Cloth of Grace: A love story that blends together paranormal and mystery, fantasy, faith and romance
...an enjoyable novel about forgiveness, loyalty, magic and adventure. There were moments of pure joy and real sadness and it’s weaved into a wonderful story. Above all, it’s a love story, not only between Perry and Leonie but with family and how it’s not just made up of people who share your DNA.Novel Kicks
When the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, how do you choose between what you ought to do and the only thing you really want?
Leonie finally knows who she is. But now she needs to decide who she is going to be. Her choice will affect not just her family, not just those she knows, but tens, hundreds of thousands, millions of people that she doesn't. And every path that's open to her will put Perry under the pressures that caused his breakdown before. How can she do what she must and still protect Perry?
Perry desperately wants to make things easier for Leonie. Somehow he has to find the strength to face the things that all but destroyed him in the past. But every way he turns, some aspect of his past lies waiting to pounce – even during his happiest moments. And he can never forget that Leonie's life is in danger from someone, somewhere.
Gabriel has managed to negotiate peace, at least in theory. Now he must put that into practice and reunite Leonie with the family she never knew she had. Then disaster strikes right in the middle of his own sanctuary. Can he still protect those he loves, or has he been harbouring a villain the whole time?
Reviews for Strand of Faith – book 1 in the Choices and Consequences series
Magical ... full of adventure with enjoyable characters...a must read for the genre! Touch My Spine Book Reviews
It is a truly unique story and the elements are woven together so well. Odd Socks and Lollipops
Such an exciting concept executed so cleverly and uniquely. This is the start of such an exciting series. ZooLoo's Book Diary
It is a rare book where you find so many incredibly well written, well rounded characters. The Midnight Review
Reviews for Thread of Hope – book 2 in the Choices and Consequences series
This is a story of faith, god and fantasy all mixed into a beautifully written tale of love and consequences of our actions....one that will stay with you... The Bookwormery
The end is so thrilling I want to read the next book. In De Boekenkast
I was enveloped by the magic of this world. The whole book was super unpredictable & the writing was really easy to fall into. Writing with Wolves
The character development is fantastic. The plot was intricate and absorbing. I wanted more. Jessica Belmont
I love how the characters are developing and how the relationships, interactions and all the secrets are connecting and proving to be even more important to the plot. An exciting, interesting, thought-provoking, emotional journey. Jess Bookish Life
Reviews for Weave of Love – book 3 in the Choices and Consequences series
A wonderful blend of fantasy and romance without the tropes or standard formula. It's a beautiful premise, filled with drama, action, and everything we've come to expect from the series. Radzy Writes
I loved getting to see the relationships and the characters develop... this is a book that ...makes you want to rush through to find out exactly what's going to happen! FNM Book Reviews
I adore the world that Bonner has built up in this series; it's a very unique but interesting world, complete with an intricate social system and clearly defined communities, with the religious undertones adding a fresh twist to it. K T Robson reviews
The world she created ...was exquisite. The book was unputdownable and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining read. Bonner's creativity in her writing really drew me in to the amazing story. Nurse Bookie
Release date: February 29, 2020
Publisher: Isbin Books
Print pages: 294
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Cloth of Grace: A love story that blends together paranormal and mystery, fantasy, faith and romance
Rachel J Bonner
The sound of hooves impinged on his sleep, bringing him awake in a moment. He glanced around the room, still dark, with a faint moonlight glow outlining the window. There were voices too, some issuing quiet but urgent orders, others swearing and cursing. He hurried to his bedroom window, overlooking the main courtyard. Horses were milling around, riders dismounting and moving away. For a group that specialised in silence, there was a lot of noise. Many of the group appeared to be limping or hunched over in pain. And far too many of them were heading for the back entrance to the hospital rather than the courtyard rooms.
He shrugged and returned to bed. He’d find out more in the morning. Most of this community were here because of some misfortune. Gossiping about the misfortunes of others was one of their chief pleasures. As he started to drift back to sleep, his mind dwelled on his own situation.
He was the misfortune that had meant his parents had come here. Most of their people were nomadic but there was no place for a child on the road or on missions. There were perhaps three or four children here at any one time, with one or both of their parents. The rest of this settled community were older, either retired from active missions, or permanently incapacitated by some injury or accident.
He rolled over, punching his pillow, unable to get comfortable as he remembered his last conversation with his mother, just before she’d left on this mission.
“You’re nearly fifteen,” she’d said. “While I’m away, think about your future. If you want to stay as one of us, it’s almost time for you to leave for further training.”
“And if I don’t?” he’d asked, his voice high, betraying him.
She’d ignored his tone. “Then we’ll find you a conventional foster family, far away.”
Either way he’d be leaving the only home he’d known. His choice wasn’t about staying or leaving but about what he wanted to do in the future – and he still didn’t know. His final thought before sleep claimed him was that his mother had led this last mission. He hoped she hadn’t been badly injured.
At breakfast, he sat quietly, listening to all the gossip.
“That child’s the spawn of the devil.”
“She’s just a child. How much trouble can a four year old be? They must have made a right mess of things.”
“Old so-and-so’ll never work again. He’ll be lucky even to walk again.”
“There’s not a one of them came back without burns and bruises. Most have broken bones.”
“Must have been one heck of a contract to be worth it.”
He could have stayed listening all day but he had school, training – he was particularly good with anything that required marksmanship – and his chores on the farm and in the hospital.
The hospital fascinated him and he was toying with the idea of medicine as a future career. Today he ambled in through the back entrance and towards the janitor’s room, in no particular hurry to get there and have to start his cleaning duties. As he passed her room – the door slightly open – the child was whimpering and crying quietly. Although he had no duties that should take him in there, he pushed the door open further and went in.
