I knew how the knights of old felt right before the big tourney. Was there another knight out there could knock me off my horse and take away the prize? I snorted silently, not if I had anything to say about it there wasn't. Ned's dream had been like an ice cold shower. My lawyer's mind took a back seat to the lover in me and I struggled to bring logic to bear on this insane problem of past lives and present sacrifices.
The phone startled me out of the abstraction that I'd fallen into. Stepping to the small desk, I picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Mr. Drew, Ian McKinsey here. Is now a good time to give you what I've discovered so far?" The rich burr came across the lines as if he was next door.
The PI I'd hired the day before. Had it only been a day? "Yes, Ian, thanks for getting back to me so quickly. What have you found out?"
I sat in the desk chair while he went through a long list of societies and honors that Sir Thomas had garnered in his forty-three years. We were the same age and I would have sworn he was older. Those deep lines by his eyes must have been put there by something other than age. Financially, he was well to do with investments that paid hefty dividends.
None of this was going to give us an edge and we needed one badly. Then a name came to my ears, one that I'd heard before. But where? He kept talking and I asked him to wait a moment while I racked my brain. Ned had finished getting dressed and he mouthed a question at me. Covering the mouthpiece I gave him the name and he smiled.
"That's one of Avery's coven that he told us about."
"Ian, what board was Sir Thomas and Lord Summers on?" He repeated the name of the company and I smiled a cold, hard smile. We had the leak in Avery's coven. I heard him out and thanked him sincerely for all he'd uncovered. We agreed to meet when we returned to London and I sent up a fervent prayer that we'd be able to do so.
Hanging up, I immediately dialed out to the number that Avery had given us. Two rings later, I had him on the line and gave him the connection between his coven member and Sir Thomas. He cursed roundly and told me once again to take great care while he took care of the leak. I was vindictive enough to hope that whatever they did, it would be very, very painful.
I didn't like feeling that way but at the moment I only had enough energy to protect Ned and the girls. Anyone else was on their own as far as I was concerned. Standing, I hugged Ned tight and took a deep breath of his spicy scent ... then another until I was calmer. He rested his head on my shoulder and kissed the side of my throat gently. We had the armor of our love to protect us and I sincerely hoped that would be enough.
"Love you, Car. I think that I've loved you for centuries."
"I love you, Ned, and I've been loving you for all that time, too." I kissed the soft skin at his temple and felt his pulse through my lips. We rested like that for a long moment until we knew we had to go to face the enemy.
The manor was handsome but cold, much like our host. Sir Thomas' eyes followed Ned everywhere and I blessed Nancy and George for making sure that he was never alone with the man. The touches were back but every touch was met with a look between us that reminded Ned of the love we'd shared earlier. By the time we sat down to dinner, there was a little crease between Wenton's eyes and I felt a rather vindictive pleasure that his plans were going astray.
Ned and I declined the wine for unspecified health reasons. The girls kept up a happy chatter about the ride they'd had that afternoon. The estate's stable was well known in the County and for the first time, Sabrina came fully alert. The love she bore the horses was quite evident and I wondered what it must have been like growing up in the shadow of her evil father. Perhaps the stable was her escape from the tensions in the manor.
Dinner was good but too heavy for my digestion so I played with my food rather than ate it. Ned seemed to feel the same way and our plates were taken away with more rather than less left on them. The girls ate heartily and I smiled while listening to Nancy be the ditzy blonde for our host. If he truly believed that she had fluff between her ears then she was safe from his machinations. I hoped.
George was at her best, feeding Nancy her lines and smiling exasperatedly when she came up with something really silly. If I just didn't think about them making love, then I had no problem with my little girl's sexuality. Ned would laugh at me, I know, but some things should be sacred and the bond between parent and child was one of them. It's one of the reasons that I had such a hard time believing that a father could sacrifice one of his children, especially the adored eldest.
Poor Sabrina must have lived under a heavy shadow in her short life. We adjourned to their living room for our coffee and Ned brought up the collection of artifacts that Sir Thomas had told us about. The man preened under Ned's gentle questions and he ushered us into the back of the manor for our tour. The room ran across the entire width of the house. Spot lighting accentuated several of the glass cases and the girls crossed to one in particular that held jewelry from the ages. Gold and garnets were the materials of choice and they glittered warmly in the soft light.
The collection was magnificent even I had to admit that. But looking about the room, I wondered how many of the objects had been bought with the blood of innocents. The cases of daggers and swords were a case in point. How many of them had ended the life of a first born son? Was the one that killed Ned in his incarnation as Edward here in a bed of velvet?
