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A Secret World

A Secret World

By

SuZanne Ahlin

© 2016

Published by Ex-L-Ence Publishing at Shakespir.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. All the names characters, incidents, dialogue, events portrayed and opinions expressed in it are either purely the product of the author’s imagination or they are used entirely fictitiously and not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Nothing is intended or should be interpreted as representing or expressing the views and policies of any department or agency of any government or other body.

All trademarks used are the property of their respective owners. All trademarks are recognised.

The right of Suzanne Ahlin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

A prequel to ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ the first novel in the ‘A Secret World’ series.

 

1

The rain was pouring down. Steven McKenzie had been waiting for an hour now and he was soaked. He wondered if he ever would get out of this mess.

A week ago he had been told to solve this problem. His boss knew that Steven was the only one that could succeed. He had no idea how Steven worked. But he always got the job done. Right now Steven started to wonder if this was going to be his last mission. He had eliminated the man they had been searching for. What none of them knew was that this arms dealer wasn’t human.

Steven himself was a Warlock from his mother’s side and a Serpentines from his father. A dangerous combination that made him an excellent soldier. His only problem was that he had to get missions where he could work alone. He was a more powerful Serpentines than Warlock which also was needed in his line of work. As a Serpentines he was quick. He could move from one place to another without getting shot because no one ever saw him move. He was also very strong and flexible. His only ‘weakness’, if you could call it that, was his temper. Anger, too much of it, makes you lose control. This time though it had been his lack of investigation. He had taken for granted that he was dealing with ordinary humans.

When Steven had found the headquarter he used his speed to get close without being discovered. Around humans that hadn’t been a problem. No human could see a move that fast. But Occidere could. They were like Serpentines a warrior species. The difference between the two species was that Occidere killed, no matter if another solution was possible. One of their skills was to see in the dark or any other bad conditions where the sight was clouded. The man guarding outside had been an Occidere. But Steven didn’t know that.

Steven had reached the house and was climbing up the fire ladder when he was shot. He managed to get inside and hide. This time it wasn’t his skills that saved him but pure luck. The room he entered was empty but he heard how they were searching. No one had ever been able to spot him when he used his speed and he realised this couldn’t be humans. He cursed that he had been sloppy. To tell what kind of species they belonged to, he had to get close to one of them. He wasn’t sure he wanted that, not now. He was bleeding and if it was Vampires he was dealing with he would trigger their most violence instincts.

They were coming closer and there was no way but stay and fight or flee out of the window. Steven wasn’t a man that fled. When they opened the door he used his skills as a Warlock and throw a fire ball in the air. It would blind them for enough time for him to take down four or five. Steven had to hope there wasn’t more of them. Again he was lucky. When he checked the bodies, their leader wasn’t among them. He went down the stairs listening for any sound.

Then out of nowhere a man through himself over Steven. In close combat Steven was usually the one that got out as the winner. Now he was wounded. But the surprise that someone came out of nowhere made him angry. What was wrong with him? This was the second mistake he made. Normally anger could be a lability, but not now. It gave him strength. He reached for a knife he had in his boot. With a quick move he stabbed the man in the throat.

When he rose he saw that the man hadn’t been armed. He lay his hand over his face to sense what kind of species he was. Why was an unarmed man with this gang? The man was a Fusum. A species there wasn’t that many of. They weren’t warriors which made Steven think he was the owner of the house and forced to have them there. How many more was in the house? It was very quiet but Steven knew that the man he was looking for was still there. He could sense his presence. Knowing there was people like himself, people from the secret world, Steven could use other senses. But his wound was starting to get to him. He had very little time to find the right man. It seemed as there were no more Occidere looking for him. Could he be that lucky that there had only been five of them? They were good warriors and often not needed to be more than four or five. Steven had used his skills as Warlock or he wouldn’t have had any chance. He went down one more stair when he heard a noise. To a human it had been nothing, to Steven it was enough to know where to look.

Steven was now in pain and it was with pleasure he killed the arms dealer. He then dragged the body to a window and threw him out for the local police to find. But when he left he heard that someone was following him. He managed to hide in an old railway station. The man that followed him never found him. Steven had chosen not to fight but to hide this time. When he was sure there was no one close he left. He sent a message that the mission was completed and waited to be picked up.

Something must have gone wrong because no one appeared. When an hour had gone he was too tired to get out of there on his own. The rain made him cold. He was thinking of William and Mary back home. They knew he had a dangerous job. But to leave them already wasn’t in Steven’s plans. He tried to pull himself together to make it to town. After a five minute walk he lost consciousness.

He woke up when they carried him to the helicopter. “What took you so long?” He tried to joke but was gone again.

2

“You should take a month of leave. Isn’t it around now when you used to go to Scotland?” His boss John Wright smiled aware that he would protest.

Steven McKenzie sighed. “To leave Mary and William with their grandparents, not to stay there. I don’t need a month. Or do you want to get rid of me.” Steven laughed a little.

“Steven you know we can’t manage without you. That’s why you need to rest.” John was worried. Steven had been seriously injured but refused to stay at the hospital. John had at least hoped he would take some time off.

“You know I need to work or I go crazy.” Steven laughed hoping John would change his mind.

“But of course, there are always reports that have been lying behind.” John gave him a mean smile and Steven made a grimace.

“OK, I take a month off, but don’t send that kid, Adam, out on his own.” He rose and John laughed and told him to have a nice time.

Steven booked the tickets on his way to fetch William and Mary. He knew they looked forward to the trip, as they did every year, but he didn’t.

When he entered the plane with William and Mary, a woman in a country far from him had just signed a contract for a new home.

3

Natalie Beren smiled when she signed the contract. She’d finally sold her house and was on her way to move to Scotland. She scanned the contract and mailed it back to the estate agent. As agreed he called her when he received it. He asked if she got it back signed by the family who’d sold the house.

“I just got the mail and I’ve printed a copy just to be sure. Thank you for making this so easy.” She had a nice voice the estate agent thought. He hadn’t met her and his colleague, Margaret, had been the one talking to her before.

“I’ll drive over and give the keys to the neighbour.” He replied.

“Everything’s worked just fine, thanks to you. I’m lucky the family hired you to sell their house.”

“We want happy customers.” He laughed a little, a nice laugh Natalie thought. “So when do you arrive here? I heard from my assistant Margaret, that you’re driving all the way.”

“That’s the only bad part so far. Animals can’t be send by air, well not at a reasonable price. But this way I get my old car with me. As soon as the removal firm have collected all my stuff I can leave this place. I expect I’ll be in Scotland in 4 to 5 days.” He could hear in her voice that she was excited.

“May I ask why Scotland? Margaret told me you have no friends here.”

“I love its amazing nature and the pride people have for their country and its history.”

“But you come from an old country yourself and I have heard its very beautiful.” He still didn’t understand why she left everything to move to a place where she was all alone.

“It has many nice places but people here are cold. There is no passion.” She laughed.

He laughed too. “Oh I see. Well I hope you will find all the passion you seek.” He told her to call if there were any problems and they hung up.

4

Steven left William and Mary at their grandparents’ house. He used to go and have a beer after that. But that had been when he stayed a day or two just to be sure everything was ok. Now he had no idea what to do. He had no desire to stay in Inverness and bump in to people he didn’t want to meet.

“Steven McKenzie, what are you doing here? You’re not moving back are you?”

Steven turned around but with a smile. Lee Evans was one of the few people he was happy to run in to.

“Nope, just left William and Mary with their grandparents.”

Lee smiled. “Aye, you do that every year. For a month as usual?”

“If everything works out, yes. But I have a problem.” Steven had a tired look.

“Problem as in?…” Lee didn’t have to say more; Steven shook his head.

“No I’m off work for a month.” Steven laughed.

“You bastard, complaining about being free. But that’s just fine I’m one man short.” Lee gave him a nasty smile.

“Would love to help but I’m off because of an accident. Unless you just need a driver.” Steven thought maybe his boring month could be of some use after all.

“An accident? … nothing too bad I hope? Are you serious about driving? I have a move from Sweden to a small place up in the north. One of my men called in sick at the last minute.”

“I told you that Bob was no good.”

Lee laughed. “How did you know it wasn’t James? OK, you’re right Bob hardly turns up but I tried to give him a chance. I feel sorry for Anna and Conrad. None of their children turned out right.” Lee had a sad look now.

“I agree with you there. If you can handle the move with just James, I can drive if that’s any help?”

“You’re a good driver. But do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I’d rather not, but lifting heavy furniture wouldn’t be a good idea. I’ll drive and the two of you get to rest. When do we leave?”

Lee laughed. “You’re a nutcase. Tonight if that is soon enough for you. Around 8 pm.”

“Just fine. I’ll be there.” Steven winked and went to the pub. He was relieved. After a pint at his favourite pub he called William. He told him that he would be out of town for a couple of days. But if something happened he could call Graham Thomson.

Graham Thomson was Steven’s closest friend in Scotland and worked as a police detective. Steven knew he could trust Graham, and most important, Graham knew everything there was to know about Steven.

To avoid bumping in to anyone he didn’t want to meet, Steven had rented a car to drive out to the country. Having a long trip in front of him now, driving around wasn’t an option, so he drove out of town and parked on a small road. A couple of hours sleep was all he needed. Normally he would sleep in the car but something bothered him. He had no idea what it was, so he drove to a small town close to Inverness instead.

“I want a room with shower, but only for a couple of hours.”

“We don’t rent that way.” The woman at the B&B answered him.

“I intended to pay for one night.” Steven gave her his credit card and got a key.

He went upstairs, slept a couple of hours. After a shower he put on Jeans and a T-shirt instead of the suit he had been travelling in. Downstairs he just left the key on the table in the hall.

Just as he promised Steven was at Lee’s place 8 pm.

“Punctual as always.” Lee smiled. He knew that if there was someone he could rely on it was Steven.

James Morris, Lee’s colleague and co-owner was already in the truck. He waved at Steven. Lee threw Steven’s bag into the seat.

“OK driver, let’s go. Wake me when you reach the border.” Lee laughed.

“Which border, England?” Steven winked at him.

Lee just laughed and they left together.

5

In Sweden Natalie closed the last box she packed. She had her breakfast, knowing it was the last in that house. Actually it was her last breakfast in Sweden. There was no turning back now.

After a shower she put on makeup and got dressed. She went out with the garbage even if a cleaning firm was coming after she had left.

It felt as if she had been checking her phone a million times. The moving firm had told her they would call when they arrived in Sweden. She lived four hours from the border and there had been no call. Feeling nervous was just the tip of the iceberg. What if they never came. Then her phone finally rang. It was a number she didn’t recognise and she just answered ‘hallo’ in an annoyed way.

“Aren’t you the woman that expects a moving firm today?” A voice she didn’t recognised asked.

“I am, haven’t you reached the border until now?” She answered with a worried voice.

“The border? I’m standing outside a house that I thought was yours.” The voice answered.

She ran out, but there was no truck. “You’re not outside my house.” She walked down to the gate and opened it. But she still couldn’t see anyone. She walked out to the main road. “I can see you now. You have driven 200 metres too far.”

Steven looked out of the window and saw a woman standing by a small road. He pushed Lee who was asleep. “Is that the woman? I thought you said it was an old one.”

Lee looked out too. “If she says she’s waiting for us it must be her.”

Steven stepped on the gas and reversed until he reached Natalie. He smiled because she hadn’t jumped away. She trusted that he knew what he was doing.

“Ma’am.” Steven made a silly gesture with his hand.

“Can you manage to pull into that small road too?” She asked with a smile pointing at a very small road.

Steven just laughed and was soon parked outside her house. Natalie was standing beside the car door when Steven jumped out and he landed just in front of her. He was a tall man, six foot two while Natalie couldn’t be more than five foot two. She was standing with the sun shining on her copper brown hair. Steven was tired after a long drive but she made him forget all of that. If anyone had asked him what amazed him so much he would have said; ‘her honey brown eyes, if a shade of brown like that even exists.’

Standing that close, he could see that she was older than he’d thought out on the street. But she was dressed in jeans and a white shirt with black skulls. It wasn’t as if she tried to dress young, it was more that it fitted her tiny body.

Steven was used to getting any woman he wanted, and still, he just stood there, not sure what to say. Lee and James saved the situation by introducing themselves.

Natalie felt as if she’d been staring at the tall handsome man in front of her and she almost blushed. But it was a long time since she had seen any man looking at her the way Steven did. She remembered that she hadn’t had time to brush her hair. She ran her hand through her hair as if she would make her curly hair look well styled by doing that.

“You said you would call when you reached the border. I was getting worried and instead you came earlier. Do you want some coffee and toast before I put that down in the last box?” She addressed Lee and James, Steven was standing a little beside. But he was the one that answered.

“That would be great. Can I be of any assistance while the lads start working?” He smiled and Lee laughed.

Natalie turned and looked at him. He had a charming smile, dark eyes that made a contrast to his hair that was more light brown. Golden brown she would have called it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be alone with him making toast. He made her nervous and she felt silly. He was so much younger than she.

“I can manage on my own. Don’t they need your help?” She answered.

“I’m just the driver.” Steven gave her one of his smile.

“Oh, I thought you took turn to drive. Have you been driving all the way? If you have you must need sleep. They could wait with the bed to the last?”

He was even more impressed, she cared, about a man that she never had met. “We plan to stop on the way back. Lee told me you’re going by car all the way.” He followed her in to the kitchen.

“That’s the only way I can get my dog and two cats with me. The plan was to drive to Amsterdam and then take the ferry to Newcastle. That way we didn’t have to drive that much. But that ferry doesn’t take pets any longer.” She sighed.

“Who’s driving with you? Lee told me you’re moving on your own.” Steven thought that she couldn’t have a boyfriend, not here that she’d leave behind. Maybe she had one in Scotland.

“A friend of mine felt sorry for the animals.” She giggled. They were in the kitchen, she put on the coffee machine.

“For the animals. Oh little lady don’t you see who he felt sorry for.” Steven gave her a look.

“No, I tell the truth, he’s just a friend. Men and women can be friends.” She had a determined look that made Steven laugh.

“Honey of course they can.” He didn’t say more but wondered, if she was right, what was wrong with her friend.

As if she read his thoughts she smiled but it was a shy smile, insecure. Steven would have wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, and special. But he had just met her and this wasn’t a date. He looked at her things. It was mostly old furniture, antiques. But he saw her more as the cosy style than the elegant. He guessed that she would hang up curtains in strong colours, pillows in the sofa.

Again she seemed to read his mind. “You think I have too much stuff.”

“No I don’t. I was thinking of how it will look when you put it all in place and decorate.” He smiled and she was surprised because there was something kind of warm in his smile. As if he was an old friend.

Natalie was used to people that didn’t care about her even though they knew her. This man had known her a couple of minutes and seemed nice. She smiled to herself, of course he was, she had hired him and his colleagues. She left him and called to the others that the coffee was ready.

Steven poured coffee and sat down on the stairs outside. Natalie was standing by the truck. Lee and James had gone inside to get coffee. A bird came flying over Steven’s head and he ducked. He saw Natalie look at him and smiled. Then the bird came back and landed on Steven’s head. Natalie hurried to take a photo with her phone and then she started to laugh. The bird was gone again but she couldn’t stop laughing. Steven felt with his hand to see if it had shit on his head. But he couldn’t feel anything. He asked with a loud and firm voice; “What’s so funny.”

Natalie tried to pull herself together. “Didn’t you see what kind of bird it was?”

Steven hadn’t had time to see but he got a bad feeling. He put his coffee beside him, rose and went over to her. He looked down on her asking; “No, what kind of bird was it?”

She started to laugh again. He gave her a stern look and she answered; “It was a woodpecker.” She saw Lee behind Steven and he was laughing too.

“Seriously, you mean I have a wooden head. You could need a…” He made a quick movement and threw her over his shoulder. But his injury took the breath out of him. Lee noticed and rushed to help. Steven tried not to drop Natalie that he had over his shoulder. With help from Lee he could sit down on the stairs, still holding Natalie. She tried to get down. Steven carefully put her down beside him.

“Steven, you shouldn’t lift heavy stuff.” Lee said, sounding worried

“Hmm, thanks. So I’m heavy stuff, am I?” Natalie laughed at Lee’s devastated look.

Lee tried to explain. “I didn’t mean it like that, sorry it came out all wrong.”

Steven laughed but Natalie thought he looked a little pale. “I just moved too quickly. You’re as light as a feather.” He winked at her and then it looked as if he remembered why he lifted her in the first place. “I hope you erased that photo… woodpecker, hmm.”

“No I shared it on Facebook.” She started to laugh when he grabbed her. “Just joking but it would have been a success. By the way, be honoured that he wanted to sit on your head.” She smiled.

Steven sighed. “Don’t tell me you’re bringing him too?”

She suddenly looked very sad, then rose and went inside. He went after her.

“You don’t regret moving?” Steven tried to get eye contact.

“No way, but I’m tired and I have a long way to go by car. I don’t like to drive and my friend don’t like me to drive either. But I get easily car sick.” She didn’t turn around to look at him but washed her cup and put in a box.

He ought to have said that he was sorry, she was probably expecting that. But he didn’t. Then her phone rang. She answered, still standing with her back to Steven. He went to the door to go out to Lee and James when she raised her voice. She was speaking in Swedish and he didn’t understand the words. What he did understand was her tone, it was desperate. He stopped by the door and turned around and looked at her.

Natalie was so up in the phone call that she hadn’t moved from the sink where she cleaned the mugs. She was staring at them, as she listened to the caller. As the Warlock he was, Steven noticed every little detail in the way she acted. He didn’t have to see her face to know that she was more than upset, maybe close to tears. He leant on the doorframe, waiting. She started to talk to the caller again. The tone in her voice was a mess of angry, sad and desperate at the same time. Then she said something that Steven didn’t have to know the language to understand. It was an obvious goodbye; he could see that in her body language.

“Any problem I can help you solve?” Steven asked. She turned around looking as if she had forgotten he was there.

“My friend fell down from something …” she sighed and continued as she explained without knowing why. “He broke a leg; no chance he can drive anywhere.” She sounded as if she was talking about something that had nothing to do with her. Steven recognised the symptom, it was denial and shock.

“Who’ll drive with you now?” Steven asked, quite sure there was no one. It was to wake her from whatever panic was running through her head. He was right. She looked at him as if she suddenly realised what had happened.

“Oh my God I have to drive all the way on my own.” She turned away quickly. He could tell that she was crying.

“Honey, you can’t drive all that way on your own. You’ll have to stop every 4-5 hours, it’ll take several days.” He went over to her but she waved her hand for him to leave. Steven turned her around and put his arms around her.

“Don’t be kind.” That was all she could say before the real crying started.

Lee happened to pass the kitchen and asked what had happened.

Steven explained, “The guy that was supposed to drive her broke his leg.”

“Then you can drive her.” Lee said. “But you have to stop where we planned. Not even you can drive forever.” James, who’d just entered, agreed. Lee took another box and carried out.

Steven still had his arms around Natalie. She moved a little, then looked up at him,

“Can you do that? I have the cat and he’ll probably meow all the way.”

Steven laughed, she looked like a little girl. “A cat won’t kill me and your dog already likes me.” He patted the dog that had sat beside her to offer comfort.

“I have booked a room on the way, but just one room at that B&B. My friend doesn’t see me as a woman so it wasn’t a problem sharing rooms.” She looked up at him. “But maybe neither do you?”

“Oh my, I was just wondering before how a male friend of yours could be just a friend. But honey, I’m a gentleman. I would never try anything.”

Because I’m much older than you”, she thought, but just smiled.

“So the problem’s solved, fine. Were you planning to drive as soon as we’ve loaded all your stuff?”

“Yes, I’ve booked a firm who’ll clean the house, and all the papers are signed. But weren’t you going to drive the truck back? Who’ll drive it now?”

“Lee and James can take turns. We have a stop planned, as I told you before.”

“My car, it’s right hand drive.” Natalie was still worried.

“So?… I’ve driven them too.” He smiled at her, “Natalie… you have to get to Scotland, and you want to bring your car and animals. Let us help you.”

“I’m grateful, of course I am. It’s just …” Steven put a finger over her mouth.

“I’ll make you forget all about being carsick.” Steven laughed.

Natalie looked at the tall, handsome man in front of her. Oh how horrible if she became car sick and needed to throw up. Steven could see that something still worried her and asked.

“Why are you still worried?”

She made a grimace. “Because travelling that far with a cat and dog is a lot of work. On top of that, you’ll have me who easily gets sick. Driving the truck must be heaven compared to driving us.”

Steven just shook his head and smiled. He told her to pack the last few things and get everything ready to leave. Natalie could feel that he was used to be in charge. But it was Lee she had talked to about the move. She thought Lee was the owner. In some ways Steven didn’t fit in as a man working in a moving company. But she was tired and nervous and it didn’t matter.

Lee told Steven that they had an hour left. He suggested that Steven took a nap in the truck. “You haven’t slept more than the one stop we had.”

Steven gave Lee a look. “It won’t take you an hour to be ready.”

“No, but you need rest. Go and take a nap or we stay here until you do.” Lee left him and went for another box.

Steven sighed but smiled. OK, Lee was right, driving that far was tiring. Steven lay down in the truck and as always he was quickly asleep. If anyone had done something out of the ordinary, he would wake up just as easily. It was as if he could tell his body when to sleep and when to wake up.

Natalie cleaned up in the kitchen and packed everything from the fridge. She had it all planned, but planned for the drive with her friend. Steven, she knew nothing about. It felt silly with the cool box and the leftovers. The only comfort was that it was her car they were using. After she put a small suitcase and other stuff in the car she went for the cats. She had said ‘the cat’ as in one, when she’d talked to Steven, but that was because Missy never made a sound. The other cat, Metal, always ‘talked’. To have him in the cage for that many hours would be a nightmare.

Everything was loaded on the truck and the house was empty. Natalie walked around and double checked every room and closet to see that nothing had been left behind. The estate agent had her new address and her new phone number. She took her dog, Killen, put on the leash and told Lee, who was standing by the truck, that she was going for a short walk.

“Fine, Steven needs some sleep. We’ll wait here for you.” He thought she looked tired.

“I must say that you’re amazing.”

He smiled at her, “Don’t you worry. Steven is the best driver you could get. Just tell him what you need on the way. He’s used to being on his own.” Lee winked at her when she left.

She walked the same road she had walked every day. There had been times she had been afraid that when she finally left she would regret her big decision. But there was no regret. She was tired, yes, but mostly because there had been a lot to do. The trip by car to Scotland had worried her and the shock she got when her friend called had been horrible. But Steven had in some strange way been aware that something really bad had happened. She couldn’t be more grateful.

When she came back Steven was standing talking to James and Lee. He couldn’t have got more than an hour’s sleep. But he had no trace of being tired. He turned around and smiled at her.

Natalie put the dog in the car then hurried inside to get her bag and to use the bathroom one last time. When she came out again, she asked if she could lock the door. They waved to her that it was OK.

Lee drove the big truck out. Natalie was standing watching him go when Steven took her car keys. He turned her car around, jumped out and opened the door for her. She giggled a little, not being used to gentlemen. But he gave her a stern look and she felt embarrassed. He looked at her as if she was a little girl that couldn’t behave.

If he did that because she giggled, how would he react when he got to know her. She sighed aloud. Steven heard her but he started the car and she put on her safety belt. When he drove away she felt that finally everything would change, this time in a good way.

Steven was driving but, at the same time, he noticed everything she did. She started to relax, he could see that.

“Do you have some music we can listen to?” He asked.

She opened the glove compartment and took out a CD.

“Maybe you don’t like the same music as I do.” She talked quietly and he wondered if his stern look had scared her. My God if she was that easily scared they’d have problems.

“Well I won’t know if you don’t put on something.” He winked at her. She put on a CD. Steven was surprised that it was old blues. “Wow, didn’t see that coming.” He laughed.

“I’m afraid the next song can be totally different. I mix different songs so as not to get bored.”

“So… do you get bored easily? I mean with other stuff too.” Steven asked.

“Maybe I need some adventure in my life. But I don’t expect big things.” She smiled. “The bird that landed on your head was amazing. No big thing, just special.” She had dreaming tone in her voice.

“I do hope you erased the photo.”

She never answered, instead asking if she could open the window a little.

“You’re feeling carsick already?” He asked.

“Not yet, but I need the fresh air. I’m afraid you’ll get very tired of me. By the way, Metal isn’t making that much noise, yet.” She laughed a little.

“Shush, don’t’ remind him.” Steven laughed and so did she. He wondered why she was so sensitive to how he reacted. “Tell me about yourself, why you’re moving all this way… Any boyfriend in Scotland who’s persuaded you to move?” He asked, looking at the road.

“No, I don’t know anyone there. Well, I have Facebooks friends, but you never know if they want to meet in real life. I just needed to move somewhere with neighbours around.”

“So a beautiful girl like you doesn’t have a boyfriend. Well, if you’ve stayed inside that house all the time, then I get it.”

“You’re very kind, but I’m too old to be of any interest to anyone.” She smiled and looked out of the window.

It made Steven sad to hear, because she was being so honest. There was no fishing for compliments. But he could understand that living on her own out there must have killed any feeling of belonging. There was something about her that had caught his interest from the first moment he looked in to her eyes. “You tell me when you want to stop for coffee, food, or if you just want to get out of the car.” He had a soft voice because she looked pale he thought. Maybe he was afraid to scare her.

“We can’t keep stopping all the time. If we do, I’ll be dead before we reach my new home.” She giggled and he sighed.

