Sunday, December 28, 2008

Starquest by Hywela Lyn


Part One - Chapter One

The scream of the red alert cut rudely into Jess’s dreams, waking her Instantly. She sprang from her bunk and ordered the computer to shut off the alarm, then pulled on her bodysuit and raced the short distance from her cabin to the flight deck. She flung herself at the control panels. The flickering lights above the main computer console and the figures on the visual output screen demanded immediate attention.

Her fingers elicited no response when she ran them rapidly over the tactile command pads. She looked up and addressed the main computer panel. “Jaii, these readings are crazy. We’re way off course and nothing’s working on manual, either. I thought I’d fixed the fault. What’s going on?”

The image before her wavered, the familiar features distorted.

Emergency, the J.A.II series computer intoned, with what sounded like a Hint of panic. Serious malfunction of auto navigation array, inertia dampers and control systems, including shrouding device failure. Life support systems severely compromised. All systems currently operating on emergency power. Auto-repair systems unable to

reverse degradation. Main drive calculated to reach critical mass in fourteen minutes and nine seconds.

“What? Why didn’t you wake me earlier?”

Such action would have been pointless. You could have done nothing further. I anticipated that the auto-repair systems would keep the situation under control. When the position became unsustainable, I transmitted an emergency beacon before waking you.

“What are the chances of the signal being received?”

There is insufficient data to form an accurate prediction.

“A guess would do.”

The image darkened as if about to fail completely, although a moment later it sputtered grudgingly back to life.

“Well, I can’t see help reaching us before the ship blows,” Jess muttered, her voice grim. She had only one course of action available. She was heading in the direction of the

emergency airlock and her escape pod when the computer’s voice made her stop and turn back to the flight deck again.

It appears...the signal...has been answered. My sensors indicate a large starship on our trajectory. Available data shows that since it would have been outside the range of our sensors when the beacon was transmitted, it must have attained previously unrecorded speeds to reach us so quickly. We are currently being scanned.

Despite the distortion, combined with the gravity of the situation, Jess had a fleeting sense of

something akin to amusement. The computer gave the impression of looking and sounding almost envious as it recited the data relating to the other ship’s size and speed. The strange ship was obviously larger and more powerful than anything previously encountered — and phenomenally fast.

“It would help if our scanners were operational,” Jess said in frustration. Frantically she activated another control, and the titanium shield covering the observation panel slid back.

“Well, at least something works.” She gasped at the sight of the starship speeding toward her craft. She took in the long, sleek lines of the main hull with its lethal-looking weapons array. The nacelles on each side gave the appearance of the backward sweeping wings of a gigantic bird of prey. Its graceful double tailfins glowed, radiating a pulsing, golden light. Jess tore her gaze from the panel. Her situation was too critical to muse over the aesthetics of the unknown vessel. She had to leave her ship, and quickly.

Attention, the computer commanded. Imperative you eject in the escape vehicle immediately. Repeat, eject immediately. Life support systems are not sustainable. Drive mass will reach critical in eleven minutes and thirty-seven seconds. All functions deteriorating. I am no longer The electronic voice slowed and then faded completely, the image dissipating as if it had never existed.

Jess swallowed, hard. For a long time the ship’s computer had been her only companion. It was

almost like losing an old friend. She had no time for such sentiments, though. The emergency lighting flickered ominously. The instrument panels were shorting out and gave off a pungent smell of burning. As she sped toward the airlock, she fancied she heard a voice in her mind.

Listen closely. This is the starship Destiny. You need have no fear of us. Your ship relayed a distress signal, but the communication systems appear to be inoperative. This is the only way we could reach you. Our sensors indicate your drive core is approaching critical mass. You must eject from your ship at once. We will help you on board. You don’t have much time.

After a moment’s hesitation, wondering if she was imagining it, Jess felt compelled to obey the


Leave your ship immediately and proceed as follows—

She stopped abruptly, and half turned. “I need to get something from my cabin.”

There is no time. Whatever you have there will be destroyed anyway, as you will be, if you leave it any longer.

Reluctantly Jess agreed. She reached the airlock, boarded the escape pod and ejected from the

ship. Guided by the mysterious voice, she skilfully manoeuvred the capsule into a position adjacent to the starship’s hull. Was she heading into a trap? She had no alternative. Her ship was about to selfdestruct and the escape pod was not fast enough for her to outrun the explosion.

The control panel in front of her flashed wildly, a panorama of red telltales. Moments later it died as an unseen force pulled the small vehicle inexorably toward the Destiny.

There is no need for concern. You are in the grip of our tractor beam. Cut the power to your engines and we will bring you in.

Jess complied, and after a few moments the module came to an abrupt halt. She realised she hadpassed through the outer hull and was now in what was presumably the starship’s main airlock.

She ran a quick sensor scan, which confirmed conditions on the ship were compatible with human requirements. She raised the hatch with some caution, stepped from the escape pod, and glanced around for signs of danger. The ‘voice’ appeared to have left her. As she

approached the inner lock, it opened slowly and she found herself confronted by a man with long, very blond hair, and a calm air of authority. He smiled reassuringly, but she noted the weapon at his hip. Although his stance was not threatening, she remained on her guard.

“I’m Jon Quinlan, commander of the Destiny. You’re among friends,” he said, using the customary Common Universal speech.

“Thank you,” she said simply. “I owe you my life.”

“Are you all right?”

She nodded. “Yes...I’m fine. But all my ship’s control and navigation systems failed at the same time.” She hesitated. “There’s no reason why that should have happened. There was a slight

navigation fault, but I’d rectified it and checked everything else thoroughly a few hours ago. I don’t understand, unless—”She bit her lip and broke off abruptly. It might be better not to mention the thought that only now occurred to her. He and the rest of the crew — and on

a ship this size, presumably there was a crew — were strangers to her. Best keep her notions to herself until she was sure she could trust them.

“Was it you who contacted me on my ship, Commander?” she queried instead.

He smiled again. “Call me Jon, we don’t stand on ceremony on this vessel. No, I’m not telepathic. That was one of our crew, Delian. You’ll meet him shortly.”

As he escorted her along a narrow corridor, she wondered again if she’d walked into a trap. For the moment, at least, it seemed she had no alternative but to obey her instincts and accept that they had saved her from certain death. Eventually they stepped out of the trans-unit,

onto what was evidently the main flight deck. She gazed around, trying to take in her new

surroundings and the small group of figures ranged around the flight controls, obviously curious to see her.

A vivid white flash lit up the main observation screen. Jess and the others on the flight deck

shielded their eyes and looked away for a moment.

Destruction of the unidentified spacecraft, as predicted, is confirmed. The Destiny is at a sufficient distance from the explosion to have sustained no structural damage. All systems currently register normal.

