Saturday / Sunday
The gate called the house to alert them that Derek was on his way. Nick, Rachel and Merlin didn’t line up in the foyer for formal introductions but they did rush to the gallery for a sneaky look at Anna Cowley from a safe vantage point.
They held their breath at the sound of Derek’s voice outside the front door, then it opened and his voice grew louder.
“And here we are. Nick said he would fix supper for about an hour’s time and that he’d get a room ready for you.”
“I thought you said the butler’s name is Andrew.”
“It’s Andrew’s day off. His weekend off. We fend for ourselves.”
“This is much more than a house, Derek! Why didn’t you tell me it was so big? I had this image of you living in a regular size home and being rather cramped an’ isolated. This armor is medieval, isn’t it?”
Nick, Rachel and Merlin eased forward as Anna finally came into view. The angle wasn’t good and they only saw her hair and a sliver of face. She wore pants and a warm jacket in a dark gray color. Her voice was how they’d imagined it would be. No nonsense, a little brisk. Rather like a spinster school teacher.
“It’s the armor of the Black Prince,” Derek replied. “A little more battered than when he wore it.” He shrugged as she glanced at him. “A result of my eventful life.”
Rachel nudged Nick and gestured with her head toward the stairs. He led the procession down. “Thought I heard voices,” he remarked cheerfully.
“Nick, this is my friend Anna Cowley. Anna, this is Nick Boyle.”
“The standby butler,” Nick grinned as he held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“And .. this is Peri, Nick’s wife.”
“Hello,” Merlin greeted.
“Finally, Dr Rachel Corrigan.”
“Hello, Anna. Derek’s told me a lot about you,” Rachel said, shaking her hand.
“Half of it will be exaggeration an’ the other half probably an understatement,” Anna replied. “The real me is somewhere in the middle. I thought you said Alex lived here too ..?”
“Alex is on her way to Paris,” Derek answered.
“Would you like to wash up before supper?” Merlin inquired.
“Actually, what I’d like is to see the rest of the collection .. but I don’t believe I’d manage it in an hour. So, yes, thank you.”
“I’ll show you to your room,” Nick offered, gesturing to the stairs. “My advice is not to wander off alone. Not that we don’t trust you but it’s easy to get lost an’ search parties take time. I’m sure Derek will give you the ten dollar tour tomorrow. After that, you should be fine getting around.”
“I explore extensive complexes for a living,” Anna commented, looking around as she followed him upstairs, “but I have to say nearly all of them are open to the elements and all are mostly ruins. I’ll take your advice.”
Derek turned, smiling, to Rachel and Merlin. “Good day?” Rachel asked.
“Remarkably so,” he replied. “I returned from Boston feeling mired in politics and Anna has blown away all the cobwebs. There is something incredibly refreshing about being yourself.”
“Obviously, there must be some,” he countered. “But, after Guatemala, she regards that as my ‘eventful life’. No more is said of it. A blanket phrase which hides a multitude of sins .. and I can be myself. Anna understands me at a different level. Her .. attitude and mind speak directly to me. She has no time for pretense and artifice. I believe she despises it in others. It makes for blunt discussions on a range of very interesting subjects.”
Rachel and Merlin exchanged glances and grinned at each other.
“What?” Derek wondered.
“We’d never have guessed if you hadn’t told us,” Merlin commented.
“So where did you go?” Rachel inquired.
“Anna wanted to visit the Hall of Antiquities That took all morning. It was a real pleasure to show her around. Most people wander thru a museum and only look for a second or two, not really seeing what they are looking at. Anna asked questions about every exhibit. Specific questions. I had to really think.”
“An’ this afternoon?”
“We looked at the choices for the new site. She is as excited about it as I am. There is a .. shared passion of the distant past. It helps when considering where to house my father’s collection.”
He waited, looking at them. “Well? What do you think of her?”
“You want our approval?” Rachel frowned.
“No, I’m merely – ”
“We think she’s great,” Merlin interjected. “Like you say, a refreshing change.”
Derek beamed. “Good. Well, I must wash up too. Alex is away?”
“Practically followed you out the door this morning. Probably on the same ferry,” Merlin answered. “I don’t suppose you even noticed.”
“Here you go,” Nick said, pushing open the door. “Best room in the house.”
“Oh my … It’s fabulous,” Anna remarked as she crossed the threshold. “You went to no trouble, I hope.”
