Thread of Hope: A love story with a paranormal twist
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
What if your secrets are so dangerous they could destroy the one you love?
Is honesty always the best policy?
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
Leonie may have run away but Prospero will find her. He loves her and he wants a future with her by his side whatever the consequences. Only when he does find her, he ought to tell her who he really is, outside the monastery. That'll make her run again. Dare he risk it? But if he doesn't tell her, someone else may...
Marriage to Prospero is what Leonie wants most and the one thing she knows she can't have. If he found out what she was really like, what she'd been, what she'd done, he'd despise her and she couldn't bear that. Better to leave now than live a lie – but it's harder than she expected. If only...
Gabriel is starting to discover the secrets inherent in Leonie, secrets that not even she knows, secrets that will tear the world apart. And the secrets he is keeping are tearing him apart. How can sacrificing those he loves possibly achieve peace when everything he discovers risks the death of millions?
The pacing complimented the plot, which was self-contained and a wonderful next step for the natural progression of the story. I hope the author continues developing and exploring the world, she has the fundamentals for a saga on her hands. Radzy Writes
An intriguing second book in this surprising series. 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, yet again, 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 all underlining of the story and plot. An exciting, interesting, thought-provoking, emotional journey. Jess Bookish Life
An interesting post-apocalyptic universe...with plenty of intriguing characters. Becca's Books
Interesting ideas, clear creativity and a vivid imagination. I think Bonner likes to leave readers teetering on the top of the abyss. Cheryl M-M's Book Blog
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
The quick pace, perfect balance between information and action along with the likeable characters made Strand of Faith a truly enjoyable read. It is a truly unique story and the elements are woven together so well. Odd Socks and Lollipops
What can I say about this book? It was pretty darn good! I can truly recommend this book to anyone that likes to read about choices and it has certainly paved the way for a fantastic series. Nemesis Book Blog
Such an exciting concept executed so cleverly and uniquely. This is the start of such an exciting series and I cannot wait to see where we head off to next time. ZooLoo's Book Diary
It is a rare book where you find so many incredibly well written, well rounded characters. The Midnight Review
Release date: May 2, 2019
Publisher: Isbin Books
Print pages: 249
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Thread of Hope: A love story with a paranormal twist
Rachel J Bonner
She found him pacing between the stacks in the library; for all his other faults he was a conscientious student.
“What are you looking for?” she asked, sensing his frustration.
He brushed her off. “It doesn’t matter, just something I heard about.”
“Tell me. Maybe I could help.”
He thought about that; maybe she could. Although they were both student doctors, she was several years older and nearing the end of her studies. “Someone mentioned power stones and master stones. I want to know more.”
Now she understood. Such things would be irresistible to him. “You won’t find anything here. They aren’t stones. You’re looking in the wrong place.”
He rounded on her. “You know about them? What class are they covered in? Where can I find out more?”
“They aren’t taught in class. You’d only find out about them at the very end of your training, depending on the specialism you choose. Or if you became a monk.”
That made them both smile; anyone less likely to become a monk was hard to imagine.
“Or a High Lord,” she added.
That took the smile off his face. The risk that might happen was something that both kept him awake and tormented his dreams. Their world was feudal; individual establishments pledged their loyalty to Low Houses, who in turn pledged to High Houses. And the High Houses pledged to Great Houses, each of which was ruled by a High Lord. He was eligible to be heir to one of those High Lords, and just the thought of the responsibility gave him nightmares.
“So how do you know?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not here. Somewhere private. Come on.”
He followed her eagerly, lengthening his stride to catch up and wrap an arm round her waist. Although they weren’t a couple they had been lovers on and off for some time; he had no problem persuading her to talk.
“I overheard my mother and him talking about them years ago, when he became Abbot. His ring is one, you know,” she confessed, referring to the High Lord of the Great House they both currently lived in. Here, the Great House was based around a monastery and the High Lord was also the Abbot. “Then I made it my business to find out all I could,” she continued. “Most of the information is hidden away but I tracked it down.”
That didn’t surprise him. There was no one quite like her for getting into places she wasn’t allowed and finding out things she shouldn’t know.
“They aren’t jewels like that,” she told him, gesturing at the emerald in his signet ring. “They’re constructs, a sort of miniature cross between an EEG machine and Shields.”
As doctors, this couple were both familiar with machines that sensed, measured and tracked brainwaves. As a part of the quarter of the population that were Gifted with extra abilities, such as telepathy or telekinesis, they also were familiar with what the mind could do and with the Shields that could contain or prevent the use of such Gifts. He nodded, understanding, and urged her to carry on, his thirst for knowledge consuming him.
“They’re about linking two or more Gifted people together,” she said. “You activate them by touching them with your mind, a bit like telepathy, and they transfer the energy you’d normally use for your Gifts to one dominant person, from all those who are connected.”
“So that one person has more energy and it enhances their abilities?” he asked, eagerly.
She nodded. “Yeah, but they’re limited. Power stones restrict how much energy is transferred to protect their users. And they only work over a short range. Master stones work over a much greater range, and they collect the energy and store it, like a battery. But they take all the energy they can from their user, too. People don’t survive using a master stone.”
“What do they look like? Have you seen them? Where can you get hold of them?” he demanded.
She laughed. “I’ve seen them and so have you. They are always disguised to look like jewels set in silver or gold. Some say the setting helps them transmit and receive energy.”
“So? Where are they?”
“Each of the Gifted monks or nuns has a power stone in the cross they wear. And I told you, his Abbot’s ring is one. I think it’s a master stone. And my mother has a power stone too, in that brooch she nearly always wears.”
“How can you tell? How can you be sure it’s not just an ordinary jewel?” His curiosity was overwhelming.
She shrugged. “If you touch an ordinary jewel with your mind, it’s just that, a stone, inert and non-responsive. If you touch a power stone you can feel it hum, a bit like the Shields do.” His disbelieving look stung her. “I can prove it,” she insisted. “Meet me on top of the Abbey Tower at midnight. I’ll show you.” With that, she was up and off, leaving him to ponder over all that he’d been told.
He met her at midnight, as she had known he would, still insatiably curious. They made love first, at the top of the tower, another private place where they wouldn’t be found. She was insistent and he was hardly averse. Afterwards, she showed him what she had brought. First, one of the crosses worn by the monks and nuns. He didn’t ask how she’d got hold of it. Best not to know, he thought.
“That central stone is the power stone,” she told him. “Just touch it with your mind.”
“How can I?” he asked. “It’s night time and this is the Abbey. The place is shielded.”
The whole campus – monastery, college, House and hospital – was shielded at night for protection but those Shields didn’t stop an adept using his or her Gifts within the area. The Abbey itself, the focus of the campus, was shielded at all times so that no adept could use their Gifts within it.
“Not here, it’s not,” she said. “The Shields don’t reach this high. Try it and see.”