The voice was authoritative, female, and, Jess realised, must belong to the Destiny’s main

computer. Apparently, in keeping with common practice on well-crewed ships, it was deemed

unnecessary to provide holographic imaging to go with the vocal interface.

“Thank you, Metisa. It appears we only just brought the capsule on board in time.” The speaker

was an imposing man with dark, slightly curling hair and a sombre expression. Seated before a

complex control panel, he did not look up.

At the confirmation of her craft’s destruction, Jess felt a sharp pang of loss, for the second time in the space of a few minutes. She remained silent, uncomfortably aware of the curious stares of the rest of the crew.

“Sorry about your ship,” Jon said gently. “I wish we could’ve done something to save her. When we received your distress signal, we ran a computer analysis. The conclusions were obvious. The only option was for you to abandon her before her drive reached critical.”

The stern-faced man turned to look at her now. His blue eyes, cool as gunmetal, fixed on her until she felt herself blush under his relentless scrutiny. He smiled slowly, as if unaccustomed to such an action. He was, in fact, very attractive when he smiled. “Welcome aboard.”

The commander nodded in his direction. “Let me introduce Kerry Marchant, second-in-command.”

Although Jess still could not help feeling a little suspicious, she managed to smile back at him with a degree of confidence she did not feel.

“I guess you’d better meet some of the others.” Jon turned to a girl whose cropped hairstyle

heightened her dainty, almost impish looks. “Laitha Callahan’s our astro-biologist and ecologist.”

A small, neat girl stepped forward, holding out a friendly hand. She appeared to Jess to be barely out of her teens. Despite her rather unprepossessing aspect, she nevertheless radiated a vivaciousness that went beyond physical appearance.

“Hi, nice to have another woman on board. You’ll meet Zeldra later on, but she’s a lot older than

me and I feel kind of outnumbered here.” She rolled her eyes disparagingly. “No one ever pays me a moment’s attention, that is, unless there’s something unpleasant that needs doing, which no one else wants to attend to.” She chortled loudly, and Jon chuckled. Laitha’s hearty laugh was infectious. Even the solemn second-in-command had a twitch at the corner of his mouth. Jess could not help adding a smile, and felt she might have an ally in the girl.

Jon indicated two men who stood by the communication panel, obviously brothers. Almost

identical, both with short beards, their pale skin created a sharp contrast to their black hair.

“Delian and Ragin,” he informed her, “are from Earth Colony Niflheim. They’re telepathic and

telekinetic, like all Nifls.” As the two men smiled in greeting, he continued, “It was Delian who

telepathed a message to you so we could get your escape-module on board.”

Jess nodded at the brothers, wondering if she would ever be able to tell them apart.

“You’ll meet the other two members of the crew, Berne and his wife, Zeldra, when we eat, later on. We all try to take our evening meal together.” Jon paused, clearly waiting for her to introduce herself in return.

“I’m Jestine Darnell,” she announced, after a slight hesitation. “I’m usually called Jess. I’m a

citizen of Earth.”

“You are rather a long way from home,” Kerry Marchant remarked archly, “considering how small your ship was.”

“She was a Category ‘A’ hyperspeedster.” Jess tossed back her long hair, a hint of pride in her voice as she defended her lost ship. He was right though. She was a long way from Earth. She searched for a plausible explanation. “I’m a...a trader. I was returning from...” she hesitated again, “...from Aquarius Seven.”


Was it her imagination, or was there something more than polite interest in Kerry’s voice? She

sensed he somehow knew she’d lied about her origins. Why did he not challenge her, then?

“We’re from Earth too,” Jon said. “Originally, I mean.”

“Have you heard from Earth lately? How are things there?” she asked. I...I’ve been away a long


“You’ve not missed much,” the second-in-command commented. “Not a great deal has

changed. According to the most recent information, it’s still pretty much the same oppressed ‘trading post’ it always was.”

“You don’t care too much for Earth, then?”

His glance was frosty as he replied, “Are you surprised? Any scope for initiative or freedom of

thought is stifled by the Union and its tyranny. Its petty laws and restrictions do not conform to my idea of what makes an ideal home planet.”

“That’s partly why the Destiny was built,” Jon added. “Although she’s basically an exploratory

vessel, designed to investigate the far reaches of space, I guess we were all beginning to feel our lives had become dull and meaningless. The ship gave us a chance to escape the domination of the Union, to face new challenges.”

Jess studied him thoughtfully. He seemed genuine enough. She wanted to trust him, but

perhaps she should wait a little longer before telling him about Phidia. She could not afford to wait too long, however. Who knew what might be happening there now?


After the somewhat cramped conditions of her own craft, Jess found the quarters assigned to her on board the Destiny frankly luxurious. Everything about the great starship fascinated her, and Jon and Kerry showed her many of its mysteries. The basic principles of the sophisticated

hyperdrive, which enabled the Destiny to accelerate from standard cruising speed to many times that of light, together with the highly complicated system of time-dilation stabilisation, the bio-neural cell structures and automated flight controls were similar to those on her own ship. They were refined to such a degree, however, as to make her little hyperspeedster seem almost primitive by comparison. “The main source of fresh food for the crew is from here,” Jon told her as he showed her around the vast hydroponics section. Laid out to represent a garden on Earth, avenues of trees bordered banks of shrubs and flowers. Jess marvelled at the diversity of vegetables and fruit, many of them of extraterrestrial origin in exotic shapes and colours. A glorious mixture of scents drifted toward her as she took in the almost overwhelming shapes, colours and textures.

“The computer controlled synthe-units, while capable of producing satisfactory foodstuffs, are

mainly for the supply of items of clothing, tools and other articles. I guess most of us prefer our food to be natural.” He paused. “Did you have a hydroponics unit on your own ship?”

Jess nodded. “Yes, although it wasn’t nearly as large and well laid out as this.” She was also impressed by the well-equipped sick bay. Zeldra and Berne Kristiensen, the ship’s medics, took pride in showing her around. It contained some of the most advanced equipment she had ever seen, much of it linked to the computer.

“As you can see, we’re prepared for any exigency,” Zeldra said. Her eyes shone with

enthusiasm and her smile dispelled the severe impression she tended to project at first sight.

“Metisa’s memory banks contain the knowledge of Earth’s greatest surgeons and physicians. Earth’s greatest. There’s no surgical procedure so complex and dangerous we couldn’t deal with it,” Berne added, grinning broadly. Built like a small mountain, he, too, had seemed a little intimidating when she’d first met him. Still, Jess found it difficult not to feel at ease with someone with such kind eyes, who radiated such easy-going friendliness.

She could not help feeling a certain apprehension, however, when it came to the telepaths, Delian and Ragin. Could they read her thoughts? The feelings of peace and friendship that

filled her mind when Delian “spoke” to her telepathically on board her ship had been so strong,

however, she felt sure she could trust them. Nevertheless, she tried to keep her thoughts on

purely routine matters when she was near them. Some things she would rather keep to herself.

