If a man can live forever . . . A lifetime ago, the debauched Viscount Ravenswood lost his life, only to be revived as as new man with a new name…and a new desire for love. Now, scarred and monstrous of visage, Luke Madden has outlived his beloved wife. Crushed by loss and despair, he swears to never feel such a love again. For such a perfect mingling of souls could never happen twice in one lifetime. Especially for a beast such as Luke believes himself to be . . . . . . how can he love forever? Gillian Browning is a bold woman of action. But her spy activities in pre-war Germany have made her a target. Now in London, she is being hunted by ruthless Nazi operatives. Luckily, a fellow spy knows someone who can protect her—Luke. Taking Gillian to his former home in the country, he reluctantly finds himself caring for her more than he thought possible, and to his surprise she reciprocates. But when a threat from Luke’s own past increases their peril, he must decide if he has the true strength to love—and trust—again . . .
Release date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 198
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Luke Newman shifted his 1939 Triumph Twelve into third gear as he rounded the corner heading for the Riddlesdown area and a visit he was not looking forward to. Professor Reed Parker’s health was failing, and his son, Fred—Luke’s nephew—made the not-so-subtle suggestion if he wanted to see him once more, this would be the chance to do it. At age eighty-nine, Reed had lived a long, full life, and his eventual and close passing made Luke melancholy. Reed was one of the last ties to his former life as Lucas Madden, Viscount Ravenswood, and one of his last ties to Glenna.
A sharp stab of pain curled under his ribs at the thought of his late wife. Though eleven years had passed since her death, the emptiness still remained. The circumstances of her untimely demise still haunted his dreams. But he would not ruminate on it today. A flat bit of road stretched out before him. Luke shifted to fourth gear, slammed the accelerator to the floor, and all 11.81 of horsepower roared to life, pushing the vehicle to its maximum speed of sixty-five miles per hour.
Of all the inventions and advances in technology and science since the late 1800s, the automobile fascinated Luke the most. He tried to buy a new one every few years, though thanks to the war, production had all but halted. Only sixty-six of these cars were made, he was lucky to have purchased one before the war began. The way things were progressing, he may be stuck with this sedan for some years to come.
The war. Perhaps Fred should have encouraged Reed and Clara to stay in Charlwood. The small village was more than an hour away by train or auto, and certainly safer than living in the outskirts of London. But with both parents in various stages of declining health, Fred wanted them nearby where he could check on them on a regular basis. His nephew was a case officer with SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service, or as it was becoming referred to more often, MI-6. Luke could not blame Fred for wanting his family close.
Since Fred was well aware of Luke’s secrets, he had given Luke a new identity, along with accompanying identification. A sardonic smile curved at the corner of his lips as he recalled the conversation he and his nephew shared shortly after Luke left Cornwall.
“Have you thought of a name?” Fred asked.
“Why not Lucas Deadman? Seems appropriate in more ways than one. Was I not brought back from the dead? Am I not dead inside, now that Glenna…?”
“Give over, Uncle. Enough of the self-pity. You promised Aunt Glenna more than once you would live on and embrace life.” Fred rubbed his chin, deep in thought, an action his father used. “You are a new man…that’s it. Newman. How do you like the sound of it?”
In truth, Luke liked it. The name fit him well. During the past eleven years he and Fred had grown close, more like best mates than uncle and nephew. Luke often assisted Fred with his assignments, especially where his particular talents could be useful. Being a case officer, Fred was responsible for recruiting and running existing agents. Luke was currently on the payroll of SIS, working with Fred exclusively in London. Only Fred’s ranking supervisor knew of the arrangement. Luke did not need the extra coin; he’d turned the money he procured from his father into a small fortune thanks to shrewd investments at the turn of the century in a little known American fountain drink called Coca-Cola.
Shifting down into third, then second, Luke slowed the vehicle as he neared the small Tudor style cottage Reed and Clara resided in. Once he parked the car in front of the dwelling, he turned off the ignition and glanced around the quiet street. No one about, but he would not take the chance nosy neighbors peered out from behind their blackout curtains.
Luke pulled his gray fedora low over his eyes and turned the collar of his trench coat up to obscure his face. Close to fifty years since his reanimation, explaining his appearance remained difficult in most circumstances. After he grabbed the brown paper bag from the passenger seat, he locked the car and headed up the walk to the front entrance.
Clara answered the door and immediately embraced him. “You came at a good time. He is sitting up in the parlor, a little stronger today than he has been.”
Luke kissed her cheek affectionately and handed her the bag. “My rations of tea, sugar, and butter. I have no need of them. There is some government cheddar, not the best, but I know Reed enjoys cheese and biscuits.”