Still not sure, he did as she had told him and found the stone hummed gently at him. Now that he looked with his mind he could see it was a construct, and it was obvious how to use it should he wish to. He withdrew his mind and looked again with his eyes. However hard he tried he could see no visible distinguishing marks; the stone looked like a small sapphire.
Reading his discoveries in his face she was satisfied and brought out her other find, a long thin box. She opened it in front of him to reveal two identical necklaces. Both were finely wrought in silver, intricately woven in the crossed keys pattern symbolic of House St Peter. Each had a large central sapphire, with smaller blue stones set elsewhere in the design.
“One is a copy,” she said. “Silver and sapphires, just what it looks like. The other… He said the central stone was a master stone. I heard him tell my mother.”
“Have you touched it?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper in awe.
She shook her head. “I haven’t dared,” she confessed.
He dared, though. Like a moth drawn to a flame, he was unable to ignore it. Gently, slowly, delicately he touched it with his mind. Like the power stone it hummed quietly and in that moment he understood it was a lock to which he didn’t have the key.
“Wow,” he said reverently as he withdrew his mind. “Where do they come from?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Traders brought his ring and this necklace when he became Abbot. That’s all I know. Apparently, they said this was for his daughter.”
That made him look up, tearing his eyes away from the jewels. “He doesn’t have a daughter. How could he?”
“Well, no,” she agreed. “Unless there’s some terrible secret we don’t know.” She closed the case over the necklaces. “We should leave separately,” she told him. “You go first. I’ll follow in a bit and put these back where they came from.”
He nodded and left.
Alone on top of the tower, she reopened the box and looked again at the necklaces. His daughter, she thought. He had been her guardian; she was as close to being his daughter as anyone. Perhaps this master stone was hers by rights. Without thinking further she reached out to touch it. An explosion of colour hit her mind and then everything went black.
One of the senior monks, also a doctor, found her by chance a few minutes later. Unable to sleep, he’d been seeking a quiet place to pray but now he set about putting things to rights. He found her the medical care she needed and returned the jewellery to where he knew it was kept. He told her mother and the High Lord the bare minimum they needed to know. They chose neither to ask more nor to punish her, but she was sent away to stay with her father’s family. The Abbey Shields were extended to ensure the top of the tower was now covered.
The young man from the tower assumed all was well with her, knowing no better, and their worlds drifted apart. He became involved with a young lady that his High Lord thought might make him a suitable wife. Soon after that his whole world fell apart.
Easter Sunday Evening – April
As soon as the Easter evening celebration service finished Prospero went looking for Leonie. He wasn’t concerned when he didn’t spot her in the congregation. There were to be refreshments afterwards and he’d already expected that she would disappear to help Pedro in the kitchens. When he found that not only was she not in the kitchen but that she hadn’t been there since before the evening meal he became a little more concerned. He retreated to a quiet courtyard and started to scan the campus for her with his mind. He still didn’t find her; his first thought was that he must have missed her in the congregation. As there was a Shield over the meeting place he went back to search physically again but with no success. He came across Andrew amongst the crowd and asked him if he’d seen Leonie.
Andrew shook his head. “She’s not here. I’ve not seen her since the service. Why, what’s up?”
“I said I’d find her afterwards to talk to her about something and now she doesn’t seem to be anywhere.” Prospero ran both hands through his hair. “I have to find her.”
“Have you looked for her?”
“I can’t sense her anywhere, which means she’s either somewhere shielded or she’s shielding, and she’s not here.” He gestured across their meeting place.
“Why would she be hiding from you? Have you done something stupid?”
“Maybe,” Prospero confessed. “But if I have, that’s even more reason I need to find her.”
“The only other shielded place right now is the Old Chapel,” Andrew said.
“She goes there to think,” Prospero said, feeling a surge of relief at this likely solution. He set off fast in that direction, knowing that Andrew would follow. When the Old Chapel proved unyielding to Prospero’s whirlwind like search, Andrew suggested that they try Leonie’s room.
“She’s not there,” Prospero snapped.
“I know that,” Andrew replied. “But it might give some clue as to where she is.”
Impatient, Prospero agreed and this time Andrew kept pace with him. It didn’t help that from halfway down the corridor they could see that Leonie’s door had been left partway open. Prospero broke into a run, Andrew hard on his heels. Leonie’s room was normally both tidy and a little bare. As Prospero pushed through the door, his first glance suggested that there was nothing out of place.
Then he caught sight of the necklace sitting on the desk and snatched it up, turning to Andrew. “She always wears this,” he said, fear clutching at his throat. “If she isn’t wearing it…”
He couldn’t bear to think that she would be out there, vulnerable and alone, without the symbol that marked her as under the protection of this House.
Andrew grabbed a sheet of paper from the desk. “She left a note,” he said unfolding it and they read it together.
Prospero sank into the chair, his head in his hands. “I’ve chased her away,” he said brokenly.
Lost in his own fear, he barely heard Andrew’s voice.
“Stay there,” Andrew ordered. “Don’t do anything. I’m going to get Gabriel.”
Sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head bowed, the necklace and note crumpled together in one hand, Prospero didn’t notice the passage of time until they returned. He looked up as they entered, his eyes dark with pain, and silently handed the note to Gabriel.
’I’m choosing to leave. This problem can’t be solved, so it’s better that I go. There’s no need to come looking for me. Sorry.’
Gabriel read the note and looked back at Prospero. “What did you do?” he asked quietly.
“I asked her to marry me.”
“Already? What happened to being careful and taking it slowly? What did she say? Why has she disappeared?”
“She didn’t say anything. It was during the service. I told her not to, that I’d find her later. It just happened but I meant it. I have to find her.”
Gabriel stared at Prospero for a long moment.
Prospero stared back as determination flooded through him, hot and urgent. He stood up. “I am going to marry her,” he insisted.
“And my permission?” Gabriel asked, sharply.
A small smile ghosted across Prospero’s face. “She’s chosen to leave your House.”
Gabriel did not to react to his challenge. “Very well. You have my permission on one condition, and that is that she agrees of her own free will. No coercion.” He paused for a moment. “Now, we need to find her. My office, I think, while we get organised.”
Striving to remain calm, Gabriel knew he was out of his depth the moment he scanned Leonie’s note and stared at the despondent Prospero, Andrew hovering concerned at his elbow. He reached out telepathically for Ellie.
“She’s gone again, Ellie. He is distraught.”
“What did he do?” Was it just the lack of nuance in telepathy that made Ellie sound neither surprised nor upset?
“He asked her to marry him.”
This time he was sure he caught her feelings of satisfaction. “What do I do?”
“Find her, of course. She’s your ward, Gabe, your daughter. You don’t want her lost and alone out there. Get searching with all the resources you can find.”
“Last time I had to be reluctant. Sometimes I just don’t understand you.”