“Do you ever want to go back to Earth?” Laitha asked, as they relaxed by the viewport after their

evening meal.

Jess forced herself to concentrate on what Laitha was asking. Her mind had been on Phidia,

which was always there, impossible to ignore. “I miss it sometimes,” she confessed, “but I love

space and travelling. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

“Me too,” Laitha agreed. “I’ve no family, no ties, so there’s nothing to keep me there, and I was fed up with the conditions there, like we all were. Jon’s a very distant cousin and my only living relative. When he asked me to join him on the Destiny I was only too glad to get away from Earth.” Before Jess could reply, Laitha went on, “What about your family, were they happy about you choosing space as a career?”

“Both my parents are dead now,” Jess said, trying to keep the sadness from her voice. “My father

was killed when I was a baby, he was lost in a starship accident. Because of that my mother was

very much against me training to be a space pilot, but she came around in the end.”

Laitha leaned across the table they shared and squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, “I didn’t mean to stir up old memories.”

“It’s all right, you didn’t know. My mother died suddenly a year ago, on Earth, and I’ve always

regretted not being there with her at the end. We were very close.”

“D’you have any other relatives?”

“Not now. My grandfather lived to a great age, but he died just after I graduated from Orion. I was so glad he lived to see it. He persuaded my mother to let me accept a scholarship and attend the Space Pilots academy in the first place.”

Laitha shot her a quick, admiring glance before adding, “So you’re all alone now, like me.”

Jess allowed herself the hint of a smile. “I suppose so—but surely you have friends on board this ship?”

“Yeah, I guess. But no one in particular. What about you, have you any men friends—lovers—

stashed away?”

Jess laughed aloud at her directness. “No, nothing like that. I had a few boyfriends at Orion, of

course, but that’s all they were, friends. There was one...but we were too young, our studies were more important and we drifted apart. There’s been no one since.”

Laitha drank deeply from her glass. “Good!” she said with her deep, infectious laugh. “Men are more trouble ‘n they’re worth. We’re better off without ‘em.”

“Does that include your cousin?”

Again, Laitha chortled. “Distant cousin,” she corrected. “Nah, he’s okay, I owe him a fair bit, and he’s a pretty reasonable guy, considering.” Coming from Laitha, this appeared to be high

praise and confirmed the conclusion Jess had reached, herself. If there was one person on board the ship in whom she might be able to confide, it was Jon. She knew she would have to tell him the truth soon, though. She’d already been on board the Destiny for several days and time was running out. She might be able to persuade him to help her, even though she no longer had anything with which to bargain. The Phidians trusted her. She owed it to them to try to fulfil her promise...their way of life, their very world might depend on it. She brought her mind back to the present as Laitha drained her glass and, standing, grabbed hold of her arm.

“Come on, let’s go over to the recreation deck and see what computer games Metisa can rustle up for us.”


Kerry, by contrast to the rest of the crew, was something of an enigma to Jess. She noticed his

attitude toward her becoming increasingly cool. Quietly spoken, often taciturn, he was clearly

possessed of a brilliant mind. Although slow to volunteer information, if she asked a specific

question relating to either the Destiny or Metisa, he became completely involved with the subject, explaining simply but precisely. However, she could not persuade him to talk about himself, which naturally made her all the more curious about him. She frequently felt his scrutiny as if he were waiting for her to give herself away, although she could think of nothing she had said or done to arouse his suspicions. This was not the only thing about Kerry she found disturbing.

She was coming to know the ship almost as well as she had known her own vessel. A skilled pilot herself, she was happy to tackle many of the routine operating tasks, plus some of those that were not so routine. Despite his aloofness, she found herself learning a great deal from Kerry. She observed the way he handled the ship, the instructions he gave to the computers. It seemed like second nature to him.

On one occasion, at Jon’s direction, she was perfecting a complicated navigational manoeuvre

with the manual controls, under Kerry’s supervision. “She’s a large, powerful ship,” he said, “and needs handling with a delicate touch. Too much pressure and you would lose her.” Jess glanced at him, frowning. Perhaps the ship wasn’t the only thing that needed delicate handling.

He placed his hands lightly over hers to guide them, and to her embarrassment, she felt her heart thud uncomfortably against her ribs and a blush of colour burn her cheeks.

“This is exactly the position these controls need to be in relation to each other, when the readings here, and here, correspond to the coordinates already set.”

To her relief, he appeared not to notice her unease. For a moment, his eyes met hers. She saw

they were no longer expressionless, but alight with the pride and enthusiasm he felt for the ship.

She looked away quickly to concentrate on the data in front of her, forcing herself to ignore the feelings stirring deep within her. She felt privileged that he and Jon allowed her to handle the controls, and determined to make the most of the opportunity to pilot the immense starship, without any distraction. Besides, she had a mission to accomplish. She had enough to worry about; she didn’t need added complications. She thought of the blaster hidden in

her cabin. All the crew had free access to the ship’s arsenal, and because there was no one else on board the ship, there was no reason for stringent security. She’d found it relatively easy to take the gun when no one was around, but she knew if its loss was discovered she would have to act very quickly.

NAME OF BOOK; Starquest




Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dancing With Fate by Hywela Lyn

Chapter 1

Mount Olympus—the distant past

The last notes of the choir died away and on ceasing their song, the nine beautiful sisters made the slightest of curtsies to their leader. Apollo smiled in approval and the marble hall, with its gleaming pillars of white and gold, glowed in his radiance. When they turned to leave, he called to the one who played the lyre.

"Terpsichore—I would have a word with you."

The muse turned and glided back to where the God of Light sat in splendour. He held his tripod in one hand and his bow hung over his shoulder. His own lyre or kithara lay on his knee. The brightness that emanated from him was such it almost dazzled even a muse such as herself.

However, she met the brilliance of his eyes with pride, and lost none of her self-confidence.

Clasping her delicately carved instrument, she stood before him and nodded at his raven perched nearby. She inclined her head to one side, a question in her eyes.

"First, I would have you dance for me. You know how I love to see you dance."

Even if he had not been the Musagetes, leader of all the Muses, and her half brother, Terpsichore could still not have declined to grant his request. Golden hair, curling down nearly to his shoulders, framed his dazzling, almost frighteningly handsome features, crowned with a wreath of laurel leaves. His eyes, brown in some lights, gold in others, had a mesmerising quality.

His masculine physique was sheer perfection. Little wonder every goddess he looked upon with

desire, instantly yielded to him even without the assistance of Dionysus' enchanted wine.