Clara’s lower lip quivered. “Thank you for thinking of us. He will be pleased to see you. It’s been a good long while.”
Too long. Not since Christmas and he had no excuse except when in Reed’s company, the pain of losing Glenna came roaring to the surface. Also, his relationship with Reed was complicated at best due to the fact the man used him in a bizarre experiment. At times, Luke resented Reed’s arrogant interference. Luke’s life had been over. He was dead and should have stayed dead. But then, he would not have fallen in love with Glenna and would not have enjoyed thirty-seven years of utter bliss.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Clara said, pulling him from his thoughts. He gave her a brief smile. As he stepped into the parlor, he tamped down any lingering bitterness. Reed looked every bit of his eighty-nine years. Since he’d seen him last, the rapid decline was evident.
Hunched over and covered in a shawl, Reed lifted his head to meet Luke’s gaze. Yes, I can see it. Death stood nearby clutching his scythe with his bony hand. Reed’s skin was nearly the same shade of light gray as Luke’s and pulled tight across his fragile frame with nearly every vein visible. His heart was failing. Even his lips showed the slight blue tinge of a man not getting enough oxygen in his blood.
Luke removed his hat, tinted glasses, and unbuttoned his trench coat. “Good afternoon, Reed.”
“Luke.” Reed smiled. “Sit here close by. My hearing is not what it used to be.” Luke sat in the wingchair. Though in a weakened condition, Reed’s voice was steady and his intellect sharp as ever. “I am glad you came. Fred called, he’ll be here soon. We will have a bit of a family reunion.”
“Yes. Family.” Luke leaned forward and patted the old man’s withered hand. “Listen to me, my friend, and know this. For as long as I exist, I pledge I will watch over the Parker family and their descendants. No harm will come to them.”
Reed’s eyes grew moist. “Thank you. It is more than I deserve. Though at thirty-four, Fred had better get married or there will not be any descendants to watch over.”
Sitting back in the chair, Luke crossed his legs. “His career and the war keep him busy.”
“That it does. Life does go on; you know better than anyone, Luke.”
“Yes, a bitter pill to be sure.”
“Since this may well be the last time we meet, allow me to apologize. You know what for. I had no business messing about with life and death, nor for using you as a test subject.”
Reed had apologized more than once as of late. Usually, Luke shrugged it off and changed the topic. Besides, he told Reed the night they parted in 1895 he forgave him, but for some reason, Reed kept broaching the subject. It could be his extreme old age causing his forgetfulness. No use trying to explain all this, instead he said, “I forgive you.”
With an exhale of ragged breath, Reed closed his eyes briefly and nodded, as if the words were a balm to him. Perhaps they were. After a few moments he opened his eyes and pointed to the box sitting on the floor between them. “In there you will find all my notes on the experiment and my subsequent analysis.”
A rush of anger tore through Luke. “I asked you decades ago to destroy them. You assured me you would.”
“Forgive me again, I could not do it. Think of all the advances that have been made since eighteen ninety-five and what is to come. This information will be vital in unlocking questions we currently have no answers for.” Reed coughed, holding a handkerchief over his mouth. When he regained control, he said, “Before Clara comes in, I must tell you years ago Glenna asked me to examine her during one of our visits to Cornwall. It is highly likely the reason you did not have children lay with her, not you.”
Luke’s spine stiffened at the news. Glenna never said a word. Foolishly, he thought they shared all, but then the Parkers were notorious for keeping secrets. Reed must have seen the look of shock on his face, for he shook his head sadly. “I never told Glenna what I suspected, because I was not entirely sure. I believe her cervix was tilted and I did encourage her to see a medical doctor for a more thorough exam as my knowledge was limited. I’m not sure she ever did. Perhaps not since she didn’t inform you of any of this.”
That was no doubt the case, and he and Glenna did tell each other everything, except she did not share her doubts about conception. What does it matter now? No use getting angry.
Reed continued, “It was not a priority as we all believed you could not father children. I tell you this for you may want to be tested yourself to be absolutely sure. In case you…with a woman….” Reed cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter. “Blast it, I should have told you soon after Glenna died.”
Yes, he should have. It made Luke wonder what else Reed had not told him. As far as women were concerned, Luke managed during the past eleven years to limit his carnal activity to ladies of the night, where in darkness they could not see him and he did not have to look at them. Along with his increased strength and enhanced senses, his libido also ran at a high level. Mired in grief, he fought his urges for several years. But not lately. A good thing he used sheaths under the circumstances to stem any chance of catching a disease. Even though he may be immune, why take chances?