I shivered at the cold wind that seemed to sweep through the room. The next case held the remnants of clothing and the different accouterments of fashion. Nancy cooed over a belt buckle as big as my hand, studded with garnets and a crudely shaped dragon. I felt Ned stiffen beside me and followed his gaze to a simple belt made of bronze with a clasp in the shape of two hands.
Our eyes met and I realized what we were looking at, the proof that his dream had been a true memory. That chill wind was back and this time it stayed. We finally returned to the living room but not even the fire in the great stone fireplace could warm me. Ned and the girls didn't seem to be affected, just me and I hoped that I hadn't ingested something that disagreed with me.
The housekeeper brought in a tray of deserts and coffee. Mrs. Hoover was a very severe looking lady in the basic black that seemed to go with the job. There was no affection between her and Sabrina that I could see and I gave thanks once again for the woman who'd taken care of Nancy when her mother died. Hannah was one in a million and I needed to tell her that more often.
The coffee was hot and seemed to finally take the chill off. I stood on the quarried stone tiles by the granite fireplace and had the odd thought that maybe one of the missing stones at Stonehenge had been dragged away, cut and shaped for this house. Sir Thomas had already mentioned that this room was the oldest part of the manor, dating back to the early 1200's.
Ned was looking around as well and I saw a haunted look in his eyes. Yet another memory from his dream, I thought bitterly. The Wentons had a lot to answer for but this time they were not getting their hands on him, I vowed silently. He stayed close to my side and I fought the urge to put my arms around him and never let go. Even Nancy was having a hard time keeping the conversation going. There were so many cross currents that it was dizzying.
Actually, I blinked twice and wondered why the room was expanding and contracting. Ned's exclamation brought my eyes to his and the fear in them made me reach for him. But he wasn't there and I was falling ... falling ... into the dark.
I saw Carson turn white and his coffee cup fall from his hands. He tried to reach for me but he was already collapsing when I caught him. My first thought was heart attack and my second was more chilling. Sir Thomas was making vaguely concerned noises but Nancy was at her father's other side, checking his pulse while I cradled him in my arms on the hard stone floor.
She made a show of checking his pockets and finding nothing. "Sir Thomas, would you please call an ambulance? It looks like he's had another small heart attack. He promised me that he'd keep his medicine with him at all times but the vial isn't in his pocket."
Her eyes were telling me to go along with her story and I nodded shakily. "I think it's in the bathroom back at the bed and breakfast. He's been feeling so good that I'm sure he just forgot."
"Humph!" She snorted almost making me smile. "Poor Dad doesn't like to admit to having any weaknesses. Sir Thomas?"
The man was in a real quandary but Sabrina was at the phone, calmly calling their emergency number. Within half an hour, Nancy rode with her dad in the ambulance while I drove George in our rental to the hospital. I was shaking like a leaf when we got there and rushed inside. Nancy was hugging herself and George went to her at once. I wanted to be in the room with Carson but I stopped by the girls and let them hug me.
I was so cold.
It was almost an hour before the doctor came out of the room and took us to the small waiting room. "Miss Drew, your father is resting comfortably. His heart rate is slower than I like but at least he's no longer missing beats."
He questioned us about what Carson had eaten and drunk, his health up to now, any stresses that might have occurred -- in short, he didn't have a clue what was wrong with his patient. Nancy was firing on all cylinders and she made up an allergic reaction to shellfish that might be reoccurring. She got him to agree to some blood tests for the 'supposed' allergen and he left after telling us what room he'd be moved to shortly.
"Son of a bitch!" Nancy spoke so quietly that I had to strain to hear her. "I will cut out his heart with one of his own daggers if he's hurt Dad in any way."
George rocked her slowly and petted her hair. "I know, sweetness, I know. Ned and I will hold him down for you."
I bit my lip until it bled while fear crashed through me. "It's because of me. Sir Thomas is getting rid of my protector."
Then it was my turn to be hugged while I wept with fear and anger. George's croon finally got through to me. "It's not your fault, Ned. It could never be your fault."
And that's when I realized that they didn't know what was going on. Wiping my eyes and blowing my nose, I began the story of our first visit to Stonehenge and everything that had happened since. Well, not quite everything, I left out the sex. It took almost half an hour to tell it all but before they could tell me what had happened on their end, the nurse came to take us to where Carson had been moved.
He looked so white and still lying there in the narrow metal bed. The room was freezing or maybe it was just me but Nancy shivered too and looked around for a blanket. George went to get one while Nancy and I took opposite sides of the bed so we both had a hand to hold. I cradled his hand between my own and rested my cheek against it, moving my lips in little kisses all over the firm tanned skin that I loved.
I had to shut my eyes again against the tears and I prayed silently to my childhood god the way my mother had taught me. Nancy's voice broke the tense silence and I opened my eyes to look at her.