“Good thing, too. I’m on my way. Meet you at your office.”
Gabriel stood in the doorway between his private office and the public outer office, watching Eleanor and Sister Chloe as they conferred over the search plans.
This is ridiculous. How hard can it be to find one eighteen-year-old girl with the full resources of a Great House at my disposal?
Chloe turned towards him. “She’s not on campus anywhere,” she said.
“I know,” he replied. “I already checked. Have the Shields raised again and put perceptors at the boundaries to search as far out as they can sense. Put Philip on the town side, and Henry can check the wood side. Use Nick and Beth too.”
“What about a search of the woods?” Chloe asked.
Eleanor responded before Gabriel could, “No. It’s dark, it’s late. There’s no reason to think she’s hurt so the woods can wait till tomorrow. We’ll send search parties into town, where there’s more light.”
“There are shielded buildings in town,” Chloe pointed out. “We should prioritise them.”
“I should never have taught her to shield herself,” Gabriel admitted, trying not to meet anyone’s eyes.
To his surprise, Prospero corrected him, “She’s known how for months, probably since before she got here.”
Prospero had been sitting despondently with his head in his hands. Now he started pacing up and down to the extent the room would allow, checking on what everyone was doing. On the whole, Gabriel preferred it when Prospero was sitting still. At least then he wasn’t interfering with the organisation and progress of the search. Gabriel strode over to beside Ellie and made a small gesture towards Prospero.
“He needs something to do, to occupy him,” she whispered.
“I know that, but what? He’d be way too disruptive on a search team and right now he can’t find the discipline to be useful as a perceptor. He’ll not be able to stick to anything.”
“If Mark pulls the Shields in as tight against the campus as possible, would the very top of the Abbey Tower be outside them?”
“You know it would, Ellie. I haven’t changed that since Mel was up there, I just extended the Shields.”
“So pull in the Shields and send him to the top of the tower to search from there. He’ll be able to look wherever he chooses. He can pace round the top and he won’t get in anyone else’s way. Send Andrew to keep an eye on him.”
That seemed to be as good an idea as any that Gabriel had, so he dispatched both Andrew and Prospero to the top of the Abbey Tower.
“It’s going to be alright,” Eleanor told him as they watched the office door close behind Andrew and Prospero. “We will find her. She won’t be far away.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Ellie just smiled at him. “I am though. My guess is we’ll find her and have her back here before lunch tomorrow – I mean later today.”
On top of the Abbey tower, Prospero cycled through three activities – searching the surroundings with his mind, pacing up and down, and sitting in despair with his back against the parapet. None of them occupied him for long at a time. Right now he was in the despondent phase and Andrew sat beside him offering what comfort he could by his presence. Prospero tipped his head back against the wall, staring up at the stars. “Why did I do it?”
“Because you're impulsive, hot-headed, act without…”
The anguish in Prospero’s voice stopped Andrew in his tracks. “Seriously,” Andrew continued, trying to keep his voice soft, “what I don't understand is why she ran away. You may have been a little impatient, but she loves you so what's scared her this much?”
Prospero shook his head. “I don't know. The other day I asked her how she felt about me and she almost ran. I thought I'd scared her then but it wasn't me she was scared of, it was something else. Like when she ran from the hospital; it wasn't us she was scared of, it was the hospital itself. But this time I don't know what it is.”
“Commitment then? Perhaps she feels too young for marriage?”
“No, I don't think so. She's been living among Traders for the last few years at least. They tend to marry young so she’d be used to that.”
“Maybe she's scared of actually being married, you know, the physical side. If she's heard about your past?”
“Has she? Who told her?”
“I don't know. She’s not said anything to me but it seems unlikely that she hasn’t heard.”
“No.” Prospero’s voice was certain. “Whatever else, she’s not scared of me, not in any sense, physically or emotionally.”
“Maybe,” ventured Andrew attempting to find his way through the minefield of Prospero’s emotions, “just maybe, could she think she’s not good enough? That something in her past means she can’t be with you?”
“There's nothing, absolutely nothing that could possibly be in her past that would change how I feel about her,” Prospero said fiercely, turning towards Andrew. “Nothing, you understand?”
“I know, I know that,” Andrew said, resting his hand on Prospero’s arm to calm him. “But does she?”
“Well, I can't tell her unless we find her. Come on!”
Clearly imbued with a fresh sense of purpose, Prospero got to his feet and leaned on the wall looking towards the town. Andrew scrambled up to stand next to him.
“Right,” said Prospero. “Let's think about this. She's on foot and it's dark, so she can't go far, and she's got to hide both physically and mentally. She can't stay on the campus because we can drop the Shields and even if she's shielding from us, we'd see the energy pattern on the monitor. She can't go across the open farmland because we'd be able to see her, so her only choices are the wood or the town.”
Andrew nodded in agreement and encouragement, although he was aware that Gabriel had already worked this out.
Prospero continued, “If she chooses the wood, she'll have to move slowly in the dark and by now she'll be struggling to find the energy to shield. And if she finds somewhere safe to stop she can't risk sleeping or she'll definitely drop her Shield and we’ll spot her easily because she'll be the only person out there.”
He glanced towards Andrew for confirmation, and again Andrew nodded and murmured agreement.
“So,” Prospero carried on, “she must have chosen the town. There's people she knows there, places she could hide, and if she does drop her Shield there's probably only me who would be able to pick her out in a crowd.”
Andrew pointed out the flaw. “She'll know that you’ll be looking and able to spot her, so crowds won't help her. She'll either have to find somewhere with a Shield or get past your range. Does she even know how far you can see?”
“I don't know. She'd be able to work out it must be more than a couple of miles. But she's got Trader and Settler connections. They'd have Shields.”
Again, Andrew disagreed. “They’ll only have Dampener Shields. That’d stop her shielding but not you looking. She needs to find somewhere with Defender Shields that you can’t see through, which mostly means churches and working and shopping areas.”
Prospero shook his head. “Gabriel had the churches checked, and most working and shopping areas don't use Shields at night, when they're empty.”
Their eyes met and Andrew voiced the thought they'd both had at the same time. “Does Leonie know that?”
Before they could take the thought further they were disturbed by the sound of footsteps as someone raced up the tower stairs.
Chloe appeared. Somewhat breathless, she spoke fast. “Philip’s spotted something or someone in the riverside shopping area. It's at the limit of his range and it keeps disappearing and he can't be sure he recognises her, but there shouldn't be anyone there at this time. Can you look?”
Prospero turned back to the parapet wall and leaned out over it towards the town as if every inch closer would make a difference. “I can’t see anything,” he said. “No one inside. There’s someone walking outside, but that’s not Leonie.”
“No,” agreed Chloe. “There’s a security guard there. Philip said it flickers, comes and goes. Could she be starting to fall asleep, but keeps waking? Or just getting too tired to maintain a steady Shield?”