She was curled up on the bed, clearly terrified and partly restrained. He knew she’d been brought here so they could implant a tracker, and her movement had been restricted so that she wouldn’t cause further damage at the implantation site, nor tear out the drip that had been inserted.
She watched his movements with huge dark scared eyes, so he sat on the bed beside her and tried to reassure her. He didn’t know whether she understood him. He had an aptitude for languages, indeed he was already fluent in several different ones, but he didn’t recognise any of the few words she uttered. He tried the various languages he knew but none seemed to spark more recognition in her eyes than any other. In the end perhaps it was just the tone of his voice that helped, but as he sat there talking to her and holding her hand, her body relaxed and eventually she slept.
The door creaked and his mother walked in to the room. She was dressed typically for someone on the road or on a mission for their clan – close fitting dark clothing, with her head and most of her face also covered. He shouldn’t have been in here and expected to be in serious trouble, but her voice was mild even if the words were a reprimand. “You shouldn’t really let either a client or a subject see your face,” she told him.
“She was scared,” he replied, trying to explain his actions.
His mother nodded. “I know. You did right. It may seem strange but compassion is important in our work.”
He knew that his parents – and the rest of the active adults of his clan – were Assassins, highly skilled and very expensive to commission. He had been brought up to believe that killing others for money was neither right nor wrong, simply a way of life. He didn’t understand how compassion could be part of that but for once his mother seemed willing to talk about it.
“This is unusual,” she said, gesturing at the child. “When we kill, we do so quickly and cleanly, and by surprise, with no period of fear or apprehension for our subjects. That is a form of compassion. And we don’t kill children.”
“So why is she here? And why so scared?” he asked.
His mother sighed and shook her head. “We set her price very high, unreasonably so, even for who she is. But still they paid. That means they’ll probably use amateurs as well which could be much worse for her. We will protect her from those until she is adult. Not from what life might bring – and this client is very specific about where she is to be placed now – but from capture or torture or being killed slowly and painfully by some amateur.”
“She’s still scared now,” he persisted.
“Yes,” his mother agreed. “I was coming back to soothe her but you got here first. She has abilities far beyond what we expected and that caused problems with our plans. Before she leaves we will block her memories of her time here so this will just be a short forgotten period of fear.”
“She’s still a child. How can a contract on a child be right?”
“It isn’t about right or wrong, not for us. Remember, we are merely the tool. We never make the decision that someone should be killed. That decision is always made by our clients. All we can do is be the very best tool possible.” She paused for a moment. “And maybe, just maybe, things will change in the next few years and this contract will be rescinded. I hope so. I always hope that, for the children.”
She ushered him out of the room, the moment of openness over. The next time his hospital duties took him that way the child was gone.
When the time came, he chose to leave the Assassins. They placed him in a foster family in a High House closely allied with the Great House of House Sabden. His memory of the child’s fear tipped his decision. Right or wrong, he couldn’t be a party to creating that sort of terror. But he soon forgot her in his new life. He was happy there, happier than he had expected and he quickly gave them his loyalty, considering his foster parents in the light of grandparents. He was welcomed and cared for and his foster family supported both his love of languages and his interest in medicine. When he had exhausted all that was offered by his new local school they encouraged him to go to college, which he did.
It was at college that he came across the Believers. He’d heard of them before that but had never paid them much attention. Now he was immersed in their beliefs and way of life and, captivated by something so different from his childhood culture, he embraced them whole heartedly. His faith grew steadily and he joined the monastic Order, revelling in the acceptance, the friendship, the sense of belonging to a family and the fresh start away from the secrets of his past.
Late July – At Castle Tennant
The Them loomed round me, arms outstretched, reaching for something. One of Them leaned over me to grab at Perry, sleeping peacefully beside me. No way, that was not happening. I was not going to let them touch Perry. I felt for the power, took hold…and it fizzled out.
No, I’m still me. Even without the power I’m still me. And I can deal with a bunch of the Them.
I rolled off the bed, using my body to knock their feet from under Them as I landed on the floor. They dissipated as I touched Them, reforming behind me. Light shone from one side of the room so I headed towards it, the Them following. The light led to a rocky ledge, revealing a ravine beyond. I’d need my Gifts to get me across that. The Them coalesced in front of me, into one large Them with a Shield that was stopping me accessing the power.
I’d switched off Brin’s Shield; I could destroy this one. I twisted it until it blew up, grabbed the power and leapt through the fading Them.
The ground was soft beneath my feet as I landed. I risked a glance back over my shoulder. The giant Them had split up again into lots of little ones. I threw a blast of power at Them; it delayed Them only a moment. I had to lead them away but which way to go? A glow in the distance suggested fire. That would do, the Them hated fire and light. I sprinted that way. As I got closer, Katya appeared ahead of me.
Katya? But she’s dead. Who cares? This is a dream and Katya means safety.
I flung myself into her arms.
“Hush, lia. All is well. I have you.”
That wasn’t Katya’s voice. No, that was…Karina. My eyes flew open and I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing. Somehow I’d reached the Trader camp and Headwoman Karina was holding me close, Merchant Evan hovering nearby. I was in the centre, near the campfire and there was some sort of commotion happening over by the camp border which I ignored.
“Is anyone trying to hurt you? Chase you?” Merchant Evan asked, frowning. “Anyone from the Great House?” He turned, looking behind me, towards the camp border as if searching for some pursuer.
I shook my head. “No,” I whispered. “Just a nightmare.”
“Come, sit,” Karina said, wrapping a blanket round my shoulders and pushing me down onto a bench by the fire. “Get warm again.”
I tried to stand up. “Perry, he’ll be worrying. I need to get to Perry.”