An old Scottish song came on the CD. One that Steven’s father used to sing. Steven knew the words and sang along with it. Natalie looked at him, amazed. He had a wonderful voice. When the song was over and the next came on, he just looked as though nothing special had happened.

“You have a wonderful voice. I have a feeling you can do almost everything. Why do you work moving furniture?”

“I never said I do.” He gave her a teasing smile. “Why don’t you try to sleep for a while. I’ll wake you when it’s time to stop for dinner.”

Natalie didn’t contradict him. It was a good idea. She closed her eyes. All that had happened in the last day had caught up with her. She was soon asleep. But she had always been a light sleeper and even if she didn’t show it to Steven, she’d noticed when he took his jacket to lay over her. She couldn’t help but wish that he’d been hers, and not a stranger.

Steven was driving, but he gave her a quick look now and then. He admired her. She had made a big change to her life. Without any real knowledge of what the future would give her, she’d taken a step out into the unknown.

Natalie was tired. The last month had been hectic. For two hours she slept a deeper sleep than she normally did. She woke up when they entered Denmark.

“Ah good… I don’t have to wake you. Maybe they’ll want to see your papers for the animals.” Steven smiled to her as they stopped at the customs.

Everything went smoothly. Steven went on driving. Natalie wondered if he’d planned any stops. She’d had the whole trip planned, but that was with her friend whom she knew.

As if he read her thoughts he asked; “Can you wait for a stop? I planned to drive a little more. Lee suggested a nice place on the way.”

Natalie didn’t think that it sounded like a question.

“I have a B&B booked, but not until we reach the Netherlands. We were going to stop here in Denmark for dinner. You told me to tell you when to stop. Did you really mean something different?”

Steven smiled. She thought he was running over her. Well he was the driver, she had to get used to that.

“Let’s see if we make it to your B&B… or we could take another.”

“I’ve already paid. I can’t spend more money.” She sighed. “This wasn’t a good idea. I booked just one room.”

Steven wondered why she was telling him again.

“So he is your boyfriend after all.” She thought he sounded angry.

“No, I told you he’s a friend. But I’ve known him forever. We weren’t going to sleep in the same bed. I asked for two separate beds. Just that two rooms were too expensive.” She wanted to add that it wasn’t any of his business.

“Well you don’t have to worry. I can survive in the same room as you. I have already heard you snore.” He laughed, but she thought he sounded annoyed.

“I don’t snore. But maybe you do.” She sounded grumpy, he thought, and sighed.

“It wouldn’t kill you if I did, but I don’t. Tell me if you feel car sick. If not, I’ll drive until we reach the place Lee recommended.”

She didn’t say anything. What could she say? He was driving her all the way. Steven didn’t say any more. He just went on driving. Maybe he was a little tired. It wasn’t her fault that her friend had an accident. She never asked Steven to drive.

He turned off from the main road and stopped at a petrol station. Natalie opened her handbag to give him her credit card.

Steven had opened the door, but he closed it again and turned to her.

“Listen, I know that you don’t have a lot of money. I have a good salary and no one to spend it on. Let this trip be on me.” He had a serious look, but she looked very uncomfortable. He gave her a teasing smile. “You’ve paid for the room.” He laughed when she actually blushed. He couldn’t help himself, but took some money from his pocket and gave it to her. “Why don’t you go and buy an ice-cream while I fill up with fuel.”

“This is Denmark; do you have Danish kroners?”

“I came this way, so yes. Buy one for me too. I like chocolate.” He went out to fill the tank.

Natalie sighed, then took her handbag and hurried into the shop. She needed to use the bathroom there too. When she came out from the ladies’ room Steven was in the shop.

“I couldn’t see you. I was afraid you’d escaped.” He smiled, but she could see a worried look in his eyes.

“I would never leave Killen and the cats.” She poked out her tongue at him.

“You be careful young lady, or there will be no ice-cream for you.” He took two ice-creams from the freezer without asking what she wanted.

“Can’t I choose?” She asked.

Steven showed her the ice-cream he picked. “You like this, don’t you?”

She did, it was her favourite, but how could he know. She asked him on the way out from the shop.

“I noticed what you looked at before I picked them. And you have a lot of chocolate in your bag.” He smiled because he couldn’t tell her he read her mind now and then.

She had been looking at the one she wanted, but just for a second. There was a lot about Steven she didn’t understand, and so much she wanted to ask. But so far, she hadn’t had any answers.

“Do you live in Scotland?” She asked, when they were on their way again.

“Not at the moment.”

“You have a Scottish accent, but not very strong.”

“My father is from Scotland, but my mother is Irish.” He didn’t look at her and sounded as he preferred not to speak about himself. “What about you? You don’t look Swedish.” He winked at her.

She sighed. No she wasn’t tall with blond hair and blue eyes. He must be sorry she wasn’t some blond beauty.

Again it was as if he read her mind. “You’re a beauty, but you must know that.”

She didn’t answer to that. Instead she asked where he was living now if not in Scotland.

“Ah… you’ll miss me.” He laughed but never answered her question.

Natalie gave up for the moment. But she wondered why he didn’t like to talk about himself.

6

The trip had gone just fine so far. They had dinner in the place Lee had recommended. Natalie suggested that Steven tried to sleep a little while she went for a walk with the dog.

“You’re joking right?” He looked around. The restaurant was in front of a forest. “You could get lost if you walk on your own.”

“Then it would be a good idea that you remain by the car so that one of us knows where we are. She smiled and took out the dog from the car.

Steven locked the car and went with her despite that she told him she could walk on her own. He didn’t say anything just walked beside her. It was late afternoon and he wasn’t sure they would reach her B&B before midnight. It felt as if she would have preferred to walk on her own Steven thought.

After a while he noticed that she was trying to go back to the car but she wasn’t sure what way that was. He smiled because he’d been very sure she’d get lost. However, rubbing that in her face wasn’t his style.

“What if we went this way? I think it’s time we got back. To be honest I’m not sure if we’re going to get to your B&B in time.” He gave her a kind smile.

She seemed relieved that he knew the way. Then she smiled and asked.

“In time for what?”

“Don’t they have a latest time to check in?” He replied.

“No. I had no idea what time we’d arrive so I used a B&B where you can check in at any hour. More like a hostel I guess.” She smiled in a way as if she had won a victory.

“And why didn’t you tell me that before?” Steven asked a little annoyed that she hadn’t mentioned it.

“Oh, didn’t I? I think I forget that you haven’t been in on this from the start.” She smiled but he got a feeling she was teasing him. Was she getting her own back because he’d decided where to stop for dinner.

“I guess you have the whole trip planned. But I travelled this way only yesterday. I know which roads to avoid. Could you please trust my judgment?” He looked down at her in the way he would if she was a child.

“I’m grateful that you’re doing this for me. Of course we’ll do it your way, if that makes it easier.”

He sighed, ‘makes it easier’. What was it with her and taking orders? Then he smiled, well she wasn’t his, nor was she a soldier.

“I think it will be easier as I’m the driver. Have you booked anything more than the room?” He asked her.

“The ferry from Calais. My friend wanted to stay one night in England but I never booked that.”

“Fine you give me the address to the hostel, and the time for the ferry, then you leave the rest to me, OK?”

“Yes Sir.” She pretended to salute and he laughed and put his arm around her.

“You will learn to be a good and obedient girl.” He laughed even more when she protested.

Natalie liked having his arm around her. She just wished he’d told her more about himself. Now it felt as if he thought she didn’t need to know. Well he was right. After this trip she’d probably never see him again.

When they started to drive again, Steven noticed that Natalie seemed a little sad. He didn’t ask, she could just be tired. Then she got a phone call that she ended very quickly.

Steven asked. “Who was that?”

“My friend. He asked how it’s going.”

“You ended the call very quickly, why?”

She just sighed and changed CD. If he didn’t answer her questions, why should she answer his?

But Steven wasn’t used to women who didn’t do what he asked them.

“I asked a question, why don’t you answer me?”

“Steven… he just wanted to know how far we had come.”

Steven thought there was something in her voice that he didn’t recognise.

“Is he jealous, your friend?”

Natalie laughed. “My God no. I told you, he’s a friend. Anyway I’ve already told him that you’re very young.”

“Very young?… Should I be flattered or what?”

“I guess that depends on how old you are compared to what I think.” She turned and opened the window. “Do you mind if I don’t talk, I don’t feel very well.”

“Just tell me if you need a stop.” He gave her a quick look; she was scary pale.

After a while she leant back and looked in front instead. But as she didn’t say anything he guessed she still didn’t feel that well. He drove on hoping they’d soon arrive at the hostel.

It took them many more hours before they arrived. But she managed without them needing to stop. She was right that they could check in that late. There was a very nice man on the reception. He asked if they wanted something from the kitchen sent up. Steven asked if they had a bar. This was more of a hotel and he was surprised that she could afford it.

“The bar is closed Sir but I can send up what you want.”

Steven ordered a whisky and the man asked; “And your wife Sir?”

Steven couldn’t help himself and joked with her; “Honey anything you want?”

She had been looking at an aquarium and didn’t turn at first. He asked one more time and she turned around with an almost angry look. Steven laughed, then asked if they could call if they needed anything else. The man told them to do so.

Steven opened the door to the room and the first thing he saw was a big double bed. So did Natalie.

“I ordered two beds.” There was ice in her voice.

Steven took in their bags, and the cats. Natalie was standing outside with the dog. He opened the door to the bathroom and looked in.

“They have a bath tub. Do you want a bath, with me?” Steven laughed and turned around but Natalie was gone. He sighed, took the key and went down after her.

He found her in a discussion with the man in the reception. This was a new side of Natalie. She was angry, no she was furious. The man apologised that there had been a mistake. He offered to send up a tray with delicatessen as compensation. But Natalie told him that wouldn’t help. She asked for two rooms. But all the rooms were booked.

Steven told the man in Dutch that a tray would be fine, then took her hand.

“Natalie, please it’s just one night.”

She followed him up to the room again, but she wasn’t happy.

“I promise I’ll behave.” Steven tried to joke.

“I know that you’d never touch me. It’s not that.” I ordered two beds.” She had still an angry look.

There was a knock at the door. A maid came with a tray with a lot of nice things. Steven smiled at the girl and the maid blushed.

Natalie thought that of course he wouldn’t touch her, she wasn’t a young cute girl.

He noticed her look but tried to ignore it. Did she think he was flirting? Well maybe he did, but just as a joke. He opened his bag and took his toilet bag.

“I’ll take a shower… or do you need the bathroom first?”

“You can go first.” She sat down by the desk and opened her laptop.

When he’d showered, he came to think of what she’d said earlier. That she never thought he’d touch her. Why did she say that? She’d been furious that there weren’t two beds. But she’d ordered two beds when she planned to travel with her friend. She couldn’t be angry because she had to share bed with him, Steven.

It felt good to have a long shower. He’d been driving for days. His clothes were in the bag so he left the bathroom wearing only a towel.

“The bathroom is all yours.” He smiled, but was close to starting to laugh when he saw her face. She wasn’t sure where to look.

“Fine.” She grabbed her suitcase and went into the bathroom.

He had to tease her, so he called after her asking if she needed the whole suitcase for a shower. She didn’t answer. He was sure that if they hadn’t been in a hotel she’d slammed the door after her.

There hadn’t been time for her to close her laptop. Steven knew that to look was more than rude but he was curious. She had Facebook up, and her Outlook. To look at her mails, no he would never do that. But he gave the page that was on the screen a look. She’d posted how far they’d come. There was a picture of some view, taken on the way. He’d noticed when he was driving that she took photos through the window now and then. Many friends had commented, and one had asked who was driving now, since her friend had had an accident. Natalie had answered that it was one of the moving lads. There were funny comments about that, and there it was again; she wrote that Steven was very young. While he was looking, a woman said something about age having no importance. He wanted to write back that she was so right, but he couldn’t unless he told them that he was the driver.

When Natalie came out from the bathroom she was fully dressed. It looked like she remembered that she hadn’t closed her laptop because she gave him a suspicious look.

“I just saw you had Facebook up. American friends?” Steven asked.

“Because of the late hour you mean? Yes I have friends there. Well Facebook friends all over the world I guess.”

“What did you mean by saying you knew I wouldn’t touch you?” Steven asked.

“You’re a gentleman right? And I guess I’m twenty years older than you.”

“Wow you’re 69? I would never have guessed that.” He gave her a silly smile.

“No I’m not. So you’re 49? Really? You look more like 35 or something.” Well men don’t age in the same way. It’s unfair.” She sat down by the computer.

Steven didn’t comment on what she said. He was thinking about her obsession with age. He asked what she wanted from the tray. She looked at it as if it was a bribe that would poison her. He laughed.

“They made a mistake with the beds. No big deal. He put together a little of each on a plate and gave her. “Beer right?” There was a fridge and he took out a beer. “It’s a nice hotel you booked.” He looked at her, wondering if she would say anything about it.

“Yes much nicer than I had expected.” She turned off her laptop and ate what was on the plate. After that she had an insecure look.

“Are you sleeping fully dressed?” Steven asked, then winked. He’d put on his boxers while she was in the bathroom. He took his towel and went to the bathroom. She heard him brush his teeth. He had given her a chance to change and go to bed. When he came back she still sat on the chair.

“I have to brush my teeth.” She rose and went to the bathroom.

He called out, “I can turn out the light so you can sneak into bed without being fully dressed.” He heard her laugh.

He did turn out the light. It was very dark in the room when she came back. Steven was used to seeing in the dark. To him it didn’t matter if the light was on. He was a gentleman and turned to the other side of the bed. It was difficult not to laugh when she sneaked into bed. Then he heard her swear.

“What’s wrong?” He turned and looked at her.

“There’s only one blanket.” She moved to the edge of the bed and he laughed.

“Oh, that’s horrible. Maybe my hairy legs will scare you?” He moved closer to her.

She sighed. “No… but I move around a lot when I sleep. You could end up with no blanket at all.”

He took a grip around her waist and pulled her as close as she could be. Then he wrapped the blanket around them both, like a cocoon. “Look, now we both have the blanket and you can’t move around.” He could feel her warm body and he wanted more of her. To him it didn’t matter if it was only hours they had known each other. But he knew it mattered to her.

She didn’t dare to look into his eyes. He was joking, she was so sure of that. But to her this was something she had been without for such a long time.

When she didn’t say something he kissed her forehead and said goodnight. But he kept her there in his arms. It had been a long day and even if he wanted so much more he was also tired.

She was scared to death of moving. His deep breathing made her relax and she stayed in his arms, soon she was asleep too.

They were both woken up by her phone alarm. She’d forgotten to turn it off.

“I’m so sorry.” She hurried out of bed and turned it off. “What time do we have to leave?”

“Oh come to bed. I’ll wake you in time.” He mumbled from the bed.

“But I need at least two hours before we leave.”

“What the hell are you going to be doing for two hours?” He sat up, looking at her in the dark.

“Breakfast, shower, walk with the dog. It’s 6 am now, when do we have to leave to get to the ferry in time?”

“Honey, you booked it late in the afternoon. If we leave around 12 we’ll still have a lot of time. Come to bed.” He reached out his arm. She set the alarm for 10 and went back to bed, but on her side of the bed. “Seriously?” He pulled her closer again.

“What if I mind sleeping this close?” She whispered.

“Mind?… How?”

“You’re very good looking. Your shower cream smells good.” She giggled.

“Ah, I’m sorry. I thought it was just me that had problems with sleeping. You smell good too.” He kissed her ear.

“Thanks… but can we sleep?” She tried to move away. Yes, it was too soon for her.

Steven wasn’t sure what to do. He liked having her close, too much.

“We can behave, right?” He laughed, then closed his eyes pretending to sleep.

Natalie had problems sleeping again. The three hours they’d had felt enough, but she knew they needed more. Especially Steven, who was driving. She tried not to move, so as not to wake him, but he felt her all the time. But yes, he needed sleep, and he was sure that if they went too far, too soon, she would regret it.

Somehow they both fell asleep and woke up at ten when her alarm rang. Natalie looked embarrassed because she was sleeping with her head on his shoulder. Steven just smiled at first, then smacked her bottom and told her it was time to get up. She hurried out of bed and into the bathroom.

Steven called and asked if she wanted breakfast in the room. She answered that they didn’t have that service.

“If you want the breakfast in the room I’m sure you’ll get it.” Steven replied.

“It would have been nice. We could look at the map and plan our stops.” She started to giggle, then locked the bathroom door.

“So you’re afraid I’ll come and get you for teasing me?” He laughed, then took her dog and left.

When Natalie came back after a shower and makeup there were only the cats in the room. She gave them just a little to eat, so they wouldn’t get sick in the car. Then she cleaned out their box and put them in their cage. She had planned to take Killen on a walk before breakfast but he and Steven were gone. They came half an hour later. Both very exhausted.

“We took a run. Wow… can that guy run.” Steven laughed and took off the leash. “I have to shower. They’re bringing up breakfast.”

He hadn’t asked her what she wanted for breakfast, but by now that didn’t surprise her. Somehow he knew what she liked. And he did, the tray they brought was delicious. Steven came out from the shower, in a towel again. This time she sighed and said;

“What if you drop the towel? I might faint.” She giggled.

He leant down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Then he made a gesture, as if he was removing the towel. She screamed “No!”

“Are you serious?… You’re that shy?” Steven asked, then gestured that if she was, she should turn around. She did, giggling.

“I don’t know you.”

“And you slept in the same bed as me?… That’s outrageous.” He made his voice silly and she laughed.

“OK, I’m a little shy. But is that so wrong?”

“No honey, it’s kind of refreshing.” He smiled, then told her she could look at him now. She made a gesture, to ask if she should pour coffee into his cup. “Thanks. By the way, was last night that horrible?”

“You’re being silly now because you know that I never saw it as horrible.” The look on her face told him that this wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have. She changed the topic. “Thanks for taking Killen out, He’s good at staying in the car that long, but a good run was just what he needed.”

“We’re pals now. Right?” He reached out his hand and patted the dog.

Natalie was surprised that Killen had accepted Steven that quickly. Normally he was suspicious of new people. She smiled because her friend had been so sure there would be problems. Then she felt Steven looking at her. She looked up from the laptop,

What’s wrong, Steven?”

“Your friend… he doesn’t see himself as just a friend, does he?”

Natalie almost stared at Steven. How could he know what she was thinking about? No, he couldn’t. It was a coincidence.

“Of course he’s just a friend… And about me being shy…” she continued, not aware that what she now said made Steven even more sure, “I’ve known him so long that I wouldn’t be shy even if he came out naked from the bathroom… He actually has, many times, but I don’t see him, or he me.”

“Excuse me, ‘or he me’?… Do you mean that you ran around naked when he was around?” There was a tone in his voice that she didn’t like.

“Run around sounds a little silly don’t you think? But yes, maybe he has seen me, but he doesn’t care.” She regretted that she’d mentioned the whole thing. But she wanted to explain and now it was even worse.

“Are you that naïve that you think he drives you all the way without any interest in you?”

“Forget all about it. I know that he isn’t interested… and anyway, I’m moving to another country, so I guess I’ll never see him. I just tried to explain that we are friends, and you made it worse instead.” She finished her coffee and went to the bathroom.

Steven sighed. Was she that naïve or what?

“Is he gay?” He called to her.

She was brushing her teeth. She stopped and called back;

“Why do you ask? Do you want me to introduce him to you?” She smiled but he couldn’t see her.

He rose and went to the bathroom. He leant against the doorframe looking at her. She finished brushing her teeth.

“Could you carry down the cats and let me use the bathroom on my own, please?”

“Of course ma’am.” He bowed, mockingly. She closed the door.

He took Killen, his own bag, and the cats, then went downstairs. After putting the cats and the bag in the car, he went to a small shop beside the hotel.

They had a lot of souvenirs but also second hand stuff. He found a necklace with a stone in opal. A too expensive necklace for a shop like that he thought. But the woman behind the desk had obviously no idea that it was a real opal. Steven smiled when he paid because she charged far too much for something that wasn’t valuable. She thought he was a stupid tourist, he guessed. At first he’d almost felt sorry for not telling her how valuable it was. Now he was happy that he hadn’t. He put it in the pocket of his jacket and went for a short walk with Killen.

Natalie left the key at the reception and went out to the car. She saw Steven and Killen playing close by. But Steven had already seen her and told the dog they had to leave. Steven opened the boot and put her suitcase there, then he opened the door for her. Natalie was getting used to his nice manners and smiled. She heard him talk to the dog when he put him in his cage.

When he jumped in to the car and started she took a deep breath. He turned and looked at her.

“Nervous that you’ll get car sick?”

“No more nervous than that I’ll get a shock when I see my new home.”

“What do you mean?” He gave her a strange look. Had she bought the house without seeing it?

“I know you’ll think I’m an idiot. But I had no chance to go and see it for real. I have only seen pictures and a video the estate agent made. But I have read everything there was in the home report.”

Steven sighed. “And if you don’t like it when you enter the house?”

“I have to. It looks nice on the pictures. Maybe needs some new wallpaper and colour but I can live without that. The view from the bedroom window is amazing.” She looked worried and he didn’t want to make that worse.

“If it needs paint and wallpaper, then I can help you. I have a month off because of an accident.”

“But if you are free it is to rest.” Her worry was now about him and that was just fine he thought.

“I shouldn’t do any heavy lifting.” He laughed when she hit his arm playfully. “I can paint, and put up wallpaper, if you can stand my company a little longer.” He smiled, but she looked sad.

“When you go back to work, will I never see you after that?”

Steven didn’t want to tell her that he lived and worked in Canada. At that moment he actually wished he didn’t.

“I travel a lot through my work. That means I can take time off for longer periods. You will see me again, if you still want to after I’ve decorated your bedroom with woodpeckers.” He smiled and she laughed.

“I could make wallpaper from that photo of you.”

“Hey, you should erase that.” He pinched her cheek.

“No… that photo has a special meaning.”

He shook his head and they continued their journey.

Steven was a good driver, and they reached the ferry in time. But it was already late when they reached the Scottish border and her house was almost as far up in the north as it could be.

“Should I have booked a room?” She asked.

“No… Lee called me earlier to say that they’ll arrive before us, as you’d already planned. Maybe I can borrow your couch.” He looked at the road but was wondering what she would say.

“I’m afraid that I don’t have a guest bed, and you’re too tall for the couch. I can take the couch and you can sleep in my bed.”

He started to laugh. “Not one more night in the same bed as me you mean. Hmm… didn’t you say that it wasn’t horrible?” He glanced across at her and laughed even more because she blushed and didn’t know where to look. “Honey… we’ll work something out when we get there.” He took out his phone and gave it to her. “Call Lee and ask how they have placed your furniture.”

“It’s very late… I can’t ask that now.” She looked at his phone.

“Yes you can. He called me when we were at the ferry. They expect to leave around midnight and it isn’t that late.”

She turned on his phone. There was a picture of a girl and a boy.

“Your children?” She asked.

“Yes… William and Mary. When you’ve spoken to Lee, let me have a talk with him.”

Natalie looked at Steven. She’d thought that he was maybe not even 35, yet he was 49 he said, and had children. She sighed a little. Of course he had, and probably a beautiful wife too. But she never asked. Something she came to regret.

Lee told her that they’d put all the boxes to the rooms it said on the labels. He guessed the master bedroom was the biggest one.

“The bed is put together, and you’d told James that two cabinets should be there. The two biggest I’m not sure of, but you can’t let Steven carry anything.”

“I know he can’t carry heavy stuff.” She laughed. “I guess there isn’t space for both of them in the living room?”

“No, we put your desk in the corner you mentioned… the one for the computer. The other, upstairs in the second bedroom. In the smallest bedroom I’ve put boxes I wasn’t sure of, is that’s OK? Why not put the other cabinet in the second bedroom? You didn’t intend to have that as a bedroom, right?”

“I think that sounds great. I’m grateful for all the work you’ve done. Will this cost more? I guess it will.”

“No lassie, we always carry the furniture to their right places. Maybe we could stay until you arrive?” Lee asked.

“I don’t think we will be there for many hours yet.” She had a worried look and Steven told her to give him the phone. She told Lee that Steven wanted a word.

“Lee… We won’t be there until early in the morning. But do you know if Freddy still takes temporary jobs?” Steven asked.

“He does, as he can’t get along with anyone for a permanent job. What did you have in mind?”

“Natalie said the house could need new wallpaper and paint.” Steven hoped Lee would give him a hint without that she heard too much.

“Aye, it should have been done before we arrived. But I guess you offered to help.” Lee laughed.

“I have a lot of time off, so why not? Can you call Freddy and tell him to take a cab to her address tomorrow around lunch? He still lives in his parent’s little cottage right?”

“He’ll never move. I’ll give him a call early tomorrow. But Steven, you can’t help him move the heavy furniture if she wants them some other place. Give me a call in that case. I have two days off.”

“OK, thanks… and the bill.”

“You want me to send that to you? Steven, are you serious with Natalie? I don’t think she’s a woman that you should fool around with.”

Steven looked at Natalie. She tried to pretend that she wasn’t listening, but he was sure that she couldn’t hear Lee.

“I agree with all you say. Talk to you tomorrow. Anything more you need to ask Natalie?” He looked at her to see if she wanted to talk to Lee again. She shook her head and Lee said not at the moment. Steven put down his phone. “It seems like they have it all covered. I asked Lee to call a guy that can help decorate your home.”

She gave him a worried look. “I can’t pay for all that. I’m sure it’s OK as it is.”

“Lee said it could need some paint. You would do me a favour if you let me fix it for you. I hate having time off, that’s why I offered to drive for Lee. I have a lot of contacts; it won’t cost you a penny.”

