The Past Is A Foreign Country - TunnelsOfTheSouth (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Chapter Text Chapter 2: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 3: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 4: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 5: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 6: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 7: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 8: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 9: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 10: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 11: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 12: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 13: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 14: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 15: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 16: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 17: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 18: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 19: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 20: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 21: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 22: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 23: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 24: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 25: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 26: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 27: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 28: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 29: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 30: The Past Is A Foreign Country Summary: Notes: Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Chapter Text

Knight Rider and all its canon characters are the eternal property of Glen A. Larson and NBC Television Studios.

I have enjoyed myself hugely with this work.

I make no monies from this one or any of my TV series fanfics, only the joy and delight of creation.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there...”

P. Hartley

Chapter One

With Love All Things Are Possible

“Edward?” A woman’s voice called from further down the street behind me.

I froze, immediately at a loss for how to respond. That had once been my name. But hers? I stopped walking, closing my eyes as I fought not to remember.No, it couldn’t be…

She came closer. “Edward? Is that really you?”

Unbidden memory tugged at the edges of my distracted mind. I didn’t want to remember. It was too painful. Of course, it was better to keep walking in the sunshine of an overly warm L.A. morning, feigning ignorance and keeping the past firmly behind me where it belonged.

Someone had once said, ignorance was bliss. Howwrongthat idiot was!

I was no longer that idealistic young man who’d been ordered to go deep undercover by the British Secret Service. I could ignore the woman’s tentative inquiry. Pretend I didn’t hear her.

I should be hurrying to be somewhere else, as those around me always were. The endless streams of humanity, constantly on the move like so many millions of busy ants. Never looking up, never seeing what was in front of them. Or, in my case, behind me, right now.

Of course, Schrödinger’s blasted cat came into my mind, then. How would I know if itwasher? How would I see if she was truly alive, and not dead as I had been told, unless I turned to look? Unless I opened the box in Schrödinger’s experiment in quantum mechanics and actually peered inside.

I moved my feet, picking up my pace. My breathing hitched with temptation even as my rational mind dictated I lengthen my stride and put much-needed distance between us before it was too late. It stated I was better off losing myself in the faceless throngs of bustling humanity and not looking back. I could do that.

For God’s sake, Iwasnow Devon Miles, the powerful head of FLAG! I could do anything Iblastedwell pleased! Except look behind me or back into a past that was supposed to be long dead and gone. And on another continent entirely.

“Edward…?”

The soft, crisp English tones of her voice washed over me. It said she was losing hope now. Doubt was creeping in, making her hesitate.Good.But I could also hear the tapping of her high heels on the sidewalk as she tried to keep up with my faster pace. She wasn’t giving up just yet.

Of course, she’d always had that trouble, being so much smaller than myself. She said she loved that. She said I made her feel so safe and cherished. My lips curved involuntarily at the memory. We used to joke that, at times, she almost got lost when we embraced. Her small slenderness enfolded against my superior height and size. It had been a private joke that lovers shared.

Lovers…And then, when we’d kissed that first time…

My mouth dried to a desert as my groin cramped painfully with remembered need even as my tortured mind willed my feet to keep right on walking. But my head, that wilful place where all such sweetly intoxicating memories reside to be recalled like a miser with his precious pile of gold, had other ideas.

As always, reality must resolve itself into one possibility or the other. I was moving further away from her with every furious stride. Keep going! The devil can take Schrödinger’sblastedcat! Iwasn’tgoing to look! I couldn’t…

I kept arguing with myself mentally as I walked. I didn’t need to look behind me to know that she was still there.Or was she?What if she was only in my mind? A sweet fragment of confusion brought on by too little sleep and too many long, tedious hours spent behind my desk trying to keep the world on an even keel.

I hunched my shoulders as I hurried on, down the street and around the corner. Fifty more steps and I would reach my car, unlock it, get in and drive away - back to the Foundation where I was already late for a very important wedding rehearsal.

I shook my head. If I hadn’t stopped on a sudden impulse to buy some roses from a convenient florist shop, as a gift for Stevie, I would have been well on my way back to the FLAG headquarters by now. Michael’s lovely fiancé was having pre-wedding jitters and doubting herself. I bought the flowers to cheer her up and tell her it was going to be all right. Michael loved her and their lives together stretched before them like a shining path of love and hope.

Hope… my lips twisted.

Once I had believed in that ideal. In the ethereal promise of a happy ever after. I shook my head.Such is the stuff that dreams are made of…

Behind me, the clicking of feminine heels began to sound frantic now. I remembered her strides had always been so much shorter than mine. She’d often joked, that it would be easier if I had carried her, slung over my shoulder than try to keep up.

I said,no. Instead, I would hold her high against my chest, where I had easier access to her sweet lips and then put my comment into deed as I lifted her like she weighed nothing at all and carried her to bed. That had been a very memorable first night among the many we had shared...

Oh, Lord…Guilt bit into my determination as everything inside me went on full alert. The kind of raw, gut-clenching desire I had never felt before she came into my life - nor since I’d callously abandoned her - shot through me like all the fireworks on the 4th of July.

Against my will, against all that wanted to deny me one brief glance, I stopped, inhaling deeply as I turned my head. I looked. I couldn’t help it.

I opened Schrödinger’s confounded box… and became lost all over again in the translucent, sea-green colour of her beautiful eyes. The singular feature about her lovely face that wasn’t small.

Of course, itwasher. I knew it from the very moment she said my name. Or what had been my cover name before I surrendered it, along with my clandestine work for the Secret Service. I’d moved quickly and quietly into the private sector and never looked back. There was nothing to see.

The intervening years had treated her very kindly. She looked almost as fresh and young as the long-ago day I last saw her. Her high cheekbones were more prominent than before and there were a few more lines denoting laughter around her eyes. But then she used to laugh a lot with me and at me. She had a thirst for life that was unquenchable. I drank her in as often as I could.

It was the generous curve of her mouth that now showed signs of some dissatisfaction in life. Her lips were turned down slightly at the corners, lending her sweet face a more solemn look that matched the sadness in her eyes.

I couldn’t help but stare. I was glad for the concealment offered by my reflective sunglasses. I knew my searching eyes would give me away. I wanted her still. I always would.

“Lucy?”

We’d often joked about how much her cover name suited her. A suitable diminutive for a petite woman. I needed to remind myself that dynamite also came in such neat packages. If I was in a teasing mood, which I always seemed to be with her, I called her my Luciana. The name meant light. And in my arms, she had felt as light as gossamer and just as fragile. The soft glow of her unquenchable spirit warmed my deeply cynical soul.

Of course, that name was as fake as mine. I never knew her real one in case I blurted it out by mistake at the wrong moment. Like in the throes of passion or under the threat of danger. But to me, she would always live on in my memory as Lucy.

My Luciana…

I stared down at her. Suddenly it was as if nothing had changed. That none of the intervening thirty-five years had ever been. I felt as if I was that brash, co*cky young man again and we’d only just been assigned to meet for the first time in that small, seedy pub in the back streets of London.

Our cover was to pose as a newly married couple very much in love. Both young and unattached to anyone else, we surely made the most of our new identities. We had been set the task of uncovering any fugitive Nazi sympathisers hiding out in the United Kingdom. We were together for one glorious year.

I found myself studying her hands which were closing and opening at her sides as she stared up at me in consternation. Those sweet little fingers that could make a man cry with need or shout with the joy of ecstatic possession as we both touched the very edge of heaven before we tumbled over the edge of the world and back into the wide, rumpled bed that looked like a storm had just torn through it. Sometimes, in the dark, cheerless cold of the London winter, we never left our tiny apartment for days at a time.

My heart squeezed tightly. The poet, E.E. Cummings once said, ‘I do not know what it is about you that closesand opens. Only something in me understands. The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses. Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands…’

Lucy had always loved that poem. Many times she had asked me to quote it to her, while she nestled against me, after we… After we…

“Hi…” I said lamely, my accelerated breathing becoming jammed in my throat.

What was that?I mean, what inHadeswasthat?Right then, I willed the pavement to open up and swallow me whole, flowers and all. I’d studied the great poets and gifted philosophers and all I could manage was that single, pathetic word.

“Sorry…” I shook my head.Worse…

At least, I’d remembered, just in time, to use my Irish accent. Lucy knew me when I had been someone else entirely. A tall, gangly young man from Cork, pretending he wanted to make it big on the stage in London’s great capital while we hunted for those elusive Nazi sympathisers. We found a few. Our success pleased our ever-watchful masters, for a while.

“Oh, Edward…” Tears sparkled on her lashes. “They all told me you were dead. They even showed me your body. But I never truly believed it was you. I just couldn’t…” Her beautiful eyes flickered to the large bunch of a dozen perfect yellow roses in my hand.

I wanted to shove them behind my back. Pretend they didn’t exist. I could see it in her frown. She’d deduced I’d bought them for a woman. Well, I had. But not in any romantic way. But I couldn’t explain. It was too complicated and I was already late.

“They told me you died in a car crash…” I struggled with reality, belatedly realising we were standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk staring at each other.

Her mouth turned up at the corners in a wry grimace. “That’s what they told me about you. Not very original.”

“The Secret Service’s ideas never were. They used what worked. Look, we can’t do this here…” I shook my head, trying to clear its confusion and think rationally.Logically…”My car. It’s just around the corner. We can talk there.”

I turned sideways, using my free hand to indicate she should walk with me. Lucy hesitated, looking me over with eyes that contained such hunger my groin cramped anew.

“Luciana… please?”

“Yes…” Her sad lips quirked at the remembered pet name. “All right…” She shook her head even as she slipped her left hand into the crook of my elbow.

It was a dearly familiar gesture from days long ago. Then I would have smiled as I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed the backs of her fingers in an intimate salute before tucking it back into my possession like some wondrous treasure.

I restrained the dangerous impulse. She was just making sure I didn’t escape her. And I’d just seen the flash of the diamond on the ring finger of her hand along with a band of gold. Lucy had been claimed by someone else. Some other man owned the right to take her to bed and lose himself in her warm, silken depths.Lucky man!

I reached for the inane again. It was all I had. “You’re… looking well…”

“For a dead woman, you mean?” Lucy shivered against me, briefly gripping my bicep between both hands. “I have missed you so much, Edward. I just knew you weren’t dead.”

I didn’t reply as we reached my red sports car. I released her to unlock and open the passenger door. She tucked herself neatly inside and I closed the door behind her. I circled the hood and got in, shutting us both into the warm, leather-scented interior. I turned to place the roses on the back seat.

Lucy watched me closely. “She’s a very lucky woman,” she said, nodding to the flowers and making all the wrong assumptions.

Her gaze checked the fingers of my left hand for any sign of a wedding ring. She noted the antique gold signet on the little finger of my right hand. Lucy was always very good at noticing such tiny details.

“Oh, they’re not…” I inhaled as I caught myself in time. “Ah, yes, she is. Very lucky, indeed.” I smiled as I remembered Stevie and how much in love she was with Michael.

Together they made a very handsome couple. I was proud to be able to call them my friends. It hadn’t always been that way with Michael. Not in the very beginning when he reminded me so much of myself at his age that I wanted nothing to do with him. Or strangle him. He still gave me the occasional nightmare.

Now Michael had recently resigned from the Foundation after he’d gone through a terrible near-death experience. He and Stevie planned on settling down after the wedding and I wished them both well. But none of that helped me with my more immediate problem of what I was going to do about Lucy.

“I see you still like driving European cars…” She grimaced, giving a small, embarrassed laugh. “This is all rather awkward, isn’t it?”

Her fingers tangled in the strap of the handbag in her lap. “I just never expected to ever see you again. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you walk right past me. I almost didn’t follow you. I thought I was only dreaming.”

“That makes two of us,” I murmured in the same Irish brogue as I pulled the sunglasses down from the bridge of my nose and tossed them onto the dashboard.

I turned to face her, careful to maintain some distance between us. An awkward task in the small confines of my favourite vehicle of all to drive. I remembered that the riddle of Schrödinger’s cat remained an unsolved problem in physics. Now I was faced with another problem I was at a total loss to resolve.

“You used to call me the pulse of your heart,” Lucy whispered, not looking at me. “I loved hearing you say that.”

Cuisle mo chroí…”I nodded. “Yes, I remember…”

I’d called her many more such endearments than that in the throes of our shared passion. It had all been a part of my deep cover while keeping very close to the truth.

My grim childhood had been spent growing up in Cork. I’d been taught to speak, think, write and understand the Irish language in all its beauty and lyrical magic. I’d slipped back into the way of it with the ease of a loved piece of old clothing.

“I loved you…” Lucy went on, still working the strap of her bag between her restless fingers. “I know I was never supposed to. I would have died for you in truth. But it was never enough, was it?” Her tremulous smile was filled with sadness. “You moved on to your next assignment and left me behind.”

“Yes…” My breath left me in a rush. “I’m so very sorry, Luciana.”

What else could I say? That I had my orders? I knew I’d betrayed her trust and love, but I was not free to say no to my British masters. Not then. They wanted our enforced break to be clean and irrevocable. They said we’d become too close, endangering the mission.

There was no going back. No pining for what might have been. They wanted my whole focus, not my fractured attention, on my new duties.

My past truly was another country, lost beyond all hope of recall. And yet, here she was. My past, alive and well and just as beautiful. And I wanted her all over again.

“Then why are you here in LA?” she asked softly. “I last saw you on the platform for the Piccadilly underground. You said you had a train to catch. You were leaving for Paris.”

I froze, my mind working overtime. “I… left the service. Or, more rightly, it left me after we disagreed. I’ve lived here in the US for the last thirty years.” I looked pointedly at the rings on her finger. “And you?”

“I came here with my husband,” she admitted quietly. “He’s the CEO of a computer software company. He wants to relocate everything from New Mexico and expand the business to a nationwide enterprise.”

“New Mexico?” My eyebrows rose in astonishment. “How long have you been living in the US?”

“After they told me you’d… died, I resigned from the service. I’d had enough of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I… took that same train to Paris. I’d just found work as a concierge in a small hotel when I first met Ian. He swept me off my feet and proposed after a whirlwind romance. He said he loved me and promised me the world.”

Her slim shoulders lifted. “And a free pass to live in this country. So, I accepted. Without you, I had nothing more to lose. I didn’t want to die… all alone.”

She turned to stare at me. “You look as if you’ve done very well for yourself.” She studied my expensive suit that fairly shouted Saville Row. My car was another giveaway that I wasn’t short of a dollar. “I’m truly happy for you.”

“You don’t love your husband,” I guessed softly.

“No…” Lucy shook her head. “How could I? He wasn’t you.” She shrugged as her sad eyes lifted to mine. “Ian is the father of my three children whom I love with all my heart. They’ve all grown up and left home now.”

She glanced at the flowers in the back seat. “And you? Did you find that elusive one you were searching for after I… died?” She frowned at my left hand again.

“No,” I said flatly, then shrugged. “I guess you could say I’m still married to my work.”

Her brows rose. “I see. Which is?”

“In a way, you could say I work… for the US government,” I hedged, unable to tell her the whole truth.

Lucy smiled sadly. “Ah, once a spy, always a spy. I knew it was in your blood. You were always so good at it.”

“Something like that,” I replied evasively. “But I’m now my own master and in charge of a large corporation. I’m truly sorry how it ended between us. It should have been handled better by our masters. But I was given no choice in my reassignment.”

“I know…” Lucy sighed. “We had something, didn’t we? It wasn’t all for show.”

“No, it wasn’t all for show.” I closed my hands on the steering wheel to prevent myself from reaching for her.

She looked so lost and alone suddenly. Like her best friend had died. Which I had all those years ago. I reminded myself she was a married woman. I would never threaten what she had by trying to reclaim the past.

“Were you going somewhere?” I asked in the same Irish brogue she was used to hearing. “Can I drive you anywhere?”

“Were you ever truly Irish?” she asked, ignoring my question. “I mean, I know Edward wasn’t your real name. But I knew so little about you. Your face has always haunted my dreams. I was even foolish enough to look for you in Paris.”

She didn’t wait for me to answer as she held out her hand between us. “Hello, whoever you are now. My real name is Carolyn. Mrs Carolyn Bridges. I’m very pleased to meet you…” She opened her green eyes wide at me in encouraging inquiry.

I didn’t want to touch her. I feared I might never let her go again. I knew I didn’t have any time or room in my life for her. She was a sweet distraction I couldn’t afford. But I couldn’t leave her small hand hanging between us like an orphaned child.

“Devon…” I supplied in a rush of breath, finally abandoning my Irish lilt in favour of my usual clipped English accent. “Devon Miles.”

Bracing myself I touched my fingers against hers. “And Iwasborn in Ireland. That part of me was real. A good cover identity should always be as close to the truth as possible.”

“Then I’m very pleased to finally meet you, Mr Devon Miles.” Carolyn smiled mistily as she managed to latch onto my hand before I could escape.

The length of my fingers curled around her much smaller ones involuntarily and I touched against the pulse beating rapidly beneath the soft skin of her inner wrist. The tip of my middle finger began to move lightly, unconsciously caressing across the tell-tale giveaway of her state of agitation and making her jump.

Warm colour flooded into Carolyn’s cheeks, exposing her inner turmoil as she jerked her hand away, settling back in her lap with its twin. She looked down, not meeting my frowning gaze as she twisted her rings around and around her finger.

She jerked her chin toward the back seat. “And what about the lady who’s lucky enough to be given those beautiful roses? Is she waiting for you to come home?”

“Yes…” I drew a long, steadying breath and expelled it roughly. “She is. But she’s only a very dear friend. She’s been having a few pre-wedding jitters. I thought the flowers would help to settle her nerves before the big day next week. Her fiancé is worried about her.”

I stared at her for a long moment. “I’m not married,” I finally confessed. “I guess I never found the right time or enough time. My workload is impossible.”

“I see.” Carolyn looked up. “You always were so very thoughtful when we were together. I remember when you used to bring me flowers from Covent Garden…”

A strained silence settled between us. Was there anything left to say?Except goodbye...

“Can I drop you somewhere?” I repeated. “I really do have to get back to the office. And the bride-to-be. She’ll be waiting.”

What else could I say?There could be no future for us. Not now. She was still a married woman. Only no longer pretending it was to me.

“If that’s what you want.” Carolyn inhaled deeply, releasing her breath in a rush. “After I’d wasted years enduring his many pointless affairs, Ian finally left me over a year ago. Well, actually I threw him out and told him never to come back. I was so sick of his lies.”

She shook her head. “Ian didn’t even contest the divorce. He’d already found someone else. He’s in New York trying to secure more funding to expand his company since he had to pay me out. Work was all he talked about. I doubt he noticed I was no longer there.”

Her eyes tracked slowly back to mine. “I’m staying at the Beverly Wilshire while I’m looking for a house to buy. I’ve decided to stay here in LA.” She waited, watching my expression for any trace of disgust or rejection.

She would never beg. It wasn’t in her nature.

She lifted her hands and stripped off her rings. She pushed them into a side pocket of her handbag and snapped it shut. Her long sigh of relief was audible.

“Carolyn…” I knew I should say no to her unspoken question.

I was deeply aware it would be the far greater part of valour to drive her to her hotel and wish her well. Kiss her soft cheek and leave her behind in the lobby, turn my back and walk away.

I had a wedding rehearsal I was already very late for and roses to deliver to a nervous bride-to-be who was waiting for my reassuring presence by her side. I had so many other places to be. People who needed and relied on me. Me, Devon Miles, the head of FLAG.

Oh, Luciana…My gut clenched with agonised denial.

Despite all the rational dictates of my analytical mind, I became lost all over again in the translucent depths of her sea-green eyes. It was there that I could see both my past and my future. If only I dared reach out and grasp her offer with both hands.

‘Impossible…’ I closed my eyes briefly against the bleakness of knowledge. I was being utterly selfish. There could be no place in my complicated life for her softness. No matter how much my heightened emotional state demanded I make some space for her. Saving the world again and again required all my attention.

And the inherent dangers involved in that were immense and the obstacles insurmountable. My long-buried past truly was a foreign country and there could be no going back. ‘Make the break clean and make it now. She deserves that.’

“Devon?” she asked tentatively, watching me closely.

“The Beverly Wilshire, I believe you said…” I replied roughly as I reached to turn the key in the ignition. “I’ll drop you off.”

※※※※※

Chapter 2: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

How Can We Begin Again?

“Thank you…” I breathed gratefully, watching him turn the car expertly to merge with the passing streams of traffic.

Inside, I felt as if I’d just run a marathon. In a way, I guessed I had. All the way from our long-ago shared past until this very moment. Everything telescoped down into the warm, leather-scented interior of Edward’s – I mean, Devon’s – elegant red sports car.

The car certainly matched its taciturn owner. An unsuspected power, tightly leashed beneath immaculate lines, softly growling. But if you pushed down too hard on the accelerator…

My insides quivered as I watched his large, capable hands, with their sprinkling of fine golden hairs, controlling the steering wheel. He was fully in charge of the powerful machine as he’d always been. There was an economy of movement I’d often admired.

I vividly remembered those long fingers caressing my skin and my breathing got all tangled up with a burning rush of desire that went straight to the most intimate parts of my body. The man had been always like an addictive drug. He had been young and incredibly vital, and I could never get enough.

Not if we’d had all of eternity together. His loss had nearly ended my own life in despair. I ran away to Paris and then Ian’s hurried proposal had taken me away from all hope of finding my love again.

Without looking, Edward - Devon! - reached down to change gears. His fingers came close to touching my knee. I moved it slightly closer, but he didn’t appear to notice.

I sighed, inwardly. He’d always been a very graceful man for one so tall and powerful. I remembered he danced like a dream and I’d never felt so safe with anyone before or since. Ian didn’t like to dance and I missed the sweet temptation of a slow, intimate waltz.

Only the watch on Ed… Devon’s… left wrist was now different. I could see it beneath his cuff as he turned the wheel. In the past, he’d worn one with a brown leather strap, a treasured gift from his beloved mother. Now it was a newer model, large and very expensive. A man’s watch, for someone used to being in charge.

Oh, and he smelled divine. A clean, fresh aftershave that only added to his already high level of sophistication. I knew it was a very expensive brand, hard to source in this country.

I studied him carefully while trying to appear not to be doing so. To my critical eyes, he looked little changed. Of course, he was older, more mature and very confident in himself. His hair, which had once been a mass of strawberry blond curls - curls I adored to run my fingers through – was now darker and more silvered.

His body had filled out in all the right places. Standing in front of him, when we met again, he made me feel even smaller than ever. I wanted to run into his arms and be held tight.

He seemed disinclined to touch me. I made the first move, taking his arm as we walked to his car. In times past he would have kissed my fingers lingeringly.

I glanced down, then up. His waistline was still lean and his shoulders as wide as they had always been in my most cherished memories. I had clung to them, my only sure anchor as we climbed through our mutual desires together and crested the top of our shared ecstasy once more. His blue eyes stared right into mine as we spiralled back into the wide, rumpled bed that looked as if a storm had just torn right through it.

Cuisle mo chroí… Oh, yes, I remember… I will always remember…’

After we’d managed to start breathing again, we’d laughed, holding each other as if we would never let go. Until the irrepressible feeling began to build again.

I felt my cheeks heat anew at the memory of my utterly abandoned behaviour. We could not get enough of each other. Which is what our masters saw. Our unexpected closeness. We’d broken their unspoken code of conduct. They said we were endangering the mission and designed their dreadful plot to break us apart and send us in different directions.

I couldn’t tell this Edward that I’d named my first-born child after him. His cover name, not his real one. Its origins were a closely guarded secret I’d never told anyone. I had thought to carry it to my grave.

My husband had disliked the name, wondering more than once what had possessed me and who was that man? Jealousy over what I couldn’t tell him about my past had always coloured his vision of me. In the end, he didn’t want me, but he didn’t want anyone else to have me either.

But neither of our sons was named for their father and as for our daughter…

I smiled briefly. Luciana… Lucy for short.

Again Ian had questioned my sanity but he’d finally let me have my way. I could be incredibly stubborn at times and deaf to his shouted commands to be sensible and act like a married woman!

And then this tall, gorgeous ghost from my past said my pet name again. I felt like the same starry-eyed young woman that first time he’d leaned down and kissed me. Twenty years old and thought I had the whole world within my grasp. I felt as if I was floating beneath the intimate caress of his lips. All I had to do was close my hands and hang on tight to him.

Beside me, Edward stiffened, sensing I was watching him. I couldn’t help wondering what he was thinking now. His grimly set face gave nothing away.

Edward – It’s Devon! I must get used to saying that name and thinking it! – was very adept at hiding his feelings. Except with me, when we were alone together, lost in our tiny, closeted world.

Now he wore a firm mask. The look of a wealthy corporate man going about his very important business. Almost as if I was a client and not a long-lost lover he’d only just found again. He’d put his sunglasses back on, shielding his eyes from view. That irked me.

On that platform in Piccadilly station, I told him he was beautiful. I’d never seen a more beautiful man, both inside and out. I told him not to forget me and to make sure he came back to me as soon as possible. He promised, with his lips hard against mine, and that was the last time I saw him. Until today…

“Edward…” I said tentatively. “Oh, dammit. I mean, Devon. I’m sorry, I keep forgetting.” I injected a small amount of hope into my tone. “I promise I’ll get it right.”

His deeply frowning gaze flicked to mine. “There’s nothing to apologise for. I’m not that man you once knew. Not anymore.”

“How can you say that?” I asked in a broken tone.

His sunglasses mirrored my confused expression as I stared at him. I wanted to snatch them away, expose what he was really thinking.

‘There is so much to say…’ I replied silently. ‘I should have made more of a push to find you. If only I’d known you were still alive…’

My heart felt as if it was breaking then. ‘How could we begin again?’ The forlorn wish seemed as remote and as inaccessible as the moon.

I couldn’t bring myself to confide that I was a published writer of contemporary crime novels with a strong romantic theme. I found I was very good at them and could well afford to live on my own. Another thing Ian had disliked about me.

All my novels ended with a welcome and satisfying happy-ever-after for my lovers who were caught up in the next dark mystery that needed solving. But there was nothing like that for my gorgeous hero. He always went on alone to solve the new crime in my next novel.

Of course, he was tall, blond and blue-eyed. I couldn’t help it. A certain long-lost man was always on my mind and my hero just turned out that way. I couldn’t tell anyone the true reason.

And now, here he was. My real-life hero, sitting right beside me. But there wasn’t a chance for any happy-ever-after. Not for us. Not anymore.

Tears stung my eyes as the city flowed past the windows and an uncomfortable silence fell between us. The miles rolled quickly beneath the hissing wheels of the vehicle. Finally, my real-life hero swung the car expertly from the line of traffic and brought it to a halt before the elegant façade of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

I wiped a hand across my eyes. I wanted to cry but I wouldn’t. This was the end. I could feel it humming within his guarded stillness. He wouldn’t be coming up to my suite. We wouldn’t be making up for lost time by getting lost once more in each other’s arms.

He had other places to be and more important people to see. I was a loose end to be neatly tied up.

Devon had once told me about a weird guy’s crazy experiment with a cat in a box and some kind of poison. If you didn’t open the box then you would never know if the animal was alive or dead. I closed my eyes tight. I’d just opened the box to find it was long deceased as I feared. Now there could be no going back to the safety of not knowing and still nursing a tiny grain of hope.

The hotel’s doorman hurried up to greet me, opening my door with a flourish to hand me out. I went unresisting, standing on the pavement waiting for Edward. ‘Devon…’

He got out to circle the hood, quietly informing the attentive valet he wouldn’t be staying. He said he was only here to see the lady safely inside. A generous tip changed hands and the valet touched the brim of his cap with two respectful fingers.

The man nodded. “I’ll watch your car for you, Mr Miles. It’ll be my pleasure.”

“Thank you, Brent.”

Devon came toward me, taking my arm to escort me inside the lobby. I went without a fuss, stricken and unsure of what would happen next. He’d said he had a wedding rehearsal to get to and the bunch of beautiful yellow roses was slowly wilting on the back seat of his car. He didn’t have time to waste on escorting me up to my suite.

I drew him to a halt, turning him to face me. “Look, you really should be going. You need to get to that rehearsal. The young lady needs your support more than me. I’ll be fine.”

My breathing hitched. “It’s been so wonderful to see you again after all this time…”

On impulse, I went up onto my toes to kiss his cheek. He had to lean down to receive it. His innate courtesy made me want to cry all over again.

“She’s one very lucky young lady,” I whispered, staring at his mouth like I was a drowning woman and he was my only hope of rescue.

I inhaled deeply, drinking him in, adding to my secret layers of memory against the dark and lonely years that stretched ahead. I would pen more books about him. He would always be there for me in my dreams. He would do and say exactly what I wanted from him. He would live through the words I typed on every page…

“Stevie,” he supplied with a deep frown as he studied my expression closely. “Her name is Stevie. She’s getting married to Michael next week.” He puffed out his chest ever so slightly, with obvious pride. “She’s asked me to give her away. Her own father is dead.”

He inhaled deeply. “Over the years, Michael has become like the son I never had. I’m very happy for both of them. They promised to name their first son after me.”

His lips twisted with wry amusem*nt even as a bleak look of sadness came into his eyes. A frown of imminent loss creased his brow. I got the impression the sudden, brooding look had nothing to do with me.

“I’m glad…” I smiled through the sting of my unshed tears. “I couldn’t think of a better man for such an important role. You’d better go. Goodbye… and thank you. It’s been truly wonderful to see you again.”

I kept myself from breaking down as I stepped back, telling myself it was easy. One step, then another, turn, smile, give a small wave and walk away. Fast!

‘Don’t look back.’ I stuffed the crazy man’s daft cat firmly back into its box and slammed the lid shut.

But, of course, I wasn’t quick enough. I hesitated for a split second of indecision. Devon’s reflexes were always much faster than mine.

His long arm reached out before I’d gone more than two steps and he pulled me back to him. “Come with me. Please. Come and meet them. I would like you to do that. There’s plenty of room for one more guest. It won’t take long.”

The invitation seemed to have been dragged from him. He grimaced wryly and I had my answer. I knew he wasn’t going to ask me. He had intended to let me walk away.

“I…” I inhaled deeply.

I could easily see many traps and more than a few hidden dangers. How would he introduce me? As a long-lost lover? A fellow Nazi hunter? Even though I was never very good at it. All that cloak and dagger had been fun, for a while. I got sick of the need for lies and half-truths. Devon seemed to thrive on it as if he’d been born to constantly pretend he was someone else.

“As an old friend from back in England, after the war,” he supplied in a low tone as if he’d just read my mind in my consternated gaze.

Which was another trick he’d perfected. The uncanny knack of seeing everything you didn’t want him to know. It sent a shiver up and down my spine. Whenever he looked deep into my eyes he made me feel as if I was the only woman he could ever love. Had that also been a convenient lie?

“Blast…” I said softly, using a long-forgotten word I’d learned from him. “You’d already made up your mind to leave, hadn’t you? It’s all right if you want to change your mind. I understand.”

“I’ve only just found you again,” he explained brusquely. “And no, I don’t want to change my mind.”

He looked up toward the front doors of the hotel. “But you’re right. I do have other places I need to be. You will come with me and that’s the end of the matter.”

I felt like snapping to attention and saluting. Could I deny his command and walk away? I doubted it. My traitorous feet seemed rooted to the middle of the expensive lobby carpet. They turned on their own accord and meekly followed Devon’s lead, all the way back outside to his car.

The attentive doorman opened the passenger door with a knowing smile and handed me carefully back inside. He shut the door with a snap while accepting his tip in his outstretched free hand.

Both hotel employees stood back, watching Devon put the car into gear and drive away. I got the distinct impression I wasn’t the only woman he’d brought to the hotel before today. That sent a streak of blind jealousy a mile wide rushing through me. I clenched my fingers around the strap of my handbag and kept my gaze fixed on the cityscape flowing past the windows.

※※※※※

We drove quickly up into the hills above the city. Following a long winding road, we finally passed into a vast estate through a massive pair of wrought iron gates set in a high stone wall. An armed, uniformed guard stepped immediately from his station house beside the gates and into our path, raising one hand.

Devon brought the car to a halt and rolled down his window. “Good morning, Gordon,” he said. “How are you today?”

I was sure I could hear the movements of more guards behind us, quietly watchful as the gates swung closed again. I glanced at Devon, wondering why he needed so many well-armed men. What was he guarding?

“Good morning, Mr Miles. I’m fine, thank you.” Gordon nodded as he bent to look into the car, his dark eyes assessing me.

“Mrs Bridges is my special guest for the day,” Devon told him evenly. “I will vouch for her.”

“Duly noted…” The guard added an entry to the clipboard in his hand. “Everyone’s waiting for you up at the house. They’ve already telephoned down twice to ask if we’ve seen you. You’d better hurry. Have a nice day, Sir.” He saluted before he stood back to indicate we could continue.

“Thank you.” Devon put the car in gear and we drove up a wide sweeping driveway that wound up the hill. He turned into a large circular area centred with a fountain that fronted a truly impressive house.

“You said you worked for the United States government in some way,” I commented. “Is all of this some kind of massive spy base in disguise? Is that why you need those armed guards down at the gate?”

Devon glanced at me, obviously working out his response without giving too much away. “It’s not a spy base exactly. This is a private enterprise that was founded many years ago. We often work outside the government for a number of important reasons. FLAG is not an agency like the FBI but we have utilised them and helped them from time to time.”

“FLAG…” I prompted, now deeply curious. “What does that stand for?”

Again, Devon hesitated, obviously thinking he’d already said too much. Then he shrugged. “TheFoundation for Law and Government. It’s a crime-fighting organization dedicated to dealing with those criminals who think they can operate above the law. We use our technical skills and expertise to fight back and prove them wrong.”

“I see. It all sounds fascinating and just the right thing for you. You must have been very busy all these years.” I looked again at the house. “So your foundation owns all of this? It’s utterly incredible.”

The enormous Tudor-style mansion was set on a hill above formal English gardens that stretched away in several directions. But the house itself dominated the landscape with multiple floors and vast chimney stacks. Its mullioned windows sparkled in the warm sunshine. It was straight out of every fairytale and could have been the setting for any of my novels where the villain lived in splendid isolation while weaving his deceitful web of lies.

“Yes,” Devon replied as he cut the engine. “The estate was gifted to our trust by the previous owner who founded FLAG. He had a remarkable vision of the future. But Wilton Knight sadly died four years ago. It’s important that we are able to continue our work in isolation and secret.”

He looked up at the house. “I have my own wing on site. I need to remain close to my work and at the heart of the operation.”

I glanced at him with renewed respect. He’d said everything in a flat, matter-of-fact manner. Many such grand mansions had long-since been pulled down or turned into high-class hotels. The Foundation he ran must have incredibly deep pockets to afford the upkeep of such a huge estate.

Before I could reply, a very tall, dark-haired young man appeared through the open front doors and ran toward the car across the flagged courtyard. He looked none too pleased about our tardy arrival.

Devon!” he shouted, waving his hands in agitation. “You’re late! I’d thought we’d lost you somewhere. Gordon said he hadn’t seen you. I was about to send Kitt out on a grid search. Stevie’s been so worried. We’ve got the get this thing underway. The minister’s already agitating to leave.”

His blue eyes raked over me, making me feel on edge. Intense curiosity sparked deep in his gaze. He was obviously trying to figure out why I was with Devon and what my purpose was in coming here. I braved his stare with one of my own. This day was becoming more surreal by the minute.

Devon grimaced as he shed his sunglasses and got out of the car. “Sorry about this, Michael. I got held up. But I’m here, now. Don’t look so worried. Everything will be fine.”

He frowned repressively at the other man before walking around to my door and opening it to hand me out. He kept possession of my fingers in his as he led me forward. “Michael Knight, this is… Carolyn Bridges. She’s… an old friend from back in England. We met quite by accident this morning while I was returning here for the rehearsal.”

“Ah, I see. Now I get it. You got held up.” The younger man nodded as his deepening frown dissolved into a cheekily knowing grin.

He appeared to make up his mind about me as being somehow non-threatening. For now. I didn’t know if I should be relieved or peeved. There was still an edgy wariness to him however, no matter how wide his smile. It didn’t quite reach his searching eyes.

But he appeared to relax as he came around the car to seize my free hand between both of his. “Any friend of Devon’s…” he said with a broadening grin, almost crushing my hand in his eagerness to shake mine.

He looked at Devon. “You sly old silver fox…” He shook his head as he glanced back at me admiringly. “You’ve still got it.” He winked as he let me go, his blue eyes full of a mix of devilment and that same watchful wariness.

“I have nothing, Michael,” Devon replied severely, releasing me to pick up the roses from the back seat and shutting the door with a snap. “Carolyn is as I said. Simply an old friend from another time. We haven’t seen each other in years. We met quite by chance.”

I tried to keep my expression neutral, even though his words did hurt. Then a flash of red lights momentarily distracted my attention. I looked beyond the two men to see a sleek black Pontiac Trans Am parked at the side of the driveway.

I knew what it was from my youngest son’s deep obsession with cars. Just like the man standing beside me, my Danny loved a great car. I knew he would lose his mind over this one. It was a pity I’d never get the chance to show it to him.

I frowned at the line of red lights running from side to side in the front of its hood. It was like a single eye. I had the sudden and troubling impression the car was somehow watching me. Making judgements of its own. I felt dissected and reviewed with a cold, clinical precision.

Then I could have sworn it moved a few inches toward us even though there was clearly no driver behind the wheel. Was it trying to get a closer look at me, as I stood between two tall men who blocked its view?

“Crazy…” I put a hand to my head, inwardly cursing my lack of sleep and the stress of the day so far. And I still had an unknown woman’s wedding rehearsal to get through.

“So, then if you two haven’t seen each other in years, you must have a whole lot of catching up to do, right?” The younger man clapped his hand companionably to Devon’s broad shoulder as he impatiently guided us both toward the house. “Come on, we’d better get inside fast. Or I’ll be divorced before I’ve even had a chance to get hitched.”

He reached to take my arm, placing me firmly between them. “And Bonnie’s about ready to lynch both of us from the highest tree! She said we’re ruining all her wedding arrangements. You know how she gets when she’s got a project and it isn’t going to plan.”

“You don’t need to remind me, Michael,” Devon replied grimly. “I will make my apologies.”

“Just saying…” Michael shrugged, winking at me.

His smiling irreverence was infectious even if his edge of wariness was still there. I really couldn’t help liking him as we followed his long strides into the house and across its wide black and white tiled foyer.

Michael Knight looked to be about the same age as my youngest child and he had Danny’s infectious brashness. As if nothing and no one could ever hurt him. I admired that even if I worried about it in my own son who enjoyed seizing life in both hands and shaking it like a guard dog with a juicy bone he had no intention of giving up without a fight.

Michael ushered us quickly through the house, giving me no time to appreciate the magnificent interior, and out again into an immense back garden that gave more than a passing nod to the elegant Italianate ideal. A row of tall cypress trees lined either side of a walk beside a formal garden of stone walls and long pathways that invited your feet to wander while you admired the intricate design.

Not that we were allowed that chance either. On a long, lush oblong of immaculate lawn, running beside the walkway with the tall cypresses, two young women were waiting, pacing the grass. A harassed-looking man in a formal suit was clutching a bible and frowning at his wristwatch.

Another, younger man, with an open, smiling face, pumped the air with his fist the moment we appeared. “See? I told ya the boss would make it! You all owe me ten bucks. Each!

“Thank you for your unswerving faith in me, Reginald,” Devon replied repressively, as he brought me forward down the steps with a guiding hand at the small of my back to meet the bride-to-be and introduce us.

Stevie Mason was young, sweet and very beautiful. A slender blonde with an infectious smile. She was obviously deeply in love with Michael. She smiled up at him as he told her I was Devon’s unexpected, but welcome guest. He gave another broad wink.

Devon shook his head as he stood beside me, assessing my reception among his close friends. I knew he was watching to see any sign of distress or concern in my demeanour.

He needn’t have worried. Stevie immediately greeted me like a long-lost girlfriend even as she slanted Devon a questioning look. It was for him that she reserved an admonishing frown.

“You’re almost too late,” she accused softly. “Where have you been?”

“I do apologise most profoundly.” He bowed his head and then raised the bunch of roses. “I have brought you these…”

“Oh, thank you.” Stevie took them with a polite smile that said she hadn’t completely forgiven him. “They’re so lovely.” Her joy broke through and she went up onto her toes to kiss his cheek.

Her frowning companion - Devon introduced her to me as Bonnie - hovered around us, looking very keen to get on with marshalling her arrangements with ruthless efficiency. We became pawns in her detailed plans as she placed the three men where she wanted them to stand and began to instruct Stevie. The minister opened his bible with an audible sigh of relief and a final glance at his watch.

Stevie sweetly asked me to please hold Devon’s gift of flowers before she took her wedding bouquet from Bonnie. Unneeded for the ceremony, I subsided gratefully onto a handy stone bench to watch the proceedings. The heady scent of the roses drifted on the warm midday air.

The massive gardens held a sense of welcome quietude where the minister’s words could be clearly heard. The whole scene was magical and I felt happy for the engaged couple as they went through their vows. They were obviously deeply in love, holding hands and kissing as often as they were allowed by Bonnie who fussed around them like a mother hen.

I did not know any of them, but they were Devon’s friends and that made them special. He watched over them all like a benevolent father. Occasionally he would glance in my direction and that same look of loss flickered through his blue eyes.

I wanted to ask who was he losing. All I could assume was perhaps the happy couple would be moving on with their lives after the wedding. I had no real idea how or where Michael fitted into Devon’s corporate or private life. They all appeared to be very close.

My mind went back to that strange car parked in the front driveway. The memory of its curious red gaze being fixed on me in such a measured way made me shiver again with unwelcome awareness. Where did that one fit into this bucolic scene?

It wasn’t until the mock ceremony had almost been completed that I became aware that the sleek black Trans Am had crept along the stone path between the twin rows of cypress trees. Its arrival had been silent and again there was no sign of any driver.

Through the intervening foliage, it appeared to be watching everything play out with its single moving red eye. As I stared at it I felt as if my mind was beginning to lose its grip on reality. In that bright red movement, I could almost swear I could see that same look of deep sadness Devon’s eyes also carried. Some kind of imminent loss I had no way to explain or any hope of understanding.

※※※※※

Chapter 3: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Life Is What Happens To You While…

The minister closed his bible at the end of the rehearsal, cast a harassed look at his wristwatch and started to make his excuses. He looked up and down the lawn, obviously trying to see which way he needed to go to return to his car.

“Come on, I’ll show you out.” RC waved his hand at the house. “It’s this way. I’ll come with you. I have some important work I need to get sorted.”

I noticed he glanced thoughtfully at Carolyn as if he intended to speak with her then changed his mind. He frowned at me before he punched Michael lightly in the shoulder. “I’m not the one getting married and moving on. Later, man.”

“Thank you,” the minister replied gratefully, quickly saying his goodbyes before following RC’s lead toward the stone steps leading up to the terrace.

Reginald paused at the top of the steps and glanced back toward Carolyn again. Then he turned to frown at me and he shrugged. After one final look, he ushered the minister into the house and they both disappeared.

I had no time to wonder what all that staring was about. I shook my head as I looked away and began talking with Stevie and Michael about their plans for their shared future.

It still hurt that Michael wouldn’t change his mind about remaining with FLAG. I had extended all the blandishments I could think of. More money and fewer hours spent away from LA. He could work in any role he desired within the organisation.

If I thought it would help I would have offered him my own role! After all, I wasn’t getting any younger. It was coming to the point where it needed a man like Michael in charge, to keep the board happy and off our backs as we worked. Except he hated making phone calls and doing paperwork, along with the need to schmooze people he heartily detested. He was no diplomat, sadly.

I sighed with disappointment. Of course, Michael had refused every offer I’d made. I well knew by the grimly stubborn look in his eyes and understood it was no longer an option he would reconsider. He’d given us four years of his new life. Now he would have his bride to care for and protect.

And Michael Knight would do that with his very last breath. That impulse I did understand. He was a very lucky man to have found the right woman for him in time.

From the corner of my eye, I watched Bonnie walk over to Carolyn. The two women were soon engaged in conversation and I tried to listen, but they were too far away.

I wanted to edge closer. But politeness kept me rooted to the spot and my own conversation. This day belonged to these two young people. It was their ultimate happiness that mattered most.

“She’s very pretty,” Stevie said then, noticing my distraction. “How long has it been since you last saw each other?”

“Thirty-five years,” I replied with a rush of exhaled breath. I ran a hand up and around the back of my neck, at a loss to explain further.

“That’s a very long time,” Stevie said with sympathy. “You must be so happy to find her again.”

“I figured it was that long ago.” Michael laid one forefinger along the side of his nose, tapping it. “From when you were a spy for the British, right? I get it.” His narrowed eyes gleamed with the need to know more. I could feel him brimming with questions I was loathe to answer. “Was she a—?”

“I don’t know about you two, but I’m hungry,” I interrupted quickly, forestalling any further awkward questions about my past I wasn’t prepared to answer. “We should be going inside and see what the chef has prepared. I can’t stay for too long. I have a very busy afternoon. I still have a foundation to run.”

“All right, Devon.” Michael frowned at me, looking a little put out. He saw more than I wanted him to and I wasn’t about to explain further. But I could see his mind working. He was not going to allow his questions to rest with my refusal to answer them.

“Is Carolyn going to be staying with you, here at the house, while she’s in town?” Stevie asked in all innocence as I turned to stride across the lawn and offer my luncheon invitation.

The elicit idea had already occurred to me and stirred the need within me once more. To have her so close. A sweet distraction from my work. Impossible. “I… she already has a suite booked at the Beverly Wilshire. She’ll be staying there. I don’t know how much longer she’ll be in town,” I added for good measure.

“Then you should make up for lost time. What does she do for a living?” Michael asked, his interest caused by my reticence now fully alive and probing.

He no longer had anywhere urgent he needed to be. No more fires to put out or the world to set to rights once more. I felt for KITT in that moment. He’d already expressed his feelings and thoughts on the thorny subject of his partner’s resignation. They were a bonded team. They had been right from the very beginning. Wilton and I had made sure of that.

Now I needed to find a new pilot for the missions ahead. I’d already faced facts. I doubted I could find anyone half as good as Michael Knight. Another hurdle to surmount and soon.

I shook my head. “I have no idea about what Carolyn does. You’ll have to ask her yourself,” I replied shortly as we reached the two women seated on the stone bench.

“Touchy…” Michael shrugged, his expression full of brooding curiosity. “Hey, Bonnie. Great service, thanks.”

“Yes…” Stevie kissed my engineer’s cheek. “We’re so grateful you asked to make the arrangements. It all went like a dream. I can’t wait for our big day.”

“You’re very welcome.” Bonnie’s face flushed with pleasure as she stood up. “I usually find machines are much better at doing what they’re told than people. You proved me wrong today.”

They began talking further about the success of the rehearsal so I took Carolyn’s arm and drew her up to stand beside me. She looked distracted. A frown had drawn her brows together.

I turned my back to block the others’ view of our conversation and lowered my voice. “Are you all right?”

“Oh, yes, I’m fine.” She smiled up at me. “It was such a lovely ceremony. You have some wonderful friends who care a lot about you. I’m glad.”

Her smile trembled a little at the edges. I inhaled her fresh perfume and it filled my parched senses. I hadn’t had the time to notice it before. Mingled with the scent of the roses she still held in her hands, she seemed like the very essence of the warm summer’s day.

My sweet, beautiful Luciana…

Her elegantly styled designer dress showed off the smooth, lightly tanned skin of her arms and legs. Strappy sandals on her feet displayed gaily painted toenails. I couldn’t prevent myself from smiling down at them before I looked up again, drinking her in.

Once her hair had been dark and long, often caught at the nape of her neck with a comb or clasp. Now those same tresses were ash-blonde and cut short to define the sweet shape of her face and high cheekbones. Everything about her took my breath away and that most traitorous part of my body reached out toward her once more with a vital hunger that I needed to quell permanently for both our sakes.

I inhaled sharply, looking down into her sea-green eyes. They were watching me with so many questions mirrored in them. If we’d been alone in this garden, here and now, I seriously doubted I could have prevented myself from reaching for her. I burned to bury myself once more in her silken softness and forget everything vital I’d taught myself about how to survive in this dangerous, cut-throat world I now inhabited.

I’d learned I was better off alone. I didn’t need and I certainly didn’t want. Such tangible things could get you killed, or worse. It could extinguish all that you loved and cherished within a heartbeat leaving you with nothing but ashes and memories. There couldn’t be any happy-ever-after for me.

I wasn’t Michael. Lucky as he was. He was getting out while he could. While he still had his whole life before him. I couldn’t walk away and not look back.

I shrugged absently at the troublesome thought. This was real life. Not some fanciful fairy story about vanquishing the villain and slaying the dragons until true love conquers all. The End…

I was vitally glad for the safety afforded by the rest of our small group. I drew my lips taut, forcing back the wanton desires surging through me. I backed up and reached for the inane once more. The safe option.

“It’s time we went inside.” I raised my brows at her. “Would you like to stay for lunch? I’ll ask Michael to drive you back to your hotel later. Unfortunately, I have a heavy workload I must attend to this afternoon. I have to make some very important international calls.”

“Thank you,” she replied formally. “I would like that.”

The look in her eyes belied her words. She was disappointed in me. I knew I sounded self-important. It couldn’t be helped. It was still the truth.

“Excellent…” I took the safe option again, unable to explain.

“I have a question, though,” she said then.

“Only one?” I tried to tease lightly, hoping I could answer it.

“That car over there. The black Trans Am that was parked in front of the house.” She nodded toward the adjacent walkway lined with the cypress trees. “Oh, it’s gone…” She looked confused. “It was there a few minutes ago. I could almost swear it was watching us. That funny red light on its hood…”

She shook her head. “All right. I know that sounds crazy. Forget it. I’m a little tired.”

I turned and pretended to look. “It’s very unlikely,” I replied gently. “Maybe it was just a trick of the light.”

Obviously, KITT had driven around from the front driveway to watch the rehearsal. How could I explain about the advanced artificial intelligence I’d built into a car that, at times, almost seemed like family? He certainly acted like a wise old grandmother given half the chance.

I sensed the others had finished their conversation and were watching us with varying expressions of curiosity. I turned with my hand once again in the small of Carolyn’s back to usher her forward. “Come on. Let’s go inside. We’ll find a vase for those roses.”

※※※※※

I quickly settled for our meal being served in the relaxed informality of the main kitchen. As we ate, the banter among us was easy and informal. The ongoing presence of the household staff as they came and went kept the conversation from becoming too personal. I was grateful for that. I could sit back and watch my close friends make Carolyn feel at home among them while I offered little to the conversation.

From time to time, Bonnie turned and looked at me critically. I pretended not to notice. I could sense the questions that were reflected in her frowning eyes. I knew she was trying to work out just exactly what was going on. I had no suitable answers so I avoided looking at her.

“What do you do for a living, Carolyn?” she suddenly asked, turning away from me.

“Oh…” Carolyn put down her wine glass. “I’m a… writer,” she replied, after a small hesitation.

“Oh, how interesting. What do you write?” Stevie sat forward eagerly. “Maybe I’ve read some of them. I love books.”

Carolyn’s eyes flickered briefly to mine. “I… write crime novels combined with a central romance.”

“Do you now?” Michael’s speculative gaze tracked to me. He had been born to be a detective, he never took anything at face value. He seemed determined to dig until he found the truth. Or what he thought it was. “Under your own name?”

I wanted to end the conversation then and there. But I was powerless to stop it. I took a long drink of my wine and toyed with the stem of the glass between my fingers, trying to show my unconcern.

Again Carolyn’s eyes flicked back to me. She looked uncomfortable. I had to assume it was the line of questioning, as if she didn’t want to answer.

I was about to intervene when she shrugged and said quietly, “No. My pen name is Luciana Watson. You might have heard of me...” She looked quickly around the table, but not in my direction.

Luciana… her beloved name echoed through me.

I sighed as I shook my head, knowing my expression was as clueless as Michael’s. She said the name like we should know who that was. I smiled ruefully. Crime fighting didn’t leave a lot of time for reading about such dark deeds as well. But to the two women, it seemed to mean something.

“Wow…” Bonnie said. “So that’s you? I do love your tech details. They’re always spot on.”

“Thank you.” Carolyn nodded quickly. “My two sons help me with all of that. Especially my Danny. He loves cars and computers.” Her eyes slid back to mine. “Like that Trans Am out in the driveway. He would adore that car.”

Michael shrugged. “Kitt’s one of a kind. But don’t tell him that. It’ll only give him a swelled head.”

I noticed that as soon as Carolyn mentioned she had children of her own, his narrowed gaze dropped to the ring finger of her left hand. A pale line in her tan gave the clue that she’d recently removed her rings. Michael’s clinical mind often grasped the small details a lot of people missed. I had trained him too well. Now he was like a keen bloodhound on a scent.

I grimaced when I saw Carolyn’s brow crease at the unusual comment he made about KITT. I knew she was still processing what she already knew about the car. I frowned at Michael repressively, silently telling him not to give too much away. He shrugged in reply, his expression full of speculation. He was enjoying himself at my expense.

“Of course!” Stevie suddenly jumped with excitement. “I wanted to say before, but I wasn’t sure. I thought your face looked familiar. It’s on the back cover of your books. Oh, how wonderful! I’ve read every book you’ve ever written. I loved your latest Greystone trilogy. You do write so beautifully. I’ve always been in love with your hero investigator. He’s divine and so handsome.”

“Better looking than me?” Michael asked in a mock wounded tone, with one hand pressed to his chest over his heart.

“Almost…” Stevie smiled playfully, taking his hand between hers and kissing the back of it. “Edward Grainger does have your blue eyes but his hair isn’t dark like yours. He’s blond and –” She stopped and turned to stare at me. She put a hand to her mouth. “Oh…” she said again, her cheeks colouring.

As always, Michael immediately guessed the rest. He never missed a chance to rib me. “Devon, you really are a very dark horse. Today’s been a total revelation, thanks to Carolyn’s arrival.” He saluted us with his wine glass. “Who knew you have a secret life as a romantic hero.” He chuckled at his own bold wit.

I stood up. It was time to end this before it got too far out of hand. “If everyone is finished…” I looked across the table at Bonnie. “I believe we all have our tasks. Reginald is already hard at work. May I suggest you should join him.”

She rose quickly to her feet. “Of course, yes. It’s been lovely to meet you, Carolyn.” They shook her hands. “There’s room for one more guest at the wedding. If you’d like to come.”

Bonnie’s slanted glance at me defied me to object. “It’s next Saturday. If you’re not too busy writing.”

“Oh yes, please do come…” Stevie enthused as she and Michael stood up together. “We would love that.”

“Then how can I refuse?” Carolyn smiled, not looking at me. “I would love to come. I have no urgent deadlines I need to meet.”

“Great.” Michael nodded, his eyes still assessing.

“I’ll send an invitation to your hotel,” Bonnie added before she turned and left the kitchen.

But not without one last considering glance cast in my direction. I could see her analytical mind working in overdrive. She obviously had questions I wasn’t about to answer.

I shook my head as I turned away. It was now time to part again. To send Carolyn back to her life. Until Saturday.

“Ah, Michael, would you please drive Carolyn back to her hotel? I have a great deal of work I must catch up on. Those telephone calls can’t wait any longer.”

“Okay, if that’s what you want, Devon. It’s all the same to me.” He shrugged. “But are you sure? I mean, you’ve only just found each other again. You two have a lot of ground to make up. And the Wilshire’s a very nice hotel. You said Carolyn had a suite there?” His raised eyebrows implied so much more.

I frowned at him. “Very sure. Thank you, Michael. We’ll see you out front when you’re ready to leave.”

“Sure, be right there. Just give me ten minutes or so. I got something urgent I need to do.”

“Fine. Ten minutes, then.” I smiled quickly at Stevie. “It was a lovely ceremony. Thank you for gifting me the privilege of giving you away.” I nodded as I turned from them to encourage Carolyn toward the front door of the house.

“I’m so sorry…” she said the moment we were alone. “I just never expected to see you again. They told me you were dead, remember?”

She heaved a deep sigh. “But I just couldn’t get you out of my mind. And when I discovered I had a talent for writing crime novels, I thought, what could it hurt if I used you as my hero?” Her lips thinned with bittersweet sadness. “You were once my hero, after all.”

She stopped and looked up at my face. “Are you really angry? You don’t look too pleased. I’m truly sorry if I embarrassed you back there. Michael does seem to take great delight in ribbing you. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“You could never embarrass me,” I replied with a sigh, trying to relax my rigidity. She had meant no harm in using my image for her novels.

Her look said she disbelieved me but she didn’t pursue it. “Who was that guy you told me about once? The man with the cat in the box. You didn’t know if it was alive or dead unless you opened the lid and looked inside.”

“Erwin Schrödinger,” I supplied absently, looking down at her with resignation. “It was an experiment in quantum mechanics. He formulated it with Einstein and—”

“Whatever…” Carolyn waved a quick hand. “If you never opened the box, then you couldn’t know if the cat inside was alive or dead. You could live with the not knowing and cling to the only thing you have left. Hope…”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” I replied warily. “Carolyn, where is this going?”

I could hear Michael talking again with Stevie. He must have finished whatever he needed to do. He would soon catch up to take Carolyn away from me and this moment would be gone forever.

Carolyn linked the fingers of one hand through mine. “Michael’s leaving you and the important work you’re doing here, isn’t he?” she asked quickly. “I could see that you’re very unhappy about it all. But he’s doing it for love. He has someone important in his life now.”

“Yes…” I admitted bleakly, my breath leaving me in a rush. “He was almost killed recently while working for the Foundation. Now he has Stevie, he doesn’t want to risk putting her life in any danger. I can accept that. I can move on.” I raised one shoulder. “I don’t have any other choice.”

Carolyn tightened her grip on my hand. “But what if that’s no longer enough? Just accepting what must be because you think you can’t change it? Or maybe you’re too afraid to even try.”

“Afraid?” I frowned down at her. “Look, Carolyn, you don’t understand. I’m not free to make such personal choices. I have heavy responsibilities for the primary safety of too many others.”

“Maybe I don’t understand because you won’t let me in.” She leaned closer, bringing my hand up to press it between her breasts over the rapid beating of her heart. “But I know that hope is all we have left. Why can’t we both reach for what could be instead? I want to tear open Schrödinger’s blasted box and find out if that cat is still alive inside.”

“Ah, Luciana…” I groaned. “You must see it’s impossible. I’m no longer that brash young man. I have so many people who depend on me to be level-headed and clear thinking. And without any weaknesses, my enemies could use or exploit. I couldn’t put you in harm’s way again. If anything happened to you…” I shook my head.

There were so many more imperative reasons against her staying. A lack of privacy for one. Everything and everyone who came within the FLAG orbit was scrutinised and analysed for any flaws or weaknesses. Their backgrounds were thoroughly searched for any hidden skeletons.

But how could I explain that to her? Many people could not handle the total invasion of their lives and ultimately declined to join our organisation.

Michael had been the one exception. Wilton and I had given him no choice. We chose to make the new and improved version of Michael Knight from the mortal remains of Michael Long. But now, even he was leaving us. It seemed that nothing did last forever…

“Then don’t think, Devon. Just feel…” Carolyn raised my hand to her lips. “I’ve lived with the fantasy of seeing you again for the last thirty-five years. I’ve written about you and dreamed about you too. You were always the mysterious ghost in my marriage. Ian was so jealous of your memory because you kept coming between us. I don’t want to die alone, wondering about what might have been now that I’ve just found you again…”

Her breathing hitched. “Please don’t make me regret it all now…” Her wide-open eyes pleaded for my understanding. “Don’t tell me that all we ever had together was just a dream. Please don’t do that. I couldn’t bear it if you did…”

※※※※※

Chapter 4: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

It Seems Like Only Yesterday

My throat tightened with despair, making it difficult to breathe. “Please don’t make me regret it all now…” I stared up at him, pleading for his understanding. “Don’t tell me that all we ever had together was just a dream. Please don’t do that. I couldn’t bear it if you did…”

I didn’t need saving. I wasn’t looking for any knight in shining armour on a white horse. A man like Michael. And he already had Stevie. I’d wished them well.

Now that I had finally found him again, I just wanted Devon Miles. My beloved Edward…

Why is that too much to ask?

I didn’t understand, he said. I understood all too well. He looked like he was drowning. His beautiful blue eyes still held shadows of despair and regret as he pulled his hand from mine, half-turning away from me.

Right then, I felt I wanted to mother him. I couldn’t prevent a tiny smile. I tried to hide it from him. Mothering Devon really was the very last thing I wanted to do with him. What I really want to do with you is —

“You about ready to go then, Carolyn?” Michael asked from behind us. He glanced at Devon. “Shall I take Kitt? Or do you need him?”

I snatched a breath. This was my last chance to make Devon change his mind. To make him see my point of view. If I said nothing and accepted his dismissal, I knew he would walk away and not look back.

“Am I ready to go?” I asked him softly, putting everything into my questioning look as I stared up at his averted face. “Do you truly want me to leave?”

He glanced down at me. I could see he wanted to walk away. There was an epic battle going on between his analytical brain and his newly raw emotional state and all I could do was watch and hope.

I even remembered a prayer or two from my childhood. “Please?”

I never once had to beg for his love or attention when we were together. I never needed to. He always knew instinctively what I was thinking or feeling. He knew it now. I saw his long sigh of surrender and my sorrowing heart began to lift.

“No, thank you, Michael. I’ve… changed my mind. I’ll take Kitt,” Devon replied shortly, drawing a second, deeper breath and releasing it in a rush. “You’ll need to fetch some of your things from your hotel,” he said to me as his blue eyes studied each of my features in turn as if he was committing them to memory.

“Because?” I prompted softly, feeling Michael’s gaze fixed on us with deepening interest.

“I’ll ask the housekeeper to make up a room for you when we get back,” Devon replied in a driven tone.

He glanced at Michael who shook his head at me as he backed up. “Hey, don’t include me in this little party of yours, Devon. My money was always on Carolyn. She’s one smart lady. She’s getting what she wants.”

He tipped two fingers to his temple. “I’ll get out of your way and take Stevie home. You two are on your own.” He studied me closely as if he was trying to work something out before he turned and walked away.

“Blast…” Devon said with feeling. “I still have those important phone calls I need to make.” He ran a frustrated hand up and around the back of his neck beneath his shirt collar. “They can’t wait.”

“It’s all right. If you really don’t want me to stay…” I offered quietly knowing how much the admission of need had cost him. “I will understand. If you could call me a cab…”

I left the comment hanging there. He had to come back to me of his own accord or not at all.

“No, that won’t be needed. When we get back and I’ve gotten rid of my calls, we’ll sit down and talk. Really talk, like we used to,” he replied as he took my hand through the crook of his arm to escort me from the house. “We need that. But right now, I have someone I think you should meet since you’ll be staying here…” He glanced down at me. “With me…”

“Oh?” I breathed, looking up at him with keen interest. “And who am I meeting?”

I didn’t care right then. I had won this round and my heart was singing. Devon is allowing me to stay and we were going to talk. I badly wanted to do that. I had something very important I’d always wanted to tell him. I really needed to tell him. It had waited for far too long. But how was I to know he was still alive?

“You’ll see…” My love shook his head as he led me out into the front driveway. He didn’t walk toward his parked sports car as I expected.

Instead, he guided me toward the sleek, black Trans Am which was again parked exactly where I’d first seen it. As before, the red light set into the hood moved from side to side like a single eye and again I had the impression I was being watched and analysed.

“This is Kitt,” Devon informed me, indicating the car with a sweep of his free hand. “If we take him to the city we will get there and back a lot faster. He’s… been designed to know the fastest route between two points.”

“Okay…” I allowed cautiously, feeling again that weird sensation of disconnection. “What’s going on here? Why do you think I need to meet a car?”

“Because he’s so much more than just a car.” Devon’s lips quirked wryly. “It’s all right, Kitt. You may introduce yourself. Carolyn already suspects you’re something more than you seem.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs Bridges,” the car promptly said to me in a man’s precise voice. “Wilton Knight was my creator and Devon carries on his legacy with FLAG. I am very pleased to be able to meet you properly. First impressions are very important, don’t you think?”

“Good afternoon.” I looked the car up and down seeking answers. “And I agree. First impressions are often the most honest.” I tried to process what was happening and failed.

“Exactly.” A small note of apology crept into that measured voice. “Thank you.” Then it became formal again. “My name is Kitt. I must explain it’s an acronym for Knight Industries Two Thousand.”

The car seemed to be waiting expectantly for my response. I stared at its moving red light. I couldn’t reply immediately. I was glad of Devon’s supporting hand on my arm. “Um, hello, Kitt.”

How else did someone greet a talking car? One that expressed its emotions like any human being?

“But I fear we may have gotten off to an uncertain start,” Kitt continued in a conciliatory tone. “Devon is aware I have been very keen to make amends for my transgression. I did not wish to frighten you as I moved up to observe the wedding rehearsal this morning. Michael and Stevie do make a handsome couple, don’t you think? I shall miss them both terribly when they finally leave our Knight Industries family. But life must involve progress or else we stagnate. Do you not agree?”

I could feel Devon watching me. Leashed amusem*nt radiated from him. He was enjoying my confusion in a guarded way, trying to gauge my reaction.

“Just exactly what is going on here?” I demanded crossly. “Or is this some trick? Cars don’t talk. Did you record his voice?”

“Why don’t you ask Kitt?” he said softly. “He has been very keen to speak with you and explain.”

“Oh, it’s all very simple,” Kitt replied in a comforting tone. “Get in and we will tell you all about it as I drive you back to the Beverly Wilshire. I do believe that is where you wish to go this afternoon? To collect your things? I’m sorry, Devon. But I heard it all. You forgot you’re still carrying the commlink watch in your jacket pocket. An oversight on your part.”

Devon grimaced as he pressed a hand to his pocket. “So I am. Michael left it behind when he resigned.”

You’re going to drive us to the hotel?” I tried to cling to my certainties as the world tilted beneath my feet. “How is that even possible?”

“I would be very happy to show you.” Both doors of the car swung open invitingly. “I have been fully computerised and I am very capable of exact navigation. A pilot is required only to soothe the senses of any observer who may be startled by a seemingly driverless vehicle. If I switch to auto cruise you may fall asleep with impunity and leave everything to me. It is impossible for me to become involved in an accident.”

“No, thanks,” I replied quickly. “I prefer to keep my eyes on the road and my wits about me.” I frowned at Devon, still feeling there was a trick here somewhere.

“Come on…” He smiled as he encouraged me toward the open passenger door. “Get in and Kitt will show you what he can do.”

“I will also permit you to select the music for our journey,” Kitt went on as I settled myself gingerly in the passenger seat and Devon closed the door. “I have already downloaded and itemised works from your era for your convenience. You only have to name the required song and leave the rest to me.”

“You really have to be kidding me…” I frowned as Devon got in behind the wheel. “Is this all your foundation has been working on behind all the secrecy? A talking car?”

I looked around the inside of the car. It was even more fantastic than the outside. I stared at all the lights and screens. The steering wheel had been turned into something right out of a space ship movie.

I knew Danny would be in his element with all the advanced gadgetry but it worried me. I glanced longingly at the red sports car. It seemed so safe and normal.

“Kitt is a great deal more than just a car. He is the ultimate in what we have been trying to achieve at Knight Industries,” Devon told me. “For now, he’s the only one in existence.”

“Are you impressed, Mrs Bridges?” Kitt asked, his somewhat smug voice coming from a small flashing screen in the centre of the dashboard. “I am utterly unique in the world but I can assure you I never kid. It has not yet been built into my program. But I—”

“Kitt…” Devon said warningly, as he pushed some buttons on the centre console and took charge of the futuristic steering wheel.

“Yes, Devon?”

“Shut up and drive.”

“Yes, Devon.”

The engine immediately purred into life. We followed the driveway down to the gates at a faster pace than we had ascended earlier. Gordon and his fellow guards did not try to detain us. They waved us through as if we were out for a Sunday drive and we accelerated smoothly toward the city in the far distance.

“My system has just been loaded with a complete study of you, Mrs Bridges,” Kitt continued our odd conversation as the miles flew by. “You have recently attained fifty-five years of age. A Gemini, I see. Interesting. Over a year ago, you divorced Ian Bridges. He is the owner and CEO of Madison Industries, a software development company that has been relocated from New Mexico with a view to going nationwide. He is certainly an entrepreneur. Together, you have three adult children. Two boys and one girl. I believe their dates of birth and names are—”

“What is this?” I recovered enough from my disbelief to cut off his bland summation of my life. “Okay, Mister, that’s enough! Who said you could go prying into my private life?”

“Kitt…” Devon said warningly. “What’s going on? Who gave you direct access to such personal files? They are none of your business.”

“I’m very sorry, Devon,” Kitt replied quickly. “But the initial source has made itself confidential. I will look into that and get back to you. The information was uploaded into my systems this afternoon. Is there something wrong or an inaccuracy? I was only stating the facts, Devon.”

“No,” I replied baldly. It had all been too accurate. “But I don’t appreciate you knowing my business because it’s just that. My business.” I wiped at my stinging eyes. I wasn’t going to break down and cry. But, until now, this day had been perfect.

“Duly noted,” the car replied stiffly.

“Kitt, you will look into it as soon as we get back to headquarters,” Devon commanded in a furious tone.

“Yes, Devon.”

Devon glanced at me, seeing how upset I was. “I’m truly sorry about this. Such in-depth investigations are one of Kitt’s main functions,” he said in frowning apology. “But I wasn’t aware your history had been loaded into his system. Someone has been very busy and extremely thorough. I too will be asking some hard questions the moment I get back to FLAG.”

He shook his head. “But I should have told you before now. Anyone seeking to gain access to Knight Industries, or to me, is usually fully scrutinised. No one questioned your presence because you were with me.”

He raised one shoulder. “Another reason why your staying with me was not a good idea. My life is not my own. It hasn’t been for a very long time.”

“I see…” I muttered, feeling ambushed and hurt. I inhaled deeply, forcing back the burning tears crowding into my eyes. ‘Blast…’ I didn’t want to break down now. That would come later.

“Have I unwittingly overstepped my brief?” Kitt worried. “I apologise most profusely if I have caused any offence. It was never my intention. But as Devon says, it is embedded in my program. Any potential threat must be uncovered and neutralised immediately for the ongoing safety and security of FLAG. It is one of my primary functions. Whoever uploaded your files would know that.”

“Oh, is it? How nice for you.” I wanted to utter a very rude word then. I certainly thought it.

How could I be a threat to anyone? I didn’t know anything! Not a single blasted thing about any of it! This precious FLAG of Devon’s certainly thought a lot of itself.

I stared at the little red screen that was so small but saw so much I didn’t wish to be revealed. Least of all the names and birth dates of my children. They were for me to tell Devon, if I chose to do so, in my own good time. Not to be blurted out by some futuristic machine with an attitude bigger than the state of Texas.

I glanced at Devon’s set profile. What did he know? What had the car already told him of its discoveries?

My racing heart sank to the soles of my sandals. What if he’d already been made aware of my deepest secret? The one thing I never thought I would be able to tell him in this life. ‘You died, remember?’

If he was aware, it wouldn’t take a genius to calculate the date when we finally parted on that London train platform against the birth date of my eldest child. My beautiful Edward had been premature, or at least that’s what I allowed Ian to believe. But I didn’t know I was already a month pregnant when I married him.

Devon had always been very careful about such matters. I loved and respected him for his caution. I could only guess at how it had all gone wrong and by then it was too late.