The commotion at the camp border got louder, and Perry hurtled through, sliding to a stop on his knees in front of me. He cupped my face in his hands, staring into my eyes, his own eyes filled with concern. “I couldn’t tell where you were, what had happened,” he said. “Are you hurt? Was it a nightmare?”
“Not hurt,” I told him.
He sighed deeply and pulled me into his arms, cradling my head against his chest. “I was so worried,” he breathed.
He settled on the bench beside me, keeping his arms round me. Karina sat on my other side.
“What happened?” I asked. “What did I do?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think you did anything. There seems to be something else going on, not just your nightmare.”
Merchant Evan grinned and gestured to the camp border. “I think we’re about to find out more,” he said.
Brin came striding across the camp towards us and bowed before me. “My deepest apologies, my Lady Leonie,” he said formally. “I regret that I was foolish enough to switch a Dampener Shield across the Castle tonight. I am so sorry for the trouble it caused you.”
“Idiot,” Perry muttered under his breath before staring more closely at Brin. “Was it actually you who did that?” he asked. “Or one of your squad?”
Brin glanced towards him. “It doesn’t matter whose finger was on the switch. It was still my responsibility.” He turned back to me. “Can you forgive me?”
Memories of the nightmare came back to me. “What actually happened to the Shield?” I asked cautiously.
“It blew up,” said Brin. “No one was hurt but there must have been a fault. We rarely use it but it is tested and serviced at night once a quarter. Inconveniently, that test fell tonight.”
“Um, Brin…” I said. “I don’t think there was a fault. In my nightmare I blew a Shield up.”
His jaw dropped and he stared at me, open mouthed and silent.
“That makes a lot of sense,” said Perry. “What I felt, the sensations, the inability to sense anyone. That would be the Shield giving way.”
I tugged at Brin’s tunic to get his attention. “Are you sure no one was hurt?” I asked.
He closed his mouth and nodded. “The physical explosion wasn’t very big,” he said. “And it’s pretty well protected anyway. We have very few adepts here. There are one or two with headaches, that’s all.”
Perry winced. “Talking of headaches…” he said.
I turned back to him, concerned. “Have you got one?” I asked.
He nodded and winced again. A moment later a Trader girl appeared at his side with a beaker which she held out to him, mutely.
“For the headache,” Karina said.
Perry looked at the beaker, frowning dubiously.
“Drink it,” I told him.
With another quick glance at me he obeyed, then gave the beaker back to the girl with his thanks.
Brin grinned at me. “Our service engineer is very pleased with you,” he said. “She’s been nagging us to replace that Shield for years. Says she’s just been nursing it along, and struggling to get parts.”
“Is it the same one from when I was last here?” Perry asked. “Or have you replaced it since then?”
“It’s the same one,” Brin confessed.
“Idiot,” Perry said. “That should have been replaced years ago. It was old even then. You were asking for trouble.”
“I know,” Brin said. “And I’m sorry. Am I forgiven?”
I nodded. “As long as I am, too. For the damage and the commotion.”
“Of course,” he told me. “Now, I think we should get you back.”
He thanked Evan and Karina formally, and they both hugged me.
“Take care, lia,” Karina whispered in my ear. “We are always here if you need us.”
Despite the disturbed night, Perry woke early, worrying about Leonie and the impact of the choices she – they – had to make. He slid out of bed and headed into the other room to try to deal with his worries. Leonie would wake soon enough and she’d need his support, not the burden of his problems too.
He tried to squash the negative feelings that were threatening to overwhelm him. Then it struck him that squashing his feelings was more like running away from them. If there was one thing he’d learnt from Leonie, it was that facing up to things was much better than running away, and never as bad as you thought it would be. Despite all the spiritual direction he’d received over the years, it was Leonie who always made him look at things with new eyes, with a different perspective.
He strode across the room, flinging the windows open and leaning out.
So, let’s haul this out into the open. What am I feeling and why?
He was quite certain that he wasn’t jealous of Leonie, not jealous that she could be High Lord of practically any House of her choosing. The High Lordship of House Tennant was his for the asking, and he didn’t want it. He could admit to himself that he’d do it if he had to but it would be duty not choice. He turned back into the room, pacing around like a caged lion.
Not jealousy then. No, I’m resentful.
He was definitely angry that his future path would again be determined by circumstances outside his control. His choice to be a doctor had caused so much pain, required so much hard work and he now found it so fulfilling. Then memories came back to haunt him. Months ago he’d told Andrew that he’d give it all up and take up the role as High Lord if it was the only way he could provide for Leonie. He’d meant it then, and he still did. If the choice was medicine or Leonie, she won, every time. In turn, that had to mean that his resentment and anger were matters of his own attitude. He flung himself down on the sofa.
What I’m really feeling is scared.
He was terrified of losing Leonie, not just to some Assassin, but to the demands made by the role of High Lord. In the short time they had been together, she had run from him – for reasons he fully understood – so many times, and all but died on him twice. Each time tore at him, cutting him to the heart, challenging his ability to function, to survive, almost to breathe. Leonie had lost so many people she loved; if she had felt like this each time... His admiration for her strength increased whenever he considered it. He couldn’t contemplate how he could function without her.
He took a deep breath and tried to return to his self-analysis. So, he was afraid, afraid of the unknown, and jealous, not of Leonie but of anything that might take her from him, that might usurp his place in her life. And both these, if he was honest, suggested that his trust in God, in his Lord and Saviour, was not all it should be. Only a few hours ago he’d quoted a verse to Leonie to help her. God knew the plans he had for both of them, plans to prosper them and not to harm them. He needed to trust in that himself, however hard the path ahead looked. He’d talked to Leonie about prayer, too. Honestly, perhaps sometimes he should listen to himself. He took his own advice and settled down to pray.