She smiled. “You’re lying about the cost. But I’m grateful for any help. I just want you to know that I didn’t get that much for the house in Sweden. I had to make up the difference with a loan. So now I have to be careful with all expenses.” She thought he must see her as a boring person, but he smiled.

“I have contacts, no lie there. I promise you that no expensive bills will drop into your mailbox.”

They didn’t discuss the matter more. But Natalie wondered how it looked, as Lee had said it needed paint. She was aware that in a photo you could hide the worst. What worried her most had been the size of the rooms. It’s one thing to know the area in square metres, but another to get the furniture to fit in. Lee had sounded as if it had all fitted in just fine. They’d had to carry up one heavy cabinet but he hadn’t complained. She looked at Steven, she’d struck lucky when she’d chosen Lee’s company.

Steven looked across at her, “You should try to sleep.”

“But isn’t it more of a problem to stay awake if you have no one to talk to?”

“Don’t worry about me. But you look a little pale. It’s dark outside anyway so there’s not very much to look at.”

But they’d entered Scotland, and to her there were a million things to look at. The lights from the towns they passed. The stars in the sky, and the full moon. Steven didn’t insist. It was nice to listen to her when she described something she saw. He asked what colours she liked to have on the walls, sure that she would choose something colourful.

“White is the most practical. Then I can have whatever colours I want on carpets, curtains, and other stuff.”

“And if the house need painting on the outside?… Not a pink house?” He laughed.

“That would be too much work… painting the façade too. But to be honest, the outside would be fun in a colour. Now it’s just grey.” She started to worry that he would think her new house was a disaster. Then she felt silly again. He was just helping her so he had something to do. He wasn’t moving in.

“Maybe blue with white windows, almost as the Saltire.” He suggested.

She just smiled. But in her head she saw how it would look and she liked it. Steven gave her a quick look and he could see that she liked his idea. Why did she want white walls in her house? It couldn’t be her idea, or her taste.

“Have you been married?” Steven asked.

She laughed a little. “Don’t you think anyone ever wanted me?”

“Natalie… now you’re being really stupid. Maybe you never wanted any of the men who proposed.” His voice had a firmer tone, the one she didn’t like. “I asked because I wanted to know more about you. So could you answer without accusing me of not appreciating you?”

“I was joking.” She turned and looked out.

Steven sighed. “Do you know what? You act like a child most of the time. And… sometimes it’s cute, but other times you could do with an old fashion spanking.”

“Really?… What century do you live in?… And yes, I was married once, but he died. Satisfied?” She still looked out.

“I’m sorry… Was it recently? I thought you’d been alone for a long time?”

“It was many years ago.”

“But you still don’t want to talk about him?… It helps to talk, but you must know that.”

“Steven… I’m not a little child, even if you think so. There are days I don’t want to talk, most days it’s not a problem. And I don’t need anyone to tell me what to talk about.”

“He died in an accident.” It wasn’t a question.

“Steven it’s none of your business. I think I will take your advice and sleep.” She curled up in the seat and closed her eyes.

Steven sighed again, but he couldn’t force her to talk about it. But Steven wasn’t giving up. There was a darkness in Natalie that he didn’t understand. She was this sweet, funny woman, then suddenly there came that darkness, or was it sadness. He was going to find out what happened to her husband.

Natalie was tired, and she felt that she’d been rude to Steven. He’d just asked a question. Well to start with, anyway, then he started to tell her how to live. Maybe she should tell him not to help her decorate the house. But when she thought that she’d never see him again, she got a stomach ache. It was silly. She’d only known the guy two days.

She felt him lay his jacket over her and turned to look at him.

“I’m sorry I was rude. Lawrence was American, he was in the army. We never agreed where to live. He wanted me to move with him and I said no. I felt it was my fault that he died. If I’d moved with him, then maybe he wouldn’t have been send out to the war. But I would be grateful if we didn’t talk about it anymore.”

“I’m sorry if I brought up sad memories. But you’re wrong, it wasn’t anything you could have changed. I don’t know what position he had, but he was a soldier. He knew what that meant.” Steven smiled at her, and then he remembered the necklace. “Put your hand in the pocket of my jacket.”

She looked suspicious at him. “You have a mouse trap there?”

Steven laughed. “No I bought you a souvenir. Something to make you remember our first night together.” He winked when she grimaced.

Natalie put her hand in his pocket, the right pocket and found the necklace. She held it up to get some light from the moon outside the window. “Wow, it’s amazing. The stone looks like an opal.”

“It’s a real opal, and no I didn’t spend a fortune. There was this second hand shop. The woman had no idea that it was a real stone and I guess white gold. I was on my way to tell her but she charged me far too much for what she thought was a necklace with a piece of glass.”

“You found a treasure.” She put it on and took a mirror from her handbag. “You should have a big hug but not while you’re driving.”

“Then I look forward to when we stop. Which we soon have to. We need fuel, and a cup of coffee would be nice.” He winked at her and she smiled.

Natalie had a million thoughts in her head. Why did Steven buy her a beautiful necklace? That was a thing you bought for someone special and he hardly knew her.

Steven was worried. Natalie had problems letting go of a marriage that she herself said happened many years ago. The reason she didn’t like to talk about it was guilt. But he had a bad feeling that she also blamed her husband’s choice of work. Maybe she even blamed the army. Something that wasn’t in Steven’s favour.

He turned in to a petrol station and went out to fill the car. Natalie was still sitting in the car. Steven knocked at her window but she was looking at her phone. He knocked again and then he opened her door. “Coffee, remember?”

“Oh, yes, sorry.” She put down her phone and came out.

“What were you doing on the phone?” Steven asked.

She smiled. “You’re the most curious man I have met. Why are you so interested in what I do?”

He took her hand and walked in to the café where he ordered the kind of coffee she wanted. She looked up at him, he noticed and asked; “Anything else you want?”

She felt like the little child he accused her of being, and just pointed at a chocolate cookie. Steven had to tease her. He leant down and whispered in her ear;

“Have you been a good girl? Two presents that close together?”

Natalie looked around as she thought people would hear them which made Steven laugh. He ordered the cookie and showed her to a table. When they sat down he took both her hands. “You asked why I’m interested in what you do. Why do you think I am?”

“That’s what I don’t understand or I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Do you like me?” He asked looking into her eyes.

“Of course I do, who doesn’t? You’re an amazing person. Kind, smart, funny, generous. Do you really have to ask?”

“Yes, I have to because if you like me, then you want to get to know me, right?”

“You mean, I don’t seem interested?” She asked with a horrible feeling that what she said now would determine whether she ever saw him again after this trip.

“I don’t know… that’s why I ask what you do when you seem as you’d prefer to be alone… Because I like you a lot.” He smiled at her honestly surprised look. Hadn’t she noticed how he flirted with her?

“You do?… But I’m so much older than you. Or didn’t you mean as a woman?” She felt what she’d said had all come out wrong.

There was a very sad look in Steven’s eyes.

“Don’t you see how amazing you are? I’ve never met any woman like you…” he smiled, “and I’ve met a lot, you can be sure of that.”

She laughed. “Oh, I don’t doubt that for one minute. I just don’t see anything special about me.” Her laugh changed to a serious look. “Steven… You don’t even live in Scotland. I don’t want to be hurt by getting too close to you for a couple of weeks.”

“I get that. But you have to take chances in life.” He thought that her old marriage wasn’t in his favour. She had refused to move once. Steven sighed, oh yes he had everything against him.

Natalie drank her coffee and ate her cookie. She didn’t say anything more and hardly looked at him. Steven felt that he’d gone too far too fast. But he wasn’t a man who gave up that easily. When they left the café he took her hand. He looked down at Natalie but she didn’t look up at him. He squeezed her hand to get a response. She didn’t let go of his hand and that was enough for Steven at this moment.

7

They arrived early in the morning. Steven thought that it had only been three days since he first met Natalie. And now he didn’t want to be without her.

Natalie was standing outside her new home just looking. Then she turned to Steven who carried out the cat’s cage, “It feels right so far and the outside must be the worse… I hope.” She laughed a little.

“It’s not that bad, and when you decorate the garden, with your gnomes and pots, it will look amazing.” He took out Killen but put on the leash. “Do you want me to go for a walk so that you can enter on your own?”

“No, we’ve travelled all this way together. We should see it together.” She smiled.

“Maybe I should carry you in?” He winked and she blushed, but laughed.

“Don’t forget, no heavy stuff.” She smiled and he pretended to grab her.

He took the dog to the trees close by. Natalie was still just standing there and he wondered if she wasn’t as thrilled as she pretended to be. “Hey, come here. You have to see the view.” He waved to her and she went over. Steven put his arm around her. “Well you can’t complain about the surroundings.”

“It’s beautiful.” She looked at the mountains.

But Steven looked at Natalie when he replied; “Breath taking.”

Natalie was looking at the mountains and never noticed. He realised that she wasn’t going to be easy to convince that he had a serious interest in her.

The cat called from the cage and they went back. Lee had put the key under a pot that still was there. Steven gave it to Natalie. She looked at him as if she wasn’t sure and he smiled.

When she finally opened the door it was with a happy ‘wow.’ Lee had placed everything very nicely. It certainly didn’t look bad at all. OK, he’d been right that some painting would be needed but Natalie had a smile on her face for every room they went through.

“It’s nice, don’t you think so?” She asked a little afraid that he would say no.

“I like it… It’s cosy, it’s you.” He put his arm around her. She was standing in the bedroom looking out at the view. “You can sing ‘These are my mountains’ when you wake up.” He laughed at her look.

“I can’t sing, but you can, while you’re here.” She leant her head against him. He wasn’t sure if she was aware, or maybe just tired.

Steven helped her find what she needed to make the bed. He found an extra blanket and gave her a look. She wasn’t sure what he meant because yes she was tired. “Can we go on sharing bed?” He asked when he saw that she didn’t get what he meant. “And if yes do you want your own blanket?”

Natalie wasn’t sure what she wanted. “I’ll leave to you to decide. I have to take a shower.” She looked in her bag for what she needed.

“You have a Jacuzzi, want to share that too?” He gave her a sensual look with half closed eyes.

“We need sleep, so a quick shower is what I’m taking now. But you’re free to use the Jacuzzi whenever you want.” She was about to turn to go to the shower, but he grabbed her hand. He leant down and gave her quick kiss and smiled when she blushed.

Steven made the bed, with one blanket. He looked out at the mountains. Maybe the house needed paint but she had made a good choice. But that made it even more difficult for Steven. Natalie would love her new home and he didn’t live even close. He had finally met the right woman but the time couldn’t have been more wrong. He heard Natalie in the room beside and wondered what she was doing.

“Have you had your shower?” He asked on the way to her.

“Don’t come in here.” She shouted.

Steven stopped in the doorway. Natalie was standing with her head in one of the boxes. She had just a towel around her.

“What are you looking for?” He asked.

“I told you not to come in. I’m looking for something to sleep in. Go and get your shower.”

“My God you are so shy. You have a huge towel around you. I can’t see anything.”

She had found something and looked up. “Sorry if I’m not as comfortable as you running around naked. Can I get dressed now?”

“To go to bed?” He laughed and left for the shower but removed his T-shirt on his way. She sighed and heard him laugh.

Natalie was exhausted and more or less fell down in the bed. She noticed that there was only one blanket, but she did with a smile. She was already asleep when Steven came to bed. He didn’t know her that well to know that she always woke up very easily. She did so now but pretended not to. Steven lay down beside her. He removed a lock of hair from her eyes and then he smiled.

“You’re not asleep.” He leant over her whispering.

“I was, not my fault I wake up easily.” She mumbled.

“You weren’t waiting for me?” He pulled her closer and she giggled a little. It was nice to sleep this close, but just sleep.

Steven was tired he had been driving for many days now and he was still not fully recovered. But even if he hadn’t been tired he was smart enough to know not to rush. What worried him was that he didn’t have that much time to make her fall in love with him. When his month was over he had to leave.

That night Steven had one of his nightmares. Nightmares that Natalie knew nothing about. But she woke up when Steven moved around talking in his sleep. She tried to wake him but at first he pushed her away. Then she spoke to him, called his name and suddenly he sat up and opened his eyes.

“You had a nightmare.” She caressed his arm with her hand.

“I’m so sorry, I woke you up.” He was on his way to say he should sleep in another room. But then he looked in to her eyes.

“It’s OK. I move around all the time. Let’s get some more hours before I jump around unpacking.” She smiled and there was something in that smile that gave him hope.

“OK.” He lay down and she put her head on his shoulder. He got a feeling that she knew that this nightmare wasn’t a onetime thing. But she didn’t ask and he appreciated that.

They woke up when Steven’s phone rang. He excused himself and left the room. She heard him close the door to the room beside. There was so much for her to do that she didn’t really think about his call.

“William, I’m back in Scotland. Do you want me to come?” Steven asked, when he saw who called.

William told him to please come. His grandmother wasn’t feeling well after a fight with her son.

“Why didn’t your granddad throw Bob out?” Steven asked.

“He did… but Bob was on drugs I think. He tried to hit granddad.”

“William… did you interfere? I’ve told you to stay away from Bob.”

“But I couldn’t let him hurt granddad… I managed to get him out.”

“OK… I’m not far from you. I’ll be there in an hour. Have you called Graham?”

“He came to get Bob, he can’t hurt us now. But grandmother and Mary are crying. I’ll tell them you’re coming.”

They hung up. Steven was angry. That idiot Bob should be put in prison before he kills someone. Now Steven had to disappoint Natalie, and that wasn’t a good move.

He found her in the kitchen unpacking.

“Honey I have to leave.”

She looked up from her boxes.

“Oh, well thank you for driving me.”

“Hey, I’ll be back. I just have an urgent matter to attend. I’ll call Lee and see to it that the guy who’s coming to help gets all the materials he needs… Still just white?”

She just looked at him. It almost felt as if he’d moved in, and yes that would maybe have been amazing, but he’d rushed her and she always panicked when men did that. Steven could feel that he’d run over her, and had rushed something that wasn’t there yet.

He sighed. “You think I decides things without asking you. I’m sorry about that. Maybe it’s because I’m used to be in charge. I just want to help you. But if you want me to leave for good just tell me.” He had a tired look. Things didn’t go well today. “No Steven I’m thankful for everything you do for me. It’s just that I’m not used to having a man telling me what to do.”

Steven smiled. “Then it’s maybe time you had one who does.” He looked at her as if he waited for her to say something more.

“Yes, I want to see more of you too, but honestly that scares me.”

He leant down and gave her a light kiss. “I will try to be back this afternoon.”

She watched him as he left. He had called a cab. Before he left he changed into a suit and she couldn’t understand what such an amazing man saw in her.

Steven knew she was watching him go. Yes, he had changed to a fancy suit to impress her. It was ridiculous but when it came to a woman, he’d never been so insecure as he was now.

He called Lee and told him to pick up Freddy and bring the materials to get the house redecorated. Then he called Graham and asked what they had done with Bob.

“He’s at the hospital.” Graham answered.

“Hospital, why?” Steven wondered.

“William hit him and he fell down the stairs. But don’t worry, the reason he fell was because of all the drugs in him. He’s getting psychiatric care. And Steven, that’s not a day to soon.”

“Will they keep him there if he tries to get out?”

“This time they will keep him there. His father signed the paper, to say that he tried to hurt the whole family. He’s never done that before. There had always been excuses.” Graham sighed.

“Good, it’s a shame it took Conrad this long to see that his son’s doing wrong. But better late than never. Thanks for your help.”

“Steven, you know I’m always there for you.”

Yes, Graham had been Steven’s friend for many years. He was one of the few people who knew everything about Steven’s life.

Conrad, William and Mary’s grandfather, started to apologies as soon as Steven entered the door.

“Conrad please. I’ve heard that you’ve finally seen to it that Bob gets treatment. And from what I heard from William, no one got hurt.” Steven sighed, “well apart from emotionally. But a trip to Fortrose to see the dolphins will solve that, right?” He winked at Mary and their grandmother Anna.”

“Oh Steven, my dear… you’re always so understanding.” Anna gave him a hug.

Steven smiled but asked if he could have a word with William and Mary on their own. They went to a café close by. He had a coffee and wondered if Natalie had got any back at her house. They hadn’t bought any groceries on the way to the house. He was worried she had no food. He sighed and tried to concentrate on William and Mary. “Do you still want to stay with your grandparents?” He asked them.

“Bob isn’t coming back. Graham said he is locked in.” William looked at Mary as if he was afraid she would say no.

“It’s nice to be here a month. As long as Bob doesn’t come and hurt us.” Mary looked at her brother.

“Mary you know you just have to call me if you don’t want to be here.” Steven took her hand.

“I know. I love granny and grandpa too but Bob scares me and…” She looked at her brother again and he nodded.

“I know. But I will be there with you this time.” Steven told them.

“Are we going to see the dolphins now?” Mary asked.

“We sure are and we take Anna and Conrad with us.” Steven smiled but inside he was sad. This wasn’t how children should have it.

They went back and fetched Anna and Conrad. Steven used the car he had rented. It was comfortable enough for them all. Anna was on about how kind he was until he told her to please stop. Mary giggled but got a stern look from Steven.

It was a wonderful day, not even a hint of rain and the dolphins appeared as they’d hoped. Steven thought about how much Natalie would have loved this.

William noticed that there was something different about his father.

“Have you met someone?” He asked.

Steven turned and looked at his son. He had grown so much these last few months, but that he noticed things like this, surprised Steven.

“I hardly know her… so not really. Would you mind if I met someone?”

“Mind?… No, It’s the other way around. Would you be home more if you married her?”

Steven sighed. “William you know that I have a job where I’m gone for several weeks at a time. The good part is that when I’m home, I don’t have to work, well not that much.”

“I know, but we miss you when you’re gone. This last time you almost died.”

“Almost William. I’m fine now, and you don’t have to worry. But I will try to get more time off. And not only because I’ve met someone that I would like to see more of. But for you and Mary.”

“I know you love to work, and we want you to be happy. But more time would be great. Is she here? What does she say about you living in Canada?”

Steven sighed. “I haven’t told her.” He laughed at Williams look. “I know, but the thing is that she’s just moved here. I’m not even sure she likes me. Hey take photos of the dolphins and leave your old dad’s love life alone.” He laughed. William went down to the beach to take photos.

Conrad had heard the conversation. “Steven you know that we all appreciate all you do for the kids. But you should have a decent love life. You buried yourself in work after all the bad that happened.”

“I love my work. Maybe that was one of the problems.”

“No, you know that isn’t true.” Conrad sat down beside him.

They didn’t talk any more about it, but had a nice day. Steven took them all to dinner then after he left them at the house he called Natalie.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve been busy until now. Has Freddy painted anything?”

“Oh, he’s amazing. The hall has already been given the first coat. He’s cleaned the walls in all the other rooms too.” She paused. “So you’re not coming today?”

“It’s late, but I would love to come. Have you been able to go shopping? I mean food and stuff like that?”

“Lee took me to Thurso. I have filled the fridge and the freezer. He drove Freddy home too. I’m out walking with Killen now. But it’s getting dark soon so I guess we should get back home.”

“You’re out on your own. How far have you gone?”

“Don’t get angry Steven, but we went for a long walk and I’m kind of lost.”

“You have a GPS in your phone.”

“I know and I’m following it now but I don’t recognise anything. It’s OK…We’ll find our way back.”

“Listen, try to find a big road. I’ll come right now, and you call me as soon as you see any signs with names. OK?… are you listening?”

“Yes I’m listening. I’ll try to find a big road.” She was scared and he could hear that. But she would never tell him.

“Do you want me to stay on the phone?” He asked.

“No, my battery is almost gone.”

“Oh, Natalie. Didn’t you charge it? Close it now and you will have some power for later to call. But don’t worry I’ll find you.”

It would be getting dark soon and Steven was more worried than he wanted Natalie to know. It would take him almost an hour from Inverness and he had no idea which way she’d gone. Well hopefully she’d have some battery left if he had to call.

Natalie was scared and she felt stupid. She’d walked far too long for this late hour. They’d gone to the beach first, and then she wanted to see the mountains. Trying to do everything at once had been idiotic. On top of it all she fell, climbing over a hill. Something she hadn’t told Steven so as not to worry him even more. But her leg hurt, her jeans was tattered and she was bleeding from her hands. It wasn’t a big deal but she wanted to get home. This was her first day in her new home, she’d better find her way home, or her first day would be a disaster.

As they’d only just moved there, she didn’t expect her dog to find his way back. But when he started to pull she followed him. Whether it was a coincidence, or he really knew his way, she wasn’t sure, but they came out on a big road. Now the question was if she should go to the right or to the left.

“Killen, what do you say? Right or left?” The dog looked up at her but that was all. Natalie remembered that Steven told her to call if she saw any signs with names. But she couldn’t see any signs anywhere. Maybe she could call and describe how it looked. It was very dark now and everything was just darkness around her, nothing to describe.

Natalie decided to walk right. As long as she walked on the big road it couldn’t be that bad. She talked to Killen not to feel alone. There were no lights from any houses and she started to think she had gone the wrong way when she heard a car. She was in the middle of nowhere it couldn’t be any bad people driving around here she told herself.

The car slowed down and stopped when it reached her. “Have you got lost lassie?” An older man asked.

“I’m afraid I have. Is this the way to Reay?” Natalie asked.

“Aye, you’re on the right road but it’s far. Can I give you a ride?”

“I have my dog with me and I’m afraid we’re dirty both of us.” She gave Killen a look. He could need a bath when they got home.

“Ah, no problems.” The man replied and opened the car door, went out and opened the door for her. She was just going to jump in when a car came in high speed. “One of those rich young men.” The old man mumbled. “What are they doing out here?”

Natalie didn’t know anyone yet so she had no idea who it could be. The car had stopped in front of the old man’s car and Steven jumped out. “She goes with me, but thanks for your help.” He approached them, but with an angry look Natalie thought.

“Do you know him lassie?” The old man took a step in front of her as if he didn’t trust Steven.

“Of course she does. She’s my girlfriend.” He looked at her bloody hands and destroyed jeans. “What happened?” He asked her and then he gave the old man a strange look.

“Steven I fell it’s nothing. But this kind man offered to drive me and Killen home, despite how dirty we are.” She turned and smiled to the man. “By the way, I’m Natalie and the dog is Killen.”

“Donald Gray, and lassie if you ever need any help you just call me. I have a farm close to Reay. Just ask anyone. But you are sure he is OK, the young man?” He gave Steven a suspicious look.

“He is actually a very nice lad. He drove me all the way. But thank you Donald, you’re my first friend here.”

Steven took the leash and put Killen in the car. Natalie thought that the fancy car would get dirty. She went over to it and got in. At first she went to the wrong side.

Steven laughed.

“Are you driving?”

“Sorry… I forgot your cars are the wrong way round. How did you find me?”

“I told you to find a big road so I started to look at this one.” He looked serious.

“Did something bad happen today. You don’t look happy.” She asked.

“Yes, but it’s all solved. No it’s you I’m worried about. You can’t trust strangers.”

“I don’t think any killers or other bad people drive around out here. Especially not as old as Donald.”

“And when did you see how old he was? Not until you were very close right?”

“OK, but I still don’t think there are any bad people driving around here. I walked too far and that was a mistake.”

Steven turned in to the small village and she recognised the houses. Here were streetlamps too. He parked in front of her house. She opened her car door to get out but he hurried around and helped her out. He looked at her hands. “I want an explanation when we get inside.” He opened for Killen and took him with them.

“I have to give Killen a bath.” She took the leash.

“No you have to clean your wounds. I’ll give him a bath. Then I want to look at your hands and the leg.” She sighed a little and he gave her a serious look. “You could have got badly hurt. There’s plenty of time to see the surroundings. Go and get cleaned up. I can clean Killen in the garden.”

Natalie went upstairs and got undressed. She had bruises on arms and both legs. A shower felt the best. But the water made it start bleeding. She was standing in a towel trying to stop her knee and her hands from bleeding when Steven entered.

“Killen is in the kitchen, clean and happy. But what the hell happened to you?”

“I was climbing up a hill and fell. I’m just clumsy.” She turned to the door but he stopped her.

“Tell me does it hurt anywhere except for where it’s bleeding?”

“I haven’t broken anything. I just need adhesive plaster. I have that in the kitchen if you’ll let me pass.”

“Are you walking down there in just a towel.” He teased her.

“I am because I don’t want my clothes to get covered in blood. Or you can be a gentleman and go down and get them for me. It’s a bag on the top of the fridge.” She looked a little pale he thought.

“I’ll go and get it but you go and sit down.” He rushed down the stairs and she went to the second bedroom that she used as a small library. She’d been scared and the feelings came now. Her head was spinning but she made it to a chair. Steven was back with the bag in seconds. She wondered how he could get down and back up so quickly.

He took care of it all, then asked her if she hid any wounds under the towel.

“You’d like that.” She giggled. “No… and I’ll put on some clothes now.” She rose, but the spinning feeling came back. Steven caught her and carried her to the bed.

“When did you eat?” He asked.

“I don’t know. Don’t give me that look. It’s my first day, and so much has happened. You left around 12 and since then the hall has been painted. Lee took me shopping and I have unpacked almost everything in the kitchen. I needed to get out in the nature and so did Killen.”

“You haven’t had anything to eat today?” Steven sighed. “I hope you bought some decent food. I will go down and make you something. Rest here.” He had been sitting beside her but rose to go downstairs.

“I want to come with you downstairs. Just need some clothes.” She got out of bed but carefully. Steven didn’t leave the room. She gave him a look.

“Honey, you almost fainted. I can look the other way.”