No use losing his temper at this stage. There had been many unknowns through the years. He could hardly blame Glenna or Reed. Though despite their long, complicated friendship, a small part of Luke still did not entirely trust the old man. “I see.” What else could he say? “What other surprises will I find in your notes?”
At that moment, Clara entered the room carrying a tray laden with tea, mugs, and a plate of cheese and biscuits. Reed looked relieved at the interruption. Luke jumped to his feet and took the tray from Clara’s shaking hands then placed it on the table. Though Luke could not ascertain most changes in temperature, he found the parlor far too chilly. Damn and blast, he should have brought them coal as well as food. “Isn’t there a woman who comes in the morning to light your fires and prepare you both breakfast?”
Clara frowned as she poured the tea. “Yes, but she hasn’t been here the last two days. I went to her house to inquire as I was concerned she might be ill. The place is closed up tight. Perhaps they went to the country. She did speak of relatives in Sussex.”
“You should have called Fred or me,” he admonished gently. Though most of February had been mild, a couple of nights dropped near zero.
“You are both far too busy,” Clara stated, waving her hand in dismissal.
Luke slipped out of his suit coat and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. He had a fire blazing in the hearth in a manner of minutes. Taking the mug of hot tea, he sat down and watched as Clara lovingly fussed around Reed, ensuring he had plenty of cheese and biscuits and the blanket across his legs was tucked in. She grabbed her mug and took her seat on the other side of her husband. “When Fred arrives, we will light the fire in your bedroom as well,” Luke stated.
No sooner had he spoken his nephew’s name when Fred knocked and strode into the parlor. Clara tried to stand, but Fred bade her to stay seated, leaned in and kissed her cheek, then did the same with Reed. Pouring himself a mug of tea and grabbing a slice of cheese, he sat on the sofa next to his mother. “All together again, yeah?” he smiled.
Fred possessed an outwardly sunny nature but could turn serious enough when warranted. At five feet eleven, he was as broad-shouldered and solid as his father had been, and his features, though not classically handsome, were pleasing enough. Luke knew Fred often kept company with various ladies through the years, but nothing serious ever came from the brief dalliances. With his sable-brown hair and light brown eyes, he had the look of a Parker. He could have been Glenna’s son for all their similarities. Another roll of pain moved through him. Luke reluctantly pushed her from his thoughts as he fought to keep control of his grief.
“I want to be buried in Charlwood,” Reed said suddenly. That certainly ended all conversation.
“Three generations of Parkers lived in the area and it should be my final resting place. Your mother’s too, when the time comes. You will see it done?”
“Of course,” Fred replied, his voice soft.
“Next to Glenna’s stone,” Reed insisted.
So much for not thinking of Glenna. Luke had never been to her grave. What did it matter? Her body was not there. She’d been swept out to sea because of his incompetence. He made a fist with his gloved left hand and the leather creaked in response.
“It is not your fault,” Clara said.
No doubt every emotion tearing though him reflected on his face. It always did. He was not a man to hide his feelings, though he tried. “I could not save her. This hand is not my own, and it could not hold on to her.”
A strangled sob left Reed’s throat and Clara rushed to his side. “Stop. Both of you. It is no one’s fault. An act of nature.” She kissed Reed’s forehead. “It is nothing you did, Reed, nor you, Luke.” Soon after Clara married Reed, she was informed of the experiment and Luke’s part in it. A family secret they all kept close to the vest.
The despair on the older man’s face was plain, and he understood it. Reed blamed himself for reanimating him and for replacing his severed hand. If Luke had remained buried and forgotten, Glenna would still be alive. In these long eleven years, no one in the family blamed him. He was eternally grateful.
“I should have this…thing removed. I would be better off with a damned hook or a wooden hand. Anything but this,” Luke spat. Before he was reanimated, Reed used the hand from another corpse and stitched it in place of the one he lost during the carriage accident. It was a horrible lump of flesh he constantly kept covered. Thankfully, there were no other body parts replaced. Bad enough there were moments he felt like Frankenstein’s monster since his reanimation. He certainly did not want to look the part. At least, no more than he looked now. Luke exhaled. “Forgive me. I usually do not sink into such morbid self-pity.”
Fred nodded. “If you cannot share your deepest feelings with family, who can you share them with?”
“True. Apparently the grief still lingers. Perhaps it always will. Reed, your wishes will be carried out, have no fear. Let us move on to other topics.” He filled Fred in on the hired woman not showing up.
“Well, how dashed inconvenient. No fear, Mum. I’ll find someone else as soon as possible. If it happens again, you ring up one of us.”