By the time their valet, Declan, knocked quietly on the outer door to their rooms, Perry was feeling very much calmer, more open to whatever God’s plan for their life was. He had resolved that, however he felt inside, his actions were going to be those of total support to Leonie as they worked out together what came next.
Declan had come to see whether they would prefer breakfast in their rooms today. “Lord Neville sent me to ask,” he said. “He thought Leonie might need to sleep in a little, take things more easily, after last night.”
Perry thought that an excellent idea. Declan returned so quickly with food that he must have had it all waiting practically outside the door. In the end, Leonie didn’t sleep that late, running from the bedroom to slide into Perry’s arms and onto his lap almost before he’d realised she was waking. She framed his face with her hands, looking up into his eyes with concern.
“It’s okay,” he said before she could speak. “I’m fine. I was just awake.”
“I was worried,” she confessed. “All that’s happening. I don’t want it to hurt you. I couldn’t bear to think I’d done that to you.”
He smiled wryly at that and pulled her close against him. “I’ll be alright,” he said into her hair. “It’s not like before. Something you said made it clear to me; I don’t need everyone’s approval of what I do, just to do what God requires of me, of us.”
She pulled back a little, searching his eyes and then nodded in acceptance. Relieved, he smiled and pointed out the food. “I’m betting you’re hungry,” he said.
What concerned me most was not hunger, but Perry himself. In the past, the expectations placed on him had led to a breakdown and ultimately to his joining the monastery. I was concerned that the pressures of life as a High Lord – or whatever I chose – would be too much for him. And this time it would be me who was putting those pressures on him. He’d tried to reassure me but, as I touched his mind, there was something I couldn’t quite identify, as if being alright was an intention rather than a current actuality.
I chose to believe him anyway; there was food and he was right, I was hungry.
Perry grinned at me while we were eating. “I made you a promise yesterday,” he said. “Fancy going swimming after breakfast?”
I nodded eagerly. Swimming always made me feel better no matter what was going on. As soon as I’d finished eating, I grabbed my costume – and Perry – and hurried down to the pool. I was ready first so I slid into the empty, still waters, closing my eyes and revelling in the waves lapping against my skin. I took a deep breath, ducked under the surface and swam as far as I could underwater, enjoying the sensation of being totally encompassed by it. When I came up for air, Perry was in the water too, leaning back against one side of the pool.
He smiled at me. “Are you sure you’re not really a fish?” he asked.
I splashed him and he came after me, in a whirlwind of water, splashes and laughter until he caught me.
We were still in the pool, swimming laps, when Lilyrose and Brin came to find us.
Brin squatted down by the edge of the pool and I looked up at him.
“I am sorry about last night,” I told him.
He smiled. “I told you, don’t worry about it. I’ve managed to persuade Uncle Neville to fork out for a full set of new Shields and a few other goodies, so I’m very happy about it all.”
“Typical Brin,” Perry called. “Always manages to come out on top.”
Brin swivelled on his toes to look at Perry. “Thought you might like to come over to the practice ground again,” he said. “Best not to be caught off guard.”
But Brin was off guard, balanced there on his toes. I reached for just a little power and pushed. He toppled into the pool, arms and legs flailing frantically. He came up spluttering, launching himself at me. “You little…”
I giggled and dived straight under him, beneath his legs, before surfacing next to Perry, who was shaking with laughter. “Best not to be caught off guard, Brin,” he called.
Brin turned, a big smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he conceded. “Now did you want to come over to the practice ground or not?”
Perry looked back and forth between me and Brin, and I could feel he was uncertain. Knowing we could be in danger had made him eager to brush up on his defensive skills but at the same time, he didn’t really want to leave me.
“You go,” I told him. “I just want to swim for a bit longer and then I’ll come and find you.”
He smiled in relief at the decision being made for him, kissed me, and then he and Brin got out of the pool to dry and dress. I swam up and down the pool for a while, revelling in the rhythm of my strokes and the lap of the water against my body. It helped me get my thoughts in order.
Once I was dry and dressed again, I headed towards the veranda room in the hope of finding Uncle Neville. I was in luck. He looked up as I walked in. “Hello, Leonie,” he said. “Recovered from last night?”
I nodded. “I am sorry about the Shield, truly,” I said.
He dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “Don’t worry. My fault. Brin was right. I should have replaced them years ago. How can I help you today?”
“I have to choose,” I said. “Do I choose to stay the heir to Lindum like my mother wanted? Or do I choose Chisholm for my father? Or what about here, for Perry? Or St Peter’s because we’re happy there? Or what?” I looked at him. “Is there any advice you can give me?”
Lord Neville put his papers to one side and gestured to me to sit down. “That’s a tricky question,” he said. “And I’m a little biased. Perry’s always been my first choice of heir and if you chose here, I’d get that wish. But you shouldn’t let anyone else’s wishes influence you. You need to make this choice for yourself.”
“I know,” I said. “Perry says that too.”
“You have to do what you believe is right, no matter what the reactions of others. Personally, I don’t think there is a good option choosing between Lindum and Chisholm.” He sighed and then continued. “Whatever’s happening now, they’ve been enemies for as long as anyone can remember. It’s entrenched in them. Whatever you do, there are going to be people on both sides who resent it and they could cause a lot of trouble. And if you were to try and unite them – by being High Lord of both – well, that would be a life time’s job, or more. I think that peace will come easier between them if they maintain their separateness, if they are two Houses starting to learn to work together.”
“And what about Perry?” I asked. “What do you think all this will do to him?”
Lord Neville smiled slightly. “I’d think you’d be best placed to answer that. We may have known him longer, but I think you probably know him better, certainly now.”
Yeah. Why do you think I’m asking?