Andrew agreed absently that either scenario could lead to a flickering image. His eyes were fixed on Prospero’s hands, gripping the top of the wall, knuckles white as the tightness of the grip reflected his concentration.
“Wait,” Prospero said at last. “I saw something, just for a moment. It could be her.” He paused. “Yes, I see it. It’s her. We’ve found her.” In almost the same moment he bent over, as if hit in the stomach, his hands still gripping the top of the wall. “Her colour,” he gasped. “So dark. I have to get to her.”
“You can’t,” Chloe told him, her voice worried. “We checked. We can’t get into the area until morning, between six and seven maybe.”
Andrew stepped closer to Prospero, standing over him as he crouched against the wall. Prospero looked up at him. “Andy,” he pleaded. “She needs me. I can see her, I just can’t reach her!”
Andrew reached out and placed his hand tenderly on Prospero’s temple. “Breathe,” he said, “and pray.”
Leaving his hand there, he turned towards Chloe, meeting her eyes. Eyes that were wide in startled witness, and in which he could read her realisation that the rumours she must have heard and dismissed were probably true.
I thought she was too young to know, too new here to have heard.
He pushed the thought away to be dealt with another time and kept his voice low, his face calm. “Go and tell Lord Gabriel that we’ve found her,” he said to Chloe. “We’ll be down in a few minutes. We’ll meet you at the gate on the town side.”
Chloe nodded and raced off, although Andrew didn’t even wait to see her go before he turned back towards Prospero and squatted down beside him. “You hurt when she hurts?” he asked, not bothering to keep his concern and compassion from his voice.
Andrew sighed. “Oh, Perry,” he whispered, as he reached out with his mind and linked with Prospero.
If a person wasn’t tall enough to reach something on a high shelf, a friend could help by lifting them up; two people could reach further than one. It was the same with the Gifts; by linking minds together, Andrew and Prospero could reach further than Prospero could alone. But, in the same way that a physical tower couldn’t be maintained for long, or could become unstable the more people were involved, so such linking of minds like this was limited and of short duration. This link was strong enough for Prospero to reach Leonie’s sleeping mind. Andrew felt his delicate touch as he soothed her and saw the colour she appeared in the image in Prospero’s mind improve. Once he thought Leonie would stay asleep without Prospero’s help, Andrew broke the link and both he and Prospero sank down with their backs against the wall, breathless from their exertions.
“I must try not to make a habit of this,” Prospero muttered.
“You’ve done it before?” Andrew asked him, voice rising with alarm. “You understand how entirely inappropriate it is?”
“I do. But it’s been for her benefit both times and anyway, I’m going to marry her.” Prospero’s voice was euphoric with relief at having found Leonie.
“Only if she agrees,” Andrew insisted. “And anyway, at least promise me you won’t do it again without telling her.”
“How can I tell her when she’s asleep and I’m not there?” Prospero stood up. “Come on. Gabriel will be waiting for us.”
Andrew followed him down the stairs. “You know someone will have spotted us doing that?” he said.
Prospero brushed it off. “Who? Neither Gabriel nor Eleanor can reach that far and it’s at the limit of Philip’s ability so he won’t have spotted it. Henry was looking on the other side of the campus and Beth doesn’t have the experience to have noticed it. So that leaves Nick, and if he saw it, he won’t tell.”
Andrew just shook his head, not quite sure that the confident euphoric Prospero was an improvement on the uncertain miserable one. By the time they’d reached the gatehouse on the town side of the campus, Gabriel, Eleanor and Chloe were already there. Gabriel’s look at Andrew and Prospero was penetrating enough to make Andrew wince, certain that Gabriel must know what they’d done, but at least Gabriel didn’t say anything. Prospero rushed headlong through the main archway towards town.
Gabriel called him back. “No,” he said firmly, his voice harsh. “She’s safe enough. We’re watching her from here, and I’ve people watching the shopping area exits.”
Prospero came to a sudden halt, looking back at Gabriel in what Andrew could only interpret as astonishment and indignation.
“You have my permission to leave here at six this morning,” Gabriel continued, his voice still hard. “No earlier. In the meantime, you are to sleep. You look like you’ve used far too much energy today already. If anything changes, you will be woken.”
Prospero opened his mouth to object, but to Andrew’s relief something – probably the look on Gabriel’s face – made him stop.
Gabriel softened slightly. “Use the bed in the office. You’ll be close to hand if anything happens. Andrew, go with him, and sleep too, if you can.”
Prospero turned and went without any public comment, but he muttered to Andrew most of the way. “Sleep, if you can! I’m not going to be able to sleep. How am I supposed to sleep when she’s out there alone and scared? I need to get to her. I need to be with her. She needs me. How can I sleep when she needs me?”
“Even you aren’t daft enough to say you can’t sleep, are you?” Andrew warned him. “You do know what will happen if you do? You won’t be given any choice. You’ll be given something to make you sleep and you won’t be awake by six for sure. At least lie down and pretend to sleep.” He drew a deep breath and started again before Prospero could answer. “And anyway, Leonie is peacefully asleep, thanks to you. Right now she doesn’t know she’s scared or alone, and she’s safe and she’s being watched. Nothing’s going to happen to her in the next few hours.”
Wisely, Prospero took Andrew’s advice, lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. He obviously had no intention or expectation of sleep but, as Gabriel had noticed, he had used a great deal of energy searching for Leonie, fretting about her and then soothing her sleep. Andrew watched until he was sure Prospero was deeply asleep and then lay down on the couch to sleep himself.
“Come on, wake up, we have to go get Leonie.” Someone was shaking Andrew.
“Get off,” he grumbled, still more than half asleep. “What is it? What’s happening?”
“We have to get Leonie.” Prospero’s voice was urgent, almost panicked.
Andrew pushed him away and sat up. “I need coffee first. Not going anywhere without coffee.”
Chloe, who he hadn’t noticed until that point, pushed a hot mug into his hands with a smile. “Here, take this. Leonie’s still asleep, but we expect them to switch the Shields on any minute. You can get going as soon as you’re ready.”
Slightly more awake after several mouthfuls of coffee, Andrew risked a glance at Prospero, who was almost vibrating with impatience and unable to keep still. He gulped down the coffee, deciding to be ready very quickly. They met Lord Gabriel, Lady Eleanor and several others at the gate on the town side of the campus. Prospero stepped outside the range of the campus Shields for a moment, obviously checking on Leonie for himself, and then, with a sigh, turned back towards where Gabriel was giving instructions.
“Andrew, Nick,” Gabriel said. “You’re to go with Prospero to the shopping area, but only Prospero is to go in to search for Leonie. Should all be well, you can return here, and bring with you those who’ve been stationed there overnight. Prospero, if you need help, you ask for it, understood?”
Prospero nodded. Andrew hoped he meant it.