Apollo nodded to her to begin. Raising her hands in the air, like a bird flexing its wings, Terpsichore drew music from her lyre with the plectrum. The notes rose and surrounded her like a magical veil of sound. Languidly, she moved in time to the music, allowing the silken folds of her long white garment to flow around her like soft ripples in a becalmed sea. She swivelled her hips faster. Leaning backward, she placed the lyre against a pillar entwined with vines of gold, in a fluid movement that was part of her dance. With a toss of her head, she swung her long hair, braided with flowers and ribbons, over one shoulder. Her arms above her head, her hands moved with the grace of a gentle breeze bending the grass. As always when she danced, Terpsichore lost herself in the rhythm. She hardly noticed when Apollo picked up his kithara and accompanied her singing. Her bare feet felt as though they no longer touched the ground as they performed the complex sequence of steps in time to her song and the swirling of her hips. It almost seemed as if time stood still and there was nothing but the magick of her dance.

Faster and faster she whirled, euphoric with the delight of doing what she loved best before someone who showed true appreciation. Then once more she slowed the rhythm and the dance became languorous, eminently sensual. The remnants of her song faded and lingered for

a moment in the crystal air. Terpsichore spread her arms in abeyance, then clasped her fingers in front of her, and stood for a moment in silence.

Apollo slowly lowered his instrument and clapped his hands, smiling and indicating she should sit beside him. She bent to retrieve her lyre, before seating herself and gazed at him, trying to hide her curiosity.

"You wish something further of me, my brother?"

For a long moment, Apollo seemed deep in thought and did not answer. "Do you remember a land of mortals—a small country known as Cymru, the brotherhood, erstwhile called Cambria, or Wales as some would have it? You may recall the folk who inhabit it, who call themselves the Keltoi.

Ah, the Celts. How could she forget them? "I do. They were a fierce and noble race, with

much knowledge of magick and the hidden arts. They respected the faeries and mages of their land. She smiled at the memory. "I inspired them with music and dancing which they embraced readily. I believe in times to come they will be famed for their love of melody, and the grace with which they express it in their dance."

A slight crease appeared on Apollo's brow, normally as smooth and clear as the polished black marble of the great throne of Zeus. "Only if you return to impart these skills once more; much has been lost in their skirmishes and fighting to protect their land. A great melancholy has come upon them. I need you to return and inspire them to dance again."

Terpsichore sighed, a little, soft sigh that echoed through the hall like the singing of the breeze in

summer leaves. "My lord—Apollo—I had not thought to return to the lands of mortals—not for a few hundred years, anyway. Is it truly necessary?"

Apollo's expression grew severe. A small frown played above his eyes and his face darkened slightly, like the sun going behind a cloud. "Indeed it is, Terpsichore. As the Muse of Dance,

it is your duty."

Terpsichore swallowed the sharp retort that rose in her throat. Duty indeed, how dare he suggest she was neglectful of her duty? Even if he was the magnificent Apollo, she would not be patronised. "Have I not already done my duty? Did I not travel to every corner of the world and inspire men and women to dance and rejoice? Have I not made the journey whenever a mortal has been in need of my gift of inspiration, and gladdened the hearts of mankind? Can I be blamed if some prefer to fight and wage war and then forget the joys of living?"

Apollo's countenance grew even grimmer. "So many questions. No, 'tis not your doing—but would you refuse the task?"

Terpsichore sighed and shook her head. "Of course not. You know well that neither I nor my sister muses may deny our vocation. The need to inspire cannot be ignored."

Apollo curved his lips in a smile, once more, and light radiated from his face, illuminating the shadows around him. "It is well; you will need to use subtlety, though. Times have changed since you were last there. It would be better for you to take the form of a mortal."

"What—give up my immortality?"

"No, not give it up. I doubt Zeus would allow that, nor would you want it from the expression on

your face. No, Zeus and I have discussed the matter and feel you should pretend to be mortal for a while. Mingle with the people, bestow on them the enthusiasm to dance again." He paused. "Of course you will not be able to use any of your powers..."

She drew in her breath, unable to hide her dismay. That could present a problem. She was not used to being without her magick.

Apollo seemed to read her thoughts. "At least," he went on, "not before mortals, or in a way it could be discerned. You must not allow your inner psyche to glow when you are among them. Know also, that your powers may wane and you may not be able to get inside their minds or use the gift of foretelling." He looked even more serious. "If you have a problem,

I may not be able to help you."

Oh wonderful, although perhaps my being allowed some freedom might not be a bad thing. She gave him a knowing smile. "I suppose I'll manage. I may need to act the helpless female, but in reality I have a few tricks that may serve me well."

Apollo frowned again. "Take care not to get careless and reveal who you really are. The men of Cymru may not be as awestruck by a goddess as they once were. It could be risky. You would not want to be branded as a witch or an enchantress."

"You think I may be in danger?"

Apollo's frown deepened and his face registered concern. "No, sweet Terpsichore, I would not send you if I thought you might come to harm." He paused. "You will need a name to be known by." He thought for a moment. "Cora. You will be called Cora. A name like enough to those of the common people."

Terpsichore nodded. She liked the sound of it, and it carried enough of her true name not to sound alien to her.

"Now go, prepare yourself, spend time in the Halls of Learning and familiarise yourself with the changes that have occurred since you last visited the land of Wales. Then bid your dear sisters farewell, before you take your leave of your mother and myself. Zeus will facilitate your departure and instruct the Horai to allow you passage through the gates of Olympus."

Terpsichore turned and clutched her lyre to her. "I am to leave soon?"

"Why not? There is no reason to delay."

"No, of course not." A sudden thought struck her. "If I have to act as a mortal, how will I travel? On the grand scale of things, Wales may not be a large country, but it is mountainous and as I remember, not the easiest of terrain. It might be difficult to dance if I am footsore." A vision flashed into her mind: a beautiful winged horse, the color of the snow of the highest peak of Olympus. "Perhaps, I could have Pegasus?" she asked hopefully, although truly she knew the answer before he gave it. She'd always enjoyed riding Pegasus on the rare occasions her father felt disposed to allow it.

Apollo's eyes darkened for a moment, then the corners of his mouth turned up and he smiled once more. "A winged horse might give away the fact that you are not mortal, don't you think? Also, Zeus might be unwilling to loan his favorite steed, even to one of his beloved daughters. Worry not. Take care to materialise outside settlements so as not to be seen by mortals. Should you need it, appropriate transport will be arranged and you will not be disappointed."

A wave of his hand indicated the discussion was closed. With a little sigh, Terpsichore left her seat by his throne. When would she see the magnificent Olympus, her home, again? She would miss it. There again, now she'd had time to think upon it, perhaps she should look forward to the task Apollo and her father had set her. What was Apollo keeping hidden though? She

could always tell when he was holding something back. What had he not told her? Still, he would surely have her best interests at heart. No doubt, he would reveal it when he judged the time to be right.