“Fine do that then. By the way, why did you tell Donald that I’m your girlfriend?” She put on clothes while she asked. He couldn’t see her face.

“Don’t you want to be my girlfriend?” He asked back.

“Oh, I’m sure there isn’t a woman in the world who doesn’t want to be your girlfriend. But when you leave people will talk.”

“I won’t leave forever unless you want me to. Why would they talk?”

“Because I’m much older and they probably think we don’t fit in the first place.”

“I told you I’m 49. I know I look younger but I can’t do very much about that.” He laughed.

“I’m still older.” She was mumbling, he thought, or was she just getting dressed?

“Can I turn around? It’s annoying not being able to see you when we talk.”

“Now you can.” She giggled a little.

“Natalie, you talk a lot about age difference. To me age is of no importance. I’m not planning to have a bunch of children. I prefer a mature woman before a young girl who wants to party every day.”

She smiled. “So you think I’m going to sit at home every day, go to bed early. Then you’re mistaken. I have lived that boring life for too long.”

Steven sighed as if he believed her, then he smiled. “I can take you out now and then.”

Natalie started to laugh. “You actually sound like an old man. No I don’t want to party all the time. But I would like to get out and to have friends.” She sighed a little. “And people would wonder why you had me. IF you had me.” She winked and went to the stairs.

“I know you think I rush. But time is just something humans invented. What we feel can happen in a second or take ages.” He could see that this made her uncomfortable and he wasn’t sure why. “OK, food, what do you want to eat?”

“Have you had any dinner?” She asked and went to the fridge.

“Yes, but let me do something for both of us. I should have bought a bottle of wine.”

“I prefer a beer.” She had that shy look, and he guessed it was feeling too much again.

He made a salad that they ate in the kitchen. She was right that she’d unpacked everything in the kitchen. Steven was impressed by how much she’d accomplished.

He could see that Natalie was tired and suggested sleep.

“You’re staying the night? Or do you have someone that waits for you?” She asked.

Steven sighed a little and leant towards her.

“I didn’t drive from Inverness to see you for an hour. I told you I want to help you redecorate. And… I want to get to know you more. But maybe you don’t want me to stay?” The way she had asked told him that she wanted him to stay but he wanted her to confirm it.

But Natalie wasn’t stupid. She knew he wanted her to tell him that she wanted him there. She smiled.

“I asked, didn’t I? OK. And you’re right it’s time to sleep. Not that I usually go to sleep this early. But maybe you do?”

“I’m not that old.” He rose and put the plates in the dishwasher. Then he reached out his hand. “Are you coming? An old man like me can’t sleep all alone.” He made a silly face and she laughed and took his hand.

When Natalie got dressed after her shower she’d put on trousers and a sweater. Now she stood looking out of the window, even though it was dark outside. She wasn’t as shy as Steven thought, but she was terrified of getting into something that would end in a couple of weeks.

Steven could feel what was wrong and said he would take a quick shower. That gave her a chance to undress and go to bed. He saw that she’d got the message and smiled when he left her.

Just as he thought, she was in bed when he came back.

“Where do you want to go when things have calmed down here?” Steven asked, when they both lay in bed.

“Go?… What do you mean?”

“Are there any special places you’ve longed to see? I would like to show you around.”

“But you’re not from Scotland. You said you don’t live here.”

“My father is Scottish and my mother Irish. I have lived many years in Scotland.”

“Did you grow up here?” She asked.

“No, but I have lived here.”

“But not now, why? Where do you live?”

He regretted starting to talk about showing her around. Now wasn’t the right moment to tell her where he lived.

“You forgot to answer my question. Any special place I could take you to?”

“If you have time to spare, then surprise me.” She gave him a smile he hadn’t seen before. Was she getting more comfortable with him?

Steven pinched her nose. “Oh I will surprise you, don’t you worry.” He was resting on his elbow looking at her. Those brown eyes of hers made him crazy. For the first time ever he felt unsure about what to do.

Natalie looked into his dark eyes. Eyes that she still wasn’t sure what colour they were. She could swear that they’d been dark grey but now they were closer to brown. No eyes could change colour that way. She wasn’t sure if it was just her that was tired and mixed up. Deep inside she wished he would lean down and kiss her. But her fear of getting hurt tried its best to hide that wish.

He could see in her eyes that she wanted him. But he also saw her fear. He could kill that fear by showing her that he was serious. It was just one problem; to do that he had to tell her the truth about himself and he wasn’t sure she could take the truth. But he had to start somewhere. “So tell me is the move all you wished for?”

Natalie smiled. “It’s much more than I ever could wish for.”

He wondered if that included him or was it just the house and the nature.

“More?… How?” He asked with a smile.

She laughed. “I think you’re fishing for compliments.”

“Do you blame me? You never tell me anything if I don’t ask.” He looked at her with his eyes half closed.

“I’m not good at …” She looked at him as if she wasn’t sure what to say.

“At expressing feelings? So you admit you have some for me?”

“I’m still a coward who’s terrified of getting hurt. I know it’s silly because life doesn’t give any guarantees.”

Steven looked serious. “No it certainly doesn’t. But you said you wanted adventure. How can you get that if you hide? Tell me… living here?… Is that forever, or until you find another place?”

She laughed a little. “Don’t you think that’s a strange question to ask when I haven’t lived here more than one day?” She looked at him with suspicion. “You already plan a future, one with you and me as us.”

“Maybe ‘plan’ is a little too much. But you keep saying you’re are afraid of getting hurt. I’ve told you I don’t live in Scotland.” He sighed deeply, this wasn’t going the way he wanted. “Do you know what? Let’s forget about all of this and just have fun. You only live once, at least in this body.” He smiled.

She thought that, yes he was right, but how would she feel when he left. But maybe it was stupid not to enjoy what life gave you, even if it was only for a short time.

“So what kind of fun did you have in mind.” She giggled.

Steven had been so sure that he’d ruined it all. But to his surprise she seemed almost more relaxed now. Was that a good sign or a bad one? Maybe he was the one who was going to get hurt.

8

Steven turned around in bed and soon Natalie was awake. She woke him up by calling his name. This time she asked about his nightmares. But Steven just apologised that he woken her up.

“Maybe it’s too much for you having me here sleeping over?” He asked afraid that she would say yes. Last night they had decided not to take things so serious. But when she agreed, Steven had been a little afraid that he was the one that would get hurt. He had smiled and then laid down to sleep. Natalie had been a little surprised, but she was tired after the long trip.

Now she smiled when he asked if it was too much for her to have him sleeping in her bed.

“Steven, I want you here and I don’t need that much sleep. I have no special time I have to get up. But your nightmares worry me because they’re a sign that something isn’t right.”

“No… things are fine now. My nightmares are old ghosts that sometimes come to make me remember. To be honest I wasn’t aware that I make that much noise.”

“You don’t, you move around and I’m a very light sleeper. But as long as you say you’re OK it doesn’t matter. If there is something wrong, I do hope you’ll talk to me about it.” She thought about his injury. She’d seen the long scar he had but had never asked about it.

Steven knew that she wondered if it had to do with him being injured.

“It’s old business… and they come and go.”

“We all have old ghosts that want us to remember.” She said with a smile but with sad eyes.

Steven knew that she was referring to her husband. It was still very early in the morning and he reached out his arm and pulled her closer. She had more or less agreed to go all the way and he wasn’t doing anything. This wasn’t the man he used to be. He felt vulnerable and he didn’t like that at all. When he turned to kiss her she was asleep again with her head to his shoulder. He sighed, this was starting to be ridiculous. What was wrong with him?

When they woke up the next time it was because Freddy had arrived. He had a friend with him and asked Steven if his friend could help with the redecorating. Steven looked at Natalie who was putting on coffee for them all. If Freddy and his friend painted the house, he could take Natalie on trips instead of helping them.

“Natalie, Freddy wonders if his friend could work with fixing your house too. You don’t have to worry about the cost. But I could take you sightseeing.” He looked carefully at her.

“We should leave them on their own here?” She asked, to give Steven a hint that he had to be sure he could trust them.

Steven had known Freddy for many years, but not his friend, so he asked Freddy if he could have a word in private. They went outside.

“Freddy, how well do you know this guy?”

“Alistair?… I’ve known him my whole life. He’s married to a cousin of mine. He lost his work a week ago and needs all work he can get. He lives close by and has a car.”

“What did he work as before? And why was he fired?” Steven asked.

“He worked as a plumber. It was a small firm and the owner is old. Alistair was offered the chance to buy the firm but he couldn’t afford it.”

“You know that if anything disappears from here you’ll have me to deal with?”

“I know…” Freddy laughed … “So does Alistair. He knows about you.”

“He knows who I am… So he’s one of us?”

“Aye, you have nothing to worry about.”

They went back in, but just before they entered, Steven stopped Freddy.

“Natalie knows nothing.”

“Aye, I noticed that yesterday. No problems.”

They had coffee together. Then Freddy went on painting the hall and his friend took the bedroom. Steven asked if they should go sightseeing.

“I have a lot to unpack.” She looked at all the boxes.

“Isn’t it better to wait until all rooms are painted. I can help you unpack.”

Natalie knew he wanted them to have a nice time. But that was the problem. The more fun they had the worse it would be when he left. She was back with her fear and happy that nothing happened last night. Steven sighed a little and she realised that he could see her hesitate again. Then he smiled and opened a box.

“OK where should I put all these books.” The look he gave Natalie made her laugh.

“OK, you’re right. They have to paint the walls first. But why not just take a long walk. In daylight.” She giggled.

“About that, you should have been punished for putting yourself in danger in that way.” Steven had a stern look but she just laughed.

They went for a long walk. When they returned, he suggested a trip to a café. The day passed almost too quickly. When he parked outside her house a woman approached.

“I’m Cindy Wilson, your next door neighbour. Welcome. I hope you’ll like it here.” She reached out her hand to them both.

Natalie hurried to say that it was she and the dog that had moved in. Before Natalie had time to say more, Steven introduce himself and ended the sentence with; “I’m only the boyfriend.”

Cindy smiled and told them to just ask if they needed any help. Steven asked if she wanted to come in for a coffee but it was late and she had a kid that had to get to bed.

Freddy and his friend had left. Natalie asked Steven how they could have locked the door. She had the key in her handbag.

“You have more than one key. Didn’t you see the keys on the wall close to the closet downstairs?”

“So he has a key now?” She asked.

“Look under the pot. No he would never take a key without asking one of us.” He sighed. She’d probably think he was referring to them as a couple. But she didn’t this time.

“He’s hired by you, so I guess he asks you.” She looked under the pot and took the key inside with her.

Steven was relieved that she hadn’t said anything about him referring to himself as her boyfriend again. But, was he? Maybe he would have wanted her to say that herself.

“She seemed nice, my new neighbour.” There was something in the way Natalie said ‘my’ that made him sigh a little. When he did, Natalie laughed and asked;

“So you’re my boyfriend?”

“I couldn’t say your lover because that would have been a lie.” He grinned and she blushed. But she didn’t say that he could have said just friend.

The hall had been given a second coat of paint and it already looked very different. Natalie went upstairs and checked the bedroom.

“Steven.” She called from the stairs. “You have to come.”

He came running up the stairs wondering what had happened.

“Anything wrong?” he asked.

She pointed at one wall that had been painted in a light purple colour. It was not overpowering.

“Didn’t you tell them to paint everything in white?”

He smiled a little. “Well, we thought one wall in that light purple colour would look great with the things you have in the bedroom. Don’t you like it?”

She sighed but smiled. “It looks great. But you don’t seem to have any regrets about overruling me.”

“But I was right this time.” He leant down and took her face in his hands. “This is more you. You’re not a plain white figure but a colourful person.” Looking into her eyes like that he couldn’t resist. Finally he kissed her.

Natalie almost lost her breath. It was like no other kiss. She felt as if she was floating. When she opened her eyes she looked straight in to his. They were now shimmering like gold. Then slowly they turned over to green and then back to his mixed grey/brown. She just stared, it wasn’t possible.

Steven knew she’d seen his eyes change colour. He couldn’t explain, not yet. He lifted her and carried her to the bed where he undressed her. He wanted all of her. His hands touched her body, his lips kissed her. He made Natalie forget all about eyes that changed colours. The passion Steven showed her was nothing she ever had seen or felt. He was demanding and soft at the same time. It was as if he made time stand still around them. Nothing existed outside the two of them.

When they later lay beside each other, she stayed as close to him as possible. He had shown her something she hadn’t thought existed. He reached for the blanket. She felt as if she’d woken up from being in heaven, was he covering her body, didn’t he like to look at her?

“I didn’t want you to be cold.” He explained, in answer to something she hadn’t said out loud.

“How come you always seem to know what I’m thinking?” Natalie asked.

He laughed. “Experience.”

“Sure… All the different girls you’ve had. So I’m just one of them?”

“No Natalie, you’re ‘the’ one. I know you think I’m rushing. Maybe I am in a way, because I only have one month free from work, and in that month I need to convince you that I’m the one for you.” He smiled. He knew that what she’d just experienced had gone in his favour.

“But how can you be sure in just a couple of days?” She asked.

“With a risk of repeating myself, I could say ‘experience’ again.” He pinched her nose and smiled.

“Sometimes you are kind of horrible being so sure of everything.” She giggled.

But Steven was pleased. He’d taken her to the stars, and he could see in her eyes that she’d let go of her fear. Still, he had only this month to convince her how serious he was. It wasn’t only that he lived in another country. There was his secret too. The secret of what he really was.

He pulled her closer. The smile he got was inviting. She wanted more of him and he had more to give. But this time he showed her what he wanted in return. She amazed him and he lost himself completely. He told her she was his, only his. In the moment he had spoken the words he regretted them. But she looked in to his dark eyes and told him yes, she was his.

That evening changed everything. Natalie had let go of her fear of being hurt. She trusted Steven, and she seemed to be as much in love with him as he was with her.

Steven was used to being in charge, but so was Natalie. She’d lived too many years on her own. There were many times when he almost got angry with her.

“You take unnecessary and dangerous risks. Why? When you just have to ask me?” She had been climbing a ladder.

“Steven, I’m not a child… I can do things on my own. I have done for many years.”

“Because you had to, right?” Steven sighed. “But men should take care of their women.”

“My God… in what century do you live?”

At that moment, he wanted to tell her everything about himself. But if he did, he wasn’t sure if she would still love him. His plan was to give her this month and then see if she still was his after he had been gone for a month.

To fall in love with Natalie was to go against all that was permitted. But Steven was tired of all the rules.

“I’m a man, your man… and you’re my responsibility. You have to start to listen to me.” He leant down looking at her as if she was a little girl. But strangely enough she started to like it. She felt loved and taken care of.

“I always listen.” She gave him a kiss and he sighed.

“One day I will put you over my knee and spank your little bottom red.” He had a serious look and now she started to worry. Was he some control freak who had to decide everything? He read her thoughts. “No, I just told you, I’ll protect and care for you. Can you please trust me?”

She put her arms around him and told him he didn’t have to worry so much. But he would still tell her to trust him.

Now and then, Steven would have to go to Inverness. He never told her what he did there and she didn’t ask. Well, she tried to ask him once, but he just answered ‘business’ so she let it go.

Another thing he didn’t like to talk about was his children. She had seen a picture of them and he told her their names. When one day she asked if they lived with their mother, he answered no, she was gone. Natalie took for granted that gone meant dead, so yet again she didn’t ask. But it made her keep secrets from him too.

They had just one more week before Steven had to leave when one evening there was a knock on the door. It was very late and they were on their way to bed. Cindy and her family had become regular visitors but never this late. Natalie went to the door but Steven stopped her.

“You shouldn’t open the door this late. Let me.” He passed her and she sighed a little. There were no bad people here. She already knew several of her neighbours. She followed him and heard him ask who the person outside was.

“It’s the middle of the night. Who are you?” Steven asked.

“I could ask the same. This should be the house of Natalie Beren and you’re not her.”

Natalie recognised the voice and rushed out and jumped into the man’s arms. “Lawrence what are you doing here? I thought you weren’t free until Christmas.”

“Change of plans and I had to see your new house.” He hugged her, then looked questioningly at Steven.

But Steven interrupted her before she had time to say anything.

“Lawrence? As in Lawrence Beren? He asked.

Lawrence laughed. “As in ‘junior’, but we don’t use that term.”

“I’m sorry but Natalie hadn’t told me that she has a son. A quite grownup one to.” Steven looked at her for an explanation.

“Can we go in before we wake the whole neighbourhood?” She dragged her son inside.

Lawrence was a tall man around 30 years old. Steven thought that he must take after his father because he didn’t look at all like his mother. His hair was almost black and his eyes dark blue. Now it was her turn to feel what Steven was thinking. But she shook her head a little.

Natalie showed Lawrence the whole house that by now had been redecorated nicely. She told him it all was thanks to Steven, and how he’d offered to drive her the whole way. Steven had also bought a bed for the smaller guestroom. Something she was grateful for now.

Lawrence had travelled from the USA and was tired. After an hour they all went to bed. When they lay in bed Steven looked at her.

“An explanation would be nice.”

She sighed. “I have tried to ask about your children, your job, and where you live. You never tell me anything, so when you never asked I didn’t tell.” She had a determined look on her face, as if to convince him that it had been her right.

“Fair enough. I’ll tell you all about me in good time. To be honest I thought your husband died not that long ago. But your son lives in the USA, did he move to his father?”

“No… Lawrence was born after my husband died. That’s why I called him after his father. He moved to the USA when he got a job offer some years ago. I think he was curious about his father’s homeland.”

“You must have been very young when you got married?” Steven had checked up on her. He knew she was around his age. But he hadn’t found anything about her marriage.

“I was. And I made a lot of mistakes. But can we please not talk about his father? Lawrence is just staying a day, then he is going to Sweden on business.”

“Yes… I heard when he told you.” He smiled at her look. “I was listening to your conversation because you hadn’t told your son who I was in your life. Just my name. I wanted to know what you were going to say.”

“Then you heard me tell him that you are my boyfriend. I guess you heard me say how much I love you too.”

Steven gave her a surprised look. “I did… but this is the first time you’ve said it to my face.”

She blushed. “Well I’m not good at saying things like that. You know me so well; I don’t need to tell you my feelings.”

“Even if I know it’s nice to hear, now and then” He had a serious look but she didn’t think he doubted himself, not Steven.

But Steven wasn’t as sure of himself as she thought. He had too many skeletons hidden.

When Steven had investigated Natalie, he hadn’t found any record of a marriage or any children. Steven was good at investigating people and he wondered how her son could have been hidden. That she had a son wasn’t in his favour. He’d been wondering about that when she’d told him she once was married. But nowadays people often said they were married even if they just lived together. But a son was a son and something wasn’t right.

Steven woke up early in the morning. Natalie wasn’t beside him. Normally she always was. She wasn’t fond of getting up early. He got out of bed, got dressed, and went out of the room, all very quietly. When he got to the stairs he heard voices downstairs. He stopped to listen.

“Why didn’t you tell him about me?” Lawrence asked Natalie.

“You know why.” She answered. “No one knows that you’re your father’s son.” Steven could hear a troubled tone in her voice.

“Couldn’t you have made up any man?” Her son asked.

“I was stupid, and mentioned your father because I was annoyed one time. I told Steven that I’d been married to an American soldier.”

Lawrence laughed. “Soldier?… Well I don’t think he’d have appreciated being called that. Married?… Why did you say that? It’s too easy to check.”

“I told you I was angry… and I wanted Steven to think that at least one man had married me. I never thought he would check it, and I guess he didn’t because then he would have said something. I was going to tell him about you. When I was sure he was coming back. He leaves in a week.”

“I know, you told me so. But he seems honest when it comes to you. Why do you doubt him?”

“Whatever personal stuff I ask, he avoids answering. There is something mystical around him. What if he is married?”

“Have you tried checking him out?” Lawrence asked.

“You know me… I’m not good at that kind of stuff. In a way it feels wrong too. As if I don’t trust him.”

“Do you trust him?”

“I want to and… yes, I think so. But even if I do, you and your father is something I shouldn’t talk about.”

Steven wondered what she meant. Why shouldn’t she talk about her son or his father? He couldn’t confront her until he was ready to tell her about himself. It was now silent downstairs so Steven decided to go down.

Natalie was putting on coffee when he came in to the kitchen. She turned and smiled. But she was no fool. His expression told her he’d been listening. Lawrence could see that too, and he looked at her with a question. When she didn’t say anything Lawrence turned to Steven.

“You’re not the only one who didn’t know about me.” Lawrence said as if he answered to Steven’s comment last night.”

“And why is that?” Steven asked.

“Because of my father.” He gave Natalie a look and she just sighed. “If you checked my mother, then you already know that she was never married. I have a feeling you already knew that and wonder why you don’t know about me. I’m sorry if we can’t tell you, but it’s one of those silly rules.” Lawrence smiled.

Steven looked at Natalie. No, she wasn’t one of them. So what kind of rules was her son talking about? He didn’t know what to say.

As if Lawrence had read Steven’s mind he asked with a deep sigh.

“Not you too?”

Natalie gasped. “Lawrence no, be careful.”

Now it was Steven’s turn to sigh. Natalie wasn’t one of them, he was sure of that. But what about Lawrence father?

“Isn’t it time we start to be honest with each other?” Steven looked at Natalie.

“I have never lied to you. OK, I wasn’t married but we lived together as married. To me that was the same. My past is mine, and I prefer not to live in the past. You haven’t told me anything about yourself but I can live with that. As long as you’re not married.” She smiled, but her smile froze because he never said that he wasn’t.

Steven realised that he had kept too many secrets to make her trust him completely. But there were things he hadn’t been sure of. Now he was even more confused.

“My mother never lies, but she has to keep certain things a secret. Can you live with that?” There was something in Lawrence’s words that made Steven wonder if he, Lawrence, had secrets for his mother too.

“OK, let’s forget all about it. She told me you have only one day here.” Steven gave Lawrence a look hoping he would understand.

He did, and answered that he had business to attend to tomorrow.

They had breakfast, then Natalie went to go upstairs for a shower. Steven said he and Lawrence could take Killen for a walk.

“I can show him your surroundings.”

“Fine, but what do you want to do the rest of the day Lawrence?” She asked.

“We could take a drive just looking at the nature. It’s nice not to have too much on the agenda.”

Steven had put on the leash and they went out for a walk.

“I have to ask you; does your mother know everything about your father? Is he alive to start with?”

Lawrence sighed. “He is alive, but she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know very much about us. But how come that you fell for a human?”

“A human?” Steven pretended not to know because he still wasn’t sure who Lawrence was.

“You don’t have to pretend.” Lawrence lay his hand on Steven’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “You’re a Serpentines… but a Warlock too. My God why does she always get involved with people like you.”

Steven almost stared at him. “So what are you? Your mother said be careful, she knows about us?”

“As I said she doesn’t know very much about us. She doesn’t know that there’s a secret world within this world.”

“But who is your father?”

“I’m sorry Steven but that’s my secret.”

“Yours?… He doesn’t know about you?” Steven asked.

“No, and no one in our world does. I shouldn’t exist according to how life works.”

Steven and Lawrence had walked down to the beach where they sat down.

“I live in Canada.” Steven said.

Lawrence sighed. “You could never take her there. I was worried already, when she told me she was moving to Scotland. In Sweden there are very few of us. But Canada?… No they’re too organised.”

“I know, Lawrence. You’ve kept her out of this, and you’ve have done the right thing.” Steven sighed.

“So you’re leaving her too?” Lawrence asked.

“No, but I should try to move back to Scotland… Yes, I’m part Scottish, and have lived here many years. But I have two children.”

“They are aware of our world I hope?”

“Yes, but I want them far from Scotland… a long story. I also have a job… in the army. One that I need to live in Canada to keep.” Steven looked out over the sea. “She’ll wonder where we’ve gone.” He laughed a little. “I’m going back to work next week. My idea was to see if she still wanted me when a couple of weeks had passed. Then I planned to tell her the truth about me.” He made a devastated gesture. “Now I have no idea what to do.”

Lawrence felt sorry for them both. His mother had seemed happy with Steven during the short while Lawrence had seen them together. She had been alone for many years. Steven seemed honest, and that he was in love with Natalie was in no doubt. Yes, this was a mess. Lawrence had been able to live a quiet life because no one knew who or what he was. He had no desire to be involved with his father.

Lawrence worked as a lawyer in the USA. His firm also had business in Sweden. He had been able to live as any human. In the USA his people weren’t organised which made it easy to blend in. He knew people like himself, but they were also people who avoided their world.

On their way back to Natalie, Lawrence explained all of this to Steven. He asked him about the people in Scotland. Could Steven protect her from them and keep quiet about her son.

“You said you’re a secret because of your father when she was in the room. Explain that.” Steven had been thinking about why Natalie kept her son a secret.

“She thought he died and she didn’t know any of his friends. So there was no one to tell that she was pregnant. My grandparents died when she was 18. When my powers started to show she suspected that something had been strange with my father. I had by then checked everything about him. Well, I told my mother that I’d investigated my father. There was nothing strange, I said, but he worked undercover as a very important agent. So we should keep me a secret. He was dead, so why get his enemies coming after us?”

Steven laughed. “Lies… all to protect a woman who probably would kill us all if she knew.” He was thinking, then he said: “Do you think you can keep her out of our world for ever?”

“I won’t age as quickly as humans but she already knows that I’m different. The problem comes the day I meet a woman I want to marry. I can’t marry a human. But I’ve always thought that if we lay low, she’ll be spared the whole truth.”

“That there’s a world within the modern world. A world full of species with skills. Would it be so wrong if she knew?” Steven asked, because he knew he couldn’t keep her out of it.