“Andrew’s on the ball. Keeps rooms ready. I just had to check.” He paused. “Derek said I wasn’t to give you a tent,” he said, sounding puzzled.
She laughed. “I’m not used to .. modern civilization, Nick, only ancient. I dig in the dirt for a living. Soft beds an’ modern conveniences … ” She shook her head. “No time for ’em, although a bathroom is always appreciated, especially if they have locks on the door. So, what do you really do here?”
“The past. Mostly.”
“History, certainly. I’ve been with Derek on a couple of digs. Not really my scene but I help out.”
Anan gave him a quick sweep, top to bottom, and nodded. “A useful guy to have around. Every dig site should have at least one. They may have little or no interest in what we’re doing but they make things happen. An extra generator – no problem. Someone has a sudden craving for .. oh, jello an’ ice cream – it turns up. I bet you’re one of those guys. Things happen, thanks to you.”
Nick paused then, running a hand around the back of his neck, nodded. “I guess that’s true, but I do have more than a passing interest in what Derek digs up.”
She looked around the room again then met his gaze with a very direct gaze of her own. “You share his eventful life?”
“I’ve worked with him for over ten years now,” he said and let her draw her own conclusions.
“He could’ve done with you in Guatemala. We all could.”
“I had some events of my own to deal with,” Nick replied. “Besides, that was supposed to be his vacation.”
“Yes … Your wife’s stunning. Is she a researcher here too?”
“No, but she helps out. I’d best go make a start on supper. Someone will come fetch you. Welcome to Angel Island, Anna.”
She watched him back away and close the door. Then she went and sat on the bed, bounced a few times, and nodded cautiously.
“I could get to like it here … ”
As Derek, his household and guest sat down to supper at eight fifteen, Murray Snowden woke suddenly just after midnight on Sunday morning. He was sweating ferociously yet felt icy chills gripping his limbs. Rising from his disheveled bed, he went stumbling into the bathroom and switched on the light. Wincing, he went to the basin and turned on the cold faucet, running the water over his hands then splashing it on his face. Then he lifted his eyes and stared at his reflection in the mirror.
He saw a sallow skinned face, the cheeks sunken although two bright spots of color burned on them. The eyes were mildly bloodshot with lack of sleep and anxiety. His hair was lank and hanging in strands. Incongruously, he laughed.
“Murray, you are a mess,” he said out loud, and felt better for acknowledging it. “Last night, you gave up hope. You wanted it to be over. Seems you’re tougher than you thought. Hope won’t die as fast as you want it to.” That felt pretty good too. “So .. what are you going to do about it?”
That was better. Now he was starting to take a step back and examine it all rationally – something he’d felt he’d lost in recent days. When a person runs for their life, they tend to misplace things. Of course, he ruefully admitted, he was talking to himself, not entirely a rational thing to do but, right now, he was all he had.
“What can I do?” he asked. “No, what can I do? I can .. run forever but I think, if I do that, forever won’t be very long. I can .. dismiss the deaths as coincidence. People die. It happens. But I don’t believe it just happens. I can .. find some way to defend myself. Lord Caernarvon died but Howard Carter survived. It can be done. I don’t know how but it is possible. Of course, Carter’s reputation was eventually ruined. That isn’t so good. What else can I do? Face the curse head on, if it is a curse. No, I’m not brave enough to do that, not alone. So … ”
He looked at the face in the mirror.
“Right. It’s simple. I have to get allies.”
The face looked blankly back at him.
“Who’d be stupid enough to help me out ..?”
He saw the face smile slowly – a ghastly rictus grimace but a smile nonetheless.
“Should’ve thought of it before. This is right up his street. If anyone can help me, it has to be Derek.”
Five minutes later, he was packing his bags and, within thirty, Murray was sleeping soundly again. Just saying the name had brought resolve and some peace of mind. The dilemma wasn’t ended but Murray felt he could sleep the night instead of laying awake till the time he had to leave for the airport.
“We’ll stay over,” Nick decided. “It’s a little late to be heading home.”
“I’ll stay too,” Rachel announced. “Kat is at a sleepover so I’d only be going home to an empty house. I’d rather be with company.”
“You were right about the chaperones,” Anna commented to Derek. “Kat is your daughter, Rachel?”
“Yes,” Rachel replied.
“You’re a widow.”