She left the Hall through one of the rear doors. Was it her imagination or did she hear the

sound of footsteps? Like someone scurrying away down a side corridor. She glanced around and narrowed her eyes as she saw what looked like a tall figure slip into the shadows, but she could not be sure. It might just be a trick of the light. Had she imagined the dark form, the glint of

torchlight on metal, gold or perhaps brass? Could someone have been eavesdropping on her conversation with Apollo? She hurried on silent feet to where she saw the figure disappear, but there was nothing. Nothing except a prickling at the back of her neck and the uncomfortable feeling she had not been mistaken.



Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kindred Spirits by Marilyn Meredith

Chapter One

Before Deputy Tempe Crabtree could see evidence of the forest fire, she could smell it. Smoke was heavy in the air and got thicker as she drove up the highway into the mountains.

Monday was one of her days off, but when something happened in her jurisdiction she was often the first responder. Her instructions from the sheriff’s sub-station in Dennison were to make sure everyone who lived in the path of the fire started in the higher elevations of Bear Creek canyon had obeyed evacuation orders.

As resident deputy of the large but sparsely populated area around the mountain community of Bear Creek, Tempe ’s job usually consisted of making traffic stops, arresting drunk drivers, solving problems among neighbors, and looking for lost children or cattle. Along with the highway patrol, Tempe was the law in the community located in the southern Sierra where the foothills turned into mountains.

The last estimate Tempe had heard about the fast moving fire in rugged country was that it covered more than 1100 acres.

She was stopped at the staging area by a highway patrolman she knew by sight though couldn’t remember his name.

Though his uniform still had sharp creases, large circles of dampness crept from his underarms. Opaque sunglasses covered his eyes. He put both hands on the open window of her Blazer as he bent down to speak to her. “Where’re you headed, Deputy?”

“My orders are to check out some of the houses in the path of the fire. Make sure everyone’s out.”

"Be careful you don’t put yourself in danger. It’s one fast-moving fire. It’s in a rough area where they haven’t been able to get in any personnel yet. They’re doing lots of water drops. All the roads are closed from here on up.”

“Thanks for the warning. I know some of the folks who might not have received the word yet.”

Tempe drove by the private airstrip that had been taken over as the fire command post. Men and equipment, fire engines, water tenders and bulldozers were being dispatched from there as well as truckloads of hand crews.

Leaving her window down, Tempe drove around the traffic cones that temporarily blocked access to the road. She planned to stop at the Donaldsons’, but they were loading horses into a trailer, obviously on their way out.

The higher she drove on the winding road, the darker the sky, the thicker the smoke, the harder it was to breathe. Ashes showered on her white Blazer. She passed fire trucks and men heading upward to fight the fire.

In her heart she was thankful her son, Blair, was already back on the coast for his last year in college or he’d be on the fire lines. Fighting fire had been his first love since the age of sixteen when he began hanging around Bear Creek’s fire station.

Tempe stopped at several homes hidden down winding trails or perched on hilltops, surrounded by pine and cedar trees and underbrush. Most homes were deserted with signs of hurried evacuation.

Loaded pick-up trucks drove down the hill, some pulling horse or cattle trailers, not getting out any too soon from the looks of the black sky and the large amount of falling ash.

She had one more place she wanted to check. A beautiful home and separate studio built of sugar pine stood atop a knoll surrounded by Chaparral, and a thick pine forest. Tempe had been there once on a domestic abuse call. The owner, a well-known artist, Vanessa Ainsworth, now lived alone since her boy-friend had been served with a restraining order. If Vanessa wasn’t gone already, Tempe hoped to help her collect her animals and paintings and carry some of them out for her.

When Tempe made the last turn before Vanessa’s she was halted by a horrifying sight.

Available September 1, 2008 from

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Forgotten by Chelle Cordero

Title: Forgotten

Author Name: Chelle Cordero

Prologue through Chapter One


He felt his muscles clench as he stared into the woman’s face that lay beneath him. If he hadn’t already felt her trembling, he would have known she reached her own climax just by the expression of her face. With one more powerful thrust he felt everything he had spilling into her, he felt a completeness he would have never thought possible. Everything stopped and then he swore he felt their hearts start beating again as one. Pausing a moment to look into her eyes, and they were beautiful eyes he thought, he brushed a long strand of chestnut hair away from her face and kissed her. Then he rolled off of her.

“I love you.” Her voice was soft, like the touch of her lips. He couldn’t believe the tingling he felt in his loins at hearing her words.

“You’re not even human...”

“What?” She almost laughed at his choice of words.

He hadn’t even meant to say that thought out loud. “I mean... I just never felt so... consumed before. I feel like I am under some kind of spell.” As he sat up to face her, he was surprised by the life he felt in his groin. Feeling a touch embarrassed, which was a new feeling for him, he admitted, “I almost feel like I can go another round, and considering how powerful that was...”

She faced him and gave him a sultry smile; her bare breasts were firm and small. But not too small, he thought, just enough to fill his hands. He felt his groin tighten again and just stared.

“Hey, are you okay?” She suddenly sounded self-conscious.

“Uh, yeah.” He forced himself to look at her face.

She touched his arm, her fingers felt light like feathers. “Can I do anything for you?”

“Yes.” He glanced at her breasts again and then back at her face. “Tell me... who are you?”

She laughed, it was a full-bodied sound. “Just one day married and...” She saw the surprise in his eyes as he looked at his left hand and saw the ring. Pulling the bed sheet up to cover her nakedness, she looked at him puzzled. “You’re serious?”

He frowned. “Fraid so.”

Chapter One

“Was your last name really Smythe?” He looked from the marriage certificate to her and back again. He wondered if maybe she had checked into the hotel with him under an assumed name. After all, weren’t variations of the name Smith often used to hide one’s identity?

“Yes.” She sounded a bit defensive. She had pulled her hair into a loose ponytail and he thought it made her look incredibly young. Almost a little too young for his comfort.

“Hey look... Caitlyn,” he had to glance at the certificate again for her name. “All I know is the first thing I remember about you is that I woke up having really incredible sex with you this morning.” He certainly did remember the fantastic sex and how it much he enjoyed it.

“I thought we were making love.” Her lip barely trembled.

He sighed. “It was wonderful, really. Look, I don’t mean to hurt you, but I don’t remember anything else.” Brandon, that was the name on the marriage license, stood. He felt frustrated. “I don’t know who you are, or me, except for these names on this paper. I don’t know why we’re here. I don’t remember these clothes I’m wearing. You told me that I drink my coffee black, I don’t remember that.” He knelt beside her and felt bad because she looked almost ready to cry. “I’m sorry. Really I am.”

She was a pretty girl, he thought. It was easy to see how she would have caught his eye. Her dark chestnut hair framed a nearly perfect oval face. Her eyes were bright and her lips invited kisses. Her slender body and its womanly curves invited much more than just kisses. He felt that now familiar stirring in his groin as he studied her.