“Not if she was accepted. But I don’t think she would be. Most people know my father, but under his real name. Yes, as you probable guessed, his name wasn’t Lawrence. As long as she doesn’t meet him she won’t know. I’m selfish. I want a quiet life, without him. Can you give her a life without her ever knowing the truth about my father?”

“I can’t promise more than to do my best. But there is something I want to do that I need your permission for.”

Lawrence smiled. “You want to stop her aging. Do you have the powers to do that?”

“I’m more a Serpentines than a Warlock. More warrior than magician. But I don’t want to lose her one day and as you probable already know my age stopped at 35. My mother is a strong witch, she helped me with that.”

“It’s not for me to decide. If my mother wants a life in our world, then you have to ask her. But you must ask her.”

“Of course.”

They were back at the house. Natalie was standing outside talking to Cindy. Lawrence saw her from a distance. He smiled, and asked Steven if he knew that Cindy was one of them.

“I felt that the first time we met. We talked one day and she told me she lives outside our world. She married a human. He knows nothing about our world. But she’s keeping an eye on Natalie.”

Lawrence just smiled. He was happy he wasn’t the image of his father. He had his colour, the dark hair and dark blue eyes. But he was much more heavily built. If his colours had been as his mother’s, he would have been a copy of his grandfather. Something he was grateful for, no connection to the secret world there.

Lawrence stopped Steven just before they reached the girls.

“I’m her younger cousin. We never tell that I’m her son.”

Steven looked at him. “Seriously?… Natalie never tells anyone who you are?”

“I’ve asked her not to. The undercover thing, you know. In this case don’t you think that’s for the best?”

“So you deny her the chance to be proud of her son because you’re are afraid of meeting people from our world? Aren’t you taking this a little too far?” Steven’s voice sounded close to being angry.

“Steven please, you know all the danger there is in our world. I promise you, if my father knew it wouldn’t be a good thing. Do you want her to be a target to get to him? It’s not just me I’m thinking of, if you thought I was that selfish.”

“I’m sorry but I saw her eyes when she introduced you yesterday. They were shining with pride. She raised you on her own. She should have the right to take the credit for that.”

Lawrence just sighed and they went over to Cindy. But to Lawrence’s surprise, and almost shock, Natalie introduced him as her son. Steven smiled.

Cindy could feel what Lawrence was, but she knew that Natalie wasn’t aware what Steven was. It puzzled her. Wasn’t Natalie aware that her son had magic skills? She would have to ask Steven when Natalie wasn’t around.

Cindy’s son came out, and asked Natalie if they soon should go and buy the rabbit they had talked about some days ago.

Natalie leant down and told the kid that next week she would have all the time in the world. He jumped with joy, but Steven saw a sad look in Natalie’s eyes. She meant next week when Steven had left. He wished he could do something to make her certain that he’d be back.

Steven sat down in front of the kid. “I could build you a summer house for your rabbit. Next year he would love to be in the garden.”

“That’s kind of you Steven. Do you have time for that?” Cindy asked.

“It’s just October and I will be back in the beginning of December.” He smiled at the kid. “A Christmas gift for your rabbit. And maybe you can come with me and buy gifts for Natalie.”

Lawrence and Cindy could see what Steven was trying to tell Natalie. Well maybe she could too, but there were times when she doubted that he would ever come back.

When the three of them, Natalie, Steven, and Lawrence, went for a drive later Lawrence wished he could have told her everything. She had never been around when he met people like himself and now it all felt wrong. But he couldn’t say anything without asking Steven if he was ready too. And Steven wasn’t ready. He had a million things he had to plan to make this work.

The two of them were occupied with their thoughts when Natalie asked;

“Lawrence, is there no special girl in your life?”

Lawrence laughed a little. He had just told Steven how difficult it would be the day he met someone.

“Nope, no one special. Do you long to be a grandmother?” He laughed for real now. They were sitting looking out over a beautiful loch and he could understand why she wanted to live here.

“Very funny. No I want to see you happy. No one’s happy alone.”

“I’m not alone, just not into anyone special.” He winked at her, and a sad look came over her.

“You sound and look like your father right now.” She hardly talked about his father and he wondered why she did now. Then he remembered that he’d heard that his father had been turned at 30. He must have looked that age when she met him. The age that Lawrence was now. How deceiving their world was. She had been only 19, thinking she’d met a young man.

Steven wondered if Lawrence had been right, when he thought Natalie would be angry if she met his father. He wasn’t that sure. There was a lot of love in her voice when she talked about him.

Natalie looked at Steven and smiled. It was as if, sometimes, she could read his thoughts. Steven wrapped his arms around her and kissed her ear as he often did. She giggled and Lawrence smiled. He wasn’t used to seeing her this happy.

They had a fine day. Steven took them to a nice restaurant, and then they had an early night. Lawrence had to leave the next day.

In bed, Steven lay there looking at Natalie as she changed into her nightgown. He smiled, thinking of when they first met. When she got to bed he whispered that he liked her better without any nightgown. She made a gesture to the room next door.

“Then you’ll have to make it up to me tomorrow,” He whispered in her ear. But he couldn’t let go of the thought that Natalie’s big love was alive. “Does your son remind you of his father?”

“They don’t look alike, if that’s what you mean. Maybe the eyes, but that’s all. You mean because of my comment today? It was more the way he was joking.”

“Do you still love him?… If he came back, what would you do?” Steven knew it was a silly question. Natalie thought her ‘husband’ was dead.

“Steven… he died 30 years ago. I have changed and so would he have done if he’d been alive. When someone you love dies, you think they’re the perfect person. You think that you’ll never love again. But time goes by, and so do your feelings. You still love that person, but not in the same way. Because you’re alive, but he or she isn’t.” She caressed his cheek. That was her way to tell Steven it was him she loved now. But she did it, he thought, believing her other love had died.

Natalie cried when Lawrence left early in the morning. Steven thought it was because she was afraid that she soon would be alone again.

Destiny wasn’t in their favour. On their way back from Inverness airport, Steven got a call from John Wright, his boss, who told him he had to be back tomorrow because they had an emergency. It couldn’t have been worse. Steven had to drive Natalie home and then go back to get his children and fly back to Canada.

“I had promised you one more week I’m so sorry.” He looked at her sad eyes. But he had to concentrate on the road.

“I understand you have a job.” She looked down at her hands. “When do you have to leave?”

“I can just drive you home. Then I have to fetch William and Mary.” He could have bitten his tongue.

“Fetch?… Are they here in Scotland? Do they live with you, wherever you live?”

“They’ve been visiting their grandparents. Their mother’s parents. They do that every year. Honey it’s a long and complicated story. We live in Canada.” He sighed, now she would do her best to forget him.

“Wow… that’s far away.” She laughed a little.

“Why do you laugh?” Steven asked.

“Because Lawrence’s father wanted me to move to Canada.”

“He did? I thought you said he was American.”

“Yes, he was… but he talked about Canada and that I should move there with him. But I had a job and friends in Sweden. My parents were gone but just a year earlier. I felt that I would have left everything. I would probably have given in to his demand. But I never got the time.”

Steven was almost in shock. “Have you ever told your son about this?” Steven asked Natalie.

“No, I felt guilty for not saying yes. I was afraid my son would blame me.”

“I think you should tell him how much his father loved you.”

“I guess you’re right. So, will you be back?”

He was now at her street. “I will be back and I leave my bag to prove I will be back.”

“Your fancy suit?” She giggled.

“All of it, even my toothbrush.” He winked.

She put her arms around him and cried. “Don’t follow me.” She said and opened the door.

He kissed her, a long kiss, he didn’t want to let go. They’d both known that this day had been close, but it just came too early.

He saw her almost run to the door and close it behind her. When he started the car again, there was a knock at the window.

“Has something happened?” Cindy asked.

“I got a call… I have to be back at work tomorrow. Please, look after her. She is very naïve and thinks only good about everyone.”

“I have your number. I’ll call if something happens.”

“Yeah that’s the problem. When I’m out working it can be difficult, sometimes impossible to reach me. But please try.”

He drove away. Cindy wondered if she should go over to Natalie, but her husband arrived at that moment so she went home instead.

In her house Natalie hang her key by the closet. She found Steven’s sweater hanging on a kitchen chair and took it upstairs. He’d hung his suit in her wardrobe, so she put the sweater among his other clothes.

On his way back to Inverness Steven called William and told him they had to leave tonight. He’d called the airline to book three tickets before he called his son. Steven knew there would be problems. There were things planned for the last week that they’d have to cancel.

Life wasn’t going his way. It felt like there were too many problems. He longed to have Natalie in his arms. Yes, he missed her already and he hadn’t left the country yet.

On the plane, Mary talked about a new friend she had in Inverness. Steven wondered if she would like to live in Scotland all the time. But he didn’t ask. William gave him a strange look and Steven looked back, showing that he wasn’t allowing William to read his mind. Then he closed his mind to both his children. There were too many thoughts running around in his head that weren’t good for them to know. Instead he tried to get some sleep. He heard the children talk about games, friends, and their grandparents. To people around them they seemed like an ordinary family. Well, he maybe looked a little too young to be their father, but they seldom called him dad.

To live in a secret world that humans didn’t know about, there were many rules a child had to learn early in life. One was not to draw too much attention.

9

Steven was on his way to a mission when his phone rang. Two days had gone since he left Natalie. He hadn’t been able to call her but just before she ran inside he told her to trust him. The call wasn’t from Natalie. It was Cindy and she was upset, very upset.

“Cindy… calm down what’s happened.”

“Natalie’s gone.”

“What do you mean by gone?” Steven had a bad feeling.

“I’ll have to tell you everything. How much time do you have?”

“I’m on my way, but we’re waiting for transport. Is Natalie OK, please, tell me?”

“I don’t know Steven. That’s why I called you, I need help. But let me tell you what happened.” Cindy told him the story;

Two days after Steven left, Cindy was on her way to Natalie when she saw her arguing with two women. One of them, a tall young blonde, called Natalie a whore. Cindy went over and asked them what the hell they were doing there. The blonde told Cindy it was none of her business, or was she a whore too. That was it for Natalie, she slapped the blonde woman who in returned attacked her.

People came out from their houses to look, and Cindy had to stop the blonde woman. She used her powers as a witch, but without anyone being able to notice. Then the blonde told Natalie that Steven was her husband. She showed them a photo of Steven, the children and herself.

Cindy knew that Steven could have stopped his aging, and that it could be an old photo. But Natalie didn’t know about their world, or about any magic. She just saw a photo of a happy family. The photo she’d seen of Steven’s children hadn’t been a recently taken photo and he hadn’t told her how old they were now.

“Damn it, the photo I have is 5 years old. I guess Sally showed her a similar one. But did Natalie believe Sally?” Steven asked.

“If by Sally, you mean the woman who said she is your wife, then no, not at first. Natalie said that Steven’s wife was dead.” Cindy sighed.

“I said she was gone, I meant from us.” Steven replied.

“Well maybe you should have been more honest with her. Are you married?”

“No Cindy. We have been divorced for five years. That photo was the last of us together. Sally has a mental illness. Sometimes things work, other times she goes completely mad. The children are today 15 and 12. But what happened, you said Natalie is gone?”

“Well Sally went on that you were her husband and told Natalie to leave you alone. Her friend agreed. I’m sorry Steven but they were both very convincing. And finally I believed them too. Natalie didn’t, she said you worked and lived in Canada. Then Sally asked how much Natalie knew about you. When Natalie didn’t answer Sally said that you always did that… Told women some secret story. Then one of our neighbours, a young foreign man approached and asked if Natalie needed help. Sally’s friend got a worried look and told Sally they should leave, so they did.”

“Her friend, Lena, knows that if Sally makes trouble she can end up in a mental institution. But why do I get a bad feeling about the man you mentioned.”

“You’re right about a bad feeling there. I don’t know who the man is. He rents one of the houses. He’s only been here a short while. I don’t think anyone’s ever talked to him. To be honest I wasn’t aware he spoke English…Anyway… Sally and her friend left. But he stayed, asking if he could help. Natalie was devastated. Then she said she should go to Inverness and buy the rabbit for Thomas, my son. I told her she shouldn’t drive; she was too upset. So this neighbour offered to drive her. He has no car so they took her car. Steven I have no car. My husband uses our car to get to work.”

“And how long ago was this?” Steven asked.

“8 hours ago, Steven… She would never leave Killen alone that long. I have a key but she doesn’t know that. You gave that key to me.”

“Have you called the police, checked if there has been any accident?”

“Yes I called an hour ago. There was no accident reported. She has her old car with Swedish plates…they’d have known about it, if something had happened. I told them that I’m afraid she’s been kidnapped, but they won’t do anything after just 8 hours. I know that something has happened.”

Steven had at first thought she left with the man that offered to drive her because she was angry at him, Steven. But he agreed with Cindy, she would never leave her dog alone that long. “I have a friend who’s a detective in Inverness. I’ll call him and see what he can do.”

“Is he one of us?” Cindy asked.

“He is… and he knows a lot of people. If anyone’s spotted her car they’ll tell him. She has an unusual car, and with its Swedish plates, someone might have seen it. Look, Cindy… I’m on my way, and none of you will be able to reach me for a while. I’ll give him your phone number.”

“OK, Steven I’m so sorry that I couldn’t stop her from leaving.”

They hung up and Steven called Graham Thomson. Graham promised to start looking for Natalie. Steven gave him Cindy’s phone number and explained that he, himself, wouldn’t be reachable. Steven left Canada as a worried man with a heavy heart. He wished he’d exchanged phone numbers with Lawrence but they never did. Then he remembered that Lawrence had been against Natalie having anything to do with his father, and that his father was someone important. Steven had respected that Lawrence didn’t want to tell him who his father was. But now he wished he had known. What if someone knew the truth about Lawrence after all and had taken Natalie?

Cindy was thinking along the same lines. What if Natalie’s son had some enemy in their world?

She had a feeling, though, that this was worse. The man who’d left with Natalie was human. Evil humans were much more dangerous because they didn’t live by any rules.

Graham Thomson called his contacts. People who he uses to give him information when needed. He asked if anyone had seen an old Ford Mustang with Swedish plates. He got an answer very quickly.

“Graham… a man entered the old B&B where they don’t ask for names.” His informer explained. “My friend called me to ask if I knew of anyone who dealt in human trafficking. That’s not something we deal with here… and we don’t accept it either.”

“Why did he think it was human trafficking?” Graham asked.

“Because the man was carrying a woman, saying she had fainted. He wanted a room just for the night.”

“Your friend?… That’s the owner, right?” Graham knew it was, but he wanted to have it confirmed.

“Aye, he isn’t an honest man… but things like human trafficking?… No that’s going too far.”

Graham was worried. “How long ago was this?”

“A couple of hours. But he told me he’d call if anything happens.”

Graham took his partner and left for the old B&B. This was a little way outside the town. He knew they smuggled things but there were no big deals there. He had never reported them as long as it didn’t come to heavy drugs. Instead they’d given him information that had helped him catch several people. His partner was a human so he couldn’t tell him how he’d got the information that something had happened there. All his partner knew was that a woman was missing.

When they entered the B&B the owner told Graham to hurry upstairs. “I heard the woman scream but I’m old and the young man that brought her looked well trained. But there is a lot of noise up there.”

Graham rushed up the stairs with his partner close after. He kicked in the door.

Natalie lay on the floor. The man was kicking her. There was blood everywhere. The man told them to get lost. He didn’t stop abusing her. Graham grabbed him and threw him out of the room where he knocked him unconscious.

He called the local police. His partner was sitting on the floor beside Natalie. Graham heard him call an ambulance.

“Angus… you go with the local lads and see that the idiot that beat her stays in jail. I’ll go to the hospital with the lady.”

His partner left. Graham dialled Cindy while he tried to speak to Natalie. He told Cindy briefly what had happened. Then he told Natalie that he was a friend of Steven.

“Killen, he’s alone.” She could hardly speak. Her face was badly beaten and it seemed as she had pain in her stomach.

Cindy had told Graham to tell Natalie that she was taking care of her animals. He guessed Killen was one of them. “Your neighbour, Cindy, she is taking care of your animals.”

“No key.” Natalie tried to explain.

Graham knew Steven and had guessed that he’d made sure that her neighbour had a key.

“Steven gave her a key. We have to take you to the hospital.” Steven had told Graham that Natalie was human and knew nothing about what they were. Graham could take her to any hospital he wanted.

When the ambulance came to get her she seemed to be no longer aware of what had happened. She kept saying

‘Steven, I didn’t drink it all.’ Graham thought she would be more calm if he lied so he said that Steven was on his way.

He tried to call Steven, but there was no answer. Graham went with the ambulance. As a detective he told them to run tests for drugs. He suspected that she’d been drugged. His friend had said she’d been carried in to the B&B. Graham was well known so no one questioned him. This was, after all, a crime that had been committed. The police needed as much information as possible.

The owner of the B&B had been coming upstairs together with Graham and his partner. He’d witnessed how she’d been beaten. Before the ambulance left, Graham told the owner he needed him to come and give a statement to the police.

“Too many get away too easily.” Graham said.

“I agree Sir. To me it looked like he was trying to kill her.” The owner replied.

Graham nodded, “I have to leave now… but we want that statement, OK?”

Graham had also thought that it looked as if the man was trying to kill her, but why? If Steven was right, then she was just an ordinary human. He wished he could have reached Steven.

When they reached the hospital Natalie was unconscious. Graham was told to wait as they rushed Natalie away. He called Cindy again. He had to know if she knew more about Natalie and the man who’d abused her.

“The man she left with rents a house in our neighbourhood. But I’ve never seen him talk to anyone until he approached Natalie. I should have told her not to go with him. How is she?”

“She was unconscious when we arrived at the hospital and the doctor who received us looked worried.” Graham asked her, “Are you sure she has nothing to do with people like us?”

“She isn’t one of us. Did Steven tell you anything?… because I don’t want to seem like a gossip?”

“He only said she knows nothing about our world. But the man was trying to kill her, or so it seemed. I hope he didn’t succeed because Steven really cares for this woman.”

“Is it that bad? Oh my God, yes Steven loves her a lot. Has anyone called her son?” Cindy asked, unaware that Lawrence had never been spoken of.

“No, Steven didn’t mention any son. But if she has one he should be notified. Don’t you think Steven did that before he left?”

“What would he tell him? That she’d been gone for 8 hours? I don’t know how well he knows her son.”

For some reason she wasn’t aware of, she didn’t mention that Lawrence was one of them. She’d never got around to asking Steven how it was that Natalie had a son who was a Warlock. As a Witch herself, she’d felt that Lawrence was a Warlock, something you inherit. But then she remembered that Lawrence had looked surprised when his mother had introduced him. Why was he surprised? Was he a secret otherwise?

“What more can you tell about the neighbour?” Graham asked.

Cindy didn’t have much to tell. “He’d never talked to anyone and was mostly inside the house. It surprised me that such a young man chose to live out there.”

“Well, we’ll know more when we know who he is. But why was he with Natalie?”

“Steven’s wife came and insulted Natalie. She was screaming at Natalie to leave her husband alone… calling her a whore. Natalie was upset of course. When Natalie said she wanted to go to Inverness to buy a rabbit for my son I said she was too upset. He offered to drive.”

Graham sighed. “You think he heard Sally screaming and probably thought she was right that Natalie was a bad woman?… Possibly… I would guess he planned to have sex with Natalie and drugged her. She kept saying that she didn’t drink it all.”

“Maybe he gave her some rape drug, but she found out and didn’t drink it all. She must have been fighting back and that’s why he started to beat her.” Cindy sounded sad. She blamed herself for letting Natalie go with him.

“Yes, that makes sense. I didn’t understand at first why he seemed to be trying to kill her. That’s why I wondered if she didn’t have any connection with our world after all. But when I think of it the man seemed to be a human. I didn’t feel that he was one of us.” A nurse approached and he told Cindy he would call her when he knew more.

“Detective Thomson?” The nurse asked.

“Yes, I came with a woman, how is she.”

“She’s been taken to theatre. If you’re here on duty, then I suggest that you come back tomorrow. This will take time.”

“I’m here as a friend too. I’ll stay until I know how the operation went.”

“There are coffee in the cafeteria. I’ll tell you as soon as we have some news.” She left and Graham went for coffee. He’d seen a lot in his work. Dead bodies, beaten people, but it had never been anything personal. The image of the tiny woman on the floor made his blood boil. He could only imagine how Steven would have felt if he’d been here.

Like Steven, Graham was a Serpentines; warriors they were called. Just like Steven, Graham had chosen the army but was injured. He had to leave the army but he could work as detective despite his injury. His temper had been a problem in the beginning but he got used to the work. He felt that he at least could put the bad guys where they belonged, in jail. But he had seen too many manage to avoid prison. Often because they had the money for a smart lawyer, or they bribed someone to lie.

He called his partner to check what had happened to the bastard that had beaten Natalie.

“He is still here in custody. But he talks about his wealthy father who’ll get him out. The idiot’s saying she should be in jail. She managed to break two of his fingers.”

“Good for her, if she survives.”

“Ouch… it’s that bad, is it? Well I’ll inform them. By the way he is complaining about your treatment too. I told them what happened. No one here is on his side, but you know… rich kids.”

“His neighbour said he was foreigner. He sure looked that to me. They can’t let him stay in the country.”

“Hopefully not. Look I’ll have to go and let them know that she’s fighting for her life.”

It had been late in the evening when Graham found Natalie. He was still waiting at the hospital. Trying to reach Steven. He hadn’t left any message as he wasn’t sure of the outcome. When the nurse approached him again he was almost asleep.

“Sir… the lady is out of the operation. But she’s still asleep.”

“Can I have a word with the doctor who operated on her… It’s for professional reasons, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll go and get him.” As she left, Graham took one more cup of coffee.

“Graham Thomson you wanted to talk to me.” Graham turned around. The doctor had arrived.

“Sean Gardner, this is a surprise. I didn’t know you were back in Inverness. How is the lady I brought here, Natalie Beren?”

“She had been badly beaten. We had to remove a kidney. It’ll be in my report. Have you caught the person who did this to her?”

“We caught him beating her. But my partner says he’s trying to buy his way out of it.”

“He can’t. You caught him in the act and she almost died. It must be attempted murder. I’ll make sure that the report is with you within 30 minutes. My nurse said you knew her.”

“She’s Steven McKenzie’s girlfriend.” He smiled grimly. Sean was one of them and knew Steven. No one hurt a girl of his. Steven would search out the guy even if he tried to move to the moon.

“Then you can go in to her. She’ll probably be asleep. But she’ll need a friend when she wakes up.”

Graham didn’t tell him that she had never met him before today. He wanted to be there for her. She was all alone. When he’d talked to Cindy, she’d mentioned that Natalie had only recently moved there.

He went in to her room. It looked empty and cold. It was still the middle of the night but Graham called one of his friends for some flowers. They arrived half an hour later. She’d been asleep all the time but started to mumble when Graham asked the nurse for a vase.

“I didn’t know.” She whispered.

“What didn’t you know sweetheart?” Graham asked.

She opened her eyes and he was as amazed as Steven was that first time he saw her honey brown eyes.

“I didn’t know that he wanted to do me harm. I thought he wanted to help by driving me.”

“Can you tell me what happened? By the way I’m Graham Thomson, Steven’s friend.”

“He was going to drive me to Inverness. But on the way he stopped at a garage. He bought something to drink but he looked odd. I didn’t drink all of it, but enough to knock me out for a while. When I woke up he tried to force himself on me. I tried to defend myself and I think I broke a finger or two of his. Then he hit my head in the wall and I was out again. The next time I woke up it was dark outside and I was alone. I tried to leave but he came in that moment. He started to beat me. I screamed but he just went on.”

“He was gone for a couple of hours, you mean.”

“I guess so, I was out. But he never raped me. I was fully dressed all the time. He tried, before I broke his fingers… Yes, I must have done that, because when he came back he had a bandage on his hand.”

Graham sighed. “Damn that B&B owner… if he’d only called immediately.”

“He called the police?”

“No, your neighbour did, but it had only been 8 hours. But then she called Steven and he called me. I have contacts and one of them said the owner had called him. But sweetheart, that B&B is known for illegal business. We also get information from them. I guess the owner is afraid of getting into trouble. Bloody coward. How do you feel now?” Graham asked looking at her beaten face.

“Stupid… Steven always said I trust people that I shouldn’t.”

“I meant how you feel physically. Why do you talk about Steven in past tense?”

“He’s married. I guess I’ll never see him again. It was just a fling.”

“Steven has been divorced for five years. His wife has a mental illness. She thinks they are still married at times. Or she just pretends, to make life miserable for others, especially Steven.”

“Well he won’t be interested now anyway. He’ll say I didn’t listen to him.” She looked at the flowers. Graham hurried to say they were from Steven but she smiled. “You’re lying. You got them here.”

He wondered how she knew. Cindy and Steven had said she wasn’t one of them but just a human. Maybe they were wrong.

The nurse came and told him she had to rest. Graham told Natalie he would go to the station and see to it that the bastard who did this stayed in prison. “I’ll be back.” He smiled and left.

On his way to the station he called Cindy. He apologised for calling in the middle of the night.

“No problems. How is she?”

“She is awake. They had to remove one of her kidneys. But you said she is human… are you sure?”

Cindy laughed. “She looked right through you? She is just a human but she has the ability to see through people. I guess that if she hadn’t been so upset she’d have seen that the man who offered to drive had wicked thoughts in mind.”

“She did when he tried to drug her. If she’d drunk the whole cup she wouldn’t have been able to defend herself. I just wanted to tell you she’s awake and will make it just fine. But she could need a friend.”