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t, not for sure,” Anna answered. “You’re still wearing your wedding band. You mentioned an empty house. I guessed, Rachel. If I was wrong, you’d be a reluctant divorcee. They tend to keep the married name instead of reverting, an’ they keep the jewelry too.” She shrugged. “In my work, you have to look at all the evidence you have an’ make educated guesses. Bonus here is that I can ask you. Usually, the people providing the evidence are long gone.”
Rachel nodded slowly. “Clever.”
Anna smiled and shrugged again. “It works for me.” Her gaze shifted along the table. “Peri, you an’ Nick been married long?”
Merlin grinned. “What’s your guess?”
“I had to open my mouth … Okay,” Anna said, accepting the challenge. “My guess is .. no, not long. But not recently either. Under five years but more than three. You both come across as very independent people. Used to looking out for yourself. Like me, in fact. The reasons I’ve never married are that I’ve never felt the need and I’ve never found a guy who really understands what drives me or who was willing to throw it over an’ come with me. You’re not early twenties. I’d say you’ve been around the block a few times, lived a little or a lot, traveled, met a lotta people, never found ‘the one’. Then you found each other. There was no need for you to marry, even then, but you wanted to because it felt right.” She paused. “Am I close?”
Nick glanced at Derek. “Where’d you find this woman? She’s amazing.”
“You’re almost exactly right,” Merlin responded.
“Where was I wrong?” Anna frowned.
“Nick felt it was right, I didn’t. I fought him on it.”
“Yet … What changed your mind?”
“He can be persuasive,” Merlin said with a slight shrug. “And he was the one.” She glanced sideways at him. “Still is.”
“Do you have children?” Anna asked next.
“I think that’s the cue for me to start the evening tour,” Derek said diplomatically, thinking it was one personal question too far, especially for those two. “Nick, will you lock up?”
“Anna ..?” Derek invited.
She rose from the table. “If I’ve gone too far, you can tell me to shut up.”
Merlin rose too. “I understand.”
Anna paused. “What do you understand?”
“You’re essentially a lonely woman with few close friends. You have an abundance of professional colleagues, however, and you tell yourself they’re your friends even while knowing it’s a delusion. When you do meet new people, you like to know everything about them quickly because knowledge, while power, is also a comfort zone. You feel more able to fit. You can seek an’ locate common territory so you can relate to them. Part of you enjoys this but the other part sees it as superficial because, soon, you’ll move on. That part is in conflict because it despises the part which wants to stop moving on an’ set down some roots. Am I close?”
Anna met Merlin’s steady gaze. “Spot on.”
“Like I say, I understand. Been there, done that. Enjoy your tour.”
Derek led the way out and Merlin sat down again. Rachel shook her head. “Do you want to come into partnership with me? I could use your talent at reading people.”
“I guessed, Rachel,” Merlin replied. “I didn’t read her at all. Nick, I think I’ll go on up. I’m tired.”
“In a while,” he nodded.
“Whenever,” she smiled at him.
Rachel poured another cup of coffee. “She needs a proper break, Nick,” she remarked once she was certain she couldn’t be overheard. “You should take her away somewhere.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Will they force her to go back to work if she’s pregnant?”
That was a tricky one. “I don’t think they will. Another reason for us to try as often as possible.” He stretched. “I’d best go lock up.”
“Sure. See you in the morning. An’ good luck.”
“I hope you weren’t embarrassed by Peri’s remarks,” Derek commented. “She can be a little forthright in her views.”
“I believe in plain speaking, Derek. I can’t object if I get it back. An’ she’s right. I do ask a lotta intrusive questions so I can find a comfort zone. I have to find that fast cos I’m not in one place for long. I do feel conflict. Part of me is so tired of traveling at the drop of a hat yet the other part is driven to keep on going while I still can.” She shrugged. “I guess I’m scared that, if I give up, I’ll lose what makes me unique and valued.”
“Sure, deep inside, I know that.”
“There’s traveling .. and then there’s traveling,” he commented. “There’s always the lecture circuit.”
“An’ that is another potential iron in the fire,” she agreed. “Maybe in ten years or so. Right now, I’m at the peak of my career. I don’t wanna give it up. Peri did say I have a few close friends an’ I value them. I’d like to add you to that very select group.”
“I’d be honored,” Derek accepted. “This is the – ”
“My God, what a fabulous library! Now I can see why you need such a big house.” She craned her neck. “Is this part of your father’s collection too?”