I could privately admit I was an utter coward, terrified of the consequences if I’d confessed the truth. If my husband had been told my suspicions, I knew I would have been left with no home, no money and a newborn baby to care for. I suffered from nightmares for months afterwards.

But my child’s true father was dead. Or so I’d been told. I needed Ian then. I spent years looking the other way whenever he had yet another affair. He always came back to me in the end. Eventually, I managed to carve out a life of my own. Then I could afford to move on.

But every time I looked at my beloved son, I saw the man I had loved with all my heart and soul. With his curling blond hair and deep blue eyes, my child looked nothing like the man who’d raised him as his own.

But to introduce my son to his biological father when he now lived and worked in such a dangerous world... I could not see my way clear on that front either. Under normal circ*mstances I could want for nothing more than to see them together, father and son, united at last.

It had been a cherished dream. Now I felt trapped, smothered by uncertainty and fear. The unknown crushed my ability to confess as I should.

As I always do when I’m nervous and upset, I worried the strap of my handbag, twisting it between my fingers. I knew Devon noticed because he glanced down at my lap. I could feel the sudden tension in him. He knew what I was about to say before I could formulate the words.

“You’ve decided not to stay with me at the house after all,” he said in a flat, emotionless tone. “I understand. I’m deeply sorry my necessary work intruded into your life. It was never my intention to set someone to spy on you.”

“I know that. But perhaps it’s for the best if I don’t stay with you,” I replied, unable to look at him. I bit my bottom lip against my tears of loss and frustration.

He always knew what I was thinking. “For both of us,” I allowed. “You have your work and I…”

Everything hopeful and wishful inside me sank in that fraught moment. We had come so far within the space of a single day and yet we were both still standing on that platform in Piccadilly saying goodbye all over again. My tears scalded the backs of my eyes, threatening to spill over and run down my cheeks. The final humiliation.

He’d always hated to see me cry. He was a very brave man but had always been at a total loss around such feminine weakness. He always brought me flowers to apologise afterwards.

“Mrs Bridges?” Kitt questioned hesitantly. “I can only apologise. Is there anything else I can do to make amends for your distress?”

“I’m afraid you’ve done quite enough already,” I replied shakily. “You may drop me off at my hotel, Devon. I know you’re very busy. There’s no need for you to come in, I’ll be fine. It’s been a truly lovely day and I’ve really enjoyed meeting your friends.”

“Devon?” Kitt asked. “What is going on? What is happening? Why is Mrs Bridges crying?”

“I’m not crying,” I tried to assert.

“I must beg to differ. I detect that your body’s core temperature has risen sharply. A sure sign of either stress or arous—”

Kitt!” I replied sharply through clenched teeth, needing to interrupt his clinical analysis for my own sanity.

“Yes, Mrs Bridges?”

“Shut up and drive!”

“Yes, Mrs Bridges…”

※※※※※

The futuristic talking car pulled up smoothly before the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The engine stopped and a strained silence crept into the interior. None of us seemed willing to break it. I shivered with reaction as I held myself together by the barest of threads.

“I will see you inside,” Devon finally said heavily.

“Thank you, but I’ll be fine by myself,” I replied quickly, still twisting the strap of my handbag between my fingers. “I need some time alone to think.”

I looked over at him. He was watching me with such a depth of pain and regret in his eyes. His face blurred and I blinked at the tears in my own.

“Please, will you make sure that whatever records have been kept on me in your system are erased immediately.” I lifted a denying shoulder. “I don’t see that there is any need for them now. I am no threat to anyone or anything. And you have my solemn promise I will keep all your secrets.”

“The records are completely erased,” Kitt replied quickly. “I am sorry if you feel I overstepped my boundaries. It is in my program to serve and protect.”

“Oh, I don’t blame you,” I said quickly.

I frowned. Now I’m truly losing it! I’m talking to a car and trying to sooth its feelings! A blasted car doesn’t have feelings!

But the man seated next to me did. I hauled in a long, shuddering breath and released it through my parted lips. What more could I say to him?

I turned in my seat to face Devon. “You tried to tell me it wouldn’t work between us. Not this time around. That there were too many obstacles in the way. I am truly sorry I didn’t listen to you. I’ve put you through so much pain, and for what?”

“You were my life…” he said simply, turning to smile sadly at me. “But I am no longer in that life. And the one I lead now…” His smile faded as he raised a helpless hand, trying to see his way forward. “For one sweet day out of time, I allowed myself to dream. I thought it could work between us as it always had before. I dared to hope…”

Hope… I sighed. There was that word again. It had fooled many more people wiser than us.

The small red screen in the centre of the dashboard stared at me in silence. Outside the car, I could see the valet and the doorman waiting expectantly. I needed to make the break clean and I needed to make it now. I could cry out my anguish and pain in the privacy of my suite.

I leaned over to press a quick kiss to Devon’s cheek. “Thank you, Devon, for a wonderful day. I will not forget it or you. I will see you on Saturday for the wedding. I was looking forward to that and I wouldn’t want to disappoint Stevie.”

I touched one fingertip to his hard-set lips. “But afterwards… I don’t think I can live in your world. I’ll need time to reassess my plans for my future. Maybe I’ll go back to Santa Fe for a while. I… still have a house to sell there. Or maybe I’ll keep it. Perhaps LA is not right for me, after all.”

“Carolyn… I—”

“Thank you, Devon. Thank you for everything. It truly has been wonderful seeing you again…” I clung to my hard-won resolution and reached for the door handle. “To know you are still alive in this world is enough…”

Of course, it wasn’t, but I needed to say it. I still had my memories, cold comfort though they were. But his secretive world was so alien to me now. To be measured and investigated made me feel too exposed and vulnerable. I knew I couldn’t live like that, pinned like a bug under a microscope.

The passenger swung open without my touching it. I smiled sadly at the small red screen. “Thank you, Kitt.”

“You are most welcome, Mrs Bridges. Again, I cannot express how sorry I am.”

“Me too…” I hesitated, then shook my head as I accepted the doorman’s outstretched hand and got out.

The door shut behind me and there was nothing more to say. The car powered away even before I entered the hotel lobby.

I was painfully aware there were no perfect lives, only perfect moments. This single day had been one of those precious gifts but it was over all too soon. The sun was starting to go down in the west, beginning to paint the wide blue sky with streaks of red and gold.

I grimaced as I took the elevator up to my suite. I unlocked the door and entered the living room, slamming the door shut behind me. I ran through to the bedroom and threw myself full-length onto the wide bed. I buried my face in the pillows and finally allowed the pent-up tears to flow.

Reality really was a hard, cold-hearted, unfeeling bitch of the first water and I hated her smugly smirking confidence with all my sorrowing heart.

※※※※※

Chapter 5: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Loss Teaches Us The Worth Of Things

I watched Carolyn in the rear view mirror as I drove off, leaving her behind on the sidewalk as I pulled back into the line of traffic. My heart was heavy in my chest and it hurt.

Now I wished I’d taken the sports car and left Kitt out of it. She would still be with me, lifting my heart and gladdening my senses with her perfume and beguiling smile. Even now we would be up in her suite, gathering her things and…

My groin cramped again, painful with unfulfilled need. I pushed it down, well aware of Kitt’s ability to sense everything his pilot was thinking and feeling. I didn’t feel like being analysed right then.

But Carolyn had been curious about the Trans Am and she had to meet him sometime since she had been intending to stay with me. I figured she’d soon get used to a talking car.

“Yeah, well that didn’t work out as I planned,” I muttered.

I wanted to talk to her, to explain. I would give her a couple of days to cool down and reassess. Then I would call her and we would see each other after the wedding… I sighed.

“I’m sorry, Devon,” Kitt replied. “I should not have said anything. I was unaware you did not know anything of Mrs Bridges’ past.”

“It’s all right, Kitt. I knew all about it. She told me of her divorce and her children when we first met this morning.”

Was it only this morning? It seemed like a lifetime had passed.

“Then I do not see the issue,” Kitt worried. “Why is she now so adamant she can no longer have anything to do with you or I?” If a car could sigh, he sighed then. “Devon, I simply do not understand women. They are always such contrary and emotional creatures. I wish they could all think logically and clinically like any man. Life would be so much simpler.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” I replied grimly as the miles hissed by beneath the car’s tyres.

Seething with a contrary mix of tangled emotions, I drove back to FLAG HQ at a far greater speed than when I left with Carolyn. Carolyn…

Luciana… my troubled heart whispered bleakly.

She was trying to put me behind her again. The reality of it all bit hard. I detested the unfairness of our parting. If only there was a button on Kitt’s dashboard that I could press and we could go back to this very morning and start again.

I wanted to start again. To make it right.

But the sun was beginning to go down in the west, brushing the wide blue sky with streaks of red and gold. The day was almost over and I was alone again with only my memories for company.

I knew someone unknown had been very busy on my behalf and I intended to find out exactly who it was. I could make a few guesses, but I needed to be sure.

The gates opened before I reached them and Gordon made no attempt to slow me down or stop the car. I think he saw my grim expression through the windscreen and wanted no part of my obviously angry state.

“Have you found anything?” I asked as I drove into the front courtyard and parked Kitt.

“I’m sorry, Devon,” the car replied regretfully. “But they have covered their tracks very well. The information was shared with me through access to your office computer. And they used your current password. Whoever it was they have been very thorough, knowing they would be untraceable.”

“You could say experienced?” I questioned.

“That is another way of putting it,” Kitt replied cautiously. “Remember you programmed me to deal only in the facts. I would not wish for anyone to get into trouble through any inaccuracy on my part. I need to investigate further before I commit myself to any course of action. I will inform you through the commlink as soon as I know anything more that may be of use to your ongoing investigation.”

“You should have become a politician, Kitt,” I grumbled as I got out of the car. “A simple yes or no would have sufficed.”

“Oh, no, Devon,” Kitt said primly. “Such a life would not suit me at all. That is strictly your department. I would never dream of intruding.”

“Yes, and look where that’s got me,” I muttered as I walked away from the car and around the side of the main house.

I was alone, disgruntled and feeling emotionally needy. For the first time in a very long while I began to question my life and its demands which left no time for a private life. And I wanted Carolyn in that life.

I shook my head bleakly. But this was no time to be wallowing in regrets. I knew where I was going and who I would find there. My deep sense of ill-usage stalked with me. But honesty also began to nibble away at my resolve to uncover the truth. I had tried to warn Carolyn of the consequences if she stayed with me and she’d chosen not to listen.

Now we were further apart than we had ever been. But something kept bothering me. I told Kitt I already knew the information he’d imparted about the divorce and her three children. Carolyn had told me herself. Her age and star sign I also knew.

But at the very first mention of the names of her children, she’d flown into a panic, shutting Kitt down immediately. That puzzled me more than anything else on this strange day.

She said she had a son called Danny who loved cars. Why did it matter what she’d called her children? What ultimate secret was she trying to hide from me and why?

Blast Schrödinger’s confounded cat!” I muttered as I entered the vast building behind the house through a side door and stepped back into the world I was more comfortable inhabiting. Everything here was in black and white. There were no shades of grey. No room for compromise.

The place hummed with its usual activity. Technicians and workers went about their business. Ours was a tight-knit community from necessity. No one outside could be allowed to learn of what we did here. Information was valuable and dismissal was instant for any transgressions, however minor.

These people would make up the bulk of the wedding guests on Saturday, with one or two exceptions. Some had been allowed to bring their spouses.

I frowned as I kept walking, not looking right or left, until I reached Bonnie’s station on the far side of the complex. She was sitting down, bent over whatever latest project she was working on.

“Bonnie,” I greeted her.

She looked up. “Oh, hi, Devon.” She glanced past me, her brow furrowing with confusion. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon. Michael said you were taking Carolyn back to her hotel to collect her things. He reckoned you wouldn’t be back for ages.”

I grimaced but didn’t rely. It seemed Michael has been very busy on my behalf. Since he’d resigned from FLAG he had far too much time on his hands. And I knew he was restless to get on with the rest of his life. The wedding couldn’t happen soon enough.

Bonnie shrugged. “Did you leave her up at the house? I’m glad she’s able to come to the wedding. I like her.”

“Carolyn is staying back at her hotel,” I replied hardly. “It seems there has been a rather large misunderstanding. Someone has exceeded their responsibilities and snooped into her affairs without her knowledge or permission. And they used the computer in my office to do it. She was not pleased. But she said she will still attend the wedding.”

“I see…” A shade of consternation passed through Bonnie’s gaze before she looked away, confirming my earlier suspicions about her possible involvement. “Well, I only looked her up out of curiosity,” she hurried to explain, keeping her gaze averted. “I wanted to know more about her. She intrigued me.”

She shrugged. “I’m truly sorry if you think I overstepped any boundaries. But I only used the system in here. I certainly wouldn’t go into your office without your permission or with you not in there.”

I nodded, blowing a troubled sigh. “And you don’t know my password.”

Bonnie looked relieved that I believed her. “No, I don’t. I know you like to go in for some obscure European poet with an impossible name that no one’s ever heard of. I couldn’t even say them let alone spell any.” She frowned at me with deep concern.

Reginald walked up to us, his expression full of curiosity. “You back so soon, Boss? I thought you’d be taking the rest of the day off, since you were driving Carolyn back to her hotel.” His dark eyebrows shot up and waggled. “Michael said you’d taken Kitt.” His smile was a shade too knowing.

“It seems Michael has far too much time on his hands,” I bit back. “He would do better to keep his nose out of my business. He has his own life now. And he has Stevie.” I tried not to sound resentful.

“Okay…” Reginald drawled, throwing up both hands. “But you’re back here without her. I saw you pull up in Kitt. You were alone.”

“Carolyn’s not staying here, after all,” Bonnie volunteered. “She’s back at her hotel. She’ll still be at the wedding, though.”

“Damn, man,” Reginald sympathised. “That’s a real shame, She’s a nice lady. She even talks like you.” He grinned, then saw my expression and sobered up quickly.

“Did you two get into some kind of fight or something?” he asked with concern. “Is there anything we can do?”

“It was more of a misunderstanding,” I replied. “It seems someone here decided to delve into Carolyn’s personal history - without first gaining her permission - and Kitt blurted it out at the wrong moment and upset her. She did not like being snooped on and I don’t blame her. She’s not used to the kind of world we live in.”

Bonnie jumped up from her stool. “I’ve already said it wasn’t me. I just looked her up to see what other books she’s written that I might want to read. That’s all.”

She folded her arms across her chest. “Just what are you accusing me of, Devon? If there was an information leak, then it didn’t come from me. I didn’t look at any other files and I did not go into your office.”

“I know…” I folded my arms across my chest. “But, someone did. Carolyn was furious and I don’t blame her.”

The thought that she was hiding something from me still niggled. If Carolyn hadn’t interrupted Kitt when she did...

I blew a frustrated breath. “Look, I don’t have any more time for this. I have some urgent phone calls I need to make and I’m already late. I’ll be in my office if either of you uncover anything I need to know.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Bonnie replied, sitting down again. “But there are a limited number of people who can share information with Kitt without you knowing. And who has access to your office computer? Didn’t he tell you the source?” Her brow creased again and I knew she was already sorting through any likely candidates.

“Kitt said they were loaded confidentially and he has already erased them. Carolyn insisted.”

“Okay, then will do, Boss…” Reginald nodded. “I’ll come on up as soon as we know anything.” He saluted me with two fingers to his temple and hurried away.

I watched them both for a long moment then turned and walked away. I knew they would uncover the original source, given time. Right now, I had those phone calls that simply couldn’t wait any longer.

※※※※※

I sat back in the chair behind my office desk and eased the ache in my shoulders. I had been on the telephone and private links to powerful men and global organisations around the world for several hours, soothing ruffled feathers and deeply annoyed politicians, who had been miffily put out when they couldn’t reach me immediately.

“My blasted life is not my own…” I muttered, casting aside my pen. “But knowing it changes nothing.”

Beyond the floor to ceiling windows, the velvet darkness of the night was studded with the vast myriad of lights from the city spread out below and all the way to the far horizon. At times, I have felt like a king in his castle, lord of all I surveyed. That fanciful illusion ended at the high stone walls that surrounded the property on all sides, keeping us in as much as it kept the rest of the population out.

Armed guards, CCTV cameras and high voltage electrical wiring along the tops of the walls did the rest. There were only three entrances into the estate. The main gate and two smaller back entrances for goods and services. All were guarded night and day.

I frowned out at it all. Until today, I hadn’t given my elegant and vast prison much thought beyond making sure it, and the work we did for the Foundation, was as secure as possible. It was simply the place where I lived and worked. I had a job to do and I’d done it to the best of my ability for years. I was carrying on Wilton Knight’s legacy and trying to make a difference in this world.

“Then Carolyn came back into my life…” I shook my head slowly.

“Talking to yourself is never a good sign,” Michael commented from the open doorway.

He was leaning against the door frame, watching me closely. “No Carolyn tonight?” He eased his way into the room, walking to hitch one hip onto the corner of my desk. “I thought she was staying here. But she didn’t come back with you in Kitt.”

“No…” I shook my head. “She decided to remain at the Wilshire. We agreed, it’s for the best. This is no place for her.”

“I see. Gee, Devon, that’s too bad. I’m truly sorry it didn’t work out for you two. I liked her. But, I guess, some things are just not meant to be.”

His delivery was too smooth with just the right injection of sympathy. His gaze was steady and unblinking. Instinctively, I knew why he was here. I leaned further back in my chair crossing my arms over my chest as I watched him.

“You’ve been talking to Bonnie,” I stated.

“Yeah…” He eased his position but his expression remained neutral. “And Kitt. I just got back from Stevie’s. They were both in a bit of a flap about Carolyn.”

The commlink in my coat pocket suddenly beeped. “Devon, are you there? I finally have the information you requested. I have identified the source of the link.”

I reached into my pocket and drew the watch out, pressing the button. “Yes, Kitt. I’m here. With Michael.”

“I see. Good evening, Michael. I saw that you had returned earlier than expected.”

Michael raised one shoulder. “Stevie’s gone out clubbing with her girlfriends.” His lips quirked ruefully. “I was surplus to their requirements. So I thought I’d come back and keep Devon company.”

“I am sorry about this, Michael. You did cover your tracks well. It took me some time to unravel all the threads. After eliminating every possibility, I was forced to draw the inevitable conclusion. There could be only one culprit with the opportunity to gain access to Devon’s office undetected.”

“Yeah, it’s okay, buddy.” Michael looked back at me. “I’ll admit it was me who looked into your mysterious lady friend. You got me.”

He looked unrepentant as he held up both hands in surrender. “But I was curious. I didn’t see there was any harm in it. It was a stupid oversight on my part to patch Kitt in like I always used to do. Old habits die hard, I guess.”

A faint smile lifted the corners of his mouth for a moment. “At least, I was smart enough to use your computer, Devon. You gotta give me points for that. I slipped in here while you were walking Carolyn out after lunch. Your latest password gave me pause for a moment or two, until I saw that book on your desk.”

He waved his hand at the book about one of Bonnie’s detested obscure European poets. I shook my head at the oversight. I must be more tired and distracted than I thought to leave such an obvious clue lying around.

“Carolyn is totally off-limits to anyone and everyone in this organisation,” I replied grimly. “You had no right to go snooping behind her back. If you’d bothered to ask me, I would have told you the truth.”

“Granted. But what do you really know about her?” Michael shrugged. “After all, it has been thirty-five years. How do you know she’s even the same person? Once a spy, you know? She could have changed sides or anything. You were blinded by your memories. Any of us would be after all that time. To have her suddenly back in your life like that…”

He snapped his fingers. “It just seemed a little too convenient. You took one look at her and I bet you lost all your perspective.”

I knew he wasn’t wrong. I turned and looked down at a woman I had been told was long dead. All my training, rational thinking and hard-won cynicism had evaporated in that single moment.

The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses…’ the beautiful quote by E.E. Cummings rose again in my mind.

Carolyn had always loved that one. I used to leave little notes all around our tiny London apartment for her to find. Another thing our masters had used to crucify our relationship that had become too close for their comfort.

I shook my head. “Because I know her. Carolyn would never betray me or her country. I trust her word. Besides, she is no longer in that life. It wasn’t for her, all that skulking around, hiding who she really was. She only stuck it out for one year because of me.”

I stared at the computer screen at my elbow. My fingers itched to access the information Michael had uncovered even as my heart said I must trust Carolyn.

“I erased it all as soon as I read it,” Michael commented softly. “I didn’t want you to know I’d been snooping around in here. But Kitt couldn’t keep his mouth shut.” His shoulders lifted. “Sorry, Devon, but I was doing it for you.”

“For me?” My eyebrows rose.

“Yeah…” Michael stood up. “It’s been too long since you’ve had a woman in your life. You live like a monk. It’s not healthy.”

I frowned at that remark. I was about to reply when Kitt butted in. “Michael, I resent the implication of any oversight on my part. Mrs Bridges was quite upset. I had to assume Devon was already a party to the information I imparted quite innocently. I have already apologised to her for my error.”

“I’m sorry, Kitt. I didn’t mean to involve you. It was an automatic reflex.”

“Apology accepted, Michael. Now, since the truth has been uncovered the matter is closed. If I am no longer needed, I will bid you goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Kitt, old buddy. Sweet dreams.”

“I do not dream,” Kitt replied stuffily before the commlink clicked off.

“Am I forgiven for going with my gut?” Michael asked. “I truly didn’t mean to get between you and your lady. If she was who she said she was.” He looked around the office. “But there is a lot at stake.”

I stared up at him, so tall and confident in himself. As he saw it, he had done the right thing, by his strict code of ethics. I would truly miss his brash, co*cky attitude to life. It had kept me on my toes for the last four years. And shaved months off my own life, turning my hair more grey than it had been. Michael reminded me so much of myself at the same age and in my heart of hearts I knew I would have done exactly the same thing.

“If that’s what you want,” I replied. “Then I can forgive you. But Carolyn is another matter. She’s not FLAG business. After the wedding, she said she’s flying back to Santa Fe. She has a house there. She won’t be back in LA any time soon.”

“New Mexico at this time of year…” Michael raised his brows at me. “It would take a lot of beating. Clean air, sunshine and great views. Not to mention the long nights of desert darkness.” He shrugged. “You haven’t had a holiday in years. Well, not since I’ve been on the scene.”

He stood up to walk over to the windows and look out at the nightscape. He could also see his reflection in the glass. “We both know that Durant is still out there somewhere, hunting for me. He won’t give up easily.”

“Of course, I know that,” I replied quickly. “That’s why your wedding is being held behind those walls. He can’t reach you while you’re here. Then you will go on living under FLAG’s protection until he’s caught. You have my word on that. Even if I have to fund it myself.”

Inspiration hit me then. I didn’t have to lose them both immediately. “If the worst comes to worst you can both move in here until it’s over. There’s plenty of room. We’ll secure Rolands soon enough. Then you can go away on your honeymoon and live the rest of your lives in peace.”

I smiled slightly, trying to lighten his mood. “I hear New Mexico is very nice at this time of year.”

“Thanks, Devon.” Michael frowned at his reflection in the window. “But this place gives me the creeps, at times. I guess you’ve never figured out that this whole estate is just a real fancy, gilded cage?”

He looked back at me. “You’ve spent your best years living out Wilton’s legacy, not your own. I’ve got Stevie and I’m moving on. What do you have, Devon? This house and this office…” He frowned around the room. “It won’t keep you warm at night.”

His eyes narrowed. “I’ve always thought of it as a soulless place, full of ghosts and too many secrets.”

He pointed his thumb at my desk. “Another reason why I would never consider sitting there. No matter how much money you wanted to pay me. My soul is not for sale, not at any price. I’ve already told the board that.”

He came back to the desk to lean his knuckles on the far edge and closer to me. “Get out while you still can, Devon. While you still have someone in your life who loves you. Don’t you dare throw it all away because you’re too tied up in this place to see what’s right in front of you. I saw you two together in the foyer before. You were struggling to keep your hands off each other. What you have is worth saving.”

He grimaced. “You and I both know that none of us are irreplaceable. Jones is always sniffing around behind you, angling to be your replacement. The board would make him the new chairman in a heartbeat.” His lips quirked. “I seriously doubt if any of them have a heart.”

“I seriously doubt any of them do,” I replied slowly, frowning up at him.

“So, what are you going to do about it?” Michael demanded to know. “The lady returns on Saturday for the wedding. You’ve got three days to come up with a workable plan and stick to it. She won’t stay around to be asked a second time.”

His rueful smile was suddenly genuine and warm. “Someone just told me that New Mexico is very nice at this time of year…”

I was about to reply in kind when one of the telephones at my elbow rang. We both stared at it. It was a recent installation, red and a direct line to the White House. Whenever it rang I had been commanded to drop everything else I was doing and answer it. Someone, somewhere, needed saving.

“Blast…” I said with deep and meaningful feeling. “Great bloody timing.”

“Sorry, Devon. Duty calls, I guess…” Michael watched me with equally frustrated sympathy as I snatched up the receiver and pressed it to my ear.

※※※※※

Chapter 6: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

You Will Live For Me

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. It was a great day for a wedding.

I stood in the window of my hotel room, drinking strong black coffee and looking out at the view. I’d taken time packing my suitcases and making sure I had everything. I would not be coming back to this suite.

True to her word, Bonnie had sent over a beautifully embossed wedding invitation. It had arrived two days ago. The nuptials had been set down for eleven o’clock in the morning. It was a good time to get married, before the enervating heat of the day set in.

There was also a handwritten note to say Bonnie would send a chauffeured car for me. I was to make sure I had the invitation with me to get back through the gates. Remembering the armed guards and their close scrutiny, I double- checked the heavy gold envelope was safely in my handbag.

Two days ago, I’d booked a taxi to take me to the airport to fly back home to Santa Fe immediately after the wedding. I hadn’t any intention of staying for the reception. I would make my excuses and leave. I doubted they would miss me.

“Blast…” I’d addressed my reflection in the mirror the following morning as I applied my makeup with care and surveyed the result critically.

I could detect no signs that, after Devon drove away, I’d spent the night crying in my room before falling into an exhausted sleep. It had done me no good beyond giving me a splitting headache. I gave up wallowing in self-pity and got back to the welcome task of framing an outline for my next manuscript.

At least, in my books, Edward Grainger did and said exactly what I needed from him. Nothing more, nothing less. He was a very obedient hero, riding off into the sunset at the end of each novel without a single word of complaint that he never got the girl.

He’d always managed to keep my world on an even keel. Now it was wobbling seriously on its axis as I contemplated the day ahead.

I took a break and phoned Lucy to tell her of my changed plans for settling in LA. And about my intention to return home to New Mexico. I could admit I missed the lovely dry desert air and the long, cold nights. They were made for lovers and… Stop it!

Of course, my lovely daughter supported me in everything I did. “Hey, Mum. Don’t worry. It’ll all sort itself out. You just make sure you look after number one. That’s an order. Don’t make me come home.”

I smiled and agreed. I did not mention meeting Devon. Lucy was inclined to mother me if she thought I was upset in any way. I’d stayed with her for a few weeks after the divorce and been thoroughly spoiled. My children had taken my side in the divorce. Not that I asked them to. They were all old enough to make up their own minds.

Now my girl was living in Paris for the summer, teaching art at the Sorbonne. Of course, she spoke fluent French and several other languages. She was my daughter, after all and very creative. My heart was lighter by the time I ended the telephone call.

And then, a bolt from the blue. All my careful planning had come before I received a mysterious note from Devon yesterday.

I’d just returned to the hotel after indulging in some much-needed retail therapy and buying myself a very expensive wedding outfit from an exclusive boutique on Rodeo Drive. I knew my purchase suited me admirably and would give Devon a very good look at what he was going to be missing in the long, lonely nights ahead if he chose to keep his distance.

I recognised the handwriting on the envelope as soon as the receptionist handed it to me. Devon used to leave me little love notes and poetry quotations all over our tiny London apartment for me to find.

The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses…’ I especially loved that one. Devon often said he could drown in my eyes. I told him that was silly. What I wouldn’t give to hear him say it again now. ‘Stop it!

Those notes had been another nail in the coffin of our working relationship when our masters found out. We were not keeping a ‘professional distance,’ they said. Devon had tried to argue it was a very small apartment.

I smiled sadly at this new note, wondering if I should open it. I tried to see what it said through the expensive envelope. I’d made the break from my past - and him - cleanly and irrevocably when I had stepped away from Kitt. I kept telling myself I was going home to New Mexico. There was nothing here for me, not now. I bit down on the sudden quivering of my bottom lip, knowing it was a total lie. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Of course, Schrödinger’s cat came back into my mind, then. It seemed the contrary man had pushed the cat into a whole new box and dared me to open it. “Blast…” I said softly.

“Is there anything wrong, Mrs Bridges?” the young receptionist asked anxiously, seeing the signs of my distress. “Are you all right? Is it bad news?” She reached for a box of tissues expectantly.

“No…” I inhaled deeply, shaking my head. “Thank you, I’m fine.”

Of course, I wasn’t. I turned and headed for the elevators. I would open the note in the privacy of my room.

I sat down in the sunshine at the living room table. I turned the envelope over and over in my hands before I finally summoned up the courage to open it.

He had written a single line on a very old piece of paper that had been torn from some dog-eared notebook. Just like the ones he used to leave for me. ‘Wait for me…’ it said. ‘Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark…’

“Blast, blast and double blast…” I muttered, my sorrowing heart bursting with fresh desire.

Then there was a letter written on the same expensive paper as the envelope. He said he’d been called away on very urgent business otherwise he would have come to see me in person. He asked me to wait for him after the wedding. He had something very important he wished to say to me.

“Oh, Devon. If you ask me, I will say yes…” I got up as if I was walking in a dream.

In a way I was. But I didn’t want to wake up. We were finally going to have that long overdue talk. I had so much I needed to say and he needed to hear. I would find the courage to finally tell him.

I gathered my things and telephoned for a porter. I took the elevator down to the lobby and checked out. I asked them to take care of my luggage until I returned later in the day. They were happy to oblige.

“Good morning, Mrs Bridges…” Malcolm, the doorman touched two fingers respectfully to the brim of his cap as I left the hotel. “Are you being met, or do you wish me to call you a cab?”

His dark eyes ran over my elegant outfit with masculine appreciation. I knew suited me very well. His thoughtful regard lifted my spirits.

“Thank you. But I was told a car is being sent for me,” I replied, looking up and down the street. Just then a black limousine pulled smoothly out of the line of traffic and cruised up to park in front of me.

A uniformed chauffeur got out from behind the wheel and walked around the vehicle to open the back passenger door. “Mrs Bridges…” He saluted me and waited patiently.

“I think this is for you,” Malcolm said with a smile. He leaned a little closer. “Though for my money, I prefer the Trans Am. That looked to be one very sweet ride.”

He stepped back, reassuming his formal public expression. “Make sure you have a very nice day, Ma’am.”

“Thank you, I will…” I replied, smiling as I walked to the limousine and got in.

The door shut behind me, cocooning me in the hushed silence of the interior. The driver got in behind the wheel and started the engine. He glanced at me in the rear vision mirror. “If you wish for anything to eat or drink, Mrs Bridges, the bar back there is fully stocked. Please help yourself.”

“Thank you…” I stared at the back of his head as he eased the car back into the line of traffic.

I didn’t feel like anything to eat or drink. I wanted to reach our destination without delay. I was eager to see Devon again.

We drove in silence, all the way out to the headquarters of FLAG. We were waved through the gates and quickly scrutinised. I was asked to present my invitation before it was returned. There was a brief conversation with my driver before we were moved on, to make way for the next car in the line of attendees for the wedding.

We climbed the hill to the wide front courtyard to find it filling up with cars. My driver got out and opened my door for me, handing me out. Again he touched two fingers to the brim of his cap before he got back into his vehicle and drove away.

Immediately, a white-coated attendant appeared at my elbow, asking again for my invitation. I pulled it from my handbag and the man scrutinised it, comparing it to a clipboard he held.

“Thank you, Mrs Bridges,” he said formally, keeping the invitation. “If you would care to follow me. I will see you to your seat.”

“Thank you,” I replied, at a loss of what else to say.

There was no sign of Devon anywhere. But then I knew I shouldn’t really expect him to be able to make time for me on such an important day. I curbed my rising sense of impatience.

I couldn’t prevent a sympathetic smile as we walked past Kitt parked at the side of the driveway. He had been decorated with a JUST MARRIED sign sprayed in foaming cream across his rear window and a cupid’s heart shot through with an arrow. Two strings of tin cans and old shoes had been tied to his back bumper and trailed behind him.

“Good morning, Mrs Bridges…” he muttered, obviously seeing me walk past. “I am very pleased to see you again. I know Devon has been expecting your return. I am truly sorry you are not seeing me at my best. What they have done to me is deeply embarrassing. I am a well-oiled, state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind machine. Not some confounded freak show!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Kitt,” I replied sincerely. I did feel for him. “But there’s nothing I can do to help you.”

It no longer seemed odd to me that I was talking to a car. I touched the wing mirror in sympathy as I passed, then quickened my steps to catch up to my guide who had not waited for me.

This time we went around the house, following a long rambling path that passed between gardens of bright summer annuals and tall shrubs. There was a babbling brook, small waterfalls and ponds full of darting fish of all sizes and shapes. The magical wonderland then gave way to a large stone-flagged area leading down to the same long green oblong of immaculate lawn where the earlier rehearsal had been held.

Now it had been set with rows of white chairs on either side of a central walkway where a long white carpet had been laid over the grass. Long ribbons and bows of white silk linked everything together with bouquets of pink flowers.

At the far end of the aisle, the young minister from the rehearsal was standing nervously in front of a large floral wedding bower. He clutched his bible but this time he wasn’t checking his watch. Everything appeared to be running on time.

“Here you are…” My attendant conducted me to a chair at the inner end of the back row of seating and left me there as he hurried back to his duties.

I was comfortable with being so close to the rear exit. It offered me the chance to look around without being closely observed. I couldn’t help glancing sideways at the pathway between the twin rows of tall, waving cypress trees. But there was no sleek black Trans Am silently watching the proceedings.

Poor Kitt was doing his duty. I felt strangely bereft of his company. He had tried to reassure me in my distress. I had to remind myself he was just a car.

The birds were singing in the surrounding gardens and a soft breeze blew across the scene. There was a fountain playing with the chuckling sounds of running water. The mingled scents of all the flowers were sweet and heady. It truly was a perfect day to get married. Secretly I envied Stevie her wonderful happiness. And I prayed her future with Michael was all she wished it to be.

I breathed deeply, releasing it slowly as I looked around at the people filling up the vacant seats. I knew no one and no one approached me to make conversation. I could only assume they were all trusted employees of FLAG. I fell back on my old habit of twisting the strap of my handbag between my fingers and then commanded them to be still.

A sudden buzz ran through the assembled audience. I turned in my seat along with everyone else to see Devon, Michael and Reginald walking up to the wide stone steps at the beginning of the grassed area. They were all immaculately dressed in formal tuxedos and my mouth dried. Devon had never looked more magnificent or more desirable.

I wanted to run to him and say I’d forgiven him for Kitt’s overstepping his boundaries. I needed to tell him that. And I loved his note. But now was not the time or place for such a personal conversation. I could wait.

I watched him and Michael shake hands as the crowd buzzed and murmured with excitement. He put a hand companionably on the younger man’s shoulder, offering him his complete support. Michael looked a little dazed and braced himself visibly.

He looked down the long pathway. “Everything is so perfect…” I heard him say.

“Yes, it is…” Devon nodded as he slapped him on the shoulder. He stepped back and away from his friend, sending him on his way.

At that moment, his gaze encountered mine and he shook his head. But he didn’t immediately look away. I could feel the weight of his thoughtful consideration. I knew then he wanted to walk to me. My heart skipped a beat and picked up until I was breathless.

Devon’s gaze took in all of me from my newly styled hair to the elegant quality of my outfit. I could feel my cheeks warming beneath the intensity of his narrowed gaze which said he approved. I smiled tentatively. He looked relieved as he nodded.

Michael turned to walk slowly down the central aisle, closely followed by Reginald who couldn’t contain his excitement. He grinned in my direction as he passed, but I wasn’t sure he was looking at me. The excitement and chatter around me grew steadily with the expectation of the bride’s arrival.

Michael and Reginald continued down the walkway until they were standing in front of the minister. He greeted them with a relieved smile and a quiet word.

Then, almost by magic, Stevie appeared with Bonnie behind her as her maid of honour. The bride looked beautiful beneath her veil, smiling radiantly as she walked up to Devon to take his proffered right arm. They stopped walking with Devon watching her to make sure she was all right. Just like an indulgent father. They exchanged a few quiet words.

From somewhere unseen an organ began to play The Bridal Chorus. Devon moved slowly forward with Stevie on his arm. They came walking down the central aisle. Stevie didn’t look at anyone. She only had eyes for Michael who was waiting for her.

Devon barely looked right or left, but again his eyes met and tangled with mine as they passed my back row of seats. I could see the query in his. Was I staying or going after the ceremony? I nodded slowly and saw his patent relief.

Then they moved on down the aisle to finally reach Michael’s side. The two men turned to join them and face the minister.

“Who gives this bride away?” he asked.

“I do,” Devon replied formally.

He turned to Stevie and raised her veil with both hands. She smiled up at him as he stood back to admire the beautiful picture she made in the sunshine. Then he leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips.

I put my hand to mine, remembering his mouth pressed to mine as we rose together into that place that only true lovers can ever find. I sighed, closing my eyes briefly as my body burned with the memory.

“I forgive you…” I whispered against the press of my fingers. “For everything…”

Devon looked at Michael and nodded as he stepped back from the bride. His part in the ceremony was over.

“Dear family and friends…” the minister began. “We are gathered here to witness the marriage between Michael and Stevie. Michael, do you take Stevie as your wife? To love her, protect her and care for her for the rest of your life?”

“I do,” Michael replied.

“Stevie, do you take Michael as your husband, submitting unto him. Showing reverence to him in the union for the rest of your life?”

“I do,” Stevie with a wide, happy smile.

The minister turned to Reginald. “May we have the rings?”

The young man grinned as he raised his right hand, pulling at the ring on his little finger. For a moment it refused to budge, earning him a frowning look from Michael. Then the ring came loose and he handed it over with a cheeky smile.

“Take this ring and wear it…” the minister continued as Michael took his bride’s hand to place the ring on her finger.

“Take this ring and wear it,” he repeated.

“As a token of my love and fidelity toward you,” the minister went on.

“As a token of my love and fidelity toward you,” Michael repeated quietly.

They smiled at each other before Stevie removed a ring from her finger and took Michael’s hand.

“Take this ring and wear it,” the minister intoned.

“Take this ring and wear it,” Stevie repeated softly, pushing it slowly onto Michael’s finger.

The minister nodded. “It is a token of my love and fidelity toward you.”

“It is a token of my love and fidelity toward you,” Stevie repeated looking at Michael with loving eyes.

They stood holding hands, looking completely and totally in love in the warm sunlight.

The minister looked from them to the guests. “And now by the authority given unto me, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”

Michael didn’t need any further urging, turning immediately to his new wife to kiss her deeply and thoroughly. They seemed oblivious to everything around them at that moment.

Reginald nodded, looking happy while Devon and Bonnie stood on the sidelines looking on with pride. Their parts were now complete and everything had happened exactly as planned.

As the newly married pair finally drew apart the minister smiled. “I would now like to introduce to you, Mr and Mrs Michael Knight.”

Everyone started to clap as the couple turned to the crowd of guests. People began to stand up to press forward with their congratulations. The happy couple took their time walking back up the aisle toward me and I couldn’t have been happier for them. They deserved each other and looked so right together.

Suddenly there was a strange banging sound from the back of the gathering. I frowned. It sounded like a door being thrown open against a wall. Something barely remembered from another time prickled up and down my spine. A creeping sense of mortal dread I had not felt in thirty-five years. I just knew some kind of unknown evil had entered this magical scene to create chaos.

I turned to look behind the gathering to see a man standing in a ground floor doorway of the great house behind us. In his hand, he held a gun that was raised and pointed straight at Michael and Devon as they stood close together with Stevie.

“Oh, God, no!” I gasped.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The people around me moved, shouted and gesticulated like they were mired in molasses. Everything telescoped down to the barrel of that gun. It was all I could see, that black menace. From somewhere deep inside me old instincts rose up. I glanced back at the wedding party to see Stevie throwing herself in front of Michael while Devon pulled Bonnie down to shelter her with his body.

I knew instinctively that both of them were too far away to take down the gunman before he fired. Reginald was crouched, getting ready to make a run at him. I knew he would fail before he got halfway up the aisle and was shot down. They would all fail to reach the intruder in time. They were exposed and in grave danger of being fatally shot as the gunman adjusted his stance, preparing to fire.

No!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, trying to distract his attention.

I threw myself sideways into the direct line of fire as two shots rang out and people began to scream, running in all directions to escape as time and pain caught up and slammed into me.

Something hit me hard in both my chest and side, tearing away every ounce of my breath and leaving nothing behind but blinding agony. The screaming seemed to go on and on as I fell slowly toward the grass.

I felt hands grabbing at me, trying to ease my fall. I landed awkwardly on the ground and lay there, stunned and in agonising pain. The world went on around me. People running, chasing the gunman. There was the roaring of a vehicle’s engine somewhere in the distance, the squeal of tyres and then more shouting.

I wasn’t aware of anything else until Devon’s face came into focus close above me as I managed to open my eyes a little. I stared up at him, seeing the stark fear in his eyes. I marvelled at it. I had never seen him looking so afraid before. He had always been my rock, my anchor in any storm. I had always relied on him to save me.

“Devon…” I whispered, my tortured breathing seemingly lost somewhere far away. “Remember, we loved…”

“Carolyn, no…” he replied, drawing my aching body up into his embrace. “Don’t you dare die on me,” he whispered fiercely against my ear. “I won’t allow it!”

“You won’t allow it…” I spluttered, coughing up blood. “I don’t think you have a choice, my love…”

“I want you to fight. I want you to live for me… for us…” he whispered against my hair. “Please…”

“I’ll… try…”

My weary spirit wanted to fight back, but my body finally gave out at that point. The pain was too great and it had become impossible to breathe. I felt as if a giant weight had been placed on my chest, slowly crushing the life from me.

But I was where I’d always wanted to be. Back in Devon’s arms with his lips pressed against mine. Or, at least, I thought they were his lips. Someone was trying to breathe for me. I tried to tell them not to bother, but I couldn’t.

I could feel the life slowly trickling from me into the soft, fragrant grass. All around the birds were still singing and the scent of the roses was incredible.

I heard someone say, “Give it up, Devon. There’s no hope for her. She’s gone. Someone better call the cops.”

“No cops!” someone else snapped. “This is FLAG business! We’ll get the bastard and make him pay for this!” It sounded like Michael.

That was the last thing I heard. I didn’t want to go, but I could no longer summon the strength to stay. The whole world caved in around me then and I floated away into an abyss of darkness more stygian than the blackest night…

※※※※※

Chapter 7: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

Darkness Is Only The Absence Of Light

Devon!” Michael seized my shoulder as I cradled Carolyn’s limp body in my arms. “Come on! Getup!” His grip tightened urgently. “Or it’ll be too late!”

I ignored his commands. I tried to shrug him off. I wasn’t about to get up or give up.Not yet

I stared down at my love, willing her to live. For me…for us. I watched for the faint signs that she was still alive. I saw the almost imperceptible rise and fall of her chest.

I had been breathing for her. My lips pressed to hers time and again, but she was fading away from me. I could feel her life seeping slowly away.

My tuxedo jacket now covered her injuries as I tried to keep her warm. The wound in Carolyn’s left shoulder was the worst. It had taken her high but had missed her heart. A small mercy. The bullet she’d taken in her side had gone clean through. Shock and blood loss were my main enemies now.

“Don’t you go anywhere without me…” I whispered against her hair.

The husband of one of the guests –thankfully, a doctor- had worked swiftly to apply pressure to the wounds and staunched the flow of blood with the white material that had once been Stevie’s veil. Then he’d bound everything together tightly with the wedding ribbons from the decorations. He kept a vigil at my side, checking and rechecking Carolyn’s vital signs. The expression on his face told its own story, but he didn’t comment.

Carolyn’s face was now deathly pale. Looking down, all I could see was virgin white and blood red. I don’t think I had ever felt any more helpless or more consumed with such black rage.

I’d heard her scream at her attacker to distract him. She’d deliberately put herself in harm’s way and not given Durant enough time to aim and make his bullets count.

Reginald and Michael had chased after the bastard, but he’d gotten away in a van that had been waiting for him beyond the gardens. They’d crashed through the metal gate at one of the back entrances at high speed, barely missing the guards who had tried to stop them.

Devon!” Michael commanded again, gaining my unwilling attention by shaking me. “The helicopter’s all set! Come on! Get up, man! There’s no time! They’ve got to go if they’re gonna try and save her!”

His hard grip on my shoulder didn’t lessen. The pain of it shot through my body. Hands came beneath my arms and hauled me to my feet by force. Carolyn was taken from me against my shouted protests, but no one paid me any attention. A stretcher had been fetched and four men, including the doctor, hurried Carolyn on it toward the FLAG helicopter that had been fired up on the lawn beside the house.

I would have followed but Michael’s strong hands on my arms forcibly held me back. “No, Devon,” he said. “She’ll get the best of care in FLAG’s private hospital. There’ll be no awkward questions we can’t answer. But you’re not in any state to follow. Not yet. Not like this. You’ll only get in the way.”

“Getoutofmyway!” I hissed through clenched teeth as I tried to shake off his grip, but I was already too late. The helicopter lifted off and flew away, clattering out across the landscape.

Blastyou!” I snarled, finally managing to get away from him.

“Blast me all you want,” he replied in a hard tone. “But we both know that Durant won’t give up now that he’s made his move. He can’t afford to look weak, or he’s done for. We’ve seen his face and knew his real name. From now on he’ll be doubly dangerous. He has to try and finish this, and I’ll be right there to stop him. You have my word on that.”

He flicked a hand at my bloodied clothes. “Right now, you need to go inside and get cleaned up. And I want to know how he got in here in the first place. This place was supposed to be more secure than Fort Knox.”

“Please listen to him, Devon,” Stevie urged, taking my arm and shaking it. “You must. You need to focus. You can’t help Carolyn right now. She’ll be in surgery for hours.”

She glanced around at the crowd of guests watching us. “I’ll take care of everything here. We all have something we can do for Carolyn. She was very brave. She must love you a great deal.” She kissed my bloodied cheek before she walked away, calling for the wedding attendants to help her with her new arrangements. I shook my head at her calmness.

“We’ll take your car and go straight to the hospital,” Bonnie told me. “RC and I will keep watch over Carolyn for you. No one will get past us.”

“Yeah, Boss,” Reginald added grimly. “Nobody’s gonna mess with your lady again. Not on our watch. I’ll kill them first.”

He hugged me fiercely, followed by Bonnie’s quick embrace and a kiss on my bloodied cheek. They hurried away together toward the house. I watched them go. They were right, of course.

If we didn’t manage to eliminate the man we now knew as Kurt Rolands, then his shadow would forever hang over us all. He would not give up until he was caught and punished for his numerous crimes.

My shoulders sagged as I remembered the words I’d written to Carolyn in my note. I had been trying to recapture the past by looking to the future. I had surrendered to that most tenuous of things.Hope...

I whispered the words I’d written now as I followed Michael toward the house. “Wait for me… Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark…”

※※※※※

I wasfloating…That was the only word that made any sense out of the jumbled contents of my tortured mind. I drifted and glided inside my head, moving endlessly through a menacing white fog that kept trying to swallow me whole.

Where I was and why things were being done to me, seemed an irrelevant question. But if I concentrated hard enough, I knew I must be in a hospital by the whiteness all around me and the firmness of the mattress beneath my back. There was an almost aggressive smell of cleanliness. I could barely remember the clattering helicopter that brought me to this place, wherever it was.

Behind my closed eyelids, I kept seeing the grimly set face of the gunman and the weapon in his hand. His snarl of pure hatred as I foiled his plans. Again, and again the bullets slammed into me, and I was falling once more, back into that formless white fog.

Whenever I managed to float up again to a barely semi-consciousness state, I was forced to lay as still as possible. I’d found that if I tried to move so much as a single eyelash there was pain. Intense and agonising pain. The massive rock someone had placed on my chest had not eased its downward pressure. Breathing was a constant agony and I’d quickly decided it was almost not an option.

But something was breathing for me, rhythmically forcing air into my pain-filled lungs. My dry mouth was clogged with thick tubing and tasted of plastic. The machine hissed like an angry snake next to my bed as it inhaled and then exhaled. I wanted to curse it and spit the thing out, but it wasn’t possible. To move was to die all over again. So, I lay as if I was already dead.

“It’s the morphine…” someone said. “She’s already on the maximum dosage. We can’t give her any more for now. Her body wouldn’t cope. Unless…”

“There’s no more to be done. The rest is up to her. We can only watch and wait…” another voice commented.

There was a long silence before a low, grim voice said, “Then we will wait.”

There was such menace in that tone, an implied threat of violence. It snagged my wandering attention. I waited, wanting to hear more. I knew they were still there. I could hear movement.

“You need to get some sleep. You can’t go on pushing yourself like this, man…” a different voice said. “Or you’ll end up in that bed right next to her. Do you want that?”

I listened and tried to make sense of it all. But skeins of tangled cobwebs muddled my thinking. I couldn’t remember when those words had been spoken. I could not recall anyone coming or going in my dreams. They were all as ethereal as smoke. I drifted away between heartbeats, back into my all-consuming fog where the gunman waited once more.

I was totally unaware of the passage of time. Hours, days or weeks could have passed, and I didn’t care. I floated and tried not to move, praying for the pain to end. To be allowed to slip away into the blessed relief of final oblivion.

But something kept me tethered tenuously to life, however fragile. Words I barely remembered kept repeating themselves over and over inside my mind. It was a mantra I clung to like a tiny life raft tossed on a stormy ocean. I used them to push back the fog, the darkness and the gunman’s threat.

Someone visited me often. They would hold my hand and press their lips against my temple. They whispered those same words in my ear, “Wait for me… Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark…”

I drifted deeper and deeper into the welcome shelter of unconsciousness with those words as my one true comfort. Somehow, I knew I was no longer alone in the dark…

※※※※※

“It’s the morphine…” The nurse shook her head at me. “She’s already on the maximum dosage. We can’t give her any more for now. Her body wouldn’t cope. Unless…?” She raised her eyebrows at me.

I ignored her deliberate hanging question. I ignored her.

“There’s no more anyone can do now. The rest is up to her. We can only watch and wait…” Carolyn’s specialist trauma surgeon commented, watching me with deep sympathy in his dark eyes.

FLAG paid handsomely for the very best and the most discreet. The surgeon had certainly earned his salary. He’d spent hours and days working on Carolyn, keeping her alive to the best of his considerable abilities.

I shook my head at his unspoken question. I knew he was trying to say I shouldn’t hold onto hope. He wanted to let me down gently, giving me time to assimilate the inevitable. Carolyn was dying and there was nothing more we could do about that. We should just allow her to slip away peacefully. Increasing the dosage of morphine would ease her passing.

“Then we will wait.” I glared at the man, making him throw up both hands as he backed away from my implied threat of violence.

The decision wasn’t mine to make. That was for Carolyn’s next of kin to decide when we finally found them. But I would kill anyone who tried to end it for her. Only Carolyn could decide if she could stay or go.

I turned from him, not willing to accept his professional verdict either. They did not know Carolyn as I had known her.

She’d said to me,’If you never opened the box, then you couldn’t know if the cat inside was alive or dead. You could live with the not knowing and cling to the only thing you have left. Hope…’

Hope…I clung to that single simple word like it was a tiny life raft tossed on a stormy ocean. Where there was the tiniest spark of life, there was hope. It was all I had. I would not give up on her. I couldn’t. She would never have given up on me if she hadn’t been convinced of my demise thirty-five years ago.

“You need to get some sleep. You can’t go on pushing yourself like this, man…” Michael stared at me. “Or you’ll end up in that bed right next to her. Do you want that?”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I muttered, turning from his brusque concern as well.

Of course, I knew Michael always had my back. He’d been as good as his word.

He’s taken Kitt and tracked down Kurt Rolands. The criminal mastermind had worked his way into FLAG HQ by murdering one of the senior catering staff and assuming the man’s identity. The two men had looked enough alike for him to slide past our security checks undetected.

Now Rolands and all his followers were locked up in supermax prison awaiting trial. If found guilty of their crimes, they would be sentenced to death or life without parole. At least, there was no blood on Michael’s hands. Kitt had stopped him just in time from killing Rolands. A task I would have gladly performed if I’d found him first.

For the past two weeks, I had haunted this starkly white hospital room day and night. I no longer knew nor cared what was happening at FLAG HQ. The last thirty years of my life melted away like snow in the sunshine.

I’d taken the lease on an apartment close to the hospital, but I was barely ever there. I would shower and change my clothes - eat enough to keep me alive - and return to her bedside. I slept fitfully in the chair next to her.

As expected, the Foundation’s board had moved quickly to install a temporary chairman to make the appointment permanent if I finally declined to return. Angus Jones was a man without any family ties and very little humour. He was as efficient and thorough as a fast-acting deadly poison. The board liked him, and he enjoyed schmoozing them with his cold fisheyes and lean smile. They loved his attention to the tiniest detail.

He’d been after my position for the last ten years and his endless patience had finally been rewarded. Budgets I had made were being closely scrutinised and each line was challenged. Every FLAG employee still loyal to me was walking on eggshells and wondering if they would still be employed come Christmas.

I could do nothing to help them except listen. Bonnie and RC visited as often as they could and kept me informed about the changes and ongoing cutbacks. Michael had given me Kitt’s commlink watch. No one from the Foundation had asked for it back and I didn’t offer it up because they didn’t know the car was still around.

Bonnie had cleverly disabled his GPS, making him invisible to any unwanted snooping. Michael informed the Foundation that the car had been completely destroyed by Rolands’ henchmen in a final firefight and there wasn’t enough of it left to make a half-decent ashtray.

He’d enjoyed that encounter, telling my grim-faced replacement there had been a fatal weakness in the car’s basic design and they’d better rethink any plans to construct more Knight Industries Two Thousands. They would need to start again from scratch.

Jones had paled at the enormous expense already incurred, but he didn’t know enough about the top-secret project to ask any awkward questions. Kitt had always been Wilton’s dream and his legacy. But the huge losses were one more black mark against my name with the board.

Therefore, the most expensive vehicle in the world was now just another one of the many parked downstairs in the hospital carpark. Kitt kept vigil with me, a comforting and impartial voice during the long hours of waiting and watching.

I looked back at Michael now. I was well aware his choice to leave FLAG had been a wise one. Get out while you still can and don’t look back. Take Stevie and walk away. Make a new life.

He put a hand on my shoulder. “Stevie’s gone through the contents of Carolyn’s handbag and made some phone calls. She’s finally tracked down an address for her daughter. Seems Lucy’s been living and working in Paris for the summer. She’s contacted her brothers, and all three of them will be flying into LA as soon as they can book their flights. They should all be here by the morning.”

“I’m glad…” I sighed, frowning at the bed. “I hope they’ll be in time.”

“So do we all…” Michael raised his shoulders. “With them here, maybe then you’ll be able to get some sleep.”

“I’m not tired,” I managed the lie with a straight face.

“Suit yourself. But killing yourself will not save her. It’s in God’s hands now.” Michael shook his head as he turned and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

“Then God had better be listening…” I muttered as I approached Carolyn’s bed.

I stood looking down at her pale slenderness lying beneath the crisp white bedcovers. She lay still, barely seeming to breathe. The machine was doing that task for her.

I had developed the habit of sitting in the chair beside her bed and holding her hand. I spent hours reading her favourite poetry and some of her novels aloud until my voice wore out. Sometimes at night, Kitt would take over while I slept.

I tried everything and anything to bring Carolyn back to me. To make her hear me and to know she was not alone. Even if it was only to say goodbye.

“No…” I pushed the betraying thought forcibly from my mind. I picked up her hand and held it between my own as I bent forward to kiss her temple.

I sighed as I whispered in her ear once more as I’d done for hours uncounted, “Wait for me… Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark…”

※※※※※

I was dragged slowly from the mire of the abyss I had fallen into by the sound of familiar voices talking quietly in the room. I wanted to open my eyes to look but I was too afraid of renewed incapacitation if I moved.

But I felt different somehow. Slowly, I inhaled a single cautious breath and waited for the inevitable pain to bite into my cringing flesh like a rabid dog. To my surprise, the agony was still there but it was no longer as crippling. The weight of the stone weighing down my chest had lightened. I tried a second, slightly deeper breath and felt my ribcage expand and contract as I breathed out again.

The quiet voices were still conversing. I could hear decisions being made for me, without my input. I resented that. I could detect at least three people in my room, maybe more. Not one of them had noticed me or my tiny signs of consciousness. I gathered my courage with both hands. I decided I would try to open my eyes just a little. Just enough to see who was talking.

Their voices pulled at me, drawing me closer and closer to the surface. I strained to listen. Suddenly I knew them.Of course, I knew them. I’d given birth to every one of them. Tears gathered in my eyes as I struggled to communicate.

Edward…’I tried to whisper around the tube blocking my throat.

But I couldn’t speak. I concentrated on one hand, lifting it and flopping it back onto the bedcovers. I tried again and managed a soft gurgle.

“Mum?” My first-born child was beside me in an instant. He leaned down to look at me. “Hi, there, sleepyhead. You gonna lie around in bed all day?”

It was an old joke between us from when he was a little boy. He loved to sleep, and I always had trouble waking him up on a school day. My tears spilt over and ran down my cheeks.

“We’ve all been so worried about you.” Edward smoothed the palm of one hand over my forehead gently, pushing back my damp bangs. He leaned in to kiss my cheek. “Danny and Lucy are here with me. You gave us quite a scare, you know. Devon said—”

Devon…’I tried to speak again.

It was no use. I was forced to settle for widening my eyes questioningly as I stared up into my son’s handsome face with his mop of blond curls and deep blue eyes.

“Yes, Devon. He’s here with us…” He nodded, turning to look at someone behind him, motioning at him to come forward.

Then there were two sets of blue eyes looking down at me with deep concern mixed with cautious relief. One pair was younger and the other older. I stared up at both of them and my heart missed a beat. They were silently asking questions I couldn’t answer then.

My son and Devon looked so alike now they were standing side by side I knew there could be no hiding the unvarnished truth. My most closely guarded secret had finally caught up with me and I had no clue what I was going to say or how I would explain everything. But I did have very valid reasons for not telling Devon he had a grown-up son when I first found out about his very dangerous world.

Now, what could I say?’I closed my eyes in despair. For once, I was grateful for the intubation tube that was blocking my ability to speak. But I knew the time for confession would soon come when I was stronger and could finally tell my side of our tangled story.

※※※※※

Chapter 8: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Leaving Is Easier Than Staying

Two weeks later…

I was there, early in the morning, to meet with Carolyn’s trauma specialist outside her door. He frowned as he finally admitted he’d made a grave mistake by saying there was no more they could do for her. He laid out his thoughts for her immediate future and said he would talk to her children when they arrived.

“Thank you.” I nodded my understanding, easing his confusion.

None of these highly-paid doctors truly knew the depth and breadth of Carolyn’s spirit and determination. I accepted his terse apology and his handshake before he shook his head and left me to deliver the good news.

I eased myself quietly into the shadowed room and went to draw back the curtains at the windows. As had become my habit of long-standing, I sat down in the chair beside her bed to watch her slowly come awake again. It was my secret pleasure to see her eyelids flutter as she opened her eyes and became aware of me sitting silently beside her.

Day by day, Carolyn was growing steadily stronger. To the amazement of her specialist medical team, who’d been anticipating the worst, she’d finally regained full consciousness.

The intubation tube had been removed from her throat and she was now able to take liquid food. She’d lost weight and her face was still pale but she was alive and that was all that mattered.

She’d been badly injured and her wounds would take months of convalescence to heal completely. I knew there were other injuries that did not show on her body. They were there, reflected shadows in her sea-green eyes, which studied me closely now as I sat beside her. I wanted to be the one to take care of her but I could see she was already distancing herself from me.

“Good morning,” I said quietly, watching her watch me. “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m okay…” Her hand moved restlessly outside the covers and she sighed.

Our days had come down to this. Inwardly I wished she would say more. Ever since she’d regained full consciousness our conversations had become stilted. I was sure the regular doses of morphine she was still receiving were muddling her ability to think clearly. I worried about that too. I’d ask her questions and her answers were brief and at times a little confused.

We both danced around the truth like a pair of prize fighters too wary to engage. Of course, she had been too weak and stressed at first to be annoyed with searching questions. I still burned to ask that one question that hung between us as the biggest shadow of all. But no matter how I approached it in my mind, I could never quite formulate the right way to voice it.

‘Why does your oldest child look so much like me?’

“Edward, Danny and Lucy will be here soon,” I continued for something to say.

“That’s good.”

Carolyn’s children were very diligent. They brought light and happiness into the starkly white room. They came every day and stayed until their mother confessed exhaustion. I saw the deep, abiding love they had for each other and it gladdened my heart.

I knew they blamed me squarely for their mother’s grievous injuries and I couldn’t fault those conclusions. That world was a dangerous place. I well understood their grave concerns for Carolyn’s future. They’d already indicated they did not expect me to figure anywhere in her life going forward. I couldn’t fight that logic either.

They were a close-knit team and they’d closed rank around Carolyn. I knew I had no place there. Not unless their mother allowed me in and told me what she was thinking and what she wanted. Her children would respect her wishes.

Of course, I was painfully aware I should bow out gracefully and leave them to it. But returning to my previous life at FLAG no longer held any appeal for me. I’d handed in my resignation, effective immediately. The board had moved swiftly to replace me permanently with Jones who, even now, was slashing and burning his way through everything Wilton and I had built.

For the first time in thirty years, I was a free agent, to go or do whatever I chose. It was an oddly unsettling feeling. I’d spent days and weeks mentally reviewing my options. I was no longer young like Michael with youthful vigour to offer any potential employer. Of course, I no longer needed to work full-time, from before dawn to well past sunset. I could now indulge myself in any way I chose.

I sat back in my chair as a new thought came into my mind. I’d always enjoyed taking photographs. I had a drawer stuffed full of shots I’d taken over the years in the extensive grounds of the FLAG headquarters. Some of them were half decent and I knew I could do better. I shrugged. Maybe there was a future there for me now. Something to occupy my hands and restless mind.

The previous morning, Michael and Stevie came to say their final goodbyes to both of us. There were lots of tears and heartfelt thanks.

“If it hadn’t been for your bravery…” Stevie clung to Carolyn’s hand. “I’m just so sorry that you got mixed up in it all. But you’re gonna be all right. Right, Devon?”

She looked to me for confirmation and I cautiously relieved her concerns. “The doctors say Carolyn will make a full recovery as long as she doesn’t overdo things.”

“No one around here allows me to do anything,” Carolyn complained quietly, frowning at me.

“At least, Rolands will pay for what he did to you. And more besides,” Michael added. “I made sure of that.”

“I’m so glad you didn’t kill him…” Carolyn took Michael’s hand. “I didn’t want that.”

“Blame Kitt,” he replied grimly. “I was happy to beat the life out of the man’s worthless hide for what he did to you and others. I came close to doing it too. But Kitt said that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

“Then, thank you, Kitt,” Carolyn added quietly, looking toward the window.

“You’re very welcome, Mrs Bridges,” the car replied through the commlink Michael was now wearing again. “It is wonderful to hear you sounding so much better. We have all been deeply worried. I would not have you get hurt for the world. I am so very sorry it happened at all. It was a serious lapse in security.”

“I am better, thank you,” Carolyn replied quietly. “And I will get better still. And my name is Carolyn.”

“Thank you, Carolyn,” Kitt said, his tone full of warmth. “I shall treasure our time together. It is truly very hard to say goodbye.”

“But we’re only a phone call away…” Stevie bent down to kiss Carolyn’s pale cheek. “Should you ever need us…” She returned to her husband’s side to hug him tightly.

“Yeah, should you ever need us…” Michael divided his questioning glance between us. “Kitt can have us here in a flash. Just say the word.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I shrugged.

It wasn’t up to me. It was all about what Carolyn wanted from now on. If only she’d tell me what that was. She knew I was desperate to take good care of her, but she kept denying me the right to do so.

“I’m truly sorry for overstepping things with your personal details like I did,” Michael admitted then, shaking his head. “But, at the time, it all seemed a little too neat, your sudden reappearance in Devon’s life. I hope you will be able to forgive me one day. I truly meant no harm and I’m very sorry you got caught up in it all and got so badly hurt.”

“I can forgive you now,” Carolyn replied quickly, seeing the consternation in his eyes. “At the time I was deeply hurt and angry. But I can understand your motives.”

“Thank you…” Stevie breathed, bending down to kiss Carolyn’s pale cheek. “We’re so sorry you got hurt. It still gives me nightmares.”

“Yes, thank you. I truly won’t forget what you did for us…” Michael nodded before turning to look at me.

He could see how all this was affecting me. The inaction, the waiting for the course of my new life to be finally sorted out for the better or worse. He shrugged, giving me his silent support and looked away. He knew how much pain I was in but couldn’t offer any help.

Michael and Stevie left after a flurry of apologetic goodbyes and cautious hugs. My good friend shook my hand and clasped my shoulder, silently telling me not to give up. Surely it would all work out in the end. I just had to have faith.

“You two need to talk it all out,” he advised quietly, squeezing my shoulder. “Sit down and just start. What do you have to lose but time?”

“I know…” My breath left me in a rush. “I’ll keep trying.”

I could talk, no problem there. But Carolyn refused to answer me and looked at me as if she didn’t want me around. But I couldn’t burden Michael, not now that he’d made a clean break and gotten away from the dangerous life he’d led for the last four years.

They took Kitt with them as they moved further up the coast to begin their new lives. They’d talked about Michael’s idea of starting a private detective agency. I knew that with his police and FLAG backgrounds, Michael would be ideally suited to the work.

As the days moved on, Bonnie and RC could see the writing was on the wall at FLAG for them as well, and they’d expressed interest in joining the new firm. I wished them all well, though I would miss their uncomplicated company.

So, with a great deal of time on my hands and nowhere else I needed to be, I stayed here in this starkly white room for as long as I was wanted. FLAG had agreed to allow Carolyn to continue using their facilities for the short-term, but I was now the one paying her medical bills. I could afford them.

I had spent very little of my generous FLAG salary, since I’d lived and worked on the property for the last thirty years. The red sports car was my one true indulgence. I had more than enough money that I would never have to work again if I chose to retire. Or I could go out and purchase the best camera set up money could buy and begin again.

Carolyn tolerated my continued presence. She was polite, as though I was an acquaintance just dropping by.I was bewildered by the change in the sweet, emotional, very passionate Carolyn. Now this calm, detached woman watched me with cool, almost indifferent eyes.

I tried every tactic to penetrate her cool reserve, but to no avail.I had no idea of what to do next.I wasn’t used to being rejected by a woman, especially Carolyn, who had made it very clear she wanted me as badly as I needed her.

It was only when she thought I wasn’t watching her, or I was feigning sleep, that her need still showed. I could sense her studying me as if she couldn’t make up her mind about what to do about me.

That was some sort of progress, wasn’t it? I clung to the idea and tried to make it work for me.

But I couldn’t ask her what she wanted, because I was deeply afraid of the truth.Blasted Schrödinger’s cat has a great deal to answer for…

“I met with your doctor just now. He said you’re well enough to travel. If you decide to leave. He wants to talk to your children when they arrive. You’ll still need ongoing care.”

“Thank you. You… don’t have to stay, you know…” Carolyn moved restlessly as she watched me.

“I know…” I nodded.

She no longer allowed me to take her hand.She would pull back slightly if I reached to touch her.

I’d been shocked the first time she denied me.I wanted to say those words I had written to her in my note. ‘Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark...’ but they stuck in my throat. I drew a deep breath and managed to ask that one burning question.

“Carolyn…” I finally leaned forward in my chair. It was well beyond time I came straight out and asked. I didn’t try to reach for her hand. “Why couldn’t you tell me about Edward? Why does he look so much like me?”

She froze as she stared at me. I saw the frowning acceptance in her eyes. The time had finally come for a full confession. She drew a long breath and released it slowly, obviously trying to assemble her thoughts into a coherent whole.

“You left me there alone, on that railway platform,” she replied in a flat tone.”You lied into my mouth as you kissed me goodbye.You knew you weren’t coming back for me. Our masters had given their orders. I looked for you in Paris. You were never there.”

She lifted one shoulder offhandedly. “And then Ian was there for me, asking me to marry him. I… didn’t know then that I was already pregnant with your child. Your son.”

Her sweet mouth thinned. “That same day, our masters had told me you’d been killed in a terrible accident. They showed me your… body. I couldn’t take any of it in. My whole world ended then. I should have died too. But I knew I had to go on and make something of my life. Ian said he loved me and I believed him.”

I closed my eyes when I saw the tears gathering in hers.I’d always hated to see her cry. “And you felt you couldn’t tell me on that day when we suddenly met up again.”

“What could I say?” She continued to pluck restlessly at the bedcovers. “Hi, Devon, how nice to see you again. Great to know you aren’t dead, after all. Oh, and by the way, I gave birth to your son thirty-four years ago. I see you in him every day, because he looks just like you.”

I was about to reply when I became aware of quiet movement behind me. I turned to look, already knowing who was there. Edward was watching and listening.He looked shocked by his mother’s revelations and her unemotional, disinterested tone.

“The others have gone to get us all some coffee,” he said, walking into the room and shutting the door behind him. “What’s going on here? What are you two talking about? And why’s Mum crying?”

I shook my head. They were all perfectly good questions that deserved answers. But they were not mine to give.

“Come here…” Carolyn held her hand out to him, drawing him down to sit on the side of her bed. “You deserve to know the truth. I am so sorry I didn’t have the courage to tell you before. But then, I didn’t know…” Her eyes tracked back to me. “You see, I’d been told that Devon had died all those years ago. I’d put it all behind me and moved on with my life.”

She inhaled shakily. “His name was Edward back then, and we were both working for the British Secret Service in London after the war…”

Seemingly unconscious of doing so, she reached out and took my hand. I exhaled slowly, not daring to move a single muscle or show any awareness. I sat and listened carefully without comment as she told her son our story. The complete and unabridged version of our affair, our work and the unfortunate conclusion to all our hopes and dreams.

At the end of her recital, there was complete silence in the room. The man who had just been told he was my son took it quietly and without immediate comment. But his blue eyes tracked warily to mine and I could see the censure in them.

‘Don’t worry, I wanted to say, I’ve already said the same to myself. And more besides…’

Carolyn tugged her hand from my tight grasp as she became aware of Lucy and Danny standing in the open doorway. They’d heard the last of their mother’s frank confession. Both turned to look at me as well.

I stood up under their unwavering scrutiny. “If there is any blame in all of this then it’s mine alone. Your mother did the best she could under very difficult circ*mstances. I was not free to return to her.”

I raised my shoulders. “Our masters had also told me that Carolyn – Lucy – was dead. That she’d died in a car accident. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t know she was still alive and living in this country. And then, we met, quite by chance, in the street while I was buying a bunch of roses for a good friend…”

I swallowed tightly as I left it there. I could see they were not interested in my side of the affair. They’d already taken their stance on the opposing side.

“I see…” Edward drew a long breath and expelled it in a rush. “And you’ve been paying Mum’s hospital bills.” He waved a hand toward the door. “The nurse told me as we came in. She said we have until the end of the month and then Mum has to be out of here. But the surgeon’s just told me she can leave by the end of the week if she wants to. As long as she has somewhere she can go where she can take her time to recuperate fully and be cared for.”