“Should there be problems,” Gabriel continued, “Nick is in charge, and I am relying on all of you to make sensible decisions.”
He looked hard at Prospero, but didn’t comment further before sending them off with a wave of his hand. Andrew trailed slightly behind the other two.
“I hope this works,” he overheard Gabriel say. “I don’t think Prospero would make any sensible decision right now, not if Leonie turns him down. I can’t see him letting her walk away.”
“No,” Eleanor replied sounding satisfied. “Neither can I.”
They were almost at the shopping area when Prospero increased his pace sharply.
“What?” Andrew asked telepathically as he hurried to catch up, Nick matching his pace.
“The Shields have been switched on. I can’t sense her anymore.”
The main entrance was just being unlocked as they arrived, and they paused for a moment outside. Andrew and Nick glanced at each other, and then Andrew turned to Prospero. “Go on, then,” he said. “I guess it’s now or never. We’ll be praying for you. Let us know if you need us.”
Prospero nodded in thanks and acknowledgement, took a deep breath, then stepped through the entrance.
Voices tried to find their way in. No words, just a hum of sound. Then a knock, a clatter as something dropped, hitting the ground hard. I bolted upright, not sure for a moment where I was, scanned the room with eyes and senses, then sagged with relief to find no one there. I was in the back room at the bakery I used to work at and what I could hear was the sound of the shopping area starting to come to life around me. Today was a holiday but it made little difference for this particular shopping area. It focused on fresh foods, baked goods and cafés, and most places would be open to entice those spending a relaxed day free from work.
The pain of having to leave Perry hit me sharply again but I had only a few minutes before someone would arrive to unlock this shop and catch me hiding, so I collected up my things and left. The Shields were still on, but there were a few people milling around already. I pulled my hood up in case anyone noticed my hair, and I found a bench to sit on in the central plaza while I thought things through again.
My plan had been to steal anything I might need and then catch a train out of here just as fast as I could. That would get me out of the range that Perry could search. I knew now that I couldn’t do that. I’d stolen before, many times, but it was one thing to steal when it was the only way to get what you needed for survival, or for the survival of others. It was quite another to do so under these circumstances, and I wasn’t going to. I could buy what I needed, but one way or another I’d be noticed and remembered – I was known round here, at least by some. It was the same for the train. I’d never been on one but I assumed I’d have to pay somebody something. Then they’d remember me too, a girl who didn’t know what she was doing.
As I sat there, I realised the real problem was that I didn’t actually want to leave. Even if I couldn’t have him, Perry was where I belonged, the place I fitted, where I was safe. I needed to know where he was, how he was, that he was okay. And this Great House, these people I’d been with for months now, they were the closest I’d ever felt to having a family. I knew Perry had left his birth family and I’d not been able to understand it. Now I was beginning to comprehend that there could be reasons, circumstances under which that was the only option. But he always knew the right thing to do, he was strong and brave and I wasn’t. I didn’t think I had the strength or courage to walk away from what had been offered me, but nor could I take it up.
Unable to leave, and unable to stay, I sat there on the bench, arms around my knees, paralysed by indecision.
Prospero came to a standstill almost as soon as he’d entered the shielded shopping area. Where would she be? The place was a maze of little streets and alleyways. Without thinking, he reached out to look for her with his mind, and hit the Dampener Shield. Idiot. He was going to have to do this the hard way.
Right, where would I hide if I were her?
He studied his surroundings, trying to concentrate, to think instead of rushing headlong. There were one or two people around, starting to roll up blinds, unlock shops, set out café chairs. Leonie wasn’t likely to be in the busier areas, the ones that opened for the early trade. She’d have found somewhere quieter, one of the lanes where the shops opened later, surely?
Or, given that she’d somehow got into this place when it was locked, might she have also got into the back room of one of these shops? How could he possibly find her if she’d done that? It would be easy enough to miss her in this maze even if she wasn’t trying to hide from him. With no other option coming to mind, he headed towards the central plaza.
One of the workers setting out chairs caught his eye with a smile. “Good morning, Brother,” she said.
Ask, you idiot, ask for help.
Prospero turned towards the worker. “Good morning,” he replied. “I wonder if you can help me. I’m looking for Lord Gabriel’s ward. She’s about this tall”—he indicated her height—“with curly red hair and I think she’d be wearing grey trousers and tunic.”
The woman shook her head. “I’ve not seen anyone like that around this morning.” She called a colleague over from inside the café.
The second woman agreed, “No one answering that description, today, no.” She studied Prospero. “There used to be someone like that working at one of the bakeries. Leonie, she was called. But I’ve not seen her for a while either.”
“Leonie, that’s her,” Prospero said. “Which bakery was it? Can you tell me where it is?” If Leonie knew one of the shops here well, that would be where she’d hide for sure. And a bakery. No wonder she got on so well with Pedro.
The woman shrugged. “Sure. You don’t want to go all the way to the centre or you’ll miss it. Take the next left up here, then there’s a right turn. Don’t take that, but go past the next shop, then up a little alleyway to your right. It twists a bit, but it opens out onto the lane the bakery is on. When you get to the end of the alleyway, you want to turn left again, away from central plaza, and it’s the second shop on your right. Got it?”
Prospero nodded. “Left, alleyway to right, turn left, second on the right. Thank you so much.”
He set off, trying hard not to run, at least not until he was out of sight. Left turn, alleyway – he ran through there – left again, and there was the bakery, just being opened up.
“Excuse me,” he said to the man out front, “I’m looking for Leonie. Have you seen her today?”
The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, Brother. She hasn’t worked here for a while.”
“I know that,” Prospero replied, trying to keep calm. “She’s Lord Gabriel’s ward but she’s gone missing. I thought she might have come here.”
“She’s good at hiding, that one. You’ll not find her unless she wants you to.”
Prospero sighed and his shoulders slumped. “That’s what I was afraid of. Thank you anyway.”
He turned towards the central plaza, his head down, feet dragging, not sure where to go next. He might as well sit there and think about what to do now. He looked up as he entered the space, still all but empty in the early morning.
And there she was, perched on one of the benches to one side, hood pulled over her head, knees drawn up to her chin, and looking as if she was lost in thought. As delight surged through him, he breathed out her name in relief. She couldn’t possibly have heard at that distance but she looked towards him. He caught the sheer joy on her face and body language for a moment before it was replaced by overwhelming sadness, loss and rejection. She scooped up her backpack and turned away from him. Terrified she would run again, he was at her side in a moment, taking her by the shoulders and pulling her towards him. She didn’t resist but nor did she move closer. He didn’t know what to say and again blurted out the first words at the top of his mind.
“Leonie, marry me.”
“How can I?” she said bitterly. “You are a monk, the Order doesn’t marry. You can’t leave where you belong for me. Even if you could, someone like you can’t marry the likes of me. And Lord Gabriel would never permit it. Let me go, it’s better this way.”