When she realized he really didn’t remember anything, Caitlyn had been remarkably calm. She had gotten out of bed protectively wrapping the sheet around her, got clothes from a suitcase and went into the bathroom to get dressed. She had politely asked him to please get dressed and told him that the other suitcase was his. When she came out of the bathroom, neatly dressed in black slacks and a short sleeved pink blouse, she made a call to room service and had coffee, tea and some breakfast Danish sent up. While they waited, she showed him the marriage license, her wallet with her driver’s ID and photos of the two of them. Even without his memory, he had to admit that they looked right together. She suggested that he check his own wallet as well. At least now he knew his name, birth date and where he lived.

After the bellboy wheeled the cart into the room, he gave Brandon the receipt to sign. When he hesitated, Caitlyn took it and signed. Her scrawled signature read Caitlyn Price. Motioning with her hands, she suggested that Brandon offer the bellboy a tip. He placed a few bills in the young man’s hand. She reassured him he could afford it. Closing the door behind the bellboy, Caitlyn walked back to the cart with the coffee and teapot and the Danish tray. She poured him a cup of hot coffee from the pot and put two spoons of sugar in it, then stirred. Brandon sat in an armchair next to a small round occasional table. She selected cherry Danish from the plate of baked goods and served it to him on a china plate. After pouring herself a cup of herbal tea, she sat in the opposite armchair facing him. She didn’t take any baked goods for herself. Brandon heard her tea cup rattle for just a moment. It was then that he first noticed that she was holding back tears, but he had no idea what he could do to comfort her or even if he should try.

She looked at him and sighed before putting her teacup and saucer onto the table. “We got married last night. You thought it would be romantic to do it in Vegas.” Caitlyn twisted the small diamond ring she wore next to a simple gold band. “We’ve been seeing each other for almost two years and a few months ago you asked me if I would consider marrying you. We didn’t make it official, but a few days ago, on my birthday, you showed up at my door with this ring and asked me to come with you to Vegas. I said yes.”

She held her left hand out towards him so he could see the ring. He was tempted to take her slender fingers in his hand and caress them. The ring she wore was delicate, just like its owner he thought, and the stone was cut in a pear shape. The diamond was small, he thought, and yet she seemed to wear it proudly. Couldn’t he have done better than a tiny diamond? Her gold band matched the one he was wearing.

He really tried, but he couldn’t remember anything. “What about our families? Did we call them? Didn’t your parents want to see you married?”

She looked surprised at his question and then shrugged. “My parents are dead, they have been since I was twelve. I was an only child.”

“I’m sorry.” He was sincere about that. “What about... do I have any family?”

“Your father is alive, but you’ve been angry at him and haven’t spoken to him, I don’t know why. As far as I know, you haven’t seen him since before you moved to New York. I don’t think you have any brothers or sisters, but I don’t know because you really haven’t wanted to talk to me about your family. You haven’t really talked much about yourself.”

Brandon looked at his driver’s license again. Price, Brandon Price. He was twenty-seven years old according to his license. “Where did I grow up?” Maybe he should look up his family...

“You told me it was outside of Chicago, but you never wanted to talk about it. You were always kind of quiet about your childhood.”

“Didn’t that bother you?”

“It did. It does. That’s one of the few things we’ve always argued about.” Caitlyn knew how much she wished her folks were alive, but a drunken driver destroyed that possibility years ago. She couldn’t understand how Brandon could ignore a living parent. “But it also became one of those things we agreed to disagree on. You had just made it clear that the topic was off-limits.” She shrugged as if she had given up.

He looked through the rest of his wallet and saw that he had both cash and credit cards. “I assume I have a job. I hope so, especially if I can afford this.” While he apparently hadn’t gone so far as to reserve a suite, the room was certainly well appointed. The king size bed was definitely comfortable, and memorable. He glanced at the woman sitting quietly sipping her tea. She had seen his glance at the bed and the slight flush in her cheeks told him she was remembering the passion they had shared as well. “I didn’t see any business cards in my wallet.”

“You’re an IT consultant. I think you carry some cards in your jacket pocket, your suit jacket, it’s hanging in the wardrobe closet.” He hadn’t thought to look in the armoire when he chose clothes to put on; he had taken a pair of khaki trousers and a dark blue shirt from the suitcase. “I’m sure you brought some cards because you originally planned this trip for business. You have some kind of an appointment later today.”

“With who?” He went to the closet and found a suit bag hanging there.

“You didn’t tell me.” She paused. “You don’t talk much about your business either.”

Brandon found a packet of business cards, all they had on them was his name, the words Information Technology Consultant and a New York City phone number. He looked at her suspiciously, “I’m secretive about my family and I’m secretive about my job... How well do you really know me?” He couldn’t have sounded more accusatory.

Caitlyn looked hurt. “Obviously not well enough.” She looked like she was mulling over her next words. Finally she blurted them out. “How can you not remember me?” She sounded frustrated. A lone tear finally rolled down a cheek.

“I can’t remember anything, damn it!” He slammed the wardrobe closet door shut. “Who the hell am I? And who are you?” He strode across the room to look out the window at the Vegas strip. “Right now, I can’t remember anything. I am relying on you to tell me everything and something tells me I am not the kind of man that relies on someone else very easily.” Even the circus-like lights outside the window looked foreign to him.

After a few moments of silence, he heard her soft voice. “I think maybe, then, that you are remembering something about yourself. You’ve never liked asking for help.” He never even heard her move and yet she was suddenly behind him. Her voice was quiet and reassuring. “I think you do some kind of work with government contracts, something with computers, but you don’t talk about it. Not to me anyway.”

He took a moment to calm the nervous churning in his stomach before he turned to face her. “Do you know if I work with anyone else? Maybe someone else can fill me in on some part of my life.” He was willing to grasp at anything to escape the feeling of emptiness he had. He had even had to compare the face he saw in the mirror to the face on the driver’s license she showed him to realize it was really him.

“You have a secretary.”

“I do?” He sounded anxious and slightly relieved.

“Her name is Amanda.”

He felt the hairs at the back of his neck stand up when he heard that name. “Amanda?” Although it was an overall uncomfortable feeling, the name Amanda evoked a strange reaction somewhere deep inside. “Uh, I hate to ask this but, well, is my relationship with her only professional?” Could something else be going on, something that raised the back hairs of his neck?

“It had better be.” She wasn’t joking. “Why don’t you call her? That’s your office number on the card. If she’s not there, you can leave a message and ask her to call you back.” Caitlyn motioned him to the phone. “I’m sure that you’ve shared some facts with her she probably needed for your business,” she added a little testily.

He called and left a message on his office voice mail. A woman’s voice greeted him in a recorded message. Somehow he recognized that it was Amanda’s voice. He remembered her voice, but how could that be when he couldn’t remember anything else? Caitlyn scribbled the hotel and room number for him on a paper napkin so he could leave it in the message. He finished his message and kept the phone to his ear through the rest of the recorded options. Wondering if his message sounded urgent enough, he thought about re-recording his message and then decided to let it stay as it was. He hung up the phone.