His eyes narrowed. “He also told me Mum has to leave because you no longer have your job with the institution that owns this place.”

“You’ve resigned from FLAG?” Carolyn gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I shook my head. “It didn’t seem important when your life was in such serious danger.”

“Still with the secrets. You just can’t help yourself…” She turned her face away from me. “Please send me the hospital receipts and I will pay you back every penny. Edward will give you the details of where you can send them.”

“If that’s what you want…” I stared at her, seeing her cool dismissal.

I felt the chill wind of impending loneliness blowing at my back as she looked to her children. But I felt helpless to prevent what was happening. Lucy and Danny walked to her bedside to join their brother. They presented a united front, shutting me out. I knew I no longer had a place at the bedside. It was time to leave.

“I think it’s time I left LA…” Carolyn said quietly, taking her daughter’s hand. “There’s nothing left for me here, now. Take me home, please…”

※※※※※

Six months later…

“If you’re planning on overdoing things again today, like you did yesterday, then you’ll have me to deal with!”

I glanced up from my typewriter. I knew I looked guilty. I couldn’t help it.

Maria Flores was standing in the open doorway of my study with her balled hands planted firmly on her generous hips. She was my efficient live-in housekeeper, my uncompromising nurse and my very good friend. Not always in that order. Today she was my nurse, strict and unbending.

“What more do you want?” I complained with a rueful smile. “I’m sitting down and behaving myself. I’ve been here the whole morning.”

“And when my back is turned you get up and go for too long a walk in the hot sun,” Maria accused, advancing into the room. “You forget I have my spies everywhere. You’ve been seen overdoing it when you should be resting. We both know you don’t sleep well at night. I hear you moving around.”

She jerked an accusing thumb at the covered tray beside me on the table that held my noon meal. “And you’ve hardly touched your la comida. It’ll be cold by now. All my hard work and for what?”

“Por favor… But I… wasn’t hungry,” I replied quickly. “I wanted to get finished on my new outline. I just lost track of the time.”

“You don’t eat enough to keep a sparrow alive.” Maria’s accusing stare disbelieved my excuses. “And you spend far too much time in here with that Edward Grainger. You daydream about him all the time. Don’t think I haven’t seen you with my own eyes. You’re acting like he’s real or something.”

“He pays the bills,” I prevaricated quickly. “And your wages. I’ve begun to work on the idea of another trilogy now that I’ve sent away my last, completed manuscript.”

For the first time in a long time, I began to feel a sense of anticipation.My spirits were finally lifting from the gloom of the last six months. I’d gone through more surgery on my shoulder and then several plastic surgeries to complete my full recovery. The morphine had muddled my thinking for too long. I took myself off it before my doctors were comfortable with the idea, but I refused all their efforts to prescribe more of the addictive drug.

I would get by without it and handle to consequences as they came along. The pain of my wounds and the snarling face of the gunman did stay with me for some months afterwards. But they did fade with time and determination. I would not allow either of them to define who I was.

I knew I pushed myself daily to do better and walk further because I wanted to get back to the woman I used to be. I was impatient to be her again.

My children had wanted to stay with me in my house in Santa Fe. I had to gently but firmly tell them to go back to their own lives.If I needed anything, I would call them.Maria’s watchful presence was the final reassurance they needed. Their mother was safe in her stern, but loving hands.

The warm, dry desert air and Maria’s good home cooking and care had gradually restored my battered body. I slowly began to feel like the old me again. The woman who’d finally told her cheating husband to leave and got on with making something of her life. That had been the woman Devon had met on the sidewalk in LA when he was buying yellow roses for a very good friend.

‘Devon…’ seeing him again had stripped the years from me and sent me tumbling back into the past. I was twenty once more and so deeply in love with a dream…

Of course, my nightly imaginings were another matter entirely. In them, a very different ‘Edward’ often showed up. My escape from the memory of Devon Miles was not going to be as easy as putting some much-needed distance between us.

The last time we saw each other in that starkly white FLAG hospital room still haunted me. He knew I had decided to put him behind me again and move on. But a part of me wanted to beg him to stay, even as he walked toward the door. But the regular doses of morphine dripping into my bloodstream messed with my thinking and my ability to clearly say what I wanted. I could only watch helplessly as my children took control, thinking they were doing the right thing for me. They knew no better.

Edward’s warning hand on my uninjured shoulder and my daughter’s tight squeeze on my fingers were the only two things that kept me from crying out in my confusion. They knew I was a hopeless case and helplessly in love with the man who was about to leave me all over again.

They were not about to encourage him to stay. I knew they blamed him squarely for my injuries and for putting me in harm’s way. I shook my head, but the fog of medication refused to clear.

I felt Lucy watching my reaction as Devon paused in the open doorway and looked back at me one last time. I could see it in his eyes that he wanted me to beg him to stay. All I had to do was open my mouth and say the words. But my dry tongue seemed to be cleaved to the roof of my mouth.

Seeing my distress, Lucy bent down and kissed my cheek as she gave me her unconditional support. Of my three children she was the closest to me in temperament. Like me, she was an incurable romantic. She could see how much it was costing me as I struggled to make sense of it all.

“If we need anything we’ll call you,” Edward told Devon brusquely. “Mum’s in safe hands. We’ll take her home to Santa Fe where she belongs. Don’t worry. We’ll make sure she gets the very best of care.”

“Thanks for all you’ve done for her,” Danny added brusquely, before he stepped into my line of sight, blocking my view. “Goodbye, Mr Miles.”

And that was that. The door shut abruptly behind Devon as he walked out of my life for the second time. I choked back a despairing cry. But it was no use.

Resigned to being alone again, I did my best to get on with the business of living. I was beginning to do quite well too, with the help and guidance of an unexpected friend and secret confidant who’d been with me all through these last few difficult months. Someone Maria knew nothing about.

“Where have you gone now?” she demanded to know, watching me closely. “You get that look on your face sometimes. Like you’ve lost something precious. Edward told me about that Devon Miles guy you met who managed to get you shot. Don’t you go entertaining any more thoughts about him. He’s in your past and should stay there.”

Her frown was sympathetic. She didn’t fool me. My lovely Maria was a bigger romantic than I was. She just hid it better beneath her no nonsense exterior. But she’d read all my books, giving her unfettered opinion on every single one.

“That Edward…” she would often sigh as she closed my latest novel. “If I could just find a man like him…” She would shake herself from her reverie and go on with life.

“I wasn’t thinking about Devon,” I lied quickly, trying to control the flush of betraying heat in my cheeks. “I was just thinking… about my new trilogy. What I want Grainger to do this time. I need to take him somewhere new. Somewhere he’s never been before. Then he can have a brand new adventure while saving my next romantic couple.”

“Ah ha…” Maria nodded. “Well, I’ll go and make you a fresh pot of my special herbal tea. Then you will stop thinking and take your afternoon siesta. Just like your good doctor ordered.”

She picked up the tray from the table and swept from the room. I looked after her ruefully. She was right, of course. Everyone had my best interests at heart. But why did it all make me feel like a recalcitrant child who constantly needed to be reprimanded, fussed over and coddled?

I was brooding on the injustice of it all when the telephone beside me on the desk suddenly rang. My heart skipped a beat as I glanced up at the clock on the wall. I hadn’t been paying attention to the time of day and the hands were now pointing exactly to one o’clock.

“Right on time as always…” I shook my head in wonderment at my caller’s pinpoint precision even as I reached eagerly for the receiver and picked it up to press it close to my ear. “Good afternoon. I hoped you weren’t too busy to call with Christmas just around the corner. I have so much to tell you. But I’m afraid we don’t have long before Maria comes back…”

※※※※※

Chapter 9: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Can We Go Back And Start Again?

I stood among the rocks and scrub at the top of the cliff edge above Montecito’s Butterfly Beach and watched the sun descend the eggshell blue of the cloudless sky toward the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean. I held my camera at the ready, waiting for that precise moment when the blazing star finally touched the far horizon and set the world on fire.

I’d just lifted the viewfinder to my left eye, inhaling and holding my breath, when I sensed someone had moved up behind me. I knew, without turning, who was there, waiting patiently beside the flower-draped wooden barrier fence that separated the fragile cliff tops from the narrow roadway.

I didn’t move as I clicked the shutter and took the perfect shot. I managed a second and then a third before the breathless moment was gone.

“Hello, Kitt,” I said then, without turning my head.

“Good afternoon, Devon,” the car replied politely. “I trust you have been well since we last saw each other.”

“Very well, thank you. Did Michael send you out here to find me?” I asked as I turned from the glorious view and surmounted the barrier.

“Oh, no,” Kitt said primly. “As you well know, I am quite capable of independent thought. When you telephoned last week to say you were coming up to visit us for Christmas, I knew where you would be.”

“I see…” I stopped in front of him, frowning down at that single, moving red eye that seemed to see much more than any of us were aware. “Am I that transparent? But it is a magnificent view.” I looked back to the sun now sinking into the ocean.

On the other side of the roadway, lights began to wink on in the expansive houses that sat on the sweeping elevation above the curve of the beach cliffs. I looked further down the coast toward the big, two-storied, red-tiled, Spanish colonial that Michael and Stevie now owned. I knew they were waiting for me to arrive for another visit.

They often joked that I might as well move in, I was there so often. I didn’t tell them I’d come to resent my own company now that I didn’t have FLAG to occupy my every waking minute.

“Your excellent photography work has quite captured peoples’ imagination over the last few months,” Kitt continued. “I understand your most recent exhibition in New York was completely sold out. Congratulations.”

I nodded. “Thank you.” I looked back at the view. “Now I need to find some new material. I have a spring exhibition opening in London in three months.”

I shook my head with wonder at how much my life had changed in such a small amount of time. My photography has always been a hobby I tinkered with. I had never intended it to become the mainstay of my existence but now I couldn’t imagine my life without it.

Over the last six months, the work has taken me to so many new places. I had become quite the gipsy living out of suitcases and hotel rooms. But that new life was already beginning to pall. There was an emptiness I couldn’t avoid in the long hours of darkness when my dreams were filled with memories of another time and place. I decided I needed to settle down, buy a house and make a fresh start.

There was only one thing missing in all my plans. One vital piece without which my new life, at times, seemed as frustrating and barren as the old one with FLAG.

‘Luciana…’ my heart whispered, knowing it was impossible.

Carolyn had made it quite clear that the break between us was permanent and irrevocable. Through her son’s business address, she’d repaid every cent of the money I’d spent on her hospital care and that had been the end. She had left no forwarding address and no telephone number.

She left my life as abruptly as she had re-entered it. I couldn’t blame her. We should have sat down and talked things through while there was still time. If I ever saw her again that’s exactly what I would do. But the opportunities seemed very remote and unattainable.

Of course, I could ask Michael to track her down and he would be happy to oblige. But that wouldn’t be fair. I would not become a stalker.

Then, Carolyn’s son, Edward – a man I never expected to hear from again – contacted me several days ago. I was still getting used to thinking of him as my son. We talked for some time, clearing the air between us. He outlined his ongoing concerns for his mother’s welfare, but we managed to find enough common ground to agree that we should meet up in person after I returned from London. I knew it was a huge concession on his part and I was grateful he’d made the first move.

My heart lifted even as he insisted that our conversation was to be kept strictly between us for now. I was happy to agree. We were taking our first steps down a very long road toward a distant reunion. Would Carolyn be there too? I tried hard not to get ahead of myself and anticipate too much.

“I am very pleased for your ongoing success, Devon,” Kitt said now. His single red light moved from side to side in his hood as he appeared to be debating something. “Well, I might have an idea or two about where you could find some new material. Somewhere you have never travelled.”

“Okay, I’m listening…” I waited, knowing he would get around to whatever it was in his own good time.

“Not here. Not now. Come on up to the house,” he finally said. “They are all waiting for you. Get in and I’ll give you a ride.” The driver’s door swung open invitingly.

“Fine by me.” I shrugged and didn’t argue. I knew it was pointless.

※※※※※

My Christmas was quiet and uneventful. I spent the time at my daughter’s house across the city from mine while Maria went home to be with her own family. Edward and Danny came to stay with us for a few days and it was good for us all to be together again as a family.

Of course, Lucy fussed around me, mollycoddled and pampered me like a worried hen with a single errant chick. I sighed, even as I allowed it all without complaint. At times, I felt her watching me whenever she thought I wasn’t looking in her direction. She appeared troubled by something, but she never came right out and said what was worrying her.

“Are you okay, Mum?” she finally asked, after another long frown of concern. “I mean, really, truly okay, after all you’ve been through? Do you need to see your doctor again? I can arrange another appointment.”

“I’m fine,” I denied quickly. “More than fine. I’m almost back to normal. Please don’t worry about me. Maria does enough of that already.”

“If you say so,” she replied softly, as she shrugged. “For my money I do think it’s about time you took a holiday. You need to get away from it all. Somewhere nice and quiet where you can recharge your batteries.”

“Thank you, but I am happy enough as I am,” I denied her concerns as I hugged her.

To her credit, Lucy left it there, but she continued to watch me as if I was an intense puzzle she was determined to solve. I was equally determined not to give her anything more she could worry about.

She would be returning to Paris soon, to resume her teaching position. That work had been interrupted by my being grievously injured. She was looking forward to going, but hesitant to leave me behind. So, I put on my best face and tried to appear as if I wasn’t lacking anything in my life.

When he finally arrived, my eldest child did not ask about Devon, so I didn’t wish to broach the subject. He didn’t say if he had been in contact with him and I didn’t push the issue. It left me feeling dissatisfied. But maybe some things were better left where they were, in the past.

And then, I also caught Edward watching me with deep concern in his blue eyes. At times, he appeared to be about to say something then changed his mind.

I was grateful for my Danny. He was too caught up in his latest romance to worry about his mother’s emotional state. He was easy company and he made me laugh.

I returned to my own home two days after Christmas and the work I had to complete in the year ahead. I felt better than I had in many months. I was replete and happy with my lot in life. Or so I told myself until the long hours of darkness brought me my troubling dreams again.

The image of Edward Grainger inside my mind was now older and more mature. He was still tall, masculine and vital - as sexy as hell - but there was a sharp edge of bitterness to him now. As if he had finally gotten the girl, only to discover he’d made some kind of terrible mistake and allowed her to slip through his fingers without any hope of winning her back.

I shook my head in bewilderment as I slipped one hand beneath the collar of my shirt to trace the thin line of the scar on my left shoulder with my forefinger. It had all been a tragic accident, engineered by a bleak criminal mind. I’d accepted that. It was not Devon’s fault. The memories were always there, but the intense pain and the snarling face of the gunman had long since faded. I didn’t need the morphine to dull them now and I was pleased with that.

‘Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark...’ I jerked my hand away from my wound as I heard Devon’s pleading voice say those words again.

I sighed long and low, wishing I could go back and change things. Somehow make it all right again between us. We still needed to have that long talk about everything. But it was surely too late.

I concentrated on my work with a sorrowful heart. I was seated at my desk, ready and waiting at one o’clock on my first afternoon back home, when the telephone rang. Again, I marvelled at the pinpoint precision of my caller even as I snatched up the receiver and pressed it to my ear.

I smiled happily. “Good afternoon. I have missed hearing from you these last few days. How are you? How was your Christmas?”

※※※※※

“Sedona…” I stared at Kitt’s single moving red eye a few days after Christmas. I was intending to look around Montecito for a suitable house to purchase. Not go running off to Arizona. “Why Sedona?”

Michael and I were seated on lounge chairs next to his huge backyard pool enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Being almost seven months pregnant, and feeling every week of it now, Stevie had retired inside to lie down in a cool, shadowed bedroom.

Bonnie and RC had driven over to join us from their own homes further inland. Knight Investigations was now a thriving company, and they were all busy with their lives and enjoyed the work far more than working for FLAG. The Foundation was fast becoming a distant, if thorny, memory.

“I said it was somewhere you had never travelled,” Kitt replied. He was parked on the grass beside us, very much an integral part of the Knight Investigations family. “You said you needed some new material for your London exhibition.”

“What could it hurt?” Michael asked a shade too casually before taking a long swallow of his ice-cold beer. “I hear it’s very nice there at this time of year.” He grinned at me. “Not so hot as here.”

“You ain’t got nothing but time now, Boss,” RC added. “Sounds like a great plan.”

“Yes…” Bonnie nodded. “I’m told it’s some fabulous country for photography.”

A sensation of troubled confusion ran through me. I could not quite put my finger on why or where. But I had the distinct impression I was being set up for something. Old instincts died hard.

“I’m just sorry none of us can go with you…” Michael stretched lazily. “But I can’t leave Stevie now. And we’re far too busy investigating what needs to be investigated around here.”

He paused and frowned as if something had just occurred to him. “Say, why don’t you take Kitt along with you? We can spare him for a few days. That way you’d get there faster and be back here in time for the New Year. We can go look at some houses together. It’ll save us some time if I get up a short list for you.”

He seemed very pleased with his suggestion, looking around at the others for their confirmation. They all nodded.

“I’m sure we can spare Kitt for a few days,” Bonnie allowed cautiously, not looking at me.

“Yeah, it’s not like we need him for any of the cases we have on our books right now,” RC added, shaking his head. “They’re all locals. You know, cheating husbands and straying wives.” He grinned. “It’s the season.”

Michael nodded his agreement. “Then it’s settled.” He undid the strap of the commlink on his wrist and held it out to me. “You’ll be needing this.”

“Very well…” I accepted it. “I’ll think about it.” I hadn’t committed to going, but I could admit the idea intrigued me.

“It would be my pleasure to show Devon around the sights of the red rock country,” Kitt said in a buoyant tone as if it was already settled. “The Sedona rock formations are composed of basalt, sandstone and limestone. The city of Sedona is located at the base of the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment that runs east-west through the middle of Arizona and defines the boundary between the Colorado Plateau to the north, and the Basin and Range to the south. The Mogollon Rim is approximately 200 miles long and rises to almost 8,000feet in height at its—”

“That’s enough, Kitt!” I threw up my hands, interrupting his instructive flow. “Okay, you’ve sold me on the idea. But it had all better be worth the effort. People are paying me good money to give them just the right shot.”

“Oh, I can promise you it will be well worth the effort,” the car assured me comfortably with a slight edge of satisfaction that earned him another suspicious glance on my part. “I shall plan our route and make sure we can be there inside a day. You may leave everything to me.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Michael nodded wisely, watching me closely. “And if you’re thinking of settling down here in Montecito, then we could always use a guy who’s great with figures. Good bookkeepers who know how to be discreet are hard to find.” He saluted me once more with his can of beer. “Give it some thought while you’re away.”

I watched him steadily, mistrusting the openness of his innocent expression. “Thanks, I will.” I shook my head. What more was there to say?

※※※※※

“Sedona?” I turned the travel documents over in my hands. “What’s the sudden attraction with Sedona? I’ve got a manuscript to outline. It can’t wait while I take a holiday. My publisher has already given me an advance for my new trilogy.”

“Well then, you can combine both and take the outline with you. You said you’ve never been there,” Lucy replied, pushing the documents at me when I tried to give them back to her. “And you told Maria you wanted to take your Edward Grainger somewhere new. Somewhere he’s never been.”

My brow wrinkled. “Did I say that?” I looked at my housekeeper.

“Yes, you said you wanted to take him somewhere he’s never been before,” Maria replied. “So, this way, you two can go there together.”

“Then it’s all settled, Mum,” Lucy added. “If you take your new vehicle and don’t make too many stops, you can be there inside a day. What could be more perfect?”

Both women stood watching me calmly. I wanted to find fault with their assertions but couldn’t. The idea was very tempting. Sedona was a very beautiful part of the country, but I’d never considered using it before as a backdrop to any of my novels.

There would be snow at that elevation, and it would be magical. I spent a distracting moment imagining my tall, powerful hero dressed in a thick sheepskin jacket, black jeans and stout hiking boots. My mouth dried with longing as I quickly pushed the alluring image aside to concentrate on what my daughter was saying.

“I’ve given you two weeks to see all the sights and soak up the atmosphere,” Lucy said happily as she saw my resolve weakening. “I’ve booked you into a very comfortable hotel for your stay. You have the time to complete your outline and get started writing. What could be more perfect?”

She closed my fingers around the documents. “Do this for me. Because l love you very much and I want you to be happy.”

She smiled mistily. “I’m off back to Paris soon and I’ll miss you. I really need to know you’ll be all right without me. I love you, Mum.”

“Very well…” I acquiesced softly as I frowned at the sheen of tears gathering in her green eyes. “I’ll go if it means that much to you.”

Blast…’ I could never bear to see any of my children cry.

“Thank you…” Lucy exchanged a glance of relief with Maria.

As I watched them, a sensation of troubled confusion ran through me, feathering up and down my spine. I could not quite put my finger on why or where, much less who. But I had the distinct impression I was being set up for something. Something big. But I had no idea what it could be…

※※※※※

I was soon forced to admit, Kitt’s information was much better than any seasoned tour guide. He’d already made selections of what I should view and photograph long before we arrived in the small tidy city of Sedona. The design and colours of its architecture fitted neatly into the surrounding landscape of red rock country and rolling hills.

There had been some snow at this elevation, painting the many scenes of ochre and rust with a thin covering of pristine white in the sheltered hollows where the sun had yet to reach. When we stopped for gas in Phoenix and encountered the winter weather, I’d taken the time to dress accordingly. It had been a long time since I’d seen such a winter wonderland.

Everywhere I looked there were colours and patterns that pleased my critical eye and made me long to get out my cameras and start work. The early afternoon sunshine painted rainbow colours on the rocks and in the slowly melting snow. I sat back in the driver’s seat and looked all around as we pulled up in the carpark of the hotel Kitt had booked for me. Of course, we were exactly on time with his precise scheduling.

“I will be here when you need me, Devon. Use the commlink. I will look forward to showing you the sights I have already mapped out. I do think these next two weeks could be the beginning of something big. You really do need to broaden your horizons.”

“If you say so…” I regarded his small red screen with that same sensation of suspicion.

Kitt was not given to flights of fancy or illogical thinking. He was a machine. He saw the world strictly in black and white. And yet…

Before I could question him further, the driver’s door swung open, inviting me to disembark. Knowing it was useless to argue when Kitt went all squirrelly, I shook my head as I got out and the door closed behind me. Then the trunk opened as a young bell hop came hurrying up with his luggage cart.

I waited while the boy loaded the cart with my bags. He touched two fingers to the brim of his cap and then hurried back inside the hotel. I could understand his keenness not to linger outside.

The winter weather was bracing. The clear mountain air smelled like a fine wine. But there was also the chill factor and the slight wind was lazy, cutting through me rather than going around. I was glad of my denims and thick sheepskin lined jacket. I hunched my shoulders into it as I turned the collar up high to shield my face. I put my head down as I followed the bell hop into the warmth of the hotel lobby and breathed a sigh of relief as I pushed through the glass doors.

※※※※※

I knew enough about the elevation of the Arizona highlands to pack my suitcases accordingly. Late December would bring some snow, bracing air and cold winds. Since this was a fact-finding mission and I would be working alone, I opted for warmth over style. Jeans and a knitted sweater beneath my black leather jacket should be enough to keep out the cold when I arrived in Sedona. Thick socks and sensible boots completed my outfit.

I would be spending a lot of time out and about getting to know the area. I would order room service and use the evenings to type up my notes and get my outline in order. I was beginning to look forward to this new, unexpected adventure.

Maria helped me to load my cases into my recently purchased car. I didn’t tell anyone, but I was intending to leave very early the next morning to get there in time for lunch.

Maria seemed to be very happy that I hadn’t changed my mind about going. She hugged me and wished me well, telling me everything was going to be all right. Again that odd feeling of confusion feathered up and down my spine as I frowned at her.

I did feel a sense of loss when I told my telephone friend and confidante that I would be away from home for the next two weeks. I will say he took it well when he called as usual, right on time.

“I will miss you, Carolyn. But I will still be here when you get back,” he reassured me. “I do hope you enjoy your vacation. You deserve it. It will put the roses back in your cheeks.”

I pulled a face. “It’s less of a vacation and more of a fact-finding mission for the new trilogy I’ve decided to write. I need some background material.”

“Oh, a trilogy. How interesting. I shall look forward to reading them.”

I laughed softly. “I didn’t think crime thrillers with a romantic theme would be your thing. No offence meant, of course.”

“And none taken, I can assure you. You have vastly broadened my tastes, Carolyn. I have read all your novels. I will say I am quite keen to see how Mr Grainger gets on in his next adventure. I don’t have much excitement in my life now.”

“Well, I would rather have you safe than putting yourself in danger. I really can’t imagine my life without you in it. You have been so kind and caring through these last few months. I wish we could meet in person.”

“But I am here and you are there,” he replied logically but with a slight edge of sadness to his voice. “We must be content with what we have and not ask for more.”

“I know, but still…” I shrugged. “But I do understand. Thank you for all your wonderful help.”

“Thank you for taking my first phone call and not hanging up on me. I assured you then about the complete privacy of any future conversations we may have. I would never betray your trust in my discretion.”

“Yes, I remember and I was so grateful. I should be thanking you…” I smiled through the sting of my tears as my breathing hitched.

“Are you crying?” He was all instant concern. “Oh, my dear. It was not my intention to make you sad. Is there anything I can do?”

“Thank you, but I’m not sad,” I replied quickly. “In fact, I’m happy. Happier than I’ve been these last six months. These are happy tears. I can’t tell you how wonderful that feels. I’m finally whole again.”

“I’m so very glad to hear it.” He sighed.

I frowned at his sudden change in tone. I had the sense he wished to say more. I waited, listening to the slight hissing of the distance between us. I too wanted to say more, to ask the question that was always burning in the back of my mind. But I was worried I might not like the answer.

My telephone friend seemed to understand my reticence. His tone was noticeably brighter when he finally said, “I’m so very glad. Now off you go to Sedona and don’t give me another thought. Take your time getting there and make sure you enjoy your vacation. I hear it’s very nice there at this time of year. I’ll be right here when you get back. Goodbye, Carolyn and take care of yourself.”

“Thank you, I will. But I will still miss you. Goodbye.” I quickly replaced the receiver into its cradle and stared at the telephone for some time before I wiped my eyes and stood up.

It was only when I was halfway down the highway toward Sedona, very early the next morning, that a sudden, troubling thought surfaced. Mentally, I reviewed our last conversation. I was sure I hadn’t told him where I was going. A small oversight on my part. I’d only said I was going on vacation for the next two weeks.

How had he correctly guessed the name of my ultimate destination?

※※※※※

Chapter 10: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

The Past Is A Foreign Country

I arrived nearly an hour earlier than I expected in the small city of Sedona. I was so eager to arrive, that I made only one stop for gas and to use the restroom. The traffic was light and mostly flowing in the opposite direction. I felt quite pleased with myself.

My powerful new vehicle had eaten up the miles and I could admit my foot had been a little too heavy at times. My telephone friend had advised me on the choice. I’d been hesitant at first, but he assured me it was an excellent purchase from a reputable manufacturer. He wanted me to be safe and I appreciated his care for me.

I smiled as I pulled up in the hotel carpark and sat in the cocoon of warmth and new car smell. I removed my sunglasses and tossed them aside on the dashboard as I looked through the windscreen. The early afternoon sunshine painted bright colours and points of light on the lovely scene of red rocks and a melting covering of overnight snow.

The city’s style of architecture blended well with the surrounding wilderness. It was a perfect setting for a crime novel with a romantic theme. I felt my spirits rise even further with anticipation. As always, my friend on the other end of the telephone line had been unerringly accurate. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. He was not given to flights of fancy.

“Thank you…” I smiled as I opened the door and got out just as a young bellhop came hurrying up with his luggage cart. I thanked him as he loaded the cart with my suitcases.

“All part of the service…” He grinned as he touched two fingers to the brim of his cap and then hurried back toward the hotel.

I could understand his keenness not to linger outside. The sharp winter weather was bracing. The clear mountain air smelled like the finest wine. But there was also the chill factor and the cold wind was lazy. It tried to cut right through me rather than going around. I was glad for the warmth of my jeans, thick sweater and leather jacket. I settled my body deeper into my clothing as I turned the collar up to shield my cheeks from the biting cold.

I quickly followed the bellhop’s lead toward the warmth of the hotel lobby. I frowned as I noticed a man who was walking some way ahead of me, also keen to get inside out of the cold. His strides were long and impatient as he followed his bellhop toward the front doors.

My breathing snagged in my throat as I stared at his back view. He was tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a heavy sheepskin jacket, that only added to his size, over black jeans and sensible hiking boots. My mouth dried and my heart skipped a beat with a sudden surge of desire.

“Oh, come on…” I shook my head in disbelief.

One glance and I was gone. But I’d never expected my mental image of my romantic hero to come so vividly to life right before my eyes once again. I knew it wasn’t Devon this time. It couldn’t be... He was still hundreds of miles away in LA and besides, sheepskin jackets and denims were certainly not his style. Nor were those sensible boots.

Over the last six months, I’d imagined him safely back behind some corporate desk somewhere, dressed in one of his tailored Saville Row suits, as he saved the world from a new kind of disaster once more. It was the burning question I’d wanted to ask my telephone confidante.

What was Devon doing with himself now he was no longer running FLAG? The mental image kept me from trying to re-establish contact with him.

I knew it was impossible for me to go back. The memories were just too painful and I was not that big a fool to think we could make it work if he was still putting his life in danger for the greater good.

Impelled by feminine curiosity, I hurried my steps to catch up with the man ahead of me before I lost sight of him in the hotel. I couldn’t see the colour of his hair because the wide collar of his jacket was turned up against the back of his head. Therefore, I could happily imagine his hair to be blond and curling, long at the nape of his neck, and his eyes a deep and beautiful blue.

‘Oh, yes, please…’

Of course, I knew real life was never going to be as good as fiction. I tried to rein in my galloping expectations and resigned myself to finding out he was older than I imagined with ordinary brown eyes and hair, and probably going bald. My mouth thinned as I sighed.

“And he’ll be married, as well…” I clung to my sense of anticipation for a few moments longer as the man reached out one large hand to push through the glass doors leading into the hotel’s lobby.

I quickened my steps to catch up, the heels of my boots tapping on the tiled entranceway. He must have heard me approaching because he stood aside and held the door open for me to pass through ahead of him. His innate courtesy made me smile even as my insides turned to jelly with fresh wanting.

Surely, he couldn’t look as delicious as he first appeared…

And then time seemed to telescope down to a crawl. I became aware of his large, capable hand, with its sprinkling of fine golden hairs on the back, easily holding the door open for me.

I vividly remembered those same long fingers caressing my skin and my breathing got all tangled up with a burning rush of desire that went straight to the most intimate parts of my body. The man had been always like an addictive drug. He’d been young and incredibly vital then, and I could never get enough. Not if we’d had all of eternity together…

The watch on his left wrist was a newer model than the old one he used to wear with its brown leather strap. This watch was large and looked very expensive. A man’s watch, for someone used to being in charge. He smelled divine and he was still as sexy as hell...

I inhaled him deeply, setting off all sorts of alarm bells inside me. It was a clean, fresh aftershave that only added to his already high level of sophistication. I knew it was a very expensive brand and very hard to source in this country. I never expected to ever smell that same cologne again.

I lifted my eyes to his face and the world seemed to tilt and fall away beneath my feet. I raised one hand to my open mouth to try and cover my shock…

※※※※※

Her beautiful sea-green eyes collided with mine and I could never afterwards say which of us was the more surprised. I certainly knew I looked as utterly stunned as I felt. She leaned back against the glass door behind her as if she was about to fall.

“Devon?” I heard my name spoken but I could not believe what I was hearing.

I closed my eyes for a second.’No, it couldn’t be…’

She tried again. “Devon? I… What are you doing here?”

I opened my eyes as I inhaled her fresh perfume. It filled my parched senses anew. I knew it was her. I would have known her anywhere. Mingled with the heady scent from the large crystal vases full of roses in the lobby, once more she seemed like the very essence of a warm summer’s day. Only it was December and cold outside. It didn’t matter…

‘My sweet, beautiful Luciana…

The colour in her cheeks had abruptly changed from a rosy warm from the cold outside to ashen pale with shock. By reflex, I held the door open with my back as I reached to take her arm in case she did fall.

“Luciana… I mean, Carolyn…” I shook my head in bewilderment. “What are you doing here?”

I noticed she didn’t make any attempt to pull away from my grasp on her upper arm. She seemed incapable of movement. She stared up at me with wide-open eyes above her fingers that were pressed against her trembling lips. The voice of her eyes was truly deeper than all roses and I found myself drowning in their clear depths…

※※※※※

“Devon…” I finally managed to say again. “What exactly are you doing here? I mean, here in Sedona.”

I couldn’t move and I couldn’t help staring up at him with my fingers still against my open mouth. ‘Luciana…’ His intimate name for me arrowed right to the very heart of my being. I’d always loved hearing him call me that.

Cuisle mo chroí… the pulse of my heart…’ I wanted to hear him say that again too.

The first time we met again, after thirty-five years, he’d been wearing an expensive tailored suit and tie. Then, in those weeks while I was recovering in hospital, he’d abandoned the jacket and tie. He’d opened the collar of his business shirt and rolled up his sleeves. He sometimes appeared unshaven, adding a level of rumpled sexiness that I hadn’t expected to see and silently desired.

Until this moment, I truly didn’t know how much I’d missed him. He was my love and had been my lover. How could I not miss him? My breathing got all tangled up with vivid memory.

I did my best to process his new look. He’d been gorgeous enough in his expensive business attire, but now he was mouth-wateringly magnificent. And close enough to me that all I had to do was take two steps and I would be in his arms. The wanton temptation was there, hidden in plain sight.

I dropped my hand from my lips. “Oh, Devon…”

I became aware of other people wanting to get into the hotel and they were pushing past us as we semi-blocked the open doorway. There were comments made and words said that were not complimentary.

“Come on…” Devon shook his head as he used his grip on my upper arm to draw me away from the doors. “We can’t talk here,” he said. “We’ll get checked in and then sort out what we’re going to do.”

“No, I don’t think I’ll be staying after all.” I stiffened in his hold. “I’ll collect my luggage and drive back to Santa Fe. If I leave now, I should make it by nightfall. It’s been… nice to see you again.”

I tried to remove my arm from his close grip, but he was having none of it. “Please let me go,” I begged softly, not wishing to make a scene.

“No, Carolyn. Not until we’ve talked. I promised myself that if we ever met again, we were going to talk. About everything. I want there to be no more secrets between us. No more misunderstandings. We owe that to the Edward I used to be and to your son… our son. You will stay one night and then, if you still want to leave in the morning, I won’t lift a finger to prevent you.”

I stiffened my stance. “I won’t agree to stay unless I’m completely free to go in the morning if I decide to do so.”

Devon watched me closely. “If you really want to leave in the morning, then I swear I won’t try to stop you.”

“You stopped me this time.” I frowned up at him.

He leaned closer. “Did I? he asked softly. “Did I?”

“I…” I was at a loss for what else I could say. He’d left the exit wide open. All I had to do was turn and walk away. Leave him behind once more.

Oh, he was very good… I closed my eyes as my stomach tightened and my resistance crumbled. He’d played his trump card by mentioning our son and he knew it.

“Very well…” I allowed him to take charge of the situation and followed his lead.

Devon told the receptionist our names and she greeted us with a full-wattage smile which didn’t quite meet her eyes. She frowned, looking somewhat non-plussed for a moment at seeing us together, but recovered quickly as she assigned us our rooms. I noted that they were consecutive numbers. Deep suspicion that we’d been neatly set up settled into my bones and I started to figure out who the culprits were.

The young woman turned the registration book back around and her smile widened. “I’ll have your luggage sent up to your rooms.” She handed over the keys to our rooms and then hesitated. “Ah, the hotel’s restaurant is open for lunch if either of you two are hungry.” She beamed at us expectantly.

Devon raised his eyebrows at me. “Are you hungry?”

“Well, yes…” I nodded quickly even though my stomach was in knots. “I could eat something light.”

“Oh, I think you’ll find our steaks are excellent or may I suggest the Lobster Thermidor,” the receptionist added brightly. “It’s a speciality of the house. Good food helps to keep the cold out. The restaurant is that way.” She waved an expansive hand toward a set of fancy glass doors on the far side of the lobby. “Bon Appetit.

My nervous stomach revolted at the thought of such rich food, but I nodded quickly. “That all sounds lovely.”

“Come on…” A note of wry amusem*nt underscored Devon’s command as he took my arm again and escorted me toward the doors.

The maître d’ greeted us fulsomely and escorted us to an empty table set in front of the windows overlooking the entrance to the hotel. The place was half-full so we were conveniently isolated, and no one could overhear what we were about to say to each other.

“Please sit down.” Devon drew out my chair for me.

I thanked him as I shed my jacket, and he hung it on the back of my seat. As I sat down, I noticed the commlink on his right wrist. I remembered he used it to communicate with Kitt when I was in the hospital. Sometimes Kitt had talked to me directly through it. The tiny red light winked at me, and I knew the car was listening to our conversation.

I waited until Devon removed his heavy sheepskin jacket and took his seat on the other side of the table. His knees brushed closely against mine, beneath the cover of the tablecloth. I tried not to notice the electric contact as the maître d’ handed us our menus and summoned a waiter before he bustled away. The waiter took our drinks order and left us alone.

“I see you’ve brought Kitt with you,” I said to Devon as he opened his menu. “Are you both on some kind of new, undercover mission to save the world? Is that why you’re here together?”

I waited for his answer and dreaded it. Everything inside me froze with the expectation that my dreams were about to be dashed once more.

I couldn’t stay here if he was still putting his life in danger. I could not go back there again. Without thinking, I pressed two fingers to the scar on my shoulder as I waited for his reply.

※※※※※

I lowered my menu to look across at her. “No, I’m permanently out of the business of saving the world. I have other work to keep me occupied now. Kitt’s only on loan for the next few days. He usually works with Michael in his private investigation work back in LA.”

“Oh, I’m so glad.” Carolyn nodded quickly. “I hated to think of you still putting your life in grave danger.” She’d pressed two fingers to where she’d been shot in her left shoulder but now, she lowered her hand as her tight expression slowly relaxed. “You must tell me all about what you’re doing now. It sounds… interesting.”

“It is…” I took heart from those words.

They said that she was considering staying long enough for me to tell her about my photography work and why I was here in Sedona. I could see she was trying to make sense of it all. Who had engineered this neat little plot to bring us together again and why.

“I think we both know we’ve been set up by some well-meaning people,” I commented evenly. “And the only world I’m trying to save now is the one we once had back in London. The world of you and me.”

I saw how the honesty of my words impacted her. I moved my knee against hers deliberately beneath the table again. She didn’t pull away or object. I watched as her pale cheeks slowly regained their colour and then turned a deeper shade of embarrassed rose. I knew I would never tire of looking at her.

Cuisle mo chroí… the pulse of my heart…’ The Irish in me rose up and began to sing that same sweet refrain again. I couldn’t help it. ‘Grá mo chroí… love of my heart…’

I sighed heavily as I absorbed her soft beauty. There was so much more I wanted to say to her.

We were back in front of Schrödinger’s confounded puzzle box again. Now we both needed to find the courage to open it and discover the truth. Was our love truly dead or still alive and worth our efforts to try and save it?

I shook my head. “On my side, I have Michael, Stevie, Bonnie and RC. They’ve all moved up to Montecito and started their own investigations enterprise together. I’m sure even Kitt had a hand in this reunion somewhere. It was his idea I come out to Sedona to see the sights.”

“Lucy, my loving daughter who adores a happy ever after ending to any romance,” Carolyn confessed with a deeply rueful smile. “Along with Maria, my housekeeper and good friend. They conspired to get me here. I doubt either of my sons know anything about this meeting and it’s best if it stays that way.”

She paused and shifted uncomfortably as if she was about to make some momentous confession. I held my breath. ‘Now what?’

“And Kitt,” she finally said in a rush of exhaled breath. “He and I have been talking over the telephone for the last four months or so. He’s a very good listener and has become a friend. Or so I thought.”

The commlink on my wrist beeped. “I’m sorry, Devon. But we could all see you were both deeply miserable.” Kitt paused and then said, “And Carolyn, you arrived nearly an hour earlier than I anticipated. I must apologise if you think I have deceived you in any way. It was never my intention and all who love you could see you were suffering. I did my very best to help. I am a very good listener.”

“Yes, you are,” Carolyn acknowledged. “And I appreciate all your help and thank you for it. We will talk about it at another time. But I’m not angry with you.”

“Thank you,” Kitt replied. “I would not wish to offend anyone. We all did what we thought was for the best. You both have unresolved issues that need to be worked out.”

“You haven’t offended me.” Carolyn looked back at me. “But this is a deeply personal conversation we need to have between the two of us. Good afternoon, Kitt.” She pointed to the commlink on my wrist. “Please turn it off and take it off.”

“Of course,” I responded immediately. I pressed the off button and then unbuckled the commlink from my wrist. I pushed it deep into the side pocket of my jacket draped on the back of my chair.

“Thank you.” Carolyn nodded, seeing that I was prepared to do anything and everything she asked of me without hesitation.

I felt the tension in my body easing slightly. Maybe things were going to be all right between us after all. I felt sure she was going to stay. At least for one night. Surely that would be all I needed to get her to stay with me forever…

※※※※※

I was relieved to see Devon did not argue about the commlink. I didn’t want there to be any more misunderstandings between us. We really did need to talk. It was so very long overdue. The first words would be the hardest to say.

The waiter reappeared with our drinks and asked if we were ready to order. That took the focus off us and back onto the mundane. I opted for a light meal of pan-fried fish and a green salad.

Devon settled on a meal of char-grilled steak with French fries. Inwardly, I marvelled at his ability to eat anything when my insides were all in a tangled mess of conflicting emotions.

I took a moment’s refuge in the fruit juice I ordered. Then I looked up again and found him watching me. I knew he was waiting for me to begin the conversation we should have had the day we met and for me to be comfortable expressing my thoughts.

“That day we met again, back in LA...” I drew a long steadying breath and released it. “I really did think I was dreaming. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t you, it couldn’t be. But something deep inside me knew the truth. I would have known you anywhere.”

I raised one shoulder. “That morning I felt as if I was twenty again. As if everything that had happened between our last goodbye and that moment had only been some kind of strange dream. I felt as if I was dreaming. You had come back to me, and I couldn’t have asked for more, then.”

“I wasn’t even sure you were real…” Devon turned his dewy glass of iced mineral water with his long fingers. I stared at the movement of his elegant hand. The memory of his intimate touch shivered through me.

“But we’re no longer those same two young, starry-eyed lovers who couldn’t get enough of each other,” I admitted softly. “We grew up. We changed and became other people. I married someone else because they told me you had died. There was nothing else I could do.”

“There was nothing left for me in the UK when they said you were dead.” Devon’s blue eyes clouded with regret as he looked across the table at me. “That day in LA, I tried to tell you that the world I moved in when I was with FLAG could not be for us. And look what it did to you. It nearly got you killed all over again.”

“And that was entirely my own fault for not listening to you,” I quickly absolved him of all blame. “Someone once said that the past is a foreign country and there cannot be any going back to the way things used to be. No matter how much we wish it could be so. I can see the truth of that now. We cannot change a single thing of what happened.”

The waiter appeared with our meals, stifling our conversation. He left us alone again after Devon assured him we needed nothing more and were happy with the service.

Devon sighed as he frowned at me. “I agree we cannot go back to the way things used to be between us. But surely, we can go forward. If that’s what you want. There’s so much more we need to say to each other.”

His brow cleared as he regarded me steadily. “We fell in love and something rare and beautiful was created. Our son is the living testament to that. For me, every minute we spent together has been seared into my memory. I’ve never forgotten a single moment.”

He held my gaze for several rapid heartbeats before he looked down and began dealing with his meal with quick, economic movements. The silence stretched between us stretched into minutes. I knew he was waiting for me to say if I was still considering staying or going. He’d given me that option when we first checked in.

“What we had was rare and very beautiful…” I finally said, as I pushed my food around the plate.

My small appetite had left me. I wanted other things. I needed things other than food. I’d decided I would stay the night.

I was deeply aware we were standing before Schrödinger’s puzzle box once more. We both needed to find the courage to open it and discover the ultimate truth. Was our love long dead and buried or was it still alive and worth our efforts to try and save it?

I decided not to hesitate any longer. One of us had to make the first move. And Devon was silently asking me to make it. To accept the now and see where it could take us. He knew what he wanted.

I put down my fork and held out my hand across the table between us. “Good afternoon,” I said cordially. “I’m Carolyn Bridges, and you are?”

“Devon Miles…” His sudden smile of relief told me all I needed to know.

Within an instant his hand was clasping mine and the tip of his middle finger began to move lightly, unconsciously caressing, across the betraying pulse that was leaping inside my inner wrist. It was something he often did when we first got together. It was one of the many things he did that made me fall in love with him. That hadn’t changed in the last thirty-five years. My abiding passion for this beautiful man was as immutable and undeniable as the red rocks all around us.

Of course, the intimate contact tingled instantly along all my senses. I couldn’t prevent the rush of warmth that flooded into my cheeks. But this time I didn’t pull away as I looked deeply into his beautiful eyes and felt as if I could drown in their clear blue depths.

“We could go for a walk,” I said impulsively, drawing my hand slowly back from his warm grasp. “We could be alone.”

As if in answer to my query, the wind outside picked up some of the small snowdrifts and threw them against the huge picture windows beside us. Devon shook his head as he pushed his half-empty plate aside. He waved his hand at the maître d’ to bring him the bill.

“Or maybe not…” I shrugged as Devon settled our account with cash he’d pulled from his wallet.

“We could go for a drive,” he offered. “We still have a lot to talk about and catch up on. We could find a quiet place to park, away from any interruptions.” He looked around the slowly emptying restaurant and the ever-present wait staff who were still watching us expectantly when we made no move to leave.

“All right. But we’ll take my car,” I added quickly as I pushed back my chair and stood up.

I gathered my jacket and shrugged it on. Devon rose to his feet and did the same, settling the heaviness of his sheepskin jacket onto his shoulders. I tried not to stare up at him as he came around to my side of the table, but I couldn’t help it.

“Understood,” he said quietly, knowing I meant I did not wish for Kitt to overhear what we had to say to each other.

He stood aside to indicate I should go before him. Instead, I wrapped both hands around his left bicep and hugged his arm against my chest. He lifted one hand to close his fingers over mine as we crossed the lobby and headed toward the main doors and the cold world outside.

※※※※※

Chapter 11: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go

We walked out of the hotel and across the car park together. Carolyn did not let go of my arm and I was glad of the intimate contact. She was so small and warm against me. I looked down at her and inhaled deeply.

My mind did slip back to those days when we would walk for hours together along the banks of the Thames. Despite the dangerous work we were involved in, it had truly been a magical time.

My body tightened with renewed need and my heartrate gathered pace. I had never forgotten any of that time and I missed it all like the very devil! It made me both burn and ache.

In those few short days when we met again back in LA, she’d shown me how empty my life at FLAG had become. I’d been too busy and involved in saving the world again and again to notice. And when she left me behind, as surely as I’d once abandoned her on that railway platform in London, I wondered if I would ever feel whole again.

I released my breath in a rush. I took comfort in the fact that Carolyn had agreed to stay with me for one night in Sedona. I would need to make the most of that precious time. She would not slip away so easily this time and I had no intention of leaving her behind again.

“This is mine,” Carolyn said, distracting me from my troubled thoughts. “When I said I wanted to buy a new car, Kitt helped me to choose it. My family were not so sure, but I didn’t allow them to change my mind. I said I’d been advised by an expert in automobiles.” Her lips twitched.

“I see…” I replied slowly, wondering about these mysterious conversations she’d been having with my car.

What had she and Kitt talked about over the last few months? I’d been completely excluded from such intimate contact. I wondered who else knew they’d been talking. I felt a sharp stab of jealousy that I managed to conceal.

But Carolyn surprised me with her choice of vehicle. While I expected her to unlock the sedate and sensible-looking four-door white sedan, instead she opened the driver’s door of a smart new Jeep Cherokee. It was as black and gleaming as Kitt. It looked too powerful for such a slender woman.

“Get in,” she invited, waving me toward the passenger door as she stepped up and into the driver’s seat with practiced ease.

I must have looked as dubious as I felt when I did as she asked because she smiled at me with feminine satisfaction. She picked up a pair of mirrored sunglasses from the dashboard and pushed them up over the bridge of her nose. She turned the key in the ignition and the engine immediately purred into obedient life.

“I’ll admit I was dubious about this one too, at first,” she said as she piloted us from the carpark and onto the highway. “But I didn’t let on. Now, I’m very happy with my purchase. Kitt certainly knows his vehicles.” She chuckled softly.

“And you arrived in Sedona an hour earlier than he’d planned,” I commented wryly, watching how she handled the large vehicle with assurance. “You threw out all his careful calculations about how we were to meet again. The hotel receptionist did look confused at seeing us checking in together. I wonder what had been planned.”

“Then I’m very glad I did arrive early,” she conceded, glancing at me. “Aren’t you?”

I frowned at my reflection in her mirrored sunglasses. Not being able to see her eyes frustrated my ability to discern her meaning.

She shrugged. “I didn’t know why I was being sent on holiday to Sedona. My daughter seemed to think it was a great idea for me to look at some new background scenes for my next book. Somewhere I had never travelled, she said.”

She smiled indulgently. “As much as I love her and Maria, once I understood their plans, I didn’t want our meeting to be something they’d scripted or planned out in advance.”

“And Kitt had this journey organised down to the very last detail,” I conceded, now understanding her meaning. “That’s why he’s here with me. He had it all worked out about how we were to finally meet again. What would happen next. I wonder what they have planned for us.”

“Exactly. Don’t you love playing truant from all their expectations?” Carolyn smiled as she turned off the highway to follow a narrow, single lane, dirt road that ran up among the hills and valleys of the red rock country. “We’re being treated like two children who don’t know their own minds.”

Her smile widened with satisfaction. “Now, even Kitt can’t find us.”

“Yes…” I shook my head as I looked around at the passing scenery.

I doubted she knew where she was going but I figured the road must end somewhere. But not with us in a ditch or worse. I sat still and tried not to look as confounded as I felt. I was not used to being the passenger in any vehicle, especially not one so powerful being driven by a woman.

“Relax…” Carolyn laughed softly as she addressed my awkward stiffness. “I looked over a few maps last night. I wanted to get some sense of the place and what it has to offer. I’m supposed to be here on a fact-finding mission, after all.”

“Very well…” I watched as the steering wheel turned neatly beneath her confident hands.

The vehicle took the corner sharply, but with barely enough room as we swung upwards before we entered a smoothed out viewing area at the top of the hill. I can’t say I wasn’t grateful as she brought the big four-wheel drive to a stop at the very edge where the slope fell away to a truly impressive view of mountains and cliffs of stunning beauty.

Pristine snow clung like white candyfloss in the sheltered swales and hollows among the red and ochre coloured rocks as the sun began to slide down into the west spreading coloured rays across the sky. It truly was a magnificent sight. My fingers wanted to reach for my camera, but that was for another time.

“Here we are, then…” Carolyn sighed as she turned the engine off and the brooding silence of the surrounding wilderness enclosed us. We were truly alone out here and it was past time for us to have that long overdue talk.

※※※※※

“Here we are, then…” I turned the engine off and the vast silence of the surrounding countryside slipped into the vehicle, cloaking us in the impressive quietude.

It really was a beautiful view, sunlit slopes and sequestered hollows where white drifts of the morning’s snow still clung. It truly was the perfect setting for a tale of gripping mystery and complex murder. Maybe more than one. I could see Edward Grainger walking these hills in search of all the clues. I wondered why I had never thought of Sedona before.

I shook my head as I glanced at Devon’s thoughtful expression. Now was not the time to be formulating possible scenarios. It was past time for us to talk to each other as we should have that memorable day we first met again. But time and circ*mstance always seemed to be against us or actively working to keep us as far apart as humanly possible.

“You didn’t ask me to stay with you in the hospital,” Devon stated quietly, catching me off-guard as I looked back at the magnificent view. “Or allow me to care for you afterwards. And I think I know why.”

I took off my sunglasses as I turned to look at him, seeing the pain in his eyes. “I wanted to…” I sighed. “But I was in denial about so many things. And in so much pain I couldn’t think straight. The doses of morphine took away my ability to reason things out. My brain was trapped inside a white fog full of terror and Durant. My children made decisions for me that they thought best.”

I shook my head with regret. “In the end, it was easier to leave than to stay. No one could see any future for us. I’m sorry, but I’ve tried to move on with my life. It hasn’t been easy. Something was always missing.”

“None of it was your fault. It’s I who should be apologising,” he replied, his hand moving to cover mine where it rested on the steering wheel. “I lived in a dangerous world that would have always tried to kill us both, if given half a chance.”

I raised my shoulders helplessly. “And yet, it did just that.” I turned my hand within his grip to tangle my fingers through his. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw you again in the street. I almost walked on by, telling myself you were just not real. That it wasn’t possible. You were dead.”

“I almost didn’t look back when I heard my old name being called,” Devon admitted softly, carrying my hand to his lips. “I was convinced I was dreaming. I didn’t want to look and find I was. But the vast emptiness of my life became starkly obvious in the very moment I looked down into your eyes again.”

“Yes…” I shook my head. “And you were carrying those roses. I just knew they were for another woman. You were no longer mine.”

“And they were.” Devon’s lips brushed the backs of my fingers a second time. “Poor Stevie has been so worried about you and for you. They all have. Even Kitt.”

“And now, here we are…” I stroked the curve of his cheek with my fingertips. “Brought back together by well-meaning family and friends, and a talking car. What could be more perfect?”

I knew I wanted him badly. I could privately admit that, even as I shook my head. “And I guess we’re stuck with Schrödinger’s blasted puzzle box again. We need to find the courage to open it and discover the truth. Are we meant to be together again or is it far too late?”

I gathered my breath and expelled it slowly as I tilted my head at him. “You said you’re permanently out of the business of saving the world. That Kitt’s only on loan from Michael’s new business for a few days. So, what work are you doing now?” My heartbeat skipped with concern and anticipation.

Cuisle mo chroí…’ I could see those words in the depths of his blue eyes. They made me shiver with desire. The night ahead of us both held such promise.

“It’s all right. Now I take nothing but photographs,” Devon admitted softly, studying each of my features in turn with an intensity that made me burn deeply and intimately. “It can be a little dangerous at times, trying for the perfect shot. I’ve lost my footing more than once.”

He nodded at my sigh of relief. “I sell my framed works through exhibitions all around the world. It’s become quite lucrative over these past few months. I have a new exhibition opening in London in three months’ time.”

He smiled at me. “Satisfied?” he teased softly.

“You’re really that good…” I was truly impressed. “Mind you, with your eye for fine details. I’m glad you found something you could do after you resigned from FLAG.”

“It has been interesting.” He lifted one shoulder. “Lately, I’ve found it’s becoming tedious living out of a succession of hotel rooms and suitcases. I’m thinking of finding a house to buy in Montecito near to Michael and Stevie and settling down. Their investigation business is expanding and they could do with a good bookkeeper. Nothing dangerous. I’ll still do my photography on the side.”

I nodded quickly. “I’m so glad for you. It all sounds wonderful. Over the last few months I’ve tried to imagine you behind a desk in some new corporate role saving the world again. I didn’t want that image to be real.”

I fingered the softness of his sheepskin jacket. “I love this new look of yours. Very much.”

“That you were thinking about me at all gives me some hope,” he replied, his blue eyes darkening with desire. “I told you over lunch that the only world I’m trying to save now is the world of you…” He leaned close enough to lightly kiss the tip of my nose. “…and me.”

“Yes, you did say that.” I nodded quickly.

His mouth turned down at the corners. “But none of it will keep me warm at night. I feel just as alone now as I was before. Without you…” His gaze intensified. “You have evicted me from my life. From all I once knew and understood to be real. What are you planning on doing about it?”

“Devon…” I breathed, shaking my head. I felt he was going too fast for me even as my aroused body craved his intimate touch.

“Please don’t leave me here, alone in the dark…” he said then.

My breathing caught and held. ‘Oh, not fair, Mr Miles. Not fair at all…’

Cuisle mo chroí…” he added softly, drawing me closer to him with his hold on my hands and I didn’t resist. “Grá mo chroí…”

The beauty of his native tongue washed through me on wings of fire. The soft brogue of his accent made me desire him all over again as it always did. As he knew it always would…

※※※※※

I could feel her resolve softening. Even as she shook her head and tried to deny me. I sensed she thought I was going too fast. For me, it wasn’t fast enough. I needed to have her in my arms again. I wanted to kiss her more than anything. More than my need for my next breath.

Cuisle mo chroí…” I repeated softly again, falling further into my native brogue without really knowing it. “My beautiful Luciana…”

“You don’t play fair, Mr Miles…” she whispered. “You never did.”

“Then don’t expect me to start now…” I saw the overwhelming passion ignite in her eyes.

It was that easy and that simple to awaken her desires. It always had been. We both knew it. She could never deny me.

As Carolyn leaned into me, as close as the console between us would allow, I felt a brief moment of amusem*nt at the awkwardness of our ability to embrace each other fully. I would settle for the softness of her lips right now, but soon I would have all her again or die in the attempt. She truly was the pulse of my heart. There was no other way to describe her.

I drifted the backs of my fingers against her cheeks before settling the softness of her warm skin into the palms of my hands. I stared deep into her eyes. She didn’t look away and nor did I.

We watched each other coming closer and closer to finally bring our passion together. I saw her lips open, ready to receive my kiss as we moved to a whisper apart. I could almost taste her and I knew one sip of her beauty would never be enough. I smiled as I inhaled her perfume deeply, ready to make her mine once more.

Ideas of our making use of the roomy vehicle did enter my mind. We had yet to make out in the back seat of any car. Of course, we were in a public place and anyone could arrive at any moment. I felt the eagerness in her and decided to let nature take whatever course it chose. But I would have preferred to enjoy her in a wide, soft bed and a locked door, but needs —

Suddenly, an almighty racket seemed to explode all around us. Blaring music fairly shouted its presence as a modified, all-terrain vehicle crunched to a shuddering halt beside us. Any eagerness on my part to take her here and now was immediately squashed.

Over Carolyn’s shoulder, I could see a group of young people disembarking from their brightly painted vehicle, looking ours over with curiosity as they drank from their cans of beer. A few eager faces dipped to stare inside and various comments were made. None of them complimentary.

“Awww, come on. Go and get a room, old man…” figured among them in a young man’s pained tone as he shook his head and pulled back sharply. “Geez…”

“Who’s he calling old?” I couldn’t help smiling against the softness of Carolyn’s lips as I kissed her hard and swift before drawing slowly back with regret.

“Guess…” I heard her quiet, rueful laugh and I knew exactly what she was thinking.

It’s just as well we hadn’t decided to make out in the roomy back seat of her vehicle. I shook my head. The temptation had been there to throw all caution to the wind and turn back into that young couple who couldn’t get another of each other, despite the location.

“What now, Mr Miles?” she asked with feminine laughter alive in her tone.

I felt the immediate loss of her warmth as we both returned reluctantly to our seats. The young people milled around talking and laughing while making gestures at us. They were obviously waiting for us to leave them alone.

I exhaled roughly. “Sadly, I think we should retire to the hotel and leave these young people to their fun. They think we’re cramping their style.”

“It was fun while it lasted,” Carolyn replied, briefly taking my hand before she turned the key in the ignition.

At the car park entrance, we were forced to make way for two more highly decorated vehicles that came hurtling up the dirt road towards us without any regard for safety. There were hoots and calls of derision as they passed us to join their fellows.

“So much for the quietude and majesty of the scenery,” I remarked as we returned to civilisation. “I had fancied we could make out and then watch the sunset together.”

“We were young like them once,” Carolyn replied, shaking her head as we covered the miles more swiftly than we’d arrived.

Silence settled between us, each of us mired in our own thoughts. The hotel carpark was a welcome sight. Carolyn was staying the night, I reminded myself. I would make the most of that time we would have alone together. Tomorrow would be anything we could make of it.

As we parked the Jeep, a sleek black Trans Am slid up beside us unobtrusively. If a car could look lonely and forlorn, Kitt did. The engines on both vehicles cut out simultaneously and the late afternoon silence settled in once more.

“Poor Kitt,” Carolyn commented with a wry smile. “He feels he’s missing out. I’m sure this trip of ours to Sedona was mostly his bright idea.”

“Do not underestimate him.” I shook my head. “That car sees and understands more than you will ever know.” But I did feel a pang of guilt. I pressed my hand to the commlink in the pocket of my jacket.

“Come on…” Carolyn encouraged, opening her door. “Let’s go talk to him. Just for a little while. He must be feeling very lonely and he will have to sit out here in the cold all night.”

“He’s not as lonely as I feel right now,” I muttered as I opened my door and got out to follow her lead.

I knew I needed to slow things down. For now, Carolyn was relaxed and happy. I couldn’t afford to give her cause to put up barriers between us again. I fought back against the tightening needs of my body. I knew there were still things I needed to tell her before this day was over.

Kitt’s doors opened immediately, inviting us inside. Carolyn made a small concession as she circled the hood, allowing me the driver’s seat. I think she knew I’d had enough of being piloted for one day.

※※※※※

“Good afternoon,” Kitt said as the doors closed behind us. “I was hoping you were still together. That everything is as it should be between you.”

I could hear the hopeful expectation in his voice. I glanced at Devon and saw his nod, encouraging me to answer.

“We have settled a few things,” I replied carefully. “I think we understand each other better now. But there is still a very long way to go.”

“I understand but I am glad. I am so sorry that I came between you that first day when you should have been together after all that time apart. Michael wasn’t thinking when he accidentally loaded your personal details into my system. It was a disastrous error on both our parts. And then Durant found us. I cannot say how sorry I am for that. It should never have happened.”

I shook my head. “None of what happened afterwards was ever your fault, Kitt. Or Michael’s,” I soothed. “Certainly not Devon’s. He tried so hard to tell me that I couldn’t live in his world at FLAG. But I was lost in the past and didn’t want to listen, until it was too late. It nearly cost me everything.”

I felt Devon move uneasily at my confession. But it needed to be said. Our six months apart had given me some much-needed perspective on that dreadful time. I knew now I had been impulsively foolish to think we could ever recover what we’d once had between us. I was no longer that starry-eyed young woman.

“But what about now?” Kitt’s tone rose hopefully. “FLAG is firmly in both your pasts, as it is in mine. We have all become quite sedate.”

“Now we have to see where this new life will take us,” Devon replied quietly. “We have made no promises or impulsive plans. We will take one day at a time.”

“Very well…” Kitt sounded unsure. “But you do not have a lot of time,” he worried. “You both are also here for other reasons.”

“We have fourteen days,” I replied without thinking. “It’ll be enough time.”

I gasped as I caught my bottom lip between my teeth. I realised what I’d just said. I could feel the sudden tension in Devon as he turned his head to study me closely with an intense look that made me tremble. I’d just made a rash concession to stay beyond the single night I’d promised him I would.

My heart rate picked up with a heady mix of expectation and trepidation. I felt suddenly breathless. I shook my head ruefully. Now who’s going too fast?

I couldn’t commit to staying for two weeks and risk seeing Devon every day. If he decided to stay here as well. That would be impossible. It would take a toll on me emotionally. Kitt was right, we were both here for other reasons.

My cheeks warmed. I tried to retrieve the situation before it got out of hand. I frowned as I opened my mouth to take back my impulsive words. But Devon beat me to it with a fresh confession of his own that took my breath away.

※※※※※

Chapter 12: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

Turning Away From The Past

I watched the embarrassed colour flood into Carolyn’s cheeks as I tried to keep the look of satisfaction from my own expression. I was making some headway with her consenting to stay with me longer than one night.

But she’d said those words without thinking. We both knew that. She could rescind them equally quickly. I saw her frown as she opened her mouth to retract her verbal misstep.

I needed to rescue the situation before she thought too much about it. Before she decided we were going too fast for her, and she panicked. Emotional distraction was my best tool now.

“I have to confess I haven’t been completely honest with you today,” I said as my opening gambit, which immediately grabbed and held her frowning attention.

I could see the rising censure in her eyes. I knew she was expecting the worst. “I see. Tell me,” she said quietly.

I wanted to hold her close and kiss her then. She was trying to be so brave. I could see how she was bracing herself for some terrible new secret I’d been keeping hidden for reasons of my own. She still did not entirely trust me, that was obvious.

I shook my head as I lifted one shoulder in apology. “It isn’t my confidence to tell, but I think he will understand that I need to tell you now. We said there were to be no more secrets between us.”

“Go on…” Carolyn stared at me.

“Five days before Christmas, out of the blue, Edward telephoned me. He said he wanted to see how I was doing and that we needed to clear the air between us. So, we did. We talked for some hours and finally agreed to meet up next year. After I return from London.”

I waited and watched as she absorbed the news. I could see how conflicted she was. If she took me to task over the omission, then our son was equally to blame for not informing her when he had the chance at Christmas.

“I see…” she said again slowly. “This is… unexpected. He should have told me. But I can understand why he didn’t. He thought he was still protecting me.” Her eyes lifted to mine. “From you…” Her look of mistrust faded away.

“But it is good news,” I added hopefully. “And it is a step in the right direction.” I took her hand from where it lay in her lap and held it between both of mine. “I have missed his first thirty-five years. I don’t want to miss any more of our son’s life if he’s willing to share it with me. Ifyouare willing to share him with me.”

I shook my head. “Edward is an excellent lawyer. He made some very good arguments for how things should stand among all of us. I was happy to agree to all his requests. Especially if they brought me closer to you again and we could talk as we should have on that first day we met again.”

“He is a very good lawyer and he’s your son too,” she said then, keeping her gaze on mine. “I always knew Ian suspected he wasn’t Edward’s father. But he never asked, and I dared not confess the truth.”

Her lips curved into a soft smile. “Danny is more like Michael. Impulsive and forthright, but very loveable. He’s a mechanic and loves cars. He would lose his mind over Kitt.”

“Maybe we could arrange a meeting between them one day…” I could feel and see the tension leaving her and I breathed easier.

Take it slowly…’I reminded myself. Don’t go scaring her off again.

She’d braced herself for some momentous news. Something she couldn’t see beyond. Now it came back to just us. Two people sitting in a car trying to get to know each other once more as the evening closed in.

She turned her hand within mine, gripping my fingers. “I am glad you told me about Edward. You don’t know how long I’ve wanted the two of you to meet.” She reached over to kiss my cheek. “I’m so glad my incurably romantic daughter worked hard to bring us together again.”

Kitt made a slight noise to remind us he was still listening to everything we said. “You both should go on in now,” he said. “It’s getting dark, and the temperature will drop considerably overnight. You can continue this fascinating conversation over dinner. As I said, every last detail has been arranged.”

“Dinner?” Carolyn turned to stare at his small red screen. “Someone has been very busy on our behalf.”

“Your incurably romantic daughter has thought of everything,” Kitt confided. “With some help from her new friends. It has all been paid for. Nothing has been left to chance.”

He sounded smug. “As I said, Carolyn, your earlier than expected arrival did derail our plans somewhat. But now we are firmly back on schedule.”

Carolyn turned to me with dismay in her eyes. “But I’ve brought nothing with me to wear to dinner. I was expecting to order in-room service while I’m here and get on with mapping my outline. I don’t have time to go shopping for something suitable. I doubt there’s anything open now. Not at this time of the day.”

Kitt jumped in before I could reply. “No, Carolyn. If you look behind the passenger seat of your vehicle, you will find a weekend bag packed with an evening gown, a pashmina, shoes and your purse,” he continued in a deeply satisfied tone. “Maria was very keen to arrange all of that for you. And an appointment has been made for you in half an hour with the hotel’s hairstylist. As I said, your daughter and her new friends have thought of everything.”

“Well, that’s me sorted,” Carolyn replied ruefully as she began to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

I shook my head. Once more, we’d been neatly outmanoeuvred. So much for playing truant from their plans to throw us back together. But I couldn’t fault their attention to detail.

“And Devon…” Kitt continued smoothly, seemingly relishing his new role of matchmaker. “You too will find a garment bag, with your dress suit and shirt, in here, behind Carolyn’s seat. There is also a hold-all with everything else you will need. You should ask the hotel’s room service to press your suit.”

The car finally stopped talking and his little red screen fairly glowed with smug satisfaction. I truly did not know what to make of it all. But I couldn’t help joining in with Carolyn’s softly rueful laughter. It helped to ease the final traces of tension from both of us.

Maybe it was going to be all right, after all. And there was still the night ahead…

※※※※※

We got out of the car together. Devon retrieved his bags from the back seat while I crossed to the Jeep and fetched mine. I truly had to admire Lucy’s detailed forethought. And the deep conspiracy that must have gone on amongst all of those involved in this little getaway affair to bring us together again.

I couldn’t be angry at any of them. I was truly intrigued to see how it would all work out. I reminded myself this was not a novel where the loving couple were finally rewarded with their happy ever after. Reality was a far more fickle creature.

I allowed Devon to take my arm as we said goodnight to Kitt and headed for the hotel’s front doors. Of course, Kitt was right. The evening temperature was dropping fast and there was ice in the air. No doubt it would snow again tonight.

I stopped in the open doorway to look back at the sleek Trans Am. I felt sorry for him, stuck out there in the coming bad weather.

“Don’t worry,” Devon said, seeing my glance of concern. “Kitt is quite impervious to the cold. And remember, he might talk, but he’s still just a car.”

“Yes…” I nodded. But to me, Kitt was more than’just a car’.He had become a good friend and confidant.

When we entered the foyer, a hovering bellhop quickly volunteered to show us to our rooms. He left us outside our open doors after he’d given me directions to the hotel’s hair salon and accepted a generous tip from Devon for taking his evening wear away to be pressed and returned.

“I guess I’ll meet you in the dining room when you’re ready,” Devon said quietly. “I’m looking forward to it. Don’t keep me waiting.”

There was such a sensuous look in his blue eyes that made my knees go weak. My breathing shortened and became tangled up with my heartbeat. I knew he was thinking of the night still to come and so was I. I hadn’t stopped thinking about it all day. Not since we first met again.

“Yes, I’ll see you at dinner then,” I agreed quickly as I escaped into my room and shut the door behind me before I lost all my hard-won resolutions and begged him to join me and forget all about the dinner. I reminded myself to take things easy and not to rush.

※※※※※

The hotel’smaître d’turned his superior attention to me the moment I entered the restaurant. “A table for one, Sir?” he asked, his brows rising.

“For two. I’m waiting for a lady to join me,” I replied and gave him my name and room number.

“Oh yes, of course, Mr Miles. I understand completely. And the bill for your meals has already been taken care of. It is to be sent to the lady’s daughter. You only need to pay for your wine.”

He nodded. “I must say you have picked the right night. There will be dancing later if you have a mind to it.”

“I see…” I looked around.

I hadn’t expected there to be a dinner dance. The restaurant was already half-full of customers with more following me in. Everyone seemed to be in a festive mood and anticipating a good night ahead. I now understood the need for formal evening wear.

Themaître d’waved his hand as he went ahead of me. “If you would be pleased to follow me.”

This time, I was conducted to a table secluded behind leafy green planters. It was a romantic setting just made for lovers who wished to be discreet.

“To your satisfaction, Sir?” the man asked, watching my reaction closely. “The lady’s daughter was most specific in her requests.”

“Thank you. It’s perfect.” Right then, I didn’t care as I waited impatiently for Carolyn to appear.