She pulled away from him and ran, heading out of the shopping area. He set off after her, his longer legs partly compensating for her extra nimbleness in avoiding obstacles. They were halfway down the street before he caught her up. He levelled with her, then reached out and pulled her towards him, using his telekinetic Gifts both to hold onto her and bring them to a stop. She fought back, as he had expected her to, flailing at him with arms and legs. He was prepared; he held her physically close so she couldn’t get much momentum to punch or kick him, though he suspected he’d still find a few bruises later.
She gathered power around her but moved upwards, aiming her shoulder for his chin instead of pulling away. He jerked his head away. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her heels beating a tattoo on his back as she continued to push upwards. He concentrated his own energy on dampening hers, on holding her still to minimise injuries to them both. She stopped attacking him physically, but now she devoted her mental strength to combating his tactics. She pushed against his mind with all the power she could muster, a battering ram seeking his weak points, searching for where he was vulnerable. How was he supposed to deal with this when all he could think of was the feel of her arms and legs wrapped around him, the weight of her head on his shoulder, her breath warm on his neck? He aimed only to keep hold of her and keep them both unhurt while she fought out her fear and anger, loss and uncertainty against him. Just as he was beginning to think this was more than he could manage, her mental attack weakened. He relaxed a little and she took advantage, pushing her upper body away from his, although her legs were still clamped around his waist, and his arms around her shoulders.
“Let me go! Let me go! I hate you!”
Pulling her back towards him until their foreheads touched, he smiled, his eyes seeking hers. “Liar,” he breathed, slipping one hand into her hair and touching her lips with his own.
Their kiss was deep and passionate, her mouth and body betraying her words to show her true feelings, her hands now caressing rather than attacking. She unwrapped her legs from his body as he lifted his mouth from hers and he placed her standing on the ground unrestrained by his hands, body or Gifts. He took one step back and she stared at him, eyes wide and bewildered, one hand unconsciously lifting to touch her lips.
He spoke softly. “I’m not going to make you come with me. We both know I could, but I won’t. I will never force you. This is your free choice. One step towards me and we will face all these problems and find the best solutions we can, together. Or look me in the eye and tell me to my face you don't want to be with me. Then walk away and I won't chase after you. Your choice to make.”
Time seemed to stand still as he kept his eyes locked on her face, watching her indecision as she battled with her hopes, fears and desires. Her body was angled for flight, her mouth open to frame his name, but no sound came. Then she took a step forward. Time and sound rushed back and he pulled her into his arms, holding her close, saying her name over and over again in relief. Energy swirled around them, generated by their emotions. Even though the street was deserted this early in the morning this wasn’t a suitable place for that. He needed to do something with all this energy, quickly. He wrapped his arms more tightly around Leonie, touched her mind with his and teleported them both to the park along the river bank. He misjudged the landing slightly, stumbled, and they ended up rolling together on the grass. Under the circumstances it seemed entirely natural for their lips to meet.
Sometime later – it might have been minutes, it could have been days as far as Prospero was concerned – he pulled away with a great effort of will. “I’m going to renounce my vows, but I will not break them. I think I’ve probably bent them quite a long way already.”
Leonie sat up and looked around. “How did we even get here? What did you do?”
He shrugged. “We had so much energy between us. I couldn’t think what else to do with it. I teleported us. It’s not far, look the shopping area is only over there.” He pointed to where it was just visible through the trees.
She glanced back and forth between him and the trees with disbelief. “You can teleport?” she said, amazed. “Show me.”
“Later,” he said. “It takes a lot of energy and we have other things to talk about now.”
She looked away from him, down at the ground, not meeting his eyes, but he reached over and pulled her into his arms again.
“Before that,” he said, fishing in his pocket, “Here is your necklace back.” He fastened it around her neck. “It’s yours,” he said. “Yours, no matter what. You didn’t have to leave it behind.”
She just shook her head at him, fingering the necklace and its jewels. He settled her more comfortably with his arms around her. She rested against him, utterly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the decision she had just made. He wanted to hold her and reassure her, tell her everything would be alright. But he knew that to make it alright, they had to face up to why she had run, and the longer they left that, the harder it would become.
“Now,” he said. “Two of your objections I can deal with straight away. Firstly, I’m going to leave the Order anyway, whether I can persuade you to marry me or not. There are things outside that it’s time I dealt with. And secondly, Lord Gabriel has already agreed to our marriage as long as it’s what you want. So, what other problems can you find that we need to work out together?”
She still wouldn’t look at him. “I’m younger than you,” she mumbled into his chest.
He took her chin in his hand and turned her head so she had to look up at him. “I don’t think you’re trying very hard,” he told her with a smile. “Andrew has made it quite clear that he thinks you are both more mature and have more sense than me. He’s usually right. All the difference in our ages means is that I’ve got a few more memories and experiences than you have. And we both have blanks in our memories so that’s probably not much to go on. We’ve both got the present and no one knows how much future they have so all the more reason to make the most of now.”
He released her chin as she shivered at his words, and cradled her head against his chest.
“There’s something else you’re really frightened of, isn’t there?” he asked softly. “Can you tell me what it is?”
She pulled away slightly and this time she turned to look at him. “I… When… They…” she stuttered, then shook her head as if trying to clear it. “I want to,” she said, clearly. “I can’t. It’s stuck in my head. Too frightened. No words.”
“Okay,” he said. “Are you up for trying something a little scary in your head?”
“Scary for me or scary for you?”
A quick smile flitted across his face. “Both. But we’ll be right there together all the time.”
She nodded. “What do we do?”
“First, just link to my mind like we’ve done before, and let me touch yours.” He felt her touch and settle against his mind almost before he’d finished speaking and very gently he reciprocated. Her mind was wide open to him, no Shield, no barriers at all.
“Thank you,” he whispered in appreciation. “Now, I’m in your head too, so take that link and show me what the thing is. I’ll be right here all the time, so however scary it is, you’ll be quite safe.”
Perry was giving me the opportunity to tell him everything, and I would not refuse him. I couldn’t. The thought of telling him terrified me but whatever the outcome, he was entitled to know before we went further. I hoped against hope that he would still be there when he found out all about me.
I wove my mind round his link, and then guided him through the things I had been and done, my memories, such as they were, showing him the good and the bad, blanks and all. I laid out for him all the things I couldn’t put into words, in the hope that he would understand them. I didn’t hide anything that I could remember. There was no point; either he would see all this and leave me, or he wouldn’t. I couldn’t live any longer with keeping it secret from him. When we'd finished I was shaking both from the sheer effort and relief of sharing it all with someone and from my fear that he'd no longer feel the same way about me. He just looked at me and spoke, his voice soft.
“Did you really think that any of that would make a difference to how I love you?”