“I’ll ask my husband to drive me there in the morning. Thank you for calling Graham. I feel so guilty at not being able to protect her.”

“One more thing, and then I’ll let you go to sleep again. She doesn’t think Steven wants her anymore.”

“Because she got upset? He used to tell her to listen to him, but she’s used to being on her own. He would never abandon her for one mistake.”

“I know that but she doesn’t. Try to convince her because she needs all the strength to get well again. He can’t contact her, maybe not for weeks and we can’t tell her why.”

They hung up and Graham entered the station. His boss said he wanted a word.

“Don’t tell me you let that idiot go.” Graham looked at his boss angrily.

“It was close. He brought a lawyer who almost convinced us that she’d attacked him. But I got the doctors report and Angus statement. He’s been charged with attempted murder. But I have a feeling he think he will manage to get a deal if he promises to leave the country. His father usually gets him out of trouble.”

Graham smiled. “Good luck with that. He doesn’t know what’s waiting him. Maybe that would be for the best, we let him leave the country. She wouldn’t have to see him in court.”

“What do you mean by that?” Graham’s boss asked him.

“You’ve heard of Colonel Steven McKenzie I guess. He stayed in Inverness a couple of years.”

“Who hasn’t’. Didn’t he save your life in Iraq, or wherever it was? He’s a hero, but what’s he to do with this?”

“The woman who was beaten almost to death is his girlfriend. He’s abroad on a mission but I can guarantee that he won’t let that man get out of this easily.”

“So you suggest that we let them make a deal that he leaves the country? Then we leave it to McKenzie?” Graham’s boss was also one of them though he lived more among humans.

“You know that I can’t advise anything like that.” Graham smiled and went to his desk to write his report. He wasn’t sure if this was what Steven wanted. But he was very sure it was what Natalie would have wanted. Steven would find the abuser; and the abuser would regret that he’d messed with the wrong girl.

10

Steven was finally finished with his mission. Two weeks had gone since he talked to Graham. He called him first because he had a bad feeling.

“Steven, I’m happy to hear you’re alive.”

“You sound too happy for me to have been worried.” Steven laughed.

Graham’s voice changed. “No… I’m afraid you’ve had all reasons in the world to be worried. Your girl almost died.”

“And I wasn’t there… Please, what happened?” Steven was devastated.

Graham told him the whole story up to the part where they had to remove a kidney.

“She is at home now. Not that the doctor wanted to let her go. She had a bad blow to her head too. But there’s few as stubborn as that woman.”

“And the guy who attacked her?”

“It was some rich man’s son. He tried to put the blame on her. She broke two of his fingers.” Graham heard Steven laugh. “Well I wasn’t sure she could cope with a trial so I suggested that we let him leave the country. OK, I had to use my skills to make this look like a minor incident. He was thrown out of the country, for good. I know that maybe wasn’t what you wanted but she needed peace. I also know that you can find him if you want.”

“OK, you’re right, maybe I would have wanted a trial… But if you tell me she didn’t want that. You’ve got the information I need to find him?”

“Of course, but hurry home. She needs you.”

“What has she said about me not calling her?”

“She thinks you don’t want her anymore. I tried to explain that no one could reach you. But she says that when you know what’s happened you’ll leave her. She wasn’t raped, it’s not anything like that. I don’t really get it. But she’s so sure you’ll think she’s an idiot… or that’s how she expressed it.”

“She must know.” Steven was talking to himself.

“Steven?… What are you talking about? She must know what?”

Steven knew that whatever he said to Graham stayed there.

“She had a man once. She called him her husband because they lived together. He was a soldier and was killed. Well, that was the version he wanted her to know. I can’t tell you everything, but he isn’t dead. I have a feeling she knows that. That’s why she’s so sure I’ll leave her too. I’ll get that bastard who attacked her and then I will come back. But Graham… don’t tell her we’ve talked… or what I’m up to.”

“Then make sure you’re back quickly. The poor lass needs you.”

Graham gave Steven all information he needed to find her abuser.

After they hung up, Steven thought about everything Graham had told him. She’d felt that something was wrong, but too late. Maybe she wasn’t a species, but she was one of them in many ways.

Steven didn’t agree with what Graham had accomplished. No judge would allow it. Graham must have used his skills to make people believe a different story than the real one. That meant he also changed all reports. That wasn’t the way Graham normally worked.

But he knew why he did it. It wasn’t because Natalie wouldn’t cope with a trial. Graham wanted Steven to kill the abuser.

This made Steven a little worried. Normally, Graham was very careful with using his skills at work. He also believed in the system, and that putting criminals in jail was the right thing. Steven guessed that Graham had fallen for Natalie. It was his anger that had spoken, not his brain.

Steven hadn’t seen Natalie but with Graham reacting that strongly he could imagine it was bad. Yes, he had told her not to trust anyone but not even he thought something like this would happen. In Steven’s world violence wasn’t unusual, but she didn’t come from his world. She had chosen to live out in the country, she should have been safe there.

Graham had told Steven that the man who’d abused her was a rich boy. His father had put him in that place as a punishment. Graham didn’t know what he was being punished for. It was just something the boy had said.

To Steven, it all sounded insane. But who asked questions if a rich man rented their house for twice the normal amount and just for a couple of months?

Steven had told his boss that he had to take time off. When he told him why, John said there were no problems. He should go and take care of his girlfriend.

Steven then had to tell his children that he was leaving for Scotland but they had to stay in Canada. He had staff who looked after them.

“William… Something really bad happened to the woman we talked about. I have to go and take care of her. But I will try to persuade her to come back with me.”

“Did mum do her harm?” William asked.

“Your mum visited her, and that wasn’t a good thing as you can imagine, but it was a man who tried to kill her. She now thinks I’m still married because of your mother.”

“Is she one of us?” Mary asked.

“No Mary… and that can be a problem as you know.”

Yes, it could be a bigger problem than Steven wanted. He remembered how much Lawrence had been against Steven’s plans for bringing Natalie to Canada. He said it was because they were organised. But he also said that his father had lied to Natalie.

Natalie had mentioned that her ‘husband’ had asked her to move to Canada with him. What if he was Canadian? Canada was a huge country, but as Lawrence said, their world was organised here. They had The Regime, which was stronger than any country’s council. But who in Canada was so important that Lawrence thought he would be a danger to him and his mother? Steven couldn’t think of anyone who’d been able to produce children 30 years ago. Most people in their world who had powers were very old, and no longer able to have children.

Steven left that same day, but not to Scotland. He went after the man who’d tried to kill Natalie. To find people was easy for Steven. He had connections everywhere. But the boy’s father had been more than angry. He had sent his son to live among ordinary, in his opinion poor, people. He’d done it to let his son see how privileged he was. But as usual he’d been disappointed.

If the father had known more about Scotland, he’d have realised that something was wrong. The police in Scotland would never have simply let a crime like that go without a trial. But just as Graham suspected, he was human and so was his son. They knew nothing about magic. The father was also used to being able to buy his son out of trouble. But to punish his son he had kept him at home for a couple of weeks.

Steven knew where to look so he just waited. He was sure that it wouldn’t be long before the father let his son out again. When he did, Steven would be there waiting for him. However, it took Steven two more weeks.

In Steven’s world you protect and honour women. This wasn’t just because it was Natalie. It had been a man who’d drugged a woman to abuse her. He did it with no regrets and now he was going to be punished for what he did.

Steven didn’t kill him. He made it impossible for him to ever abuse any woman. He not only broke his fingers, he removed some of them. Then he castrated the abuser, and threw him into a dumpster.

If he survived, he would never be able to have any woman again. Steven didn’t think he would survive. In that neighbourhood, no one would help him.

Steven left for the airport, this time to fly to Scotland. But more than 4 weeks had gone by since he’d seen or spoken to Natalie.

He had bought her a lot of presents, just to show that she had been on his mind all the time. He’d also bought presents for Killen and the cats. All to make her feel he belonged with them.

He called Graham from the airport. But Graham was furious.

“Why the hell haven’t you called her at least?”

“I wanted to have this conversation face to face not on the phone.” Steven wondered why Graham had reacted like he had. He hadn’t asked about the abuser.

“You could have used video call or whatever.”

“Graham what’s wrong?”

“She doesn’t eat. We try to talk to her but she seems as if she isn’t here. She goes for long walks, on her own. I can’t be there all the time, and neither can Cindy. An old man, Donald, tries to keep an eye on her too. But Steven… she never asks about you, and that’s a bad sign.”

Steven didn’t know what to say. He’d seen some missed calls from Graham, but he was so focussed on finding her abuser that he’d waited before calling back.

“I’m on my way now Graham. I’m sorry but it took some time to find the guy. At least I can tell her he won’t touch a woman again… if he survives.”

Graham sighed. “I know Steven; we’re just worried that she doesn’t survive this. Do you want me to pick you up at the airport?”

“No, thank you, I’ve rented a car. I’ll call you later this evening, OK?”

“Fine, take care of your lass.”

They hung up. Graham went on with his work. He wanted Natalie to be happy. But he had to admit that he had more than a friend’s feelings for her.

Steven knew that too. He’d suspected that already, when he talked to Graham the last time. But his worries weren’t that another man fancied Natalie. Did she want him, Steven? Or had she let go because she hadn’t heard from him? Maybe Graham was right. He could have called on a video call. It would have been more personal than just a call, if that was his problem. But Steven wanted to be there in person for her. He was supposed to be there earlier, but it had taken him longer than planned.

When he turned in to her street he saw Cindy running over to Natalie’s garden. He drove quickly down to her house and parked. When he got out of the car Cindy was sitting beside Natalie on the steps. Steven had missed Natalie so much, and here she was. He had no idea what to say, but pulled himself together.

“Why are you girls sitting on the cold steps? It’s November, not summer.”

Cindy laughed a little. “Hey there Steven. We just took a break, right Natalie?” She pushed Natalie gently. But Natalie was sitting with her head down.

Steven approached her. “Honey, it’s too cold. Is that my old sweater you have on?” He smiled but she didn’t look at him.

Cindy whispered; “She almost fainted.”

Steven sat down in front of Natalie. “Let me help you in.” He lay his hand on her arm. She looked up and with a quick move she took off the sweater and gave him. “Honey I don’t want it back. Now you’ll get really cold.” He grabbed her but she hit him and told him to leave. Steven didn’t listen to her. He carried her inside. Cindy asked if he wanted her to stay. “No… we need to be alone now.” Cindy nodded and closed the door after him.

Steven put Natalie on the couch. He tried not to show how shocked he was that she was so thin. Her face was pale and the scar showed even more.

“Honey I haven’t been able to call you because I was on a mission for work. Then I went after the man who attacked you. He’s gone for good now.”

“He was gone when Graham sent him abroad.” She looked sad.

“Natalie… I’m sorry for all that’s happened to you. There are bad people everywhere I’m afraid.”

She gave him an angry look. “Yes… they just need someone’s wife to turn up and tell them where to find the whores.”

Steven sighed. “Sally has a mental illness. I have no idea how she found out about you.”

“I could have defended myself, if I’d been prepared. But you said she was gone.”

“I know… I should have told you everything about me and my family. But I was afraid of scaring you away.” He tried to take her hands but she pulled away.

“Well you don’t have to worry about that. I’m sure you can find another stupid woman to have fun with. Just make sure that your wife doesn’t find her. Can you leave now.”

Steven got angry. “No, I’m not leaving. Maybe that man got the idea from what he heard my ex say. But you don’t know that for sure. No one forced you to let him drive. Don’t blame me. I haven’t been playing with you. I love you. I even told my children about you.” He felt desperate and he didn’t like that feeling.

“Your children?” What did you tell your children about me?”

“That I had found the woman I want to spend my life with. They know I took time off from my job to go and see you. I should have been here two weeks ago but I wanted to find that bastard who hurt you. I did… and if he isn’t dead, he’s at least missing a couple of fingers and a cock.”

Natalie started to giggle and then she laughed. But that laugh turned into tears. When he took her in his arms, she at first tried to push him away. But he didn’t let her. She needed this, the tears, and his arms around her.

Cindy later told Steven that she hadn’t seen Natalie cry after the attack. They should have realised that she needed to cry. But they were just her friends, new friends who hardly knew her.

It was already evening and after Steven had made some dinner for both of them he asked Natalie if sleeping in the same bed was OK.

“Steven he never raped me. He tried but I broke two of his fingers. He got angry and hit my head against the wall and I passed out. But he must have left, because he came back just as I woke up and by then it was dark outside. I don’t have any traumas after what happened…” she paused. He looked at her, waiting … “Well I am a little afraid when it’s dark. I haven’t been that since I was a child.”

Steven smiled. “You don’t have to excuse yourself. Anyone would have problems after what happened. By the way, who taught you to defend yourself that way? I saw his hand; those fingers were broken in a professional way.”

“My ex…” she smiled and made a grimace when she said that. “He was in the army and was always afraid that because I’m small and tiny, as he called me, I could have problems defending myself. So he taught me some tricks. If I hadn’t drunk any of that stuff, I’d have managed even better.”

“If you’d drunk all of it, it would’ve been even worse. Honey… I just wish I’d been here for you.” He caressed her cheek. She shook her head and tears ran again. “Do you want to talk more about it?” Steven asked.

“No, I want to forget.” She took a deep breath as if she had problems breathing.

“Ah, I forgot. I have presents for you, Killen and the cats. Just wait here.” He rose to leave but she looked worried. “Do you want to help me carry them?” He wondered if she wasn’t much more scared than she pretended.

She rose and went with him. But she stopped in the doorway.

“It’s cold, can I wait here?”

“Of course.” Steven hurried to the car and fetched his suitcase and all the packets. He noticed that she was holding Killen close to her. She looked around, as if she was expecting someone to pop up in the dark. When he had it all inside she locked the door. Before, she’d often forget to lock up and he would have to tell her to do it. She didn’t feel safe there any longer. But would she feel safe ever again?

“Can we bring them upstairs? I need to lay down. I think we walked too far today.” She gave Steven a weak smile.

“Of course.” Steven smiled then started to carry up some of the packets. He heard her check the locks on the kitchen door. When he came down for the rest she asked if he wanted anything more tonight. He just shook his head and told her to go upstairs. He followed her up the stairs, afraid she would fall.

Natalie went to the bathroom and he asked if he should give the cats their presents. But she wanted to wait. He thought she meant till after she was finished in the bathroom. But she went to bed when she came out from there.

Steven had put all her presents in the bedroom but she didn’t touch anything. He went to the bathroom. His toothbrush was still there. She must have wanted him to come back.

Killen was sleeping on the floor beside her. Usually he slept in his dog bed. It was as if he was afraid she would disappear. Steven guessed the poor dog had been worried when Natalie hadn’t come home.

“He’s happy to have you home again.” He patted the dog and went to the other side of the bed. “Are you sure it’s OK having me here?” He asked, terrified that she’d say no.

She reached out her hand and he lay down beside her. He took her hand and held to his cheek. Then he turned and looked at her. “Did this destroy your feelings for the house?”

“I don’t know. When it’s dark, I’m afraid to even move around. I know that no one can enter without Killen barking, but I’m still afraid. It’s silly because it didn’t happen here.”

“Honey it isn’t silly. It was dark when he came back and started to beat you. But he’s gone now.”

“Was he human?” Natalie asked.

Steven starred at her. “Human?…What do you mean? That he behaved like a monster?”

“No Steven… you know what I mean. Was he one of you?… or just human?”

Now Steven sat up in the bed. “What is it you haven’t told me, or Lawrence? Because Lawrence told me that you know nothing about us.”

“Do you think I wouldn’t try to find out why my son had magic powers? Lawrence is a Warlock, right? But I had no idea that you also were like him. Not until I happened to hear Cindy and Graham talk. They thought I was asleep. So don’t you think it’s time you told me the truth about yourself?”

Steven sighed. “Do you want a lot of information tonight? You look very tired and this is huge.”

“I know it is. I want to know everything there is to know. Are you all like Lawrence or are there other species?”

Steven smiled. “There are many different species, as you called them. Warlocks like Lawrence, Witches like Cindy. Graham and I are Serpentines, also called warriors. But I have part Warlock in me. There are Vampires, Werewolves, and a lot of other species that you’ve never even heard of in your world. And yes, we live like we’re in a world of our own, but within the modern world that humans live in. I say the modern world because ours is old fashioned. We use modern technology just like you do. But we have old fashioned rules, and I would say that it’s a man’s world. You use to joke and ask what century I live in. Well that’s because I’m used to our old fashioned ways.” He looked at her wondering if this wasn’t too much after all.

“Are your people immortal, or that’s just Vampires?”

Steven smiled. She asked as if this was nothing. “How much did you know already?”

“When Lawrence started to get his powers he started to investigate. This is ten years ago. He searched on internet but I guess you don’t advertise.” She giggled and he smiled. “Well he found something, I think a cryptic message for people like him to find. So I tried to figure out what it said. It didn’t take me long. It was a message for people who for some reason didn’t have parents with powers, or skills as they called it. I pretended to be a girl who had found my skills. But they aren’t that easy to fool.”

“Thank God for that. You can imagine how dangerous it could be if humans knew we existed.”

“Yes… I understand that. Well I never found any more information. But I realised that there were people out there, people like my son. I was very disappointed that he didn’t tell me, I felt left out.”

“So why did you ask if your abuser was human?”

“Because of you. You had so many secrets. Maybe your wife hired the man. But Graham told me he was some rich kid. I still wanted to hear what you said. But I’m not like you, was that why my ex left me?” Natalie looked at Steven as if he knew that her ‘husband’ wasn’t dead.

“Natalie I honestly don’t know who your ex was.” He was telling the truth. Lawrence had never told him who he was. To tell her that he was alive, and that her son knew, would have been cruel. “That you’re not like us, a species, can make life a little difficult if you want to spend your life with me.” She was going to say something but he put a finger over her mouth. “Listen to me. I don’t care what you are. I love you and I want you to come with me to Canada. To live with me and the children.”

“As what? Your girlfriend?”

“No, I want to marry you. But I would have preferred to have made a nice, romantic proposal.” He sighed and she started to laugh.

“OK, so you want me to forget this and you propose in some romantic way?” She kept laughing and he grabbed her closer.

“Woman behave, I’m serious here. In our world marriage is a serious thing. We live like people did many hundred years ago. Can you live as an obedient wife?” Steven asked, with a stern look, but she just laughed.

“My God let’s sleep. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.” He took her in his arms and told her to be quiet and sleep. He seldom used magic as he was more of a Serpentines than a Warlock, but now he did, to make her sleep.

While Natalie slept in his arms he was thinking of what she’d told him. She had been aware that there was some organisation that her son had joined. For ten years she had known and never told Lawrence. He didn’t understand why. But she said she had felt left out. Maybe she would always feel left out if he brought her with him.

He couldn’t sleep that night. Natalie moved around as if she was having nightmares. He was afraid to use more magic. She’d hardly eaten anything of what he’d made for them. He understood why Graham had been worried. She never asked for her presents and that wasn’t the Natalie he was used to. Seeing her like this, pale, with scars on her face and on her body, he could imagine how badly she’d been beaten.

Steven sighed deeply. Natalie hadn’t taken him seriously when he talked about Canada. Just the thought of leaving her here on her own made him angry. Didn’t she see that she needed him to take care of her?

When Natalie woke up she still didn’t say anything about her presents. She went to the bathroom and he heard her take a shower. He sighed, why didn’t she ask for her gifts. Killen took a small packet that was for him and Steven laughed. “At least someone wants to open their presents.” He sat down on the bad watching the dog open the packet. It was a bone, and he’d probably smelt it. Natalie came back already dressed. She’d fetched clothes from the room next door. Steven looked at her sadly. If it was true that she didn’t have any traumas because of the attack, then it seemed she’d given up on him.

“Did he steal his gift? He used to do that when we celebrate Christmas.” She smiled.

“Well at least he wanted his gifts.” Steven was still sitting on the bed.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t feeling well last night.”

“And you had an urge to get clean this morning. Don’t you want me any longer?” She didn’t answer but looked almost embarrassed. “We can start from the beginning if you want to.” He rose and reached out his hand. “Hi, I’m Steven McKenzie, who are you?” He smiled to her. She smiled back but just stood there. “Natalie please tell me if you want me to leave. This I can’t take.” He ran his hand through his hair.

She looked at the presents, as if she thought choosing one would solve all their problems. But she didn’t pick any and tears ran down her cheeks. He took her in his arms. Was he asking too much?

“I was so afraid that you’d never come back… That you were so angry at me for being so foolish.” She put her head to his chest.

“Of course I was angry.” He laughed a little to make her understand. “Look at me honey. I would never leave you. Didn’t I tell you that before I left for work?” She nodded, but still with her face to his chest. He sighed and told her again to look at him. When she did he asked for a smile and dried her tears.

Killen had finished his bone and he went for another packet. They both shouted no and then they laughed. Steven put her on the bed and the gifts too. He laughed because she looked like a little child. It looked as if he’d bought her the whole world. The cats and the dog jumped around when she opened gifts. He helped the animals, to let her have her moment. When the last gift was opened he wished he’d bought her a ring. This would have been the right moment. As if she knew what he was thinking she said;

“You don’t have to buy me gifts. Not that I don’t like it… I do.” She stroked her hand over a soft sweater he had given her.

“If I had to, then I wouldn’t.” He laughed, then sat down beside her. “What do you want for breakfast?”

“I can go down and make some coffee if you want to take a shower.”

“Only if you eat something. Graham’s told me you haven’t been a good girl.” He winked when she poked out her tongue.

He went to the bathroom, she was putting her gifts in place and taking care of the paper. For some reason he hurried into the bathroom. When he came out he looked at the stairs and saw her fall.

She had been almost downstairs and there weren’t that many stairs left. But he rushed down to her.

“Steven… it’s nothing. Go and get dressed. I just lost my balance.”

“And what if this had happened on the top of the stairs?”

“It didn’t… So go and get dressed.” She smiled and grabbed his towel and ran into the kitchen. She thought he would hurry upstairs but he came after her, naked.

When he grabbed her he whispered; “You can be happy you still aren’t well or I would put you over my knee.”

“Naked, you I mean?” She giggled and he smacked her bottom, took his towel and went upstairs to get dressed.

They had been playing, they laughed, but inside Steven was worried. He called Cindy and asked if she could take his car and go to get some fresh bread.

“She’s still not eating?” Cindy asked. “But I’ve just baked. I’ll come over with bread for you.”

Steven thanked her and got dressed. When he came down the coffee was on. Cindy knocked at the door. She knocked three times in succession. Natalie didn’t go to the door until the last knock. Steven had been watching her, wondering if she wanted him to open the door. He hurried to get to the door before Natalie closed it again.

“I just want to thank Cindy for taking care of you. And the bread.” He sniffed at it. Natalie smiled and took it to the kitchen.

“Doesn’t she open the door unless you knock three times?” he asked Cindy.

“She was very scared that he would come back. So we decided to have a code. I understand her, I would have done the same.”

“I understand. It’s just that the Natalie I knew was never afraid of anything. It takes some time to get used to this.”

Cindy gave him a serious look. “You don’t love her like this?”

“Cindy please. I still love her… but no, I want her to feel safe. I can see that she doesn’t and that hurts. I wasn’t here for her, and I took too long to come back. I want her to move with me to Canada. Living here will always remind her what happened. Even if he isn’t here, he lived here for a while.”

“Canada?… Is that a good idea?”

“She knows about us. We talked last night and she told me she has known about Lawrence for ten years. She also heard you and Graham talk.”

“And what did she say about it… about us?” Cindy asked. She was surprised that she hadn’t noticed that Natalie was aware what they were.

“She asked me to tell her all there was to know. But you know as well as I that these aren’t things you tell. You have to experience them yourself. I’m afraid she’ll always feel like an outsider.”

“Do you associate a lot with our people?”

“No, but my children are like us. The people we see have to be our kind.”

“I wanted to ask you about her son. But you say she has known for ten years. That sounds like he doesn’t know how aware she is.”

“He thinks that she just knows that he’s different and that there are more like him. But I think she knows more than she told me… Thank you for the bread. I have to go back and see that she eats it.” Steven went inside. He deliberately didn’t lock the door to see if she said anything.

She was standing with the bread as if she didn’t know what to do with it. He took it and cut slices. When he put them on a plate at the table she took out butter and cheese. She hadn’t mentioned the door so he did.

“I didn’t lock the door.”

“I heard that you didn’t.” She giggled. “Well, I should say I would have heard if you did. But you’re here now.”

He told her to eat a sandwich. She did, and poured coffee for them both. He looked at her the whole time and after a while she asked if something was wrong.

“Nope, I like to look at you. I missed you. Natalie I have to work. Not now.” He added when she looked as if he meant he had to leave. “I mean I have to work in the future. I want you to come with me because I think here you will be reminded of what happened all the time. I have a wonderful house out in a small village with amazing mountains. You will love the nature.”

“I’ve just moved here. I have friends. Well three friends.” She sighed and he caressed her cheek.

“You will easily get new friends. My children have a nanny you don’t have to worry about that.” He was afraid she would think he used her.

“How old are they?”

“William is 15, and Mary 12.”

“Don’t they think a nanny is kind of silly?” She giggled. And he gave her a stern look.

“Oh you’ll get along just fine with them. I guess you’ll all gang up against me.” He grimaced. Then he took his phone. “Look I have some pictures of the house and the surroundings.” He showed her photos he had taken just before he left.

“Did you live there with your wife?” Natalie looked at the photos when she asked.

