruggedly handsome looks. She remembered Peter holding Danny when he was just days old, and the sight of her precious son cradled in those big hands had brought tears to her eyes, and right there she had asked Peter to be Danny’s godfather, an honor he took seriously, becoming a substitute father to her son. Peter had never asked her about Danny’s father, and for that she had been grateful, knowing that he didn’t judge her.
But Peter wanted more than that, and had told her so, more than once. Their friendship had changed to a strong relationship more than a year ago, and Nancy knew that her colleagues fully expected that she would marry Peter eventually. A match made in heaven, they called it, speculating what beautiful children she and Peter would produce with their blonde good looks.
But now tears filled her eyes as she stared at his bruised face, and the seriousness of their plight came to sit in her stomach like a cold stone. Life was short, and there was no guarantee that they would get out of this situation alive.
And right there she made her decision. Why not Peter? What was she holding out for? Karl wasn’t coming back for her. He had probably forgotten her the second that black helicopter carried him far away over the ocean, back to his life of violence and killing. Peter loved her. He would never hurt her like Karl had hurt her. He was the kind of man she could grow old with, if they survived their immediate perils. As soon as he opened his eyes, she’ll tell him yes.
And when they arrive home, she’ll put on the engagement ring he had given her three months ago, when he had proposed marriage. He had insisted that she keep the ring, even though she had asked for time to think. Well, she was finished with thinking. This was the right thing to do, for her and for Danny.
* * * *
Due to the length of Peter’s unconsciousness, Nancy had been forced to put up a drip and catheterize him. Then she occupied her time with bathing and changing Danny and making sure he ate some of the fruit that was on a bowl on a small table in the cabin. She didn’t eat any of it, worrying about their food supply, seeing as the pirates have shown no inclination to feed them. But they had some bottled water in the cabin, and in her medical pack she had some electrolyte replacement powders as well as a few chocolate bars and energy bars. Whether that would keep a six year old satisfied, only time would tell.
It was nearly lunchtime when Peter moaned, and opened sluggish eyes. Nancy had been sitting next to his bed, and reached out to touch his shoulder. “I’m here, Peter,” she whispered.
He turned his head and focused on her. “Nancy?”
“How do you feel? Can you see alright?”
“Everything’s a bit blurry,” he whispered, blinking his eyes.
“You’ve suffered a head injury.”
Nancy went ice cold. Peter not remembering what happened was another bad sign, and coupled with his hours of unconsciousness didn’t bode well for a good outcome. Telling him now about the pirates and what had happened would raise his stress levels, along with his blood pressure, which was the last thing she wanted. So she decided to lie.
“You fell, darling. On the deck. It happened so fast, and you hit your head on the railing. We’re on our way back to port, so you can get to a hospital. Just relax.”
“And I’m here, in your cabin, in your bed?”
“Because I’ve decided, Peter. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I want to be with you. I love you, and I want to marry you.”
“I can hardly believe it,” he whispered. “Why now?”
“Because I nearly lost you today, and it scared the hell out of me. I realized how much I love you.”
“I love you too,” he said before sighing deeply. “But I’m so incredibly tired, and I have a terrible headache. Can I save the jumping for joy for later?”
Danny came storming into the room. “Uncle Peter! You’re awake.”
Peter summoned a smile, even though it had to hurt, and stretched a hand out to the boy. “Hey little man. Are you looking after your mommy?”
Danny crawled all the way up the bed on all fours and snuggled under Peter’s arm. “Yes, I am. But you saved me. I was so scared, and the waves were so big, but you grabbed me. Thank you.”
Peter frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Nancy drowned out Danny’s explanation by saying. “He fell overboard, and you went after him. You saved him, and then when you came back onboard you slipped and fell.” She winked at Danny, willing him to play along. Luckily the child trusted her enough to obey.
“You mean I did the bravest thing ever and I can’t remember it?”
Nancy realized he was trying to be his usual self, for Danny’s sake.
Danny giggled. “Yes, you’re a superhero, even if you can’t remember it. Is it sore?”
“My head hurts a little bit,” Peter said with a grimace. “And I feel as if a horde of donkeys have run all over me, but I’ll survive.”
Nancy took Danny by the arm. “If you look in Mommy’s handbag, there’s a chocolate treat there for you.”