I didn't know how to answer that, because of course that was just what I had thought. “I thought it might change whether you wanted to be with me, whether you were even allowed to, with all the things I've been and done.”
His voice was still soft, but intense. “The fault lies with the people who've treated you like this. I’m not ashamed of what you have been or done, I’m proud of you for all that you have achieved, despite so much being against you. It’s your past that makes you the person you are today. What you have been and what you have had to do to survive don’t matter, it’s the person you are that I love.”
“You really don’t mind?” I found it difficult to believe, but I hoped so much that it was true.
“I mind that you have had to suffer, that you’ve been cold and hungry and mistreated and scared and alone and unloved. I mind so much that I don’t know how to contain how I feel, and what I want to do to those responsible conflicts with all my beliefs. But it was all done to you, not by you. How can I mind what you are, when I love you?”
He kissed me again and I knew he meant what he’d said. Then he wrapped his arms around me and held me close to him again, my head against his chest.
Very gently he asked me, “There’s more worrying you too, isn’t there? Can you tell me what that is?”
I shook my head against him, but he persisted. “You’ve shown me, haven’t you? It’s in there somewhere, in what I’ve seen, I just have to work out what it is.” He stroked my head as I nodded. “I will, you know. Work it out, I mean. And whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There is nothing that can change how I feel about you.”
I looked up at him; I had yet another worry, and this one I could share with him. “And Lord Gabriel? Won’t he mind about all this?”
He smiled. “Lord Gabriel will feel just as I do about your past and he has already given his permission. So you see, you have no reason to say no.” He took a deep breath. “Leonie, my love, please will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
“Truly, you want this?” I needed to be certain.
“Yes, I do, if you will.”
“Then, yes, yes, I will.”
I twisted round, reaching up to place one hand on either side of his face. Then I did what I had so wanted to do, for so long, and this time, I was the one who kissed him.
Prospero could have sat there for a long time with Leonie safe in his arms but her skin was pale and she seemed a little shaky. He realised it must have been hours since she’d eaten and she’d been using all that energy, as had he. And he’d not told anyone he’d found her.
“Andy,” he called. “I’ve got her. She’s okay. We’ll be back soon.”
“I figured. I’ll pass the message on.”
“Come on,” Prospero said to Leonie, getting to his feet and pulling her up. “You must be starving. I know I am and there's a café just along the path.”
She came with him, compliant but quiet, gripping his hand until they reached the café. Concerned about her wellbeing, Prospero sat her at a table by the window and went to the counter to order some food.
Emmi was serving today, just as she had for many years. Prospero had been a frequent customer in his student days, often with one of his many girlfriends, and he still treated himself to a visit every few months. In his opinion, Emmi provided one of the best breakfasts around, although these days he tended to stop for coffee and cake, usually on his way back from a clinic in the town. Leonie needed something immediately, so, as well as ordering breakfast, he asked for two glasses of milk and some fruit.
“It’s a long while since I’ve seen you in here with a young lady,” Emmi said, teasing him a little as she served him. Prospero smiled sheepishly, and she went on, “Well, you take care of this one. She’s well known and loved around here but she needs someone to look out for her.”
Prospero was a little surprised at her comments; he hadn’t thought of Leonie as having contacts in town outside the Settler group, but he grinned back at Emmi, leaned towards her and said quietly, but with feeling, “Emmi, this one I will love forever and protect with my life.”
Then he picked up the milk and fruit and went back to Leonie, leaving Emmi staring after him. He sat opposite Leonie and insisted she ate some of the fruit and drank the milk. He started to relax as the food had its effect, the light returning to her eyes, and her colour improving considerably.
“Emmi knows you,” he said. “Have you been here before?”
She nodded. “Usually round the back, though,” she told him.
He worked it out. “Emmi gives you food for whoever it is you take it to, doesn’t she?”
Again, Leonie nodded.
“Are you going to tell me who that is?” he asked.
“Sometime,” she said.
He didn’t push it, not today. She’d told him more than enough secrets for one day and he trusted that she’d tell him this too, eventually.
Emmi brought their food over and he realised that she’d tailored each breakfast to their personal preferences. He was impressed that she’d remembered his likes and dislikes; it also meant that she knew Leonie well. She gave them both rather curious looks but left them to eat in peace. As they ate, Prospero thought that perhaps it was both time and fair that he shared some of his secrets.
"You should know about my past, too," he said.
"What makes you think I don't? Your"—and Leonie’s eyes were now full of mischief as she searched for the right word—"Brothers have been eager to share all they know."
He put his head in his hands in mock despair. "I have been betrayed. Who was it?"
"It was more than one person, and not just Brothers. But you're more interested in who than in what?"
"I know what, I was there. Mostly.”
“Some of it I can’t remember. I told you there were blanks in my memories. But go on, what do you know?"
She looked at him as if wondering where to begin, but started with a question. “You said your family were farmers. Things others have said make it sound like there’s a lot of land?”
He was relieved she’d put this interpretation onto what she’d heard. “It is a big farm,” he confirmed. “They’re very successful at what they do.”
If she didn’t know already, more details and his full family background could wait until later. Right now, he was afraid it would make her run again.
She carried on, "You and Andrew were friends from the beginning. You had bad nightmares but to start with they were eased by your girlfriend, Lesley. Only, you split up big time, major argument sometime before your first Easter here. It must have been serious because she left and didn't come back, but no one knows what it was about, or at least they’re not telling." She looked up at him, brows raised in mute question.
"Well, that's one small mercy. I'll tell you later. Go on."
"After you broke up, you started partying, drinking, sleeping around. Always got your work done well and on time, always where you were supposed to be, but hardly ever entirely sober."
To his relief her voice was factual, not judgemental. "That's rather an exaggeration,” he said. “I usually only drank at night, at least to start with. It was only towards the end I started to drink during the day."
"And is the bit about sleeping with a different girl every night also an exaggeration?"
"Yes, although there were a lot and it was rarely the same girl twice."
"So I heard. Except for Melanie who encouraged you in all this. And your nightmares got worse though Andrew could nearly always calm them. He was as bad as you, by the way, and you were practically inseparable."
"That’s all true enough. But don’t put the blame on Melanie. I went along willingly. Eagerly even."
She looked at him with what could only be described as compassion. “It was the nightmares, wasn’t it?” she asked. “You drank and slept around to try and beat the nightmares only it got out of control. That’s why you warned me about not doing that, isn’t it?”
He looked down at his plate, unwilling to meet her eyes. Even now the memories of the nightmares he’d had – nightmares suffered by all those who developed Gifts – were something he didn’t want to think about.
“Perry?” she said softly, using his childhood nickname, and he looked up.
“Yes,” he confessed. “Yes, to both questions. I could just about cope with Andrew’s help, though I know now I was taking advantage of him, abusing our friendship, but then he was called to join the Order and without him I fell apart pretty quickly.”