I was concerned about the impact this was already having on Perry. I wanted comfort, reassurance, someone to tell me Perry would cope, that it wasn’t just a front he was putting on for me. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get that.
I started to get up to leave and Lord Neville put out a hand to stop me.
“Look,” he said. “I can tell you’re worried about him, and yes, he didn’t handle pressure well when he was here before. But that was because he couldn’t please both me and his mother. He had to let one of us down, and that was what he couldn’t handle, how to choose between us, which to disappoint.” He sighed deeply before continuing. “And then he ended up choosing the monastery and he’s a different person now, that’s obvious.” He looked at me. “I assume you share his faith?”
I nodded silently.
“Me, too,” he said. “I was terribly rude about it when he joined the monastery, but it was clearly so important to him that I looked into it. And the more I read, the more I understood about his choices. In the end, I couldn’t do anything but believe for myself.” He smiled at me. “Did you know there are sanctuary cities in the Bible? Not quite like a Sanctuary House but definitely places of safety for those in need.”
I was almost speechless, stunned by this news.
“To go back to Perry,” Uncle Neville continued, “if you can both agree on the right thing to do, on what God is calling you to do, I think he’ll be okay with it, whatever it is.”
I’d have to settle for that, and I supposed it did help. It also reminded me of something else I wanted to ask Lord Neville. Before we’d come here, Perry’s mother – Uncle Neville’s sister, even though they hadn’t spoken for years – had given me a commission.
“Will you come to our wedding?” I asked him.
He looked puzzled. “But you’re already married, aren’t you?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes, but we’re going to have another service at Deep River so everyone there can be part of it.”
Now he grinned, but slightly sadly. “Leonie, you must know by now that things aren’t that good between me and Mary. I don’t think I’ll be welcome.”
“Yes, you will,” I told him, nodding eagerly. “Before we left, Ma said to Perry…” I paused to get the quote right. “‘I think we should invite Neville to this wedding. So it would be best if you met with him and sorted things out before that.’ So, see, you are invited. Will you come?”
He smiled at me, and the happiness was all over his face. “Leonie,” he said, “if I get an invitation to your wedding I will drop everything and rearrange anything to be able to be there.”
He stood up, holding his arm out to me. “Shall we go and find the others at the practice ground?” he asked.
Perry and I went back to Deep River that evening, arriving in the summer dusk to find his brother Sam waiting for us at the station.
“Thought you might like a ride home,” Sam said. “And I’ve been in town anyway.”
That was really thoughtful, but seeing Sam there, I felt overwhelmed because I realised now I’d have to tell everyone at Deep River Farm about all the revelations of the last couple of days. And I still wasn’t sure who I really was. I sagged against Perry as we headed home.
“What’s up, Wildcat?” Sam asked.
I looked up at Perry. He smiled down at me and answered Sam. “While we were away, we learnt a little about Leonie’s background,” he said. “Turns out, she’s Leonie Lindum.”
Sam looked blank. “Who?” he asked. “So? You’re still our Leonie.”
I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing and Perry smiled too. All this worrying and yet the name meant nothing to Sam. I found that more reassuring than anything anyone had said up to now.
Perry shook his head in mock despair. “Honestly, Sam,” he said, “do you pay no attention at all to anything outside Deep River?”
“No,” said Sam, “why should I? I have everything I could want here, now. Anyway,” he added, looking at me, “Lindum. Are they the ones who all have red hair?”
That started me laughing again. Finally, we’d found someone with worse knowledge of the social and cultural structure of our world than me.
“No,” said Perry patiently. “The Chisholms have red hair. The Lindum clan is their arch enemy. At least until now.”
Sam still looked puzzled so Perry explained, “About nineteen years ago, the heir to House Lindum had a relationship with one of the sons of Lord Chisholm. It was a big scandal. There was a child; someone from House Lindum killed the father, the mother died giving birth and the child’s aunt snatched the baby and disappeared. With me so far?”
Sam nodded. “I vaguely remember learning something about it at school.”
Great. Now I’m a history lesson, or current affairs or some such. Does the whole world – except Sam – know more about who I am than I do?
Perry went on, “Anyway, four years later the aunt and a child are found dead and everyone thinks that’s the end of the matter. Only it wasn’t. The dead child was a substitute. The real child had been abducted and we’ve now discovered Leonie was her.”
“Well, fine,” said Sam. “At least you now know who your parents were, where you come from.”
“Yes,” said Perry slowly. “Only there’s more to it than that. It makes Leonie heir to House Lindum. But it also means she’s a Chisholm. And somehow, as a result, Lindum and Chisholm have stopped fighting and are signing a peace treaty and lots of other Houses are joining in, including Tennant, and St Peter, and the Traders.”
“Whoo!” said Sam to me. “You always were one for bringing peace, weren’t you? You stopped Perry and Matt fighting and told them what for that first Sunday you were here.”
That was true; I had turned round to discover Perry and his brother Matt rolling on the ground, wrestling, and my first thought had been to stop them. Actually, my first thought had been panic that Perry would be hurt but it had translated into action. I didn’t know what had started the fight on the day. Really it had been about all the hurt caused by and to Perry when he’d chosen the monastery over his family. Impulsively, I had told them so in no uncertain terms.
Perry smiled at the memory and tightened his arm around me. “You shouted at us good and proper,” he confirmed.
“You just smiled at me,” I told him.
“I was so pleased that you felt well, strong and safe enough to tell us off,” he explained. “It gave me hope.”
“Anyway,” said Sam, interrupting this reminiscing. “Still, so what? Peace treaties and whatever are up to them, surely?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But…I could belong to Lindum or Chisholm or Tennant or St Peter’s. I have to choose which. And in some of them I could be High Lord. I don’t think I want to be a High Lord.”