"I was jealous when I knew you were with him. That you were loving him and he was loving you. You had your own home and friends and it felt like I was being pushed aside." She was slowly rubbing some warmth into his other hand. "Sometimes I just wanted to go to him and demand that he love me again. Put me first instead of you."
"He never stopped loving you, Nancy. You're his daughter, his treasured and well-loved child." I had to be sure she knew that.
"I know that with my head, Ned." She grinned a lopsided smile and shook those golden curls at me. "But my heart was a different matter. Sometimes when George and I were lying in bed after making love, I wondered if the two of you are doing the same thing. That's when I knew that I needed to grow up. Dad is a man with needs and desires that he put away for a very long time so he could be there for me while I was growing up. He put me first always and I never doubted his love and support. But now, it's his turn to be first in somebody's life."
"He'll always be first in my heart." I watched the strong features of my sleeping lover. "We can't have children of our own so I won't ever know what it's like to be a father. But I know that I'm loved, truly loved for the person that I am. Sometimes I look at him and see a gray hair or hear him complain about a stiff joint and I know with horrible certainty that he's twenty-one years older than I am and some day I'll lose him. And I don't ever want to lose him because I can't be without him. I just can't."
"We're pretty lucky, aren't we, Ned?" She had tears in her eyes. "We're loved by two wonderful people. We'll take the future one day at a time, okay?"
I nodded, unable to say another word. Carson's mortality seemed very fragile at the moment while the discrete monitor above his bed beeped reassuringly. George came back with a blanket and we covered him with it. Then they told me about what they'd seen and heard while at Wenton Manor. They wanted to know more about the dreams we'd both had and I gave them as much detail as I could without blushing.
The night passed slowly and still Carson didn't wake up. In fact, he seemed to settle even deeper into the coma he was in, his heart slowing further. At dawn, I realized that I needed to call Avery but there was no answer at either his private number or the museum. All morning, one of us kept trying to get a hold of him. I vaguely wondered if there had been a problem with the coven and the unmasking of Lord Summers. But it just wasn't important.
Sir Thomas called to see how Carson was and George took the call since neither Nancy nor I could be civil to the man. Lunch came and went. The girls took turns freshening up in the nearest bathroom and finally they made me do the same. I hated being away from him but I did feel better once I'd brushed my teeth with a loaner toothbrush and splashed my face.
Coming back to the room, I nodded to Nancy and tried to get a hold of Avery again. But this time he picked up the phone. I told him what had happened and where we were and he promised to come right over. That made me feel a little better and I told Nancy that reinforcements were on the way. She chuckled and said that all help was gratefully received.
When I asked where George was, she said that Sabrina had brought their overnight case to the hospital and she was taking a shower in the nurse's lounge. When she got done, Nancy would take her turn. Shortly after that George reappeared in different clothes and sent Nancy off while I told her about our reinforcements.
Avery arrived shortly after that and he went straight to Carson and put his hand on his forehead. The room went completely silent except for the beeping monitor until slowly but surely a faint sound of drums came to my ears. "Ned, call to him. Ask him to come back to you."
George moved aside and I stepped back to the bed, taking his hand in mine and holding it to my cheek. "Carson, wake up. Come back to me, love. I love you and I need you to wake up now. Please, Carson, wake up."
The drumbeat got louder and his skin flushed a rosy color while the beep sped up until it seemed to be in time with mine. I called his name again and yet again and I saw his eyelids begin to twitch like they did sometimes when he was dreaming. I held onto his hand and felt like crying when his eyes fluttered open before closing again.
"Ned." So faint I could hardly hear him but I brought my lips down to his ear and said his name with all the love I was feeling. I heard George leave the room to get Nancy but all I could concentrate on was watching those blue eyes I loved so much open again and come right to me.
"Ned, we need to talk." Avery's voice seemed to come from far away while Carson and I communed silently with just our eyes. "Ned!"
We both looked at him and I finally saw the rumpled clothing and the bristles that meant he hadn't shaved recently. He looked like he'd had a night out but the pain in his eyes reminded me that he'd probably just come from a confrontation with someone he'd once counted a friend.
"Lord Summers was indeed the traitor and he told us that the ceremony will be held at midnight within the circle at Stonehenge. I don't know why Carson was attacked but I suspect that he was gotten out of the way so Ned would be alone and friendless. All we have to do is keep him safe until after the ceremony ..."
George flung the door open and dashed inside. "Nancy's gone. The bathroom was empty with the shower still running."
Sir Thomas had Nancy. With her, he had the perfect hostage. All he had to do was offer to exchange her for me. I looked down at Carson and saw the fear that he couldn't hide. His little girl was in the hands of a madman and all he could do was watch either her or me die. His daughter or his lover, I couldn't make him choose.
The end for now