“Very good, Sir.” The man beamed. “I shall bring the wine list, and the lady to you, the moment she arrives.” He nodded briskly as he bustled away to attend to more arriving guests.

As I sat down, I put up one finger to ease the tightening restriction of my collar. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt such a keen sense of anticipation. Michael had been right when he said it had been too long since I’d had a woman in my life.

But the work at FLAG had imposed that monk-like existence on me, giving me no time or energy to consider conducting a private life of my own. I was long out of practice.

I briefly wondered how Angus Jones was getting on with it all and then dismissed him, along with my past life, completely from my mind. None of that had any place here, tonight.

After several long minutes of waiting, I looked up when I saw themaître d’returning and then my mouth dried. I stared even as I pushed back my chair and rose to my feet. The man was being followed by a beautiful vision of peaco*ck blue loveliness.

Luciana…’my heart whispered.

All I could do was marvel at Carolyn as she walked up to our table and stopped to smile tentatively at me with the hand holding her sequined evening clutch purse resting on the back of her chair. She smiled as she waited for me to say something or make a move to assist her to be seated.

※※※※※

I inhaled deeply to settle my tangled nerves. “Good evening. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting for too long.”

“Good evening and not at all. You’re right on time…” Devon’s stunned look told me all I needed to know.

I was very pleased with the magic the hotel’s hairstylist had worked with my curls. She’d feathered them around my cheeks and forehead, giving me a younger, more sophisticated look. And my designer evening dress was an impulsive and very expensive purchase the last time I was in New York for a book signing. My first trip away after my divorce. I had never worn the dress before, and its simple elegance gave me an added level of confidence.

“Thank you…” Devon dismissed themaître’sattentions with a quick frown.

Then he rounded the table and gripped the back of my chair, pulling it out for me. I moved sideways with a nod of appreciation, looking back at him over my shoulder and, for a single, breathless moment we were standing very close together, our sharpened breathing in soft concert.

I lowered my lashes, watching him watch me. I could admit I missed the jeans and the sheepskin jacket look, but Devon in full evening wear made my knees go weak with need. I’d never seen him dressed so formally before.

Our London spy masters had always kept us on a tight, no-frills budget that didn’t allow for such extravagant adventures as fine dining. We always ate in and went to bed early, especially in the chilling cold of that unforgiving London winter we spent together. We kept each other warm.

This older, more sophisticated, Devon looked truly magnificent. As more than a few deeply envious glances in our direction from the women among the diners, could attest.

Instinctively, I placed one hand on his forearm and smiled up at him, staking my claim. Devon was mine, even if it may only be for this single night. I made sure every woman in the restaurant knew that fact as I sat down, and he pushed the chair in behind me.

I felt his long fingers stir sensuously against the bare skin of my shoulder before he returned to his side of the table and picked up the wine list themaître d’had left. He made a poor pretence of studying it, but I knew his attention was not on which vintage he would choose and my heightened level of desire for him rose further still.

※※※※※

I made a show of studying the wine list and failed. But then, I had a good excuse. I’d never seen Carolyn dressed so breathtakingly elegantly before. Yes, she’d been very stylishly dressed for Michael and Stevie’s wedding before Durant’s attack had ruined it all.

My mind went further back in time. In London, our tight-fisted masters had never encouraged us to indulge in fine dining and we couldn’t afford to go out anywhere that required our dressing up.

It was just as well both of us knew how to cook or we would have starved. I’d learned by necessity from my early years back in Ireland, where being able to make the most meagre of ingredients go as far as possible was a triumph.

We made do with what we had. We needed to fit into the environment we lived in. A dark and dreary part of the city where those we were tasked with finding tried to hide away and be lost among the mass of faceless people.

I glanced at Carolyn again through my lowered lashes. Her peaco*ck blue evening dress outlined and detailed every one of her slender curves in exquisite detail, embracing the elegant shape of her upper ribcage and breasts. It had obviously been created by a master hand. The low-cut bodice showed her beauty off to advantage and the narrow cap sleeves left her smooth shoulders bare. It took my breath away.

“Red or white?” I finally managed to ask.

“I’m sorry?” Carolyn had been studying my formal attire and her green eyes were dark with desire.

My hands clenched on the wine list. I wanted to throw the blasted thing over my shoulder and take her to my room and out of that lovely dress!

To hell with taking things slow! We were sitting here making polite conversation and wasting time! Instead, we could be making up for lost time!

I swallowed tightly and stamped down hard on my burning need.Take it slow, remember? Don’t scare her off by being too needy.

I tried again. “I remember you used to like white wine when we could afford it. I was asking if your tastes have changed. Or would you prefer some champagne?”

“Champagne would be fine,” she replied, her gaze finally lifting to mine. She ran the tip of her tongue across the line of her lips, moistening their cherry gloss and a soft warmth coloured her cheeks.

Oh, God…’My mouth dried as my groin cramped painfully with wanting. One long look and she’d reduced me to a tongue-tied teenager raging with hormones.

Get a grip!’I was grateful for the shelter of the tablecloth. I pulled myself together and raised one hand to summon the hovering waiter who was watching us expectantly.

He brought our menus and took my order for a bottle of their finest champagne. I settled for reading the menu closely and keeping my eyes away from the temptation of staring at Carolyn. I wasn’t very successful, but I managed well enough.

※※※※※

I wasn’t very successful, but I finally managed to stop staring at Devon as he summoned the waiter who handed me a menu. I thanked the man and tried to study it, to make some sense of the printed words.

“You didn’t eat much at lunch,” Devon remarked quietly. “Drinking champagne on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea. You should try to eat something.”

“I wasn’t very hungry then,” I admitted, warmed by his care for me. “I was so confused when I saw you walking toward the hotel. I told myself it couldn’t be you. When you left the hospital, I truly never expected to see you again.”

“And I thought I was dreaming,” Devon replied. “Then you said my name.”

I shook my head. “We’ve both wasted a lot of time trying to tell ourselves we were okay alone.”

Devon’s shoulders lifted. “I’ve been alone nearly all my life. Except for that year with you. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

“Nor do I…” I wanted to reach across the table and take his hand.

He was watching me, his blue eyes gleaming with need. “Have you decided what you want to order?”

I closed my eyes briefly. He was right, of course. I needed to eat something. We still had the night ahead of us.

I settled for a delicious sounding dish of chicken and mushrooms in a white wine sauce with green beans and hasselback potatoes. I closed my menu before I changed my mind about ordering an appetiser. Devon quickly summoned the waiter again to give my order and his for a dish of slow-cooked lamb on a bed of rice and herbs. I noted he also didn’t order an entrée.

I saw then that the tall folding doors between the restaurant and the huge room beyond it were being moved aside. Those who’d already eaten their meals were getting up from their tables to walk into the other room to dance as the soft strains of a waltz began to play.

“Oh, how lovely,” I said. “I didn’t realise there was a dinner dance tonight.”

“Nor did I.” Devon smiled ruefully.

I could see my daughter’s deft and romantic hand in all of it. As Kitt had said, nothing had been left to chance. And Lucy knew how much I loved to dance. Beneath the table, I tapped out the rhythm with my foot.

Our champagne arrived and the wine waiter poured a small measure into Devon’s glass and waited expectantly for him to taste it. Devon nodded his approval and the waiter filled both glasses.

I was grateful for the icy cold liquid filled with bubbles. I sipped it eagerly as I listened to the music. It also gave me something to concentrate on other than the long length of Devon’s fingers until he reached across the table to refill my empty glass and I gasped.

I hadn’t realised I’d emptied my glass. The warmth of the excellent vintage spread slowly throughout my system making me feel slightly tipsy. I never did have much of a head for champagne, but it was delicious.

The music twined its way through my senses. That was the other thing Devon and I loved to do when we were together. We had loved to dance.

I sighed, inwardly. For one so tall and powerful, Devon had always been a very graceful man. I remembered he always danced like a dream, and I’d never felt so safe with anyone before or since.

Ian had always refused to dance with me, saying he had two left feet. I sipped my champagne as I watched the dancers, knowing how much I dearly missed the sweet temptation of a slow, intimate waltz in Devon’s arms that had always taken us where we both desired to go.

※※※※※

I saw the effect the music was having on Carolyn. I could almost see the memories in her dreamy expression as she sipped her champagne and watched the dancers in the other room with envious eyes.

I remembered how she’d always felt so small and fragile whenever we danced together. I had never felt more protective of any other woman before or since. I wondered if her husband had danced with her, knowing how much she loved it. From the look of sadness in her eyes when she glanced back at me, I doubted it. Whenever we danced, it had always led to other, more intimate, things. I prayed that was where this night was heading.

“Oh, I remember this tune,” she said softly. “It’s lovely.”

“So do I.” I watched her closely.

I wanted to take her hand and lead her onto the dance floor and gather her into my arms. I needed to take her to my room and remind her she was a beautiful and very desirable woman.

“I wish…” Carolyn began to say just as the waiter arrived with our meals.

The man fussed with his placement of our dishes before finally accepting my assurance that we needed nothing more. I waited impatiently until he left us alone again.

“You do need to eat something,” I told Carolyn, watching her closely for any sign she was uncomfortable. But the champagne had settled her, making her less wary.

“Yes, I know…” She nodded as she picked up her knife and fork. “This is a lovely hotel and I know everyone meant well when Lucy booked it.” She glanced at me through her lowered lashes. “But I wish we were staying somewhere more… private and less noisy. There are too many distractions. I… do need to get started on my outline.”

“I see…” I nodded as I watched her and left the obvious half-truth alone. “I too need to get on with why I am here.”

I knew she was trying to make mundane conversation away from the more intimate things that she’d left unsaid. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, a sure sign she was still a little nervous of me. I refilled her glass as I sorted through my options.

An idea came to me, and I turned it over in my mind. I would need Kitt’s help to make it happen. If our being alone together was what she now wanted, then I wanted that for us too. But I had other plans for tonight.

Having said what she wanted, a companionable silence settled between us as the restaurant continued to fill up and the music swirled around us as more couples got up to enter the ballroom. I ordered a second bottle of champagne and was pleased to see Carolyn had managed to eat almost everything on her plate. As I refilled her glass again, it made me content that she was finally allowing me to take care of her as she deserved.

※※※※※

Chapter 13: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

The Scent Of The Roses

It was pure heaven to be held so securely in Devon’s arms once again. It almost felt as if I had never left. Which was a sweet lie I told myself as we circled the ballroom floor to the intimate strains of a slow waltz.

Devon had picked his moment, watching and waiting to gauge my level of comfort. I’d refused any offer of dessert and sat watching the dancers. I wanted to dance and was no longer in need of food. He seemed to understand that. He raised a hand toward themaître d’for our bill. Devon paid for our champagne, and I didn’t argue.

He got up from his side of the table and came around to mine. He asked me if I wanted to dance and I didn’t hesitate, emboldened by one too many glasses of the vintage wine. He drew back my chair and I stood up, sliding my wrist through the chain strap of my purse.

Again, we stood close together for a long moment. I could feel his warm breath caressing my bare shoulder as he inhaled the perfume on my skin and pressed a light kiss against the top of my shoulder. I turned to look up at him, tilting my head back. He was magnificent, filling up my sight. I saw no one but him.

“Come on, let’s get out of here…” he said softly as he reached down and clasped my hand in his and took me across the restaurant and into the larger room.

It was a simple matter of turning to him and walking straight into his ready embrace. His arms closed around me and I was home again. He captured every one of my heightened senses. I was where I had always belonged.

Devon was a natural and elegant dancer. He never looked down, he seemed to know instinctively what to do and where to go. Once, when we first got together, I looked down and he immediately told me not to. He said I needed to trust him, to put all my faith in him, to guide and keep me safe.

From then on, I looked only at him, as I was doing now. His blue eyes never left mine. We could have been alone in the room for all the notice we took of the other dancers. People came and went around us, and the music changed through several different genres before returning to another waltz.

And still, we danced. The lighting had been slowly dimmed, encouraging a closer intimacy among the couples moving around the floor as the evening wore on. Several didn’t hesitate to get closer to their partners and there were many whispered conversations and lingering caresses. I didn’t want any of it to end.

“Happy?” Devon finally asked, looking down at me.

I knew I was wearing a dreamy expression. I couldn’t help it. The bubbles of champagne made me feel as if I was floating on cherished memories of happier times. I inhaled him slowly and he smelt delicious. I wanted to taste him too.

“Very…” I finally replied with a long sigh. “I couldn’t be any happier. This is the most perfect night.”

“It’s not over yet…” he promised in a low tone full of sensual tension as his hand at my waist slid lower to caress the curve of my hip.

I shook my head and didn’t answer. I was enjoying the moment too much. The music changed again, encouraging an even closer intimacy as the lights were dimmed further.

“Tired?” he finally asked after a long pause as we circled the floor once more.

“Mmmm…” I murmured, suddenly dropping my gaze to study the crisp whiteness of his dress shirt with its pearl buttons. “But not that tired…”

There, I had finally admitted it. The words he’d been waiting for. The bubbles in the fine wine had given me the courage to say I wanted him. Now they prompted me to go further. To stake my claim more fully, beyond putting a hand on his arm for all to see and take notice of.

I looked back up at him and slid my fingers from his shoulder up into the thick blond curls at the back of his head. Then I went up on tiptoe to kiss him and he didn’t resist. No one around us seemed to notice or care about our intimate connection as he gathered me closer with his arm at my waist and the kiss lengthened and deepened. We slowly stopped dancing.

He finally drew back and leaned down to rest his forehead against mine. I traced the line of his lips with one fingertip and his sigh feathered past my touch. Words of invitation trembled on the tip of my tongue.

“You taste like heaven, Luciana,” he said, kissing the end of my nose. “I want more. So much more.”

“I know…” I smiled softly and then said,”Cuisle mo chroí…”

He smiled at my accent, then nodded his agreement.”Grá mo chroí…”

The whole afternoon we’d spent together had been leading up to this single tremulous moment. But being the gentleman he was, Devon was waiting for me to make the first move. To be comfortable with my decision to stay the night with him. For me to be sure this was what I wanted. I had made that move and I had never been surer or wanted anything so much in my entire life.

The music faded to a halt and the lights came up as the musicians announced they were taking a short refreshment break. While those around us complained as they broke apart, we remained standing in each other’s close embrace. There was no longer anything holding me back.

“Come on…” I encouraged, sliding my fingers down Devon’s arm to his hand. “Let’s get out of here.”

We left the ballroom and crossed the lobby hand in hand. We didn’t say a word to each other until we were standing outside my room. I found my key in my clutch purse and unlocked the door. We walked into the darkened room, and I closed the door behind me.

The only illumination in the room was the lights of the city beyond the un-curtained windows. I walked toward them, tossing my purse onto the lounge table and kicking off my high-heeled shoes. I was glad of the soft lighting that warmed the shadows and still allowed us to see each other.

I looked around the room, seeing it had been decorated with large crystal vases filled with bunches of red roses and baby’s breath. Their heady fragrance hung in the air. I shook my head. Lucy had certainly been busy making everything perfect and utterly romantic. She knew how much I loved roses.

I glanced back at Devon. He was standing by the door watching me. This room was our private world. But could tonight finally lead to our happy ever after? Only time will tell. Time and this single night. I inhaled the sweet scents of the exotic blooms.

“Hang on…” Devon said, taking the DO NOT DISTURB sign from the doorknob and attaching it to the outside. Then he shut and locked the door, enclosing us in the intimate semi-darkness once more. “Now we can be alone.”

I turned around when I saw him reach for the light switch beside the door and I put out a denying hand. “No… Please, leave the lights off.”

“But I want to see you properly,” he protested gently. “You do not need to be afraid. Not with me. I could never hurt you.”

“I know…” I sighed. “But please, humour me, for now. I… like the dark.”

“Very well. For now…” He held out his hand toward me. “Then, come here…” he commanded softly, and I didn’t hesitate to obey.

※※※※※

As Carolyn walked slowly back to me, I shook my head at her gorgeous, and obviously very expensive, evening gown. It moved sensually with her every step and was moulded so closely to her sweet shape that it fired my imagination to fever pitch. But I didn’t want to damage it in my eagerness to remove it.

“Does this come off easily?” I asked, sliding my arms around her slender waist and drawing her close.

Without her shoes, she was even smaller against me, fitting easily beneath my chin. I cherished the sensual contact of her soft breasts pressed against my lower chest, even as my fingers quested down the back of her dress. But I couldn’t find any fastening. I frowned even as she took my hand and directed me to the cleverly hidden zipper tucked into the side seam.

“Very easily…” She smiled up at me.

“Good…” I breathed a quick sigh of relief as I reached for the tab and propelled it downwards.

She leaned back to allow the garment to slide down her arms and body to pool at her hips. The lacy silk half-bra beneath shielded nothing from my searching gaze. It cupped and defined her soft breasts lovingly. She was very beautiful, even as her uncertain gaze said she didn’t think so.

I wanted the lights on to see her better. I wanted to see all of her, as naked and wanton as our shared passion. When I made love to her in the big wide bed I could see beyond us in the next room. But I would acquiesce to her wishes, for now. Her level of comfort was my main concern.

“Beautiful…” I breathed, to reassure her. I ran the tip of one finger along beneath the upper edge of the lace, detailing the rounded swell and dip of her shadowed cleavage and she shivered.

“I’m not twenty anymore,” she admitted then.

I shook my head. “Nor am I,” I replied softly, my eyes on what I was doing and how it was affecting her. “We have both lived other lives. But none of that matters. Not now. Not here…”

I smiled as I saw the soft blush-rose points of her breasts stiffen against the thin concealment of the silk. Her words might deny me, but her body could not. She shivered again as I dipped a fingertip inside to brush across one burgeoning point.

“You’re still dressed…” she accused softly even as her indrawn breath hissed between her lips.

“Yes…” I didn’t hesitate to stand back to strip off my jacket and drag away my tie. I tossed both aside and then put my fingers on the buttons of my dress shirt. She was immediately all concerned.

“You’ll tear the fabric…” she whispered as she replaced my fingers with hers.

“I do have other shirts,” I denied but allowed her to have her way.

She was deft and quick, her concentration total as she put her arms around me and tugged the tail of my shirt from the waistband of my trousers. My cufflinks followed – I didn’t care where they landed – as I shrugged my upper body out of the fine linen. The shirt went flying across the room to land on the back of a nearby chair.

“Satisfied?” I asked, looking down at her.

“Not yet…” she whispered, her needy gaze focused on studying my chest and abdomen. “But I’m getting there…”

This time, I did not attempt to hide what her beauty was doing to me. I wanted her to see and understand the burning ache inside me that was almost too painful. I wanted her to know how desirable and intoxicating she was to me and that she could never disappoint me, even if we had all of eternity.

I allowed her to look her fill. There was time enough yet to make her utterly mine once more…

※※※※※

I couldn’t look away and nor did I want to. Devon in full evening wear had been devastatingly handsome. Now, half-naked, he was magnificent and gloriously masculine. The intervening years had treated him kindly. He obviously worked out to keep himself in such good shape and the strong muscles of his chest, beneath its fine coating of golden hairs, were still defined and taut. They moved sinuously beneath his tanned skin as he stroked his hands up and down my arms.

I wasn’t so sure about myself, with those few spidery stretch marks from bearing my children. I wondered if he would notice. But I’d tried to keep in shape, and I was pleased that the blue dress had flattered me as well as it did. My waist was still trim enough to fit into it.

But now, Devon’s narrowed gaze said I was wrong to worry so much. His questing fingers against the soft skin of my breasts had been an electric contact which had snatched my breath away. It had been a very long time since a man had touched me so intimately. And while I might write about it in my novels, a romantic and satisfying ending to a harrowing adventure of murder and mayhem, this new reality was something else entirely. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

“Stop thinking so much…” Devon advised softly, as he stood still beneath my desire to look at him. “Just feel…”

“All right…” My gaze moved downward to the angle of his powerful thighs, and I could see how much my closeness was affecting him. I marvelled at my feminine power to do so. It had been too long, and I had almost forgotten.Almost…

“I want you…” Devon reached out and settled his hands on my hips. He dipped his fingers beneath the bunched silk of my dress and pushed it down over my hips and allowed it to drop to my stockinged feet.

“Come here…” he commanded again, and I stepped forward willingly, out of the dress and into his arms.

Now, the only barriers were his trousers and my sheer pantyhose and lacy underwear. I leaned forward to press a trail of questing kisses across the taut skin over each of his collarbones.

“You’ve still got too many clothes on,” I complained, playing my fingers down the arch of his spine to the waistband of his trousers.

I pushed my fingers beneath to caress the flare of his hips and pressed into the hardest of his muscles there. I heard his breath hiss between his teeth at the intimacy of my touch and he pulled me fully against him. His seeking lips found the side of my neck and the erratic pulse that beat so rapidly there.

“Devon…” I revelled in the sensation of being held close against his vital masculine heat.

I pushed closer still, feeling his heated strength pressing hard against me. That part of him that made him such a virile man eagerly welcomed me to explore.

“Tell me…” he murmured against my skin as he moved to the edge of my parted lips. “Tell me what you want…”

He pressed himself tightly against me, making sure I was aware of everything I was doing to him.Oh, I was very aware…

“You…” I managed to reply throatily. “I only want you. Now and for always…”

“Always?” he questioned, leaning back just a little to look down at me with such love in his eyes.

“Yes, always…” I replied with a shuddering sigh.

He shook his slowly, everything he was thinking and feeling right then evident in his blue eyes. I knew my gaze was now just as open and honest. I’d decided it was time to drop every last barrier and I was glad they were finally gone.

I knew I could trust him now. He’d proven that by allowing me the time and space to come to my decision.

The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses…” he quoted softly. “I have never loved anyone as I love you, Carolyn. I never will.”

“As I have always loved you and always will…” Tears burned at the back of my eyes but there was no place for them here. I blinked them away. “There never could be anyone else. Not for me.”

In answer, Devon reached for my hand and pressed my palm hard against his waist, encouraging me to explore further. He did not stop looking into my eyes and I did not look away as my fingers quickly searched for the buckle of his belt and then the buttons at the waistband and finally the tab of his zip. I took it down slowly, infinitely slowly and we smiled together as my questing fingers finally found what they were seeking.

He didn’t move or say a word as I delighted in the fullness of my discovery. I sighed as I went up on tiptoe to kiss him and his mouth opened eagerly beneath mine. His fingers tangled in the softness of my silken underwear and moved beneath to enclose the rounded softness of my behind in his palms.

He lifted me effortlessly as if I weighed not much at all. I wound my legs around his waist as he held me against his chest, where he had easier access to my seeking mouth, as he carried me into the bedroom behind us.

We tumbled together onto the softness of the big wide bed, becoming tangled in each other’s arms in our eagerness to renew the love that we’d lost all those years ago. Soon every barrier to our rising passion would be gone.

Devon rolled over and I was sitting astride him. His hands moved slowly up my thighs toward where my body ached the most for his touch. He was allowing me to take full control and I revelled in the power of it all. We would make this night, a night to remember…

※※※※※

“Good morning…” I said against her hair as Carolyn finally stirred against me.

“Is it morning already?” she asked sleepily, stretching her full soft length along my naked body on a soft groan of repletion.

“It’s almost afternoon,” I replied, settling her more comfortably against the side of my chest. I didn’t want to let her go. Not after last night. I never wanted to be parted from her again.

“Is it that late?” she marvelled, making no move to move away or get up.

“Well, we didn’t get much sleep last night,” I reminded her, kissing her hair again.

“No, we didn’t, did we…” She chuckled, pressing a kiss to the centre of my chest. “I do hope these walls are soundproof. We surely made enough noise last night, getting to know each other all over again.”

“Well, at least no one came knocking on the door,” I teased.

I saw the soft colour that mantled her cheeks. She could still blush like a schoolgirl on her first date. It was a very endearing trait that I loved about her.

I loved all of her, from her topmost curl to the soles of her small feet. And the soft swell of her abdomen with its small spidery lines where she had carried my child. Everything about her said she’d managed to live a life, even after she’d been devastated by the terrible news of my untimely death. Inwardly I cursed our one-time masters for their casual cruelty and then dismissed them from my mind.

But I regretted that issue more than anything. That Carolyn had been left alone to cope in a cruel, uncaring world. How different would our lives have been if we’d stayed together? I shook my head slowly. The past truly was another country and there could never be any going back to how things used to be. The only true direction was forward.

“I need a shower,” she finally complained, sitting up. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m not finished with you yet.”

I felt the loss of her warmth immediately, but I didn’t protest. I enjoyed watching her get up and she did not try to hide from me as she looked through her suitcase for fresh underwear and suitable outer clothing.

We shared a laugh when her stomach softly rumbled, complaining about the lack of food. She pressed a hand over it and hurried into the bathroom. “I won’t be long and then I think you’d better take me to lunch. My treat, this time.”

She shut the door and I waited until I heard the shower turn on. I got out of bed and pulled on my underwear and trousers. Buttoning the fastener shut I left the room to go next door to mine. I hurried to the wardrobe and fished Kitt’s commlink from the pocket of my sheepskin jacket. Carolyn’s words about us needing a soundproof room niggled at me. That was something tangible I could fix. It had been her idea after all, for us to get away from the hotel and go somewhere much more private.

I clicked the link on, and the red light blinked at me. “Good morning, Devon,” Kitt said immediately. “I trust you slept well. You are up rather late. I was beginning to be concerned.” He paused. “How is Carolyn this morning?”

“She’s fine. I think she’s taking a shower in her room,” I replied quickly, pressed for time but not willing to give too much away. “Look, I need you to do something for me. Something important.”

“Of course,” he said. “It is something for you alone or Carolyn as well?”

“For both of us,” I replied, listening for any sign of the shower being turned off in the next room. “I want to get her out of this hotel and into somewhere a lot more private for the next few days and nights. I need you to research our renting a suitable lodge out of Sedona.”

I hesitated, frowning as I tried to think of a reason to satisfy him. “Last night at dinner, she said there are just too many distractions here in this hotel. She wants to get started on her outline for her next novel and needs the peace and quiet to do so. That is the main reason why she’s here. And I have a portfolio to complete.”

“Ah, I see. Of course, consider it done,” Kitt responded briskly after a moment’s thoughtful pause. “I will be back in touch in due course.” The commlink blinked and then he said, “I think it is a wonderful idea. And you can also get on with the reason why you are also here.”

“Yes…” I grimaced, knowing from his tone, that the car was fishing for more information. His analytic mind was working overtime.’Blast…’

“Thanks, Kitt. You can also find us somewhere we can go for lunch.” I didn’t wait for his reply.

I clicked it off and returned the commlink to my jacket pocket before I exited the room. I made it back to Carolyn’s just in time.

She walked out of the steamy bathroom with a towel wrapped around her head and frowned at my state of half-dress as I stood in the open doorway of the bedroom. “Are you going to go to your room and take a shower before we go out for lunch? My treat, remember.”

“Yes…” I nodded, unwilling to confess what I’d been doing. “I won’t be long.”

I walked forward to take her by the shoulders and kissed her lingeringly. The rumpled bed behind us tempted me to take up where we left off last night, but I tamped down the need. We now had time enough. We had twelve days before we needed to decide our future together.

She smelled as fresh and lovely as the vases of roses in the room. I kissed her again before I let her go reluctantly to collect my discarded clothes and headed for the door. “See you soon.”

I looked back to find her watching me in puzzlement as she towel-dried her hair. I knew she was curious about what I’d been up to while she was in the shower. Even though she’d suggested it, I wanted the move to a lodge to be a complete surprise for her. I also desired the aloneness that this busy hotel could not give us. And to confound those who’d conspired to bring us together. We were going to play truant again and I couldn’t wait.

I knew I was being greedy. I needed to have her all to myself for the next twelve days of our stay in Sedona. I hoped Kitt would manage to come up with just the right place in time. I was sure he would not let me down.

※※※※※

Chapter 14: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

I Know That I Love You

“The Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village is said to be an excellent place to visit in Sedona,” Kitt said as he pulled up in a large, cobbled carpark among many other vehicles. “My information says there are several first class food restaurants here worth your attention. It’s almost noon. You both must be hungry since it seems you managed to miss breakfast.”

He paused and then said, “There was no bill submitted by the restaurant.”

“We weren’t hungry…” I told the lie as I glanced at his little red screen, shaking my head. Again, he was invading our privacy without truly meaning to do so. He couldn’t help it; it was all in his analytical programming.

“It all looks very lovely…” I marvelled as I looked around, not rising to the enquiring tone in his statement to say any more. “Thank you, Kitt.”

I knew he was fishing for more information about what may have happened last night after we left the restaurant. I glanced at Devon, and he shook his head, giving me his silent agreement. I knew he was thinking the same as me.

That the less Kitt knew about our rekindled love life the better. I nodded in reply. Our renewed relationship was still too new and fragile to be inadvertently shared by him if he was questioned by those who’d so carefully engineered our getting back together. Kitt was unfailingly honest. He could not keep a secret if he tried.

“Well, I’m hungry now, “I admitted, as I looked through the windscreen.

There was a large, tiled fountain playing in the broad, walled courtyard before us. The craft village was nestled beneath the naked branches of huge sycamore trees that must be shady heaven in the heat of the summer. The whole place appeared to have been fashioned like a traditional Mexican village. I couldn’t wait to explore and gain some insight.

“Come on…” Devon said as he got out of the car. “Let’s go exploring.”

“Thanks again, Kitt.” I followed and we stood close together in the winter sunshine, looking around.

There was no wind today, but the air was cold, and some snow lay on the ground. I was glad of the warmth of my leather jacket and Devon was wearing his heavy sheepskin coat again. I sighed, missing his sexy-as-hell tuxedo look and his arms tight around me to keep me safe. I wanted to take his hand in mine, but I was acutely aware that Kitt was watching us, so I tried to appear casual as we discussed our options.

“We still deserve some privacy for the days we have left together,” Devon murmured, showing me the commlink he had in his hand before clicking it off and dropping it back into his jacket pocket. “I think we need to play truant again for the afternoon. Then we’ll talk about tonight. I have an idea or two you might like.”

“I was thinking the same,” I breathed raggedly beneath the burning light in his blue eyes. “Just what are you planning?”

“That’s for me to know and you to be told when I am ready,” he teased, brushing his lips across my cheek and making me shiver with need.

“Very well…” I nodded. “But whatever it is, I’ll need to telephone Lucy before she leaves again for Paris. We can’t just disappear without her knowing where we’re going. She would worry.”

“Of course,” Devon replied. “We can telephone her when we get back to the hotel. But it’s still a secret destination. The less who know, the better.”

“Yes, all right…” I nodded. “Thank you.”

Behind us, I could almost feel Kitt’s disappointment as his single red eye studied us as it moved from side to side. He didn’t like being left out of our plans. Without the benefit of the commlink, he could not be any part of the hours ahead.

I was very comfortable with that. Again, the thought crossed my mind that we no longer needed his watching company. He’d played his part very well in bringing us together and I could thank him for that. But I had my Jeep to take us places where a Trans Am couldn’t go if Devon needed to access the more remote places to take his photographs. I could sit in the car and create my outline while he went exploring. It made perfect sense.

I would be sad to send Kitt on his way. I was well aware we owed a lot to the car, and I worried about how he would return to LA alone, without the pretence of a driver. It would have to be done in the dead of night. I decided I would ask Devon about it when we were alone together.

“Come on…” I encouraged. “Let’s go exploring. It all looks wonderful. I want to capture the flavour of the place for my outline. Which I do need to be getting on with tomorrow. Today, we’re still playing truant.”

“Sounds good to me,” Devon agreed.

We walked into the courtyard, side by side and tried to appear casual. The village’s vine-covered stucco walls, cobble-stoned walkways, and magnificent arched entryways gave the impression that the whole place could have been there for centuries. It was certainly the right setting for my new Edward Grainger novel. I couldn’t wait to get started on putting my impressions down on paper. Tomorrow, and the necessary work, would arrive all too soon.

Once we were out of sight of the carpark, Devon took my hand. He tucked it neatly into the crook of his elbow and there it remained for the time we spent exploring and looking into the shop windows. I leaned my cheek against his shoulder, and we strolled as two lovers should, close and intimate. It was like heaven to be this close to him and know that I could get closer any time I wished for it now.

But soon our empty stomachs began to make themselves known. “I guess we can’t live on love alone…” Devon whispered against my hair.

We retraced our steps and the mouth-watering aromas wafting from the nearby restaurants increased my appetite. I looked forward to enjoying a wonderful lunch in this intimate garden setting where yet another fountain played. It had been pleasant enough to walk arm in arm around and enjoy the architecture and atmosphere.

But there was little time for privacy. Even though it was cold there were people shopping or just hanging out and talking. Many feminine glances were turned our way as we passed. And a few admiring male ones as well.

“This looks nice,” I said.

We’d found a convenient restaurant and Devon took a table set to one side out of view of the main area. We ordered some delicious Mexican food and shared a pitcher of margaritas. The time passed unnoticed as we got to know each other again. It was so wonderful to be able to laugh and talk as we used to. Again, the years between seemed to melt away.

Finally, Devon sat back in his chair and toyed with the handle of his coffee cup. I watched him over the rim of my cup, knowing he had something on his mind that he wanted to ask. But he was silent for some time. I braced myself, wondering what he was suddenly finding so hard to express.

※※※※※

I turned the handle of my coffee cup between my fingers. An uncomfortable silence began to stretch between us as I sorted through what I wanted to ask. I didn’t want to pry into Carolyn’s past, but I still had questions that needed answers. We were private enough if we remained seated so we would not be overheard.

Finally, I looked up to find her watching me anxiously. I could see she was expecting me to ask her something thorny to which she may have no answers.

“Sorry…” I raised my shoulders at her worried look. “Please tell me about Edward,” I said then in a rush. “I want to know everything about our son. I am still getting used to the idea he is mine.”

“Of course you are…” Her shoulders sagged and her relief was palpable. “You don’t know how long I have longed to tell you everything about him.”

I sighed and nodded, waiting for her to go on. I hadn’t meant to worry her. It was all still so new to me, having a son of my own after all the years of being alone. Michael was the closest I had to a family, and I’d always treated him like a son. Even when he continued to give me nightmares and more grey hairs than I could count.

“Where would you like me to start?” Carolyn asked quietly.

“At the beginning,” I replied, sitting up to push my empty cup aside and give her my full attention. “Tell me everything. I want to know it all from his very first day until now.”

I settled forward, reaching across the table to take her hand. I tangled her fingers through mine, and she lifted my hand to her lips before she began.

※※※※※

It took another hour before I finally ran out of words to describe my eldest child. Devon absorbed everything I had to tell him, asking questions and inserting comments whenever I paused for breath.

I felt spent, but it was a good feeling. I’d often wanted to go to the place where he was buried and tell him everything. But I had no idea where they had taken his body. It was so cathartic to be able to tell him everything now and see the calm acceptance in his blue eyes and the love that burned there.

Last night we’d declared we loved each other. Was that enough to carry us forward into a new future? I dearly hoped it could be so. But we still did need to take it all one day at a time.

“I don’t think I have left anything out,” I said softly, putting everything I felt for him into my look. “Santa Fe has always been my home and despite everything, I do love living there.”

“Thank you…” Devon seemed satisfied. He squeezed my hand before letting me go.

I nodded, knowing I’d skirted around giving too many details about my relationship with Ian and he hadn’t asked. I think he knew instinctively that my marriage had not been a happy one and I didn’t wish to discuss it. Not in such a lovely setting. I was grateful for his reticence.

He glanced down at his wristwatch. “It’s late. We’d better get going.” He stood up and came around the table to draw back my chair. “Thank you,” he said simply, kissing my cheek.

“Where are we going now?” I asked, looking up at him.

He shook his head. “You’ll see. It’s a surprise. It’s something you asked for.”

“Now you’re just being mysterious,” I complained softly.

I wanted to ask him about my idea of our no longer needing Kitt’s services as a guide, and being truly alone together, but the moment slipped by. We walked slowly back to the carpark. As we neared the Trans Am, Devon pulled the commlink from his pocket and switched it on.

“Good afternoon, Devon,” Kitt said immediately. “While you have been away, I have been busy on your behalf. Everything has been completed as you requested. I have dealt with all the details. All you need to do is return to the hotel and collect your luggage. I am running a little low. We can fill up my gas tank on our way out of the city.”

I gasped and took Devon’s arm. “Just what are the two of you up to now?”

He didn’t try to hide his look of satisfaction. “A surprise for you,” he replied, bending down to kiss the cold tip of my nose. “Just come along with me and do not argue.”

“Very well…” I shook my head at him as Kitt’s doors swung open invitingly. I got in and studied Devon as he drove us back to the hotel and parked next to my Jeep.

We got out and I followed his lead inside. Once I was in my hotel room, I telephoned Lucy and caught her doing some last-minute packing to leave for Paris the next morning.

“Hi, Mum. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you before I left.” I could hear her unspoken question in her surprised greeting. “Are you doing all right? I mean, how’s Sedona? Is it everything you thought it would be?”

“Thank you, yes. All your careful planning has worked,” I told her with a smile. “Devon and I are together again, and we thank all of you for that. I’m aware Kitt was a part of it as well.”

“Yes, he was,” Lucy agreed. “He’s been very helpful.” She chuckled. “I still can’t get used to the idea I was talking to a car. Danny would totally lose his mind over him.” She paused, then said, “If they finally get to meet.”

“Yes, I know he would…” I hesitated. “The dinner and dance last night was a delightful idea. You thought of everything. But now Devon and I are looking for more privacy and peace. I hope you understand that we need to leave the hotel. You’ll be refunded for the rest of the booking.”

“Of course, I understand,” Lucy replied immediately, her happiness reflected in her tone. “It’s your holiday, after all. You must do what feels right. I’m just really glad we could make it happen for you. You two deserve each other and need to be together.”

She sighed. “You looked so lost when Devon left the hospital that last time and didn’t look back. I knew I had to do something about that once you were fully recovered. Maria kept saying she could see you were unhappy, even though you tried to deny it.”

“You all did what you thought was best at the time. But I’m not sure Edward and Danny will be happy about our reunion. They were so sure I wouldn’t be seeing Devon ever again. Though Edward has already spoken with him just before Christmas.”

“Yes, Edward told me they’d been in touch. Which only made me more determined to get you two back together again. And you can safely leave the boys to me,” Lucy said with firm certainty. “I’ll tell them before I leave and make sure they understand your happiness is the most important thing now. They’ll understand.”

She blew a kiss across the miles between us. “I love you, Mum. Say hi to Devon for me. I’m looking forward to meeting him properly when you think it’s the right time. He truly cares for you and that matters. You deserve that after all that Dad put you through.”

I nodded, understanding what my loving daughter had left unsaid. My marriage to Ian has never been for love but I had made the best of it until I couldn’t take any more of his lies.

“I will and thank you, darling, for everything. I love you all so much. Goodbye.” I managed not to cry as I replaced the receiver with a grateful sigh.

After that, it didn’t take me long to pack and I met Devon at the reception as he checked us out. The sun was going down in the west as we walked back to the carpark and into the chill of the evening.

“Get in your car and follow us,” Devon said.

I stopped beside my vehicle and frowned up at him. “Just where are you taking me? Is it far? It’s already getting dark.”

He took the keys from my hand and unlocked the driver’s door. “You said you wanted to be somewhere more private than the hotel. You wanted to get away from the distractions. I asked Kitt to find us somewhere secluded to stay.” He linked my fingers through his as he returned the keys.

“It sounds nice. But I will still have you as a distraction…” I leaned close to whisper. Thank you…” I went up onto my toes and kissed him quickly.

“Ah, we do need to be going,” Kitt commented from behind us. “It will take us over half an hour to arrive at our destination. It will be fully dark by then.”

“Coming…” Devon kissed the tip of my nose before he let me go.

We left the hotel carpark and turned west away from the city to follow the sun as it went down beyond the mountains on the far horizon. Darkness was almost immediate and the road we were following soon took us into a rugged rural area where road signs indicated we were close to a national park. The darkness was nearly total by the time Kitt turned off onto a private road. We wound our way through the trees until we came to a large, sprawling house set in a forest clearing.

An array of outside lights came on the moment we drove up, casting pools of light and shadow across the gravelled driveway. The sprawling house was constructed of wooden beams and adobe with a dull red, clay-tiled roof. It nestled perfectly into its forest setting, seeming to have grown there organically.

“Well, I guess you can’t get more secluded than this,” I remarked, looking all around as I parked next to Kitt.

Devon opened his door. “An excellent choice, Kitt,” he said.

“Thank you, Devon. I have been given the digital code for the door lock. And there are many trails and walks through the forest to some excellent views well worth photographing. That is the main reason you are here.”

“Yes, it is,” Devon concurred, trying not to give away anything we didn’t wish him to know.

I opened my door and got out, looking around admiringly. Devon followed, standing still to absorb the dreaming silence that was almost total except for the soft night wind sighing through the surrounding trees. The darkness crowded in on all sides.

“Oh, it’s absolutely perfect,” I breathed. “I can just see my villain living here in splendid isolation while he schemes and plots my hero’s downfall. I can’t wait to get started.”

I shook my head. And if my new outline was now centred on an older, more mature Edward Grainger then so be it. He would still be tall, masculine and vital -as sexy as hell- but that sharp edge of bitterness had softened. Maybe this time he could finally get the woman he deserved.

“I hadn’t thought of the place as a villain’s lair.” Devon shook his head and smiled at my enthusiasm. “I’ve met a few in my time with FLAG. We could collaborate and compare notes.”

“I would like that.” I smiled as I looked past him. “Thank you, Kitt. You certainly do know how to work miracles.” Again, I felt the need that he should be leaving us soon. But I knew I would miss him.

“You are most welcome, Carolyn. I aim to please you in all aspects of my work. I too thought the place was most suitable as a hideaway for a dastardly villain.”

“Don’t go giving him a swelled head now,” Devon warned. “Come on,” he encouraged, walking to the trunk to fetch our bags. “Let’s get inside out of the cold.”

He glanced at the darkness of the surrounding trees. “No doubt there are bears and mountain lions out there.”

“Okay…” His words hurried my steps toward the front door. “Good night, Kitt.” I touched the car’s wing mirror as we passed.

“Good night,” Kitt replied, his red eye watching us while Devon keyed in the digital code he’d been given, and we went inside.

I looked all around as Devon shut and locked the front door behind us. “Oh, this is just lovely…”

I had to admit the inside of the house was even more perfect than the outside. I took off my leather jacket and dropped it onto a nearby chair before I went exploring. I soon found that every need or want had been catered for from the well-stocked refrigerator to the full wine bar. Nothing had been left to chance. It was a perfect getaway hideaway.

All the rooms were rustically furnished and looked very comfortable. Suitable for the wooded surroundings where people would wish to go hiking and walking. Or to take photographs. After a long day out in the fresh air, a log fire could be lit in the enormous stone fireplace with its huge black bear skin rug spread out on the hardwood floor.

“I could get used to this,” I said, feeling my cheeks heat as I turned away from the rug’s lush thickness and its obvious implications.

The huge size of the animal who’d once owned the skin rug made me wary of venturing too far into the surrounding forest without the protection of my sturdy Jeep. I shook my head.

“I could get used to being alone with you,” Devon replied, walking over to me. “Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?” He linked his fingers loosely through his and tugged me closer.

“I seem to remember you saying something like that last night,” I whispered, looking up at him through my lowered lashes as I rested against his powerful chest.

“I said a lot of things last night,” he teased gently. “And so did you.” He looked around the huge living room. “At least, nobody can hear us out here.”

“It is lovely,” I replied, toying with his long fingers. “We have wasted so much time in all those long years we were apart. Too much time.”

“Well, we aren’t going to waste a single minute of the time we have together here and now…” Devon lifted my hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to their backs. “But, first off, I think do we need to light that fire. It’s getting cold. And then we should see about some dinner. You must be hungry.”

“Yes, a little…” I nodded jerkily, stirring my fingers against his softly stubbled cheek before he let me go and went to light the prepared fire. All it needed was the long match he struck and applied to the paper beneath the kindling and larger pieces of wood.

“Now that’s done, you stay in here and get warm. Find a book to read. I’ll see about our dinner,” he said, as he straightened to look at me long and meaningfully before he walked away into the kitchen.

“All right…” I looked after him and sighed.

He’d shed his sheepskin jacket and was wearing a soft cream woollen, roll-neck sweater and dark navy jeans. He fitted neatly into every one of the beguiling fantasies I’d ever had about the gorgeous hero of my novels.

“Blast…” Again, what I wanted had nothing to do with anything as prosaic as food.

I was already warm enough without the fire. The heat of anticipation for the night ahead stirred through me. I wanted to be back in his arms again and with no barriers between us.

But I would allow Devon to take care of me tonight. He seemed determined to do so with or without my permission and I could admit it was a very nice feeling to be cherished by a strong, caring man once more. I didn’t know until this very moment how much I missed him doing that for me.

※※※※※

I watched Carolyn as she entered the kitchen and saw her frown. I had been investigating the offerings in the huge side-by-side fridge and freezer. I took out some fresh salmon steaks along with brown rice and vegetables.

I put them on the kitchen island. I returned to the fridge to take out a chilled bottle of white wine and found two glasses. I opened the wine as I watched her.

“Sit down there…” I indicated a bar stool on the other side of the island. I wasn’t going to allow her to help me. “I’m cooking for you tonight.”

“Bossy…” Carolyn smiled as she did as she was told for once.

“Sometimes it pays…” I shook my head.

I sorted through my ingredients and started the prep at the island’s deep farmhouse sink. “I can see you’ve got something on your mind. You wanted to tell me over lunch, but you didn’t. Care to share it now?”

“All right…” she began cautiously as she watched me work. “I’ve been thinking about Kitt…”

“What about Kitt?” I prevaricated, guessing what she was about to say.

I was sure I’d already arrived at the very same conclusion. But I waited for her to ask as I poured two glasses of wine and pushed one toward her.

“I mean, do we actually need him anymore?” She rushed to reply, accepting the glass with a quick nod of thanks. “I know we owe him a great deal and he has been very helpful. He was very good to me in all those months we were apart. I couldn’t have done it without him…”

“But?” I encouraged as I finished washing the vegetables and put them into a double saucepan to steam.

I picked up my glass and sipped the contents as I watched her. I knew what she wanted to say next.

Carolyn toyed with the stem of her glass. “But if we are to be truly all alone out here, then we don’t need a babysitter.”

I tried not to smile. “I doubt Kitt has ever been called a babysitter before,” I joked softly, to ease her tension as I turned away to deal with the rice. “It would bruise his dignity.”

“You said I needed to remember he’s just a car,” she shot back. “Well, that’s what I am trying to do. He reports on everything we do.”

“Yes…” I nodded slowly. “I know what you’re trying to say. Kitt has been very useful and resourceful. But I do agree. I too feel he has outlived his usefulness with us now. He can go back to LA.”

“I’m glad. But how will he get home?” Carolyn worried.

“If I tell him tonight, then he can be back in LA and get to Michael’s place before sunrise. No one will pay any attention to a car passing in the night. It has always been the safest time for him to travel alone.”

I raised my shoulders as I worked with the salmon steaks. “And don’t worry. He will go on auto cruise and if anyone tries to stop him, then there’s always the turbo boost. Nothing can catch Kitt at top speed. He will be perfectly safe.”

“It does sound very easy…” Carolyn nodded. “But I do feel so bad about asking.”

I shook my head as I washed and dried my hands before picking up one of hers. “You have imbued Kitt with human emotions and feelings.” I grimaced. “Don’t worry, we’ve all done it over the years. But, at the most basic level, he is still just a computerised car and will do as he’s commanded. He has no option. And you cannot hurt his feelings because he has none.”

“Are you sure?” Carolyn gripped my fingers. “At times he seems so lonely. And he does have a rather wicked sense of humour.”

“That’s been Michael’s lasting influence on him. But Kitt’s still just a car. You can leave it to me to tell him it’s time to go.” I glanced at the food.

There would be time for us to go and talk to Kitt before it was all ready. The salmon steaks were the last thing to be cooked and would take the least amount of time.

“Come on…” I encouraged her to her feet with my grip on her fingers. “We have time to send him on his way now. Put on your jacket and trust me. You’ll see. He won’t be at all upset. His gas tank is full so he can drive right through the night.”

“All right…” She complied with my command as she retrieved her leather coat and shrugged it on.

But I could see by the guilty look in her eyes that she was not at all convinced. I smiled, loving her all over again for the warm tenderness of her woman’s loving heart as I grabbed my jacket, and we walked together toward the front door.

※※※※※

Chapter 15: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Time To Go Home

“Very well. If you have decided you no longer require my services, I can be back in Montecito before sunrise,” Kitt said comfortably. “Please do not worry, Carolyn, I will be quite safe travelling alone.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, feeling a deepening sense of guilt seep through me as I stared at his little red screen.

“Quite sure,” he replied readily. “It is certainly not the first time I have travelled without the pretence of a driver. But nighttime is the best cover. No one will see inside my windows.”

“If you think you’ll be all right…” I frowned at the screen.

He seemed so calm and matter of fact. I felt an odd sense of chagrin that he didn’t put up more of a fight to stay with us. But there were more reasons for him to leave than to stay.

“Please don’t worry, Carolyn.” Devon shook his head at me. “Kitt will have more than enough to keep him busy back at Knight Investigations. He’s an integral part of their unit.”

“Of course,” Kitt replied, sounding more than a little smug. “I am almost indispensable. I was simply on loan to bring Devon out here to Sedona. I do feel my work is now completed. Your reunion has been successful. I can see that.”

“Then we shall say no more about your need to stay. Here…” Devon retrieved the commlink from his jacket pocket and placed it in a compartment in the dashboard. “I’ll see you back in LA in two weeks,” he said.

I noticed he made no mention of my returning to the city with him. I frowned at the obvious omission, but I knew he must have his reasons. I couldn’t help wondering what they were, but I wasn’t going to ask in front of our interested audience of one AI car.

“Thank you, Devon,” Kitt replied, as both his doors swung open to let in the cold night air. “Now, if you will both, please excuse me…”

“Good night, Kitt.” I shrugged as I followed Devon’s lead and got out. “And thank you.”

“You are welcome,” Kitt replied as his doors shut behind us and his engine purred to life. His headlights came on, lancing beams of light into the inky darkness.

“Safe journey…” I touched his wing mirror in farewell.

I still felt guilty. I couldn’t help it. I sighed, shaking my head. I was on the point of asking him to stay, after all.

“Please do not worry about me,” Kitt reassured me as he backed up and turned toward the driveway. “I will telephone you tomorrow morning. Take good care of yourselves. Goodbye.”

He accelerated smoothly down the driveway and was soon lost from view among the black trees. Then the sound of his powerful engine quickly faded into the darkness. I shivered, fancying I heard the growl of a bear or the scream of a mountain lion somewhere nearby in the dark stillness of the national park beyond the lights of the house.

“Come on, it’s too cold out here and our dinner’s waiting.” Devon slung a warm arm around my shoulders and hugged me as he guided me back inside. “And please stop worrying…” He kissed my cold cheek.

※※※※※

I turned my head and stared into the glowing embers of the fire. The only sounds in the shadowed room were the soft crackling of burning pine sap and Carolyn’s slow breathing as she lay nestled comfortably on my chest. She had been asleep there for some time and I was loathe to move her.

We’d eaten the delicious meal I’d prepared and then consumed one half of a strawberry cheesecake I found in the fridge. The accompanying two bottles of white wine had been delicious and the Irish coffees I made for us both were a fitting end to an enjoyable evening. It only lacked one final act of which we were both vitally aware.

The taut undercurrent of sensual anticipation ran beneath everything we did or said. Often our gazes tangled and held, or Carolyn would brush her fingers deliberately and possessively across some part of my body whenever I was near enough to touch. Which was often deliberate on my part, inviting her caress.

After we’d finished, we washed the dishes and put them away. Then, without anything more to distract us from the true reason we had come to this remote spot, we stood close together, holding each other in the flickering firelight as we slow-danced to the music on the radio.

Our renewed passion was slow burning and deepening in intensity with every passing minute we denied ourselves the final pleasures of the night to come. I wanted to take the time to kiss every part of her slender body and then start again from her topmost curl.

“I don’t want this night to end…” She sighed against my chest.

“I can promise you, Luciana, that there will be other nights,” I replied, running my lips across the pulse beating in the side of her neck. “This is only the beginning…”

“Yes…” She sighed again, cupping the back of my head in one hand as she brought my mouth around to hers. “Love me, Devon… Now, please…”

“Always…” I replied before I plundered the softness of her open lips and there was no longer any need for words.

I slid my hands down over her hips to the jean-clad glory of her softly rounded behind, lifting her high against me as I had on our first night together. She wrapped her legs around my waist and allowed me to do with her as I willed.

We never made it as far as the master bedroom. We settled instead for the luxurious bearskin rug in front of the stone hearth. The warm fire had been too inviting and beyond the double-glazed windows the blackness of the night sky had been filled with uncountable stars. It was a breathtaking view, but I only had eyes for my love and she never looked away from me as the final barrier between us was removed. Her warm skin had glowed like ivory in the firelight.

I sighed now as I drew her closer beneath the cover of the large Hudson Bay blanket, she’d carried in from one of the bedrooms when the air nipped at our shared nakedness. Beyond the windows, the inky blackness of the sky was already lightening toward dawn and somewhere in the distance an early co*ckerel crowed at the first signs of the new day.

“I love you…” I whispered against her hair. “I cannot think of my life without you now…”

I sighed again. I didn’t want to move. I could have stayed this way forever with her so close to me and feeling comfortable enough to fall asleep against me. Her trust in me and my motives now seemed total. I prayed that I could live up to her expectations, even as my cramped body demanded I move and attend to its needs.

“Devon?” Carolyn murmured sleepily as I moved her gently to one side and rose to my knees.

She sat up beside me and her narrowed gaze moved slowly over my naked chest and thighs. I remained kneeling, allowing her to look her fill. I smiled at her and the love between us hummed with intent and expectation.

She almost appeared to be measuring my stamina. A small smile curved my mouth. “I need to go, but I will be back,” I promised.

“Good…” she murmured, and I saw her shiver with renewed anticipation as I rose to my feet and walked away. “Don’t be too long…”

※※※※※

I watched Devon walk away. The flex and release of the long muscles in his legs, butt and back were too tempting to ignore. I stretched lazily with the anticipation of his imminent return. I needed nothing but him.

I turned to look through the windows at the dawning light. A new day and I knew I had to make a start on the primary reason I had come to Sedona. And Devon needed to get on with his work. But that was for later. Right now, I had other things, more immediate things, on my mind…

Devon soon came back down to me, stretching out beside me like some great, glorious creature, barely tamed and here only because I willed it. I inhaled deeply as the renewed hardness of his body pressed against my thigh.

“I promised I wouldn’t be long,” he whispered, laying his hand on my hip, asking, not demanding and requesting, not taking. A free exchange of mutual delight. “And my lady holds my desire as a precious thing. You are so beautiful…”

He took my hand and kissed my open palm lovingly before continuing his sensual path to the pulse beating in my inner wrist. His warm tongue lathed the sure giveaway of my rising desires.

“I do love you, Devon Miles,” I managed shakily. The faint warmth of the dawn was starting to kiss my bare toes. My gaze drifted downwards, and I smiled. “All of you…”

“And I love you, my beautiful Luciana. Always… I swear,” he answered, understanding the lambent pleasure of a slow burning of renewed passion rising in both of us. He was both utterly sated and as eager to begin again as I was.

“It was you who made me beautiful… Do you truly know how much I love you?” I said, cupping his stubbled cheek.

He had become my lover, again. I felt I could ask any question and know his answer would be honest. He would never be less than that, again. FLAG and all its deceits and secrets were far behind us both.

“I do…” he said, pressing his hand over the top of mine.Of course, he did. The singing of the love between them told him. “And I promise you I will always treat that like the incredible gift it is. That I will treasure it as no man ever could.”

He kissed my palm again, then pressed another to my forehead. “Or ever will. Whatever happens, whatever comes now, know that I have always loved you. Always…”

“Oh, Devon, I love you too. So very much…”

Morning sunlight started to brighten the room. The picture he painted brought tears to my eyes. Tears mixed with knowledge. This very different man from my ex-husband and he truly loved me. He would always love me. Through the good times, and the bad.

He made me feel beautiful, brave, strong, smart, and incredibly sexy. Despite the signs on my body that reminded me I was no longer young. I smiled through my tears. “And we might take a shower later. Much, much later…”

I reached up to kiss him long and deeply. I treasured the erotic contact of his tongue tangling with mine as a sensual silence settled in the living room beyond the pine-scented crackling of the dying fire...

※※※※※

“You want me to do what?” Carolyn laughed, obviously unsure about my suggestion as she walked away from me toward the sheer rocky drop into the valley far below.

The view from our vantage point was spectacular and perfect. I’d already framed up the shot before I called her from the Jeep. She was wary of the shadowed forest and venturing too far from the vehicle’s solid protection.

“Just be yourself,” I encouraged her. “Keep your eyes on me and I’ll take care of the rest.” I shook my head. “You have done this before.”

“Says who?” She arched her brows at me saucily and poked out her tongue as she moved slowly backwards toward the cliff’s dizzying edge. She did have a good head for heights, for which I was grateful.

“Minx…” I wanted to catch up to her and kiss her into submission.

But the light was fading, and it was now or never for me to take the perfect shot. I was aware it wasn’t safe to be out in the forest after dark.

I raised the camera to my left eye and focussed the viewfinder on the incredible view with my love framed neatly against the magical horizon of red rocks and puffs of white snow against the clear, azure sky.

The westering sun shone through her ash blond curls, gilding them with points of light. Keeping the camera to my eye, I directed her to sit on a large rock and how to pose for me as she had several times before today. I enjoyed photographing her. The camera adored her. She did as I asked, turning her head to catch the sunlight on the side of her face. I clicked the shutter before she moved again.

I’d managed to photograph a decent portfolio of work while Carolyn had sat in her Jeep writing her outline. We were both almost done with our respective tasks.

We’d travelled many of the trails in the area by daylight and retreated to the lodge as soon as the sun went down. Our nights were spent together, rekindling the love that had never truly left either of us.

I sighed with contentment. We’d spent a blissful ten days laughing and loving in our very private hideaway. It almost felt as if the world did not exist, and any problems had been left far behind. I never wanted it to end. But, of course, it soon would. Then we had difficult decisions that needed to be made.

Of course, we both knew our time together was nearly up. And the future suddenly seemed as uncertain as the day we first met again back in LA. I knew it was on her mind too, from the questioning looks she kept giving me when she thought I wasn’t looking her way.

What are we going to do now? Where is all of this going?’

She’d already told me that day we had lunch at the Mexican market that Santa Fe was her home and despite everything that had happened in her failed marriage, she loved living there. My life was back in Montecito, looking for a house to purchase before I jetted off to London for my new exhibition. And where would I be after that?

Honestly, I had no answers, because I truly didn’t know.’Drop everything and come away with me…’hovered frequently on the tip of my tongue begging to be asked.

I shook my head slowly. We still had no answer to the confounded riddle of what happened to Schrödinger’s blasted cat. The lid of the box containing the future of our love was still sealed shut.

“We should be getting back,” Carolyn said finally, as she walked up to me. She pushed her arms around my waist beneath my open jacket as I lowered the camera. “It’s getting dark and cold out here. And I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry…” I teased; aware she wasn’t talking about food.

“For you…” She smiled as she reached up to kiss my cheek then drifted to my mouth, teasing and taunting me until I gave in to her sensual torture. The camera fell to hang by its strap over my shoulder as I gathered her up against me, plundering and savouring her soft sweetness.

After a long silence, I felt her smile against my lips and then her soft giggle filled my mouth. Her hands pushed beneath the waistband of my jeans to caress the line of my hips before tugging at the tail of my denim shirt to find the skin beneath.

“Remember, that young man back at the carpark in the hills told us to get a room,” she whispered. “I do think we should take his advice. We don’t have a lot of time left…”

“Yes…” I breathed against her mouth, shaking my head as I drew back slowly with real regret.

“Come on…” She slid her hand down to tangle her fingers through mine. “Race you to the car…”

※※※※※

We were laughing as we entered the lodge hand in hand, anticipating the night ahead. A delicious shiver ran through me. After a few nights spent on the huge rug in front of the fire, we’d finally made it to the master bedroom and the wide comfort of the enormous bed. I was hungry, but I needed Devon more than food. I turned into his arms the moment he shut the front door behind us.

“Come here…” I commanded, sliding my hands from his waist up to his shoulders, running my fingers into his hair and pulling his mouth down toward mine.

Our lips almost touched, and our mingled breathing accelerated with sensual anticipation… when the telephone rang. I gasped and jumped at the sudden, insistent sound while Devon swore, low and grimly.

Then something feathered up and down my spine. I just knew whoever was on the other end of the phone call was going to deliver bad news. My mind began to race with questions.

“I’ll get it…” Devon released me and strode off into the kitchen to snatch the receiver from the wall mount. “Devon Miles…”

I watched him freeze as he listened intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He nodded a couple of times, his blue eyes tracking back to mine, and they clouded with regret. He shook his head as I spread my hands mutely in inquiry.

“Oh, God…” I breathed, as I lifted one hand to my open mouth.

Raw fear lanced through me. I knew from Devon’s frowning expression that one of my family had been injured, or worse. My heart began to thump against the cage of my ribs as I saw him nod again and then he said, “I’ll tell her right away. Thank you, Michael. Goodbye.”

He returned the receiver to its mount and then turned to look at me. He walked forward to gather me into his arms and rock me gently from side to side.

“It’s not good news, I’m afraid,” he said. “You need to go home immediately.”

“Tell me, who is it?” I asked, my agitated fingers seizing fistfuls of his denim shirt.

“It’s your Maria,” he replied gently. “It seems she’s taken a bad fall while she was out walking and is recovering in hospital. Her son contacted Michael, and Kitt gave him our number here. It happened three days ago.”

“Oh, thank God it’s not worse…” I sagged against him, tears burning my eyes. “I thought there for a minute… I mean…”

“Your children are all fine as far as Michael knows,” he replied. “But it seems Maria is determined to discharge herself from hospital. She will not take no for an answer. They need you back in Santa Fe to try and talk some sense into her. To make her obey her doctors.”

“She wouldn’t listen to me…” I laughed shakily. “No one tells Maria Flores what to do once she’s made up her mind to something. But I do need to go home right away. She will be terrifying her children.”

“Of course,” Devon responded immediately. “I’ll arrange everything here and then I’m coming with you. But we’ll leave first thing in the morning. It’s already late and Maria will be safe enough in the hospital. You need to rest and eat something.”

“Oh…” I’d forgotten we no longer had Kitt with us. “If you want to come too.”

“Most certainly I want to,” he said, shaking me gently. “You won’t get rid of me that easily. I’ve never been to Santa Fe. And I want to meet your Maria. She sounds formidable.”

“She is…” His encouraging smile warmed me and lightened my deep concerns.

He was going to take care of me again, while I did my best to take care of Maria. Both were equally determined people who would not be denied their wishes. If it wasn’t so serious I could almost enjoy seeing them together.

As I hurried to pack my bags, while Devon phoned the owner of the lodge, I wondered who would finally get the upper hand. There were bound to be clashes of wills between them.

※※※※※

Our journey to Santa Fe was quick and uneventful. I insisted on driving while Carolyn tried to catch up on some sleep. She didn’t resist, thereby telling me how tired and stressed she was. She curled into the passenger seat and closed her eyes. I glanced at her from time to time as the miles sped by.

She’d spent a restless night and was up before dawn, agitating to leave. I didn’t deny her sense of urgency even as I insisted that she eat some breakfast before we left the lodge for the final time. She settled for coffee and toast.

As the secluded place disappeared into the distance and the trees behind us, I wondered if we could recapture what we’d had there. Its remoteness had been its charm and I missed it like the very devil. Now, Carolyn would be torn between worrying about her good friend and my unexpected presence in her house.

She woke up after some hours and gave me a strained smile. I could see the tension simmering in her. The bare facts about Maria’s condition that I’d been given made Carolyn restless.

“Please take me right to the hospital. I’ll give you directions as soon as we get into the city,” she said quietly.

“Of course…” I could see her agitation in her old habit of twisting the strap of her handbag between her fingers as she stared at the passing landscape.

I didn’t comment or say anything banal. I knew she was deeply worried, and my sole duty was to deliver her safely home again and be her unquestioning support.

I could do that for her. I enjoyed looking after her, as much as she would allow me to do so.

I would give her a safe place to fall when she became too weary or upset. I crossed my fingers on the steering wheel as the outskirts of Santa Fe finally came into view and I hoped Maria’s accident was not as bad as had been reported by her worried family.

※※※※※

Chapter 16: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

A Safe Place to Fall

“They shouldn’t have called you,” Maria complained, looking past my shoulder to frown at her worried children. “I told them not to. I’m fine.” Her fingers plucked restlessly at the crisp whiteness of the hospital sheets.

“Ah, Mama…” Miguel, her youngest son complained, spreading his hands wide in protest. “We had to.” He looked to his four siblings for support, and they all nodded. “You’ve already said you’re not going to stay with any of us.”

“Because I don’t want to be a burden,” his mother replied.

“Who was the woman who told me not so long ago that I must do as my doctors instructed?” I asked mildly, sitting on the side of the bed to take her hand between mine. “You will do as you are told and like it.”

“You too?” Her dark eyes speared me with sharp reproof. “I thought I could count on you to be on my side.”

“And you can,” I replied steadily. “But you’ve broken both your wrist and your arm. You’ve also got a very nasty bruise on your head. I’m just so glad it wasn’t worse. You need to lie back and allow us to take care of you for a while.”

“I know I’ve ruined your holiday…” Maria’s gaze slid past me to Devon, who was standing behind me, watching our interaction. “I’m sorry for that.”

“Don’t be,” I replied quickly, shaking my head. “It was almost over anyway.”

“It went… well?” She raised her eyebrows at me, her gaze still assessing Devon with speculation. “He is good to you. For you?”

“Stop fishing, Maria,” I told her, feeling my cheeks warming. “We’re here to talk about you and what we’re going to do to get you home.”

“That good, huh?” My forthright friend smiled knowingly. “You’ll have to tell me all about it sometime.” She glanced at Devon again. “I’ll say he’s a really good-looking man. Much better than that Ian.”

I smiled as I stood up, avoiding her ongoing speculation. “The doctors say you can come home with me as long as you agree to take it easy. You have a bad concussion, and you must promise not to overdo things.”

“I want to get out of this place. I’ve been here too long already.” She pulled a discontented face. “They don’t do anything right.” She frowned at her children again.

“All right.” I sighed even as I couldn’t help smiling at her discontent. She always detested being anything less than her usual forthright self. “I’ll go and see the nurse about paying the bill –” I raised my hand when Maria opened her mouth to protest. “– and you won’t argue with me. It’s the least I can do.”

“Very well…” She subsided unwillingly, knowing it was the only way she was going to be able to leave this room. “But I will pay you back every last cent.”

Devon took my hand, giving me his silent support as I said, “I’ll go and open up the house and make sure everything’s ready for you. Then we’ll be back. You’ll be home in time for dinner.”

“That can’t come soon enough.” Maria sighed, nodding her agreement.

She divided her gaze between us. “So, you’re staying with us?” she asked Devon.

“That’s the general idea,” he replied neutrally.

“Good, good. Then I’ll look forward to getting to know you better.” Maria nodded with satisfaction as she watched us leave the room.

“I can see you’ll have your hands full with her,” Devon said as we approached the nurse’s station. “It’s just as well I’m here. I won’t allow her to stress you out.”

“Yes…” I hugged his arm. “But she’ll try her best not to. I’m afraid Maria’s going to be as fractious as a two-year-old child. It’s in her nature. She’s always hated not being in control and the one in charge.”

“That much is obvious.” Devon shook his head ruefully as the nurse hurried up to see what we wanted.

※※※※※

I carried our bags inside the house. Then I walked around Carolyn’s home, helping her open the curtains and windows to let in the sunlight and warm desert air.

I didn’t truly know what to expect, but this charming house exceeded my imaginings. It was rustic and sprawling, a beautiful Spanish style and it was crammed full of her personality. Her tastes were eclectic because of the number of interesting collectables that took up every available space and the brightly coloured paintings that hung on the cream-coloured walls. The main lounge was decorated with Mexican wall hangings and colourful woven blankets draped over the furniture.

“I like colour,” she said to me when she saw me looking at it all. “I made sure I changed all the locks and then redecorated everything after Ian left. He liked things plain and bland. I make no apology for loving my new house as it is now.”

“And nor should you,” I replied quickly. “This is your home. Where else can you be yourself?”

“Thank you…” She seemed satisfied with my response. “The bedrooms are this way…” She led me from the main part of the house and down a long wide hallway. “You can have the main guest room. It’s next to mine.”

She didn’t meet my eyes as she opened the door to a large, charming room furnished in the same colourful style as the rest of the house. She stood aside for me to enter and put my bags on the large wooden chest that stood at the end of the bed.

She came close to place her palms flat on my chest. “I’m sorry we can’t be alone like we were back at the lodge in Sedona,” she said with real regret. “This wasn’t how I was expecting our holiday to end.”

“I don’t think either of us had any real idea about how it was going to end,” I replied gently, taking her hands in mine and kissing her palm. “Maria needs you right now and I wouldn’t be anywhere else but here.”

“But you have to get your photographs organised for your exhibit,” she worried. “They won’t develop and frame themselves, you know.”

I smiled at her frowning concern. “Don’t worry, I now have an agency to do that for me. I’ll mail them the rolls of film tomorrow. They can take care of the rest. Then I can spare another few weeks before I must get back to Montecito to see a man about a house. Then I’ll be flying out to London. But all of that can wait while you need me to be here.”

I drew her closer with my hands at her waist. “You are the only one I want to care about right now. You and Maria.”

“Thank you…” She reached up to kiss me lingeringly. “I am very glad you’re here. It won’t be easy.”

“I know that…” I nodded with my lips against hers. “That is why I am staying.”

I traced the line of her jaw with my fingers cupping her cheeks and she surrendered to my need to take care of her with a breathy sigh of longing.

※※※※※

Three weeks later:

“If I didn’t know better, Mr Devon Miles, I would say you’re nothing but a great, big cheat!” Maria said sternly, throwing down her cards in disgust.

“Blame it on a misspent youth.” Devon shrugged as he humoured her. “My father was a gifted card sharp.”

I smiled as I looked up from a portfolio of Devon’s photographic work. The pair of them had been playing poker for most of the last three weeks and neither was prepared to give an inch. Devon made no allowance for Maria’s healing injuries, and she respected him for that.

I was the one who fussed. I couldn’t help it. It was the mothering instinct in me. Maria was healing well and no longer needed my close attention, but I still hovered watchfully.

I’d managed to complete the first draft of my new Edward Grainer novel where he had an exciting adventure trying to solve a new murder while on a much-needed holiday in Sedona. Devon had contributed some intriguing insights into the devious mind of a master criminal that I’d never known about before.

His thoughts and comments added a new and edgy dimension that I just knew my readers were going to love. I offered to put his name to the trilogy as the co-author, but he smiled and said he was happy to remain anonymous as my ghostwriter. I kissed him and told him how much I loved him.

I smiled across at him now, wishing we could be alone and knowing the guilt of such a forlorn need. I was very pleased with my new work, even if Devon featured in it more than I realised. After some thought, I decided to leave it that way. Devon had irrevocably become Edward Grainger and there was no turning back now. I couldn’t visualise my hero in any other way.

I had just begun the second draft, but I’d made little headway with it, becoming more and more distracted by Devon’s ongoing presence in my house. As the days turned into weeks I began to lose concentration, having my real-life hero so close and so very touchable. I ached to be in his arms again and from his many glances, I knew he agreed.