He shrugged. “Perry knows all about that High Lord stuff. At least he did before he left.” He looked at Perry. “What did happen then? When you left? No one really told us anything.”
Matt and Sam would have been in their mid to late teens then, the twins and Jonny even younger. It must have been very strange for them suddenly losing their eldest brother.
Perry ran his hands through his hair. “I couldn’t handle the pressure,” he said. “Not so much the responsibility of being a High Lord, although I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the conflict between what everyone wanted of me and what I wanted for myself. And then the things I did and the lies I told to try and avoid facing up to it all. I couldn’t see a way out. I tried to kill myself.”
Where did that come from?
I was astounded; not at the fact, but at him saying it out loud. I knew there’d been a day, back when he’d been a student, when he’d been drinking excessively. And I knew that was all he remembered until forty-eight hours later when he’d woken up in hospital with hundreds of stitches and a few broken bones. I’d always assumed he’d been trying to kill himself, seeing it as the only way to escape the pressures that had become too much for him. But he’d never admitted out loud before, not even to me.
“Hell!” said Sam – and I’d never heard him swear before either – “was it really that bad?”
“Yes,” said Perry. “It was.” He ran his hands through his hair again. “But it’s over now, in the past. And after that I found hope and salvation through my faith and my time as a monk. I won’t get into that mess again.”
No, he won’t. I won’t let him.
But I couldn’t see any way through the path that I had to take that wouldn’t put extra pressure on Perry. Every option I had would create a conflict between what he would have to do to be with me and what he’d want to do for himself. He’d reassured me that he’d be fine, but was that truth or hope? Was there even a difference?
“Is that where you got all those scars?” Sam asked.
Perry nodded. “Most of them,” he said. “A constant reminder of what I did,” he added, his voice slightly bitter. Then he smiled. “And also of how I was saved.” He reached out to touch Sam’s arm. “I don’t know why I told you all that, why it came out. I don’t mind you knowing, but please don’t tell Ma or Pa. It would upset them and they don’t need to know, not now.”
Sam nodded. “I won’t tell. What anyone finds out is up to you.”
Personally, I thought it should all come out in the open. I suspected that Ma and Pa knew a lot more about what had happened than anyone was letting on. But I’d respect Perry’s choice, just as Sam would.
Then, all of a sudden or so it seemed, we were home and piling into the house, Amber weaving in and out of our feet with pleasure at our return and everyone there to welcome us back, including Matt, with one arm round Chrissy, and Lizzie who came running to greet Sam.
Perry looked at me, raising his eyebrows in a question. “Want me to tell?” he mouthed at me.
I supposed it was a good opportunity with everyone being together so I nodded, and he explained everything about who I was yet again. There was a stunned silence when he’d finished.
“Hey,” said Jonny, finding his voice first. “Does this mean that Leonie outranks Perry?”
“Actually, it does,” Perry answered, grinning. “Leonie is the direct heir to House Lindum. I’m only the third choice option for House Tennant.”
Ma looked up sharply at that. “Third choice?” she asked, and Perry nodded. “Only if something happens to Lilyrose or Brin, and subject to whatever Leonie chooses, too, of course.”
Ma smiled quietly and happily. She’d been brought up in the Great House, being Lord Neville’s youngest sister, so she understood exactly what he’d conceded by making Perry third choice.
“Do we have to call you Lady, now, rather than Wildcat?” Matt asked, teasing me.
Perry answered for me, “Leonie’s always been entitled to be Lady,” he said, a little sharply. “She’s Lord Gabriel’s adopted daughter and my wife.” He grinned at me. “But Wildcat suits her better.”
“Lady Wildcat, then,” Jonny said.
I was going to stick my tongue out at him but it turned into a yawn, which Ma spotted. “Lady or Wildcat – and I know which one I’d say – it’s time you went to bed,” she told me firmly and pushed me in that general direction.
Perry was still surrounded by family asking questions. “I won’t be long,” he said, but I didn’t really have any option but to go where Ma was directing.
She followed me, and I took the opportunity to confess, “I told Lord Neville about the wedding.”
“Did you? I sent his invitation. What did he say?” She was trying to make it sound casual but I could hear her eagerness for the answer in her voice.
“He said he’d drop everything to come, if he was invited.”
Ma wrapped her arms around me and hugged me. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Now, bed, young lady. I’m not having you relapse because you’re over tired.”
I fell asleep almost immediately, safe at home with my family.
Perry had a whole day without medical duties the next day so we spent the time with Matt and Chrissy. Their house, along with Sam and Lizzie’s house, was about ten minutes’ walk from the main farmhouse and we were harvesting one of the fields near there.
“I’m going to have to come and see you soon,” Chrissy told Perry.
He grinned at her. “Any time in the next couple of weeks is fine,” he said.
“You know, don’t you?” she accused him. “You already know I’m pregnant.”
He held his hands up in mock surrender. “Leonie could sense the presence of the baby,” he explained, dumping me in it. “Almost from the first day we were here. So could I once she told me. Neither of us have told anyone else. And congratulations to you both.”
I added my congratulations to his.
“I’m not even three months along and you can see the baby?” Chrissy asked.
I nodded. Perry and I could both sense the presence of other people with our minds but he’d never thought of looking for a pregnancy by sensing the baby before I showed him.
“Can you tell, boy or girl?” Chrissy asked hesitantly.
I answered that one. “Not yet. Another few weeks probably, if you want to know.”
She exchanged glances with Matt. “Maybe,” she said. “I’ll let you know.”
Perry shrugged. “Whatever you’d like is fine,” he said. “Have you been feeling okay? No problems? Any morning sickness?”
“A little nausea first thing, otherwise I feel fine,” she told him.