“In a way,” Derek responded. “Up here is the first of the exhibition cases.”
When Nick came to bed, he found Merlin sitting in a tight ball, her arms wrapped around her legs, her chin resting on her knees.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said as he closed the door. “What’s up?”
“I don’t like lying.”
Nick went to laugh but choked the impulse. “Merli, you lie all the time.”
“I know but that’s different,” she said, her eyes darkly accusing.
“A lie’s a lie,” he pointed out, his voice slightly muffled as he pulled his sweater over his head.
“It’s different,” Merlin repeated. “Before, I had reason to lie. I had to protect my secrets. But now .. I’m nothing special, Nicky, an’ lying’s wrong. I don’t like keeping the truth from people. Gives me indigestion.”
He sat on the edge of the bed. “So tell people.”
Merlin sighed. “I can’t. I’m scared of their reaction. I’m embarrassed that I’m scared.”
Nick gripped one of her hands and peeled it away from her leg. “Then lie. Merli, you’re still getting a handle on all this yourself. Don’t try to do it all in one hit. Let it sink in gradually. Until you’re comfortable, go on lying.” He kissed her fingers. “Just don’t lie to me, okay? I’m exempt.”
“Okay.” Her eyes lifted to his face. “Thanks for being so understanding.”
“Was I too tough on Anna?”
“I don’t think so. You played her game. It was a tie, not a win. Only difference is, she swings high, you go in low.”
“And did she have a firm handshake?”
“Didn’t quite break my fingers but it was close.” He grinned. “She’s what Derek needs right now. A dose of straight talking, clean cut, no secrets, no pretense.”
“A dose of regular .. just like me.”
“Right.” He kissed her fingers again. “Wanna share a shower?”
“Sure,” she smiled. “I really don’t deserve you. You’re my rock, d’you know that? No matter what’s going down, I can rely on you an’ that is so special to me.”
“Goes both ways, babe.”
“It did,” Merlin commented. “I don’t think you can rely on me now.”
feelings for me changed?”
“Nicky, that’s a dumb question.”
“Then it goes both ways. I told you – I lost it for Merli, not Aquila. I can rely on you to love me an’ be there for me. That’s special.”
Rachel put down her book and frowned slightly. Something was on her mind and it wouldn’t let up until she at least acknowledged it. It was several seconds before it occurred to her what it was.
Merlin was different. She wasn’t down like she had been. Okay, Rachel could go with that. But .. she was different .. again. Rachel shone the spotlight of professional expertise on it, analyzed Merlin as if she were a new patient and not a friend. What was different ..?
Slowly, the frown cleared to leave a wondering curiosity.
Merlin had been cautious. The woman who was never scared of being a shield, of standing face to face with the worst downstairs could throw at her, of fighting and maybe dying .. had been wary. It blazed like a warning beacon. For Merlin, it was unnatural.
She hadn’t read Anna’s emotions, she’d guessed. She’d guessed right but she hadn’t known. She’d asked Rachel to treat her like a regular person, nothing special. Why had she done that ..?
Rachel knew this was a big reversal for Merlin. She’d set her heart on not having children. Rachel knew why and, while she felt Merlin was missing out on a rewarding slice of life, she was sympathetic. The child would be loved yet deprived. It would not have anywhere near a normal childhood – it couldn’t because it would be too dangerous. Yet, now, Merlin and Nick had decided to become parents after all and do their very best to make the deprivation as little as possible. Rachel really was thrilled for them. Her monitoring of the pregnancy could be minimal because others would be taking care of Merlin. So why the caution?
It could be natural, healthy fear. Most women felt uncertain if they were doing the right thing. The timing could be wrong. And then, when they found out they were pregnant, serious doubt kicked in, especially with a first baby. Life from that moment was different. Unknown. Would it hurt? How much? Will I cope? All natural. All part of the surprise. When that wore off … Things settled down. And, by the end of the third trimester, it didn’t matter how much it would hurt. If Rachel was any measure, nothing much mattered so long as the baby was healthy and out of her body.
Would that explain the wariness? Possibly. Maybe she was feeling awkward that people might ask pointed questions about why she’d changed her mind, or simply make comments about how fortunate she was to be given this chance. Other women, once sterilized, that was it. Merlin was a very private individual. She was open and friendly but would allow others to get only so close. Even now, after four years, Rachel didn’t feel she knew Merlin. Maybe, of them all, Nick was the only one who did .. and maybe not even he knew all.