As a much-needed distraction, Devon had asked his agency to send us a portfolio of his works. They also said they’d recently secured a lucrative deal with a popular national magazine to showcase some of his more recent photographs.

“These are truly amazing…” I marvelled now at each photograph as I slowly turned the heavy pages.

Devon’s eye for detail was breathtaking. He smiled at me. “You could become famous if any of the photos I took of you back in Sedona are approved for publication in the magazine.”

“You’re forgetting that I’m already famous!” I reminded him with a saucy grin, pointing to the nearby bookcase full of my novels in both hardcover and paperback. “I’m on the back of every single one.”

“Fair point.” He grinned at me, and I sighed.

I missed being held by him as I fell asleep. And when I woke up to find him watching me like I was a puzzle he was determined to solve. The thought made my bare toes curl with frustrated desire. I changed my position and tucked my legs beneath me, trying to look cool and collected. But I doubted I was fooling anyone.

We were all seated in the warmth of the main lounge. The sun had gone down on another fine, late winter’s day and I longed to take a walk in the fresh air now the evening was cooler.

Devon heard my sigh and frowned at me in concern. Maria got to her feet and planted her good hand on her hip.

“Go on and take her out, Devon,” my very forthright housekeeper commanded. “Somewhere you can get a drink and a good meal. I don’t want to see either of you for the rest of the night.”

“Oh, but I –” I protested.

Maria immediately held up a denying hand. “No buts, oh, dears or maybes. I mean it. I may have been ordered to take it easy, but you two don’t. Get out and have some fun.”

“It does sound like a great plan…” Devon rose to his feet.

I felt I was being ganged up on. Both stared at me with determination.

“There’s a great bar and grill just a couple of blocks away,” Maria encouraged. “Carolyn knows the way. She used to go there all the time.”

I frowned. “I haven’t been back there in ages. Not since Ian and I left the city for LA.” I didn’t need reminding.

“All right.” Maria shrugged. “Then it’s way past time you get reacquainted with the place. It serves excellent food, and you deserve a night out. Go on now before I lose my temper with the pair of you.”

I put aside the folder and got out of my chair to hug her carefully, pulling back to look at her. “Only if you’re sure…” I looked down at my colourful Mexican peasant blouse and long flowing skirt. “I’m not exactly dressed to go out for dinner.” I knew Ian wouldn’t have approved.

My good friend walked toward me. “Rubbish, you look fine to me. And it’s about time you stopped worrying about what that ex-husband of yours thinks. He’s not around anymore.”

Maria put her hand on my cheek. “I don’t think I can take watching you two mope around each other for much longer.” She pulled me closer to whisper, “Something’s gotta give…” She stared at me significantly before turning her eyes in Devon’s direction.

“We don’t mope,” I protested. “We’re here to look after you. I thought we were doing a good job of it too.”

“Then prove me wrong,” Maria replied stoutly, taking me by the shoulder and turning me toward the door. “Go out and have a good time. I’ll be fine on my own. I’ll have a light supper and go to bed. I’m tired of losing at cards. Good night.”

She left the room and the argument, shutting the door behind her. She knew I couldn’t dispute her claim if she wasn’t in the same room with us.

I turned to look at Devon. He’d collected up the cards and had put them back in their box. He tilted his head at me in inquiry. “Shall we?” he asked softly. “Shall we play truant once again, Luciana?” He knew those words would melt the last of my faltering resolve.

“I would like to go out,” I admitted honestly. “It is such a lovely night. But I really should go and get changed.”

“Then consider it done. And you look fine to me.” His blue eyes caressed me, lingering on the low-cut neckline of my blouse. “I really like this look. It suits you. Now, stop arguing and go and get your coat and put some shoes on. I’m taking you out and it’s my treat because you paid last time.”

“All right…” I shrugged, knowing it was useless to argue when he’d already made up his mind to take care of me again.

※※※※※

The Mexican/American bar and grill was already filling up when we arrived. Devon found us a recently vacated booth and I sat down while he went to order our drinks from the bar.

I sat looking around, curious to see anyone I knew. But it had been many months since I’d last been in here and most of the patrons were strangers. I leaned back and absorbed the colourful atmosphere as I watched Devon at the bar. The gorgeous sight of him in his tailored jeans and white shirt made my mouth water and my mind wander.

I sighed. “If only we could be alone in the house…” I missed falling asleep in his arms and I—

“Carolyn?” a man’s voice suddenly asked from beside me. “I thought that was you. God, it’s been ages.”

I frowned as I turned my head, and my blood ran cold. “Ian?” I gasped, not sure if I was seeing a ghost. “I… what are you doing here? Why aren’t you in New York?”

Why aren’t you where you’re supposed to be? Far away from me with your latest nubile young woman on your arm!’

“I’ve finally finished with New York. It took longer than I expected.” Ian shook his head. “It’s damned good to see you. I was hoping I’d run into you on this trip back here to the old town. I heard you’d returned from LA a few months ago.”

I stared up at him. He’d always been a handsome man, but now he looked older and rather bitter. His face had more lines and there were more streaks of grey in his dark hair.

I shook my head. “Well, I’m not happy to see you. We have nothing more to say to each other.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Devon turning toward us with our drinks in his hands.

He frowned at my ex-husband, and he also saw my stiff discontent. He was very protective of me, and I feared what he might do to Ian if they crossed paths.

I shook my head pleadingly in his direction and he didn’t approach any further. But he didn’t back off either. He walked to a nearby table and sat down to watch us closely. I was glad because he gave me the courage to face Ian one last time.

Ian shrugged away my dismissal. “Hear me out. You certainly owe me that much. I’m back here for a final business meeting. Tying up some loose ends before I head back to LA for good.”

He eased into the booth opposite me. I was grateful he didn’t try to sit next to me. “I’m expanding the business and going nationwide later this year. I was thinking of calling at the house to see you. We’ve got a lot to discuss.”

He looked me over critically. “You’re looking well. Very well, indeed.” He flicked a dismissive hand at my blouse and skirt. “Though I do prefer you in one of those power suits you used to like wearing, or an evening gown. You look like you’re wearing something Maria gave you.”

I inhaled sharply at the casual insult. “So, New York worked out for you then?”

“Yes and no. I found the financing I needed after you…” He grimaced. “Well, you know what happened. I had to cover my losses after the divorce. It wasn’t easy. But I finally got what I wanted. I made them see it my way.”

He frowned at me; his dark brown eyes deeply speculative. “But, what about you? You’re all alone here? Or are you reliving the past?” He looked around. “You must remember when we used to come here all the time.”

Beneath the table his knee pushed suggestively against mine, moving slowly between my knees and toward my inner thigh. “I want you back,” he said then. “I’ve given you enough time to think about what you did to us. I can forgive you for that.”

I gasped, not quite believing his arrogance. “As I said, I don’t think we have anything more to say to each other,” I replied in a disinterested tone. “We said it all nearly two years ago.” I turned sideways and pressed my knees together, avoiding any more unwanted under the table contact.

“Yeah, but that was then.” Ian sought to take my hand in his, but I avoided that as well. “Look, I’ve had a lot of time to think too. We used to be so good together. We just got turned around somehow. I blame all that sappy romance stuff you were writing. It isn’t real life, you know.”

He shook his head as he warmed to his theme. “We can’t go throwing away thirty-five years of marriage on a silly whim. I know I did wrong, but I can promise you I’m a changed man. Melissa’s no longer in my life. I’ve been far too busy.”

He studied the bare ring finger of my left hand. “I’ll admit I was shocked and angry when you filed for divorce without asking me first. Then there’s our kids. Surely their future happiness counts for something. I’m sure they’d love to see us get back together.”

He smiled. “I miss you, Carolyn. I guess I’ve never really gotten over you leaving me. I really do want you back. On your terms, of course,” he added hastily when he saw my frowning expression. “Look, I’m staying for a few days with Grant Foreman before I go back to LA. He told me you’d come back here to live. You know his number. Phone me there when you come to your senses. You know you won’t get a better deal.”

He looked me up and down. “You do need to think about it seriously. You’re not getting any younger.”

“I don’t need to think about it, Ian…” I shook my head, well aware of what he wanted. “Our children are all adults. They know their own minds. And they saw through you years ago. I was the one who was stupid enough to think you actually loved me. You don’t know what that is.”

I knew he needed an attractive, intelligent wife in his corporate life. He’d never appreciated that fact. Now that he was planning on expanding his software company. Taking his latest loose woman to business dinners was not a good look. He needed me back in his life as his sophisticated wife and bookkeeper.

The thought of getting back with him made my blood run even colder. “I have no intention of remarrying you. It was over long before I threw you out. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” I stood up and turned to walk away.

Hey!We haven’t finished talking.” Ian stood up and grabbed for my arm as I passed him. “You haven’t listened to what I’ve got to say. I’ve got a great deal I can offer you, you know. You can come and go as you please. Do your writing or whatever. I won’t interfere or try to stop you and—”

“Let hergo!” Devon was out of his seat in an instant, menace and rage evident in every line of his demeanour as he crossed the floor to snatch Ian’s grip from my arm. He imposed his powerful body between us and I was grateful.

Ian glared at him. “Hey, pal, back off! This is between me and her. Get lost before I make you.”

“I’m staying,” Devon replied levelly, staring back at him.

“Look here, you…” Ian bristled, trying to shake off Devon’s iron grip on his wrist.

Then his face fell into shocked disbelief. “You!” I could see he understood immediately that he was looking at Edward’s father.

“Ah, so that’s it, is it?” He turned to glare at me. “That’s why you left me. Forhim!I just knew all along that Edward was never mine. You just couldn’t admit it. You knew what you’d be losing if you ever told me the truth.”

He sneered as his thin veneer of civility fell away. “You and your precious secrets. I should have known all along. You’re nothing but a two-timing bitch!” His eyes were blazing with disgust. “So much for all your fine talk aboutmyaffairs! Hasthisguy been hanging around here all along? Is that why you’re back here? To take up where you left off.”

Keepyour voice down,” Devon hissed, tightening his grip on Ian’s wrist and making him whimper in pain.

“You’re hurting me,” Ian protested, plucking uselessly at Devon’s powerful fingers. “She isn’t worth it. She never was.”

Devon leaned closer to him. “You’ll have more than a bruised wrist to worry about if youevercome near Carolyn again. I’ll make youwishyou were dead!” His quiet, stark words held a wealth of menace.

“Okay, okay…” Ian blanched as he swallowed tightly. Devon let him go.

Ian massaged his abused wrist with his other hand. He glanced around at those patrons who were taking an interest in our argument. Several had stood up to intervene and then thought better of it when they saw the look on Devon’s face.

“You will apologise to Carolyn for your crass behaviour,” Devon demanded in a low tone.

I saw Ian’s face pale with contempt. “I…” He swallowed tightly, not daring to disobey. “All right. I’m sorry, Carolyn,” he said grudgingly. “My mistake.”

Devon shook his head. “Not much of an apology but it will have to do.”

“Look, you don’t understand,” Ian pleaded. “Like I said, this is between me and her.” He flicked a hand in my direction. “It’s none of your business. I’m the one she married, not you.”

Leave…” Devon said, in a lethally quiet tone. “Leave now. While you can still walk out of here.”

“I…” Ian looked around but found no support in any of the crowd watching us. He hunched his shoulders. “All right, I’m going. You’re welcome to her. She always was a cold-hearted bitch and I—”

He fled beneath the menace of Devon’s single step forward in his direction. The street door slammed shut behind him and he was gone.

Until that moment, I didn’t realise I was shaking with a mixture of fury and dismay. Devon took my arm gently and guided me back to my seat. He fetched our drinks from the other table and the crowd around us went back to their own business after giving several nods of masculine approval.

“Maybe we should just go home,” I said as Devon pushed my drink into my hands. “This was a bad idea. He could still come back.”

“No, Carolyn,” he replied steadily. “We came out to have a quiet drink and a meal and to enjoy ourselves. We are going to do just that.”

He slid into the booth beside me and put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close. “We will not give that craven coward another thought.”

“All right…” I sighed as I sipped my drink to calm my nerves. Its warmth began to spread through me. “You did hurt his pride, you know. He hated that.”

“Good. I’ll telephone Michael in the morning and ask him to look into Ian’s business affairs. No doubt there’s dirt.”

I frowned. “Do you think that’s wise? It will only make him angrier if he finds out.”

“I’ve found in this world it pays to be prepared. Ian will think twice about coming anywhere near you again if he knows we’re watching him.” He kissed my cheek and looked down at me. “Feeling better?”

“Mmmm, much…” I nestled against him, resting my cheek into the hollow of his shoulder.

It truly did feel like I was coming home all over again. I pushed my ex-husband to the back of my mind where he belonged.

I felt Devon’s chest rise and fall as he seemed to be debating something. Something important and vital.’Stay with me…’I wanted to say.’Don’t go back to LA…’But I couldn’t say the words. London was half a world away.

“I have to go back to Montecito in a few days. I can’t stay any longer. Come with me, Luciana…” he said then, cutting across my thoughts. “Please…”

He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me slightly away from him so he could look down into my face. His blue eyes were shadowed and pleading.

“Because of Ian?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to hear his answer. “I can handle him. Though I doubt he will dare to bother me again. Not after tonight.”

“No, not because of Ian.” Devon shook his head slowly. “Because I want you to come with me.” He kissed me gently and reverently. “Because I love you and I can no longer imagine my life without you in it. I want you now and for all our tomorrows. I’ve been a fool not to ask you before now.”

I could see what the heartfelt confession had cost him. He had laid bare his innermost wish. The same wish that had been tormenting us both for the last few weeks. How could I be anything less than honest with him?

“All right…” I nodded. “I’ll go back with you. There’s nothing here for me without you.”

It was as easy as that. No more, no less. I felt him sag against me as he gathered me into his arms once more, pressing a kiss to my hair.

“Thank God,” he whispered. “I don’t know what I would have done if you’d said no.”

“Me neither…” I hugged him tightly and smiled against the steady beat of his generous heart. “I love you so much, Devon Miles. Too much to ever dream of losing you again.”

I shook my head slowly. “I think it’s about time we finally let Schrödinger’s blasted cat out of its box. It’s been stuck in there long enough and it must be exhausted from trying to fight its way out.”

“Yes…” Devon laughed softly and hugged me even tighter with relief. “I do love you, my beautiful Luciana.”

※※※※※

Chapter 17: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

Return To Montecito

I felt Carolyn’s body relax against me as she tried to let go of her indignation at being so poorly treated by her crude ex-husband. I held her close for several more heartbeats before I sat back slowly to look down at her and saw the shadows of hurt that still haunted her green eyes.

I put my forefinger beneath her chin, tipping her face up. “Bridges only said those things to hurt you. They’re completely untrue. His pride was wounded, and he needed to salvage something for such a very public humiliation.”

“Yes, I know…” Carolyn nodded. “When we were first married, we used to get on all right as long as I allowed him to have his way. In those early days, if he’d ever discovered he wasn’t Edward’s real father…”

Her pensive face paled, and I felt her move against me with discontent. “Now he finally knows the truth and I’m glad.” She kissed my cheek. “I’m only sorry I didn’t have the courage to throw him out years ago.”

“Staying was easier than leaving…” I whispered against her hair. “You were not alone. Your children always had to come first.”

“Yes, they always have,” she admitted. “But I sometimes wonder if we would have been better off without Ian and his moods.”

“You must do your best to forget him,” I advised as I saw our waitress tentatively approaching us with our menus in her hands. “We will enjoy our meal and then I am taking you home.” I left the rest unsaid, but she knew what I meant.

“I really like the sound of that,” Carolyn whispered as she took the menu our waitress held out to her. “I’ll always adore going home with you.” Her sensuous smile said more than words.

※※※※※

“Devon…” I said slowly after the gaily dressed waitress had left us alone with our fragrant food and a large jug of margaritas.

“Yes?” Devon replied as he poured our drinks. “What is it? What do you want to know?”

“Is it that obvious?” I smiled and accepted the glass he pushed toward me. “All right. For some time now, I’ve been wondering about FLAG. About how you ended up in charge of such a large and secret organisation.”

I shook my head. “I do remember you had a deep distaste for those men who were put in charge of our operations in London.”

“I guess it was all a matter of timing.” Devon’s wide shoulders lifted as he gazed back into the past. “Our masters knew I could speak French like a native. In the last days of the war, they sent me on a very delicate mission into France ahead of the D-Day landings to help spread disinformation. I was very young and green, eager for adventure and I certainly found it.”

I watched the conflicting emotions that moved across his frowning expression as he continued to look back into another time. “They told me my Paris contact was an American named Wilton Knight. He’d been undercover for some time and could also pass himself off as a native. He was some years older than me but just as eager for adventure. We certainly found it.”

“Ah…” I nodded finally seeing the mysterious connection that had been eluding me. “Knight Enterprises and now Knight Investigations. So, is Michael his son then? They have the same last name.”

“Ah, no…” Devon shook his head slowly with a wry smile. “I’m afraid that part of FLAG is rather more complicated than that. Michael joined our organisation some years later when we needed an investigator, and he came highly recommended. And Kitt needed a competent driver. It was a match that was always meant to be, even though Michael insisted on giving me grey hairs with his often cavalier attitude toward the most expensive car in the world.”

He took a long drink of his margarita. “You see, after you—” He frowned at me, his blue eyes full of regret. “Afterweboth died, I gave the service another year before I quit. I had no ties left in England, so I decided to emigrate to the States. I became a citizen and was put to work for the State Department.”

He sighed ruefully. “The work wasn’t stimulating, and I was on the point of quitting again. Then I happened to meet Wilton while I was on a fact-finding mission to LA and he immediately offered me a way out. Once he explained his dream of having a private, federal type of organisation, I jumped at his offer to run FLAG for him. I never knew my good friend was also a self-made billionaire. He was glad to have me in charge because his health had been failing for some time.”

He grimaced sadly. “Wilton died five years ago and I think about him often. He would have loved you. I did tell him all about you one night. Wilton understood because he too lost the woman he loved in mysterious circ*mstances.”

He looked deep into my eyes. “We were kindred spirits in many ways. But, after his death, the board of trustees in charge of FLAG began to interfere with my role as chairman and were determined to take it somewhere Wilton never wanted it to go. They were keen to be rid of me and they finally succeeded.”

“You must miss Wilton very much,” I replied, covering his hand with mine.

“Yes, but not as much as I missed you, my Luciana,” he replied softly. “You saved me from myself.”

He lifted my hand to his lips before he let me go. “FLAG served its purpose during all those years of loneliness. But that’s enough of the past. It doesn’t pay to dwell on what cannot be changed. Now, we’d better eat before all this delicious food gets cold.”

“Yes…” I nodded, not wishing to cause him any more pain.

But further questions still swirled inside my mind. I knew there was more to that complicated story than he was willing to tell.

※※※※※

Much later that evening, after an excellent meal and several rounds of drinks, we walked slowly back to Carolyn’s house, hand in hand. I tried not to be obvious as I kept a careful watch for any further signs of Ian Bridges. The man was a craven coward, but I was aware he could also be dangerous if provoked. And he still had friends in the city who could cause some trouble.

Carolyn must have guessed my intentions because she slipped her hands around my upper arm and stayed close to my side as we walked. “Thank you,” she whispered. “But I’m sure he’s gone for good. You made sure of that.”

“Once we’re settled in Montecito, we can forget all about him,” I reassured her. “And Michael can find out everything he can about Ian’s business dealings. I doubt the man isn’t above doing shady dealings if they suited his needs.”

“Yes, but whatever he may have done, he’s inmypast for good. I’m not going to think about him anymore because I don’t wish it to make me sad,” Carolyn replied with a sigh. “But my children are another matter. I must tell them of our plans. It’s only fair. Not for their approval, but I would love to have their blessing and understanding.”

“Of course,” I replied immediately, knowing I would not have it any other way. “Do you want me to talk to Edward?”

She shook her head. “No, not right now, but thank you. I’ll need to talk to him first. I’ll telephone them all tomorrow.”

“All right…” I nodded. “I understand.”

She smiled as she laid her cheek against my shoulder, showing to anyone who cared to look that we were a couple. As she’d made it obvious that memorable night back at the hotel restaurant in Sedona when she’d put her hand on my arm as I held her chair. A silent statement of fact that made my throat tighten with gratitude.

“Coffee?” she offered when we were finally back inside her home without incident. “We need to talk and I’m not sleepy.” She took care to make sure the door was locked and bolted.

“Mmmm, yes, thank you,” I replied, as I walked into the living room to look out at the view.

I had to admit Santa Fe was an attractive city. The multi-coloured spangling of streetlights spread out in all directions beneath an inky black sky full of stars. In my mind, I’d already begun to frame up the shots I would take if we were staying here.

I knew then we would be coming back here on vacation. Carolyn loved the city, and it wouldn’t be right to cut her off completely from her more recent past. I would not make that foolish mistake even if I did want her all to myself.

But I missed the wide blue Pacific and its contrary moods. Some people believed that the seemingly limitless ocean had no memory. It seemed fitting somehow.

“Here we are…” Carolyn reappeared with a tray holding a coffee pot and two cups. “I went and checked in on Maria. She’s taken her medication and she’s sound asleep. It’s the best thing for her.”

“Good,” I replied as I walked to sit beside her on the couch.

I watched as she poured the coffee for us. She handed me a cup with a thoughtful expression. “I’ve been thinking…” she began to say.

“So have I,” I interrupted her quickly. “About many things.”

“Okay…” Carolyn sat back with her coffee. “Go ahead and tell me your thoughts.”

I smiled at her readiness to discuss the facts of our renewed relationship. It cemented the rightness of it all inside my heart and mind as I began to lay out my ideas for our immediate future together.

After taking some time and thought to discuss her options, Carolyn finally agreed that it was better if she kept her house in Santa Fe. If she was willing, Maria could continue living there to look after it as she’d been doing for the last twenty-five years.

“It will be hard to leave when I’ve made it how I want it to be,” she said. “But we will come back.”

“Yes…” I nodded, putting aside my empty coffee cup next to hers. “Michael is compiling a list of houses for me to consider back in Montecito,” I continued, as I took her hand. “I would need you with me to help me decide.” I looked around the colourful room. “You have excellent taste.”

“You said you could only stay for a few more days,” she replied slowly, kicking off her sandals before turning on the couch to tuck her legs beneath her long floral skirt. “I would love to go to Montecito with you...” She hesitated and I could see her mind working again.

“Talk to me, Luciana,” I encouraged, shaking her hand gently. “Never be afraid to speak your mind with me. I will always want to know what you’re thinking and feeling. I can’t if you don’t open up to me.”

“All right…” She drew a long breath and exhaled it slowly. “What happens when you have to fly out to London? For your new exhibition. What then?”

“You’ll come with me, of course…” I took her chin in my free hand and turned her face to me. “If you want to. I cannot see any future for myself without you in it.”

“I want to, very much,” she replied softly.

I could see the relief in her eyes. I sensed she didn’t ever want to appear needy or demanding. I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed it. Then I turned it over and played the tips of my fingers across that tiny betraying pulse beating so fast within her inner wrist. It gave away the secret of her emotional state easier than anything spoken. I felt and saw her shiver with desire.

“Carolyn…” My mind went back to the lodge and that bearskin rug before the fireplace.

I shook my head. This room also had a huge stone fireplace and a thickly woven, multicoloured Mexican rug spread out before it. But I sensed Carolyn preferred the comfort of a bed to the hardness of a tiled floor. My lips curved with the sensual memory as I shook my head.

“Talk to me…” she said then, taking my chin in her hand and turning my face back to hers. “Don’t leave me wondering about what you’re thinking. I want to know everything. No more secrets. We’re done with them.”

“That’s turning my own words back on me,Cuisle mo chroí…”I chided gently.

“Then tell me what you’re thinking,” she replied, drawing closer to me. “And keep talking to me just like that…”

I sighed deeply. “Right now, I’m thinking I want to make love with you more than breathing.” I looked again at the rug in front of the fire. “But not here. You did say Maria had taken her pills and she’s sound asleep. What if we’re very, very quiet…” I tried not to sound too desperate, but I couldn’t help it.

Her soft smile trembled, and her eyes gleamed with unshed tears. “I thought you would never ask…” She moved sideways into my lap, and I held her slight weight easily. “And I doubt Maria would mind at all even if we did wake her up. She would say it’s about time we got around to getting on with it.”

Her quiet laughter was smothered by my lips taking hers in a deep, drugging kiss. She turned in my lap, pushing her legs on either side of my waist. I held her close against me as I stood up and she wrapped her legs fully around me.

“I never want to be left alone in the dark, ever again,” she whispered in my ear as I carried her down the hallway to her bedroom.

“I have no intention of ever leaving you behind again,” I reassured her as she opened the door to allow me to carry her through into the darkened room beyond. “And afterwards, we will talk all about Montecito and then London.”

“Thank you…” She slipped from my grasp, her bare feet landing lightly on the floor as she turned to snib on the door lock.

Then, to my deep delight and pleasure, she flipped the light switch beside the door frame, illuminating the large room with several well-placed lamps and banishing the shadows. She turned to look at me.

“It’s past time there were no more secrets between us…” she said, lifting her chin as she walked toward me and reached up to draw my mouth down to hers.

※※※※※

“I’m going to miss you both,” Maria told us the next morning. “But it’s the new beginning the pair of you deserve. And if that Ian ever dares to show his face here again…” She grinned and shook one clenched fist.

We were eating a late breakfast together at the kitchen table. None of us had risen early. I glanced at Devon and shook my head. I’d already told Maria about our unwelcome encounter with Ian at the restaurant the previous night. I’d made light of the unfortunate encounter, not wanting to worry her.

“I doubt he will trouble us again,” Devon replied evenly. “He got the message last night that Carolyn is no longer any of his business.”

“Well, I say, good for you,” Maria approved as she poured another cup of coffee. “That man needed taking down a peg or two. And you’re the man to do just that.”

“Are you sure you’ll be all right here on your own?” I asked anxiously. “It’s a big house for one person.”

“Oh, I’ll have one of my grandchildren over to stay for a couple of weeks if that will stop you worrying about me,” Maria replied reassuringly. “But I do enjoy my own company. I’ll be fine now that I’m almost recovered. You two get on with your packing and don’t give me another thought.”

She grimaced as she adjusted her left arm in its sling. “As soon as I lose this thing, I’m going to spring clean this place from top to bottom. My girls will all help.”

“Please don’t overdo it,” I urged. “Promise me that.”

“I promise,” Maria said, a shade too quickly. “I’ve been idle for far too long. I like to be busy, and spring will come soon enough.”

I was forced to leave the argument there when she got up to collect the used dishes and carried them to the sink. After that, she refused to discuss it as she helped me pack my suitcases for the new adventure ahead. Devon and I would be leaving early the next morning.

I’d already telephoned my publisher to inform them of my upcoming change of address. It hadn’t been a long conversation because I was still short on details.

My final and most important task before I left Sante Fe for my new life in Montecito was to telephone my children to tell them my news. I reminded Devon and he immediately asked if I needed him.

I shook my head slowly and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, but I’ll talk to Lucy first since she’s the furthest away. Then I’ll tell the boys. Edward may want to talk to you. I hope he does.”

I kissed him again before pulling back to look up at him. “I won’t mention our unfortunate encounter with Ian from last night. He doesn’t deserve that. They all know how I feel about him and the reasons why I ordered him to leave.”

“That’s your decision and I respect that,” Devon replied, kissing my forehead.

“Thank you…” I nodded as I went into my office and shut the door, bracing myself for the conversations to come.

I was so glad to find I needn’t have worried. Lucy’s response was immediately positive and fulsome. “Oh, Mum, I’m so glad. You deserve the very best of everything after all you’ve been through with Dad. I want to meet this man of yours, the moment I’m Stateside again. I can’t wait. And Montecito is really beautiful. You’ll see. Somewhere else you’ve never travelled.” I could hear the tears in the loving tone of her voice.

“Thank you, I’m sure it is,” I replied, wiping my hand across my moist eyes. “You don’t know how much that means to me. I want you all to be happy for me.”

“Well, Edward and Danny now know the score and they’re fine with it all. I told them when you were in Sedona. It’s all worked out so well. Keep me posted. I want to know everything.”

“I will…” I inhaled deeply. “Goodbye, dear.”

“Bye, Mum. Have a safe trip. We’ll talk again when I get back home.”

I replaced the receiver carefully in the cradle and sat looking at it for some time. Then I inhaled deeply as I picked it up again to dial Edward’s office number in Boston. I knew he would give me his blessing once he understood everything, but I wanted his approval as well.

“You know I only want the best for you, Mum,” he replied immediately to my confession. “You do deserve to be happy and if Devon is the man to do that for you, then I would never stand in your way.”

“I am happy,” I stated simply. “Very happy.”

“Then I don’t need to hear any more,” Devon’s son replied, reminding me so much of him right then. “That is all we’ve ever wanted for you.”

“Devon told me you two have already talked,” I said then. “He confessed because we agreed there would be no more secrets between us.”

Edward sighed. “I’m glad. I hated not being able to tell you when we all got together for Christmas. But it was all still so new and raw. I didn’t want you to be hurt all over again by dragging up the past.”

“And I love you for that. But everything could not be more right now. Devon and I have thirty-five years to make up for.”

“Then you’d better be getting on with it.” Edward’s smiling tone warmed me. “I’ll look forward to coming out to Montecito when I can get away. And Devon promised to come and see me here in Boston as soon as he can arrange it after his trip to London. It will be great to see both of you.”

He paused. “You’d better leave Danny to me. I’ll tell him when he gets back. He’s away on some crazy off-road adventure with some of his petrol-head friends. They’ve gone off-grid and will be out of range until the end of next week.”

“Thank you, I’ll leave it to you then. Give him my love.” I paused. “Do you want to talk to Devon? He’s here. We’re all packed and ready to leave first thing tomorrow morning.”

Edward paused for the briefest of moments, then said, “I think I would like that.” He cleared his throat. “We’re all faced with new beginnings.”

“Yes, we are…” I replied quickly as I got out of my chair. “Hang on, I’ll go and get him. Then I’ll leave the two of you alone to talk.”

“I might just ask him what his intentions are for my mother beyond running away with her,” Edward teased lightly.

I didn’t reply as I walked to the door and opened it. I didn’t tell my son I was thinking the same thing. What more could there be in our new future together? I was so happy with what we had already.

※※※※※

The beauty of Butterfly Beach in Montecito took my breath away. I’d seen the gorgeous prints of Devon’s photographs in his portfolio, but the reality was even more spectacular. The sun was warm and there was colour everywhere.

After having lived for so many years in a desert city in the middle of New Mexico, the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean looked amazing and slightly intimidating. A solitary white yacht floated on the azure waters in the foreground while the far horizon was consumed by a darker blue haze that spoke of infinity.

Devon glanced at me when he heard me sigh. “Are you all right? We’re almost there. You must be tired.”

“No, I’m all right,” I replied quickly. “Truly I’m fine. It’s all so amazing. So much water.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Devon observed as he turned the steering wheel of my jeep when we came to an intersection, and we climbed up the hill away from the rugged cliffs and the beach below.

He turned between two massive stone pillars surmounted by lions and through an open, wrought-iron gate into a private driveway. He drew the vehicle to a halt in the broad cobbled-stoned courtyard of an impressive, two-storied, red-tiled, Spanish colonial house. He cut the engine and there was nothing but the soft sounds of the restless ocean along with the cries of wheeling gulls.

“It is very beautiful,” I said as I removed my sunglasses to look all around.

“But it’s only the beginning of our adventures,” Devon reassured me as he opened his door and got out.

He circled the hood and came to open my door. I took his hand and got out to stand beside him in the warm afternoon sunshine. The sharp tang of salty ozone filled the air and I breathed it in.

“Welcome to Montecito, Carolyn,” a very familiar voice commented from behind us. “And welcome back, Devon. It’s so good to see you two again. I trust you both had a safe trip.”

“Hello, Kitt,” I said, turning to smile at the Trans Am which had moved up silently. “And yes, we did, thank you. It’s good to see you again, too.”

“Excellent.” His single red eye gleamed with satisfaction as it moved from side to side in his hood. “Michael has taken Stevie down to the hospital for her latest check-up. But Bonnie is here to welcome you and see to it that you’re settled in by the time they get back.”

As he spoke, Bonnie walked out of the house, crossing the courtyard to throw her arms around Devon and hug him tightly. “Hi, Devon. It’s great to see you again.”

Then she turned to me with a wide welcoming smile. “I’m so glad you two are back together.” She shook her head. “What happened to you, Carolyn, was just awful. We were all so worried about you. I felt so helpless.”

“But it’s now all firmly in the past,” I reassured her quickly. “It was no one’s fault except Durant’s, and he will pay dearly for his crimes.”

“Yes, he will…” Bonnie nodded. “Well, then. Come on inside out of the heat and I’ll show you to your rooms. RC promised to come over as soon as he’s finished with our latest case.”

She smiled as she took my arm before linking her free hand through Devon’s. “I think a few pre-dinner drinks around the pool are in order. Michael and Stevie won’t be too long now. Then we can catch up on all your news. I want to know everything that’s happened since we last saw each other.”

“That could take a while,” Devon commented wryly as we walked inside.

I smiled at him and shook my head. Some details of the last few weeks were very private and would not be relayed. But I did have a renewed sense that everything was going to be all right.

※※※※※

“Oh, Carolyn…” Stevie hugged Carolyn tightly and kissed her cheek soundly. “You don’t know how glad we are to see you again. It’s been far too long. I was so pleased when Devon telephoned us to say he was bringing you back with him. I can’t tell you how sorry we are for everything that happened to you because of us and our dealings with FLAG.”

“I know. But we will not dwell on the past,” Carolyn replied firmly, taking the younger woman’s hands in hers. “I am really happy to be here with all of you.”

“It’s been an interesting few weeks…” I smiled as I shook Michael’s hand and clasped his shoulder. They’d arrived back from Stevie’s medical appointment just as we were settling down around the pool.

“Yeah…” Michael pumped my hand as he looked me over. “I can see Sedona suited you well.” He grinned. “Very well indeed. You look… relaxed.” He winked. “Kitt told me how you two met out there. That you decided to rent a private house for just the two of you.” His dark eyebrows rose.

“I thought he might…” I nodded, knowing Carolyn’s instinct to return Kitt to Michael had been for the best. The car was an excellent and caring friend, but he wasn’t programmed to keep a secret if asked a direct question.

“Well, we’ve got plenty of work around here to keep you busy the moment you say the word,” Michael assured me. “The books will take some whipping into shape, but I’m sure you’re up to it.” He grinned cheekily as he punched me lightly in the shoulder. “Carolyn can’t have you all of the time.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” I replied, shaking my head.

“Well, I’ll look forward to being slim again. I just know I look as big as a house now,” Stevie complained with a groan, turning around slowly to show off the rounded curves of her body beneath her pretty floral sundress. “My gynaecologist tried to reassure me everything’s coming along as it should and I’m not to worry. But I do feel so big and ungainly.”

I shook my head but wisely kept my own counsel. To me, Stevie looked beautiful, but I feared she would take my comment the wrong way.

I tried to imagine Carolyn when she had been heavily pregnant with our child, and I felt the keen loss of a unique part of my life. Ian had been given that right and I resented the man all over again. And those who’d forced us apart thirty-five years ago.

“You look exactly as you should in your final trimester,” Carolyn said gently as she stepped into the breach immediately. “You are blossoming and very beautiful.”

“You truly think so?” Stevie arched her brows, looking at each of us in turn. “My doctor did say I could be early. My baby has already turned…” She sighed. “My mother told me she was very early with me…”

“I’ve been trying all day to tell you how beautiful you are to me…” Michael sighed, kissing his wife. “And that you’re not to worry. It’s not good for you. Right, Carolyn?”

“Yes, that’s right…” Carolyn nodded quickly.

She took Stevie’s hand and neatly changed the subject to the house and all the things women liked to talk about. It was a welcome distraction.

Michael’s shoulders sagged with relief. He shook his head at me. “Come on, I need a drink.”

We both walked away toward the outdoor kitchen bar and the heartfelt relief of not being asked to involve ourselves in a discussion we men knew nothing about. We left that to Carolyn and Bonnie to say the right words of comfort and allay Stevie’s fears.

※※※※※

Chapter 18: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

A Bright New Knight

I stood beside the huge grill in the large outdoor kitchen next to Michael’s backyard pool and watched Carolyn charm all the assembled members of the Knight Investigations team. RC and I had been put in charge of the barbequed meal while Carolyn and Bonnie had attended to everything else as they chattered while laying the table with cutlery and napkins before bringing out more food.

The warm evening was dark and filled with stars, along with the ever-present smell of the ocean below the house. A full moon floated serenely overhead. Lanterns had been lit around the pool and backyard area. Kitt had joined us and was playing soft music through his system. The night could not have been more perfect.

RC eased closer to me at the grill, lowering his voice. “Say, do you remember that old acquaintance of yours from a few years back, Senator Maggie Flynn?” he asked as he turned the steaks. “As I recall, she was on the board of trustees at FLAG and had her fingers in quite a few other pies.”

“Of course, I remember her…” I frowned at him. “I haven’t seen or heard from her in years. Why do you ask?”

RC shrugged, his dark eyes assessing me closely. “Rumours were swirling back then that you’d found a few discrepancies and opened a case file on her a few months before you resigned from FLAG. Something about her diverting state funds for her own pet projects.”

“There were some irregularities in the books that had been brought to my attention,” I replied slowly. “I was intending to ask the senator about them in person when I found the time. But she kept ducking my phone calls and then I handed in my resignation. If I remember correctly, Maggie was very keen to action it immediately.”

“Well, it seems old Angus Jones has found your file and pushed the board to do a full investigation. Seems the rumours were true and Maggie Flynn’s now facing a five to ten stretch in San Quentin. A lot of her opponents are breathing easier.”

“It seems to me that confounded Jones has far too much time on his hands,” I replied shortly. “But Maggie always was a law unto herself and didn’t like being told no. She was far too headstrong and now she’s paying the price for bending the rules to suit herself.”

“Sorry, Devon.” RC shrugged. “Just thought you should know what’s been going down. I’m glad we’re all not at FLAG anymore. I’m really happy that you found Carolyn again. She’s one neat lady.”

“Thank you and yes, she is…” I clasped his shoulder. “But my knowing about such old news now changes nothing for Maggie Flynn or FLAG. Jones is now free to take it in whatever direction he wants and with Maggie gone, I doubt there’s anyone left there to stop him. The rest of the board is firmly in his hip pocket because they love nothing more than a good round of budget cuts that fatten their fees. I can only hope that one day he falls flat on his smug face.”

I smiled grimly as I relished the satisfying vision of a defeated Angus Jones being dragged away in handcuffs from my old desk at FLAG HQ. Then I felt again the deep sense of relief it was all far behind me now and I was free of that very expensive gilded prison where I’d spent the better part of the last thirty-five years.

I glanced up at the star-spangled sky. Somehow, somewhere, I knew Wilton Knight was watching over all of us and approved of my renewed relationship with Carolyn. I felt he was happy for me. I nodded toward the bright full moon and sent him a silent thank you.

“Here, let me take that…” Michael distracted my frowning attention as he tried to prevent his wife from overdoing it by carrying a tray of dishes from the house. “You go and sit down. You look worn out.”

“Thanks, but I’m all right…” Stevie sighed. She’d managed what she could but was shooed away by the other two women who also told her to sit down.

Now that Stevie was beyond eight months pregnant, she complained she’d lost sight of her feet weeks ago. “I know they’re still down there somewhere.” She sighed as she lowered herself awkwardly onto a poolside lounger and lay back.

Carolyn replied soothingly, “I can promise you that you will find them again. You’ll forget all about this side of things once your baby is born and you hold him or her in your arms. Then it will all have been worth it and more. You’ll see.”

She glanced across at me and I saw the look of regret in her eyes that we were not together when our son had been born. I nodded my understanding as I watched her kneel beside Stevie’s lounger to continue calming her concerns. It was a pleasure to watch her take charge in her quiet way, making sure Stevie still felt useful and less of a burden.

※※※※※

“Carolyn…”

I frowned as I came slowly awake, wondering if I’d dreamed that someone had just called my name. I lay listening to the dreaming silence of the house. I could hear the restless ocean waves in the distance. Maybe that was what had awakened me, being unused to the sound of the lapping waters.

I sighed and stretched. It had been a wonderful evening full of laughter and stories. After a delicious meal and several rounds of co*cktails, we’d all gone to bed before midnight, and I’d fallen asleep almost instantly.

I turned my head to stare at the bedside clock and saw the time was now barely four o’clock in the morning. “It must have been a dream…” I finally decided with a shrug as I rolled back onto my side and pulled the covers up.

“Carolyn…” The voice came again, more urgently this time, and then someone knocked softly on my bedroom door. “Carolyn, are you awake?”

My confusion deepened as I recognised Michael’s voice. And he sounded worried. I pushed myself up in the bed. “Yes, I’m awake,” I called softly. “You can come in.”

I folded back the bedcovers and reached for my dressing gown as Michael entered the room. He looked harassed and deeply worried.

“What is it?” I asked, getting to my feet and belting up my robe.

“It’s Stevie,” he said quickly. “She thinks she may be having contractions. But she isn’t sure. She worries it might just be indigestion from dinner.” He ran a distracted hand up and around the back of his neck. “I’ve been to some classes, but I’m next to useless about these things. Can you come and see her?”

“Of course,” I said immediately. “Show me the way.”

The long, wide hallway outside my door led from the guest rooms to the master suite at the far end. One of the double doors stood open and as soon as I entered, I saw Stevie sitting up against a bank of pillows in a massive bed. She had both hands laid over the rounded swell of her abdomen. Her lovely face was pale with anguish and her eyes were tear bright.

“No, no…” I said immediately hurrying to the bed to take her hand and sit beside her. “Please don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” I gave her a quick hug.

“I really hope so…” Stevie whispered, gripping my hand tightly. “I’m sorry we had to wake you. I know it’s early, but…”

She looked past me to her husband who was hovering in the doorway, neither in the room nor outside. I turned to look, managing to suppress a smile, knowing most men felt utterly helpless in the face of such mysterious feminine things as having a baby.

I remembered Ian had been next to useless. He’d paced up and down in the hospital corridor outside my room, muttering he wished he’d never been forced to give up smoking. He’d finally been dismissed to the father’s waiting room by a couple of impatient nurses.

“Come on, let’s get you comfortable,” I said as I stood up. “And then we’ll monitor your symptoms and see how things are with you.”

“Should I telephone for an ambulance?” Michael questioned anxiously.

“No, I don’t think we’ll need to do that,” I replied, settling Stevie more comfortably among her pillows. “It may still only be a case of indigestion. Time will soon tell.”

“Oh, I do hope it’s that. It’s too early for this baby to be born,” Stevie said then, taking my hand again and holding it even tighter. “I’m barely into my final month.”

I shook my head as I soothed a hand across her damp brow. “I’m afraid you’ll find that babies arrive when they’re good and ready or when we least expect them. Not one of my three was on time. And all were healthy with ten fingers and toes.”

I could see my air of calm certainty was beginning to have a positive effect on her. I turned back to the anxious father who was still hovering in the doorway. “Go and make us some of that herbal tea Stevie likes. None of us are going to get any more sleep tonight.”

“All right…” Michael’s face brightened with a simple task he could perform. “I’d better go wake up Devon. He’ll want to know what’s going on.”

“If you feel you need the company,” I said as I tucked and tidied Stevie’s covers. “We’re fine here, for now.”

I sat down on the side of the bed again as I watched him leave the room with his wide shoulders braced. He looked as if he was going into battle, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Men often felt powerless in the face of this most fundamental fact of life.

※※※※※

“What do you need?” I asked Carolyn from the open doorway.

Michael had woken me with the urgent news, and I’d hurried to dress while he went off to make the tea. I heard him down in the kitchen, talking to himself as he clattered about. I could feel his deep concern.

Carolyn turned from the bed and held out one hand toward me. “I need your watch…”

“All right…” I stepped into the shadowed room, unstrapping the watch from my wrist before handing it to her. “Is there anything else?”

“Please keep Michael as calm as you can,” she replied, as she studied my timepiece before managing to set the stopwatch to zero. “There…” She turned back to Stevie and settled beside her again to place one hand on the younger woman’s abdomen.

“Can do,” I replied, hearing Michael coming back up the stairs.

I could only marvel at Carolyn’s air of calm authority. She didn’t seem at all perturbed by being woken at such an early hour for a complicated task. I knew I could contribute nothing more than moral support.

“Here we are…” Michael came into the room, carrying a tray of a teapot and cups. It rattled slightly and beneath his deep tan, his face had paled to ashen.

“Let me take that,” I offered, taking the tray and indicating a nearby chair. “Go and sit down over there.” I hoped he wasn’t about to pass out on me.

“How’d you get to be so calm all of a sudden?” he demanded to know, even as he did as I asked and slumped into the chair. “You haven’t got any kids. I’m a bag of nerves.”

I exchanged glances with Carolyn who shook her head as she continued to monitor the stopwatch in her hand and counted silently.

“Because I’m old enough to beyourfather,” I said to Michael as I put the tray down and poured the tea into the cups. “With age comes experience.” I smiled wryly. “And a lot of grey hairs.”

I handed the cup to him. “Drink this will it’s hot. It’ll help settle your nerves.”

He took the cup without further complaint, but it rattled in his hand. He pulled a discontented face and put the cup aside. “Well, I’ve faced down all sorts of bad people and tons of dangerous situations when I was a cop and then with FLAG…” He sighed. “Why does this feel so different? Why do I feel so damned useless?”

“Because this is all new and it’s very personal,” Carolyn replied gently, looking up from my watch. “And it seems this baby of yours is suddenly impatient to be born. It has already moved into the right position.”

She turned to Stevie who was watching her with wide eyes. “I can tell you it most certainly isn’t indigestion. Your contractions are now regular at ten minutes apart.”

“But it’s too soon…” Stevie whispered, shaking her head as if she couldn’t take it all in.

“Well, I’m afraid this baby disagrees,” Carolyn replied with calm certainty. “Now we need to get you up and dressed. Then Devon and I will drive you to the hospital.”

“I’m not staying here!” Michael shot out of his chair. “I’m coming too,” he said in a defiant tone.

“Of course, you are.” Carolyn nodded calmly. “But you’re in no condition to be driving Stevie anywhere. You’ll sit in the back seat and give your wife moral support. We’ll need directions to the hospital.”

“Oh, okay…” Michael looked confused and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.

“Come on,” I encouraged, taking his arm. “Let’s go and get the car out and bring it around to the front door.”

“We won’t be long…” Carolyn nodded to me as she pushed back the covers and assisted Stevie to stand up.

※※※※※

“What’s taking them so long?” Michael demanded to know for the hundredth time as he paced the floor of the maternity hospital’s waiting room. “It’s been ages.”

“Babies come in their own time…” I shook my head in sympathy not knowing what else to say.

It had been barely three hours since we’d arrived, and Stevie had been wheelchaired away for an examination. Devon and I exchanged glances, but he didn’t comment. There wasn’t much we could say to ease the expectant father’s nervous pacing.

“I mean, surely they know by now if Stevie’s having our baby or not…” Michael turned back to us, spreading his hands wide. “Why aren’t they coming to tell us anything? Has something gone wrong?”

Just then a nurse appeared in the open doorway. Her quick glance singled out Michael as the prospective father.

“If you’d like to come with me, Mr Knight,” she offered brightly. “Your wife has been making excellent progress and she’s asking for you. It won’t be long now. So, we’ll need to get you gowned up and ready to receive.” Her cheerful smile widened.

“Okay, then…” Michael glanced back at us both. “Wish me luck, guys.”

Again, he had the look of a man about to go into battle. I couldn’t help smiling as I stood up to kiss his cheek. He was so tall he had to bend down to me, and he hugged me briefly.

“You’ll be fine,” Devon shook his hand. “You’ve got this. Give Stevie our best.”

“Yeah…” Michael replied in a worried tone as he followed the nurse from the room and the door shut behind them.

Devon turned to me. “As long as he doesn’t pass out when he gets there. He still looks a bit green.”

“He’ll be all right.” I shook my head in sympathy. “He had a good teacher.”

“Was it like this with Edward?” Devon asked gently, taking my arm and encouraging me to sit down next to him. “This endless waiting and pacing?”

I placed my hand over his. “I’m so sorry you missed out on being there for both of us. I would have loved that. Our lives could have been so different if we’d still been together.”

“I know…” Devon’s breath left him in a rush. “We have so many regrets, you and I.” I could see he wanted to say something more before he appeared to change his mind.

“Yes…” I nodded quickly, wondering what he was leading up to. “Remember what I said that night when we had dinner in the hotel back in Sedona? Our past truly is a foreign country, and we can’t go back to the way things should have been. We can’t change a single thing of what happened no matter how much we wish we could.”

“Yes, I know…” Devon shook his head. “I agree that we can’t go back to the way things might have been between us. But we are both free to go forward. If that’s what you want.”

“More than anything…” My grip on his hand tightened.

His brow cleared as he regarded me steadily. “We fell in love, and I’ve never forgotten a single moment of our time together.” His gaze captured and held mine.”The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses…”

“Oh, Devon…” I shivered at his quotation. He knew how much I loved those words and what they had meant all those years ago. “I wish…”

I watched as he rose to his feet to stand looking down at me with all his love and passion burning in his steady blue gaze. He kept possession of my hand. “I know this isn’t the time nor the place, but I—”

The door flew open in the middle of whatever he was about to say and a rather dishevelled-looking Michael, dressed in white scrubs, burst into the room. He dragged the medical cap from his dark hair.

Startled by his impetuous return, Devon turned to him, and the intimate moment was lost. I tried not to feel upset that we’d been interrupted.’This wasn’t the time nor the place, but...’

“It’s a girl!” the new father announced proudly. “I mean,she’sa girl! It all happened so fast! I barely made it into the room and there she was!” He held out his hands close together in front of him. “Such a tiny wee thing. I was so scared I was going to drop her…”

As he tottered slightly, putting one hand to his head, Devon took him by the arm. “That’s wonderful news. But you’d better come and sit down here,” he encouraged, guiding Michael to a nearby chair.

The younger man slumped into it with a grateful sigh. “I still can’t believe it. A brand new Knight.”

He turned to smile at me. “Stevie’s asking for you.” He glanced back at Devon. “For both of you. She’d like to see you.”

“Of course…” I stood immediately and took his arm as he got to his feet again. “But you’d better take a few deep breaths first.”

“Yeah…” Michael grinned at me like a man who’d just been given the greatest gift in the world.

Then he bent down to pick me up in his arms and hugged me tightly until I almost couldn’t breathe. Of course, I didn’t begrudge him a second of his total joy.

He put me down and turned to shake Devon’s hand strongly as he laughed with relief. Then the three of us left the room together to pay our first visit to the newest Knight.

※※※※※

I had to admit, in my extremely limited experience of babies, young Miss Amanda Knight stood out as the most placid and amiable of newborns. Her demands were simple, and she quickly became a favourite among the Knight Investigations team.

She was tiny and as beautiful as her mother with wide, dark blue eyes which considered me with solemn deliberation every time I looked down at her. I had tried to share my concerns about holding such a precious bundle, but Carolyn was having none of it. At every opportunity, I found myself carrying the baby in my arms after she’d been fed and changed.

Unable to refuse, I quickly fell into the habit of whispering to her in Irish as I cradled her carefully and prayed, I wouldn’t drop her. She would often turn her head as if she were listening to every word I said. I found it both confusing and endearing.

Not to be outdone, Kitt would often appear and park beside us whenever we were outside. He would watch us together as he played soft lullabies through his system. It became almost like a competition between us as to who was better at lulling the baby gently to sleep.

As the days went by and turned into weeks, I found I’d come to the point where I didn’t want to give her back to her mother whenever Stevie approached me to retrieve her child for changing or feeding.

Three weeks after she had been born, Amanda was christened. To our surprise and delight, Stevie asked Carolyn and I, along with RC and Bonnie, to be her daughter’s godparents. Of course, we’d all readily agreed to the lovely request and tried to live up to our new roles.

I was well aware that Carolyn was watching my cautious care of my tiny charge with amused and caring eyes. I wanted to take her in my arms and kiss her senseless. The lack of privacy between us was once more gnawing at me. I could see the same feeling in her eyes every time she looked at me.

On the morning Amanda had been born, I had been on the point of making a heartfelt declaration of love and life-long commitment. I was painfully aware the sterile waiting room of a hospital had not been the right place or the time, but it hadfeltright and that was what mattered. I longed for the right opportunity and place to finally say the words that had trembled on the end of my tongue.

I was aware time was inexorably running out. London and my upcoming exhibition beckoned and there was a great deal to do to get ready for it. We still had to find a suitable house here in Montecito before we left for England. We’d looked at several from the list that Michael had compiled, but none seemed suitable or the right fit. A deep sense of restlessness had settled in on both of us.

“Maybe the house for us isn’t out there right now,” Carolyn finally said last night.

“Yes…” I nodded slowly, frowning my discontent with the outcome. “The agent said she has one or two more to show us. If, after those, we still haven’t found the right one, we should leave it until we get back from London. Time is running out.”

“I agree, but it still feels like unfinished business,” Carolyn replied with a sigh. “We can’t go on living here forever. That’s not fair on Stevie or Michael. They need their own space to get on with their lives with Amanda. The time goes so fast and then they’re all grown up.”

“I know…” I kissed her temple regretfully. “We’ll give it one more try tomorrow and see. Maybe something will show up that will take our breath away.”

“I hope so…” Carolyn hugged me. “I do miss being alone with you. I miss what we had back in Sedona. That bearskin rug in front of the fire…”

“I know…” I sighed as I tightened my arms around her. “Me too…”

She pulled back gently to look up at me. “You were going to ask me something that morning when Amanda was born. Before Michael interrupted us with his wonderful news. What was it you wanted to ask?”

I looked down at her, nestled so trustingly against me. I could see in her eyes she wanted me to ask her again. Everything within me said to do it now, but then something cautious also whispered this was not the right time.Not yet…

“Let’s see what the agent has for us tomorrow,” I replied, chickening out once more. “She might yet surprise us with a gem of a house. Then we’ll talk about it.”

“All right…” Carolyn moved back into my embrace but I could feel her dissatisfaction with my answer. “But I’m holding you to that.”

※※※※※

Chapter 19: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

London’s Calling

The next morning it dawned bright and clear. We’d made an appointment to meet the estate agent at the final house on her list. Devon decided to take Kitt with us and we went exploring in the neighbourhood of the address the young woman had given us.

I disliked the house at first sight. It had nothing going for it. “Oh, no, I don’t think this is the one for us.” I looked across at Devon who was sitting in the driver’s seat.

I felt a deep sense of disappointment and I could see his dissatisfaction with the area and how far back from the ocean it was. The house was large and very modern, but it lacked anything romantic. What we’d agreed we wanted was what Michael and Stevie had found in their lovely home. I felt a stab of jealousy that we were still so far away from what we had come to enjoy.

The agent drove up and we all got out. The young woman was full of apology as soon as Devon told her we didn’t wish to go inside. “I’m truly sorry you don’t like it. I had real hope for this one. It has been completely renovated with all the modern conveniences and everything is laid out on the ground floor.”

“Sorry, but it’s just not for us.” I tried not to smile.

I gathered from her comment she thought we could do without stairs at our advanced ages. I was beginning to feel sorry for her youthfulness. She had tried very hard to please us and was now floundering.

“We’re sorry too,” Devon replied evenly. “We’re thinking we should leave this search for now. We’re wasting your time if you have nothing else to show us.”

“Well, I do have one more house…” the agent hurried to say, giving us her best smile as she consulted the folder in her hands. “I… it’s only just come on the market late last week and I was finally given the keys this morning.”

She looked at us hopefully. “You’ll be the first people to see it. I’m told it’s something very special.” Her bright smile faltered a little. “I haven’t seen it myself, yet. But the address is excellent, and I know it will have great views.”

“I see…” Devon looked at me doubtfully and shrugged. “Do you feel like looking at one more house?”

“We’ve come this far, I guess,” I said, not really wanting to look at another house and being disappointed all over again. “We might as well. We told Stevie we would be out all morning. She’ll be upset if we return too early.”

“Then please follow me,” the agent said with renewed hope in her eyes. “It’s not too far from here…” She hurried back to her car and we got back into Kitt.

“There are times when I am glad all I need is a roof and four walls to shelter me,” Kitt remarked as soon as his doors were closed. “It seems to be very wearing, trying to find just the right fit. You humans appear to have very intricate and complicated needs.”

I couldn’t disagree with his logic. “Well, it’s not as if we’re asking for a palace,” I replied a bit crossly. “Just a nice house with a lovely view of the ocean. Somewhere peaceful and elegant.”

“Then we must hope that this next house is the right fit because we’re running out of time,” Devon commented as we followed the agent’s car back down the hill without much hope.

※※※※※

“I do think you’ll find that this house is everything you’ve been looking for,” the estate agent assured us hopefully the moment we arrived and Kitt’s doors opened. “The current owner has said he’s keen to sell, but he has also said that it must be to the right people. He wants the house and grounds to stay intact. It was a binding stipulation in the late owner’s will.”

“That sounds fair. But we’ll need to see it first,” I replied, looking down at Carolyn as I held the passenger door open for her.

“Of course. Please follow me.” The agent waved a set of large keys enticingly. She didn’t give us any chance to reply as she turned and led the way up a long concrete driveway, her high heels clicking with renewed determination.

“It does look promising…” I said hopefully as I took Carolyn’s arm and looked around. “The grounds are excellent. And we’ve come back down to Butterfly Beach. Is that a good omen?”

“It is certainly in the right area,” Kitt remarked. “I think it’s worth a look.”

“You could be right,” I replied cautiously, not wanting to be disappointed once more.

The mature gardens and lawns surrounding the house were extensive and beautifully kept. Huge old trees offered welcome shade from the sun. I could hear the wash and retreat of the ocean in the distance and the cries of gulls.

“Well, I’m not holding my breath,” Carolyn replied softly as we walked up the hill and the house appeared through the trees, slowly revealing itself like a shy woman unsure of her finery. “I don’t want to be disappointed all over again.”

Ahead of us, the agent had sensed our growing interest. She was reading her folder like she was quoting a mantra. “This beautiful and elegant Victorian home was built by naval carpenters, for their sea captain, at the end of the last century. It’s all been kept in original and impeccable condition. The last owner was an elderly widow who’d lived here for over fifty years until her death earlier this year and…”

The young woman droned on, but I could sense Carolyn was no longer listening. I turned my attention to her and ignored the agent’s rising enthusiasm for her subject.

“Oh, look…” Carolyn’s hand tightened on my arm and we both stopped walking. “I don’t believe it. I think it’s just beautiful…”

“Yes, it is…” I smiled slowly and with relief. I could see exactly what had arrested my love’s attention.

Two-storied and elegant with a long, porticoed front porch, the house sat neatly within its beautifully kept gardens. On the first floor, a round turret room with a bow window dominated one end of the upper floor, obviously built to look out over the sea and catch every last ray of sunshine.

“Stairs…” I whispered against Carolyn’s ear.

“Yes…” She nodded eagerly. “Maybe more than one set too.” She chuckled.

I studied the tall French windows that filled the middle space, and another bow window dominated the other end beneath a peaked roof. Above it all was a widow’s walk, taking up a large part of the roofline. It looked as if it could offer a fine view for miles around and out toward the beach and the ocean beyond.

Knowing she finally had our attention, the agent turned back to smile at us. Beckoning to us to follow, she walked to the bottom of the steps leading up to the deep front porch.

She continued reading her description. “…and this house actually became something of a Hollywood star back in the sixties when it was used in the filming for the Emmy award-winning television show,The Ghost and Mrs Muir...”

She looked very pleased with her find. She smiled with obvious relief as she led the way up the steps and inserted one of the large keys in the front door lock. “Excellent. I think you will find this house is well worth its asking price. Now, if you would both like to follow me, we can step inside and go right into the formal living room…”

※※※※※

I didn’t need to hear any more. As soon as I crossed the threshold and walked into the large, well-appointed living room, the house seemed to welcome me with a warm embrace. It enfolded me in its quiet elegance like it had been waiting for us to come and find it. And to rescue it. I couldn’t shake that feeling as I explored further.

I took my time looking around while Devon continued to pay close attention to what the agent was saying as she hurried to the end of her extensive notes. Then she smiled brightly as she looked up and named the price the current owner was asking.

It was a more than fair price and less than what had been asked for the houses we’d already rejected. I caught my breath and tried not to look too eager. I had the sense it was meant to be. As I walked back toward the open front door, I felt a soft brush of air across the back of my neck almost like a caress. I put a hand on the side of my neck and smiled. It did feel as if we were coming home.

“As I said, it’s well priced to sell quickly. But only to the right people,” the agent emphasised again. “But I guess I could leave you two to look around. Take all the time you need. I’ll be outside when you’re finished looking. I have the feeling this house was made for you.”

I could see she was scenting a potential sale, and I couldn’t deny her instincts. But I tried not to appear too eager. “Thank you…” I nodded, taking Devon’s arm to draw him away and further into the house.

We heard the front door shut behind the young woman and the warm silence of the house settled in. It had the slightly musty smell of being shut up for too long and I wished I could throw open all the windows and let in the light and air. The house seemed to want that too. The more I looked around, the more it seemed to be speaking to me in whispers from the past.

I shook my head. “You know, I do remember watching that television series the agent mentioned. It was about twenty years ago. I was a little smitten with the ghost at the time. He was a rather good-looking sea captain, even if his attitudes toward the fair sex were very nineteenth century.”

I smiled. “I wonder if the place is actually haunted, given its recent history,” I teased lightly.

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Devon replied as he tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow. “Let’s go searching and see if we can raise a ghost or two.”

We wandered slowly, arm in arm through the house, with growing anticipation. Thankfully, no masculine ghost made his presence felt. Every room we looked into or entered was as charming and well-appointed as the last. Beautiful period furniture set the stage everywhere.

“We should ask if all of these pieces come with the house,” I said as we made our way up the wide staircase to the first floor and the numerous bedrooms.

“It would certainly mean that we didn’t have to spend too much time furnishing the house,” Devon agreed.

“Come on. Let’s look outside…” I couldn’t resist walking through the main bedroom to open the French doors that gave access to the front balcony overlooking the driveway. The fresh air was very welcome and the views toward Butterfly Beach were amazing.

Seeing us above her, the agent waved happily and then gave me the thumbs-up. I waved back before I turned to Devon. “I think it would break her heart if we said we didn’t like it. Which is quite impossible now that we’ve seen it.”

“I agree. I think the whole house is charming and elegant,” Devon replied, putting his hands on my waist and drawing me back inside to kiss me. “I am amazed it’s not out of our price range. The grounds are extensive and the ability to subdivide would make it very acceptable to a developer.”

“Oh, I love this house already and I couldn’t bear that to happen.” I shook my head as I smoothed one fingertip down the curve of his cheek before putting my arms around his waist. “Or should I say Edward Grainger can afford to buy this house for us. We really can’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”

“Well, I’m not short of a dollar or two myself,” Devon corrected me gently. “We haven’t discussed it yet, but I won’t argue with you if we decide to go into this purchase fifty/fifty. I think that’s only fair.”

“Then I accept. And I do love you, Devon Miles…” I sighed. “I’m so glad we’ve finally managed to find a truly beautiful house. I couldn’t be happier.”

“And not before time…” Devon sighed as he rested his forehead against mine. “We will have to leave for London soon. There’s still so much to do.”

“I know and I still have my manuscript to complete. Miss Amanda Knight is a heart stealer who has taken up a great deal of our time.” I kissed him before I pulled back to look up at him. “I did just say I couldn’t be happier. But one last thing would truly make me very happy. Are you finally going to ask me what you wanted to say the morning Amanda was born? Remember that we promised each other there would be no more secrets between us.”

“Yes, we did say that…” Devon nodded slowly as he looked down at me.

I held my breath and waited. Streams of early afternoon sunlight warmed my back as he held me close against him, his large, powerful hands resting easily on my hips.

He smiled as he tilted his head at me. “The sunlight becomes you,” he said then, studying the rays of light streaming into the room behind us.

“Devon…” I said warningly, grasping fistfuls of his shirt in the small of his back and shaking him. “Ask me. I might even say yes.”

“Minx…” He chuckled. “You know very well what I was going to say to you that day.”

“Yes, but I want to hear you say the words.” I shook him again. “Right here, right now. It would be the most perfect end to a truly magical day.”

“Will you marry me, my Luciana?” he asked softly, his blue eyes full of love as he looked down into mine. “Are you willing to make an honest man out of me, finally?”

“Yes, I’ll marry you…” I nodded, trying not to cry. “How could I not? You are my life and we have wasted so much time.”

“Thank you…” Devon sagged with relief. “Now we must—”

“Oh,thereyou are!” the land agent commented with relief from the open doorway. “You were taking so long, I thought you two might have gotten lost. It is a big house.”

“No, we’re not lost,” Devon replied, looking down at me. “In fact, I think we’ve only just been found.”

“Oh…” the agent said, confusion in her tone. She paused then asked, “Well, what do you think?” She waved an expansive hand. “About the house…”

Still looking down at me, Devon replied, “Subject to all the usual due diligence and a builder’s report, we’ve agreed we’ll take it.”

The agent beamed. “Oh, I’m so glad! The vendor did say he wanted a quick sale, but he did stress it had to be to the right people. And I do think you are so right for this house. It’s like it was meant to be. As soon as I get back to the office, I’ll set the ball rolling and…”

She went on talking brightly about her plans but neither of us was listening to her. We were too wrapped up in each other right then and how far we’d come in such a short time.

I sighed as I looked around the main bedroom of our new home. Our future together beckoned, and I couldn’t wait to share it with Devon. Whatever happened now and whatever may come, we were together and that was all that mattered now.

“We should go shopping this afternoon and buy you an engagement ring,” Devon whispered close to my ear. “We need to make our love official, and your hand looks bare.”

“Yes, please. But not just yet…” I shook my head slowly. “Let’s wait a little.” I looked up at him. “If you don’t mind.”

“Of course, I don’t mind…” He hugged me close as the agent finally ran out of words to say and stared at us expectantly, waiting for us to leave. “Anything you want is fine with me. But do you have something in mind?”

“London…” I raised my brows at him as we followed the agent from the bedroom and down the stairs. “I think that would be so romantic when we’re back where it all began for us.”

I threaded my fingers through his and leaned closer as I raised his hand to my lips. “And I would love for you to surprise me…”

“I think I can manage to do that.” His answering smile was immediately intimate, and it made my toes curl. “Just like Edward Grainger would surprise his lady love?”

“Yeah… Just like that,” I whispered in complete happiness.

“London, it is then.” Devon nodded and kissed me as we walked through the open front door and back into the warm sunshine.

※※※※※

“Engaged, is it?” Michael declared happily as he pumped my hand and slapped me on the shoulder. “Well, I must say, it’s about time! We’d almost given up hope of you making an honest woman out of Carolyn.”

He grinned as he turned to my love and picked her up in a bear hug to swing her around before kissing her cheek soundly. “It’s great to see that there’s still life in the old dog yet!” He chuckled richly, kissing her again.

“We’ll have less of your cheek,” I replied darkly, smiling, nonetheless. “But I do agree, it’s time.”

“And you’ve found a house,” Stevie said quietly. “I’m so glad. And you’re so close to us as well. It was meant to be. Will you get married there?”

Her gaze flickered to Carolyn’s naked left hand, and I shook my head at her questioning look. I’d secretly asked her to size Carolyn’s discarded rings for me and Stevie had willingly obliged. She smiled her understanding that I wanted to buy a very special ring.

“Yes…” Carolyn finally managed to breathe as Michael put her down. “It is such a lovely house. It will be perfect for a wedding.”

“Well, I think this great news calls for a celebration,” Michael declared, pointing at their living room’s well-stocked bar. “I have some excellent champagne I’ve been saving for a special occasion. None better than this.”

We all settled on the stools at the bar as Michael opened the bottle of wine and set out the glasses. “And, of course, we’ll expect to be your very first guests,” he added with a wide smile. “What plans do you two have now?”

I shrugged. “As soon as the house is settled, we must get to London. Organising the exhibition will take up most of our time.”

“And I have a pressing deadline I need to meet,” Carolyn added. “My publisher wants my manuscript as soon as I can get it to him.”

“So, it’ll be a spring wedding then,” Stevie enthused. “Oh, that will be so lovely.” She turned to Carolyn. “I’ll help you organise it, of course. If you’ll allow me.”

“Oh, I would love that…” Carolyn hugged her close. “Thank you.”

“Then while you’re away, Bonnie and I will start making some plans.” Stevie raised her brows. “Um, but what about your sons?”

She hesitated, obviously feeling her way forward. “Have you told them yet? I mean, will they want to attend? I know Lucy was so happy to be able to help with getting you two together again in Sedona. I still have her phone number in Paris.”

“I’ll telephone all of them before dinner tonight and tell them our news. Edward and Danny do know about us getting back together. I told them before we left Santa Fe.” Carolyn paused as she turned to me, linking her fingers through mine as her eyes silently asked for my permission.

“It’s okay…” I nodded. “It’ll be all right.”

It was past time for the ultimate truth to be told. These two wonderful people were the closest to a family I’d ever had until Carolyn came back into my life with her incredible confession about her eldest child. It was fitting that the truth came out now on this very special day of days.

“All right…” She smiled mistily as she turned back to Michael and Stevie who were both watching us with deepening curiosity. “After Devondied…”

Her breathing hitched. “…after our blasted masters lied to both of us, I couldn’t stay in that world. It was just too painful and full of too many memories. I ran away from London and went to Paris. I guess, in a way, I was still looking for Devon. Even though they’d told me he was dead.”

She shrugged. “I knew him as Edward back then, and Paris had been his next assignment after he left me at the Piccadilly train station promising to come back for me.” She looked briefly stricken by the painful memory.

“I wasn’t given a choice about my leaving Carolyn behind…” I reached to put my arm around her waist, drawing her close to me as I leant my courage for her to go on with her story.Our story…”That decision is one I will always regret.”

“It wasn’t your fault. None of it.” Carolyn looked up at me, her eyes saying once again that she forgave me for everything that happened back then and since. She had let go of the past in favour of our future together.

I knew I needed to forgive myself. I nodded slowly, finally accepting that our past couldn’t be changed. It would remain that far away foreign country that we couldn’t revisit.

“Well, go on…” Michael encouraged, us as he poured our champagne and passed the glasses out. “Don’t leave us hanging here. What happened next?”

“Ssshhh…” Steve admonished him with a finger across his lips. “Let Carolyn tell her story in her own time.”

“All right…” Michael shrugged, shaking his head. “I was only asking.”

Carolyn took pity on him. “I found employment as a concierge in a small hotel. That was where I first met my future husband, Ian. He quickly proposed after a whirlwind romance.” Her lips thinned. “He said he loved me and promised to take care of me.”

“But he let you down,” Stevie deduced, taking Carolyn’s hand in hers.

My love sighed. “I was lost, grieving and wilfully blind to Ian’s less appealing qualities. But he did give me a way out. He needed a competent wife to help with his growing business venture. He was a means of putting the past behind me and finally being able to move on.”

“Except…” Stevie looked at me, her brows drawing together. “You brought something of your past with you into your future.”

“Yes…” Carolyn breathed slowly. “I didn’t know then. And by the time I did, it was already too late. I was married and living in Santa Fe with an unfaithful husband who wanted to control everything I did. There was no way out. Not then. I had to make the best of it.”