This time he nodded. “Come see me when you’re ready and we’ll get your maternity care set up. Have you told Ma yet? She’s going to be over the moon at the thought of a grandchild.”
Matt shook his head. “Sometime this weekend we thought. We were going to wait until the three month mark but I don’t think either of us can.” He smiled at Chrissy and stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her. “Can we?” he asked her.
“No,” she said, twisting her head to smile back at him. “I can’t wait. This weekend will be fine. Maybe at Sunday lunch?”
That sounded like a good plan to all of us, and Perry and I agreed not to tell anyone before that, not that we would have anyway. Chrissy had arranged a lunchtime picnic for us so she and I walked back to their house to collect it while Perry and Matt continued with the harvesting.
“Are you planning children sometime?” she asked me.
I nodded. “Sometime. Just not yet. Perry doesn’t think I’m well enough or strong enough yet. But I don’t want to wait too long.”
“Good,” she said patting her stomach. “I’m an only child and I want this little one to have loads of siblings and cousins and family all around.”
That sounded pretty wonderful to me. I wanted all that for my children, too. Only, that was another thing I was going to have to factor into all my choices and decisions. I hadn’t even thought about what impact my decision would have on Perry’s and my children.
Chrissy chattered away whilst we were collecting everything together. “You and Perry seem really happy together,” she said. “We all fancied him like crazy when we were at school even if he was that bit older than us. But he was always so kind and polite and so good looking. Only then we started to wonder if he was, well, you know. He didn’t date anyone; he didn’t seem that interested in girls.”
I looked at her in astonishment and then burst out laughing. “Perry? Not interested in girls? Seriously? You thought he preferred men?”
She smiled back, equally amused. “I’m guessing that’s not true. Actually, we thought he was one of those people who weren’t interested in either. And when we heard he’d become a monk that just confirmed it for us.”
“So not true,” I told her.
She just grinned back. “There’s a picnic rug on the back of the couch in the next room. Can you go pick it up for me please?” she asked.
It was right where she’d said; I reached to grab it and then looked up. What I saw terrified me. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. I'd been trapped. I’d walked right into it, thinking I was safe, and my whole world spun upside down. I did the only thing I could, which was to scream for Perry, knowing that it would do no good, knowing that either I was calling him into danger or that he was part of the trap.
Matt looked up as Perry dropped his tools and ran, heading back to the house at high speed. Assuming that Perry could hear something he couldn’t and that there was some sort of trouble he followed and had almost caught up by the time Perry reached the door. Leonie was curled tightly into a ball on a bench in the kitchen, eyes and face blank, with Chrissy kneeling in front of her but getting no response. Perry shot across the room, sliding into Chrissy’s place as she moved over to make way for him. He wrapped his arms round Leonie, talking to her, trying to reassure her. Leonie responded sufficiently to cling to Perry but without uncurling much, her face now hidden in his shoulder. Her body was rigid, her knuckles white as she gripped handfuls of Perry’s top, one foot vibrating against his leg as she shook.
“What on earth happened?” Matt asked Chrissy who was now standing, wringing her hands.
He hastened over to reassure her as she answered. “I don't know. We were laughing together then she went into the next room to get the rug and she didn't come back. I went to find her and she was just standing there not moving. I couldn't get any response out of her. I managed to get her in here but she just curled up like that. And then you got here.”
Perry moved, standing up with Leonie still wrapped around him, and his arms tightly around her. He perched on a stool facing them, leaning partly against the breakfast counter to help take the weight. “Something’s terrified her but I can't make out what,” he said. “Could she have seen anything, anyone? Through the window, perhaps?”
Chrissy shook her head. “She was looking at the wall, not the window.”
“I'll check outside anyway,” Matt said, eager to have something constructive to do. It didn’t take long. “There's no sign of anything,” he reported back. “And one of Uncle Neville’s crew was watching too. They haven't seen anyone but us around.”
“Something in the next room then?” Perry asked. “What was she looking at, on the wall?”
Again, Chrissy shook her head. “There’s a photo there,” she said. “A picture of the lake. And my great grandmother’s sampler. But that's just stitched patterns. And the House Lattys’ logo, of course.”
Perry looked at her. “Lattys,” he said slowly. “I'd forgotten your family came from there. That was a heck of a journey for your great grandmother all those years ago.”
Chrissy nodded. “She wanted to remember the family she left behind.”
Perry looked down at Leonie. “Something we’ve said?” he asked her quietly. “Something we’ve said has helped. Did you think House Lattys must be close by?” he tried, getting the tiniest of nods. “It’s half a world away, nowhere near. But why would that bother you?” he continued, clearly thinking out loud. “What would you know of House Lattys?” Panic rose in his voice. “No, Leonie, no. Tell me it’s not true. Please, tell me you weren’t at House Lattys? Anywhere, anywhere but there. Not there, please?”
Matt could see no reaction from Leonie, but Perry faltered against the counter, as if he needed more support, and then he appeared almost to shrink, to cave in on himself. And then Leonie moved, just slightly, tipping her head back to stare into Perry’s eyes, eyes which spoke to Matt of fear and loss and…shame? They were both utterly oblivious to anyone else in the room.
Matt beckoned to Chrissy and led her outside, impulsively scooping up the picnic basket on the way. “I think we need to leave them alone for a bit,” he whispered.
“What’s going on?” she asked him. “I don’t understand. Everything was fine and now this?”
“I don’t understand either,” he said shaking his head. “House Lattys obviously means something frightening to Leonie. I know Perry’s been there; before he became a monk, Uncle Neville had arranged a marriage for him with the daughter of the High Lord there. But how that all adds up, I haven’t a clue.” He paused. “Whatever’s happening in there, you are growing my child and you need to eat. We’ll take the picnic and go where we planned. They can come find us when they’re ready.”