“I guess now I just wait.” He sat back down at the breakfast tray and resigned himself to the uncertainty. “How did we meet? Please, tell me everything through last night.”

“You know, I am really worried about you...” She came back to stand next to him. “Maybe you should go to the hospital? I don’t understand why you lost your memory?”

“No. I’m not going to leave this room until I figure out some things about myself.” The sights and sounds of whatever lay beyond the walls of the room nearly frightened him. There would be more people, more strangers, and more unknown routes to deal with. He felt safer staying put. He felt safe with this girl. Even though he still couldn’t remember her, he felt safe.

“But sweetheart, something is wrong...” She seemed to understand his reluctance to face more things he wasn’t familiar with. “I would go with you. I could keep telling you things I know about you, things you might even remember. I wouldn’t let you be alone.”

“I said no.” He hadn’t really yelled, but Caitlyn stopped short. “I don’t know what’s happened to me and right now, I just need to find out about myself. Please, talk to me.” He felt completely helpless. He was afraid of facing a bigger unknown world and getting permanently lost.

Caitlyn sighed and sat in the armchair facing him. He studied her as she spoke. He watched the way her lips moved, the expressions she made with her face. Nothing looked familiar. “We met at a college career day almost two years ago.” She saw his puzzled expression. “I’m an art student at a school in New York City, I was looking for a job. I had just moved to the city from upstate.”

He listened to every word and felt frustrated that he remembered none of it. “Did I hire you?” He toyed with the golden fabric covering the table. The room was decorated in golden earth tones. A watercolor of a lonely desert scene hung on the wall; it reminded him of how lost he felt. He wondered if that was the kind of art that Caitlyn studied.

She chuckled. “You weren’t looking for an artist, at least not a graphic artist.” He tried to imagine what she apparently meant by her pun on words, but gave up. “But you kind of monopolized my attention and before the day was over, you asked me to join you for dinner.”

“Did you accept?” He wondered what kind of man he was and if dinner had been his only invitation. She was a beautiful young woman and surely he must have been interested in more from her.

“I’m an art student... a starving artist. You offered a meal, I accepted.” He struggled to remember and then shrugged when he couldn’t. “You called me a few days later, just to talk, and then a few days after that you asked me out.”

He remembered that her license said she had just turned twenty-one. She looked so very young. “Last night... you said we got married?” Brandon looked again at the ring on his finger. Surprisingly, he felt very comfortable wearing it.

She looked into her lap. “We had spoken a few times about marriage, but we never set any dates or anything...”

“Why not?” Could he have been toying with her?

“I’m a student with a poorly paying job. I barely make ends meet. The first time we spoke about marriage, I told you I needed to wait, to become more self-sufficient. You made the offer to pay for my school and said I wouldn’t even have to work. You kind of reminded me that you made a comfortable wage and could afford to let me do whatever I wanted.” She grimaced. “I don’t know, it actually sounded kind of insulting. It was like you didn’t take me seriously. I accused you of trying to buy me and it’s been a touchy subject since.”

“What made you change your mind now?” He looked at her stomach. “Are you pregnant or something?” He felt a nervous pang that he might be about to become a father.

“No.” She shook her head. That would be something he’d think of, she mused.

He looked straight at her and again thought of how young she looked. “Uh, this wasn’t our first time together, was it?” Hell, what if she had been a virgin and he didn’t even remember it!

She smiled shyly. “No, far from it. We’ve been lovers for a while now, although... you were my first.” She let him absorb that information. “You were so spontaneous, you just showed up at my door with a ring and plane tickets. It... it was just romantic.”

He struggled for something to say, but just like his memory, nothing came. Knowing how sweet it had been to wake up in her arms that morning, to be making love with her, he wished he could remember the first time that they were together. He hoped he had been gentle.

“The Good Reverend Elvis Presley Cosby married us.”

He pictured the legendary rock and roll singer. He imagined the theatrical production that must have been. He laughed. “You’re kidding!” Although it was a fuzzy memory, at least he knew who Elvis Presley had been.

“No, I’m quite serious. Afterwards we went out to dinner and celebrated. You had quite a bit to drink...”

“I got drunk?”

She half nodded. “Not drunk but definitely... uh, you were definitely high.”

“After the ceremony?” He stressed the word after.

“Yes. You were fully aware of what you were doing when you said I do. You can’t use the excuse that you weren’t in your right mind when we got married. You had been very sure that you wanted it. I admit it didn’t take that much convincing, but you took the time to talk me into it when you showed up at my apartment with the ring.” She paused.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t accusing you of tricking me into this.” How could he be sure of that without his memory? But he was sure.

It showed that she was relieved he believed her. “I had never known you to drink so much that you lost control and I was really surprised when you insisted on having a drink before dinner last night, especially since you had that business appointment today.”

“Uh, my drinking, did it affect my, you know, performance?” It was embarrassing, but he didn’t even know what kind of lover he was.

She found it ironic that he was so worried about his virility. “You were fine in that department.” She blushed. “But maybe, just maybe you should be more worried that maybe the alcohol made you lose your memory?” Her body still tingled from his “performance” through the night.

“What did I order?”

“Before dinner, you ordered a scotch on the rocks...”

“I drink scotch?” A good strong whiskey... It was the kind of drink for a strong man with strong ties, a capable person. He was trying to get an image of himself.

“That and other stuff.” Caitlyn was remembering what else he ordered. “There was wine with dinner and a martini in the casino.”

“I was mixing drinks... and it got to me?”

She picked up the china cup with the rest of her now cold tea and drank it slowly. “We were in the casino. You wanted to play at the tables. That’s when you got paged to the hotel phone. You really sobered up quickly, you looked a little worried. You handed me your chips and some money, told me to play some slots or something and went to take the call. You were gone over half an hour...”

“Who called me?” Who was so important that he would he have left his new wife on their wedding night? The call must have been very important. And why would he be worried?

Caitlyn shrugged. “You didn’t say. When you came back, you rushed me up to the room. You said you had a headache from drinking, those were your words.” She frowned. “When we got up here, I offered you aspirin for your headache and you said you didn’t need it. You said the headache wasn’t really all that bad anyway. Then you laughed. It was strange; I didn’t know what you found so funny. You said you just wanted to make love. We did and then we fell asleep. You woke me this morning and said you wanted to be with me again... well, that’s where we are now.”

“I had a headache?” He didn’t feel hung over, not that he remembered ever feeling that way before. It just didn’t feel like he was suffering the effects of a hangover.

“That’s why I think you should get checked out.”

“But I didn’t want any aspirin? So it couldn’t have been that bad.” Maybe it was just an excuse to finally take his lovely bride up to their room.