Rachel picked up her book again, acknowledging the fact that Merlin was displaying yet another type of behavior. It was hardly destructive so Rachel decided to file it away and forget about it. There was no crime to keeping private things private.
“There’s still so much more to see,” Anna sighed, “but, if I don’t get some sleep … ”
“We have packed a lot into one day,” Derek remarked. “Is there anything more you need before I turn in?”
“I’m fine, really, an’ very grateful.” She yawned, a hand held politely to her mouth. “Tomorrow, if I may, I’d like to go back to the Saint Francis.”
“If you may? Of course you may,” Derek replied. “You’re not my prisoner here, Anna. I’d hoped to – ”
“An’ you will. But I have to settle my account an’ collect my bags. Then I intend to head straight back. I am not leaving until I’ve seen everything.”
Derek smiled slowly. “I could become accustomed to having you here, you know.”
Anna smiled too – quickly. “For a while. Then you’d get tired of me. I’m not what I’d ever call high maintenance but I do have a singular focus. Very few understand but you’re one of ’em. Same line of work .. most of the time. Derek, I’m dead on my feet. Let me sleep, please!”
“I’ll bid you a very pleasant goodnight then. What time would you like to be woken in the morning?”
“A little early for a Sunday,” he commented.
“For someone who usually rises at five thirty or six latest .. eight’s positively slothful.”
“I’ll see that it happens. Goodnight, Anna. Sweet dreams.”
“Hey .. you too,” she winked and disappeared into her room.
Derek turned to head away to his own room and the task awaiting him there. Five files. Five people whose lives were presently on hold. But he determined he would obey Anna’s request and have sweet dreams too.
Anna Cowley woke at six thirty and swore vehemently. Her body clock just refused to accept she was on vacation. Too many years of an unvaried routine had developed into an incurable rut. She rolled over, hoisted herself onto one elbow so she could punch the pillow, then lay down again with a sigh. It had taken her over forty minutes to fall asleep last night, despite the fact her feet had ached and her eyelids were weighted with lead. She’d seen so much in the day that her mind had to sift and sort and file, examining each precious memory. Anna was sure the task had continued when her conscious mind had thrown in the towel and shut down.
She tried to settle again now but heard voices coming from outside. She rose and padded to the window, drawing back the drapes to peer down. Nick and Merlin were jogging down the drive. Anna shook her head as she let the drape fall shut. She wasn’t unfit – she was too active for that – but she didn’t take what she called ‘organized exercise’. Slogging thru jungles or over shifting sand was plenty enough for her and she couldn’t see the joy in running for the sake of running. Some people, she decided as she climbed back into the bed, were just sad. They needed a life.
Sleep came surprisingly quickly this time and she woke with a start at the soft knock on the door. “Yeah?”
“It’s just on eight o’clock,” Derek called. “Breakfast in one hour. Can you find your way or shall I call back for you?”
“I think I can find it.”
“Nick says he’ll take you into town and bring you back.”
“Tell me over breakfast,” Anna said as she forced her eyes open.
“An hour,” Derek repeated and she heard his footsteps fade into the distance.
“Bags of time,” she groaned, throwing back the covers and rolling out of bed.
An hour later, Anna warily looked around the door of what she hoped was the dining room and found she was right.
“Good morning,” Rachel greeted. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, an’ I don’t usually. Least, not in proper beds. I’m used to camp conditions. Constant damp, mud, rain, humidity or heat, flies, sand everywhere, and always hard beds, no mod cons, an’ noise. Lots of noise. Soft beds, my own bathroom, an’ silence keep me awake for hours. Last night, though, I was out like a light.”
“Help yourself,” Derek invited, gesturing at the sideboard.
“Thanks. Who did this?” Anna asked.
“I did,” he answered. “It isn’t often I get to flex my culinary muscles but, today, I insisted.”
“It’s his house,” Rachel said with a shrug. “If Derek insists, who are we to argue?”
Nick came in, looking scrubbed and fresh. “Good spread I see. Just what I need.”
“Enjoy your run?” Anna inquired politely.
“Yeah. Always do. Great way to start the day.”
Rachel smiled at the odd look Anna gave Nick. It was one of courtesy blended with the certain knowledge that Nick was nuts.