“I’m lost…” Michael looked at each of us in turn, trying to divine the truth of what he was hearing. “What are you talking about now?” He looked aggrieved.

“Men…” Stevie rolled her eyes at him even as she reached up to kiss her husband’s cheek. “As always, they’re the last to understand anything about women.”

She shook her head as she turned and smiled at me, reaching to take my hand even as she held onto Carolyn’s. I could see her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.

“All right, then tell me,” Michael demanded. “What’s going on? What am I missing?”

Stevie shook her head. “I’ll let Carolyn tell you. It’s still her story.” She smiled at me. “And Devon’s…”

“I named my eldest child, Edward,” Carolyn told him quietly. “After the man, I thought I’d lost thirty-five years ago. I never expected to see Devon again.”

“Until you did see him again, walking down that street in LA and you just knew you’d been lied to all those years ago…” Stevie whispered, wiping at her eyes. “Oh, this issucha romantic story. A true happy ever after. I couldn’t be happier for both of you.”

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him again…” Carolyn agreed, turning to me with her eyes full of tears. “I thought I must have been dreaming…”

“While I wasted time arguing with myself that she wasn’t real…” I raised my love’s hand to my lips and kissed the back of her fingers. “I was so sure she couldn’t be real. My beautiful Luciana belonged to a past that was long dead and gone. And on another continent entirely.”

“Oh, Ilovethat name…” Stevie sighed dreamily. “How pretty…”

“Okay, I still don’t get it,” Michael complained, looking to me for support in his honest confusion. “What are you all talking about?”

“My Edward is Devon’s son,” Carolyn told him simply. “Ian Bridges was not his father. I didn’t know it then but I was already pregnant when I arrived in Paris.”

“Well, I’ll be…” Michael stood open-mouthed as he absorbed the news for a stunned moment before he reached across the bar and grasped my hand again in a punishing grip as he grinned widely. “You’re a dad! Congratulations! This day just keeps getting better and better! I say such great news calls for another bottle of champagne!”

※※※※※

Chapter 20: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Spring Is For Lovers

“Oh, Mum, that’s such wonderful news!” Lucy’s heartfelt happiness radiated down the telephone line over the many miles between us. “I just knew I was right to send the two of you to Sedona! You seemed so miserable when you were all alone.”

She laughed delightedly, very pleased with herself. “Oh, I’m so happy for you! And the boys will be too. Have you told them yet? I just know they’ll be thrilled! When’s the wedding? Do you have any plans yet? I’ll make sure I’m home in time to help you with everything. I can get a short sabbatical from the university.”

I smiled mistily as I waited patiently until my lovely, impulsive and deeply romantic daughter finally paused to take a much-needed breath. I was alone in Michael’s office; Devon had closed the door behind him to allow me to tell my children in my own way and time.

“I wanted to tell you first,” I replied. “I knew you would be happy.”

“Oh, I’m totally over the moon. And Edward and Danny will be too,” Lucy was quick to reassure me. “They love you and they know how much Devon loves and cares for you. I made sure of that.”

She inhaled softly and then said, “It’s your life, Mum. Don’t waste another second on any regrets. What you have now is all that matters. It’s everything. Grab it with both hands. You totally deserve a happy ever after. You’ve written about enough of them to know.”

“Thank you…” I smiled through my tears at my so very wise daughter who had seen right through my despair and confusion about Devon. “Schrödinger’s blasted cat is finally free…” I whispered then.

“What was that?” Lucy was quick to pick up on my reflective tone.

“Nothing, darling, nothing at all,” I reassured her, wiping away my tears with the back of my hand. “Now, I have some more wonderful news to tell you…”

After another twenty minutes of speaking with Lucy, I took my time making two more phone calls. My sons were very happy for me and respected my judgement.

Of course, Edward was much more reserved and cautious than Lucy. “I’m still getting used to the idea that Devon is my father,” he admitted slowly. “But I understand the reason why you kept it a secret all these years. You were told he was dead so why rake up a past that couldn’t be changed.”

“I know…” I sighed. “It was all so painful and so long ago.” I shook my head. “When I first saw him again…” My breathing hitched.

“It’s okay, Mum, you don’t have to explain,” Edward replied quickly. “I understand. I’m glad that you’re finally happy. He is good for you. We can all see that. You’re finally moving on.”

“Thank you, darling…”

My children had seen how unhappy my marriage to Ian had been and were understandably cautious. But none of them would ever dream of standing in the way of my ultimate happiness and I loved them for that.

My lovely Danny was easier to convince. “I might have a truly great surprise for you when you finally get here,” I told him. “Something I know you’ll lose your mind over.” I did enjoy teasing him. “Well, it’s more Devon’s secret than mine. He owns a rather unique car.”

“Oh, yeah…” he queried, his boyish excitement reflected down the line. “Then I’ll make sure that I turn up in Montecito before you expect me,” he said cheekily. “You know how I hate surprises.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” I told him, laughing softly. “Goodbye, darling. Take care.”

“Bye, Mum. You too…” Now that I’d piqued his interest, Danny was reluctant to hang up and I could sense he had more questions.

“You’ll just have to be patient,” I told him before I replaced the receiver in its cradle with a happy sigh. When I finally emerged from the office, I was tired but content. I walked straight into Devon’s ready and welcome embrace and buried my face in his shoulder.

※※※※※

“You want me to investigate this Ian Bridges…” Michael mused as he sat behind his office desk, reading the detailed summary I’d written about Carolyn’s ex-husband. “Dig into his background and business interests. Am I looking for anything specific?”

He looked up. “Or do you detest the man on principle for what he did to Carolyn?”

“Something of both.” I nodded. “He blind-sided her that night back in Sante Fe when he just turned up out of the blue. It could have ended badly for her if I hadn’t been there. I know she still worries about him trying to make more trouble for us. I want to be prepared in case he gets it into his head to come after her again. He’s a sore loser and a coward.”

“Okay, consider it done then…” Michael nodded sharply, reading the notes again. “I’ll take the case myself and see what I can dig up on the man. I’ll keep it low-key and off the radar. He won’t know a thing about it.”

“Thank you,” I replied as the door opened and Carolyn walked in.

“Dinner’s ready,” she said, dividing a questioning look between the two of us. “Bonnie and RC are here to celebrate our engagement with us.”

“Great, because I’m starving,” Michael declared as he pushed the summary folder into his desk drawer and stood up.

I followed, linking my arm through Carolyn’s. “Lead the way.”

“You’re up to something,” she whispered as we left the office together, following Michael.

“Just tidying up a few loose ends,” I replied evasively, knowing she didn’t believe a word. “It’s nothing important.”

“I see…” She shook her head at me as we entered the dining room to hearty congratulations and handshakes from the rest of the Knight Investigations team.

※※※※※

Three weeks later, Devon and I flew direct to London. We landed at Heathrow and walked out of the terminal into the damp, chilly air of an early English spring. I shook my head as I remembered that cold winter we’d shared, where we had gone to bed together just to keep warm.

I smiled at the winsome memory of those long nights of lovemaking and whispered promises about our plans for our shared future. On the few warmer days of weak sunshine and scudding clouds, we’d walk for miles together, hand in hand.

This time, we were met by a gleaming chauffeur-driven limousine which conveyed us to our expensive, five-star, air-conditioned hotel suite in the heart of the city. We took the elevator up a dizzying number of floors and looked down on the city spread out below through the massive windows.

It gave us both a sense of remoteness. It all seemed like a world away from that long-ago season out of time. I knew I shouldn’t have any regrets, but some sadness did linger for those two young people who had been so much in love and had made promises we were ultimately unable to keep.

Of course, the frenetic bustle of modern London was nothing like what I remembered. On the flight from LA, I had impressions in my mind of what I would see. But the great city had changed out of all recognition in the past thirty-five years. I did feel a sadness and a sense of loss that Devon saw in my eyes and tried to alleviate.

“While we’re here, we’ll make some new memories,” he promised, as we stood together on the footpath in front of the huge glass and concrete office building that had been erected where our dingy tenement had once been. “We’ll make the most of our first night back here…”

“Yes, we will…” I nodded quickly, pushing my fingers through his. I lifted his fingers to my lips. “You know, I’ve only just realised something.”

“Which is?” He looked down at me quizzically.

“It was thirty-five years ago, today…” I stared up at him, feeling suddenly bereft. “I didn’t remember it until now. It’s been thirty-five years since we last saw each other at the train station.”

“Yes, I remember now…” Devon’s blue eyes studied every detail of my upturned face. “You stood on the platform watching me leave. I didn’t think I’d seen anyone who looked more scared while trying to look so brave.”

“I was terrified…” I admitted as I hugged his arm. “We were so happy here…” I waved a helpless hand at the faceless, monolithic building. “You said you would come back for me, and now you have.”

We’d both been so full of plans for our shared future. But it all had been so fleeting. I did feel the last vestiges of the people we’d once been had been taken away. But I knew it couldn’t be helped.

“Come on…” Devon slung a welcome arm around my shoulders as he turned to hail a passing black cab. “Let’s get out of here. I want to get you all to myself…”

“We both know there’s a small chance of that now since you have your exhibition to organise,” I replied with regret as he gave the cabbie directions to the gallery that was sponsoring his photographic exhibition.

“Then we’ll have to look forward to this evening…” he whispered, as he kissed my hair. “We’ll make up for the last thirty-five years. Make it into something very special…”

“Yes, I would love to do that…” I nodded as we got into the cab.

There was nothing left for us here. Our future together was now where we firmly belonged.

Before we left LA, I’d mailed off the first manuscript of my new trilogy to my publisher. I knew he was eager for the next instalment. There was so much to do when we got back to Montecito and our new home. I was looking forward to working in one of the bedrooms which was being converted into my new office.

We’d left Michael and Stevie to deal with the final few details of our property purchase. The sale had gone through quickly and smoothly, and the lovely Victorian mansion was suddenly ours. I couldn’t wait to get back and make a start on the renovations. I had ideas about that immense task, as well.

My new life was now full to bursting and I thought it was impossible for me to feel any happier as I leaned against Devon’s shoulder. I sighed as I watched the cityscape flow past the windows of the cab like an old slideshow until we turned into the bustle of Oxford Street.

“Oh, wait…” I sat up suddenly as a wonderful idea occurred to me. “Since you’ll be busy this afternoon, I think I’ll go shopping.”

“If that’s what you want to do,” Devon replied. “I’ll have more than enough to with organising the exhibition to keep me occupied until this evening. But do you want me to come with you?”

“No, but thank you…” I put an apologetic hand on the sleeve of his jacket. “This is something I need to do by myself. I want it to be a complete surprise for you. We have a long overdue anniversary to celebrate.”

“Very well…” Devon watched me with sensual amusem*nt as I asked the cabbie to drop me off on the pavement. “Ah, will I like this surprise?”

“You’ll have to wait to find out…” I smiled as I kissed his cheek quickly before I got out and the cab returned smoothly to the flow of traffic.

I watched the cab out of sight before I joined the throngs of shoppers filling the pavement. I couldn’t resist taking the time to visit some of the high-end boutiques Oxford Street had to offer. I’d decided I needed a new evening gown.

I wanted the dress to be a surprise. We were back in London, where our love affair had first begun, and I knew Devon was anticipating the evening ahead to be even more romantic than our very first night together back in Sedona.

I certainly didn’t want to disappoint him. The dress would have to be truly spectacular. I wanted this to be a night to remember for always…

※※※※※

With the cherished memories of our first night in Sedona in mind, I took the time to dress in the formal tuxedo I’d brought with me for the opening night of my exhibition. The event was well-organised, and I was very pleased with the results. I could hope for some more excellent sales of my work.

“But this first night is for us…” I reminded my mirrored reflection as I adjusted my black bow tie and studied the results with critical eyes. “For Carolyn and I. No one else.” I smiled as I turned away from the mirror and shrugged my shoulders into my tuxedo jacket. In a way, we were playing truant again, as we’d done in Sedona.

I’d also been shopping for something special this afternoon. I’d taken some time out from helping to organise the exhibition to visit certain premises before I finally made my selection. I pressed one hand against the side pocket of my trousers. I’d deliberately chosen a flat, heart-shaped box so I wouldn’t give away my plans before I was ready. Carolyn did say she wanted to be surprised.

Tonight was the anniversary of our last day together here in London. Suddenly I felt twenty-five again and just as horny. I huffed a quiet laugh as I shook my head. Thirty-five years was a long time to finally make good on my promise to return to my Luciana.

“Very nice…” Carolyn commented as she walked out of the steamy bathroom with a white towel wrapped around her slender body.

“Thanks…” I nodded to her as I inhaled deeply, tamping down the surge of need that hardened my body still further.

The scant barrier of the towel revealed more than it covered, and my mouth went dry. If she showed me any encouragement at all then we wouldn’t be going downstairs for dinner. Room service would have to do. But I knew she had very special plans for this, our first evening back in London and I didn’t wish to spoil her surprise.

“I want this night to be something really special…” My love smiled as she took several more breathless seconds to admire my formal clothing with hungry eyes. I waited, flexing my fingers against the burning need to dispense with the towel and take her to bed.

“Go downstairs…” she instructed breathlessly when she’d finally looked her fill. “Wait for me in the bar. I won’t be long.”

“Okay…” I managed to reply.

I went willingly enough, knowing that whatever it was she had planned would be worth the wait. I sat at the bar and ordered a double whisky while I waited. I swilled the amber liquid inside my glass and listened to the soft clink of the ice cubes as I kept one eye on the entrance. I wasn’t disappointed when she finally walked into the room after what seemed like hours of suspense.

I caught my breath as I turned on my stool to admire her approach, knowing she was there for me alone. The blue evening gown she’d worn that first night we’d shared in Sedona had been spectacular enough. It had taken my breath away.

Now my love was wearing a strapless red dress with a low-cut, silver lamé bodice. The silky fabric of the gown clung to every one of her slender curves and moved with her as she walked slowly toward me with her head held high and her green eyes shining. A thigh-high slit offered tantalising glimpses of one silk-clad leg as she walked.

At that moment, I don’t think I had ever seen anyone more beautiful or desirable.’And she’s mine…’

Many of the male patrons in the bar watched her pass them by and more than one man glanced in my direction with deep envy as Carolyn walked right up to me. I smiled as I stood from my stool to greet her, leaning down to kiss her soft lips before I tucked her hand possessively into the crook of my arm.

“Come on, Luciana. Let’s get out of here…” I whispered against her ear as I escorted her toward the hotel’s restaurant.

I did my best to push down my eagerness to get her alone. When we walked in, the very superiormaître d’greeted us. “A table for two, Sir?”

“Thank you.” I nodded and gave the man my name and our room number. “Somewhere private.”

“Very good, Sir.” He bowed his head, his eyes assessing us. “If you and your lady would please follow me.”

He led us through the restaurant to a series of secluded tables, each enclosed within a high-backed leather booth to allow total privacy. A single candle flickering in a cut-glass holder added to the intimacy. It was a very romantic setting for anyone who wished to dine unobserved.

“Is everything to your satisfaction, Sir?” themaître d’asked, watching my reaction closely.

“Thank you,” I replied as Carolyn slid into the booth ahead of me.

“Excellent, Sir. I’ll send your waiter to you.” The man nodded briskly as he bustled away.

I moved into the booth next to my love and my thigh brushed against hers. I heard the soft intake of her breath. Everything was so perfect; I could almost convince myself I was dreaming. But she was so warm and real next to me.

Luciana…’my heart whispered longingly, and she smiled at me as she placed a familiar hand on the top of my thigh.

※※※※※

Devon’s stunned look told me everything about what he was thinking and feeling. I was very pleased with his sensual appreciation of my latest purchase.

I watched him watch me as my fingers caressed the hard muscular length of his thigh, moving slowly higher. I was grateful for the intimate privacy of the candlelit booth. Devon in full evening wear made me wish we were alone together.

But I wanted this night, our first night back in the great city where we’d last seen each other thirty-five years ago, to be memorable. Each sensual step was going to be savoured to the full. I felt my breathing shortened with anticipation as he moved his thigh beneath my touch, nudging against the open slit in my gown.

“It was thirty-five years ago, tonight…” I whispered, needing to be much closer to him. I held my breath, knowing that this was the right moment.

“Yes, it was,” he replied softly. “We’ve both come a very long way.”

He turned to me, looking deep into my eyes and I knew he was about to propose to me again. I couldn’t wait.

He took my hand and carried it to his lips. “Will you consent to marry me, my Luciana?”

“Yes, of course, I’ll marry you…” I nodded quickly. I watched as he drew a red velvet, heart-shaped box from the pocket of his trousers.

My heartbeat picked up as he held it out and opened it for me to see the contents. A diamond engagement ring was nestled in the white silk. Its elegant antique beauty winked in the candlelight.

“Oh, Devon, it’s so beautiful and perfect…” I breathed, touching one fingertip to the sparkling gem.

“I knew it was meant for you the moment I saw it.” He kissed my cheek. “The setting is modern but the jeweller assured me that the stone once belonged to a beautiful French princess. It was a gift from her most ardent lover.” He shook his head. “I said the man certainly had very good taste.”

He placed the box on the table and drew out the ring. He took my left hand and pushed the circlet of platinum up and over the knuckle of my ring finger. Of course, it fitted perfectly.

He lifted my hand to his lips again and kissed the ring. “Tá grá agam duit…”he whispered. “I love you more than life itself…”

Tá grá agam duit…”I replied with a sigh, admiring the elegant perfection of the stone. “But how did you manage to guess the right size?”

He looked very pleased with himself. “I remembered you’d put your old rings into the side pocket of your handbag that day we first met. I hoped they were still there. I asked Stevie to retrieve them and make sure of the correct fit. She quite enjoyed the task of playing cupid.”

“So, a loving conspiracy all around,” I breathed as I reached up to kiss him, making him very aware of my urgent need for his love as I moved my hand further up his thigh and my lips parted beneath his.

“Ah, excuse me, Sir…” Our waiter cleared his throat before he intruded on our privacy as he kept his eyes carefully averted. “May I come in?”

We laughed together as we broke apart. “Yes, what is it?” Devon asked.

The man held out the wine list and Devon looked to me for confirmation before he ordered a bottle of their finest champagne. The waiter soon returned with the bottle in an ice bucket and two glasses. He poured a small measure into Devon’s glass with a flourish and waited expectantly for him to taste it. Devon nodded his approval and the waiter filled both glasses.

He then handed us the menus he held beneath his arm. I thanked him with a smile before he left us alone again. Sheltered by the high back of our booth, the murmured conversations going on around us were muted.

I barely glanced at my menu and quickly decided to order a dish of lamb ragout with seasonal vegetables and pasta. Devon summoned the hovering waiter with a quick wave of his hand and gave my order. He’d decided on a rare fillet steak accompanied by a green salad and French fries.

I noted that neither of us had bothered with the added extra of an entrée or dessert. I smiled as the waiter hovered expectantly with his pen poised over his order pad until Devon waved him away with a quick word of thanks.

We drank our champagne and when the waiter returned with our meals, Devon ordered another bottle. The bubbles in the icy liquid fizzed through my bloodstream, deepening and warming my already heightened state of sensual expectation.

As soon as we pushed our empty plates aside, Devon called for and paid the bill. Then he took my hand and drew me from the booth. We stood close together.

I could feel his warm breath caressing my bare shoulder as he inhaled the perfume on my skin and pressed a sensual kiss against the side of my neck. I turned to look up at him, tilting my head back.

He was magnificent, filling up my sight. I could see no one but him. The rest of the diners didn’t intrude on our closeness.

“Come on. I want to get you all to myself…” Devon said softly as he reached down and clasped my left hand in his.”Grá mo chroí…”

I smiled softly and then said,”Cuisle mo chroí…”

We left the restaurant and crossed the lobby hand in hand to the gleaming bank of elevators. We didn’t say a word to each other until we were standing outside the door to our suite. Devon unlocked it and we walked into the darkened room. The door closed behind us with a soft click.

The room was illuminated by the myriad of lights gleaming in the great city beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. I walked toward them, kicking off my high-heeled shoes. I turned back to Devon. He was standing beside the door watching me.

“Before I forget…” he said, taking the DO NOT DISTURB sign from the doorknob and attaching it to the outside. He shut the door and locked the door.

I smiled when I saw him reaching for the light switch beside the door and I didn’t try to prevent him as he flipped it on. I no longer felt the need to hide myself away in the dark…

※※※※※

As Carolyn walked toward me, I shook my head at her elegant evening gown. It moved sensually with her every step and was moulded so closely to her sweet shape that it fired my imagination to a fever pitch. The diamond ring on her left hand sparkled in the light.

“I hope this dress comes off as easily as the last one,” I commented as I slid my arms around her slender waist and drew her against me to press her hips close to mine. I cherished the sensual contact of her soft breasts pressed against my lower chest.

“Very easily…” She smiled up at me. “Just like this…”

She leaned back from me and quickly unzipped the side fastening at her waist. The silver lamé bodice slid down her arms and body as the gown pooled at her hips. This time, there was no lacy silk half-bra beneath. Her beautiful body was open to my searching gaze.

My breathing caught and I shook my head in wonder as I remembered how very far we’d come together. Carolyn no longer wanted to hide herself from me and I admired her bravery. I wanted to see all of her, as naked and wanton as our shared passion.

“So very beautiful…” I breathed.

I smoothed the end of my thumb over the rounded swell and dip of her shadowed cleavage and she shivered. I leaned down to run my lips gently over the faint white line of the scar on her shoulder. Seeing it reminded me of how close I’d come to losing her all over again.

“I love you…” She smiled at me, secure in our passion for each other.”Tá grá agam duit…”

Tá grá agam duit…”I repeated softly, seeing the soft blush-rose points of her breasts stiffen beneath the heat of my gaze. She inhaled sharply as I brushed my thumb across one burgeoning tip and then the other.

“You’ve always got too many clothes on…” she accused softly with a wanton smile.

“I know…” I stood back to rip off my jacket and drag my bow tie undone. I tossed them both aside before dealing with the buttons of my dress shirt. My cufflinks followed and I shrugged my upper body out of the fine linen. I sent the garment flying across the room.

“Is this better?” I asked, looking down at her.

“Much…” she whispered, her needy gaze focused on studying my chest and abdomen. “But don’t make me wait too long…”

This time, I didn’t need to hide what her beauty was doing to me. I wanted her to know how desirable and intoxicating she was to me and that she could never disappoint me, even if we did have all of eternity…

※※※※※

I couldn’t look away and nor did I want to. As he had been back that first night in Sedona, Devon in full evening wear was so devastatingly handsome. Now, half-naked, he was gloriously masculine and I wanted him so very badly. So badly I could hardly breathe. His questing fingers against the soft skin of my breasts were an electric contact which snatched my breath away even as I pressed closer still.

“I want you…” Devon reached out and settled his hands on my hips. He dipped his fingers beneath the bunched satin of my gown and pushed it down over my hips. I let it drop to my stockinged feet.

“Come here, Luciana…” he commanded again, and I stepped forward out of the dress and into his strong arms.

Now, the only barriers were his trousers, my sheer pantyhose and lacy knickers. I leaned forward to press a trail of questing kisses across the taut skin over his pectoral muscles. He tasted salty and clean.

“You’ve still got too many clothes on,” I complained, playing my fingers down the arch of his spine to the waistband of his trousers.

I pushed my fingers beneath to caress the firm planes of my body and pressed into the hardest of his muscles there. I knew each of them in detail now, having explored every one in turn with lavish attention. I heard his breath hiss between his teeth at the intimacy of my touch and he pulled me fully against him. His seeking lips found the side of my neck and the pulse that beat there.

“Devon…” I revelled in the sensation of being held close against his vital masculine heat.

I could never get enough of him. I pushed closer still, feeling his heated strength pressing hard against me. That part of him that made him such a virile man eagerly welcomed me to explore further.

“We will make new memories…” he murmured against my skin as he moved to the edge of my parted lips.

He pressed himself tightly against me, making sure I was aware of everything I was doing to him.Oh, I was so very aware…

“I want you…” I managed to reply throatily. “Now and for always…”

“Yes, always…” he replied, leaning back just a little to look down at me with such love in his eyes.

He shook his slowly, everything he was thinking and feeling right then evident in his blue eyes. I knew my gaze was now just as open and honest. We had come a very long way from that first night in Sedona.

The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses…” he quoted again softly. “I have never loved anyone as I love you, Carolyn. I never will.”

“As I have always loved you and always will…” Tears burned at the back of my eyes but there was no place for them here. I blinked them away. “There never could be anyone else. Not for me.”

In answer, Devon reached for my hand and pressed my palm hard against his waist, encouraging me to explore further. He did not stop looking into my eyes and I did not look away as my fingers quickly found the buckle of his belt, the buttons at his waistband and then the tab of his zip. I took it downwards slowly, infinitely slowly and we smiled together as my questing fingers finally found what they were seeking.

He didn’t move or say a word as I took full advantage of his stillness. I went up on tiptoe to push my arms around his neck as I kissed him and his mouth opened beneath mine. His fingers tangled in the softness of my silken knickers, rending the soft material apart. He dropped them to the floor and his warm palms enclosed the rounded softness of my behind.

He lifted me effortlessly and I wound my legs around his waist as I had done on that first night we were truly back together again. He held me against his chest, where he had easier access to my lips, as he carried me into the shadowed bedroom behind us. He managed to flick on the lights and smiled against my mouth when I didn’t protest.

“I adore looking at you…” he murmured as we tumbled together onto the softness of the big wide bed, becoming tangled in each other’s arms as we had on that very first night we made love. Soon every barrier to our rising passion would be gone.

“I want to see all of you in the light…” Devon lifted me to sit astride his thighs.

His hands moved slowly up my thighs toward where my body ached the most for his touch. He was allowing me to take full control and I revelled in the power of it all…

※※※※※

Chapter 21: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

All The Cats Are Finally Out Of The Box

“Good morning…” I said against her hair when Carolyn finally stirred against me and yawned.

“Good morning…” she replied sleepily, opening one eye to the bright daylight as she stretched along my naked body on a soft groan of satiated repletion.

“I need to get up soon…” I whispered, settling her more comfortably against the side of my chest. “Or I will be very late indeed for my own exhibition.”

“Blast…” She sighed slowly, making no move to move away or get up. “I wish we could stay here all day and just make love again like we did in Sedona.”

“Please don’t tempt me. As it is, we didn’t get much sleep last night,” I reminded her as I pressed her engagement ring to my lips. “We made up for lost time with some new memories.”

“Yes, we did…” She chuckled, moving to press a line of slow, sensual kisses to my chest. “But now I need to take a shower,” she finally complained, sitting up. “I want to come with you today. Can you wait for me? I won’t be long.”

“Of course…” I kissed the faint line of the scar on her shoulder before she left me. I felt the loss of her intimate warmth immediately, but I didn’t protest. We had time now to make it right. All the time in the world.

Carolyn smiled as she took possession of my hand to tug me from the rumpled sheets of the wide bed. “Come and join me…” she invited throatily. “I want to make some more memories and that shower is more than big enough for two…”

※※※※※

“Well, that went much better than I ever expected,” I commented, looking around at the SOLD stickers fixed to almost every one of my framed photographs.

“People know quality work when they see it,” Carolyn commented, saluting me with her glass of champagne. “They want to buy a piece of the action before your work gets out of their price range. Once you’re published in that national magazine in the States, you won’t be able to keep up.”

“I feel I must ask just when and where you are planning to hold another exhibition, Mr Miles…” The gallery owner inquired quickly, watching me keenly. “I mean, your lovely fiancée is quite right. Once the word gets out we will be swamped with orders. We do need to strike again while the interest is high. I can certainly make my gallery available again with sufficient notice...”

“I’ll get my agency to let you know,” I hedged. “We’re getting married as soon as we get back to the States. Then we will see how we’re placed. We have a honeymoon to plan.”

I watched Carolyn’s slow smile and the sensual look that came into her eyes then. I knew I was getting ahead of myself, but I couldn’t help it. I could almost curse my work if it didn’t bring me everything I needed now. I smiled back, as I saluted her with my wine glass and wondered how soon we could escape to be alone again.

“Congratulations…” The owner raised his glass, but he looked deeply discontented. “I’ll be sure to be in touch with your people then.” He turned and walked away to schmooze the last of the lingering exhibition-goers and make promises.

“He wanted a firmer answer,” Carolyn said, looking after him.

“I won’t promise anything until we know what we will be doing in the next few months,” I replied, reaching to refill her glass from a nearby bottle of champagne. “Maybe we will stay in Montecito for some time. I want you all to myself. But, from the brief look I had of them, Michael’s books will need some serious overhauling.”

“Then I do have an idea I’ve been thinking about,” she replied, watching the bubbles fizz in her glass. “Something that may solve both problems.”

“Go on…” I waited to hear her idea while loving the picture she made in her beautiful peaco*ck blue evening gown.

The sight of her stirred my blood and my desire anew. I was impatient to get back to our hotel room and out of that dress once more, but I was aware it would be some time yet before we could escape from my adoring public. I could almost wish for the remoteness and unassailability of the FLAG headquarters which kept unwanted visitors at bay. I sighed as I shook my head.

Carolyn watched me and shrugged one shoulder. “I know it might sound trite, but our new home in Montecito doesn’t have a name. I find that rather sad.”

She sighed. “I would love to honour its colourful past. Is calling it Gull Cottage after the Captain’s house from that old television series too way out there? I mean, what do you think? Truly?”

“Truly, I think that’s a lovely thought and why not? I think the Captain would be very pleased to be remembered,” I reassured her with a smile. “Is that your idea?”

“No…” She shook her head quickly. “I’m thinking we should document all the renovations we plan to make, right from the beginning. I’ll write about it and you can take the photographs. I’ve seen some magazines here that have been doing that with some old mansion houses and it’s an intriguing project. I’m sure we can interest a few magazines in the States.”

She looked around the walls at each of the framed photographs. “Who knows what secrets about the house we might yet uncover.”

“Or what ghosts we may stir back to spectral life…” I teased gently, kissing her temple. “If your heart is set on that, then that’s what we’ll do.”

“Thank you…” She smiled up at me, pressing her fingers to my lips as more eager patrons of my work came up to speak with me.

※※※※※

The next few weeks flew by. When I looked back, I truly didn’t know where the time went. Devon and I jetted back from London after his very successful exhibition, and we were immediately plunged into all the details of our wedding preparations and reorganising our new home.

Or, at least, I was, with Stevie and Bonnie’s very able help. Devon made himself scarce as often as he could, muttering about the pressure of his new role as the accountant for Knight Investigations. He was more often to be found in Michael’s office than anywhere else, slaving over mountains of bookwork.

“It’s just as well I agreed to do this work,” he complained late one morning when I walked into the office to find him with his tie discarded and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looked dishevelled and out of sorts and my mouth went dry with desire.

“Michael was just saying the same thing,” I soothed as I approached the desk. “He said he’s glad you’re here.”

“I’ll bet he did…” Devon pushed his fingers through his grey curls in frustration. “These books are a complete shambles. I can see why it would never have worked if I had put Michael in charge of FLAG. What was I thinking?”

“You wanted the best for him and Stevie. And I love you for that,” I replied, taking his hand between mine to tug him from his chair behind the large oak desk. “Now come and eat, because we have other work to do this afternoon. Lucy, Edward and Danny are all arriving tomorrow, and I want to make sure our new home is ready for them.”

※※※※※

I stood close beside Carolyn with one arm around her shoulders as we watched Edward drive his rental car up the front driveway of our new home. I could sense my love’s rising excitement and happiness over having her children with her again. Edward had flown into LAX from Boston with Danny and they’d collected Lucy from her Paris flight.

Carolyn leaned closer to me. “Don’t worry…” she said. “I know they will all love you. Just give them time to adjust to the news of our engagement.”

“Yes…” I nodded quickly as the car came to a stop. I wasn’t sure what to expect from them.

As soon as they all got out, Carolyn left me to hurry forward and embrace each of her children in turn. “Welcome to our new home. Welcome to Gull Cottage.”

“It’s truly beautiful,” Lucy replied, looking up at the house before she turned to me.

I held out my hand toward her. “I’m so glad to finally meet you again. Under much better circ*mstances than the last time we saw each other.”

“Yes, me too…” Lucy said as she ignored my hand and put her arms around me before kissing me soundly on the cheek. “Welcome to the family,” she said with a wide smile. “It’s about time you made an honest woman out of my mother.”

“Thank you,” I replied sincerely, feeling my wary sense of caution lessening. “And thank you for Sedona. It was magical.”

“My absolute pleasure,” she replied with a smile that reminded me a great deal of her mother. “You were both so miserable when you were forced to be apart. Stevie and I had been talking and we’d soon put two and two together. Then I talked to Maria in Santa Fe. We all knew you two belonged together.” She winked. “I have a great network of spies.”

“I’ll make sure I remember that.” I smiled at her before I turned to my son. A man who was a far harder sell than his romantic sister.

“Hello again…” I said slowly to Edward.

“Hello…” He walked up, looking me over with narrowed eyes. “It’s good to see you again.” I was well aware he was still cautious of me and my intentions toward his mother, but he was willing to shake my outstretched hand and I respected him for that.

“Hi, there, Devon…” Danny grinned at me cheekily, shaking my hand heartily and with firm approval. “Mum told me when she phoned that you have some kind of neat surprise for me. Something about a fancy car of yours.”

“Yes, well, I do possess a rather unusual car…” I shook my head as I glanced at Carolyn, and she shrugged. “Well, it’s not mine, exactly. It belongs to a good friend of mine who owns an investigation business in Montecito. We’ll show you around after we’ve eaten.”

“Okay…” Danny didn’t look convinced. “But I’m not that hungry.”

“Patience…” I smiled at his mulish expression. “It will be worth the wait.” He reminded me very much of Michael.

The brash young man with a zest for life and living it to the fullest whom I’d first met over five years ago when Wilton had chosen him to be Kitt’s pilot. I could already feel more grey hairs being added to my head. Introducing Danny to Kitt was full of perils and concerns I was only now beginning to understand. But the die had already been cast and introductions would need to be made.

“Come on…” Carolyn smiled and took pity on my hesitation. “I’m sure all that can keep until later. Let’s all go inside. Dinner’s almost ready and there are some more people that we want you to meet.”

“Oh, all right…” Danny hid his disappointment well. But I could see by his expression he wasn’t about to let it go so easily.

We walked together up the driveway and passed the two other cars that were parked on the wide concrete apron in front of the house. Bonnie had driven over with RC in her racy red sports car. Michael and Stevie had left Amanda with a babysitter and had arrived in Kitt.

I frowned at the car’s single red eye as we walked past but Kitt didn’t comment or try to introduce himself. We had agreed to take it slowly with any introductions.

“Cool car…” Danny said admiringly, running his hand over Kitt’s shiny black paintwork. “I bet it goes like a rocket,” he continued enviously, looking back over his shoulder as we walked together up the front steps.

“Very cool…” I agreed as I escorted them all inside and closed the door behind us.

※※※※※

As we all gathered in the large dining room, Michael drew me aside with a hand on my arm while the women fussed with the serving of the meal and where everyone was to be seated.

“Read this when you’re alone…” Michael drew a long white envelope from inside his jacket and pushed it into my hand.

“The final report on Bridges?” I asked as I tucked it away into an inner pocket. “Does it make interesting reading? Anything I can use as leverage? Carolyn is very keen to never see the man again. She will want to read this.”

“It’s not much, but there’s enough.” Michael shrugged. “Some grey areas that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny in the full light of day. Some corners on contracts have been cut and several willing palms greased.”

His lips quirked. “He did take a large financial hit when Carolyn divorced him, and he had to scramble to make up the shortfall. That must have rankled. No wonder he was pissed off when you met him in that restaurant in Sante Fe.”

“He was and he took it out on Carolyn.” I frowned, remembering our uncomfortable encounter with her ex. “If he ever tries to come her way again he will regret it. I’ll tear him apart, limb from limb and smile while I do it.”

I shook his hand. “Thank you for this. I’ll show it to Carolyn later when we’re alone. It will ease her concerns considerably.”

“There’s more…” Michael put one hand on my shoulder. “There was enough there for me to report the man to the IRS for a full audit.” He grinned with satisfaction. “That should keep him very busy for some time to come. Carolyn will be the least of his worries once the tax man has rung him dry.”

“Thank you…” I nodded, relieved one large shadow had been removed from our immediate future.

※※※※※

It was a couple of hours later when Michael and Devon walked out of the house together. The sun was lowering into the western sky and the air was cool and clean, scented with the clean ozone of the ocean. Over dinner, we’d spoken of their work with Knight Investigations and some of the assets they owned.

By now, all three of my children were deeply fascinated to learn more about what they did and how they managed their affairs. It had gladdened my heart to watch them all becoming one family, full of fun and gentle teasing. Even Edward relaxed his usually stern demeanour to joke with everyone. I watched Devon watching his son and I knew it would all be all right now. We had all made peace with our immediate past.

We cleared the table and washed up as the men shared some time alone, talking over some glasses of Madeira in the dining room. All except Danny, who could not seem to keep still as he urged us to hurry up and show him the mysterious car I had spoken about in such cloak-and-dagger terms.

Finally, we took pity on him and the others. They all followed us down the front steps with varying expressions of curiosity. Bonnie and RC held back to watch my children with amused expressions. I enjoyed their smiling looks of keen anticipation as we all gathered next to the gleaming Trans Am.

“This is Kitt,” Michael said as he walked up to the car.

“You name your cars?” Edward questioned with raised eyebrows as he admired Kitt’s sleek lines.

In his element, Michael smiled. “Oh, I think you’ll find that Kitt is so much more than a car. He’s a whole electronic experience. You could almost say he’s alive.”

I watched as they all looked at each other. None of them knew quite what to say next. I slid my arm through Devon’s as I remembered that day when I was first introduced to the talking car. You could have driven a freight train through my scepticism.

“Go ahead and say hello,” I encouraged them, trying not to smile.

All three turned to look at me, their faces full of disbelief and consternation. Kitt’s single red eye moved calmly from side to side. He was quiescent, waiting for one of them to make the first move. He appeared to be enjoying himself with his new audience.

“Ah, hello…” Danny ventured, trying not to appear as foolish as he obviously felt. “Um, hi…”

“Good evening, Mr Bridges,” Kitt responded immediately. “I am very pleased to finally make your acquaintance. Your mother has told me quite a lot about you. I have been looking forward to this meeting.”

“Mr Bridges was my father,” Danny replied quickly with a frown. “I’m just Danny.”

“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Just Danny.”

“What is this, Mum? What gives?” Edward turned to us. “Why the trickery?”

I shook my head, interested to see he thought of me as the sane one with all the answers. “As Michael said, Kitt is so much more than a car,” I replied smoothly. “I thought it was about time you all met since he’s such a large part of our lives here in Montecito.”

“Exactly. Thank you, Carolyn,” Kitt replied briskly. “My name is Kitt. It’s an acronym forKnight Industries Two Thousand. That is me. There is no trickery. I am a well-oiled, state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind machine and proud to be so. I am unique.”

My children stared at the moving red light. I could see they were wondering how someone greeted a talking car. One that expressed its emotions like any sentient human being.

“Just exactlywhatis going on here?” Edward finally demanded. “This is some of a trick. Cars don’t talk. Did you record his voice?”

“Why don’t you ask Kitt?” Devon replied. “He has been very keen to speak with you.”

“Oh, it’s all very simple,” Kitt replied in his slightly smug, comforting tone. “Please get in and I will tell you all about it…” His doors opened invitingly and I knew all would be well once the three of them got over their initial shock.

※※※※※

Two weeks later:

I walked from the house into the extensive back garden of Gull Cottage. The morning was already warm and sunny. The guests had already begun to arrive. I wanted to check that everything was as it should be before the wedding ceremony began. Our planning had been very detailed.

I couldn’t prevent a sympathetic smile when I saw that Kitt had been parked at the edge of the lawn with his hood pointing down the drive. He’d obviously been prepared as the get-away vehicle as my mother had called him.

The gleaming black Trans-Am had been decorated with a JUST MARRIED sign sprayed in foaming cream across his rear window and a cupid’s heart shot through with an arrow. Three strings of tin cans and old shoes had been tied to his back bumper and trailed across the concrete behind him. Blue and white ribbons had been tied around his wing mirrors and white roses had been tucked beneath his windscreen wipers.

“Good morning, Miss Bridges…” the car muttered stiffly, obviously sensing my presence which still managed to disconcert me a little. “I am truly sorry you are not seeing me at my usual best. What they have done to me once more is deeply embarrassing. I am not some common vehicle with no feelings. I do have my pride.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Kitt,” I replied quickly, trying not to smile. “But I’m afraid I really can’t help you.” It still seemed rather odd to me that I was talking to a car. “Perhaps you should go and find Danny…”

Whodo you think took the liberty of decorating me like this in the first place?” the car replied in a deeply offended tone. “And Michael had a part in it too, I am very sure. It has happened before. If I wasn’t urgently needed here I would drive down and put myself through the nearest car wash.”

“I am so sorry…” was all I could say again as I hurried on my way.

The wide green lawn had been set with rows of white chairs on either side of a central walkway where a long red carpet had been laid over the grass. Long ribbons and bows of sky-blue silk linked everything together with bouquets of blue and cream flowers.

At the far end of the aisle, the grey-haired minister was standing in front of a large floral wedding bower. He held his bible in one hand as he talked with some of the guests who had already arrived and were enjoying the champagne on offer.

The birds were singing in the garden and a soft breeze blew across the scene bringing the salty tang of the ocean ashore. The mingled scents of all the flowers were sweet and heady. Gulls wheeled overhead. It truly was a perfect day to get married.

Maria walked up to hug me tightly. “It is all very magical. Your mother is very happy. Devon is good for her and will be good to her.”

“Yes…” I returned her hug warmly. “I’m glad to see you’ve recovered so well from your fall. Mum told me what happened.”

“Bah…” She waved a dismissive hand. “I have learned to be more careful. It will not happen again.” She turned her attention to the house. “This is a beautiful house. I am so glad they found it and each other. They deserve the very best of everything.”

“Yes, they do,” I replied with a long sigh. “It’s so lovely to have you here.”

Maria shook her head. “I was so glad when I received the invitation. I wouldn’t miss it for the whole world. It’s the right ending to such a perfect dream. One of your mother’s happy-ever-after endings, only it’s now real.”

“Yes, it is. We’ll talk more later. Right now, I must go…” I hugged her again before hurrying back inside.

I walked up the wide staircase to the master bedroom. I picked up the veil from the bed and stood behind my mother as she turned before the large dressing mirror fixed to the wall.

“You look so beautiful,” I said, as she smiled at my reflected image.

“I have everything I could ever need,” she replied, with a long, satisfied sigh. “Everything…”

“Yes…” I nodded as I waited while Stevie and Bonnie fussed with the arrangement of her lovely wedding dress of champagne silk. I was going to place the veil on her head before drawing the soft folds down over her smiling face.

I doubted I’d ever seen my mother looking so happy. I was so grateful my romantic instincts had been right in bringing her back together with Devon again.

※※※※※

We heard the sudden buzz of excitement that ran through the guests seated in the garden. I stood next to Mum as we all looked out into the garden from behind the concealment of the living room curtains. We saw Devon, Michael and Danny walking from the open doors of the house and onto the lawn. They were all immaculately dressed in formal tuxedos.

I watched Devon and Danny shake hands as the crowd buzzed and murmured with anticipation. My smiling brother put a hand companionably on the older man’s shoulder, offering him his complete support. Devon looked a little dazed and braced himself visibly.

He looked down the long pathway. “Everything is now so perfect…” I heard him say. “It’s all as it should be.”

“Yes, it is…” Danny nodded.

“Thank you…” Devon smiled as he turned to walk slowly down the central aisle with both men beside him.

The excitement and chatter grew steadily with the expectation of the bride’s arrival. The three men continued down the walkway until they were standing in front of the minister. He greeted them with a relieved smile and a quiet word of encouragement.

From one of the bedrooms above us, the Bridal Chorus began to play through an open window. Edward stepped into his place to draw our mother’s arm through the crook of his.

“Ready?” he asked softly, smiling down at her.

“I’ve been ready for this moment for the last thirty-five years,” she replied, smiling at him through the cover of the veil I had drawn down over her face.

“I love you…” My big brother kissed her cheek before he walked slowly forward with her secure on his arm. They continued down the central aisle as Stevie and Bonnie found their places beside Maria in the front row of the assembled guests.

As I followed my mother down the aisle, I noticed she didn’t look at anyone. She only had eyes for Devon who was waiting for her. When she reached his side, they all turned to face the minister.

“Who gives this bride away?” he asked.

“I do,” Edward replied softly, his blue eyes fixed on our mother.

He turned to Mum and raised her veil with both hands. She smiled up at him as he stood back to admire the beautiful picture she made in the warm sunshine. Then he leaned forward and kissed her gently on the cheek.

My big brother then turned to look at Devon and nodded his approval before he stepped back from the bride. His part in the ceremony was over.

“Dear family and friends…” the minister began. “We are gathered here to witness this blessed marriage between Devon and Carolyn. Devon, do you take Carolyn as your wife? To love her, protect her and care for her for all the remaining days of your life?”

“I do,” Devon replied with quiet pride.

“Carolyn, do you take Devon as your wedded husband, submitting unto him? Showing reverence to him in the union for all the remaining days of your life?”

“I do,” Mum said with a soft, tremulous smile. “Always…”

The minister turned to Danny. “May we please have the ring?”

My cheeky younger brother smiled as he made a show of drawing the ring from the pocket of his waistcoat and holding it out. He handed it to Devon.

“Take this ring and wear it…” the minister continued as Devon took his bride’s hand to place the ring on her finger.

“Take this ring and wear it,” he repeated slowly.

“As a token of my eternal love and fidelity toward you,” the minister went on. “Now and forever…”

“As a token of my eternal love and fidelity toward you,” Devon repeated quietly. “Now and forever…”

They smiled at each other before Mum untied the ring that had been attached to her dress by a silk ribbon and then she took Devon’s hand.

“Take this ring and wear it,” the minister intoned.

“Take this ring and wear it,” Mum repeated softly, pushing it slowly onto Devon’s finger.

The minister nodded. “It is a token of my love and fidelity toward you for now and forever...”

“It is a token of my love and fidelity toward you,” my mother repeated as she looked at Devon with loving eyes. “For now and forever…”

They stood holding hands, looking completely and totally in love in the warm sunlight. My heart swelled with happiness for both of them. I knew they were going to be all right. Everything was going to be perfect.

The minister looked from them to the guests. “And now by the authority given unto me by the state of California, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”

Devon didn’t need any further urging, turning immediately to his new wife to kiss her deeply and thoroughly. They seemed oblivious to everything around them at that moment.

Danny nodded, looking happy while Michael and I stood on the sidelines looking on. All our parts were now complete and everything had happened exactly as planned.

As the newly married pair finally drew apart the minister smiled. “I would now like to introduce to you, Mr and Mrs Devon Miles.”

Everyone started to clap as the couple turned to the crowd of guests. People began to stand up to press forward with their congratulations. The happy couple took their time walking back up the aisle away from me and I couldn’t have been happier for them as we all turned to follow. They deserved each other and looked so right together.

Whatever happened now, I knew my mother was finally going to be all right. Devon loved her as his Luciana truly deserved to be loved. Completely and without restraint. I smiled through my tears of happiness as I went forward to greet them…

※※※※※

“What is the point of a relationship if not to grant two people the very private privilege to uplift one another every day? To illuminate the qualities in each other that are diamonds of shimmering beauty. To appreciate wholeheartedly. To accept unconditionally. And to love eternally, even in moments of dislike. I’m not here to grant you the extraordinary love you never had for yourself. I’m here, on my own accord, to love you. So that when you stare into my mirror eyes, you may see how extraordinary you are…”

Kamand Kojouri

※※※※※

In the Knight Rider episode “The Scent of Roses” S 4, Ep 12, Fri, Jan 3, 1986, Michael is walking on the beach in the closing scene of the episode, and he remembers Stevie quoting a few lines of poetry. The relevant part of the poem is below, written by a lesser-known Irish poet named Thomas Moore. I have always wondered if it might have been Edward who suggested the poem and the title to the writers.

We will never know, but it is a lovely thought. You can take the man out of Ireland, but you could never truly remove Ireland/Ierne from the man…

Éirinn go Brách, Edward. Go raibh maith agat.

Slainté mhaith, mo chara. Téigh le Dia, i gcónaí… Go with God, always…

※※※※※

Let Fate do her worst, there are relics of joy.
Bright dreams of the past, which she cannot destroy;
Which come in the night-time of sorrow and care,
And bring back the features that joy used to wear.
Long, long be my heart with such memories fill’d!
Like the vase, in which roses have once been distill’d.
You may break, you may shatter the vase, if you will,
But the scent of the roses will hang round it still...”

Thomas Moore – “Farewell”

※※※※※

Chapter 22: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

The Captain’s Cottage

Author’s Note: These next few chapters are for those who have asked for more of Devon and Carolyn’s story, pretty, pretty please. There will not be many and they will all tie up nicely and then their story of requited love and Happy Ever After will have truly been told. Schrödinger’s cat is very happy now.

Thanks to all who have followed me on this journey which started with a very simple idea. Fix Devon’s love life! I think I have done that.

Éirinn go Brách, Edward. Go raibh maith agat.

Slainté mhaith, mo chara. Téigh le Dia, i gcónaí… Go with God, always…

※※※※※

Six weeks later:

Kneeling on the grimy wooden floor of the cluttered attic room, I began to sneeze. The rising dust cloud from all my hard work had wreathed my head with particles that hung in the humid air. I dropped my cleaning cloths and rubbed at my itchy nose with the handkerchief I pulled from the hip pocket of my old pair of jeans. I wiped the back of my hand across my damp forehead.

I was tired and hungry. My stomach had been for grumbling for some time over the lack of nourishment and my throat felt desert dry. But I wasn’t about to give up and call it a day. There was still so much work to be done.

I’d been there for some hours, working slowly and methodically through years of broken and forgotten things. I had just made an unusual discovery and sank back on my heels, deep in thought about the past few weeks and all we had managed to get done.

While Devon and I had been on our honeymoon, Michael had employed an army of professional cleaners to go through the lower floors of the house, sweeping it clean and making everything gleam. But I’d resisted any and all suggestions that the attic should also be completely cleared out and cleaned. For some reason I couldn’t properly explain, I said I wanted to do that myself.

Two days before our wedding, I’d climbed the narrow, dusty, cobwebbed stairs and entered this secret haven. I had been looking for the way up to the widow’s walk on the top of the house. I still hadn’t found it.

But what I did discover was a large room stuffed full almost to bursting with junk and many forgotten treasures.Trunks, boxes, artefacts, rolled up sea charts, ledgers and journals.An old, brass sextant hung on one wall together with an enormous and dangerous looking harpoon. They were both covered in dust and cobwebbed together.

The executor of the previous owner’s detailed will had agreed a fair price for all the household furniture without any conditions.While I didn’t wish to live in a museum, trapped in the past, there were some lovely pieces I wanted to keep, particularly in the grand living room downstairs.

In the master bedroom, there was a beautiful teak desk that was simply perfect for my writing. We moved it into the window embrace so I could look out at the scenery while I was working.

Inside my mind, I felt Edward Grainger was settled and happy. He’d found his new home and was becoming increasingly eager to begin some new adventures. My publisher had also been agitating for the second instalment of my trilogy. The advance had been very generous and I did need to get on with writing the outline.

But finding just the right setting was giving me some concern. Edward Grainger’s compelling adventure in Sedona was fast becoming a runaway success and the novel was rapidly climbing the best seller lists. It was going to be a hard act to follow.

“I know I’ll find the new setting given a bit more time.” I sighed. I’d become too easily distracted by the many layers of secrets hidden in the attic room and often lost track of time.

Under Michael’s close supervision, the house had been brought up to code with new wiring and all the plumbing had also been updated.With some of my own furniture from the Sante Fe house finally being moved in, we hadbegun to make Gull Cottage our forever home. The rooms had been newly wallpapered or painted according to the detailed plans we had made.

Over the last two weeks, we’d taken our time, carefully photographing and documenting our changes in design and placement as we went. We’d already had some interest in our story from more than one house and garden magazine. Devon had joked that our collective fame had sold the idea, but he took the work very seriously.

Despite all the upheaval, the house appeared to welcome us. It seemed to be slowly awakening from its years of slumber. At times, in the night, I felt almost as if it had been waiting patiently for us tofind it and make it live again.

I’m well aware I have a very active imagination, but at times, whispers and moving shadows in the corners of moonlit rooms snagged and held my frowning attention. I wasn’t afraid, but I was intrigued.

It was in these times that I would remember the soft caressing breeze brushing across the back of my neck the very first time I walked into Gull Cottage and knew we just had to buy it. And the house knew it too.

“I love it here…” I murmured now, smoothing my hand across the surface of my latest lucky find.

Oh!” Movement in the open doorway made me jump from my introspection. I’d been concentrating all my attention on my new-found discovery.

“You’ve been very busy. You were already gone when I got up for breakfast and now it’s almost lunchtime,” Devon commented from the doorway. “Would you rather I carried you off back to that private yacht on the Mediterranean again? We could go for another cruise and forget about all of this.”

He waved his hand at the jumble of discarded furniture and knickknacks that occupied nearly all the floor space and hung abundantly on the walls. There was dust and cobwebs everywhere, and the small inroads I’d managed to make into the clutter were barely discernible.

He frowned. “Surely, the cleaners can deal with it. I know you were adamant that you wanted to do it yourself, but it’ll takes months of hard work. I don’t want you overdoing it.”

“Oh, please don’t tempt me to just throwing everything away,” I pleaded as I blew the dust from my nose. “Somehow, I just felt I needed to be the one doing this. But, right now, another cruise sounds like heaven.”

I sighed as I closed my eyes briefly and saw again those four, glorious weeks of our honeymoon. Long, hot summer days spent exploring and the starry nights, where we floated alone on the blue waters and acted accordingly with sometimes shameless abandonment.

Devon had been the captain and I, his novice crew. It was a magical time full of laughter and intimate moments of pure joy.

The sensual scenes of our lovemaking, often on deck beneath the stars, still had the power to bring warmth flooding into my cheeks. I was still unused to being so abandoned. But under Devon’s tender care, I was fast becoming a very good pupil in the matters of the ocean and our abiding love.

I shivered as I pushed the delicious memories aside and concentrated on the practical matters at hand. “This place really does need to be cleaned out but I know I can do it. And I’m amazed at what I’ve been finding.”

“Very well. But I thought you might need this…” Devon handed me a dewy bottle of cold water. “You must be parched in all this dust. You didn’t even stop for your morning coffee.”

He studied me closely. “I can help with all of this, you know. Just say the word. And remember, we’re supposed to take photographs as we redecorate.”

“I remember and thank you…” I drank greedily from the bottle of water, slaking my thirst. “But I needed to get working in here before it got too hot outside. We can come back tonight, when it’s cooler and start taking pictures. There are so many treasures here, it might require a second article.”

I handed back the bottle, tucked my handkerchief away and rose to my feet. I’d keep hold of my unexpected find in my free hand.

I held up the large, heavily-framed painting I’d found in the back, behind a pile of old furniture. “Take a look at this. I’ve had to clean it of all the dust and cobwebs to see it properly. Thankfully, it was framed behind glass. There are treasures here, if you take the time and know where to look. That’s why we need to take our time.”

I held the painting up to the wan sunlight shining in from the two small attic windows beneath the eaves of the house. It was an oil painting of a splendid sea captain in uniform.

His sea cap was emblazoned with a smart gold badge that declared his rank. It was not a well-executed likeness and there was a stiffness to it, almost as if the sitter had become bored with the whole process and wished it to be over. I could almost sense his frustration.

His large, powerful hand lay passive, resting on a polished, old-fashioned brass telescope. I couldn’t help wondering what his hand would have looked like in real life. I frowned at the gold signet ring that had been painted on the little finger of his left hand. It was monogrammed, but I couldn’t make out the legend.

From beneath the Captain’s cap, his curling dark hair had been painted low on his collar, matched by his neatly trimmed beard and moustache. Despite the slight clumsiness of the likeness, the man beneath was handsome beyond what should have been permissible. There was an undeniable sense of power and unbounded vitality.

His blue eyes, which so reminded me of my husband’s, frowned out at me with stern disapproval. It was almost as if I’d inadvertently disturbed his eternal rest. I couldn’t help smiling at his austere look. No doubt, he’d broken many hearts in every port he sailed away from, never to return.

“Carolyn?” Devon questioned as he moved closer to me. “What gives? You look like you’re miles away, all of a sudden.” He looked over my arm at the painting. “You seem very taken with him. Should I be jealous?”

“I…” I shook my head in bemusem*nt. “Of course, not. But, when I first found him, I could have sworn I was somehow directed to it. There was so much junk in front of him, I almost didn’t see him.”

I laughed at my own foolishness. “Crazy, I know. But it was almost as if he was waiting to be found by just the right person. And yet…”

“And yet, he doesn’t look too happy about being disturbed in his eternal rest,” Devon echoed my thoughts unerringly as he took the painting from my hands to admire it. “A fine looking fellow.”

He held it up beside his head. “Do you want me to grow a beard like this?” He grinned.

“No, thanks. I love you just the way you are.” I reached to take the painting back. “He caught my attention, that’s all. It seems such a shame to leave him here all alone with the dust and the spiders. He must have been up here for years.”

“I rather think he was quite content staying here,” Devon replied reasonably, studying me closely. “But if you’re that sure he wanted to be found, I think that landscape painting hanging above the fireplace down in the main living room could find a new home on another wall. We have enough of them.”

I gasped as I turned to him in my eagerness. “Do you really think so? I mean, you don’t think I’m being a little crazy about his wanting to be found?”

“Crazy, no…” Devon shrugged, taking back the painting and tucking it under his arm. “If salvaging an old sea captain is what it takes to get my wife out of all this mess and downstairs for some food and a glass of wine before she passes out from hunger and thirst…”

His lips curved gently as he leaned close to kiss my dusty cheek. “Then yes, I think maybe, just a little eccentric.”

He grinned, stroking his clean-shaven chin with his free hand. “I also think it’s very fitting, since this house is now the Captain’s Gull Cottage and you may have stumbled on a picture of the man himself.”

“Maine and that Captain Gregg from the old TV series are over two thousand miles away,” I stated repressively, as I preceded him out of the attic and down the stairs. “That is probably just a picture the last owner found somewhere and liked it.” I don’t understand why I was trying to downplay my find.

Devon raised his shoulders as we walked downstairs. “And then she decided to dislike it because she hid it away in there with all the other detritus of her long life?”

“A mystery, then,” I replied as we entered the main living room. “Maybe someone else put it up there, out of the way. Maybe they didn’t like the look of him.”

“Ah, I can see you’re scenting a very good mystery.” My husband chuckled, as he put the captain’s portrait down on a nearby chair and then removed the landscape from above the fireplace. “Something for your Edward Grainger to sink his teeth into for your next book. We’ve only just returned to the house and you’ve already uncovered a possible romance between the old lady and this fine fellow. If these walls could talk.”

He lifted the portrait into place, secured it and then stood back. He slung one arm around my shoulders and pulled me close to him, kissing my hair. “So, there you are. A fitting captain for Gull Cottage. He actually looks right, hanging there. Every good ship needs a competent master and he fits the bill.” Wry humour coloured his tone.

“Don’t you dare laugh at me…” I warned, digging an affectionate elbow into his ribs. “I think he looks fine up there. A talking point, if nothing else. We can take his picture, and I’ll write a piece about him, after we’ve had lunch.”

“Orff…” he complained over my gentle nudge as he grinned down at me. “I wouldn’t dare make fun of you. That would be more than my life is worth.”

He pulled me closer and kissed me long and hard. I snuggled into him, revelling in his solid warmth. Our mutual desire simmered between us and it was hard to let him go.

As Devon drew back to smile down at me, I happened to glance over his broad shoulder and I could have sworn the vividly painted blue eyes in the Captain’s portrait were watching me. There was the faintest of smiles within their clear depths that I was sure had not been there when I first found him up in the cluttered attic.

Have I somehow awoken a ghost?

“Now, come and eat,” Devon encouraged me, propelling me toward the door with an insistent hand in the small of my back. “You look exhausted and you’re covered in dust. I’ve made you your favourite salmon and cucumber salad with fresh rye bread. We can eat outside in the sunshine of the back garden and have a glass of wine or two. You need some time to relax. All that junk up in the attic isn’t going anywhere unless it finally decides to fall through the ceiling.”

“Okay…” I nodded, smiling at him. “Thank you, that sounds wonderful. But I’ll need to take a shower first and change my clothes. I won’t be long.” I cast one final puzzled look back at the portrait as we left the room, but its painted face was once again flat and lifeless.

“It must have just been a trick of the light…” I whispered, shaking my head in bemusem*nt.

※※※※※

I sat back in my garden chair with my glass of wine and watched Carolyn’s clear enjoyment of the meal I had prepared for her. It made me happy to be able to take care of her as she deserved. And the enormous farmhouse kitchen of our new home had simply begged to be used to its full potential.

Not long after we’d finally moved into the house, my love had confessed she wasn’t much of a cook. I already knew that. I was only too well aware that Maria had spoiled her over the last twenty-five years.

My love’s complete honesty about her marriage to Ian Bridges had made me feel very protective of her.Our encounter with the coward at the restaurant back in Sante Fe had distressed her and it still rankled with me that he dared to lay a hand on her.

My fingers clenched around my wine glass. If Bridges ever came near her again, in any way, I would not be responsible for my actions. Now that she was mine for always, there was nothing I would not give her, or do for her. And she knew that.

As I swallowed my wine, I blessed the fact that Bridges now had the IRS on his worthless tail, so he wasn’t likely to reappear any time soon. I had also instructed Michael to keep an eye on his doings and report to me if he made any moves in our direction.

“You’re very quiet. What are you thinking about so deeply?” Carolyn questioned softly, as she pushed her empty plate aside.

“I’m thinking about how lucky I was to find you again,” I prevaricated, as I finished my wine on one long swallow. “How lucky we both were to meet so randomly on that street down in LA.”

“Schrödinger and his blasted cat…” Carolyn smiled at me as she accepted my refill of her empty wine glass with a nod of thanks. “That man has a lot to answer for.”

“Yes…” I nodded slowly. “I was also thinking about you. You remember when I showed you Michael’s report on your ex-husband. There was enough evidence to have him reported to the IRS for a full audit and we did so.”

“Yes, I do.” My love nodded. “I’m so relieved that one very large shadow had been removed from our future together. I dreaded seeing him again. Ian is not a man to forgive an insult or a slight and he would have made it his mission to get even.”

“He will never trouble us again,” I replied evenly, sitting forward. “I will not allow it.” I reached to take her hand across the table.

“I love you so much…” she said simply, lifting my hand to her lips and kissing the backs of my fingers. “It is truly wonderful to feel so protected and safe.”

She paused and her brow creased in thought. I held my breath and waited. I had come to know the signs of when she wanted to ask me something but could not formulate the words for fear of hurting my feelings.

“Look at me, Luciana…” I urged quietly. “Whatever you want to say to me, it’s all right. Talk to me…” I turned my hand within her grasp and squeezed her fingers. “We agreed there would never be any more secrets between us.”

“Yes…” Carolyn nodded jerkily. “All right. I know we’ve barely moved into our new home, but I would love to ask Edward to come and stay with us, just for a few days. He seemed so lonely when they all waved us goodbye at LAX.”

She sat forward to take my hand within both of hers. “Lucy told me that Edward has recently broken up with his girlfriend. After our wedding, he said he was looking forward to getting together with you again. Just the two of you. But we’ve been so busy with everything we’re doing…”

She shook her head. “I have my book to write and you have your next exhibition in New York you must prepare for. Time is the one thing we do not seem to have.”

“That blasted Bridges really did a number on you, didn’t he?” I asked bleakly. “My love, you do not need my permission to ask our son to come and stay.”

Carolyn drew a long, steadying breath and released it slowly. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that…”

“Old habits die hard?” I queried softly. “Of course, I would love to see Edward again. If he can get away to stay for a while. I know how busy his life is. My New York exhibition can be organised by my agency for now. That’s why I pay them very well for their services. And the photographic magazine features have already been put to bed. I’m at a loose end for the next couple of weeks. All we have left to document for the house and garden article is your work up in the attic.”

Carolyn nodded. “I think he will agree to come to stay if you asked him,” she replied quickly. “Edward never bonded with Ian. Even though he never questioned if he was my boy’s father, Ian was very dismissive of our son when he was a child. Edward was so different to him in every way. I lived in constant dread of the truth being uncovered. He looked so much like you at the same age, he made my heart ache. How could I have known…” Her lips thinned with apology.

I pushed back my chair and stood up. “If it will set your mind at ease, I will go and telephone him right now. We’re not so busy we cannot entertain a house guest. Especially one who is very important to both of us.”

Carolyn rose and gathered our used dishes together in a stack and picked them up. “I truly do not know what I have done to deserve you.”

She resisted my attempts to take the pile of dishes from her. “You cooked, so I get to clean up. A fair division of labour.”

I shook my head. “Your marriage forced you to make the best of a very bad situation and you survived.”

“Yes…” She nodded jerkily as she followed me into the house through the large French doors leading into the main living room. “I think Maria suspected Edward was not Ian’s son. But she never asked or commented.”

“She was your very loyal friend.” I glanced briefly at our new addition to the room.

Oddly enough, I felt that the Captain’s painted blue eyes were following us as we passed through his new domain. A crazy sensation of awareness feathered up and down my spine. I was tempted to say we may be better off returning the old boy to the attic where he belonged. But I knew the idea would disappoint my love.

I had always prided myself on being a very practical man. Facts and figures mattered and could be calculated. Things were always to be measured, weighted and understood. This nameless frisson travelling up and down my spine had no place in my ordered world.

‘And yet, there was that incredible and unbelievable day when my Luciana walked straight back into my life as if she had never left…’

“Serendipitous?” I breathed. ‘Crazy…’

I had no real answer to the puzzling thought. I shrugged and didn’t look back at the new addition as we left the room.

“Maria was always my very good friend…” Carolyn agreed as we walked through to the kitchen. “And she still is. I have been thinking about her, as well. But we can talk about that later.” She turned away and carried the dishes to the sink.

“Very well…” I walked toward the wall-mounted telephone.

A laminated list of numbers had been attached to the wall beside it and I ran my eyes quickly down to that of our son in Boston. Without realising it at first, I inhaled and held my breath as I picked up the receiver and dialled the number. I was aware Carolyn had turned from rinsing the dishes to watch me with a loving look of hope shining in her green eyes.

※※※※※

Chapter 23: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three

Nothing Is Ever Quite As It Seems

I frowned at the insistent buzzing of the office intercom at my elbow. I had no intention of answering it. It was another distraction I didn’t need.

My day in court, which had begun badly enough, had now slid down into the interminable tedium of yet another two-week continuance. It had to be some kind of record. And there was still no end in sight to a frustrating case that should have been open and shut. Embezzlement 101.

But the opposing counsel was pulling out all the stops to prevent their weasel of a client from going to jail where he so rightly belonged for embezzling every last cent of his firm’s pension fund. I grimaced as I pushed the fingers of one hand through my hair.

The blasted man gave snakes a bad name. But he appeared to have more lives than a stray alley cat. I knew I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it did. The unfairness of it all rankled deeply. It seemed no one cared, but me.

“By the time this confounded case is finally done, I’ll be older than Methuselah,” I complained, tugging down the knot of my tie and loosening the top button of my shirt.

The buzzing of the office intercom continued, and the flashing red light snared my frustrated gaze. “I thought I said, no calls…”

After the irritation of the morning session, I’d complained all the way from the law courts to my sixth-floor firm and stalked through the bullpen to my office door. Everyone within my frowning line of sight had ducked for cover or tried to appear too busy to strike up a conversation.

I’d stopped long enough to give my tersely worded command to my long-suffering secretary, Nancy, to hold all my calls. I’d then taken refuge in my office and slammed the door shut behind me.

It didn’t make me feel any better and I regretted it almost instantly. None of it was their fault.

“Blast…” I’d dropped into the leather chair behind my desk and buried myself in the case files, desperately searching for a fresh perspective.

I’d been up since well before dawn and had eaten very little. A tension headache began to pound in my temples. I knew I really needed to slow down and draw a breath. Let the thing ride out its natural course. But a burning sense of outraged anger drove me on.

Early afternoon sunshine speared into the room as I worked through the case transcripts. The warm light cast shifting patterns over the oak-panelled walls and painted them with gold. I didn’t notice and kept my head down. I’d slaved very long and hard hours to get where I am now, and I was damned if a fresh continuance was going to put me off my game.

There had to be an opening I could exploit in here somewhere. “I just have to find it…”

Facts and figures could be balanced and weighed. Sifted for that tiny kernel of truth. I trusted them more than most people, beyond my immediate family.

The intercom began to buzz again insistently, dragging me from my introspection. Someone obviously wanted to speak with me.

I shook my head as I thumbed the button. “I said, no calls, Nancy. I’m far too busy. Tell them to call back some other time.”

Nancy ignored my brusqueness as she replied crisply, “There’s a Mr Devon Miles on the phone. He said he needed to talk to you right away. It sounded urgent.”

“Devon…” I inhaled deeply, shaking my head. “Of course. Put him right through.” I sighed. “And Nancy… I’m sorry for my earlier outburst. It was uncalled for.”

“That’s okay, Boss,” she replied in an annoyingly calm tone. “We’ve all said worse things about that case. But you do need to take some time off to breathe and give yourself a break. You work far too hard and you’re too young to be so serious. We’re all here, rooting for you. Putting Mr Miles through now…”

“Edward?” Devon asked immediately we were connected. “Are you all right? Your secretary sounded worried about you. Have I caught you at a bad time?”

“Hi, Devon…” I leaned back in my chair and ran the palm of my hand up and around the back of my neck, trying to ease the pain of my headache. “No, it’s okay and I’m fine. Just overworked as always. I… is there something I can help you with?”

I paused, frowning. “Is it Mum? There’s nothing, wrong, is there? I can drop everything and come out there, right away if you need me.”

“No, no, there’s nothing wrong,” my father was quick to reassure me. “But your motheristhe reason I called.”

That paternal title still caught me unawares. Ian Bridges had been my father for nearly all of my life. It still seemed odd not to think of him as such now that Devon had married my mother. For which I was grateful.

We never got on, and he had never been a good husband to my mother. Everyone knew about his affairs with other women, and he never tried to hide them. In fact, in later years when my mother became a famous author, Ian delighted in flaunting his latest woman for all to see.

We’d become virtual strangers in the last few years, and I made no push to reconnect with him. Now I had every reason never to speak with him again. Which I was more than fine with. I was hopeful I now had a father more worthy of the paternal title.

I lifted my shoulders. “Then, how can I help you, Devon?”

He drew a long breath. “Your mother and I were wondering if you had the time to come out and visit us. Stay with us for a while this time. If you’re willing. She would love to see you, as would I. We hardly saw you after our wedding.”

There was an unusual note of hesitation in his voice. The Devon Miles I had come to know was always forthright and commanding. And he loved my mother deeply and honestly. He made her smile and blossom into the warm, passionate woman she was always meant to be.

“I…” My frown deepened. “That is…”

I knew I should deny his request, offer my sincere apologies and hang up. I had this confounded case and a dozen other fires to put out. But some crazy urge seemed to be tugging at me, making me shift inside my clothing with a rising sense of dissatisfaction with my current dilemma.