Perry had come to rescue me, walking into the trap, oblivious to any danger and proving yet again that he would always keep his promise to find me. Only now, Perry was afraid, not of the present but of the past. I could hear it in his voice, his words. “Not there, Leonie. Please, tell me not there. Not House Lattys. I hunted there.”
And finally, I understood.
I saw the threads of his mind tearing, unravelling, showing me the tangle that lay beneath, the guilty knot he needed to deal with. I reached out to help him. However terrified I was, here and now, Perry needed me. I lifted my hands to his face, running my fingers into his hair, capturing his gaze with mine.
“Not me,” I said quietly. “You never hunted me.”
“I could have, though. I joined the hunt. I stopped when I realised but until then, that day, I hunted. That’s the person I was. How did I become that person?”
“You aren’t that person now,” I told him. “You’re forgiven, remember? You turned your life around. And I forgive you. You have to forgive you, too.”
“I am? You do? I do?” he said, his voice still full of pain.
He slid down so that we were sitting on the floor, his back against a cupboard, me sitting across his legs but our bodies close and our arms and minds still around each other.
“Yes,” I told him, stroking his hair.
How can he be so lost? How can he not understand?
Sometimes I thought some of the monks and nuns spent so much time and effort studying theology deeply that they missed the simple truths behind it. Repentance wasn’t about being sorry and being forgiven and everything forgotten and all being alright again. It was about recognising that you’d done wrong, that you’d been on the wrong path and about turning your life around so you weren’t in that place again. And as part of that, you had to accept forgiveness and let go of the guilt.
Perry had hit rock bottom and then, with God’s help, he’d turned his life around. But, deep within him, he still hadn’t forgiven himself, not for this.
“I thought I was okay,” he said brokenly. “I thought I’d dealt with it all.”
He hid his head in my shoulder, his own body shaking as he tried to deal with all he was facing.
“It’s like you told me once, about my missing memories,” I said softly, still stroking his head. “You said they’d come back when my mind was ready to deal with them. This is the same.”
“Disagree with my mind. I’m not ready,” he mumbled into my shoulder. But at least it was an attempt at humour and it reassured me.
“You sorted lots out, right at the start,” I told him. “Andrew and Mel, and the other girls you slept with. And then you started to sort things out with Ma and Pa and Uncle Neville.”
There had been so many layers to what had gone wrong for Perry. Immediately before his breakdown he’d felt abandoned by Andrew, his closest friend, when Andrew chose to join the Order. By then, Andrew had been the only thing keeping him functioning. Mel – his on-off lover – had been sent away some time before but Perry had still been drinking heavily and sleeping around to try to beat the terrifying nightmares that all adepts have and which had only been getting worse. He’d still been under pressure from Ma to come back and take over the farm, and from Uncle Neville to take up his role as heir to the Great House. And he’d still been lying to both of them about the fact that he’d actually been studying medicine.
“I didn’t finish that till you brought me back here,” he confessed, head still buried in my shoulder.
“And now you need to work through this,” I told him gently. “But this time, I’m here with you.”
And this one, the last one, was the deepest. He had turned on fellow humans, hunted innocent children, with intent to kill not for defence but just for entertainment.
“Was it you?” he asked, lifting his head slightly. “The child I met. Was it you?”
“What child?” I asked.
In some Great Houses orphans were treated as slaves, maltreated and considered simply as dispensable working units. It wasn’t hard for them to run away, but if they did, they were left to live wild and then hunted for sport. I’d been one of those children and House Lattys had been one of those Houses.
“I met a child,” he said. “When I left the hunt. She made me realise what I’d become. That’s why I drank so much that night… I thought she was just a vision, a dream.”
“It could have been,” I said slowly. Could I have been the one that had pushed Perry over the edge? “I met a lordling once. I don’t remember what he looked like. I thought he was an angel. He was kind and gentle and gave me food. That’s all I remember.”
It might have been all I could remember, but it was still too much for Perry. He put his head back into my shoulder and I held him as sobs racked his body. Twisting into his mind, offering what comfort I could, I sensed the knot in his head untangle itself, the weave lying smooth and straight at last. Eventually, Perry lifted his head, smiling at me weakly as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He could never find his handkerchief even though I knew he always started the day with one. I passed him mine.
“Sorry,” he said. “I could have killed you, lost you before I even found you.”
“Well, you didn’t,” I told him, smiling back and hugging him. “And anyway, if you had, you wouldn’t have known it.”
Despite everything, that made him laugh. He got to his feet, lifting me up with him and standing me down on the floor. “Come on,” he said. “I need to go and face this thing in the other room and I think you do too.”
I didn’t want to go in there again but I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight. Clinging to his hand, I followed him. He sat us down on a couch, facing the stitched sampler hanging on the wall. I didn’t want to look at it so I curled tightly against him, turning my face away from it.
“That won’t help,” he said. “If you’re going to make me face up to things then you have to, too.” He took my head in his hands, fingers stroking into my hair, his eyes meeting mine. Then he turned me so I had to look at the wall hanging. “It’s just fabric and threads,” he told me. “Just a symbol. It only has the power we give it.” He continued softly, “You thought it meant House Lattys was nearby, even connected, didn’t you? That they’d be coming after you? That you hadn’t escaped after all?”
I nodded, struggling to find my voice now the focus had moved from Perry to me. I had thought all that and then some. I had even thought it meant House Tennant was the House I feared. Now Perry had his arm around me, his head against mine. “I will always come and find you, no matter what, no matter where. House Lattys has no claim on you, not then, not now, not ever.”
I had to confess. “For a moment, part of me thought it even meant you were one of those who were after me, who starved me and beat me and chased me.”
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