He jumped up. “Thanks Mommy!”
“And then you can play with your cars again, and let mommy and Uncle Peter talk for a little bit.”
“Yes Mommy.” He found her handbag and after grabbing his treat, disappeared into the bathroom to play with his toys.
When they were alone again, Peter looked at her. “You realize I’m a doctor too?”
“What are you hiding from me?”
Nancy suppressed a sob. “I’m trying to keep you comfortable, Peter. Your head injury is serious. You’ve been unconscious for hours, and your pupil sizes are unequal. Your temperature is up, and your face is flushed, and your heart rate has dropped below sixty. Somewhere in your brain you’re bleeding, causing intracranial pressure.”
“What are you hiding from me?” he asked again.
“I don’t think we’ll make it to port in time.” She tried her best to remain calm, but couldn’t help the tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.”
He reached for her and she lay down beside him, resting her head on his chest.
“I want to remember you just like this, sleeping in my arms,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
“The crew will look after you.”
“Okay.” She clenched her fists, trying to remain calm.
About thirty minutes passed before he spoke again. “Remember… that little house… I mean church? With the red flowers… the red roses outside?”
“We should get married there.”
“Yes, we will.”
He didn’t say anything more, and she thought he may have gone to sleep again. But then she felt him tense. “Nancy?”
“Yes, my love.”
“I can’t see. Everything is dark. Don’t leave me.”
“I’m right here. I won’t leave you.” She wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him. “I’m here. I’m here.”
But he didn’t speak again. For many minutes Nancy didn’t move, listening to the strong beat of his heart. But it was too slow, yet another symptom that his brain injury was severe. Perhaps if she pretended it wasn’t true, things could go back to normal.
Nearly twenty minutes passed before she sat up and fetched her pupil torch. She tried hard to steel herself, trying to assume the persona she normally reserved for giving bad news to families.
But when she examined Peter’s pupil reactions, the shock was too much. His right pupil was blown, which was the medical term to signify that it was completely dilated. Due to the increased pressure in Peter’s skull, most likely from brain tissue swelling, or from a bleed, some brain death had already occurred.
The other pupil still responded to light, but sluggishly. Peter was gone already, even though it could take several hours before his body followed. She could do nothing more for him. She was an excellent trauma surgeon, and if she could have transported him to a hospital in time, and into theatre, she could have saved him, but here in this godforsaken place, she was helpless. The only comfort she had was that he had not died alone, which was what would have happened if the pirates had taken him to his cabin, as they had originally intended.
After making Peter comfortable again, Nancy looked for Danny, and discovered that he had taken a pillow and blanket into the bathroom and made a bed for himself. Poor child, she thought. He was exhausted, and there was more horror to come. She left him there, fast asleep, and returned to Peter.
She was exhausted, and hungry, and emotionally she was completely spent. Her brain needed a respite from the tension, and her soul needed to recharge before she could grieve for Peter. She lay down beside him again, and snuggled her face into the hollow of his shoulder. It was a safe place, allowing her to experience his warmth and closeness without having to listen as his heart slowed even further, and his breathing became labored.
Just before sleep took her, she remembered lying like this with Karl on that first day when he had been so desperately ill, and had needed her body heat. She imagined the whisper of his breath against her face. Then there had been hope for recovery, and indeed Karl had made an excellent recovery. For Peter the fight was over, and now it was just a question of time, waiting for his body to die. And for her there was the horror of knowing that if he didn’t die by morning, she would have to give him a lethal dose of morphine, putting him down like an injured animal.
~ . ~
Nancy’s dreams were troubled and gruesome, and mostly involved Karl arriving on the yacht with fire in his eyes and a bloody knife in his grasp, and killing every pirate on board while Danny cheered him on. The dream was macabre and bizarre and she awoke feeling sick.
Peter was ominously quiet. She stilled the cry that rose to her lips, and pressed her ear to his chest. No breathing. No heartbeat. She checked his pupils. Both were blown, and unresponsive to light. He was dead.
She sat stunned for a few minutes, hate and grief flooding through her. Hate for the pirates who had killed Peter, and grief for the future that she and Peter would never have.