Rachel, my last girlfriend, had recently left me because she said I worked too hard. She accused me of being married to my profession, leaving no time for anything or anyone else. I’d tried to deny it, but deep down in my gut, I knew she was right.

She’d left me for a man who came home to her every night and gave her everything she’d ever wanted. I didn’t blame her.

I stared at the sunlit walls before my eyes. In my mind, I could see my parents’ new home in Montecito. It was a charming, old, turn-of-the-century villa and suddenly I had an odd aching desire to see it all again. My last visit for their wedding had been too short, due to my workload and commitments. I’d made my excuses, but I knew my mother had been worried about me. She often told me I worked too hard.

I was aware that Lucy and Danny had stayed there longer than me. I shook my head. Danny must have had a very hard time letting go of that amazing talking car Devon had built. I could have sworn the vehicle was almost human…

But you really do need to take some time off to breathe and give yourself a break. You’re too young to be so serious…’

I grimaced at Nancy’s stern words of wisdom. She was a middle-aged widow and always had my back. Even though she tried to mother me at every turn.

There was a matter of a two-week continuance where I would not be needed in court. I could use the time any way I chose. My associates could write up all the breakdowns and hunt for openings we could exploit in the complicated bookkeeping. Maybe they would succeed where I had failed.

What had been a bane only a couple of hours ago, now seemed like a blessing.What could it hurt?

“Well, actually, I’m not needed here right now. I’ve just been granted two more weeks of a continuance on my current case,” I replied slowly, on a crazy impulse I could never afterwards explain. “Will that be long enough?”

※※※※※

“He said he’ll fly right out and be here tomorrow afternoon,” I said to Carolyn as I hung up the telephone. “He’ll rent a car and drive over from Santa Barbara airport. He’s planning on staying for about two weeks.”

“He is?” She looked briefly confused. “How did he sound on the phone? Maybe he’s ill or something…” she then pondered worriedly as she filled the sink with soapy water and began to wash the dishes. “He’s always been so busy with his work. He works far too hard. I’ve been telling him he needs to slow down. But he doesn’t listen.”

“Well, it seems he’s finally listening.” I shrugged as I crossed the kitchen to pick up a dishcloth to dry the dishes. “He said he’s just been given a two-week continuance on a case, so he’s free.”

We carried on with the washing up for a few minutes in silence. “And if we are talking about stubborn…” I replied. “I think he has both of us to blame for that trait. Neither of us ever knew when to quit and walk away.”

“Maybe, but I still don’t like it…” Carolyn shook her head as she handed me the last washed plate. “I do hope he’s not too heartbroken over his girlfriend leaving him. I liked Rachel, but she wasn’t for him. Too flighty and needy.”

She finished with her task and wiped the bench down. “My lovely son needs someone who’s more down to earth and, oh I don’t know… um, wholesome,” she ended in a rush.

“Wholesome, right.” I smiled at the old-fashioned and fanciful notion. “Well, he didn’t sound too heartbroken over the phone. Maybe he’s just too busy. He won’t thank you for getting all mixed up in his love life.”

“I’ll judge for myself when we see him tomorrow,” she replied. “Women are so much better at these sorts of things than men. And mothers, especially.”

“Who says, Luciana?” I challenged softly, pulling her close to kiss her lips.

She leaned eagerly into my caress and reached up to thread her damp fingers into my hair. After several heartbeats, I felt her smile against my mouth as she pulled back slightly to rest her forehead against mine. Her eyes were open, and she looked deeply into my gaze.

“What are you thinking now?” I asked gently.

She made a small moue. “Well, we’ve made such a great start on the inside of the house. When it’s cooler later on today, maybe we should take a good look around the gardens. I’m sure the magazine will be interested and there will be things that Edward can help us with. They’ll take his mind off Rachel leaving him, and his workload. Two weeks away from it all will be a gift. Hopefully, they’ll give him a fresh perspective. We must make the most of it while he’s here.”

“Ah, I did have other plans for this afternoon now that we’re finally alone here with all the workmen have gone,” I replied softly, playing the ball of my left thumb back and forth across her lower lip. “And it doesn’t involve getting down and dirty in the garden…”

I paused, pretending to consider our options. “But now that you’ve mentioned it…”

“Stop teasing me…” My love’s soft laughter at the outrageous suggestion echoed through me.

The wanton thought took me back to our incredible trip to Sedona and also our honeymoon. Long hot days and warm summer nights beneath the stars. Set free from all her inhibitions, my Luciana was glorious, and she frequently took my breath away with her inventiveness. As the months went by, I often had reason to bless her vivid imagination.

“Come here…” I pulled her closer to me with my hands on her hips, making her deeply aware of what her warm femininity was doing to me.

I longed to love her again as she deserved to be loved. She didn’t resist or object as she went up onto tiptoe to slide her arms around my neck to hold me even closer.

“My Luciana…” I breathed into the warm sweetness of her open mouth.

I was about to take things much further when there was a tentative knock on the outside door leading into the kitchen. We had left it open for the fresh air and afternoon sunshine.

“Busted…” I whispered wryly, kissing my love swiftly on the tip of her nose.

We broke apart a little guiltily and turned to see a pretty, young woman standing in the doorway. She was barely taller than Carolyn and slender.

Dressed in a white T-shirt and faded blue jeans, with her long chestnut brown hair tied back in a no-nonsense ponytail, she seemed the very essence of the warm summer’s day.

Wholesome…’I shook my head at the fanciful notion.

“Hi,” she said, smiling at both of us uncertainly. “I’m Katherine Morton.” She shrugged. “With a K, not a C. But most people just call me Kat. It’s less of a mouthful. I was told I could call back and see you.”

She stood easily with her thumbs hooked into the front belt loops of her jeans. But I could sense she was uneasy and trying to cover her nervousness with her too-casual stance.

“Good afternoon,” Carolyn replied, returning the young woman’s smile. “Um, can we help you with something?”

Our visitor frowned. “He didn’t give you my message, then?”

Carolyn and I exchanged glances. She shrugged, obviously as clueless as me.

“Who are you talking about and what message?” I asked, walking toward the young woman.

“The tall guy in the fancy black Trans Am.” She lifted a hand to jerk a thumb over one shoulder. “Neat guy. Cool car. He said he was in a tearing hurry that day. He was talking to the car when I pulled up in the driveway. I thought he’d lost it or was drunk. But he seemed okay.”

She divided her worried glance between us. “He said for me to call back in two weeks when you’d returned from your honeymoon and settled in. He told me he couldn’t make any promises on your behalf, jumped into the car and roared off down the drive.”

I knew she was talking about Michael and his oversight of the restoration work he’d been doing on the house. But I was at a loss and aware Carolyn still had no idea. “Ah, why are you supposed to be calling on us?”

“I’m your gardener,” Kat replied quickly. “Or I’d like to be if you want to employ me. I’ve got good references out in my truck if you want to see them.”

She pointed through the windows into the garden. “I used to maintain all the grounds for old Mrs Greig until she died. Her executor paid me to tidy the place up for the estate sale. He told me to come and see you about my continuing to work for you, now that you own the place.”

Her shoulders lifted. “I can see there’s plenty of work that needs doing. If I don’t do it, then someone has to.”

※※※※※

I watched Kat talking to Devon. The young woman’s lovely face was open and sincere. Her nickname made me smile. It suited her far better than the more formal Katherine, though I liked the name.

Her movements were economical and lithe. The hot afternoon sunshine outside struck russet highlights in her brown hair, making the strands gleam.

Wholesome…’The word resurfaced in my mind. I raised one shoulder against the fanciful notion.

“Come on in out of the sun and let’s talk about it,” I invited quickly, waving her inside. “Sit down and I’ll put the coffee on. How do you like yours?”

“Black, no sugar, please,” she responded immediately, leaning down to unlace and kick off her work boots to reveal sensible white socks.

“Mrs Greig always insisted,” she replied to my glance as she straightened. “She said her antique Italian tiled floors were worth more than I was.” Her quick laugh was soft and sweetly tuned. She walked in onto the same expensive floor tiles to hitch herself up onto one of the swivel stools at the large kitchen island.

Without really knowing anything about the young woman, I found I liked her immediately. There was an open frankness about her and the scattering of golden freckles across the bridge of her small nose added to her wholesome appeal.

I shook my head. There was that word again. But I couldn’t shake off the thought.

I studied her closely as I handed over her mug of coffee and poured another for Devon. There were no rings on her left hand and no sign there had ever been any marring her smooth, healthy tan. She wore very little makeup beyond a soft lip gloss, and I could guess her age to be somewhere in the mid-twenties.

“Carolyn…” Devon caught me looking and shook his head.

I lifted my chin as I walked behind our visitor and poked my tongue out at him in cheeky sauciness. He grinned at me and waved a stern forefinger before accepting his mug of coffee with a nod of thanks. I walked back to the other side of the kitchen island and poured my coffee.

I introduced us both. “I’m Carolyn Miles and this is my husband, Devon. We’ve only properly moved in two weeks ago. We love this house. It’s one of a kind and a very lucky find.”

“I can see you’ve already done a ton of work.” Kat looked around the kitchen admiringly. “The old house hasn’t sparkled like this in a good long while. It’s great to see it coming to life again. It’s been far too long asleep.”

I was puzzled at her odd choice of words as I sipped my coffee. “How long did you work for the previous owner?” I asked as Devon walked around to stand beside me. “Did you know her well?”

I was thinking about the puzzle of the portrait of the sea captain from the attic. Maybe this young woman had a few answers to some of my questions.

“Long enough to know where all the bodies are buried,” Kat replied with a smile, then shook her head in apology. “Sorry, that was an old joke between us. Mrs Greig loved her cats. You’ll find a few small graves in the back corner of the garden.”

She straightened on her stool. “She was my first employer when I left school at sixteen and was looking for work. Then she found me other positions in the area. Ten years ago, she helped me start up my own landscaping business. I owe her more than I could ever repay.”

Her soft grey eyes gleamed briefly with unshed tears. “I miss the old lady. She was one of a kind and very good to me.” She wiped the back of one hand across her cheeks.

“Just as long as she’s not buried out there in the back garden along with all her cats,” Devon offered quietly, obviously attempting to lighten the young woman’s suddenly sombre mood.

A quick smile of appreciation flashed across her face. “No, she’s not. But I’m sure she would’ve been happy with that. She really loved this old house. She’d have lived here forever. She often said, if she had her way, she’d never leave.”

She raised one slim shoulder. “I guess, God wasn’t listening. She died in her sleep one night.” She looked briefly stricken again. “I… found her in the morning, when I came over to do some work. She was smiling…”

“I’m sorry…” I reached out to place one of my hands over hers in sympathy. Before I could issue an invitation, my wonderful and kind husband beat me to it.

He hitched his chin toward the open back door. “Finish your coffee and then go and get those references of yours. We’ll be happy to take a look at them.”

“Hey, thanks…” Kat smiled a little tremulously at both of us. “I love this old place too. I would surely miss it if I couldn’t come here anymore. It’s always felt like home to me.”

※※※※※

The Pacific sea air always smelled different to that of the Atlantic coastline. With the strong wind sweeping in off the ocean, there was a clean freshness to it that was lacking in the congestion of the busy Boston Harbour area I’d left behind.

I walked out of the Santa Barbara airport terminal and into the hot Californian sun and was glad of my sunglasses. They cut down on the glare that seemed to reflect off every polished surface. I found my rental car and threw my luggage into the trunk. I slammed the lid shut and levered myself behind the steering wheel.

Now that I was here, I was suddenly keen to leave the rest of the world behind. The haven offered by my parents’ new home seemed so far removed from everything that I felt was going wrong in my life.

I drove out of the airport and took Highway 101 along the coast, eager to begin my enforced vacation. With the light traffic, it took me barely thirty minutes to arrive at my destination.

I turned up into the wide concrete driveway with a sigh of relief. I sat for a moment, absorbing the dreaming quiet of the afternoon. I could not shake the feeling that I was somehow coming home.

I frowned at the absurd notion. My mother’s house in Santa Fe had never felt like a home. It had simply been the house where I was born and had lived until I was old enough to move out and move on.

“But this place feels like a real home…” I studied the elegant façade of French windows and the widow’s walk that surely offered fine views out over the city and the ocean beyond.

Now that I was here, I couldn’t wait to explore the place properly and probe its many secrets. I smiled as I opened my door and got out to stretch in the warm Californian sunshine. I felt my whole body relax. I was unaware I’d been so uptight until I left Boston behind.

※※※※※

Chapter 24: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four

When Anything Is Possible

“How are you, truly?” I asked my tall, beautiful son after I’d hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek. “And as for this suit and tie…” I touched the lapel of his suit jacket before he could reply. “You’re here to relax, not to work.”

“I’m okay, Mum…” He deflected my frowning concern with a genuine smile. “Honest. And I promise I’ll get casual now that I’m here.” He held up the suitcases in his hand. “I got held up by a last-minute meeting and didn’t have time to change or I’d have missed my flight.”

“Yes, very well…” I slid my hand through the crook of his arm as we turned toward the house. “But I think I’ll be the judge of how okay you really are. You’re far too thin for a start. I can already tell you’ve not been eating properly.”

“Carolyn…” Devon warned me as the two men shook hands. “At least, allow him time to get inside before you start your in-depth cross-examination. He’s had a long flight.”

“Of course…” I lifted my chin in defiance. “But don’t forget, I’m his mother and it’s my job to worry about all my children.”

“It’s truly fine, Devon.” Edward chuckled indulgently. “She’s always been like this. She just can’t help herself and we love her for it.”

Above my head, the two equally matched men shared a masculine look of long sufferance. It needled me, but I allowed it to slide. I was just so happy my eldest child was finally home and staying longer than I could have ever hoped for.

“We were just about to have a late lunch,” I continued as we walked into the house. “We’ve been having fun working in the garden all morning. I’ll show you up to your room, then we can all get washed up before we eat.”

“You’ve learned to garden and cook?” Edward’s brows rose in mock amazement as Devon returned to the kitchen while we walked together up the main staircase to the bedroom level. “Wonders will never cease.”

“Not yet, but I’m slowly learning,” I confessed ruefully, showing my son into the largest of the guest rooms that overlooked the back garden. “Our dear Maria spoiled me for too many years. Devon’s a good teacher and he’s very patient.”

“He’s very good to you and for you,” he replied gently as he tossed his suitcases onto the wide bed. “And that’s what matters to all of us. You deserve to be looked after, because of everything Ian put you through.”

“I’m so glad you’re here,” I whispered as I hugged him again. “I have missed you. We’ve hardly seen each other apart from last Christmas and our wedding. I really don’t know where the year has gone.”

“Work has kept me very busy.” He lifted one shoulder in apology. “But I’m here now. We’ll make up for some lost time.”

“Yes, you are…” I stood back to indicate a door in the corner. “There’s an ensuite bathroom right through there. We’ll be in the kitchen when you’ve changed and washed up. You know the way. I hope you’re hungry.”

“Starving,” he replied with a nod as he opened one of his cases to pull out a change of clothes.

“See you down there, then…” I sighed as I left him alone.

I prayed it was going to be all right. From the look of him, my son had been overworking himself and he appeared to be beaten down. Suddenly, two weeks didn’t seem to be enough time to help him sort out his life. I went back downstairs with a heavy heart and wondering what to do for the best.

※※※※※

I looked up from my meal preparations when my wife walked back into the kitchen, her frowning expression deep in pensive thought. “Carolyn…” I said again in that same warning tone I’d used when our son had first arrived. “You really need to give him some space to breathe,” I advised as I added lengths of freshly made ribbon pasta to the pot of boiling water.

“If only it was that easy…” She walked up to my side to slide an arm around my waist as she tasted the rich pasta sauce I’d made with a quick dip of her finger.

“Mmmm, delicious…” She smiled as she licked at the hot food and turned to kiss my cheek. “You are very good to me.”

“That’s because I love you so much…” I took her hand and kissed her sticky finger before licking it clean.

“Oh, Devon…” She sighed watching me with fathomless eyes. “What are we going to do for him?”

“Not a single thing,” I advised firmly, as I wiped her finger and then my hands before tossing the dishcloth over my shoulder. “Not until he’s ready to talk. If he decides to do so. It’s entirely up to Edward. He’s here to rest, not to be interrogated. If I thought it would do any good, I’d make you promise to leave matters well alone. Remember who is the lawyer in this family.”

I smiled down at her, as she nestled against my shoulder. “But I know your heart wouldn’t be in it. You just can’t help yourself.”

“You know me so well,” she replied after kissing me on the lips with a distracted smile. “Can I help with anything?”

“You can lay out the cutlery and fetch the salad from the fridge. This pasta is almost done, and the sauce is ready. All we need now is the guest of honour.”

“He said he’d be down soon.” She nodded quickly as she walked away.

I could see she had not a single intention of listening to my sage advice or allowing the matter to lie. She was right, of course. She was our son’s mother, and she would always worry, no matter how grown up any of her children were. I just hoped Edward could weather the storm of her deep interest in his personal life without becoming offended or leaving too soon.

But I had no clear idea of how to deflect Carolyn from her self-appointed quest. I went back to my food preparations and prayed I would think of something and soon.

※※※※※

I sat back on my heels and wiped the back of one hand across my damp forehead. It had been a good morning’s work, but I was grateful for the deep shade cast by the enormous oak that dominated the rear of the back garden. The early afternoon sun was strong and bright. The air was fresh and clean with the hint of ozone from the vast ocean washing against the shore far below.

Devon, Carolyn and I had been hard at work, digging and weeding. Despite my protests that they were paying me to do the work, they both seemed to enjoy getting their hands deep into the rich soil. We’d spent a very convivial morning together slowly setting things to right.

They’d only left me when they finally heard a car pulling up the driveway. I knew Edward Bridges, their Boston-based son, was coming to stay for a couple of weeks. Both were looking forward to spending time with him, which gave me the freedom to carry on with what they were paying me for. I worked faster alone.

I turned my head to glance back at the house. Bathed in the warm afternoon sun, its many windows sparkled. Again, I marvelled at how much they’d managed to achieve in such a short time of ownership. I could tell they truly loved the old place which made me very happy.

Yesterday, when we’d first met, I’d told them about Mrs Greig and my enduring friendship with the old lady. Carolyn and Devon had absorbed everything I told them and taken me on as their gardener willingly and given me a raise from what Mrs Greig used to pay me. This morning, the first thing I’d shown them was the line of small animal graves along the back fence that they promised to leave untouched.

Of course, I was still very protective of the house and its many secrets. I’d been the old lady’s trusted confidant as well as her good friend. I protected her still and I knew she was also looking out for me.

“Which is as it should be…” I whispered as I stood up from my task and dropped my garden fork before pulling off my canvas work gloves.

I sighed as I placed my hands on the small of my back and eased the pain in my muscles on a long, welcome arch backwards. I’d been too long kneeling and bending over. I leaned down to pick up my water bottle.

Suddenly, I had the distinct impression I was being watched. The sensation tingled up and down my spine, as I raised the opened bottle to my lips and took a long swallow.

I feigned disinterest as I lifted my eyes to the first floor of the house and saw a man standing in the open window of the largest guest room looking down on me with a puzzled frown. At first, I took him to be Devon, then realised this man was younger and had curling blond hair cut low across the back of his neck.

He was dressed in a black T-shirt that lovingly defined every firm muscle of his chest and upper arms. I guessed he worked out a lot. The bright sunlight glinted gold from the fine blond hairs on his forearms as he folded them across his chest and continued to stare down at me.

“Edward, then…” I frowned as I recapped the water bottle and looked away.

But the memory of his frowning blue eyes remained. He seemed to disapprove of me in some way. Why, I had no idea. Not that it mattered.

We’d never met before that I could remember. I shook my head. “And his gorgeous blue eyes, I surely would’ve remembered. If I’m interested. Which I’m not…”

I shrugged my feigned unconcern as I walked around, picking up my gear and zipping the smaller items into my holdall. “He’s only here for two weeks and he’s certainly none of my business.”

Satisfied I’d neatly pigeonholed him where he rightly belonged in my life, I glanced back to the bedroom window. But he’d already disappeared. I shook my head in dismissal as I tucked the larger tools beneath my arm. I turned and headed toward my truck which I’d parked in the narrow back driveway for easier access.

I put everything into the back tray. I was hungry and decided I had time to drive down the coast to my favourite café and order a coffee along with one of their mammoth roast beef and horse radish sandwiches. My stomach grumbled softly in agreement as I opened my truck’s rear passenger door.

My next job wasn’t until tomorrow. I had the entire afternoon and evening to myself which was an unexpected luxury I intended to enjoy to the fullest.

Since the rear windows were tinted, I could quickly change my dirt-smeared T-shirt and jeans in the relative privacy of the back seat without being seen. Mrs Greig had been a confirmed recluse, and no one ever came to the house except by her personal invitation.

If the old lady had still been alive, I knew I would’ve been invited inside to eat with her and hear more of her intriguing tales about her life. Time often became irrelevant as we talked. I’d often told her said she should have written her story down. Now, it was too late…

Since her death, I didn’t feel it was right to invade her home uninvited. Over the last few months, I’d fallen into the easier habit of always keeping a clean set of clothes on hand, so I didn’t have to drive all the way home to change.

I knew I could easily wash up in the café’s restroom before I ate. My stomach grumbled again as I pulled the door shut behind me and put my hands on the hem of my T-shirt to strip it off...

※※※※※

I quickly changed from my suit and tie and hung them up in the wardrobe with a sigh of relief. Closing the door on them almost felt like I was shedding the lawyer along with the clothes. I took a few moments to stand in the open window and breathe in the fresh, salty air. I inhaled a long breath and released it slowly. I could feel my whole body unwinding further and it was a great feeling.

I leaned against the window frame and looked down into the back garden. It was full of bright sunlight and deep shadows, and I didn’t see her until she suddenly moved and stood up.

I couldn’t see her clearly, because the sun was in my eyes, and she was still hidden in the deep shadows of the massive oak tree which dominated the rear of the backyard. I figured she must be the gardener my mother and Devon had been working with when I first arrived. Her dirt-smudged yellow T-shirt and grubby black jeans gave her profession away as did the digging fork in her gloved hand.

She visibly sighed as she cast the implement aside before pulling off her gloves and easing her back with a slow arching forward movement of her rib cage. Her small, softly rounded breasts pressed distractingly against the thin fabric of her T-shirt.

I grimaced as I felt my body tightening and tried not to stare. I frowned as she relaxed and picked up a bottle of water. She drank from it while pretending she wasn’t watching me, watching her.

After a few moments, she shrugged and turned away to collect her scattered tools. I decided whoever she was, was no business of mine, even though her sweetly slender curves and dark hair intrigued me.

I didn’t need any new feminine entanglements in my life. I simply didn’t have the energy or the time to devote to any fresh relationship. That wasn’t the way my hectic life was heading. I’d realised I was better off living alone and entanglement-free.

I turned away and walked from the bedroom. “Besides, I’m only here for two weeks and she’s certainly none of my concern…”

“There you are…” My mother looked up the moment I walked into the kitchen. “That looks much better,” she approved of my black jeans and T-shirt. “You seem much more relaxed already.”

I nodded. “Thanks. I feel it too.”

She smiled as she busied herself carrying plastic-covered bowls of salad ingredients from the huge double refrigerator to the island in the centre of the room. Devon was stirring something which smelled delicious in a large saucepan on the gas stovetop. My stomach growled approvingly at the aroma and the savoury smell of freshly baked garlic rolls wafting from the oven.

“Do you know if Kat’s finished in the back garden?” my mother asked in a slightly too casual tone. “We left her out there when you arrived. It’s getting too hot now for her to still be working.”

I raised my brows at her. “Kat?” I pretended not to understand.

“She’s our new gardener,” she replied as she added cutlery, plates and napkins to the repast. “Well, she worked for the previous owner and sort of came with the house. So, we’ve hired her too. She’s been working hard out there all morning. I bet she’s starving by now. Why don’t you go and ask her if she’d like to join us? There’s more than enough food.”

“Carolyn…” Devon warned from his position at the stove as he began to ladle whatever he was cooking into a large serving dish. “Edward’s here to relax.”

My mother pointedly ignored him as she took my arm and turned me toward the open back door. “It won’t hurt if you go on out and ask her. If she’s not there, she may’ve already gone to her truck. It’s parked in the back driveway.” She pushed me gently outside and turned her back on me.

“Blast…” I said softly as I did as I was bid with lagging steps.

Maybe this mysterious Kat, whom my mother was so keen for me to meet, had already driven away. I prayed that was the case. Then I wouldn’t have to go through the pretence of looking for her. I truly didn’t have time for any new emotional entanglements, especially those gently engineered by my loving mother who couldn’t leave well enough alone.

※※※※※

I pulled off my T-shirt and tossed it aside. I unsnapped the fastening and pushed down the zipper of my jeans. I’d just bent down to unlace my work boots and toe them off when a large shadow was cast across the tinted window beside me.

“Hello?” a man’s deep voice queried. “Anyone in there?” He knocked on the door. “Are you Kat?”

“Yes…” I gasped, knowing he’d already seen my shadowy movements behind the tinted glass. “But hang on a minute…” I scrambled for a fresh T-shirt and pulled it on. ‘Blast…’

However, my jeans were still undone, and I was half out of my work boots. I rolled my eyes, feeling unreasonably put out about the unwanted interruption.

“So much for getting changed in private,” I grumbled.

I felt my cheeks heat with embarrassment at being caught so unprepared as I quickly zipped up and fastened my jeans again before I bent down to retie my boots. Discomforted, I shoved open the door and stepped down, ready to do battle with the unwelcome intruder.

He was standing right beside the truck, looking down at me with wry amusem*nt as he caught the abruptly opened door with one hand before it hit him in the face. He leaned closer, shutting me into the small space between the door and the high seat behind me. He was so much taller than me and my eyes were forced to travel all the way up over his well-muscled torso and strong tanned neck to finally reach his face.

I inhaled sharply, intending to give him a very large piece of my mind. But the moment my frowning gaze met his, I lost the power of speech which made me even more cross and feeling way out of my depth.

The wry humour that danced within the clear blue depths of his eyes made me hesitate. I’d never felt like I was drowning before in a single look of amused enquiry.

We stood there in the glare of the hot sun and I was at a total loss over what to do next. I knew I should make my excuses, jump right back into my truck, climb over into the front seat and drive away. But my traitorous legs refused to obey. So, I stood there, trapped in that airless space, as I waited for him to say something to break the breathless spell.

※※※※※

This close, Kat, the gardener was much smaller than she’d seemed when I first saw her in the back garden. She was barely an inch taller than my mother. Her dove grey eyes had tiny flecks of gold around the irises. I found that fact both enchanting and distracting. And the dusting of golden freckles across the bridge of her nose punched me low in the gut.

Not that I was looking, of course. Which I wasn’t. I cleared my throat of my sudden, and curious, inability to speak.

I stepped back from being too close to her and extended my hand formally. “Hi, I’m Edward Bridges…” I shrugged. “My mother was concerned about you. She thought you might be hungry.”

“Kat Morton,” she offered baldly, barely touching her cool fingers to mine.

I dropped my hand and tilted my head at her, enjoying the look of feminine outrage in her frowning expression. “And are you?”

“Am I, what?” she replied, looking away as she tried to dust away the smudges of dirt on her jeans.

“Hungry,” I persisted. “Mum wanted to know if you wanted to come inside and have lunch with us.” I jerked my chin toward the open door to the kitchen.

“I…” She stopped brushing at her clothing and went back to scowling at me. “Thanks, but I’ve already made other plans.”

She glanced down at the large, masculine watch on her left wrist. “And I’m already late.” She moved sideways, taking the door from my slackened grasp and slamming it shut. “Maybe some other time…”

She left that statement and me hanging as she set off around the back of her truck with quick, determined strides and opened the driver’s door. She jumped up behind the wheel and inserted the key into the ignition.

I wasn’t used to being so summarily dismissed. Especially by a woman. I walked up behind her just as she was about to shut her door.

“Chicken…” I commented in a challenging tone designed to get her attention.

“Who’s a chicken?” she bit immediately with a dismissive frown. “I just have somewhere else to be right now. I’m a very busy person.”

“It was a perfectly civil invitation and you rejected it out of hand,” I replied, taking control of the door so she couldn’t slam it in my face and drive away. “I know my mother will be very disappointed you choose not to join us. Unless you truly do have somewhere more important to be.”

I waited for a few heartbeats then dropped my hand. She now had the choice to stay or leave. I would not make any further moves to prevent her from doing so. But I knew I had her.

The slump of her slender shoulders gave her indecision away. It was an old courtroom tactic I’d learned very well. Make the witness think that what they did or said next was their own decision. It was an illusion that had always worked.

“All right…” she grouched, as she pulled the keys from the ignition and pocketed them. “Since it would disappoint Carolyn. But I’ll need to clean up first.” She brushed again at her dirty jeans. “I’ve got a clean pair in the back.”

“I’m sure my mother wouldn’t mind if you used the downstairs bathroom,” I replied in a tone I struggled to keep neutral. “Don’t be too long. Lunch is ready.”

“Thank you,” she replied stiffly as she shut the door with a snap. “You don’t have to show me. I already know the way.”

She went to the back seat, opened the door and snatched out a clean pair of jeans that were lying on the seat. She then slammed the door again and walked off ahead of me toward the house with her head held high.

I stood still for an arresting moment and watched her. I couldn’t help admiring her trim back view and the delicious flex and release of the firm muscles in her softly rounded behind where her well-washed jeans clung close.

I pushed one hand up and around the back of my neck and blew a long, frustrated sigh.That’s if I was looking. Which, of course, I wasn’t…

※※※※※

“Oh, good, you found her just in time…” Carolyn commented with a warm smile as I walked into the kitchen ahead of her ambling son who seemed to be in no hurry. “Come on in and sit down, you two. We’re ready to serve.”

“I wasn’t that hard to find,” I replied as I quickly slid onto my usual stool at the kitchen island.

It seemed odd to be sitting here without Mrs Greig’s easy company. My grief was still too raw. A fresh wave of loss swept over me and I bit down on my inner bottom lip.

I’d quickly changed in the downstairs bathroom and left my dirty jeans outside on the wooden bench beside the door. I’d collect them when we’d finished eating and I could make good my escape from any unwanted scrutiny.

But Edward Bridges had lingered outside the bathroom door, waiting for me to emerge. He then followed me down the hallway and into the kitchen as if he feared I might still walk out and drive away. I could feel his eyes assessing my back view again as I sat down.

“Help yourselves.” Carolyn handed out large white plates.

“Thank you. This all smells delicious,” I replied, trying to neutralise the fraught situation as I ladled a helping of pasta and sauce onto my plate. I added some salad and I couldn’t resist taking one garlic roll dripping with fragrant herbed butter.

“Coffee?” Devon asked me, holding up the pot. “Or would you like a glass of wine or fruit juice?”

“Fruit juice and coffee for me, please,” I replied, as I settled back with my food.

I gave myself half an hour before I could decently make my excuses and leave this family to get on with their own business. I wasn’t due back again for work in their garden until next week.

By then, I was sure Edward Bridges would have forgotten all about me. And I made a vow to avoid being alone in his distracting company until he returned to Boston.I wasn’t looking for any fresh emotional entanglements. Certainly, none that had beengently engineered by the man’s mother, however well-intentioned.

I was much better off concentrating on building up my business and becoming self-sufficient.That was where my immediate future lay. Not within the depths of a pair of distractingly gorgeous blue eyes…

※※※※※

Chapter 25: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five

Secrets and Truths

“Are you busy, Devon?”

“No…” I shook my head as I looked up from my ongoing battle with the accounts to see Edward standing in the open doorway to my downstairs office. He held up two glasses and an unopened bottle of my favourite Irish whiskey.

I was tired and should have been in bed a few hours ago. But I felt too restless to sleep and had the bookwork needed to finish.

I smiled as I put aside my pen. “Not so busy that it can’t wait until tomorrow,” I replied quickly, closing Michael’s business ledgers with a deep sigh of relief over the welcome distraction. “Please, come on in and sit down.”

The hour was late and after a convivial evening spent talking with and getting to know our son, Carolyn had finally made her excuses and gone up to bed. Edward had soon retired, as well.

I’d remained downstairs because I needed some time alone to keep ahead of the constantly expanding Knight Investigations business. Michael’s reputation for getting the business done properly, and in good time for a fair price, was bringing in more clients than they could handle.

But my heart and mind hadn’t been in it tonight, and now that my son had sought out my company. I was quietly pleased. I didn’t feel tired anymore.

“I just couldn’t sleep,” he said simply as he walked closer to sit in the chair before my desk. “I… haven’t been able to do so for quite some time now. Too much going on in my mind.”

He shrugged as he opened the bottle and poured two stiff measures of the amber liquid. “I found this in the liquor cabinet. It’s always been a favourite of mine, as well. I remembered from after the wedding, that you liked yours without ice. Me too.”

He leaned forward to push one glass toward me before he sat back with his drink cradled between his palms. He sat frowning down into the crystal glass. The minutes stretched between us, marked by the steady ticking of the mantle clock.

“Would you care to talk about whatever it is that’s been keeping you awake?” I finally asked cautiously, lifting my glass in salute before I took a mouthful of the liquor. “I’ve known more than my share of sleepless nights when something wasn’t going my way.”

I waited, keeping my gaze down as I slowly swilled the excellent spirit around in the glass. The taste of it always took me home to Ireland again. I closed my eyes and inhaled the rich peaty scent as I allowed the thoughtful silence to stretch out between us. It was enough that we were together.

If my son wished to talk, then I would listen. If he didn’t, there was time enough for us to sit here with our whiskey and listen to the warm hush of the night. Through the room’s open windows, I could hear the rush and retreat of the waves on the sands of Butterfly Beach below the house. It was a soothing sound and I relaxed back into my chair.

Either way was fine by me. Our son was here, with us, for two whole weeks and that was all that mattered, for now...

※※※※※

I leaned my elbows on the balcony rail of my small, beachside cottage and stood looking out to sea. The dark restlessness of the vast Pacific exactly matched my distracted mood. I was tired, but I couldn’t seem to fall asleep.

After a couple of hours of staring at the inside of my eyelids, I finally got up to get something cold to drink. To my annoyance, I found I didn’t have any wine chilling in the refrigerator. I’d been too busy and had forgotten to go to the store. With a discontented grimace, I decided to raid my little-used liquor cabinet.

I now cradled a glass half-full of expensive Irish whiskey between my palms. But the drink had gone untouched for some time and the ice cubes had slowly melted.

The aromatic and peaty liquor had been a favourite of Mrs Greig’s. She said it always reminded her of her late husband, who’d been a sea captain. She’d given me a bottle of it for Christmas. Her last gift to me before she died.

I’d tried to like it for her sake, but I still preferred a fresh, crisp white wine to spirits. On impulse, I decided to drink some of the whiskey tonight, in her memory.

“Your house is in very good hands,” I whispered to the salty and warm night wind. “I made sure of that for you. Devon and Carolyn will take great care of it, with my help. You may rest easy.”

I sighed as I lifted my glass in a salute to the night and then shivered suddenly. I could almost swear I caught the sound of laughter. Both masculine and feminine, mixed on the soft breeze. And, in my half-asleep state, I could almost be certain I felt someone lightly kiss my cheek.

I shook my head as I finally tasted the warm liquid in my glass. “Go to bed. Now, you’re imagining things.” The rich spirit burned a fiery path down to my outraged stomach.

I took one final look down to the beach below and saw a young couple walk hand in hand from the shadows of the cliff edge and back out onto the moonlit sands. I told myself it must have been their laughter I heard as they paused to fully embrace before moving on again, holding hands once more, as they slowly disappeared from view into the darkness.

“Bed…” I instructed myself severely. “And stop thinking so much. It’s not doing you any good.”

I saluted the warm, salty night with my glass and then drained it. I coughed as the earthy fire of the liquid caught in the back of my throat and burned a fresh path down to my stomach.

The hour was late, and I knew I should have been in bed and asleep hours ago. But I couldn’t rest because the events of the past afternoon kept replaying inside my head.

I’d finally made my escape from Gull Cottage, and those distractingly gorgeous blue eyes, as soon as it had been polite. Devon and Carolyn were kind and generous people, and I hadn’t wished to offend them. But I was better off on my own in all things, both business and personal. And Edward Bridges seemed to have taken a sudden and perverse delight in teasing and confusing me with his constant nearness and the subtle muskiness of his aftershave.

Unwillingly, I’d lowered my eyelashes and made the fundamental error of watching him as he moved about the kitchen, seemingly at home in such a very domestic setting. He fetched clean plates and served us slices of a delicious cherry pie and whipped cream.

Against my will, I admired his economy of movement. He didn’t hurry, every task was completed with neat precision. I found I couldn’t stop watching his large, sun-browned hands as he deftly used the knife to cut and serve the pie.

I finally managed to drag my eyes away from temptation. I didn’t want to acknowledge him as I inhaled his masculine warmth unwarily whenever he came close enough to refill my coffee. His watchful blue eyes had seen my consternation and confusion and he’d decided to play on them for some twisted purpose of his own.

I knew Carolyn was watching me and making her own assessments. I tried to appear unaffected and casual as I quickly finished my meal, but I suspected she wasn’t fooled. I knew I looked flustered It irked me that I could be so transparent.

After making my rushed excuses and driving away from the house, I’d spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working solidly among my own things and trying to forget all about the man. I had a week’s grace before I returned to Gull Cottage.

Carolyn had ordered and paid for some of her favourite flowering shrubs for me to collect and plant out along the driveway next week. I would slip in and plant them with minimal fuss and leave again. Hopefully, the family wouldn’t be home, and I could do my work without any unwanted hindrance.

“Pull yourself together…” I turned from the view, shaking my head at my body’s thoughtless betrayal.

“You should’ve learned your lesson the last time after Marcus finally walked out on both you and me,” I told my traitorous emotions severely as I washed my glass in the kitchen before, I climbed back into bed and lay down once more.

But behind my closed lids, the distracting scenes returned. My cheating ex-fiancé’s eyes had been a mediocre shade of brown, not deep, crystal-clear blue. And Marcus hadn’t spent time watching me like I was some intriguing puzzle he was determined to work out to his satisfaction.

“I’m better off on my own. I’m certainly not looking for any new entanglement…” I turned over and thumped my pillows into submission and lay down again. “I know better now. And when you know better…” I sighed.

I consoled myself with the thought that Edward Bridges would be gone back to Boston soon enough. Then my well-ordered and predictable life would return to normal, and I could breathe once more...

※※※※※

“It’s this latest case of mine…” Edward began slowly after several long minutes had ticked by. “This two-week continuance is what’s been keeping me awake.” He stared down into his glass. “It’s the sixth we’ve had so far.”

“Go on…” I encouraged. I now felt alert and eager to help in any way I could.

“Okay…” He took another long swallow of his whiskey. “The case should have been open and shut. Straight embezzlement fraud 101. But the opposing counsel somehow managed to prevent their sleazy client from going to jail. Which is where he so rightly belongs for embezzling every last cent from his firm’s pension fund. The blasted man has more lives than any stray alley cat. He’s very sure he can still beat the case and win.”

He shrugged. “I know I’ve had a dozen such cases and I shouldn’t let it get to me, but this one does. It seemed no one cared, but me.”

He finally looked up at me. “I’ve combed the case files over and over, searching for answers. For any opening I can exploit. I’ve always thought that facts and figures could be balanced and weighed. Sifted for that last, tiny kernel of truth. I’ve always trusted them more than most people.”

I turned my empty glass between my palms. “The fact is you’re a lawyer, not a forensic accountant. The answers will be there, you’re just not trained to see them. If the man is that sure of himself, there will be errors, however small. That final, tiny kernel of truth you’ve been searching for will exist.”

“What are you saying?” he asked as he leaned forward to refill my glass. “That I’m too close to it all? That I care too much?”

“That’s part of it,” I allowed quietly, feeling my way forward. I put my hand on the pile of bookwork next to me. “These ledgers are from Michael Knight’s investigation business. I’ve become his accountant out of sheer necessity. It all takes time and patience. And the right mindset.”

I shook my head. “That was once my work, my whole existence when I was with FLAG. It was all I’d known for more than twenty-five years until the day your mother walked back into my life and saved me for a second time. I’d become cold and closed off. I didn’t like the man I was back then.”

“I see…” Edward’s brow creased. “FLAG? Should I know the name?”

“No…” I shook my head.

I knew it was now the time to confess everything. I needed to lay my past bare on the desk and allow my intelligent son to make his own judgement. There would be no more secrets between us. It was the only way we could then go forward if that was what he wanted. I prayed it was.

I exhaled roughly. “FLAG is a secret, crime-fighting organisation, dedicated to battling criminals who operate above or outside the law. At times, we’ve worked beside the FBI. But we were privately funded, and our powers went far beyond theirs.” It felt odd to be saying such things again. Wilton’s mantra that I’d once so earnestly believed in.

“The acronym stands for The Foundation for Law and Government,” I explained with a look of distaste that told my watchful son I now detested the name. “It was set up by Wilton Knight, an old and trusted friend of mine. He took me on board when I decided to leave the State Department.”

I looked down into my whiskey and moved the liquid around in the glass. “After Wilton’s death a few years ago, I took over as chairman of the foundation. Then, on one unbelievable day, I met your mother again and everything changed.”

“After she was shot at Michael and Stevie’s wedding, by an underworld criminal, who’s now in prison awaiting trial for his crimes, FLAG and I parted ways.”

I closed one hand into a tight fist on the desktop. “That bullet had been meant for me. It was the final straw. I was about to resign when they decided I was no longer fit to be their leader. They got someone else more efficient and ruthless who likes to play hardball.”

I grimaced. “They’re old news, now. But accounting for every last dime and penny was what I once did for a living. It kept the board happy and off our backs while Michael and Kitt did the hard work of keeping the world and people safe.”

I shook my head. “After four years of putting his life in constant danger, Michael decided he’d had enough, and he quit. He had Stevie then, and now their daughter, to worry about and protect. I certainly didn’t blame him for wanting to quit. I should have done the same, years ago.”

I huffed a rueful laugh. “But I got too comfortable and set in my ways. I didn’t realise I was living inside a walled prison of my own making. Back then, I felt like a king in his castle. The undisputed lord of all I surveyed.”

“Wow…” Edward whistled long and low. “I know Mum said you two were once spies for the British Secret Service…” He shook his head. “But that was years ago. But I understand now, how she came to get shot. Thank you for being so frank with me. I didn’t even suspect the half of it.”

“That was a terrible situation that should never have happened,” I admitted quietly. “I was careless and I’m trying to make it up to Carolyn every day. It won’t happen again. You have my word on that.”

“Yes, it’s all in the past and should remain there,” my son replied, as he watched me levelly. “Lucy, Danny and I have agreed on that. Lucy said Mum was obviously so miserable without you. Sedona was my sister’s idea for getting you two back together and it worked. Mum needed you; we all saw that.”

“Thank you,” I acknowledged with a nod. “As I will always need her. Nothing will ever harm her again.”

“Fair enough. I can respect that.” He drained his glass and sat staring down at it for several seconds. “So, you’re saying I’m just not looking in the right places for answers with this case of mine. I thought I’d turned over every rock and stone.”

“If you feel you could use a fresh pair of eyes…” I breathed a sigh of relief that he’d readily accepted every word of my explanation.

I reached out one hand to close and push aside the Knight Investigations books. “Do you have any of the evidence with you?” I asked, sounding a shade too eager. “I mean, I’m happy to give them a look over for you if you think it will help at all.”

“Yeah, that would be a great help if, you’re sure. The files are in my briefcase, which is in the boot of my car. After that last-minute meeting, I didn’t have time to return them to the office. I would’ve missed my flight.”

I rubbed my hands together. “Well, there’s no time like the present to get started.”

“Thank you…” For the first time, my son’s usually stern expression relaxed, making him appear years younger. He put aside his glass and rose to his feet. “I’ll go out and get them.”

“The sooner we get started, the sooner we’ll find something…” I nodded toward the door as I consumed the last of my whiskey.

It warmed my blood as I watched him leave and knew I’d made the right decision to confess everything. It felt good that we would be working together on something this important to him.

※※※※※

“Mmmmm…” Carolyn rolled over as I got carefully into bed to lie down beside her. “You’re late. Where have you been all this time?” She stretched sleepily against me before settling her cheek on my naked chest.

I laid one hand over her silk-clad hip and kissed the top of her head. “I’ve been spending the time downstairs with our son, working out some of the serious issues he’s been having with his latest continuance. I think we’ve made a breakthrough. It’ll take some more time to finalise it all.”

“You have?” She opened one eye to frown at the bedside clock. “But it’s almost four o’clock in the morning. I should’ve said, you’re early. Have you two been up all this time?”

She settled back against me with a gusty sigh. “You must be tired.”

I shrugged. “He said he couldn’t sleep. He came looking for help. And once he showed me the issues, I couldn’t sleep either. It felt good to be of use to him. We’ve worked out a strategy that should serve.”

“All right, admit it,” she said drowsily. “Once he came looking for help, you couldn’t resist giving it. I love you for that.”

“I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in some time,” I did admit honestly. “It was good to blow some dust off my forensic accountancy skills. And I think we made some considerable headway with it all. He can see his way clear, now.”

“Then I’m glad you could help him…” Carolyn moved her cheeks against my naked chest. “Now that you’ve woken me up so early, are you sleepy?”

“Not at all…” I whispered against her cheek. “I’m too wide awake to sleep now...”

“Good…” She smiled at me with wanton desire in her eyes.

I sighed as I took my time to trace the sweetly curving lines of her body from the corner of her gently curved mouth to the flare of her hip. My fingertips whispered across her warm, scented skin as I reached further to draw her silk nightgown higher over her thighs. “There is nothing more than to love and be loved. That is all…”

“Yes, that truly is all…” she agreed softly as she rose over me. “‘The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses…’“she whispered as she bent down to capture my lips with hers as I drew her nightgown up to her waist.

Behind us, fingers of early morning sunlight slowly began to illuminate the bedroom. But we didn’t take any time to notice…

※※※※※

Six days later:

“You know, Carolyn. You’ve done wonders with the garden out there,” Michael commented as he walked back into the house through the living room’s open French doors. “You haven’t been living that long.”

“If only I could take all the credit,” I replied ruefully, as I bounced a gurgling Amanda on my knee. “But it seems that the house came with its own gardener. She’s working on it all.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Stevie commented as she watched me playing with her daughter. “Michael said a young woman came looking for you two while you were away on your honeymoon. She said she was the old woman’s gardener. He said he told her to call back.”

“Yeah, sorry. I clean forgot about her,” Michael confessed with a shrug. “I didn’t have time to stop that day. Kitt and I had a dozen urgent cases on and we were short-handed.”

“But we were so happy to be able to help with the house,” Stevie inserted quickly as she looked around. “It was the least we could do after all you and Devon have done for us.”

Amanda suddenly began to fuss and rub her eyes. Stevie reached out to take her. “I’ll go and feed her and then put her down in the portable cot we brought with us. Then we can eat our lunch in peace. Bonnie and RC said they’d be over as soon as they’ve finished with their last case.”

“All right…” I surrendered the baby with a small show of reluctance.

It felt really good to be so close to such a young life again. I missed the times when my children were that small and needed my constant attention. They helped take my mind off the slow disintegration of my marriage and Ian’s ongoing infidelities.

“Devon and Edward will be back soon,” I said as Stevie left the room. “They’ve gone to buy supplies. They’re dying to try out that huge new grill they bought yesterday. I swear they were like two big kids when they were putting it together.”

“A man will always find any excuse to grill,” Michael replied with a laugh as he walked toward the fireplace. “Thanks for inviting us over to try it out. Some time off is a rare thing these days.”

He leaned one elbow on the mantlepiece, looking up at the portrait I recovered from the attic room. “Who’s this old salt?” he asked, looking back at me as he jerked one thumb up at the painting. “He’s a fiery-looking sort.”

“I have no idea…” I rose and walked to his side. “I wish I did. I found him up in the attic among all the junk, cobwebs and dust up there.”

Michael huffed a laugh. “Yeah, the place you wouldn’t let me touch under the pain of death when I was supervising all the work on the house. I remember.”

“It’s just that I didn’t want anything to be lost,” I replied, frowning over my strange sensation of reluctance. “We’ve been documenting everything we do. We’ll do the same in the garden. This old house has a story to tell, and I want it to tell me in its own time and its own way.”

I stopped and shook my head. “Does that sound a little bit strange?”

“Not at all…” Michael leaned closer to kiss my temple. “It sounds just like a woman.”

He turned back to the portrait. “I bet this old boy has a story or two to tell. He would’ve seen a lot in his time.”

“I just wish I knew his name,” I murmured, staring up at the painted canvas as if I could force it to reveal all its secrets. I touched the tip of one finger to the bottom of the heavy wooden frame.

“That’s Captain Daniel Greig,” a voice replied from behind us. “Mrs Greig’s late husband. He… he was a sea captain.”

We both turned to see Kat standing just outside the open doors to the garden, looking more than a little nervous about interrupting our conversation. She shrugged as she shook her head.

“Sorry…” she said, scrubbing the palm of one hand down the seam of her jeans. “I’ve brought those shrubs you ordered for the driveway. And I didn’t mean to butt in just now.”

She shifted her stance as she hooked her thumbs into the front belt loops of her jeans. “It’s just that I know something of the history of the place. Mrs Greig told me everything. This whole house was built last century for the captain by the carpenters from his ship. But I didn’t know you’d brought him down from the attic and put him back where he’s always belonged.”

“Where he belonged?” I queried in confusion. “I don’t understand…”

On the very first day we arrived, I was sure the house had welcomed us. It had enfolded me in its quiet elegance like it had been waiting for us to come and find it. To rescue it. I had never been able to shake that feeling, which is why I’d insisted on being the only one to clear out the attic. There, the captain’s painting seemed to direct me to its recovery.

I had the sense then that our buying the house was all meant to be. As I frowned at Kat and waited for her explanation, I felt again that same soft brush of air whisper across the back of my neck, almost like a caress. I put up one hand as I shook my head in wonderment.

※※※※※

Chapter 26: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six

There Are More Things…

I walked up behind Kat and looked over her left shoulder into the living room. I heard Mum’s startled query about the younger woman’s odd statement. I could see my mother standing beneath the large, unusual painting of a rather stern-looking sea captain that had been hung above the mantlepiece. I’d been too busy to notice it before.

Mum turned to look up at it in confusion. “I don’t understand…” she said slowly. “Why did you say he belonged here?”

Michael Knight was leaning one elbow on the mantlepiece beside her, obviously not getting any of what was now being discussed nor did he look at all interested in dead sea captains. He appeared bored and a little annoyed with the strange change in the conversation that Kat had suddenly introduced by her unexpected arrival.

“Well, I don’t get it,” he complained, jerking his thumb at the painting. “I mean, I can see it’s a painting of some old sea captain. I getthat.”

He shrugged, shaking his head. “And I also get that if you painted out the black hair for grey and shaved off his beard, then, I guess he’d look a bit like Devon. He has the same colour eyes. Other than that…”

He shrugged again and pulled a face of discontent. “It must be a woman’s thing. The uniform will always do it. But the old boy looks a bit sour for my taste. I’d be asking, why’s he up here at all? So, I have to guess he came with the house.”

He looked deeply relieved when he noticed me standing behind Kat outside the concealment of the gently moving window sheers. “Oh, great, you two are finally back. Are you about ready to get grilling, Edward? Because I’m starving.”

“It’s all set up and the fire’s been laid,” I replied with a smile. “Devon sent me to fetch you and ask Mum to bring all the things for the table. We just need Bonnie and RC to arrive.”

I dropped my eyes to Kat’s back view. “Hi, Kat…” I teased. “You staying for lunch? There’s plenty if you’re hungry.”

She jumped. “I…”

I felt and saw her sudden consternation about my silent arrival behind her. She hadn’t heard me approach. I had been enjoying her softly feminine nearness, clad in her well-worn jeans and a white knit shirt. I’d inhaled the clean, floral scent of her hair while she’d remained unaware of me. Now I regretted its sudden removal as she stepped aside and half-forward into the room to put some space between us.

“No, thanks…” she replied stiffly. “I… only came to drop off the shrubs that Carolyn ordered. I won’t be staying. I… have other work I need to be getting on with.”

“But it’s Sunday,” Mum protested, leaving the fireplace to grasp the younger woman’s arm before she could escape. “You can take at least one day off and have something to eat before you go. There’s plenty of food and we insist.”

“But I’m not dressed for company,” Kat tried again, glancing down at her jeans.

“It’s a casual party and you look just fine to me,” my mother insisted, as she encouraged her inside.

“You’ve already met Michael,” she began to make the introductions, pointing to Michael who was still standing at the fireplace. “Devon works with him. And here is his lovely wife, Stevie…” she continued as the younger woman walked back into the room. “So, come along now, you two. You can help me fetch the food and the plates. Then we’ll share a bottle of wine and pour a nice, cold glass of fruit juice for Stevie.”

She took Stevie’s arm with her free hand. “And Kat can tell us all about her mysterious sea captain and why he belongs up there. I know it’ll be a great story. Maybe even one I can use for a novel…” My mother left the room, now fully in charge of the other two women who followed her lead meekly enough.

Michael shrugged at me as he ran one hand up and around the back of his neck beneath the collar of his T-shirt. “We’re better off keeping out of that discussion,” he complained good-naturedly.

“Once the womenfolk start gossiping, a man needs to get grilling to save his sanity. Come on, let’s go and help your father to burn some meat.” He chuckled as he indicated for me to go before him back into the garden where the enticing smell of cooking meat had begun to permeate the late morning air.

※※※※※

“So, just what is the Captain’s story?” Carolyn asked the moment the three of us were alone in the kitchen. “Now that you have us all intrigued. I suspect it’s a good one. Why did you say he belonged in the living room?”

I waved a denying hand. “Before I tell you, I would like to know where exactly you found him,” I replied quickly, as we moved about the room, collecting and assembling plates, napkins and cutlery on the kitchen island. “He’s been missing for more than thirty years. No one knew what had happened to him.”

Carolyn frowned at me. “Well, from the very first moment we arrived in this house, something told me to not let anyone but me clear out that dusty old attic. I wanted to do it.”

Her expression turned confused. “That was where I found him, hidden away behind the piles of junk and other things,” she continued as she brought out bowls of salads from the fridge. “I must say he was very well concealed. Like no one was ever supposed to find him at all.”

She paused in her work and pursed her lips. “I don’t know what it was about him. But something made me look right there. He seemed to have been waiting for me. And then, above the mantle, seemed to be his natural place.”

She looked up. “I know, it makes no sense at all. Devon thought I was being a little crazy and obsessive over it. But it was just an odd feeling. This house seems to be full of them.”

“I see…” I nodded my understanding of an old mystery. “Ah, so that’s where the awful Harriet hid him. We thought she’d decided to sell him to get even. I’m glad to see she never went that far. That would have been too cruel, even for a woman like her.”

“All right, you have my attention now, too. Who’s this Harriet?” Stevie asked as she pushed a tray of pre-sliced burger buns into the oven to warm. “She doesn’t sound very nice at all.”

“No, from what I was told she wasn’t a nice woman.” I shook my head. “She was Mrs Greig’s unmarried first cousin. She had a twin sister named Hilda, and they never approved of their cousin marrying the Captain. They said he was too far beneath her, to be a suitable suitor.”

Stevie whistled low with disbelief as she poured salad cream into a serving jug. “Geez, with relatives like her, who needs enemies. She sounds like a right hag.”

I couldn’t help smiling at the apt word. “Yes, well, Mrs Greig said they were all rather stuck up and thought themselves better than they were.”

I sighed. “The DeLaceys had a minor connection to a very old and wealthy Philadelphia family, and they never let anyone forget it. While the Captain was said to be a nobody from somewhere over in Maine no one had ever heard of. The family had another, much more suitable man, lined up to marry their cousin, but she eloped with the captain, instead.”

“Good for her!” Stevie approved, punching the air above her head. “It all sounds so dreadfully Victorian. Thank God, we don’t do things like that now.”

I shrugged. “It was near enough to Victorian. They got married as soon as the war ended in nineteen-eighteen. Mrs Greig had just turned twenty.” I smiled as I folded napkins and warmed to my theme, not realising both women had stopped their work to watch me with deepening curiosity for my tale.

But it felt good to finally be able to reveal such ancient secrets. There was no one left alive now to care about when or how I told the story. “They ran away to sea as soon as they could and didn’t return for two years. Of course, the DeLaceys entirely disowned her. So, Captain Greig brought her here, to this house that his crew had built for him. A place where they could be far enough away from her family and their interfering ways.”

I looked up and saw them both staring at me. “And… that’s really all I know about it,” I ended my tale abruptly.

“Oh, I think there’s a great deal more to it,” Carolyn said with firm decision as she returned to her tasks. “I’m a writer and I know a really good story when I hear one. This was a true love affair.”

Her level look challenged me to confess that I knew more than I was telling. “You’ll tell me the rest when you’re good and ready. Right now, we have some men to feed. And I can hear that Bonnie and RC have finally arrived.”

“All right.” I too had heard the throaty growl of the black Trans Am coming up the driveway. It was a good enough excuse to make my escape from more questions.

“But where does that awful Harriet woman come back into the story again?” Stevie asked with a frown. “I mean, you said she was the one who must have moved the painting up into the attic. How come your Mrs Grieg didn’t know?”

“Harriet was very sneaky,” I replied quickly, as I fetched a large wooden tray and started to put everything onto it to carry outside to the picnic table. “Mrs Greig said she never went up there again after the Captain disappeared, because it had been her husband’s private sanctuary. He kept all his nautical things stored there and she couldn’t bear to look at any of them again. She missed him too much. There’s said to be his sea journals and all sorts.”

I hesitated and then decided to confess just a little more. What could it hurt now, after all these years?

“When the Captain disappeared at sea, thirty years after they were married, that nasty woman, Harriet DeLacey, couldn’t wait to drive all the way out here and try to take over everything. She said she was only doing her family duty. Her cousin needed her.”

I shook my head. “Mrs Greig had to put up a very big fight to finally get rid of her. It was only after the woman had finally gone that she noticed the Captain’s portrait was also missing because she didn’t like to go into the sitting room either.”

“I just knew there was a whole lot more to the story,” Carolyn replied with a warm smile as we gathered up everything. “And you will tell me because I want to know it all. But let’s wait until everyone’s had something to eat. Then I want to write everything down as you tell it.”

I moved one shoulder. “Very well. I guess Mrs Greig wouldn’t mind. It’s past time someone else knew the whole story about this house…” I replied slowly, as Stevie and I followed her lead out of the kitchen and into the back garden where the delicious smells of grilling meat made my empty stomach grumble.

It seemed that I was being drawn ever closer to this family when all I wanted to do was keep my distance and do my work. It was almost as if forces beyond my control were pushing me ever closer to them. I cast a glance in the direction of the living room and shook my head. Carolyn was right, there were things in this house that could not always be explained away rationally…

※※※※※

I enjoyed working the grill and absorbing the warm summer afternoon as I watched my guests mingle and talk. The food was hot and plentiful, and the party was just getting started. I felt a deep sense of contentment as I looked around at the house and garden.

I could happily admit that the last six days, spent in the exclusive company of our son, had been among the happiest of my new life. We’d worked on his continuance and had finally found the breakthrough we needed to win the case.

Carolyn had taken the time to work on the final draft of her latest manuscript and kept us supplied with food and whiskey through the long hours. She knew how important the work was to both of us and left us in the peace of my study.

Now, that slippery, devious man, who’d seemed to have more lives than a blasted alley cat, would finally be going to jail for his heinous crimes. We’d faxed all the new evidence through to Edward’s office and, for once, our workaholic son had decided to take some real time off.

Two nights ago, he’d asked if we minded if he extended his stay with us, which was more than fine with his mother and me. The next morning, we’d gone out to purchase a state-of-the-art grill to celebrate.

Spending time putting it together had drawn us even closer. The years between were beginning to melt away. I was starting to feel as if I’d always known my son. We were that alike.

I knew Edward was now sleeping well at night. His conscience was at peace. I knew mine was. It was the sleep of someone who had finally gotten everything right in his life and it felt good.

As I turned meat on the grill and served our guests – to which I could see Kat had unexpectedly been added – I felt an unalloyed pride in being a part of something meaningful and worthwhile. As FLAG had once been in the early days before Wilton had been taken gravely ill and it had all begun to fall apart.

Back then, we were both so sure we had the solution to all the woes of the world. We would work hard to save them, one case at a time. I huffed a small derisive laugh now. How wrong and naive we had been. The world didn’t want to be saved. It didn’t want or need our moral outrage or thirst for restitution. It had been a painful lesson I’d learned very well.

As I attended to my self-appointed task of grill master now, my son walked up and placed his hand companionably on my shoulder. “Are you okay, Devon? You looked like you were miles away just then. You want me to take over while you go and eat?”

“I’m good for now,” I replied.

“Okay…” He lifted one of the two dewy, open bottles of beer he held in his hands. “I’ve brought you something cold to drink. You looked parched.”

“Thanks.” I accepted it and took a long, grateful swallow of the ice-cold liquid. I rolled the side of the bottle across my forehead to cool it and sighed with relief.

“And I’ve never been better in my life,” I admitted honestly, putting the beer down before laying my hand briefly over his. “It’s going to be good to have you here for longer than you thought…”

I paused for the minutest of nanoseconds. “…, son. Itisgood. Very good.”

I looked up and kept my eyes locked with his. I had finally, verbally named him as mine. I had thought it often enough but had never expressed it until now. It felt good. More than good. It felt so right.

Edward Bridges might not have my name on his birth certificate, but he shared my blood and my DNA and that was all that truly mattered. We stood in the quiet shadows cast by the huge oak behind us and enjoyed the moment of close kinship.

“Ireland is pretty special at this time of year, isn’t it?” he then asked softly, still watching me closely. “I’ve always felt drawn there. Now I know why.”

“This is the best time of year,” I agreed with a nod. “Everything will be in bloom. It can be a magical place.”

“Then we should go there sometime, just you, me and Mum,” he added quietly. “I’ve never been to Cork.”

“Nor have I, in close to forty years gone,” I confessed quickly. “I don’t know if I would recognise the place now. I don’t even know if the old house is still there.”

“Then we’ll find out.” My son shrugged. “We could go exploring it together.”

“I’d really like that…” My breathing hitched and I felt my throat close tight with raw emotion. I took refuge in finishing the bottle of beer in a few long swallows.

By staying longer, Edward was easing himself slowly into our new life. I knew he was still wary. He didn’t wish to intrude and would have backed off and gone back home if I showed any signs of discomfort.

My son had very good instincts. He listened and saw things others missed. I was looking forward to getting to know him even better over the next month before he finally flew back to Boston. I knew I would miss his easy company.

Of course, the timing was key. I had a new photographic exhibition coming up soon in New York. And Carolyn needed to get finished with her latest manuscript. Everything had dovetailed together nicely. As if it was all meant to be...

“What have you two been talking about over here for so long?” Carolyn came up to ask, as she held out her empty plate toward me. “I think one of those steaks has my name written all over it.”

“Just catching up,” I replied evasively.

I felt relief as I forked the required piece of meat onto her plate. She went up onto tiptoe and kissed my cheek. “Now, come on, sit down and eat something. You’ve been standing out here all morning in this hot sun. I’m sure Edward can be trusted to take over the grilling.”

“I was just about to say that,” our son replied smoothly, taking the turning fork from my hand.

He hitched his chin in the direction of the crowded picnic table where there was laughter and a great deal of talking. “Go and get something to eat and I’ll bring you your steak. Then I’ll go inside and fetch out some more beers.”

“I guess I’m outnumbered,” I complained wryly as my wife walked away back to the table and I was about to follow.

“And thanks… Dad,” our son said, behind me. “For letting me come and stay. For helping me find a way to solve that latest case. For being so good to Mum. For… well, everything…”

My heart swelled near to bursting with pride as I turned back to look at him, knowing what he was trying to say without saying it. He was finally letting me in, easing down the iron-clad guard he kept on his inner feelings. I could see my tangle of conflicting emotions reflected in his eyes. In that single moment, we understood each other and it felt good.

“Anytime, son…” I nodded and smiled, feeling as if I’d just been handed the keys to the whole world. “Anytime…”

I made good my escape before my own emotions finally overcame me. As I crossed the back lawn, I noticed that, at the very edge of the driveway, Kitt had eased as close as he dared and was playing a selection of soft music through his speakers. I knew he was understandably wary of Kat’s late addition to the informal party so he couldn’t contribute to the talk around the table as he usually would.

“Sorry, Kitt…” I smiled in sympathy as I sensed his deep frustration at being forced to remain mute. His moving red eye appeared to frown at me.

As I served the food onto my plate at the table, I could hear that the general conversation I’d left when I went to attend to the grill, had suddenly become a lot more animated and taken a rather unusual direction from our usual business discussions we indulged in whenever we got together.

※※※※※

“Hi…” I smiled up at Devon as he forked some salad and a burger bun onto his plate before he drew out the empty chair next to mine and sat down.

Edward walked up and leaned in to place a steak on his father’s plate. “I’ll be off in a minute or two to fetch more beers from the fridge. Anyone need anything else while I’m there?”

“We need more wine.” I held up the empty bottle for him to take. “And another fruit juice for Stevie.”

“Thanks…” Stevie sat holding her daughter against her shoulder as she gently rubbed the infant’s back. “So this dreadful Cousin Harriet came barging back in where she wasn’t wanted before the Captain had even been declared dead. And then she tried to take over?” She shook her head in disbelieving wonder.

I looked up expectantly at Kat, waiting for her answer. I’d hurried up to our bedroom and brought down my large notebook and a pen. I hastily consumed my last slice of steak before I went back to taking notes. This story was developing very nicely and I wanted to catch every word.

If I was going to be allowed to publish it as a novel – which I prayed I would - I knew it would become a best seller. I could see the title now.’The Captain and Mrs Greig…’I smiled at the obvious connection between the house and its use in the pilot of that old 1960s TV show about a ghost and a young widow. Things were falling very neatly into place.

“Go on,” I encouraged Kat. “Tell us the rest of the story. And please go slowly, I want to make sure I have everything written down correctly…”

※※※※※

“Hang on a minute…” Bonnie held up one hand. “Who’s this Cousin Harriet? Where does she fit in? I thought we were talking about a painting.”

“We are, or we were.” Michael shrugged, still unable to see what all the feminine excitement was about. “But this Harriet sounds like someone we don’t want to know. Unless we were being paid to dig up some dirt on her.” He grinned. “Then I’d be interested.”

“Yeah, she sure sounds like a right battleaxe,” RC added for good measure. “I once had an aunt like her. Her hands should have been registered as lethal weapons!” He laughed at his own joke.

“All right, okay, I get that. But who was this Harriet to the storyline?” Bonnie asked again. “Remember we came into this late. We’re only just catching up. But it all sounds really great. You going to write about it, Carolyn?”

“I’m hoping to…” I murmured absently as I re-read my notes and wondered if I’d missed anything.

Devon nudged me in the ribs with his elbow. “See what a maelstrom you’ve created with wanting to know all about that painting?” he teased. “Pass me the mustard, please.”

“Sorry…” I blinked at him and his wry smile widened.

“I asked you for the mustard,” he repeated slowly. “You know, it’s that yellow bottle with the red lid…” He pointed to the condiment with the blade of his steak knife.

“Here you are…” I snatched it up and handed it to him. “I was thinking.”

“Don’t sweat it,” he advised softly, leaning close to kiss my averted cheek. “You got this. It will all be all right…”

“I know…” I frowned at him, wondering what he was trying to tell me. Then the conversation swirling around us snagged my attention again.

“Oh, it seems like our delightful Cousin Harriet was the original wicked old witch right out of the west,” Stevie chortled in reply to Bonnie’s question. “Think of all the mean girls you ever knew when you were a kid. From what Kat said, she was worse.”

She leaned closer. “And she had a twin sister called Hilda.”

“Help, that bad…” Bonnie whistled with wide-eyed awe. “Wow…”

“So there’s no money in for us, then?” Michael asked in a mock aggrieved tone. “Nothing for us to investigate. I get it.” He shrugged as he drained the last of his beer and looked around for another.

“I never knew Harriet at all, you understand,” Kat added, seemingly keen for total accuracy. “This all happened before I was even born. Mrs Grieg told me everything years later. Nobody else knew the full story. She lived here all alone for years until we met. I guess she finally decided she had to tell someone.”

“All right…” I sighed as I pushed aside my plate. “Take your time…” I advised her. “And just tell the story to us as it was told to you. Then we can begin to research the truth.”

※※※※※

“Okay…” I inhaled and nodded. I had consumed more than one glass of wine, and I was feeling a little lightheaded.

The food was excellent, and the company was very easy to talk to. For the first time in a long while, I was loathe to leave the gathering. There was only one very good reason to go.

And before I could reply, that single reason walked across my line of sight. I was momentarily distracted by the delicious sight of Edward Bridges walking away across the lawn, heading for the open door of the kitchen. The flex and release of his thigh and butt muscles within the taut black denim of his jeans snagged and held my unwilling attention.

I felt my mouth go dry with desire and I closed my eyes so I couldn’t look. But, of course, he was right there, behind my lids. A place he seemed to be occupying more and more, no matter what I did to try and dislodge his unwelcome intrusion into the peace and quiet of my well-ordered life.

One more week,’had become my mantra.’Just let me get through one more week…’

“Kat?” Carolyn questioned and I snapped my eyes open again. “Are you okay? Do you want to stop?”

“Sorry, no, I’m good…” I apologised lamely, trying to control the warmth in my cheeks. “I was just trying to remember everything…” I cleared my throat and slowly continued the story I had somewhat unwisely begun earlier.

There could be no going back now. They were all leaning forward, hanging on my every word. Even the sleek black Trans-Am parked on the edge of the lawn seemed to edge closer. Which, of course, I knew was impossible. But the soft music it had been playing through its speakers was abruptly cut off and a hushed silence flowed in.

Everything and everyone seemed to be waiting for me to go on speaking…

※※※※※

Just as I was leaving the kitchen, the wall telephone rang. I put down the beers and wine and turned back to answer it.

“Miles residence… Edward Bridges speaking. Oh, hi, Maria. It’s been a long time. How are you?” I listened to my old nanny talking for several minutes and felt a growing sense of anger, deep in my gut. “Yes, okay, I see. Yes, she’s here… Just a moment, I’ll go and get her…”

I placed the receiver down on the bench and walked back out into the sunshine. I crossed the lawn to my mother’s chair and leaned down next to her ear. “It’s a call for you from Maria. She’s on the telephone in the kitchen.”

Mum closed her notebook and stood up immediately. “Oh, I do hope everything’s all right…”

She hurried inside to the kitchen, followed by me and Devon. I put a detaining hand on his arm and shook my head. “I’m afraid Maria has some very bad news to report.”

“What sort of news?” Devon demanded to know as we stood watching Mum pick up the telephone.

“It’s about Ian Bridges. It seems he can’t leave well enough alone and has been coming around the Santa Fe house, looking for Mum. He’s also been caught going through the mail. Seems he was trying to find your LA address and has made quite a nuisance of himself over these last couple of weeks. He’s now accosting Maria whenever she goes out and upsetting her with questions she can’t and won’t answer.”

Blast…” Devon replied, low and with feeling as we waited for Mum to finish the call. “That man is the pits. He doesn’t have the sense to leave things well alone. This time he’s gone much too far.”

※※※※※

Chapter 27: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Return To Santa Fe

“Thank you for calling to tell me. I agree, something needs to be done urgently. We’ll talk again soon. I… Goodbye, Maria…” My breathing hitched as I replaced the receiver into its cradle with exaggerated care because my hand was trembling.