“Where’s Peri?” Rachel asked.
“Right here,” Merlin said as she entered. “Morning, Anna. I hear you’re heading back into town with Nick.”
“So I understand, yeah.”
“I’m sure he’ll drive carefully,” Merlin commented.
They all sat down at the table and started eating. Merlin poured black coffee but had no food.
“I’ll take you to the hotel an’ wait, then bring you back as far as the ferry. Derek will pick you up on the other side,” Nick related.
“You’re not coming back ..?” Anna frowned.
“Peri an’ I have a place in Tiburon so I’ll be there today. We’re fixing it up. Needs work, a lot of it.”
“Not so much,” Rachel remarked. “It looks fabulous, Nick. When are you having the house warming?”
He considered. “Probably midsummer. Won’t be finished much before then.”
“I’ll be making a start while Nick takes you into town,” Merlin added. “A midsummer party sounds a great idea. Anna, if you’re in the area, we’d love to see you.”
“Well, thank you,” Anna said, sounding surprised. “If I’m in the area, I will definitely make it.”
Derek looked around the table and felt a sense of pride. He’d gone thru the files again before he’d slept and he’d thought that Anna would be the best choice .. and she wasn’t even on the list.
“Later, we can explore the grounds,” he said. “This house has an interesting past. I’d be happy to tell you.”
“Look forward to it but I definitely want to see the remainder of the collection.”
“There’s no rush,” he commented. “We have .. almost two weeks.”
“Yeah, we do,” she agreed warmly.
Nick, Merlin and Anna had been gone nearly fifty minutes when Rachel said she was would be heading home too.
“I can stay if you want,” she added. “Just say.”
Derek smiled at her. “I’m a grown up now. No, I don’t like it when the house is empty but it’s only for a few hours, Rachel. Then Anna will be back. I can keep myself out of trouble until then.”
She nodded. “I’m glad she’s here. She’s .. a very realistic woman. No delusions. Nothing strange about her. How often does that happen in this house?” Rachel asked, laughing. “Anna’s a breath of fresh air, Derek. Just what you need to recharge your power cells.” Rachel paused. “You thought any more about the new recruit?”
“I’ve looked at the files again,” he admitted. “I don’t think I’ll make a final decision while Anna’s here. I want to give her the time she deserves. And, yes, it is a little like abrogating my responsibility as Precept.”
“All work an’ no play makes Derek a very dull boy,” she remarked, grinning.
“That’s how I see it too. Anna being here .. is like a vacation for me. She lets me see with a fresh eye. I enjoy that. And, when she’s gone, I’ll be revived and ready to pick up the reins again. We’re hardly busy right now.”
“Good. I’ll be away then. I have a patient at nine thirty tomorrow but I’ll be here around lunchtime.”
“I’ll tell Andrew,” he promised.
As she went out into the library, she heard the phone start to ring and her step slowed. It could be important. Then she heard Derek exclaim “Alex! How was your flight?” and she smiled to herself and kept on going. He’d be fine till Anna got back.
“A place in Tiburon ..?” Anna craned her neck. “How much does Derek pay you guys?”
“He doesn’t,” Nick replied with a grin.
“You won the State Lottery.”
“No, but I did get lucky,” he commented, his grin increasing.
Merlin got out and bent to kiss him. “We were both lucky,” she corrected. “Later, okay?”
“I’ll see you again before you leave, Anna,” Merlin went on. “Safe journey.”
Anna couldn’t believe the size of the house. “It must be worth a fortune. California isn’t cheap an’ San Francisco an’ the Bay area .. definitely expensive. An’ you don’t even get paid?”
“S’right,” Nick confirmed but offered nothing more.
Anna shook her head. “I’m in the wrong job, I can see that.”
“Each to his own calling.”
She glanced round at him. “An’ yours is .. eventful?”
“Always has been.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re a tough nut to crack.”
“So I’ve been told,” Nick commented.
Merlin was glad Anna hadn’t asked to see around inside the house because she discovered she had a visitor. Her eyebrows rose in surprise. “You don’t come around very often. What’s the occasion? Someone having second thoughts?”
Rafael gave a slight shrug. “Just checking, y’know? Thought you might be having second thoughts.”