But she had to restore his dignity before the pirates came back. Already it was a blessing that the pirates had left them alone for most of the day. She had draped Peter’s wet shorts and shirt over a chair, and now discovered that they were dry, though slightly stiff from the saltwater. But they would have to do. Biting back her tears, she removed the catheter and the drip and dressed him again.
She would have to find a way to alert Scarface to take Peter out of there before Danny woke. He had suffered enough traumas for one day without discovering that his hero was dead.
After she had finished dressing Peter, she covered him with a sheet. As distasteful as the prospect was, she would have to call Scarface. She tried the door, and was surprised to find it unlocked.
Gingerly she stepped into the narrow passage. “Hello,” she called softly.
She heard the shuffle of feet, and saw a pair of feet descending the steps before materializing into one of the pirates. He didn’t look friendly.
She swallowed hard before she said, “Please tell your boss that the big man is dead. Tell him Peter is dead.”
She saw the whites of his eyes flash for a second, and realized that the man was deathly afraid of delivering the news.
He grabbed her by the arm, and urged her towards the stairs. “No, you tell. You tell.”
She had little choice, and soon found herself on deck, face to face with Scarface and Mahmud.
The man pointed at her and repeated, “You tell.”
One side of Scarface’s mouth turned up in a sneer. “What is it?”
“Peter is dead,” she said more calmly than she felt.
Mahmud’s eyes practically bulged from his head. “What? What you do? What you do?”
He grabbed her by the throat and started shaking her. Nancy couldn’t breathe. Her mouth stretched wide as stars and dark spots appeared in her vision. But an eternity later she found herself on the deck, coughing painfully.
Mahmud stood over her, clearly still furious. He grabbed her with a hard right hand and plucked her to her feet. “How did he die?”
Nancy coughed a few times before she could speak. “The men who kicked him hurt his brain. Bleeding in his brain killed him. He died while I was asleep.”
By now Scarface had gone below deck with three men. They reappeared, carrying Peter’s lifeless body. Now Nancy was glad that she had dressed him. It was already undignified how carelessly they carried him, without him being naked as well. But what distressed her more was Danny walking behind the men, rubbing sleepy eyes. She grabbed him as they passed her, and pressed his face against her thigh. “Don’t look, Danny. Keep your eyes on Mommy.”
“What’s wrong with Uncle Peter?”
She stared imploringly at Mahmud. “Please can I take my son below deck? He doesn’t need to see this.” She had a good idea what was going to happen next.
But Mahmud laughed unpleasantly. “Do you think I care about your son? Or what he sees? He stays, and so do you.”
He walked forward to examine Peter’s body. “It’s a pity. We could have asked a big ransom for him.” He looked up at her. “Now we will just have to ask double for you and your boy.”
He gave orders to four of the men in a language that Nancy didn’t understand, but the meaning soon became clear when they each took hold of one of Peter’s limbs and started carrying him to the railing. She bit her lip to stop from screaming. It’s just a body, she told herself. It wasn’t Peter anymore.
But she couldn’t bear the thought of him abandoned to the tides, almost certainly being eaten by sharks or one of the many predators in the sea. Those beloved hands had stroked her hair when she felt sad, and that strong body had held her close and comforted her after a hard day of disappointments. It wasn’t just another body. It was Peter, and he didn’t deserve this.
Just at the moment that they swung Peter over the rail, Danny broke from her grasp, and turned. The splash as Peter’s body hit the water was drowned out by Danny’s howl. He stormed to where Peter had disappeared over the railing, screaming uncontrollably. “Nooooo! Noooo! Mommeeeeeee!”
Nancy ran after him, desperate to get to him before one of the pirates did. But she was too late. Scarface lashed out and backhanded Danny so hard that he stopped in his tracks, and dropped to the deck in a boneless heap.
Nancy reached him a moment later, and scooped him up in her arms. “Does that make you feel like a big man, you fucking bastard! He’s a child. Can’t you tell the difference?”
To his credit, Scarface looked guilty for about two seconds, but when he noticed Mahmud’s eyes on him, he recovered his bravado. “Shut up, woman, or we throw him overboard too.”
Nancy retreated, clutching Danny to her chest. “No! I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And the bile tasted bitter in her mouth as she swallowed her hatred and realized the hopelessness of their situation.
* * * *
***** 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.