I felt both hollowed out and defeated. But I was also full of anger. I could hardly speak in my deepening disgust.

I turned away from the telephone and closed my hands into fists at my sides. Just when my life seemed to be on course to be everything I’d ever dreamed it could be - during all my loveless years of marriage to Ian Bridges - the blasted man was once more trying to drag me back into his web of lies and deceit.

He wasn’t going to allow me to escape his clutches without a fight. But this time I was determined to be ready for him.

“Blast…” I felt my shoulders tense as if expecting a physical blow to fall.

Right then, when I most needed their unquestioning support, my husband and our son put their arms around my shoulders and pulled me close. I was drawn deep into the warmth and compassion of their tight embraces and the tears of anger and regret I’d been holding back began to flow.

“It will be all right. He won’t win,” Devon said against my ear. “We won’t let him.”

“He will regret doing this,” my son added, smoothing the hair back from my forehead. “We’ll make sure of that.”

“But it’s all so bloody wellunfair!” I muttered crossly, dashing a hand across my wet cheeks. “That man cannot leave well enough alone!” I so badly wanted to hit something.

“I’ll admit I thought we had him with the IRS audit,” Devon admitted grimly, pulling back to look down at me. “But he appears to have more lives than a confounded alley cat.”

“Like someone else we know,” Edward concurred, frowning across at his father over my head. “We’ve managed to put that one down, who richly deserved it. It’s time we applied our considerable resources to this second one.”

“Yes…” Devon nodded slowly. “Michael found enough dirt on Bridges to warrant a full audit. If we can manage to gain access to his books, and whatever the IRS has uncovered about him…” He released me to stroke his chin thoughtfully.

“You’re planning on hurting him, right?” I asked in a fierce whisper. “Something that will cripple him financially.”

I put my arm around our son’s waist. “I don’t care what it takes or how much it costs,” I continued evenly. “I want that man gone from our lives permanently.” The two most important men in my life suddenly grinned at each other.

Edward nodded. “Oh, I think that could be arranged.”

“Consider it done,” Devon added. “We’ll start tonight.”

“Good…” I looked from one to the other. “Just don’t leave me out of the fun. I want to know everything.”

“Always…” Devon took me by the shoulders and kissed my forehead. “We’re going to make him rue the very day he was born…”

※※※※※

“We’ll need to coordinate a plan of attack that he won’t see coming,” Devon stated as he sat down on the couch next to me. “We must neutralise whatever hold he imagines he still has over you, Carolyn. It’s the only way to beat him at his own game. By harassing those you love, he thinks he holds all the cards.”

“Yes, I have to agree with you…” I nodded slowly, knowing my love was right. “Maria said I wasn’t to worry. That she can handle him. But I know she was lying. I could hear it in her voice. She’s worried for me and what Ian might do now.”

I took my love’s hand between both of mine and carried it to my lips. I hated the whole idea of having to deal with my ex-husband once again.

But he’d left us with no choice. I would not have him thinking he could go on upsetting Maria just to get back at me for his own selfish ends. He needed to be stopped before he went too far.

It was now late in the evening, and the sweet enjoyment we’d gained from the informal gathering for our first family barbeque had evaporated. Kat had quickly made her excuses and left us soon after Maria’s call. I collected my notebook and pen from the garden. I went upstairs to our bedroom to put them away in my writing desk. For now, I had no further need of them of more about the Captain’s story. It was a pity, but I couldn’t help it.

When I came down again, I barely noticed what the others were doing. I was so angry with Ian I couldn’t think straight. The menacing and vengeful man just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Of course, he wanted to occupy my thoughts. I detested him anew for that.

Devon had made me a cup of strong black coffee and then left me with it at the outside table while he and Edward took charge of tidying up the backyard and cleaning down the grill. Afterwards, Bonnie went with RC to drive Stevie home with the baby. They knew there had been some fresh trouble with Ian, but they were helpless to do anything but offer their moral support.

I looked around the living room. Now, only Edward and the core members of Knight Investigations remained to make our plans about how to deal with Ian Bridges and his poisonous reach. I felt restless and eager to get even with him as soon as I could. Simmering rage warmed my blood, sending away the chill shock from Maria’s unexpected and worrying phone call.

“We need to hit him where it will hurt him the most,” Michael commented hardly. “In his pride and his wallet. To him, his reputation is everything.”

He was standing beneath the Captain’s painting, with his hands clasped in the small of his back. “You have this place…”

He waved one hand around at the living room. “It’s more than big enough for the two of you. Do you really need to keep the house in Santa Fe, as well?”

He raised a dark eyebrow in my direction. “I mean, it would be better to sell it and cut off that connection to him. That’s if you’re willing to agree.”

“The house was a part of our divorce settlement, but it was never my home,” I replied honestly. “Ian bought it with the proceeds of his first big sale. I’ve only kept it going for Maria’s sake. She couldn’t afford to buy a house of her own and she’s lived there for so many years. It has been her home for as long as I’ve known her.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Edward commented slowly, as he paced the room. “I know she’s always said she would never go and live with any of her children. She’s been adamant about that. She’s never wanted to be a burden to anyone. Her pride wouldn’t allow it.”

He stopped walking and looked up. “But would she agree to move out to LA and live with you here? This house is certainly big enough.”

“I’ve been thinking about that all afternoon. There is that whole, fully equipped guest level in the basem*nt that we don’t use,” I replied slowly, feeling my way. “It has its own entrance and Maria could come and go as she pleases. I know how much she values her independence and it has everything she would ever need. And this house is the home I’ve always dreamed of. I feel safe, here.”

I gasped softly as I was momentarily distracted by that now familiar brush of moving air across the back of my neck. I frowned as I put up one hand to its touch almost absently. “I’m willing to ask Maria. All her children are grown and have spread out across the country, so New Mexico holds no ties for her now. This afternoon, I got the impression that she’s feeling lonely but she wasn’t going to admit it.”

Without thinking, I glanced across at the Captain’s portrait and I could have sworn his painted blue eyes were now watching me. They stared back at me with more life in them than any painted eyes should have. Their frowning gaze had always been austere and forbidding, but now they appeared to brim with stern approval. I shook my head in disbelief, wondering if I was slowly losing my grip on reality.

Edward shrugged and smiled. “Maria often said that all she’d ever asked from life was never to be cold. That’s why she’d never agree to come and live with me in Boston. I will say that I miss her fabulous cooking.”

“Well, the idea of her coming to live in the guest suite is a masterstroke,” Devon approved. “If you can get her to agree. We are going to need someone living here long term, to look after the place when we’re away. It seems an ideal solution to have someone you know and trust.”

His lips quirked. “But we’ve already had a good sampling of her stubbornness when she fell and broke her arm earlier this year. What if she refuses to come out here to live?”

I turned from my close contemplation of the Captain’s painting. “We’ll just have to make our offer so attractive she cannot refuse. She does delight in mothering me when she can get away with it. That would be an incentive.”

“Well, getting even with Ian will be high on her to-do list,” Edward reassured me as he bent down to hug me tightly. “This time, we need to make his removal from your life, permanent. “It’s a pity we don’t have enough proof of harassment for a permanent court order to be issued.”

“Yes. But so far, he hasn’t done anything illegal that we know of,” Michael reasoned. “Nothing we can pin on him, anyway. He’s been harassing Maria from the safety of public property. She told you he hasn’t once tried to enter the house or in any way overstep any legal boundaries.”

“But he has interfered with the delivery of the mail,” Edward replied seriously. “That’s a federal offence that comes with up to six months in jail.”

“Yes…” Devon shook his head regretfully. “But sadly, a tenuous connection, at best. Bridges would lie his way out of it and what proof do we have? Maria said her son had only caught him that once, snooping in the mailbox. He denied everything, then. He can afford to hire a good lawyer.”

“Excuse me…” Kitt commented quietly from the open doorway to the garden. “I couldn’t help overhearing your various conversations this afternoon. I am sorry you have been placed in such an awkward situation, Mrs Miles. If there is anything I can do to help…”

“Please, don’t apologise…” I shifted my position to face him. “And I’ve already told you that my name is Carolyn.”

“Carolyn…” Kitt’s single moving red eye glowed with pleasure. “Thank you. I will remember from now on.”

“Do you have an opinion to offer?” Michael asked as he walked to perch on the end of the couch next to me and faced the Trans Am. “We had thought that dealing with a full audit by the IRS was enough to keep the man quiet for some time. He has a few skeletons he’s been very eager to hide.”

“Yes, he has. I have been making some inquiries into that matter this afternoon,” Kitt replied evenly. “Ever since I became aware of the man’s unwelcome re-emergence in your lives. It seems Ian Bridges has been made privy to who reported him to the revenuers. But he nurses the belief that Carolyn is at the bottom of all his financial troubles. Therefore, he seeks to include her in the twisted web of his lies and do her as much damage as he can.”

I sighed roughly. “I wish I’d never married him…” I shook my head. “But then I wouldn’t have Lucy or Danny.”

“I understand.” Kitt’s single red eye moved thoughtfully. “If Ian Bridges can reduce you to that level of perceived misery then he will feel better about himself. Remember, your divorce was at your instigation, not his. He still sees you as unfinished business and he hates you for it. I fear he is becoming quite unbalanced.”

“I would prefer it if he didn’t think of me at all,” I replied sharply. “I would be content if he didn’t think about me ever again.”

“It’s time for Kitt and I to go on a road trip back to New Mexico,” Devon replied, as he turned his hand within my grasp and gripped my fingers. “Maria must know she has our full support and we need to offer it in person. Ian Bridges needs to be taught a lesson he will never forget.”

He glanced at our son. “I am sorry it had to come to this. I had hoped we could spend our time together getting to know each other better.”

“Please, don’t apologise…” Edward quickly waved one hand. “I’m only sorry it’s taken this long to deal with the man properly. He’s been a malignant cancer in Mum’s life for far too long. He needs to know, once and for all, that she’s done with him before he creates more damage with his mischief.”

He grinned hardly. “For that reason, I’m coming with you. There’s no way you’re leaving me behind here, twiddling my thumbs, and wondering how you’re getting on.”

“Well, you’re not leaving me out of this, either.” Michael got to his feet and held up his wrist with the comms link. “Since you’re taking my car, anyway. I’ve got a lot riding on dealing with that man, as well. No one thumbs their nose at me and gets away with it. Bonnie and RC will just have to make the best of it for a few days. I’m overdue for some vacation time. Stevie’s already given her blessing for whatever we decided to do.”

“All right,” I stated with decision, looking at each of them in turn. “If you’re all going, then I’m not being left behind, either. This is my fight as much as anyone’s.” I raised my chin and stared at them, daring any one of them to disagree. “Don’t forget, I was married to the man.”

“Very well. How soon can you all get packed?” Devon asked softly, smiling at me with deep admiration in his blue eyes. “We’d better plan on leaving first thing in the morning if we’re going to make it by nightfall.”

“I shall make sure everything is in readiness,” Kitt said. “I shall do an in-depth analysis into Mr Bridges business overnight. I will brief you all on the way to Santa Fe.”

“Thank you…” I nodded to Kitt before I turned back to Devon. I raised his hand to my lips again. “This time we will make it count. And Maria will know she’s not alone anymore.”

I glanced back at the Captain’s painting. The painted blue eyes seemed to be lifeless once more. But I had the confusing impression they were still watching me…

※※※※※

We drove out of Montecito before dawn and into Santa Fe just as the sun was setting. The great ball of light painted everything it touched with streaks of gold fading into rich amber as we finally turned into the front driveway of Carolyn’s house. Given Kitt’s ability to drive at high speed, we’d made very good time, stopping only once for gas and something to eat.

I studied both sides of the quiet street carefully as Kitt silenced his engine. We hadn’t telephoned Maria to tell her we were coming. We all thought it was better than the fewer people who knew, the better. We had no idea if Ian was anywhere in the vicinity, watching the house and waiting to intrude. It was what I would do if I was him.

Satisfied Carolyn’s ex-husband was nowhere in sight, I glanced down at her beside me. She was curled up in the passenger seat and had been sleeping for the last hundred miles or so. I hesitated to wake her. I knew my love was tired and worried about encountering Ian again, despite the brave face she’d put on her insistence over joining us in our quest.

“Come on, you two…” I said quietly as I eased my door open and got out.

Edward and Michael quickly followed me out into the dry warmth of the desert evening. I couldn’t help smiling. Both men were tall and the cramped back seat of the Trans Am was not known for its roominess.

“Remind me to buy something bigger in the next life,” Michael grumbled, stretching out his long frame toward the stars. “And I’m driving back to LA when we leave again.”

He grinned at me. “You can take your turn in the back seat.”

“If I may point out, you have all been delivered in excellent time,” Kitt replied a little miffily. “Once you have retrieved your bags from my trunk, I shall park further down the street so I do not arouse any unwanted suspicions. You have the comms link, Michael. I will wait for you to call me.”

Michael’s grin widened at the terse reprimand. “You got it, buddy.”

“Are we there yet?” I heard Carolyn ask drowsily just as the house lights suddenly flicked on in the porch and front driveway of the house.

I leaned into the open door of the car and smiled at her. “Yes, and I think we’re about to get told off by one very angry-looking Mexican lady.”

“Oh, dear…” Carolyn sat up and pushed open her door. “Maria? How are you? It’s so wonderful to see you again.”

“Why have you come all this way when I told you not to?” the housekeeper grumbled as she held the car door open for Carolyn to get out. “It’s not that I’m unhappy to see all of you. But I’ve said I can handle Ian Bridges. He will never get the better of me. The less you see of him, the better I would feel.”

She snapped her fingers angrily. “He is less than that to me.”

Of course, she immediately smothered my love in a tight hug before turning her attention to Edward. He too received a fierce hug and a stern lecture.

“It’s good to see you again, too.” He grinned and took it, kissing her cheek soundly. “I’ve missed you and your cooking.”

“Oh, you…” Maria buffeted him in the shoulder with a loving fist. She divided her frowning look between us.

“You’d better all come on inside.” She turned to look up and down the street. “We don’t know who’s watching. I haven’t seen anything of Ian for a couple of days.”

She frowned at Kitt. “I’m sorry, but there’s no room in the garage for this one. Can you park it away down the street somewhere, out of sight?”

“Don’t worry. Kitt is well about to take care of himself,” Michael reassured her as he and I retrieved our luggage from the trunk. “We’ll call him when we need him again.”

He held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Michael Knight. I work with Devon.”

The housekeeper shook hands with him. “Maria Flores. Welcome to Santa Fe…”

She gasped when both of Kitt’s doors closed and the car smoothly accelerated away down the street and turned the corner out of sight. Maria shook her head as she stared after the vehicle in bemusem*nt. “Now I’ve seen everything…”

“Come on…” Carolyn encouraged, taking her arm. “Let’s get inside out of sight. Then we’ll tell you everything.”

“All right…” Maria shrugged as she led the way into the house. “It is just as well I made some extra chilli and beans tonight. I must have known I was going to have company.”

※※※※※

“You want to sell this house and move me all the way out to California to live with you?” Maria’s eyebrows rose high at Mum’s gently worded suggestion.

We had held a council of war in the roomy, fragrant kitchen and her fantastic chilli had been everything I remembered. I’d eaten more than my fair share. After dinner, we’d all retired to the living room to sit in front of the fire and drink some Mexican whisky while planning our next move.

Mum had obviously decided to tackle the thornie*st item of business head-on. “You would be doing us both a very big favour,” she replied quietly. “Our house in Montecito is a lot bigger than this one and we do need someone to live in and look after us. There’s no one I would trust more than you.”

Maria studied her closely. “I’ll admit that rattling around in this big house, all by myself, hasn’t been that much fun. My children are now all married and spread out across the country. I rarely see them and I miss them.”

She lifted her shoulders, frowning down into her glass. “But I didn’t want to worry you with my concerns. I didn’t wish to phone you about Ian, but my son insisted that you needed to know. Of course, I never told him where you’re living now. That is why he was snooping in the mailbox the other day.”

“So, your moving out to live with us in Montecito wouldn’t be entirely out of the question?” Mum asked softly, injecting just the right note of hesitation into her tone. “I mean, you wouldn’t be alone, out there. But you would have your own apartment, of course. You would have everything just the way you like things.”

I did my best not to smile. I wanted to say that my mother would have made a very good lawyer. But I knew when not to speak while she was keen to do all the talking. I settled deeper into my chair and watched the dancing flames in the fireplace.

Devon and Michael were also quiet, allowing Carolyn to conduct the delicate conversation at her own pace. Several long looks passed between them and me as we listened and watched my mother doing her best to convince her good friend about the strength of her reasoned argument.

It was her use of that wily old courtroom tactic that held my attention. You needed to make the witness think that whatever they did or said next was entirely their own decision. It required skill to make the time-honoured illusion work as it should.

My mind flicked back to Kat and my use of it with her that first day in her truck. Her soft beauty still tantalised and tempted me. “Chicken…” I whispered with a sigh.

She’d been very quick to excuse herself from yesterday’s barbeque. She’d made small talk about maybe, one day, we would meet again. She’d obviously not been made aware I was staying in LA for another three weeks. I couldn’t wait to see her expression when she eventually found out.

I saluted the flickering flames with my glass of whisky and took a long swallow. The fiery liquor burned a path down to my replete stomach and warmed my tired senses as I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I was far too comfortable to think about moving...

※※※※※

Chapter 28: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Dealing With The Past

Ian Bridges sneezed suddenly in the chill darkness of the very early morning air as he moved slowly down the sidewalk. He was trying to keep to the deeper shadows cast between the widely spaced street lamps, skirting the pools of betraying light.

I hadn’t been paying close attention in that very moment to what was going on outside my doors. I almost missed seeing him, but he stopped right next to me. That noisy exhalation of breath betrayed him.

I quickly scanned his facial profile into my database and it came back as an exact match. Dressed all in black, to any casual observer, he could have been taken for another shadow among the many cast by the waxing moon that was riding low in the ink black sky. A steady night wind was moving nearby tree branches around and this confused his human outline.

But when the raucous sound gave him away, he cursed long and low beneath his breath. He immediately drew backwards into the deepest shadows and walked on beyond me, sweeping his gaze quickly from right to left.

I switched to night vision and continued to watch his furtive movements. I had been using the last few hours, while the other members of the Knight Investigations team slept, to review my files and download everything I could uncover about Bridges and his dealings.

The IRS data files had been very easy enough to break into. Their digital protection was almost non-existent.

I’d made a note. That was something I would need to attend to at a later date. Michael was always looking for new ways to expand our thriving business. Government contracts were always lucrative since the protections required for such sensitive material was constantly changing and updating.

And Bridges’ company files had become an equally open book to me. He was arrogant and foolish enough to think himself secure. He was the sort of man who kept a second set secreted away in his office safe. Everything pointed that way. I was working on how to access them, as well.

That was where the answers we needed would reside. A further tip off to the IRS should secure them for closer investigation. I just needed the proof or some rash impetuous action of Bridges in breaking the law. It appeared that he was about to do so.

I had assisted Michael with compiling the IRS report on the man. I had been deeply disappointed that I had not been thorough enough in covering my investigation. I disliked the fact that my snooping into his affairs had finally galvanised the man into the rash and unwise actions he now appeared to be pursuing. He seemed determined to exact some kind of revenge on Carolyn for whatever imagined slights he’d dreamed up.

I had taken up my close surveillance position just around the corner from Carolyn’s house. I was aware the hour was now very early and the desert’s night time chill had yet to lift. It was that breathless time between the end of the night and not yet dawn, where many creatures die and more are born. It was no time to be walking the streets alone, unless you were intent on doing someone harm.

In the last four years - spent almost exclusively in Michael Knight’s brash and devil-may-care company - I had become more sentient and aware, despite my initial, deeply logical training from Devon. I had never been programmed to think for myself. Without realising it, at first, I had slowly absorbed what vivid human imaginations could make out of this pre-dawn hour.

It seemed to be a very curious place where many demons and goblins were said to dwell. A time where many a foul deed could be done beneath the cover of darkness. Now it seemed there was about to be another such added to a very long list of wrongdoings.

I kept silent watch and scanned my quarry again as he walked toward the corner ahead of me and paused beneath the streetlight. His jacket collar was turned up and his shoulders were hunched. He appeared small and mean.

Of course, he was completely unaware that I was watching him. But then, who would suspect any parked car of being awake and sentient?

I waited and watched for his next move. As he turned around the corner and passed into the darkness beyond the reach of the street light, I noted the large, black hold-all he was carrying over one shoulder. He held it close to his body as if seeking to hide it from any casual glance. But the street was deserted and all the houses on either side, shuttered and quiet.

By his very furtiveness, I knew Bridges was intent on making a much bolder and far riskier move than merely snooping in the mailbox this time. From his burden, it appeared that breaking and entering was now on his mind. It was the perfect time of the morning to do so.

I eased slowly out from my kerbside position between two other parked cars and crawled up the street to the corner. I inched out as far as I could, not daring to go any further down the street until I discovered Bridges’s ultimate target.

Which I had already guessed. The very moment I was certain of his destination, I switched on the comms link and sent out an urgent distress signal.

※※※※※

“Devon…”

I jerked awake from an oddly restless sleep to the sound of my name being called quietly. Someone was shaking my shoulder in a hard grip.

“Devon?”

“What?” I demanded to know, rolling over and opening my eyes.

Our bedroom was in semi-darkness, but I could just make out the bulk of Michael’s familiar shape leaning over me. It was his hand tugging urgently at my shoulder. He waved the other at me, urging me to lower my voice.

“What is it?” I asked in a low whisper.

Beside me, Carolyn stirred and woke up. “What’s going on?” she demanded to know, pushing herself up onto one elbow to peer at Michael. “What’s happening? What’s the matter?”

“Shhh…” Michael waved his hand again as he bent nearer. “It looks like we’re going to have an unwanted visitor very soon.”

He held out the comms link on his wrist. The red light was blinking. “I couldn’t sleep. I was up and dressed when Kitt pinged the link to say that Ian Bridges is right now working his way up the street. He’ll be here at any moment.”

Carolyn gasped indignantly. “He wouldn’t dare!” She gripped my upper arm. “Surely he isn’t that stupid?”

“I thought so too.” I shook my head as I tossed back the covers and got out of bed. “It seems we’re all wrong. He’s becoming desperate to get what he wants. Any information on your whereabouts.”

I was aware that my state of restlessness had communicated itself to my love. Neither of us had managed more than a couple of hours rest. Now we knew the reason why.

“Oh, this is too much!” Carolyn whispered angrily as she threw back the covers and got out. She thrust her feet into her slippers. “I’ll go outside and give him a piece of my mind!” She pulled on and tied the belt of her dressing gown with urgent fingers.

Michael reached out one hand to stop her headlong rush from the bedroom. “Oh, no, you won’t. That’s exactly what he wants. To confront you and make you pay for all his problems.”

He drew her back to my side and pushed her quickly into my tightly protective hold. “We’re going to wait and see what he does. Kitt said he’s carrying a holdall. So, my educated guess is, he’s come equipped to deal and for all we know he’s also armed. He’s become tired of waiting.”

“Oh, God…” Carolyn sagged against me. “Do you really think so? That’s insane.”

Michael shrugged. “Kitt said the man looks like he means business this time. He wants answers. Of course, he thinks he’s only facing Maria, a defenceless woman. No doubt, he thinks he’ll be able to get to you before the cops can get to him. He’s not thinking rationally.”

His grin was hard and menacing in the soft darkness. “He doesn’t know that Maria now has guests. We’re going to make sure he gets the shock of his life.”

“It’s the only way. No lights…” I warned, keeping a hold of my wife before she did something rash. “We need him to go through with whatever he’s planning. Then we will have him bang to rights for breaking and entering. He won’t be able to wriggle out of that one since we’ll all be witnesses.”

I shook my head. “I can almost hope he’s armed.”

“Yeah…” Michael nodded quickly. “Kitt’s keeping track of him. He’ll alert us the moment he gets close enough to the house.” His hard grin widened. “This is just like old times.” He punched the air with one fist. “In a crazy kind of way, I’ve kinda been missing all the action we used to get.”

“Hold on. Shouldn’t we call the police?” Carolyn worried, placing her hands flat on my chest. “Surely that would be safer. You can’t face him alone. I won’t let you.”

“If he’s as close as Kitt says he is, then the cops wouldn’t get here in time,” I replied softly. “Bridges has planned this well. Now get dressed and don’t make a sound. We want him to think he can act with impunity.”

I could feel the adrenaline starting to course through my veins. It lifted me and overrode my state of tiredness. Like Michael, I didn’t think I would ever miss the dangers and hair-raising adventures from all the years I worked for FLAG. My hands clenched into fists against my thighs.

Beside us, I saw Michael draw his hand gun from the holder beneath his arm and check the weapon. “We’re going to throw him a welcome home party he won’t forget in a hurry,” he said as he flipped off the safety catch and held the gun close to his thigh.

“All we can do now is wait and watch,” he continued, with that same simmering tension in his voice that I could now feel singing in my blood.

I was well aware of how addictive adrenaline could be. My hand unclenched and clenched again at our need to be quiet. I could privately admit I did sometimes miss that need for action.

Michael’s shadowed eyes gleamed in the darkness. Of course, he wasn’t afraid. I hadn’t forgotten what a lethal weapon he could be when he was aroused by anger or an injustice. We’d once been a very formidable combination.

I could feel the tension tightening each and every one of my muscles. The years rolled back and now I wished I had a weapon in my hand, as well. I didn’t like feeling so naked and exposed.

“Give me your back up,” I demanded brusquely, holding out one hand.

“I guess you can still remember how to shoot straight…” Michael whispered as he bent down and drew the second piece he always carried in his ankle holster.

I hefted it with satisfaction. “Aim for the centre mass and pull the trigger,” I replied grimly as I checked the weapon quickly.

“I really do hope it doesn’t come to that…” Carolyn whispered. “I don’t want Ian to get hurt, just made to see reason. I wish there was another way.”

Michael shrugged. “The man has brought this on himself. He’ll be the loser for it. I’ll go and wake up Edward. He’ll want in on this…” he said as he silently left the room, closing the door behind him.

“To make anything stick well enough to the man we have to allow him to break in,” I said as I put the hand gun down and quickly got dressed. “Then he won’t have a leg to stand on. The judge will have no choice but to throw the book at him. It’s the only way.”

“He must be truly desperate to find me.” Carolyn sighed as she dressed.

I pulled her back into my arms and hugged her tightly. “You filed for divorce and walked away from him. His wounded pride has never allowed him to get over that. He’s got it into his warped brain that somehow, somewhere, you’re laughing at him. That we all are. He’s all twisted up inside with hate.”

“Then Kitt’s right.” Carolyn brushed her hand across my cheek. “His mind is becoming quite unhinged.”

“Yes, and a madman won’t listen to any reasoned argument we have to offer.” I kissed her temple. “So we must deal with him on his own terms.”

I took her shoulder in one hand as she started to walk toward the door. ““No, Carolyn… You need to stay in here.”

“No…” She threw up her head in immediate denial, her eyes blazing with a mix of fear and determination. “I won’t have you all putting your life in danger because of me. This is my fight too.”

“There are three of us and two of us are armed,” I returned quietly, pushing her gently back against the wall beside the closed door. “Your part in all this is to go to Maria. Then both of you will go down to the basem*nt, where you’ll be safe. I need to know that I don’t have to worry about you being hurt by a madman.”

She tossed her head at me, trying to escape my grasp. “I’m not a coward. I can stand up to Ian. I have before.”

“I never thought you were a coward,” I replied steadily, knowing we were wasting precious time arguing. “Come here…”

I pulled her close and kissed her long and hard. “You are the bravest woman I have ever known…” I finally said against her parted lips. “But to know you’re safe would mean everything to me…”

“Everything?” She whispered brokenly against my mouth.

“Everything…” I drew back to rest my forehead against hers. “Bridges will not win this battle. We won’t let him. And if we all play our parts right, he will be spending a considerable part of the rest of his life held securely behind bars. Where he can’t reach any of us. We will finally be free of him and his poison.”

“Very well…” she agreed, pressing a swift kiss to my lips. “If it will finally put Ian away for good, I will go and get Maria and we’ll go down to the basem*nt.”

“Thank you, my Luciana…” I kissed her again before I let her go. “I love you…”

“I love you too…” she replied as she put her hand on the doorknob.

“Come on…” I picked up the hand gun again and eased out of the room ahead of her. I checked the way was clear before she hurried away down the hall to Maria’s room.

I knew I was shaking and that she had felt it too. It was that heady, intoxicating mix of anger and adrenaline that steeled my resolve to somehow get my hands around Ian Bridges’ throat and slowly squeeze the life out of his worthless hide for all the pain and anguish he was putting us through...

※※※※※

I was instantly aware the very moment the door to my bedroom opened silently. I’d been dozing in the darkness of the pre-dawn, debating if I should finally give up and get up to make myself a cup of strong, black coffee.

I’d slept fitfully, tossing and turning throughout the night. The heady fumes of the whisky I’d consumed had long since dissipated, leaving me with a dull headache and a restlessness I couldn’t identify.

“Edward?” Michael’s tense whisper carried. “Are you awake?”

“I’m awake,” I replied softly, tossing back the patchwork quilt that covered me.

Ever since I’d come to bed, something had been gnawing at my vitals, making sleep almost impossible. Some unknown prescience of imminent danger. I’d decided not to get changed for bed and lay down beneath the cover of the quilt instead. The minutes and hours had ticked slowly by.

Michael approached my bed on silent feet. “You can feel it too?” His white teeth flashed in the darkness. “Something’s about to happen.”

“It’s Bridges, isn’t it?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “He’s decided to make his move while he thinks Maria’s asleep and vulnerable. The coward.”

I no longer thought of the man as my father. Now I didn’t even think of him as my mother’s ex-husband. He no longer meant anything to me but an obstacle to be removed from our lives finally and for good.

“Yeah, it’s him all right. Kitt confirmed it by facial recognition.” Michael’s grin widened. “He has no clue we’re here. I’m looking forward to dealing with that bastard once and for all. I’m sick of dancing around, boxing with shadows.”

“Me, too.” I noted the handgun he was holding close to his body. I nodded quickly toward it. “I don’t suppose you’ve got another one of those somewhere?”

“Sorry…” He shrugged. “Devon’s already taken my back up.”

He eased back toward the door. “But that old Winchester rifle hanging above the fireplace in the living room looked serviceable enough. If you’re willing to trust it.”

“I cleaned and oiled it the last time I was here at Christmas,” I replied, pushing my feet into my boots and tying the laces. “And yes, before you ask. I do know how to use it. I went hunting in the desert with it all through my childhood. I’m not as citified as you seem to think I am.”

“Good to know. And I never doubted you for a single second,” Michael replied quickly as the red light on his comms link blinked and he put it to his ear.

He frowned as he listened to the message Kitt was relaying. Then he looked up. “It seems our unwanted guest has arrived and he’s working his way around to the back of the house. Let’s hope his courage doesn’t fail him at the last minute.”

The door to my room opened and my father put his head in. “Come on, I just heard someone walking past outside, heading around the back…” he whispered tersely. “The game’s finally afoot...” He grinned hardly as he ducked back into the hall.

“I’ll go and get that rifle,” I whispered as Michael and I eased our way out into the darkened hallway.

※※※※※

“That man is nothing but a blasted cobarde!” Maria snapped in a harsh whisper as we made our way down the gloomy basem*nt steps. “I spit in his eye! Does he think I’m nothing but a helpless woman?” Her hands clenched into fists against her long skirt.

“He doesn’t know any better…” I gave her a quick hug. “He’s a total cobarde,” I agreed softly, shaking my head. “But Devon’s right. They can’t be worrying about us while they’re finally dealing with Ian. We must be quiet down here.”

Bah!” Maria muttered as she moved quickly across the basem*nt to a tall, narrow metal cupboard that stood beside the washing machine and dryer. I frowned at it. I’d never seen it before.

Faint fingers of dawning light were starting to penetrate the gloom of the basem*nt through the high, ground level windows. I watched my friend as she unlocked and opened the cupboard. She took out a gleaming, twelve gauge, double-barrelled shotgun.

I couldn’t help my gasp with total surprise. I pressed my fingers to my mouth as Maria handled the lethal weapon with ease.

“It was my grandfather’s,” she replied to my look of astonishment. “He fought against Geronimo with this beauty,” she continued proudly. “He taught me how to shoot it when I was very young.”

She smiled grimly. “My sweet Miguel insisted that I bought a gun safe for it when you went away to live in California. He wanted me to keep it down here in case of any emergencies. He said I was now a helpless woman who was living alone and he worried for me.”

Her dark eyes danced with determination. “Helpless? I only managed to hold my tongue because I knew he said it out of his love for me.”

“If only he knew how wrong he was,” I marvelled, as I watched her check the weapon.

She reached into the cupboard and flipped open a box of ammunition. She broke the shotgun and inserted a shell into each of the twin barrels. “Let that nasty man come on down here. He’ll rue the very day he was ever born.”

She snapped it shut and shook the weapon at the heavily beamed ceiling. “Cobarde!

“Maria…” I gasped in laughing astonishment. “I never knew you were this blood thirsty.”

“I also have this…” She shrugged in reply, reaching back into the cupboard to take out a very serviceable looking hand gun from a small wooden box. “I’ll load it and then all you need to do is aim and shoot.”

Her brow creased. “If you think you can handle it, that is.” She stared at me doubtfully as she stood the shotgun aside to load the smaller weapon.

She turned back and held it out. “See if you can hold it. Be careful. The safety’s off.”

“I know I can handle it…” I remembered Devon’s deadly comment to Michael. “All I have to do is aim for the centre mass and pull the trigger,” I replied as I took the weapon and tested it’s deadly weight in my palms.

It had been more than thirty-five years, and a whole ocean away, from the last time I’d held or used such a hand gun. Devon had very patiently taught me how to shoot and I had been a very keen student.

Now, in my heightened state of tension, my hands instinctively remembered what to do and how to grip the weapon. They were also trembled slightly with reaction.

“Keep it aimed at the floor,” Maria instructed softly as she picked up the shotgun again. “Just in case it goes off accidentally.”

“Okay…” I whispered. “But I do know what to do. Devon taught me when we lived together in London. When we were spies for the government.”

All the while, my heart felt as if it was beating its way out of my chest. It had been over thirty-five years since I’d felt so alive and scared all at the same time. I could well understand how people became addicted to the rush of sheer adrenaline that was now coursing through me. My blood felt as if it was singing in my veins.

I caught my breath and shook my head. It was almost as if one of my crime novels had suddenly sprung into vivid life. Which made no sense at all.

“Get a grip…” I shook my head. “Concentrate…” I could now hear stealthy movements overhead.

Of course, I knew such a notion was totally absurd. This was real life and now it had become deadly serious. A mentally unbalanced man was about to break into my house. I had no time for lurid fantasies.

But as I turned toward the basem*nt stairs, and closed both palms around the butt of the deadly weapon in my hands, I could almost swear I glimpsed my fictional hero, Edward Grainger, standing back in the shadows. His white teeth gleamed in the darkness of his face as he nodded to me with confidence. My racing heart skipped a beat as I blinked with shock.

Then the vision of him changed and became a tall, bearded man wearing a sea cap over his dark curls. The gold of his cap badge seemed to gleam in the slowly dawning light. That unexpected apparition also nodded as he smiled confidently at me.

“Crazy… I’m damn sure I’m going crazy…” I inhaled sharply in disbelief as Maria and I waited impatiently for whatever awful commotion that was about to break out next…

※※※※※

Chapter 29: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Catching A Very Large Rat

I’ve always found muscle memory to be a strange and curious thing. The very moment Michael placed the butt of his backup piece into my outstretched hand, my fingers closed around it with an intuitive familiarity I’d long forgotten until that very second. It was like greeting an old friend.

I’d quickly checked the weapon with the ease of long practice and chambered the first round. Michael watched me with grim approval and a hard grin that promised to do Bridges some real serious harm if he managed to get his hands on the man.

“Let’s go…” I nodded, knowing I felt the same.

The people in this house were my family and I would protect them all to the very last drop of my blood. Bridges had been foolish enough to bring the fight to us. Now there could be only one outcome and it would never be in that coward’s favour. The tension of the impending hunt tightened every one of my muscles almost to a screaming pitch.

The need for action -any kind of action- rippled through me on wings of fire. The adrenaline rush was very addictive and heightened my powers of observation.

The years rolled back and now I was grateful to have a weapon in my hand. I’d detested feeling naked and exposed in the dawn light while Ian Bridges crept around the house, seeking the easiest entry point to secure what he was looking for.

Beside me now, in the slowly dawning light, Michael crouched in the doorway to the living room scanning for any signs of our quarry. He pointed two fingers toward the dark, crouching figure that passed across in front of the glass patio doors. I nodded tersely, watching Bridges slowly working his way across the front and then down the side of the house.

I knew that, outside in the darkness, there were several pieces of bulky patio furniture and a multitude of large potted plants to be avoided. Cactus and thorny desert plants figured prominently among them. Any blunder or misstep could lead to a very painful injury.

By necessity, the intruder’s progress was slow and stealthy as he picked his way forward. Of course, Bridges expected to be able to gain access at the back of the house, quickly find what he wanted, and depart before he was detected.

The rear garden was not overlooked by any neighbouring houses and being of a westerly aspect, it would still be deep in concealing shadows.

Once Bridges gained the shelter of the enclosed back porch he would not be seen and think himself safe enough to force an entry. Did he have a key or would he force his entry?

I smiled grimly. Behind us, Edward covered our backs as we eased backwards into the hallway and moved along the hallway toward the back of the house. My son’s deft handling the gleaming Winchester rifle he’d taken down from above the fireplace, had won my unspoken admiration and quick nod of approval.

It was almost as if he’d been born with it in his hands. I felt very proud of him in that moment.

My son grinned at me in the semi-darkness and gave me a thumbs-up signal. He looked as keen as me for some action. I returned his approval and placed one hand on his broad shoulder as Bridges worked his way around to the back of the house and the three of us turned and silently followed.

※※※※※

Cobarde…” Maria whispered again as we both eased our way up the basem*nt steps to crouch behind the closed door that allowed access to the rear of the kitchen. “He’s no better than a cornered rat.”

“I think I can hear him…” I murmured close to her ear. “He’s moving around outside on the living room patio. He’s coming this way…” My hand clenched around the butt of the handgun I held.

“Yes…” Maria nodded, hefting her shotgun and caressing the twin barrels lovingly. “Let him come on. He will get more than he ever bargained for…”

I frowned as I turned and glanced back down at the clustering shadows below us. The two mysterious figures I’d seen behind the stairs had now dissolved with the rising dawn light. The familiar outlines and shapes of prosaic things like the washer and dryer, ironing board and cane wash basket had taken their place. I shook my head in bewilderment.

Why were they here, at all? To help us in our fight? What could they do?

“Crazy…” I said again.

I shrugged at the deeply fanciful notion. One of the figures was entirely the fictional creation of my imagination and the other had been lost at sea for more than fifty years. It made no sense at all. I had to put it down to my lack of sleep and the tightening tension of the adrenaline that was now simmering through me on wings of fire.

“He isel loco…” Maria agreed as she saw my distraction and elbowed me gently in the ribs. “You okay? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost. Ian Bridges will never hurt you ever again. We’ll make sure of that this time.”

“I know and I’m fine. I was just… thinking…” I replied, helpless to explain what I thought I’d seen just now.

Maria lifted a warning hand. “Listen… He’s made it around to the back. He’s now on the back porch and trying to break in…”

She put one hand on my shoulder and drew me forward. Together, we pressed our ears to the wooden door, and I could hear the handle of the back door to the kitchen being rattled.

“Just as well I had all the locks changed after I threw him out,” I murmured as I heard Ian trying to force a key into the door lock.

He muttered a low expletive with feeling when he found the key no longer fitted as it once had. I smiled grimly as my fingers clenched around the weapon in my hands.

It took all my strength and resolve to remain hidden behind the basem*nt door. Outrage and indignation coursed through me in equal measures. I badly wanted to confront him and shout at him in my outrage.

※※※※※

I followed Michael and my father as they both eased into the kitchen, tucked into low crouches below the line of the kitchen windows. The back door handle rattled as Ian Bridges tried to open it. It was locked and refused to budge.

Then I heard him mutter a harsh expletive as he attempted to force a key into the lock. I grinned as he pulled it out again and tried another. It also didn’t work. I was glad my mother had taken my advice and changed all the locks as soon as the man was gone from the house. I knew Ian harboured ill feelings toward my mother. I’d long suspected he’d try to return once more, to try and claim what he saw as his, and Boston was a long way from Santa Fe.

Dad and Michael silently eased their way across the room to rise and stand their ground, each now concealed on either side of the back door. Dad waved to me and pointed two fingers toward the basem*nt door on the far side of the room.

I nodded and worked my way across the kitchen to take up a position where I would be concealed behind the large double-doored pantry but still able to cover the basem*nt door if anything unforeseen happened and Bridges made it that far.

I hefted the familiar weight of the rifle in my hands. If the intruder did make it to me, he wouldn’t get any further. I waited, with adrenaline running through me. The staid confines of any courtroom battles had nothing on this.

The simmering tension of the moment tightened every single muscle in my body almost to screaming pitch. I could feel the need for action -any kind of action– now rippling through me on wings of fire. The adrenaline that surged with was deeply addictive and it heightened all my senses. I couldn’t remember the last time I had gone hunting with the weapon in my hands.

I sighed, long and low. Maybe it was past time I got out and joined the real world once more. I’d never felt so alive and primed for action.

I heard Bridges finally push some kind of flat implement into the door frame to try and force the lock. In his frustration, he’d given up trying to be stealthy. He managed to bypass the lock. He pushed the door open and stepped inside…

※※※※※

In the end, it was almost too comically easy to capture and subdue the man. He never saw it coming.

Michael and I waited until Bridges had fully entered the kitchen and was now committed to his criminal course. There would be no chance of his being able to lie his way out of it now.

He moved in a half-crouch, working his way across toward the other side of the kitchen to where the telephone hung on the wall. No doubt he was looking for any envelopes or letters carrying Carolyn’s new address. His attention was completely on his nefarious task, and he didn’t sense us standing behind him, watching his every move. He made a very poor burglar.

As he passed beyond both of us, we could see the large handgun tucked into his belt at his back. It gave us even more grounds to have him arrested. Or shot on sight. My fingers clenched around the butt of my handgun. I managed to keep my finger away from the trigger.

Michael nodded to the gun in Bridges’ waistband, and I smiled grimly. I almost wanted the intruder to find an excuse to draw it. But, within the confines of the kitchen, I knew that would be a very dangerous thing if he panicked and the gun went off accidentally.

Michael waved one hand toward the intruder’s back view with a shrug and questioning look at me. The invitation was obvious and very welcome.

I nodded in reply as I silently slid the safety catch forward on the weapon in my hands and firmed my grip. Then I took three, quick steps forward and jammed the barrel deep into Bridges’ unprotected spine, making him jump and yelp with fright. I pulled the gun from his belt and handed it backwards to Michael before Bridges could gather his wits and reach for it.

“What thehell?” Carolyn’s ex-husband turned and fell back against the counter behind him. He pressed one hand to his chest as he glared at me with real fear in his eyes.

“What’reyoudoing in my house?” He tried to suck in his gut, away from the business end of my weapon. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“Your house?” I took pleasure in pushing the barrel of my weapon deeper into his soft belly as Michael quickly checked him for more weapons. “You know it’s no longer yours and you’re trespassing.”

“I…” The man squirmed backwards against the pain of the barrel. “So what? I just needed some information, that’s all. And I need money. I’m not doing any harm. I just wanted to talk to Maria. She’s stopped returning my calls.” He said it like it was some kind of crime.

“So, you decided to pay her a nocturnal visit.” Edward reached out one hand to turn on the lights, making us all blink in the sudden glare. “Why did you come armed, then?” he asked in a tone brimming with distaste. “Who were you planning on shooting if you didn’t get what you came for?”

“Edward?” His stepfather’s eyebrows rose in shock. “What on earth? Why are you here? Look, just give me a minute. It isn’t what it looks like. I needed the gun for protection. You’ve got to understand. Some bad men are after me for what I owe them. I need to see your mother. If you’d only give me a chance, I can explain –”

“We’re all here and we don’t want to listen to a single word you have to say,” Carolyn replied as she walked out of the open basem*nt doorway followed by Maria, who was carrying a very impressive double-barrelled shotgun.

I smiled as I also noted the handgun my love was holding expertly, and I had to admit my level of satisfaction for a good night’s work rose even higher. I didn’t need to ask where she had found the weapon.

If we were alone, right now…

My gut cramped with need. I could have almost laughed at the situation if it wasn’t so deadly serious. Bridges had been prepared to do physical harm if he didn’t get his way. But then, he thought he was invading the house of a defenceless woman.

I glanced back at Maria as she broke and unloaded her shotgun. She pocketed the shells and stood the weapon aside in the corner. “I think we could all do with some good, strong coffee. And I’m starving.” She didn’t even look at Bridges.

Carolyn nodded as she attended to her own weapon and laid it aside. “Good idea. I’ll give you a hand. I’m hungry too. What’s for breakfast?”

She glanced meaningfully at me as she crossed the kitchen. There was a burning need shining in the back of her gaze.

“Luciana…” I whispered. I wanted to catch her close and kiss her as she walked past me.

I wanted to make her as aware of me as I was of her. I breathed her in and sighed. I wanted to do a whole lot of things that would have to wait until much later. I glared at Bridges with dislike as I urged him backwards toward the nearby kitchen chair with the point of my gun. He’d interfered where he wasn’t wanted.

Sit!” I ordered him in a tone that said I meant business if he tried to flee.

He sat down with a frustrated glare. “Look, I’ve made a few bad investments lately and I need money, Carolyn. Just a loan to tide me over. Remember you took half of everything I had when you left me. I know you won’t miss it and I really need it. I’ll pay you back.”

He avoided my eyes as he held out a pleading hand toward her. “For old times’ sake. We had something, once…”

“You’ll have to tell your sad story to the judge,” my love replied sharply, not bothering to even look at him as she set the kettle to boil on the stove. “No one here is interested in anything you have to say.”

She busied herself with the food preparations while she talked with Maria. She completely ignored Bridges’ outstretched hand and pathetic look of long-suffering.

Multiple sirens wailed in the distance, coming closer. Red and blue lights flashed through the windows in the strengthening dawn light. The comms link on Michael’s wrist beeped.

“Michael?” Kitt asked softly. “I saw the lights come on in the house. The state police are here now. Is everything all right? Did you get him?”

“Yeah…” Michael grinned at me. “It couldn’t be better, bubby. We caught the bad guy. Everything’s all right. We’re just about to have some breakfast.” He laughed.

“Breakfast, I see. Well, if you are through here then we do need to get back home,” Kitt replied quickly. “Bonnie called to say she’s just landed a huge new case and she needs our help. She and RC are already swamped. She needs you, like yesterday, she told me to say.”

“If you need to get back,” Edward replied, as he hitched one hip onto the table next to his glowering stepfather. “I’ll stay here and deal with him and the cops. I’ll go down to the station and give my formal statement of the events.”

His hard look dismissed the man next to him. “Then I can get things rolling for the sale of the house. It’ll make everything go much smoother if I handle everything and we set a price guaranteed to sell it fast.”

“Of course, I’ll be staying too. I’ll help Maria pack everything up that she wants to take,” Carolyn replied as she delivered our cups of coffee. “That way we’ll be done quicker. Then we can finally put Santa Fe and all its bad memories behind us for good.”

She avoided looking at her ex-husband who was still glaring at her. I knew he wanted to jump up and accost her, but he didn’t dare. Not with us watching his every move and my gun still trained on his worthless hide.

Edward nodded. “Yeah, when we’re done, we’ll hire a U-Haul and then we can all drive back in Maria’s car. Then I’ll fly out for Boston.” He looked disappointed at the prospect, but we all knew it was the best solution.

“I’ll be sorry to see you leave us…” I frowned, as I remembered a radical idea that had been niggling at me for some time now.

It was something Michael had said. I first needed to discuss the idea with him. But now wasn’t the right time. It could wait until we were back in Montecito. I could only hope my son would agree with it. It was the ideal solution to an already thorny and ongoing problem.

“If you’re staying, then I’m staying as well,” I added, watching Bridges scowl at Carolyn when she didn’t offer him any coffee. “We can make good use of your last three weeks. I’m just sorry we can’t spend it back at the house.”

I was aware none of us had been unwary enough to mention either LA or Montecito. Bridges did not need to hear any clues about where Carolyn and I were living now.

“Me too. And I’d like that,” Edward acknowledged with a nod. “We still have a lot of years to make up for.”

“What about me?” Bridges whined as Michael opened the door to allow three burly state police officers to walk in. “What do I get out of it? I told you I need money. I’m broke. I need cash and I need it now! Why won’t anyone listen to me?”

“Because, as Carolyn said, we don’t give a damn about you or what you want. All you get is a cosy eight by six cell,” I replied as I pushed my handgun into the waistband of my trousers. “And you’d better be grateful for that small mercy. We could have shot you out of hand.”

I watched Bridges and his furious reaction as Michael made his statement to the officers. Then the man was read his rights before being handcuffed and taken away. He was still loudly protesting his innocence and making demands as he was pushed into the back of a police cruiser.

I followed them out of the house to make sure he was finally gone. I distrusted the man completely. He was like a cornered rat, still vicious and desperate to escape. The sooner he was locked up for his crimes, the better I’d feel.

He still looked ready to do someone harm, and it wasn’t going to be anyone I loved or cared for. I would make very sure of that in the short time we had left in Santa Fe.

※※※※※

It was early in the morning now and somewhere in the distance, a clock chimed the house of three o’clock. The house was silent and still. Michael and Maria were asleep in their rooms.

It had been a very long and hectic day. After Michael and Kitt had left to return to LA, we all began the task of clearing out the house and settling my affairs in Santa Fe for good.

I would not be coming back to the city. It was no longer my home.

I’d already taken the things from the house that I wanted. Maria would pack up her things and the rest would be either given away or sold with the house. It no longer mattered to me. I wanted to get back to my life in Montecito. That was where I belonged. And I had so many tasks I needed to get back to.

Edward took Maria’s car and drove into the city to see a lawyer she’d had recommended, while the three of us carried on with the work. He came back with the required paperwork and was soon on the telephone to a real estate agent.

When the sun finally sank into the west, we sat down to a delicious meal of Chinese takeout and agreed we’d all made some excellent progress. The wine was free flowing, and the conversation was easy and enjoyable.

Not one of us mentioned my ex-husband. I’d certainly banished him from my mind, and I knew Edward no longer wished to speak about him. Ian Bridges was now as good as dead to us and he needed to stay that way.

After a hard day’s work, I ached in every limb and sinew. But it was a good ache of a job well done. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

When Devon had suggested we all have an early night, I didn’t demur. I wanted him as badly as he wanted me. I’d seen the wanton look in his eyes every time his gaze had settled on me throughout our meal. I knew I’d never felt more alive tonight. And it wasn’t just the wine I’d consumed.

Now, a full moon cast long streams of soft white light into our bedroom through the un-curtained windows. Beyond the glass, the desert sky was inky black, spangled with countless stars and seemed endless.

We’d taken our time, long and slow, to reaffirm the strength of the bond between us and our love of the life we now shared. Then we’d slept a little, close-held together, before making love again in the hushed quiet of the early hours.

We couldn’t seem to get enough of each other after the adrenaline-filled events of the previous morning. In the darkness, it truly felt as if the intervening years had rolled away and we were back in our tiny flat in London.

I muffled my cry of need in the hollow of Devon’s broad shoulder as we both touched the very edge of heaven once more before we tumbled over the edge of the world and back into the wide, rumpled bed that looked like a storm that had just torn through it. I smiled, knowing it would always be this way and I was content.

“I love you, my Luciana. More than life itself…” my love whispered raggedly after he’d finally caught his breath.

“As I love you…” My heart squeezed tight.

I rose on one elbow to look down into the shadowed depths of his loving eyes. “I do not know what it is about you that closes and opens. Only something in me understands. The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses. Nobody, not even the rain, has such incredible hands…I smiled as I changed one word in the last line of the poem to suit. My eyes never left his as I lifted one of those incredible hands to my mouth to kiss his strong palm.

I ran the tip of my tongue across his warm skin. “I always loved it when you quoted that poem to me. It turned me on.”

He watched me closely. “I’m glad it did. I always meant it to do so. And the sight of you with that gun in your hands…” He chuckled with need.

“I know. Me too…” I sighed as I lay down again and he tucked me close into his side.

I felt sleepily satiated. But I was not yet, asleep. I had a tale to tell and now seemed to be the right time when shadows whispered, and things could be seen in the darkness that surely should not exist on this plane. I told him then of what I’d seen at that moment down in the basem*nt. Or thought I had…

“I swear I saw them both as clearly as I’m seeing you now,” I whispered as I traced lazy circles across the muscles of his chest with one fingertip.

“GraingerandCaptain Greig?” Devon questioned softly, putting one hand over mine to still my teasing touch. “Both of them?”

He shook his head slowly as he lifted my hand to his lips and kissed the backs of my fingers. “I know adrenaline can make people see and hear things that aren’t there. It’s happened a thousand times on many battlefields in the heat of the moment…”

He moved his shoulders. “But one isn’t even real and the other we only know from that painting you found in the attic. I think that’s your answer. They both live inside your vivid imagination and the powerful emotions of the encounter with Bridges brought them out.”

“Yes, I can understand all of that,” I replied quickly, moving my fingers against his mouth to encourage him to explore further. “I know what rational thinking would make of it. But they seemed so real, and they were looking right at me. They both smiled and gave me their approval.”

I looked up to study his expression closely. “I guess I could have imagined them. I can’t think of any other explanation. And yet…”

“Go to sleep…” Devon tucked me closer to him and reached down to draw the covers up over us against the chill of the morning. “Things will look different in the morning. Trust me. You were only imagining them being there.”

“Oh, I trust you…” I murmured against his chest. “But I still think there is more to the Captain’s tale than Kat has told us. When we get home, I’m going to start researching him. I want to write his story. I think he deserves that.”

“If it’ll put your mind at ease…” Devon shrugged as he kissed my hair. “Now go to sleep. We still have a great deal to do tomorrow. We need to get it all behind us so we can go home…”

※※※※※

Chapter 30: The Past Is A Foreign Country

Summary:

On impulse, Devon stops to buy some roses for Stevie. He never expected to come face to face with his past. A woman he'd been told had died thirty-five years ago. Now he's looking down into her translucent sea-green eyes once again and the years between just melt away. He's transported back into the distant past. But is Carolyn going to be in his immediate future or is it too late?

Notes:

This work is dedicated to my fellow writer, EDITHCARDYBRUNO who's a confirmed Devonophile like me!

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty

Staying Is Easier Than Leaving

Ten days later:

After all the unwelcome turmoil and mayhem, we'd been forced to endure in Santa Fe through Ian Bridges' corrupt behaviour, it was a huge relief to return to the calm and serenity of Montecito finally. The elegant old house welcomed us with its quiet solitude.

It was bittersweet for me to remember that I would be leaving again at the end of next week. Despite my reservations, I didn't want to go, but I had a life in Boston I needed to get back to living.

Maria had been quickly moved into her apartment in Gull Cottage and it was as if she had always lived there. We'd been glad to leave the Santa Fe house in the capable hands of the estate agent I had engaged, and I'd taken care of all the paperwork pertinent to a speedy sale.

My mother said she didn't care what price she got for the house, as long as it was a reasonable offer without any strings attached. She wanted quick and clean because she was done with it and Ian Bridges, finally and for good.

I agreed I would fly back from Boston to appear in court at his trial and give my witness statement. No one else from our Gull Cottage family needed to give the man another thought. That chapter of our lives was closed for good. I knew Mum now breathed a lot easier. The haunted look was gone from her eyes.

As I walked slowly down the curving driveway in the late afternoon sunshine, I ran my fingers through my hair at the back of my neck. It had grown longer during my vacation with my parents and somehow it felt right to leave it like that.

"Not a chance." I smiled with wry amusem*nt, knowing Nancy, my forthright secretary, would not approve and not hesitate to say so. She liked her lawyers to be court-presentable at all times. She would order me to see the barber the very moment I showed my face back in the office.

"If only she could see me now…" I glanced down at my faded jeans and a T-shirt that had seen better days.

My suits hung forgotten in my bedroom closet. I didn't give them a single thought now.

"Blast…" Again, that distracting sense of not wanting to leave rolled through me.

I felt a growing feeling of belonging here, that I had never felt anywhere else. Not even when I'd lived out my childhood with my family in Santa Fe. I had always been restless and unable to settle in one place for any length of time.

Living and studying in Boston had meant employment with an excellent firm and I had grabbed the opportunity the moment I left university. But it had never felt like home either. I had begun to feel very much alone and I detested the thought.

"But I'm too old to start again and take the time it would need to build a new practice…" I muttered, shifting my shoulders against the nagging desire to stay.

I stopped walking to frown at the neat rows of flowering shrubs that had been planted down either side of the driveway. They were there when I'd pulled up in the U-Haul two days ago.

But there had been no sign of Kat or her truck on the property. And she'd left no word of when she might be returning. This morning, I'd quickly checked my mother's diary where it lay open beside the kitchen telephone.

"Blast…" I said again with feeling.

I felt a deep stab of disappointment and wondered if Kat had any intention of reappearing before I left for Boston. I badly wanted to see her again but I wouldn't go running after her. I ran my fingers through my hair once more and silently cursed Ian Bridges for his unwarranted interference in all our lives which had eaten up most of my vacation time.

※※※※※

Michael hitched his hip onto the corner of my desk and raised his brows at me. "So, you're suggesting that Edward should become our new lawyer?"

He gave a low whistle. "I think it's a great idea. But do you think he'd even want to go for it? I mean, I'm all for it, if you could get him to agree. But he's made it with a junior partnership in his law firm back in Boston. That's a lot to ask him to give up."

He narrowed his eyes. "From what I've seen of him, he can handle himself in a sticky situation. I'll admit that could be very useful if he ever gets called out into the field."

"He's my son," I replied simply, with a certain amount of pride.

"Oh, yeah?" Michael grinned at me. "I don't see much of a resemblance."

I shook my head at him as I pushed aside the ledgers I'd been working on and accepted the mug of coffee he held out. I leaned back in my office chair, sipping the scolding hot brew cautiously.

Through the sheers at the open window, I could see Edward walking slowly down the front driveway of the house with his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. He paused to stare at the flowering shrubs that Kat must have planted along either side of the drive while we were away.

As I watched, my son's shoulders slumped. He looked defeated and the very picture of a man who was at war within himself. I could almost hear what he was thinking.

Instinctively, I knew he was unhappy to be leaving us again so soon. We'd bonded over a shared traumatic experience and I knew Boston would now seem very tame after all we had been through recently. But he had said he was still intending to leave next week. Our time together had been short. I knew I wanted more and so did he. I didn't think it would take much to tip the scales in our favour.

I frowned as I returned my attention to my business partner. "I think I could talk him around to our way of thinking. He's young enough to start again. And I'm sure he will find our work a lot more exciting than the inside of a Boston courtroom that he's seen a thousand times. The cases he's been dealing with are starting to get to him."

"I'm sure I can promise him excitement." Michael nodded as he drank his coffee. "Life is never dull around Knight Investigations. And we're getting busier all the time. RC, Bonnie and I are run off our feet. Stevie's starting to forget what I look like and my daughter looks at me sometimes like I'm a stranger."

He shrugged. "It would be great to have some of the legal burden lifted off our shoulders. It would ease up things for all of us."

"Then leave it with me," I assured him. "I wanted to run it by you first before I asked him if he was willing to consider the move. I'll talk to him before dinner. I know Carolyn will be very happy when we tell her."

"What will I be very happy about?" my wife asked from the open doorway. "I just came in to ask Michael if he was staying for dinner. Maria is setting the table."

"I wish I could…" Michael held up a denying hand. "I can smell Maria's cooking from here and my mouth's watering. But Stevie will slay me if I don't show my face at home now and then."

He stood up and stretched. "Another time, though. We would love that. It's been too long since we all got together as a family again."

Carolyn smiled as she accepted his empty mug from him. "Of course. I'll talk to Stevie and make a date for you all to come over. You've been working too hard."

She laid a caring hand on his forearm. "You look worn out."

Then she turned back to me. "Andyouhaven't answered my question, Mr Miles. What will I be very happy about?"

I smiled as I rose from my chair and walked around to her side. I leaned close to kiss her temple. "I'll tell you over dinner. First, I need time to ask a man a very serious question."

"I see…" Carolyn pulled back to frown up at me. "Very well. But you're both being very mysterious." She shrugged. "Dinner's almost ready."

Michael nodded as he walked toward the door. "I'll get out of your way, then. Phone me when you have an answer. And the right one, I hope." He waved as he walked away down the hall to the front door.

※※※※※

I stood back as Kitt drove past me with Michael in the driver's seat. He grinned at me and gave me a thumbs-up through the car's open window before he gunned it down the driveway with rock music blaring.

"Okay…" I frowned after the Trans Am, not sure what that friendly gesture was all about.

I'd seen Kitt parked at the back of the house and I knew Michael had been in a private meeting with my father. I turned to find Devon walking out of the house toward me. He looked pensive as if he had a thorny issue on his mind.

"Do you want to share whatever it is that you're thinking about?" I asked. I was glad to help and it would take my mind off my leaving all this behind.

I waited until he walked up next to me and together we stood looking at the sunset and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean below us. The restless surf rolled in and retreated, endlessly whispering on the gravelly beach.

The air was clear and filled with the sharp tang of clean ozone. Overhead, gulls swooped and cried. Nothing of this scene reminded me of Boston and I felt a fresh stab of discontent that I would soon be leaving it all behind.

"Michael and I have been talking…" Devon indicated the rustic wooden seat behind us set on the edge of the back lawn. "We've been settling a few thorny details about the business."

"You said you had a meeting with him," I replied as we sat down. "I figured it was about Knight Investigations. Is everything going all right?"

"It is and it was," my father acknowledged. "We have to expand again. I had a suggestion I wanted to run by him first. Before I spoke to you."

"I see…" I replied slowly, waiting for him to broach whatever it was he'd been chewing over in his mind.

He shook his head. "The lawyer who currently handles our legal matters is no longer young and he's finding it harder and harder to keep up with the pace of all the work we have coming in. We're going to have to let him go. But first, we need to find a suitable replacement. Someone younger and more up to the workload."

"I don't know much about the lawyers out here on the West Coast if you're asking me to recommend someone. But I can ask around as soon as I get back to Boston. How soon do you need the information?"

"Oh, I think we've already found a suitable replacement," Devon assured me with a slight smile. "It's just a matter of asking him and hoping he can see his way clear to agree to make the move."

"The move…" I repeated slowly. "The move from where?"

I wasn't so obtuse that I didn't realise what my father was alluding to. He had caught me unawares, that was all. I needed some time to think about it.

I had convinced myself I was too old now to begin again with building a new practice on the West Coast. But to have the opportunity to take over already existing work, was a whole new matter entirely.

The restless itch in the back of my mind returned. I frowned into the middle distance, trying to see the path and my way forward.

"Think about it…" Devon said, getting to his feet. "I know your mother would be thrilled if you agreed to stay here in LA instead of going back to live in Boston. But you need to do what's right for you."

He jerked one thumb at the house. "Come on in for dinner and then afterwards, you can give me your answer when you're ready. No pressure. We'll respect whatever you decide."

He considered me closely. "Of course, we will make it worth your while to move out here. And we can promise you, your life with us will never be dull and you'll be among family. We'll always have your back."

His blue eyes filled with a deepened awareness. "I think that's very important to you. And you haven't always had that in Boston."

"Thanks…" I exhaled roughly. "I'd already figured that part out. And once my mother finds out what you two have been planning…"

I shook my head as I stood up to follow him inside. Privately, I could admit that the idea of my staying would be a great deal easier than leaving. What was waiting for me back in Boston? Nothing and no one except Nancy.

Rachel had left me after she said I worked too hard. She accused me of being married to my profession which left no time for anything or anyone else. I'd been shocked into denying her accusation. But deep down in my gut, I knew she was right.

Of course, she was. Even Nancy could see it and had tried to warn me to wake up before it was too late.

All I had left to return to now was a soulless apartment that I hardly used, and my work. It was past time I stood back and smelled the flowers. Shed my workaholic image like I took off my three-piece suits at the end of another long day and hung them up.

I looked back at the flowering plants lining the driveway and shrugged. Why should I leave when everything I'd been missing in these last couple of months was right here in front of me, just waiting for me to get up the courage to reach out and grab everything with both hands.

※※※※※

My breathing hitched as I stared up at Captain Greig's portrait where it hung above the fireplace. His painted blue eyes regarded me with calm indifference but I still had that odd sense he was watching me. That same intuitive feeling I'd had back in Santa Fe when I was so sure I'd seen a vision of him in the basem*nt alongside Edward Grainger.

I lifted one denying shoulder. I blamed the fanciful notion on the lateness of the hour and too much of Maria's delicious food. I'd also consumed a glass or two of wine more than my usual over dinner and now I held another filled with Madeira in my hand.

But, truly, could my life now be more perfect?

Maria had gone to bed and the three of us had retired to the living room to talk over the evening's stunning revelations. I shook my head and drew a shuddering sigh.

I couldn't quite grasp what my wonderful son had just told me, but his words had already made my heart leap with joy. Edward stood beneath the painting, watching me as well. Devon sat beside me waiting for my response.

I felt all three sets of blue eyes – two human and one painted - considering my breathless reaction with warmth and humour.

I pressed the flat of one hand to my chest. "You just said you're thinking of staying here? With us? For good. Oh, Edward, that would be so wonderful if you could make it happen…"

I swallowed tightly as I felt the sting of unshed tears pricking at the backs of my eyes. After all, we had been through recently with my ex-husband, the inadvertent consequence of all that turmoil was Edward was now thinking of not leaving Montecito after all. I wondered if he would have considered Devon's offer if we hadn't been dragged away to Santa Fe to settle with his stepfather, once and for all. If we hadn't worked together as a team.

"I would love that very much indeed…" I sighed happily as I allowed his words to sink into my mind. I turned them over and studied them from all angles.

I wanted to jump up from the couch and hug him tightly. I settled for holding up my wine glass in salute of him instead. "If only Lucy and Danny would consider moving to LA, as well. Then we could all be together again."

"So, you think it's a good idea, then?" Devon teased, putting his arm around my shoulders to pull me close to his side. "I had to go for the hard sell to convince him to stay. It wasn't easy. I had to promise him a substantial raise and all sorts of side benefits."

"Your new life will certainly not be dull," I added quickly, with a shade of concern in my tone.

"That was another promise Dad made," he replied with a wry smile. "After what happened in Santa Fe, I think we can handle it."

"To think that Ian's dreadful behaviour caused all of this." I shook my head. "He would hate it if he knew."

"He won't find out," Edward promised. "After his trial, he'll be locked up for quite some time. He deserves nothing less. And he'll have his creditors to face when he gets out. They won't go easy on him. He won't have any time to think about us."

"When can you make the move out here?" Devon asked. "You can choose where you set up your office."

"All right. I'll fly back to Boston the day after tomorrow and start tidying up all the loose ends," Edward promised. "I'll see if I can persuade Nancy, my secretary, to come back out west with me. She'll be a valuable asset to us and she knows how I like to work. It shouldn't be too hard to convince her. Like me, she has no ties to keep her back in Boston."

"Employ all the staff you think you'll need," Devon replied, getting up to refill all our glasses. "We'll have more than enough work to keep them occupied. And the firm is growing all the time. I'm just glad you can join us." He lifted his glass in salute.

"We still have a lot of catching up to do," Edward replied with a nod of thanks. "I'll look forward to all of that as soon as I get back."

He placed his hand on his father's shoulder and Devon returned the gesture. It was a telling movement that said and promised so much without the need for a single word. I watched them smile at each other and my heart swelled with love.

"We'll need to throw a welcome to Montecito party when you return," I added quickly. "In the meantime, I have that new manuscript about the captain I do need to start outlining. I'm beginning to wonder where Kat has got to. She promised to come back. I'd better telephone her in the morning. I want to hear more of her story."

I smiled happily at my son where he was standing beside my husband, and then glanced up at the painting behind them. The Captain's painted eyes still appeared to be watching me. I shook my head in bemusem*nt as I thought I glimpsed tiny twin flames of devilment that now seemed to be dancing within his blue gaze...

※※※※※

I eased my truck slowly up the back driveway to Gull Cottage. I checked quickly, but there was no sign of Edward Bridges' hired car. So he had gone back to Boston, after all. I breathed a cautious sigh of relief mixed with chagrin.

It had been three days since Carolyn telephoned me to invite me over to the house to tell her more of Mrs Greig's story. It had been an unexpected call. I knew my sharp inhalation of hesitation had been audible to her down the phone line.

"I, um… I'm a bit too busy with work to drive over right away." I searched my mind for other suitable excuses and came up empty. "Ah, maybe I could manage a couple of hours in a few days…" I left the comment hanging and held my breath.

"I see…" Carolyn accepted my hasty rebuff without complaint. "Well, I can be ready any time you've got time to visit. I was very pleased with the work you did with the front driveway. Devon has photographed it all and the magazine article on the gardens is coming along nicely."

"Thank you…" I breathed, pleased with her praise and I felt a sudden twinge of guilt.'Damn…'

"Of course, you'll be here as my guest and not our gardener," she added after a short pause. "I do have a truckload of questions that need answers. And I want to get started on the outline of the book. To do that, I need you."

She paused again and I could hear the smile in her voice. "When you feel you're ready to talk. By the way, Edward has gone back to Boston and Devon will be too busy with his own work. We can have some time alone to transcribe what I want to know. And I have a tale of my own to tell you."

"Very well, then…" I conceded slowly, knowing she was trying to pique my interest.

Well, it was working. I sensed she was aware of why I'd initially hesitated and had tried to put my mind at ease by telling me about her son's absence. "I can… come over on Sunday morning around nine o'clock. I have some free time."

"Excellent. Nine o'clock, it is. I'll look forward to seeing you then. We can sit outside in the sunshine and have some lunch afterwards. Goodbye…" Carolyn hung up before I could think of another excuse or say I'd changed my mind.

"Goodbye…" I'd replaced the receiver into its cradle and sat at my dining table looking out at the dark restlessness of the vast Pacific that exactly matched my distracted mood. I tried to convince myself it was for the best.

I didn't know if I was glad or sad that Edward Bridges would not be at the house when I visited. But I knew it was foolish to miss the company of a man I hardly knew and had no intention of getting to know any better at any point in the future.

I got slowly down out of my truck and shook out the creases from the skirt of my sleeveless floral summer dress. Since I was now a guest, at the very last minute, I decided to wear the dress instead of my usual jeans and top. I slipped my feet into a pair of neutral-coloured wedge sandals instead of my flats. They gave me some much-needed height and a measure of renewed confidence.

I smiled as I stood for a moment, looking up at the old house. It smiled back at me in the soft morning sunshine, all its windows sparkling.

I knew it still held many secrets and that there were more tales to tell. I debated within myself if I should finally come clean with the whole truth or give Carolyn only the edited version of the house's story. I had no idea which would finally satisfy her writer's curiosity and allow me to finally escape from her close questioning.

"I guess I won't find that out by standing here…" I shook my head as I crossed the drive to the back door that led into the kitchen. I knocked on the painted wood and waited to be admitted into the house.

※※※※※

The Past Is A Foreign Country - TunnelsOfTheSouth (2024)
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