Clara sat on the sofa. “Luke brought us some of his rations.”
“I have no need of them.” In Luke’s new life state, he did not need food to survive. At times he ate for the enjoyment of it and always made sure when in the presence of strangers to make an effort to act as normal as possible, which included the ingestion of food.
“War keeping you busy, Son?” Reed asked, seemingly recovered from his emotional outburst. The doctor told them the sudden change in his emotions was the result of his old age. “They won’t be sending you across enemy lines?”
“No, Dad. I’m not a field operative as such. Agents work under me. As far as I am aware, I’ll be staying at fifty-four Broadway for the foreseeable future.” Fred stood. “I shouldn’t have even said that much. Now, excuse us a moment. Luke and I will get the fire going in the bedroom.”
Reed nodded. “Don’t worry, I can keep it to myself, as this family already has many well-kept secrets.”
Luke followed his nephew into the room and closed the door. With a tsk, Fred ran his finger along the mantel, frowning at the thick blot of dust on the tip. “I may have to find someone to live-in. Mum would never have let the housekeeping deteriorate like this before.”
“Perhaps we should move them back to Charlwood,” Luke suggested.
Fred shook his head. “Can’t be done. Dad is too weak. I already asked the doctor if such a re-location was possible. He advised against it.” He leaned down and placed newspaper and sticks of wood on the grate. “I have a new assignment. We’ve heard chatter the identity of a female agent may be compromised. She was undercover in Germany from nineteen thirty-eight until early nineteen forty. The lady is back in London and works at fifty-four Broadway in an administrative and translator capacity. This brave woman barely escaped with her life, and I would not see her harmed. I will need you to assess the situation. I’ll tell you more once we leave here.” Fred scooped up some coal from the nearby bucket and laid it on the wood and paper. “I have it on good authority Simpson’s-in-the-Strand received an order of mutton from Scotland. I suggest when we are done here, we stop by for an early dinner and I can fill you in on the particulars.”
Luke lit a piece of rolled up newsprint and held it to the wood and paper until the flame caught. A lady spy. An uneasy feeling spread through him, but not in a bad way which concerned him. Tangling himself with a female, whether it was in a professional capacity or not, was not part of his plan.
There were decided disadvantages to being an ex-spy, Gillian Browning discovered, and the feeling she was constantly being watched sat at the top of the list. It never left her. Today, however, her anxiety level was on high alert.
Probably nothing to it, because of late her nerves were not to be relied on. As she stepped out from the main entrance of the Mile End Tube Station, she glanced around nonchalantly looking for suspicious characters, but found none out of the ordinary. Yet, blending in with a crowd was the hallmark of a good spy. Gillian held her hat tight in case the wind carried it off as she hurried along Aberavon Road to her sister Joan’s small flat.
Piles of bricks from bombed out buildings and sandbags lined the street and made Gillian worry afresh over her sister’s stubborn insistence on staying in this part of London. Though “the Blitz” was over, the German Luftwaffe still bombed London on a steady basis, focusing mainly on the East End where the docks and other transport centers were located.
Despite being sisters, the two of them were not close. When Gillian was eight years of age and Joan six, their parents had divorced. Gillian stayed with her mother, Joan with their father. Her dad moved Joan to the East End where he would be closer to his job as a dock worker, while Gillian’s mother took her to Dover on the east coast of England to live with her grandmother. Years passed. They had no contact whatsoever, as their parents’ break-up was acrimonious.
A letter arrived out of the blue shortly after Gillian turned seventeen. Joan managed to cajole her father into giving up Gillian’s address. Through the years a sporadic correspondence grew between them. It wasn’t until Gillian arrived in London in early 1940 that they met face-to-face. The reunion was awkward, yet they managed to form a mutual respect for each other if nothing else. A good thing, because Gillian was Joan’s only source of income due to the fact the corner shop she’d worked at had been bombed five months ago.
Holding her purse under her arm, Gillian picked up the pace. Not the best of neighborhoods, she wrinkled her nose in distaste at the lingering garbage smell permeating the air around her. Broken crockery and other items littered the street, though not as bad at the height of the Blitz in 1941. Slowly but surely, Eastenders were doing what they could to make the area livable again, though a number of streets had been leveled. Thankfully not Joan’s. Not yet. Working at SIS, Gillian was well aware the war could go on for a few years yet.
It was already late afternoon. She couldn’t stay long since she should return to her own small flat in central London before the sun set. Gillian ran up the stairs to Joan’s second story lodgings. Her sister opened the door before she could even knock. Wearin. . .
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