“Oh, I’ve had second, third, fourth an’ fifth thoughts but I’m not changing my decision,” she replied. “I’m as scared as hell, Rafe. In fact, going downstairs is infinitely less scary than what I feel right now. My life is a daze. I feel numb, deaf an’ half blind. I feel incredibly vulnerable an’ useless. My whole purpose has been taken away so that I can be selfish. But .. if there’s one thing I’ve learned being a Flamefall it’s that I have to do it, whatever it is. I have always wanted a chance to experience a normal life. Now I have that chance an’ I’m gonna run with it. It won’t last forever.”
“No, it won’t,” he agreed. “We’ve been talking. An’ we’ve decided that we shouldn’t have cut you off so sharply. If you need us at all, just pray. We’ll hear you.”
Merlin released a breath. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes closing in relief. “Means a lot.”
“An’ .. we talked about how we’d feel if we lost everything in a flash. Made us feel very uneasy. So we’ve decided to – ”
“Just a second,” she cut in. “Will this hurt my baby? Will whatever you’ve decided make it have to undergo strict training? Cos, if it does, I don’t want it.”
“Imagine a faucet opened right up. Water pouring out. That was you last week. Then Gabriel turned the faucet off. No water at all. We’ve decided that it might be best for everyone if we turn the faucet on again but just a little. A tiny trickle. A drip even. Just enough to take the edge off. It may affect your baby, yeah, but not to the extent it’d need special training. This is all new to us as well, Peri. Even calling you that name is new. We don’t know what effect it’ll have. It’s psychic energy but it could manifest in any number of ways. Full fledged visions, premonitions, seeing ghosts, telepathy or maybe just empathy. That gift may be inherited by your baby. It may not but, if it is, it’ll be controllable. Is that okay with you?”
She thought about it, hard and fast, then she nodded. “Yeah. I can cope with that.” Rachel does, every day. Derek’s parents did. And I’d be a Flamefall again by then. I can deal with that.
“You still won’t have any weapons, you won’t be able to fight. Everything else will be just as Gabriel told you.”
“A normal life but with a twist. Derek deals with that. So does Kat Corrigan. Yeah. Go for it.”
Rafael put a hand on her shoulder and Merlin felt a slight tingle run from his hand into her body. “Done,” he said and stepped back. “Just hurry up an’ have your baby. We miss you.”
“First I have to get pregnant,” Merlin told him. “That’s how it works.”
“You’ve done that,” he told her. “Congratulations .. Mom.”
Derek wasn’t expecting any call from Nick much before midday so he wrote a note for Andrew and left it on the kitchen notice board, warning him there was a guest who was staying for two weeks, and that Rachel would be here for lunch on Monday. Then he caught up on the routine work in his office which had accumulated while he was in Boston. Finally, he went round the remaining exhibits and removed to the vault those he didn’t want Anna to see at all, ever.
By that time, it was almost one in the afternoon and he prepared to go down to the ferry. The phone rang about five minutes later and it was Nick saying he’d just left Anna at the pick up point. The ferry was approaching and it’d be docking soon. He added he’d asked if she wanted him to wait with her and she’d said no in a very firm voice. Nick was heading home now; if Derek required him, all he had to do was call. Derek said fine, he would leave at once.
He did, driving down the winding road to the jetty and standing out of the wind which whipped across the water. Derek watched the ferry plow its way from Tiburon, growing slowly bigger as it neared Angel Island. The ferry was not quite a lifeline because Derek had the helicopter and the launch, but it was a regular connection with the world outside the Legacy.
He waited while it tied up and stepped forward as the walkway was lowered. Several people disembarked to spend time exploring the part of the island outside the estate and he looked for Anna among them. He saw someone waving and he smiled, waved back.
Anna had changed clothes and was struggling with her cases as she hunched into her coat to avoid the wind.
“Here, let me help.”
She glanced over her shoulder and straightened in surprise. At that moment, Derek arrived too.
“Murray?” Anna exclaimed.
“Murray? This is .. unexpected,” Derek said, looking at him carefully. There was a certain wild eyed quality in the face. “Is something wrong ..?”
“I’m tired. No, I’m exhausted. I won’t make any sense but I desperately need your help. Yours too, Anna. What are you doing here?” Murray frowned.
“I’m on vacation .. or I was,” she replied. “You?”
“I’m running. Something’s after me. It wants me dead.”
Derek nodded. A bad-weather friend. I never did call Don yesterday like I said I would.
“Let’s get back to the house,” he said quietly. “And you can tell us what exactly is going on.”