“No, I bought a new house five years ago when we got divorced, and it’s ‘ex-wife’ please. We can buy a new one if you don’t like it… Yes, we should buy a new one. One that you and I would choose together.” Steven could sense that she was feeling like an outsider already.

“But your children have moved recently.” She had a tired look that scared him. She wasn’t in to this.

“They are used to moving, and maybe we can find one close by. Natalie, I want you to feel it’s yours as much as this.” He made a gesture to her house. “We can come here when the children are visiting their grandparents, if you want to keep it.” Oh my God, he was planning too much again, but he couldn’t let her stay on her own.

“Yes… you are planning too much.” She said, but he hadn’t said that out aloud.

“I never said that.” He looked at her suspiciously. “Natalie?… Can you read my mind?”

“Are you sure you didn’t say that aloud? I can’t read minds. But please… let me think about your plans. How long do I have? When are you leaving?”

“I don’t know. But if you want, I can check how to bring all your stuff if you prefer that. You will feel more at home with your furniture around you. We can buy something else for this house if you decide to keep it.” And here he goes again. He started to laugh. “I’m sorry but I decide everything at my work and at home as a father. And you seem a little lost at the moment. Just tell me to be quiet.”

She smiled and took a big bite of her sandwich.

It had all happened very quickly, when Steven met Natalie, moving her things to Scotland. He never had to take her out on dates. Now it felt as if he had to start all over. But again he didn’t have a lot of time. He couldn’t tell her that, because now she was fragile and she wasn’t feeling well.

After breakfast they went for a long walk. When they were on their way home they met Donald.

“Ah, finally lad. She needs a man taking care of her, your wee lass. Are you staying now?”

“I’m afraid I have my work in Canada. But now when we meet, can you keep my lassie company for an hour? I have to run an errand.”

“Of course, but you hurry back.” Donald gave him a stern look.

“I’ll hurry back.”

They were now at home. Steven jumped into the car. He gave Natalie a kiss first, and told her he would be back soon. She didn’t say a word.

On the way Steven wondered why she had been so obedient. That wasn’t the woman he was used to. He’d told her about his world. Asked if she could live like that. But he didn’t want her to change, just try to blend in when necessary. He loved her just as she was. Independent, stubborn and warm hearted.

Steven remembered that he’d promised to call Graham, but forgot. He called him now.

“So what do you think?” Graham asked.

“Think?… what do you mean?”

“Natalie… is she the girl you want for the rest of your life? Sorry Steven but she told me that the two of you hardly know each other.”

Steven couldn’t believe what he heard. Natalie would never say that. “You’re lying, or you’ve misunderstood her.”

Graham laughed. “Have you lost your touch, I could never fool you like that before. You must be worried. Weren’t things right?”

“I’ll kill you one of these days. No, things weren’t well at all to start with. She wanted me to leave. But we sorted that out.” ‘hardly knew each other’ Steven mumbled.

“I’m sorry mate. If I’d known that things hadn’t gone well, I wouldn’t have joked like that. But where are you now, as she isn’t close by?”

“I’m on my way to buy her a ring.” He heard Graham curse.

“Sorry… I spilled my coffee. You’re going to propose? Isn’t that rushing things a little?” Graham sighed.

“Graham… I live in Canada. I can’t just pop in when she needs me. She should leave that place… he lived there for a while.”

“Steven… he didn’t live in her house or attack her there. She seems to love her house. Cindy and her family are very good friends of hers. Don’t you think you’ll drag her away from her friends if you take her to Canada?”

“I love this girl. I can’t live without her. She’s scared and confused. By the way she knows about us. She heard you and Cindy talk.”

“Oh my God Steven. I had no idea.”

“Don’t worry she knew stuff before that. Graham have you ever felt that she reads your mind?”

“Yes, I was going to ask you about that. Are you sure she isn’t one of us but not aware?”

“I have never felt that she was one of us. But there are moments when I wonder. Well… wish me luck.”

Graham sighed. If Steven had put his mind to something no one would be able to make him change that.

“Take care of her.” That was Graham’s way to tell his friend that he hoped he would get what he wanted.

Steven drove to the shop and bought a ring. He didn’t choose a typical engagement ring with a huge diamond. He found a very old ring in the Celtic style. The owner was one of his kind and told him it had a story.

“It was given to a woman with great powers. The man who was giving it was so afraid that the ring wouldn’t be enough that he asked the local jeweller to put an extra stone in the ring. The jeweller put a garnet stone, a big one. The man complained that it wasn’t a precious stone. The old jeweller told him that this stone would amaze his bride to be, ‘She will have eternal happiness’, he said.

The man bought the ring and gave it to his bride to be. He was sure she’d say it didn’t live up to her standards. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. When she put on the ring, the stone glowed like the sunset over a dark sea. They had eternal happiness and lived a long life.”

Steven had been looking at the ring for a long time. He asked the jeweller.

“What if my bride to be isn’t from our world?”

The jeweller had smiled and told him the important part was that she was his true love. Then he added.

“But the stone will show you.”

On his way back Steven started to feel nervous. Not that he doubted his love, but was worried that he was rushing her. If she said no, he still had to leave. He decided to close his mind to be sure that none of his thoughts affected her decision.

When he parked outside her house he saw Cindy looking out of the window. He waved to her and went to the door. Donald opened before he knocked.

“I heard the car. She is in the living room. Her son called on Skype. Take good care of her lad.”

Steven was going to thank him but Donald just left.

Natalie was trying to explain something to Lawrence. Steven could hear part of what she said. She sounded close to tears and he hurried inside. Lawrence was yelling at her and Steven sat down beside her asking what was wrong.

“Did you know? About the attack?” Lawrence asked.

“Cindy called me when she got worried that Natalie didn’t get home. I called a friend who is a detective. But all of this you must know.” Steven looked at Natalie. “Didn’t you tell him?”

“I didn’t want him to be worried. He would have told me to move.”

“She should move.” Lawrence yelled on the laptop.

“I totally agree Lawrence but it’s her life. Can we call you back?” Steven asked.

“Sure, are you taking care of her now?” Lawrence asked.

Natalie interrupted, “I can take care of myself. It was bad luck, that’s all.” She closed her computer.

“Honey… why didn’t you call your son? Haven’t the two of you been talking for over a month?”

“Of course we have. But not on Skype, and I’d forgotten how I looked when he called just now. Donald was here and we were talking and having fun.”

“So you forgot about your attack. That’s fine honey. But you have to understand that your son got a shock. You’re as pale as a ghost, thin as a stick, and your injuries aren’t all healed.” He caressed her cheek.

Natalie giggled. “From your description, I look horrible.”

“No, you’re still my beautiful lass.” He laughed a little. The Scottish expressions had come back.

“Well he can yell as much as he wants. He’s just like his father. She made her voice deeper and made a silly face as if she was a man. “Lassie… didn’t I tell you to behave.”

Steven looked at her and laughed but asked. “Did he call you lassie? Wasn’t he American?”

“Well he said he was. Maybe his parents came from Scotland. Many Scots emigrated to America.”

Steven thought that yes many did, but their children didn’t adopt the language unless they themselves were born in Scotland. His own father was Scottish but Steven was born in Canada and it wasn’t until he moved to Scotland that he used his father’s expressions.

Who was this man that Natalie had a son with? Steven had to force Lawrence to tell him. There was one question he had to ask Natalie before he proposed.

“You told me that you were married but Lawrence said you weren’t.”

“We never got married. But to me we were… We lived as married for a year. He travelled a lot but we moved to a small house out in the country together. A house that he bought. Not the one I’ve just moved from.”

“When did you move from the house he bought?” Steven wondered.

“When Lawrence started school… It was too far out. I sold the house and bought an apartment and my car. The old one I still drive. We had a very nice apartment in town. But when Lawrence was grownup I longed for a house of my own again.”

“Did Lawrence recommend you to buy that house out in the middle of nowhere, the one we moved your stuff from?”

“Yes, how did you know that he found the house?”

“Because I think your son has tried to hide you to protect you from his world. The world that I want to bring you to.” He looked at her carefully to see what she really thought.

“Well it can’t be that much worse than the one humans live in.” She made a grimace.

Maybe her horrible attack had been in Steven’s favour, no matter how bad that sounded.

“So you think you would like my world?” Steven asked.

“Where men decide everything.” She laughed. “Do you think I could fit in there. We argue all the time because I don’t listen to you. I’m not any different now, just because of what happened.”

“Honey… I don’t want you to be different, OK, you could listen to me now and then.” He laughed at her expression.

She sat on the couch with her legs up under her as if she was cold. He wrapped the blanket she had there around her. Then he just sat looking at her. She asked, as she had before, if something was wrong.

“I hope not.” He smiled, then he rose and put his hand in his pocket. She gave him a suspicious look and to his surprise he could feel her trying to read his mind. But he had closed his thoughts to her. He went down on one knee and opened the box with the ring.

Natalie started to cry before he even said anything. It made him worried. He had never felt so insecure in his whole life.

“I hope that is happy tears honey. Or don’t you want to marry me?”

She started to giggle. “You haven’t asked me.” She dried her tears but couldn’t stop giggling.

He sighed. “Seriously you’re laughing at me. Well maybe I’m not good at this. But do you want to marry me?”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s just that you are always so sure of everything. Now you’re looking so lost.”

“And…?”

“And of course I want to marry you, even if it means I have to move again.”

He put on the ring and they both stared at it. The stone was glimmering in red and yellow like fire. Natalie looked closer to read something that was engraved on it.

“‘Sonas Maireannach’, ‘Eternal Happiness’, that’s beautiful.”

“Do you speak Gaelic?” Steven asked.

“Not that I’m aware of. But it says eternal happiness.”

Steven looked at the ring. His father had taught him Gaelic and she was right. It also fitted in with the story the jeweller had told him.

“Are you sure you’re not one of us.” Steven sat down beside her and took both her hands in his.

“I have no powers… nor can I do any magic.”

“Honey, there are so many different species. Not many do magic, but they have other skills. I have friends that can tell if you actually are one of us.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, if you don’t want to know, we’ll forget it.”

“But it would be better for you if you married one of your kind, and not a human.”

“Natalie, I love you whatever you are. You said yes so you love me back. That’s all that matters, right?”

She smiled. “Yes as long as you can live with me whatever I am.”

“I’ll never leave you. I know that you’re afraid of that. But you’re stuck with me now.” He winked and put his arm around her. Yes, he would never let her go. She was the love of his life.

Destiny plays cruel games from time to time.

11

Steven started planning to move her things to Canada. There was only one thing that worried him. Natalie had told him not to tell Lawrence. When he asked why, she answered that he didn’t like the idea of her moving to Canada. Steven wanted them to call Lawrence and talk to him but she said no. When a week had gone by, and she still hadn’t told her son that she was engaged to be married, Steven went into her laptop while she was at Cindy’s place.

Lawrence’s reaction wasn’t what Steven had expected. When they met, Lawrence had seemed happy that his mother had met Steven. Now he yelled at Steven that he was insane.

“I told you that you can’t bring her to Canada. What part of that was it that you didn’t understand?”

“Lawrence… seriously, calm down. Natalie is a grownup; she moves wherever she wants. If you have a problem with Canada tell me what that is instead of yelling.”

“How much have you told her about us?” Lawrence asked. But by now Steven was getting tired of his behaviour.”

“I asked you a question and you’d better answer.” Steven replied firmly.

“My father lives in Canada. Do you want to take that risk?”

“He left her, didn’t he? It’s a huge country. I’m sure we can avoid him. Just tell me his name.”

Lawrence was just about to tell him when the connection broke. Well at least Steven thought he was going to tell him. He tried to call again but it didn’t work. Then he heard the door and closed her laptop. As if it wasn’t enough with Lawrence yelling, Natalie wasn’t in the mood to talk about the move. Steven was getting tired and angry. Had she changed her mind? She was more often at Cindy’s place than at home packing.

“Don’t you want this any longer.” He asked her. She was putting on coffee but they haven’t had their dinner.

“Want what?” She asked, without turning around and looking at him.

“Me… and moving to Canada.” He went over and turned off the coffee machine.

“Hey!… I just put that on.” She reached out her hand to turn it on again.

He grabbed her hand, “I know you did, but we haven’t had dinner. Maybe you could start to eat… Anyway… I asked a question.”

“I’m just tired of packing, I only unpacked a couple of days ago.”

“I told you, I can hire someone to pack for you.” He looked at her as if he still waited for an answer.

“I’ll miss Cindy and her family. We’d planned to celebrate Christmas together. Now I don’t even get to Christmas decorate this house. Your house looks very big.”

“And it’s not yours. I know. Then let’s look at a new house.” When she didn’t answer he got angry and dragged her into the living room.

Steven opened her laptop and searched for houses. He chose the area around the home he had now. She would love the nature there and the children could keep their friends and their school. He found a couple of houses that were big enough for his needs but looked cosy.

“You need to know that you can sell the house you have now first.” She mumbled.

“Do you worry about money?” He turned and looked at her.

“It’s expensive to send all my stuff to Canada. I checked and I don’t have that money unless I sell this house.”

“Honey I told you we can keep this house. It’s less expensive than staying at a hotel when we come here. I have a good salary, don’t you worry. Or are there more reasons not to come with me?” He sighed.

“You think I’m horrible, don’t you?” She looked at her ring and he wondered if she was going to remove it.

“Yes, you’re a terrible wee lass that doesn’t like to move every second month.” He wrapped his arm around her and laughed. “Any house you like, or we forget all about it.” He was smiling but she knew it wasn’t the house he meant they should forget.

Steven was glad he’d closed his mind to her. He had too many mixed feelings, too much fear that she would say no at the last minute. Lawrence hadn’t called back and Cindy wasn’t sure he’d done right. When he talked to Graham he didn’t seem interested. They all wanted Natalie to stay in Scotland. He got that. But he was the one that slept in her bed and felt her nightmares. That was also a problem; they weren’t back, when it came to sex. He looked at her, she was changing pages looking at houses. This mood she was in had to end. He took a grip around her waist and carried her upstairs.

Neither of them said a word. But she didn’t close her eyes when he kissed her. They had never made love with her knowing what he was. Now he could let go without fear of being exposed. Not just his eyes changed colour. His body had a shimmer like gold. And again he made her forget all her fears.

This time, when he wrapped the blanket around her, she pulled the blanket over him too and got as close to him as possible. There was something in her eyes that told him she had been waiting for this.

“And me who was afraid to hurt you.” He sighed but laughed.

“You could have asked.” She giggled and he pinched her bottom.

Natalie called Lawrence that evening and told him she was going to marry Steven and move to Canada. He said congratulations and asked whereabouts in Canada. Steven, who was sitting beside her, told him where.

“OK, keep an eye on her Steven. You never know what she could run into.” Then Lawrence said he had to leave but told her to send him the address.

Natalie didn’t have time to tell him they were looking for a house, before he hung up. Steven still had no idea who Lawrence’s father was and why it would matter. He was the one who left, not Natalie. She couldn’t be blamed for not telling him she was pregnant as she thought he’d died. How could Lawrence be so sure who his father was?

“Do you have any photos of your ex.” Steven asked Natalie.

“No, I lost them. I had a box with some photos, but one day it was gone. Why did you ask?”

“If he was one of us… then maybe, just maybe, he didn’t die but left because you didn’t belong in his world. You asked me that the other day. If he left because you’re not from our world.”

“You think Lawrence meant I could bump in to him in Canada? But it’s a huge country and he was American, well he said he was.” She looked at her ring when she continued. “Steven, he wasn’t a coward. If he left, not died, he had a very good reason not to tell.”

“Good enough to stay away, even if he came to know about Lawrence?”

She laughed. “Well Lawrence isn’t a little baby. He is a grown up. If you’d left a woman, and found out you had a child together who today was at the age you were at the time, would you have thought that child wanted you?”

“I would have been curious. But you’re right. I hadn’t expected any father/son connection. And what about you? Would you feel hurt if he left rather than died?”

“I was thinking about that ten years ago, when I found out about Lawrence. At first I felt hurt. But if even my son tried to keep me out of that world then I couldn’t blame his father.”

They didn’t speak about Lawrence’s father after that. Steven agreed with her, what was the big deal? The only thing that worried him was that Lawrence had said his father was an important person in their world. If he was right, if he had found the right man, then that man could want an heir. But to claim Lawrence as his heir he had to have been married to his mother, or marry her now. Steven started to agree with Lawrence that it wasn’t a good idea to bring Natalie to Canada.

Steven had been so up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice what Natalie was doing. She was no longer in the living room so he called for her.

“Natalie… do you want me to take Killen out before bedtime?” He went out to the kitchen but she wasn’t there, neither was the dog. It was dark outside, she couldn’t have gone out, could she. Steven went to the hall but the leash wasn’t there. He took his jacket and went out, hoping she just went to the trees at the end of the street. But he couldn’t see her anywhere. Now he was getting worried.

“Natalie.” He called, but there was no answer. It was getting late but there was light in the houses. He hoped he didn’t wake up someone. Cindy heard him and came out.

“Where you calling for Natalie? She never goes out this late.”

“I know, but both she and the dog is gone.”

“I’ll get my coat and we can both go and look for her.” Cindy ran inside. When she came out, her husband was with her. He had two flashlights, one of which he gave to Steven.

Steven thanked him and they decided to each take one direction. Cindy and her husband went to the left and Steven to the right. There wasn’t any other way to go unless she’d gone down to the stream. But why would she do that in the dark.

They had been out for half an hour when Cindy called Steven that she’d found Natalie.

“Where are you?” Steven asked.

“We are on our way home. Let’s meet there.” She hung up and he wondered what was wrong. But he went back to the house. He sat on the steps waiting for them, wondering how far she’d gone. At first he’d been worried, then angry, and now he didn’t know what he was. If she wasn’t afraid any longer, then that was just great. But she should have told him that she was going out. Not because of his old fashion world’s customs, but just out of ordinary courtesy.

Steven saw them coming. They were talking about something. Natalie was holding on to Cindy’s husband’s arm. He rose and went to meet them.

“I just went for a short walk but Killen saw a rabbit and I dropped the leash. I was so scared he would disappear.”

“But why didn’t you tell me that you wanted a walk, or Killen wanted one?” Steven asked.

“I needed some time on my own and you would have gone with me. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Well we found the dog and you. Goodnight.” Cindy and her husband left.

Steven couldn’t help having a bad feeling. Something had made her leave. But he wasn’t going to nag about it. Instead, he asked.

“Do you want some snacks before bedtime?”

She hung up her jacket and the leash. “I’ll need space now and then, Steven. Will that be a problem? I don’t want you to wake the neighbourhood, just because I’ve gone for a walk.”

“I wouldn’t have… Not if you’d told me.”

“No, but you had said I shouldn’t go on my own. I needed to know that I could, even though it was dark. I have to get over this on my own because if I don’t I’ll never feel safe… I mean feel safe when I’m on my own. You have your job; I’ll be alone then.”

“Honey… I totally agree and I respect that you need time on your own. Just tell me the next time.” He leant down and kissed her. “I’m happy that you can fight the darkness and I’m proud over you. You’re a strong woman.” He smiled. “Which will probably cause a lot of arguments.”

Natalie laughed. She never told him what she’d told Cindy. That all the questions about her ex had made her doubt her feelings. What if she met him again? Would it all come back?

Steven was after all a Warlock as well as a Serpentines and he could feel her emotions. But he couldn’t fight a ghost from the past that she maybe never meet again. Instead he decided to give her a night she would never forget.

He’d realised when he was waiting for them to come back that something had happened that Natalie needed a female friend to talk to about. Maybe she went out without telling him because she knew he would ask Cindy where she was. The only thing he could imagine, that might have bothered Natalie, must have been when he talked about her ex.

When they went to bed he turned her around and spanked her bottom.

“Ouch, that hurts.” She tried to turn around but he grabbed her hands with one hand and went on spanking her with the other.

“You need a man… I can see that.”

“I thought you said you respected that I needed my space.” She mumbled with her face down.

“Oh, I do honey. In the future, when you tell me where you are going.” He caressed her bottom in a way that she liked. He knew she liked it, so when she least expected it, he stopped and smacked her instead.

“You’re mean.” She tried to turn around again and he leaned over her licking her ear. “You are mean.” She giggled.

Steven smiled, but she couldn’t see that. He touched every spot he knew would make her crazy. Stopped to tease her. Pretended to punish her until she actually liked it. Yes, he gave her a night that wanted her to wish for more nights like that.

When she was sleeping in his arms he knew that she loved him. She loved making love with him and he was going to use that to make her his in every way.

He had no idea who he was going to fight against in the future.

12

Lawrence was sitting by his computer. He couldn’t concentrate on his work. He was worried about his mother’s move to Canada.

When Lawrence started to investigate about his skills, and had found other people like himself, he naturally wondered where he’d inherited his skills from.

He searched for an American soldier named Lawrence Beren. His mother had told him she took that name when his father died. But Lawrence was pretty sure his father never died. It was at first just a feeling. When he couldn’t find anyone with the name his mother had given him, he asked people about Warlocks from the USA who’d been living briefly in Sweden. He wasn’t really surprised that no one knew of any Warlock that matched his description.

Then one day he met a girl from the USA who told him that their people weren’t organised over there. If he was looking for an English speaking Warlock, he had to be from the United Kingdom or Canada. Both those countries were known for having many like himself. Marianne, as his friends was called, told him all about Warlocks.

“The old stories say that they originally came from Ireland and Scotland. As you know, people from both those countries emigrated to both the USA and Canada. But people from our world didn’t go to America, they went to Canada. No one really knows why. Some say it was easier to blend in, that many different species already lived there.

Marianne became Lawrence’s mentor. She taught him all he needed to know about their world. She introduced him to people. But this was in the USA. One day they went to a party. In the States, people from their world often mixed with humans. But this was a special party, only for people like them. Lawrence didn’t remember why, but it had something to do with an event that happened in Canada. Therefore Canadian species were invited.

At this party Lawrence met a woman who’d joked that he had the same manners as her leader.

“And you have the same eyes. I’ve never seen anyone else with those dark blue eyes. If I didn’t know better, I would think you are related.”

“And why couldn’t we be related?” Lawrence had asked.

“Oh he doesn’t have any family in your age. Marianne told me you are only 20.”

“And there in Canada everyone knows everything about that guy?” Lawrence laughed.

“Oh yes, he is known all over the world. Born in Scotland but lives in Canada since long back. And he is an old Vampire so no children left behind. Only broken heart I’m afraid.”

“So he’s a heartbreaker. Sounds like a horrible person.”

“No, he’s an amazing person. He runs an empire with an iron hand but there’s no man as loyal to those who deserve it. He is the leader of the Vampires and Witches in Canada.”

“Why the Witches, if he’s a Vampire?”

“He’s a Warlock too. Born Warlock, but turned into a Vampire when he was young.” She had a dreamy look about her.

Lawrence joked.

“You seem to have a crush on him.”

“Oh… all women have, but he has only one love. A woman from Sweden. But that is another story.”

“I want to know, tell me.” Lawrence asked her.

“I just know that he guarded her for many years.”

“How long ago?”

“Since she was born and to the day she died… It’s a long complicated story.”

“Did he live in Sweden when he guarded this woman?”

“Oh no… he has his empire in Canada. But I heard that there was a time when he was there more than in Canada.”

Lawrence couldn’t ask more without awaking suspicion. But from that day, he was sure that this must be his father. He didn’t stop believing, even though everyone he talked to told him that an old Vampire couldn’t produce children. Instead he tried to find out as much as possible about this man. However, the more he heard, the more he wanted his mother to be far from their world. There was too much violence, especially if you were in any way close to such a powerful man.

Lawrence decided to never tell his mother what he’d found out. He helped her to buy the house out in the country where no one from his world would look for her. He wanted his mother to think that the love of her life had died. Not that he left her, no matter what his reasons had been. He couldn’t blame his father for abandoning his child because he was never told that Natalie was pregnant.

Now Steven was taking his mother to Canada. The country that Lawrence was so sure his father ruled. The reason that he never told Steven who his father was, was because like everyone else, Steven would say that it was impossible. But to Lawrence, ‘impossible’ didn’t exist.

In Scotland, Natalie packed, complaining that she packed again. Steven told her they should hire people.

“You’re still not well from your operation.”

“I’m just fine… and we’re almost done.”

They’d found a house that would be perfect for them both. Natalie had chatted on Skype with his children and life seemed just fine.

But that was on the surface. Natalie was worried about what she was. Steven was right that she could read minds. He had closed his for her and that worried her too.

Steven was worried that he was making a mistake taking her to Canada. He had a feeling that he couldn’t explain.

Graham came to see them. He told Steven that they’d found the body of Natalie’s abuser. He hadn’t made it. Rumours said he was killed by a drug cartel. Steven was pleased. This was what he’d hoped for. Graham asked if Steven was going to tell Natalie.

“No… She seems to finally be able to put it behind her. Well of course she never forgets, but she isn’t afraid in the same way any longer.” They never said anything, but as Graham hadn’t closed his thoughts, she knew. But the move was taking all her time so she pretended not to know what they’d been talking about.

“Are you coming to see us in Canada?” She asked Graham.

“I’ve never been over there… Could be interesting.” He gave Steven a look.

“Natalie knows all about us.” Steven answered to Graham’s unspoken question.

“Has he told you about The Regime and their ball?… It’s every five years. Isn’t it this year, Steven?”

Steven hadn’t been thinking of telling her, as he had no intention of taking her to a ball where they selected the leaders of the different species. Graham could see that he’d said too much.

“No… What ball is he talking about Steven?” Natalie asked, while at the same time, she tried to read Graham.