“I watched a TV show once where this guy took sick and didn’t even realize it...” Caitlyn pulled her chair to sit directly in front of him. “Look at me.” She stared at his eyes, they looked okay to her and she nodded. “Squeeze my hands...” She took hold of both of his hands and rested them on her knees. He squeezed both of her hands firmly. “You seem to be okay. I guess.”

He wondered what had happened to him. He knew that she was checking for signs of a stroke and yet he didn’t understand how he realized that. She was looking for an explanation for why he couldn’t remember anything. He really felt fine except that he had no idea who he was or how he got there. There was nothing wrong with him that a little relaxation wouldn’t take care of. Maybe a massage or even another tumble in the bed with this woman... the thought of making love with her again was tempting.

The phone rang and he practically lunged for it. “Hello?... Yes... Amanda thanks for calling me back.” Her voice definitely resonated in his memory. He listened for a few moments. “No, I... forgot. Actually Amanda, I don’t remember anything... no, nothing.” And the few random memories he had gave him no indication of who he was.

He turned his back to Caitlyn and lowered his voice. “No, I’m not alone... I’m here with Caitlyn, uh, Caitlyn Smythe.” He quickly glanced at her to see if she had heard him say her maiden name, she had. Oh well, he thought, I don’t remember any marriage anyway. He looked away. “What?” Stealing another look at Caitlyn while he listened, Brandon managed to move a little further away. He listened for a few minutes, nodding and grunting every so often. When he hung up, he stared suspiciously at Caitlyn.

“What’s the matter?” His stare discomfited her.

“Is your name really Caitlyn Smythe?” He wasn’t sure if he should believe her.

She smiled. “Actually it’s Caitlyn Price now.” He remained quiet. “Brandon? What’s wrong? What did Amanda say?”

“Why are you worried what Amanda had to say?” He was beginning to sound as paranoid as he felt. “Do you have something to worry about?” How much of what she told him was true, if any of it was? He had begun to believe her, anything and everything she had told him, and it angered him that he now had reason to question her honesty.

“She barely knows me, what would she have to say?” Caitlyn was exasperated. “Brandon, what did Amanda say to you? What do you think I’m hiding?”

He wanted to trust the woman in front of him, he really did. He could understand why he liked her even if he had no memory of her. Her gentleness and supposed naivety had lured him into a feeling of safety. He said he had felt like he was under a spell during their lovemaking, maybe she was some kind of pro and he wasn’t thinking with the right brain. That other woman, Amanda, her voice was so familiar, how could he not trust her? He knew that he remembered Amanda. He didn’t know anything about Caitlyn before waking up this morning. And if he knew and trusted Amanda... then he couldn’t trust Caitlyn no matter what.

He paced in silence for a few minutes. Amanda had given him some information and he wasn’t sure what to do with it. Whether it was because Caitlyn was good in bed, he thought crudely, or because there was something more there, he decided to warn her. “Amanda is faxing some information to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. She expects that they’ll be here shortly to take you into custody.”

“Why?” She sounded totally dumbfounded.

“You’ve got a record. You’ve got a string of aliases...” He knelt in front of her. He was sure he had done the right thing to warn her. “Caitlyn, if you leave now, you’ll get away. I wasn’t supposed to warn you but I don’t want to see you arrested.”

“I haven’t done anything...” Her protest sounded genuine and it twisted his gut to think otherwise.

“Caitlyn, she has proof.” He thought for a moment and then stood to take his wallet out of his back pocket. “I don’t know how much money I have in here, but,” he pulled a wad of bills out and handed them to her. “You should be able to get somewhere with this. Go, go now while there is still time. I don’t know how far you can get but you have to get away from here.” He put the money into her hand.

She dropped the money on the floor. “I’m not going anywhere, I haven’t done anything illegal. Why would someone want to arrest me?”

He watched several bills float down to the carpet. “Damn it Caitlyn, I’m trying to help you!” Why didn’t she just take the damn money and get the hell out of there?

Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “What did she tell you I did?”

He frowned. It was hard for him to make the accusation. “You are an artist all right... a con artist. Caitlyn, she said you stole from me, and you stole from some other people. And they want to press charges. I’m not but they are.”

“You believe this?” She sounded so hurt, so wounded, and all he wanted to do was protect her.

He was consumed by guilt that he questioned her. “Come on, let’s get out of here...” He tried to take her arm and push her towards the door. She pulled herself out of his grasp.

“No!” The tears welled in her eyes. “I thought you loved me. You married me! How could you believe I would steal from you?”

He took her by both arms and shook her. “I don’t remember you!” Brandon stared in disbelief as he saw apparent fear in her eyes. He dropped his hands from her arms suddenly. “I’m sorry.” He took a few steps back and spoke in hushed tones. “I know that it felt right to have you in my arms this morning, it felt good to be so close to you, but I don’t know you. But Amanda’s voice, I remembered that, I know her voice... and her name. I know Amanda. I have to trust her.” His explanation lacked conviction.

There was a firm knock at the door.

“Go hide, I’ll tell them you left.”

Another knock. A single man’s voice called through the closed door. “Hotel security.”

“Please Caitlyn...” He motioned for her to hide.

“No.” She stood where she was. “I haven’t done anything.” She sounded almost convincing to his ears, But he worried that she wouldn’t be as convincing to the police.

She stood there defiantly.

After a few more knocks at the door, Brandon answered it. Caitlyn stood silently. Two Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officers entered with the hotel detective.

The hotel detective stood back while the two police officers asked Caitlyn a few inane questions to confirm who she was. One of the police officers frisked her and nodded in satisfaction when he didn’t find anything of danger.

Caitlyn looked confused and scared.

The second officer had a copy of a forged check and a New York City Police report with Caitlyn’s picture on it. He read a list of charges out loud which included theft, embezzlement, forgery and passing bad checks. Her rights were read to her. They called her Mary Jones. The name under the picture on the NYPD report was Mary Jones.

She went to reach for her purse claiming she had plenty of identification to show them. One of the officers caught her wrist and cuffed her. He twisted her arms painfully behind her and cuffed the other wrist.

“My roommate... she’s traveling in Africa right now, but I’m sure we can track her down.” Caitlyn winced as the cuff tightened from her struggling. “Keisha can vouch for who I am.”

One of the officers mocked her. “Keisha?” He looked towards his partner. “Doesn’t even sound American to me.”

“I have family in upstate New York...” Despite her protests, Caitlyn was led from the room.

Brandon couldn’t stand the tears he had seen on her cheeks. She had seemed so bewildered, not like she was hiding anything. When the door was closed behind them, he sat on the bed with its still rumpled sheets and felt even more lost and more alone than he had before. Eventually he realized that he wasn’t the type to sit and wallow and it wasn’t long before he left the room on a mission.

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