“In Canada,” Steven answered, “all the species are organised and have a leader… Well it’s the same here in Scotland. But in Canada it’s an even bigger deal. Here, and in all other countries they have a council, to help if there are any problems. In Canada we have ‘The Regime’. It has happened that they’ve been asked to step in when another country’s council couldn’t reach an agreement.”

“And the ball?” Natalie looked at him with a question.

“They have a ball every five years where it’s decided if any species should change their leader.”

“But you’re not going to take me to that ball.”

“Natalie I haven’t planned that far.” Steven had an uncomfortable look.

“You, who plans everything there is to plan?… But I understand. You can’t bring a human.” She left the room.

“Steven… I’m sorry, but I honestly thought you’d told her all there was to know. If you don’t, then someone else will, and she’ll think you’re keeping her a secret.” Graham gave Steven a suspicious look. “Are you planning to keep her a secret? Why?”

“You never met her son, did you?” Steven knew that Graham hadn’t met Lawrence.

“No, I wouldn’t have been aware that she had one, if it hadn’t been for Cindy. She asked if we’d notified Natalie’s son when she was hurt. But Natalie told me that she would do that herself. What about the kid?”

“Well to start, the ‘kid’ is 30 years old. She was very young when she had him. Second, he’s a Warlock, and very sure that his father is someone important in Canada. But he hasn’t told his mother about that. She thinks his father died 30 years ago… or now she isn’t really sure if he did.”

“Why would it be a problem if she met him again? 30 years is a long time. We all have exes, but we move on. She is your fiancée now.”

Steven sighed. “That’s what I thought at first too. But her son went mad when he found out that we’re moving to Canada. For some reason he doesn’t want her to meet his father again. The man doesn’t know that he has a son.”

“I don’t get why, unless he’s a bad person. But Steven… if you knew this when you asked her to come with you, why did you ask her?”

“I thought that it didn’t matter to her. But the other evening I asked a lot about him, and it upset her that much, that she went for a walk late in the dark without telling me. But there’s no going back now. If I want a life with Natalie, I have to take her to Canada.” Steven had a worried look, something that Graham wasn’t used to.

Cindy and her husband came over that evening so all talk about a secret world had to be forgotten. They all had a nice time. Maybe too nice, Steven thought. He was kind of lonely in Canada as he worked a lot. He was looking at Natalie who laughed at some joke Graham had told. She seemed more relaxed with Graham.

Steven had closed his mind long ago, but somehow it seemed as if Natalie knew what he was thinking. She turned and looked at him, smiled, then took his hand. Cindy’s husband noticed and then he looked at her ring.

“It’s an unusual ring you’ve bought her, Steven. Am I right that it’s a ring of smaller diamonds and a big garnet?”

Steven was going to come up with something when Natalie interrupted him saying;

“It’s an old Celtic wedding ring. In those days’ garnet meant happiness.” She smiled at Steven and leant her head on his shoulder. It wasn’t the real truth but close enough.

Cindy looked relieved that they hadn’t said anything about species or secret worlds. But it made Steven see how easy it was for Natalie to come up with a story. Had she told him the truth when she spoke about Lawrence’s father?

This was the last evening in her little house. Her furniture was already on its way to Canada, and they had bought new. Steven had let her choose as it was her house. She’d chosen a mix of modern and old fashion and it looked great. Natalie even joked that it looked better than her old furniture.

When the evening came to its end there were tears from both Natalie and Cindy. Steven joked that maybe he’d send Natalie here occasionally, when she couldn’t behave. Cindy’s husband laughed but Graham wondered if Steven was telling the truth. Natalie was quick to say that in that case, maybe she’d never behave. They all laughed, each of them thinking their own thoughts.

Steven, Natalie, and the animals left early in the morning the next day. She didn’t look happy at all Steven thought. He told her several times that she now had two wonderful homes. Both with mountains around. She tried to smile but looked even more paler.

The flight went well after all. She was impressed that they flew first class. Yes, he was trying to impress her because he was afraid she’d regret it all. Then again, he always flew first class.

Steven had told her he had a good salary and this was true. What he hadn’t told her was that he also had a small fortune from his grandparents. He lived a very good life and was looking forward to letting her enjoy that too.

When they arrived they were picked up by a chauffeur. Natalie wondered why his children hadn’t come to greet them.

“We have a couple of hours by car and it’s an ordinary school day for them.”

“It’s not that they’re mad at me because we bought another house?” She looked worried.

“Honey the house we bought is much nicer. There’s a pool inside. What kids won’t love that? Relax, it’s all going to be just great.” Steven could feel how tense she was and he pointed at things they passed.

Then she of course got carsick. She told him they had to stop and she rushed out to throw up. Steven felt so sorry for her. Natalie felt ashamed and told him to go away. But Steven held her hair and all that stuff any woman would have loved. But she just felt horrible. When they drove again he made her sleep.

Things hadn’t started in the best way but he knew that she would be amazed when she saw their house for real. He told the chauffeur to slow down when they got close. Steven knew that you could see the house before you turned into the road that led there.

He woke Natalie. “Honey look.” He pointed at the house.”

“Wow.” She smiled at him and opened the window to look out. A car passed them.

“So what do you think?” Steven asked, sure that she didn’t regret coming now.

Natalie turned and looked at him. She was paler than ever.

“I want to go back to Scotland.”

Steven just looked at her. What was wrong?

She just said “Wow!”

“Honey you’re not feeling well.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t live here.”

This was too much. He told the chauffeur to hurry up to the house. When they parked outside William came to meet them. Steven could see from a long way that something wasn’t right. He sighed, not more, this day was a disaster.

“Granddad and grandmother are here.”

“Oh no…” Steven sighed “What the hell are they doing here? Just when I hoped the day couldn’t get worse.”.

“I heard that, son. What evil have we done you?” Steven’s father was standing there too.

“Sorry dad, but did you have to come the first day we arrive. Natalie has been car sick all the way and now she wants to go back to Scotland. Meeting my whole family is a little too much.”

“If she’s been sick she could need your mother. We’re not staying the night. Just came for a quick visit to see your new house. Her choice I guess. She has better style than you, son.” Steven’s father laughed.

“We actually chose it together. But please, let her get inside. Not all of you out here.”

William tried not to laugh and took his grandfather inside. Steven opened the car door for Natalie. “Honey I didn’t know my parents were here. But the good thing is that my mother can make a tea that does wonders.” He reached out his hand.

“Steven, I feel dirty, I’m sure I smell. Can’t I go in the back door?”

He couldn’t help laughing. “Honey you’re not dirty and you don’t smell. Come on, it’s our dream house.”

She got out and stood there, tiny and pale, looking at the big house.

“It didn’t look that big on the Internet.”

Steven laughed again. “Well I have a housekeeper; you don’t have to clean it. Plenty of rooms to hide in when you’re tired of me.”

“Steven… I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I’ll never get tired of you.” She looked so sad. He leant down and kissed her cheek.

“You’re tired, and that’s my fault. I should have hired people to pack for you. They could have done whatever you told them.” He smiled, “Let’s go in and get that tea.”

Steven hoped it wouldn’t be too much, with children, parents, and a lot of staff. Again he realised he should have told her more about himself.

Natalie looked very tired, but Steven’s mother gave her a special tea. Then she told her son to take his fiancée up to the bedroom.

“She needs rest.”

Natalie smiled, close to giggling, and Steven gave her a stern look. Upstairs she told him it was fun seeing others telling him what to do.

“Don’t get used to that honey, because it’s only my parents who do that. Now try to get some rest. I’ll come for you when dinner is ready.” He was on his way to the door when he came back. He sat down on the bed. “You don’t regret being mine, do you?”

“No, I saw…” She was interrupted by Steven’s mother who knocked on the door.

“Steven, we need you downstairs.”

“I’ll be right there.” He made a grimace and Natalie giggled. On his way down he wondered what she was about to say. ‘I saw’? She saw what?

“Your fiancée doesn’t look well.” His mother looked worried.

“She was attacked a little more than a month ago, and they had to remove one kidney. I wasn’t with her until a month after. Things were difficult for her on her own. She had just moved there, and then I dragged her away again.”

“You killed the bastard, I hope.” Steven’s father said.

“Bruce… the children.” Steven’s mother sighed.

“Oh My God Maria, they know what happens in the world. We are warriors.”

Steven smiled. His kind hearted mother had never accepted the violence her husband used when he worked. He wondered if Natalie understood. She had been good at defending herself. Steven was once again in his thoughts when his daughter pushed him gently.

“Yes Mary what did you say?”

Mary giggled. “Not me… grandma.” Steven hadn’t heard his mother speak.

“Sorry mother, it has been hectic for some days now, and Natalie panicked on the way here.”

“I asked if she is aware that she is a Cuncta Videntis?”

Steven stared at his mother. “She is human. I have never felt that she was one of us.”

“But you weren’t sure? She reads your mind or you wouldn’t have closed it. Cuncta Videntis is as you know the original for most of our species. That makes it almost impossible to feel them, to know they are one of us. They are also born with all the skills there are, except for Vampires and Werewolves. Therefore they have problems finding their powers if they don’t have someone guiding them.”

“Her parents died when she was 18.” Steven replied, still in shock.

“Then she hadn’t developed any skills, and they were probably waiting to tell her. It could also be that only her mother was like her. You know that they try to not be seen?”

“Can you manage a Cuncta Videntis?” His father asked.

Steven shrugged, “I have no idea. We talked the other day about whether she could be one of us. She has a son who is a Warlock, but she thought he’d inherited that from his father. He thought it too. Is it possible he could live 30 years with a mother who was from our world and not be aware?”

“He could tell you she was a human to protect her.” His father answered.

“Why would he want to protect her from me? We got along very well. He said he was glad to see his mother happy again.”

“Honey?…” his mother asked, “There are so many rumours about Cuncta Videntis. Who was her husband?”

“She only lived with the guy, and I don’t know who he was. He called himself Lawrence Beren, but I have a feeling that it wasn’t his real name. Her son said he’d found him. Natalie says that he died before she had time to tell him she was pregnant.”

“Maybe he didn’t know that she was one of us and left.” Steven’s mother could see that it had been a mistake to discuss this.

“Does it matter? I intend to marry this girl. I couldn’t care less what she is.” Steven was tired of it all.

“Just like the last time.” His father said. “Don’t you ever learn?”

“Please… the children.” Maria looked at the children worried they would get upset.

“Maria, they know that their mother is a nutcase.”

“Dad, that’s enough…” he turned to the youngsters, “William and Mary… please go to your room. And I’m sorry for your grandfather’s stupid mouth that can’t stay closed.” Steven’s eyes were burning like fire.

The children left. Steven went to the window and looked out.

“If you’re going to judge Natalie because I made the wrong choice once, then I prefer that you never come here again.”

“Steven… Your father didn’t mean to judge.” His mother came over to him. “I’m sure she’s a lovely girl. I shouldn’t have mentioned that I’d seen what she is.”

“Mother… if she is a Cuncta Videntis, then it’s important to know. But I’m not sure she wants to know.”

“If she’s against our world, then why the hell did you bring her?” His father went on.

“Bruce please. We don’t know anything about the girl.”

“Exactly and we didn’t when it came to Sally either… and look where that went.”

“We got two wonderful grandchildren that Steven has raised in an excellent way.” Maria gave her husband an angry look.

Steven smiled. No one but his mother could make his father feel bad about what he said. He’d said too much, and now his wife told him so.

“May I just say one more thing?” Steven’s father asked. Both Steven and his mother sighed. “Steven… please try to find out who her son’s father is.”

This, Steven actually agreed with, but he didn’t say that. His mother looked at him and he knew she agreed with her husband. In their world it could be a problem if her ex found out he had a son.

Stevens parents left, after his mother had said goodbye to the children and checked that they were OK. William came and asked his father if he was upset.

“No William but I’m worried. Natalie needs to feel welcome in our world. Your grandfather can be a problem. But we should have something to eat. Can you run up and ask Natalie to be down in ten minutes?”

The housekeeper was preparing dinner and Steven went to the room he was going to have as an office. He liked their new house. But he had hoped that his father would be cooperative this time. The reason that he wasn’t was because Steven hadn’t married the girl he’d found for him long ago.

Steven’s father Bruce was a very old fashioned man living in an old fashioned world. He still lived in the times when the parents decided who their child should marry. But Steven had chosen a Scottish girl who was a human. When it later showed that Sally was mentally ill Bruce had told Steven that he should have listened to his parents.

Steven on the other hand had been afraid that he’d been the reason she became insane. That his world had been too much for a young girl like her. Later the doctors told him she was born with this mental illness. Her twin brother Bob shared the same problem.

But Steven’s father had told him that he’d jeopardized their whole world. Thankfully no one had believed Sally when she said her husband wasn’t human. Besides, Steven hadn’t told her everything about their world. He’d actually told Natalie more. But on the other hand she already knew a little.

William was upstairs and knocked at the bedroom. Natalie told him to come in. She had just got dressed after taking a shower. She had a dress on now.

“You look very beautiful.” William said.

Natalie smiled. “Thank you. I thought maybe your grandparents thought a dress was better.”

“Oh. They’ve already left. Dad had a fight with granddad.”

Natalie sighed. “Because of me? I’m so sorry.”

“More because our mother is ill and granddad never wanted dad to marry her. Are you a Cuncta Videntis?” William asked, because he could feel her. William had inherited his grandmother’s strong magic. He was already a strong Warlock.

Natalie laughed. “I don’t even know what that is.”

“My grandmother is a powerful Witch and she felt that you’re one.”

“So what can they do?” Natalie asked.

“A little of everything I think.”

Steven called from downstairs wondering when they were coming down.

“Don’t tell your father that we talked about that Cuncta whatever it’s called.” Natalie told William.

He didn’t ask why, and she didn’t know that he could read her thoughts. But he started to wonder if his granddad was right.

13

Two weeks had gone by when Steven told Natalie that he had to get back to work. She looked worried.

“Honey… you already know the closest neighbours. And William and Mary adore you. When it’s possible, I’ll call you.”

But she felt scared and alone. The last time he left, things hadn’t turned out well. It was all different now but she still didn’t like it. She also knew by now that he was in the army.

“You can’t blame me for wishing you had a job where you came home every evening.”

“I understand that, but this way you’ll miss me, instead of getting tired of me.” He winked and put his arm around her. “We have a party to attend before I leave. Maybe you’ll get to know even more people.” Steven realised that even if she was friends with their neighbours, she still hadn’t found a friend like Cindy.

“About that. Are you sure you should take me to that party? I’m still not one of you… or we don’t know if I am.”’

“My mother is never wrong. But OK, she told us to not mention that. Natalie whatever you are, you’re soon going to be my wife. I live in this secret world, so do my children. I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to our world.” Steven didn’t get why she wanted to avoid his world. His mother was never wrong, and being a Cuncta Videntis was something very special. Natalie would never have to feel left out. She was an original. Every time he had tried to explain that, she left or changed topics.

He sighed and looked down at her. “Well you have to come, or people would start to talk.”

Natalie knew that people had been talking about his ex-wife and her illness. She smiled and asked what dress she should wear. He laughed and told her she would look smashing in whatever she chose.

Steven had taken her to town and let her buy whatever she wanted. He knew that there would come parties and she didn’t have dresses for that. She had good taste and was still careful with how much she spent. When he later told his best friend he told him she was a keeper. His wife would have ruined him. Yes, Steven agreed he had a wonderful woman, except when it came to accepting his world.

He wasn’t going to let her stay at home. Instead he called a friend of his who was a hairdresser. Now Natalie couldn’t blame anything, she had to come.

She looked amazing in a black dress with gold on the shoulders. Her shoes were in black and gold and Steven gave her a gold necklace.

William and Mary said they both looked amazing, and Natalie had to agree. She had never worn a dress like this. Steven was even more handsome and it was with pride that she put her arm in his.

People were talking. There had always been rumours around Steven McKenzie. He was a mix of Serpentines and Warlock which was a very rare combination. He was also a handsome man and people had been speculating about who he would marry after his divorce. Nobody had heard of Natalie, so of course everyone’s eyes were on her when they arrived. But what Steven didn’t know was that they weren’t the main attraction that evening.

Everything seemed to go just fine. Natalie had always been easy with new people and she soon had more new friends. Steven thought that she was starting to look relaxed. There was no talk of species. Here people lived with that everyday so why talk about it? He hoped Natalie would see that his world wasn’t that different. They still lived on the same planet.

Steven hadn’t been out in a long time and soon he was separated from Natalie by friends who wanted to talk. He gave her a look now and then but she smiled back. She’d met a girl who Steven knew could be a very good friend. She was the host’s wife. Steven started to relax himself. There was nothing to worry about. They were among friends.

The host Mark, was an old friend of Steven’s. They were outside taking some air when a car drove up on the drive way. The host laughed when a man got out of the car.

“Late as always, your Highness.” He bowed and laughed and so did the late arriving guest.

“Sorry Mark, but busy as always.” Then the man turned to Steven. “Steven McKenzie, long time no see.”

“It sure is. So what is the mighty Alexis Sinclair doing at a party this far from his home?”

Alexis Sinclair smiled. “I have some business close by. But what about you Steven, you never go to any parties?”

“Oh, he had to. We were all dying to see his fiancée.” Mark said, laughing.

“Ah, another tall blond beauty?… Congrats Steven.”

“No,” Mark answered. “This one is more in your style Alexis. A beautiful little brunette.”

Alexis laughed a little. “Won’t steal your lassie… promise.”

For a second Steven just looked at Alexis, he looked into his dark blue eyes. Then he said with a voice full of fear. “Oh no.”

Alexis and Mark looked a little surprised at him. Then they laughed, thinking it was a joke.

“Let’s go in so you can meet Steven’s bride to be.” Mark made a gesture to Alexis but Steven stood as if frozen. Mark turned in the doorway. “Steven… you have to come and introduce your fiancée.”

Steven pulled himself together and followed them in.

Natalie was standing talking to some women by the table where the buffet was being served. She turned around and to Steven it looked as if she did it in slow motion. The glass she had in her hand dropped to the carpet. It was as if everyone in the room had stopped talking.

“Natalie?” It wasn’t Steven who used her name, it was Alexis. She just stood there staring and then a wind came from nowhere and she was gone.

The women she had been talking to gasped, people stared. This was a word full of magic, but who could just disappear?

Alexis turned and looked at Steven, “You didn’t know we had a history?”

“I think you and I have to talk Alexis. History isn’t the right word I’m afraid.”

Mark was as shocked as everyone else but told them to use his library. “But Steven, have you any idea where your fiancée is now?”

“No but I’ll deal with that later.”

Steven and Alexis went to Mark’s library. Steven was wondering how he could have missed this. Lawrence had talked about an important man in Canada. The eyes, no one had those dark blue eyes but Alexis. Steven and Alexis had been friends for a long time, so how come he hadn’t known?

“It was 30 years ago.” Alexis said, as if he’d read Steven’s thoughts.

“I know… but what I don’t understand is why you called yourself Lawrence?” Steven wasn’t sure where to start, but this he actually didn’t understand.

Alexis smiled. “You mean that I have always been the famous Alexis Sinclair. Well they were difficult times in Canada. There were problems with The Regime. I was guarding someone in Sweden for them and one day I met Natalie. She was working at a diner where I use to have a coffee. I felt like a normal person. You know what I mean, you often live among humans.”

Yes, Steven could understand that. “But you stayed a year with her. Why not at least tell her your name?”

“I was about to when she dumped me.” Alexis smiled.

“Dumped you? What the hell are you talking about?”

“It seems that she’s told you another story.” Alexis looked serious.

“Yes, very different. You were an American soldier who died.” Steven was getting more and more angry. Had Natalie lied about everything?

“Steven, I lied about my name and yes I told her I was an American soldier, but with time…” Alexis paused, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but please remember it was 30 years ago. Well I finally told her about our world. At the time I thought she was human, I never felt anything else.” He looked at Steven waiting for him to explain but Steven made a gesture to Alexis to continue. “OK, I told her what I was, but not my name because I had to go back to Canada and clear it with The Regime. When I came back a month later she didn’t want to see me. She said she couldn’t stay with a monster.”

“Why did you wait a month?”

“Because I was fighting with The Regime to accept that I married the girl.”

Steven sat down in the chair by the desk. Marry Natalie, the notorious Alexis Sinclair was going to marry her.

“No… you’ve always been against getting married.” Steven shook his head.

“You’re right, but that little lassie had me wrapped around her little finger. I was going to propose when I came back to see her.”

“You were?” Natalie was suddenly standing in the room.

Steven exploded. “My God woman stop doing that.” He rose and went over and grabbed her arm.

“Steven!… you hurt me. I’m sorry I didn’t control that first ‘disappearing’.” She looked at Alexis again.

“Why did you lie about me?” Alexis dark blue eyes were closer to black than blue.

“I lied, what about you? You didn’t even tell me your real name.”

“I was going to when you told me to get lost. I was a monster, remember.” He leant down looking at her.

“I was 19, just a child. Of Course you scared the life out of me, telling me stories about Vampires and Warlocks. I thought that either you were a complete lunatic or there was a horrible world like the one you described. I panicked. Later when I tried to find you I couldn’t. But of course not, Lawrence Beren didn’t exist.” Her eyes were changing colour and Steven noticed a smile on Alexis’ lips. Steven was close to losing his fiancée.

“Well that’s 30 years ago. Natalie… maybe we should go home.” Steven was still holding her arm, but now gently.

She turned and looked at him. He hadn’t told Alexis about their son. There was time to get out of this mess.

“We should Steven. I’m not feeling that well.”

Alexis looked at them both. “Why do I get a feeling that there’s more to this than the two of you are telling me?”

Steven sighed. If Alexis Sinclair thought Natalie had secrets, he was going to find out what they were. Steven opened his mind hoping she would read his thoughts. But Natalie wasn’t feeling well. There had been too many shocks this evening. She’d found powers she had no idea she had. The man she’d once loved more than anything was standing in front of her.

“Please Steven.” She felt the room spinning and fainted in Stevens arms.

Steven told Alexis that she’d recently been operated on, and needed to get home. He carried Natalie to the car. But before he entered himself, he turned to Alexis who’d followed them out.

“Alexis, it was 30 years ago. You’ve moved on. Please let me marry the love of my life.” Steven didn’t wait for an answer but told the chauffeur to drive home.

Alexis was standing looking after them when the Mark’s wife, Katy, came out and asked what had happened.

“Steven’s fiancée wasn’t feeling well. Some operation not long ago.” He smiled to her.

“Oh yes, she told me earlier. She was very pale and I asked if she was feeling ill.”

“Did she tell you what kind of operation?” Alexis asked.

“She’d been attacked by a strange man. They removed a kidney that was too badly hurt.”

“Attacked, here in Canada?”

“No in Scotland. She recently moved there. She didn’t tell me why but I got a feeling she was looking for someone or something there. That’s how she met Steven. Her son didn’t like her moving to Canada.”

“Her son? She has a son?” Alexis asked. “Didn’t he want to move to Canada?”

Katy laughed. “No, no, he didn’t want her to move to Canada. He is grownup, 30 something I think she said.”

Alexis smiled, but inside the questions exploded. Did she break up with him because she’d met someone else? No, he was her first and she adored him. But he’d been a Vampire for 40 years when he met Natalie. He couldn’t produce any children. Then Katy said; “I wonder what species she is. I have never seen anyone disappear like that. I have heard of it, but never seen it.”

Alexis pulled himself together. “Heard of, what do you mean?”

“They say Cuncta Videntis can do things like that. You know the origin of all species. They have some amazing powers. I have heard that they can have children no matter what age they are.”

Alexis sighed deeply. If Cuncta Videntis could have children even if nature said no. Maybe they also could have children with someone that nature would call ‘dead’.

In the car Natalie had woken up. “Steven, I told Katy about Lawrence.” She had a very pale look.

“You told Mark’s wife?” Steven sighed. “Then you can be sure that Alexis knows by now that you have a son together.”

“I didn’t say it was his. I didn’t know he was alive, even less that he was coming to the party.”

“Honey, Alexis doesn’t have the position he has because he’s stupid. He is far too intelligent not to figure out, unless you said Lawrence was a little kid.” Steven had a tired and angry look.

“You don’t have to be mean.”

“Yes, I actually do have to, because you’ve been lying to me the whole time. You dumped him because our world scared you. I would have understood, so why did you lie?”

“Because I started to lie from the day I realised that I would never find him again. Steven… I was 19 and pregnant… and the man I loved had told me he was a freaking monster.”

Steven just sighed and looked at her. He understood. Of course she’d panicked. But the irony in this whole story was that all the time she’d been one of them.

So what happened?

Some words from the author:

This was a short story about some of the people that you find around Alexis Sinclair. Do you want to read more about ‘A Secret World’?

Then buy the book ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. It’s the first book in the series about Alexis Sinclair, and the people in his life.

###


A Secret World

A prequel to ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ the first novel in the ‘A Secret World’ series. Quietly, secretly moving amongst us, here, today, in this modern world with all its high technology, there live people that aren’t at all like you and I. They look like us, act like we do, or no... wait…. That’s the big difference. They are people, even different species, with magic skills. They live in a secret world that lies within our modern world. But their world is very very old and they still live like they did hundreds of years ago. This secret world is a man’s world. He rules but he also protect and takes care of his woman. A woman living in our time wouldn’t understand…. But what happens when a modern woman gets to see behind his mask, the mask that his world force him to have, can she understand, can she adjust or will they both suffer?

  • ISBN: 9781370975310
  • Author: Ex-L-Ence Publishing
  • Published: 2016-08-24 12:20:13
  • Words: 47162
A Secret World A Secret World