“From what I heard you went away with some girl and when you came back rather than just falling apart you pretty much blew everything apart?”
He smiled slightly at her description. "I saw myself as others saw me and I didn't like it," he explained shortly. He knew he owed her more explanation than that. “The obvious consequence of that was the worst nightmare I’ve ever had. I ended up in hospital, not just because of the nightmare but because I’d injured myself. I did a lot of damage too, far more than you’ve ever done.”
Leonie just looked at him curiously, waiting for him to go on.
“That was rock bottom for me. I couldn’t go on. But despite everything I’d done and everything I’d said, Andrew was there for me. He sat there and was quiet when I needed quiet and listened when I needed to talk and helped me as I tried to turn my life around. Somewhere in all that I had my Damascene moment and realised that the only thing I could do was to give my life to Jesus and follow him.”
“What’s a Damascene moment?” she asked him.
Again he smiled slightly. “I forget that you don’t know what I know,” he said. “In the Bible, after Jesus died and rose again, there was someone called Saul who tracked down believers and persecuted them. One day, on the way to a place called Damascus, he met Jesus, saw him when those travelling with him didn’t. After that, Saul turned his life around and became a believer, changed his name to Paul and went on to tell many others about Jesus. He wrote quite a lot of what is now the Bible. So, a Damascene moment is a moment of insight that leads to a transformation in your life.”
“Is it sudden like that for everyone?”
“No, just some. For others it’s a gradual thing.”
Leonie nodded her acceptance of that and went back to her recitation of his past. "Then you decided to join the Order and that caused a major rift with your family which still isn't properly resolved."
He looked at her in astonishment. "How could you possibly know that? Only Andrew and Lord Gabriel know about that and neither would tell anyone, not even you."
She grinned back at him triumphantly. “I didn't know, I guessed and you just confirmed it."
He shook his head in resignation. "Go on then, what gave me away?"
"Everyone else who has or even once had family talks about them. You don't, you barely even answer direct questions about them. And everyone else with family visits them or is visited by them occasionally; even Brother Mark went nearly halfway round the world to see his family, so don't claim they live too far away."
"There are plenty who don't visit family."
"Only because they don't have family, not because they choose not to for years and years. Anyway, I'm right, so what happened?"
Food had been what she’d needed, he thought. In the course of a meal she’d gone from scared and shaky, in need of his care and protection to the feisty, curious woman he’d fallen in love with.
"It's complicated," he said.
"Everyone always says that," Leonie complained. "And it usually turns out to be pretty simple in the end."
Prospero smiled at that. "You're probably right.”
Hesitantly and carefully, he started to explain his family relationships. His mother was the youngest of four children, the three eldest of whom had agreed to arranged marriages to strengthen the family position, though the eldest sister had died before Prospero had been born. His mother had married for love; an adequate marriage by her family standards, but not a great one. That had been the beginnings of a rift with her family although Prospero thought that they had been on reasonable terms during his early childhood. Something had happened when he’d been about nine, but he didn’t know what, just that they’d stopped visiting and seeing his cousins and their parents. The real trouble had started when he’d been about eleven or twelve and had then escalated through his teen years. His uncle, by then head of the family, had chosen Prospero and his cousin Brin to train as his potential heirs. His uncle’s own son, Danny, had been in poor health all his life and had died when Prospero and Brin were in their mid-teens. Although Danny had a sister, she was just a small child, and Prospero’s uncle had wanted to ensure the continuity of the family and the security of its assets, lands and businesses. Prospero’s mother had been furious; she wanted nothing to do with her family and wanted Prospero to take over their farm from his father.
Prospero had not wanted to disoblige either faction – or indeed been in a position to – and so his teen years had been about balancing the conflict. On top of that, he’d wanted to be a doctor, which didn’t fit with either his uncle’s or his mother’s plans for him. When he’d come to study at the college, neither party had known he had chosen to study medicine, each thinking he was taking the courses appropriate for their own plans.
His breakdown had brought everything into the open. His choice of the Order had been seen by his mother as a rejection of her and her life choices. His uncle had been a little more relaxed about it, convinced that it was just a phase and prepared to welcome Prospero back once it was over. His dismissal of Prospero’s beliefs and convictions hadn’t exactly helped the relationship between them.
“Maybe a little bit complicated,” Leonie conceded. “But...you chose not to belong to them?"
Her voice was incredulous, and he was aware what an issue this was for her. He picked his words with care. "I chose to belong here. This is a family, too. But I still belong to the people there, just not their way of life."
"Couldn't they forgive you?"
"Oh, yes, my mother forgave me, although it took time, and Matt, my next brother, is a much better farmer than I'd ever have been. It's not that, it's me, I’ve never been able to face up to going back, seeing the hurt I caused to people I love. I can't forget what I did to them, even though I know I was doing the right thing for me. We write, though, most weeks."
"What do you write about?"
"I don't know, things that have been happening. They tell me about what's happening on the farm, in the family, what people I grew up with are doing, that sort of thing."
"Have you written about me?"
"No, not yet."
Prospero truly believed that he hadn’t written about Leonie. Not much, anyway. Maybe he’d mentioned her once or twice. Leonie’s face fell. Far more aware now of her insecurities, Prospero reached over and stroked her cheek, making her look up at him.
"I wasn't ashamed of you," he explained. "I wanted to keep how I feel about you all to myself, not share it, or you, with anyone. Even here, the only people who know are Lord Gabriel and Andrew and Lady Eleanor."
Leonie looked up at him. "After we're married—" she started.
But Prospero interrupted her, "Say that again, I like the sound of it."
She smiled back at him. "After we're married, can I write to them?"
"Of course you can. They'll be your family too."
"My family?" she whispered. “I’ll have a family?”
Prospero saw the light in her eyes and made a sudden decision. "Yes, and sometime soon, perhaps later this summer, I'll take you to meet them."
"Truly? But what about…?"
"Yes, truly. It's time I faced up to that, and I want you to meet them and them to meet you. Right now, though, I think we should go and see Lord Gabriel. Are you ready?"
"You haven't told me everything yet!" Now she sounded indignant.
His voice was full of laughter. "You think there might be more things your sources haven't told you?"
Leonie shrugged. "They can tell me what happened. Only you can tell me why it happened."
"And that's what interests you most? You never fail to impress me. Suppose I agree to answer your questions while we walk?"
Leonie readily agreed and they headed back towards the Abbey.
As they walked, Prospero took Leonie's hand in his. "I'm not letting you run away from me again, ever," he said.
"I wasn't running away."
He turned towards her, taking her chin in his hand and tilting her face up so that she had to look him straight in the eye. "No? It looked remarkably like running away to me.”
"No. I wasn't running away. Not exactly. I found I couldn't. I just thought it would be better for you if I wasn't around."
"Never better without you," he replied gently.
"I couldn't leave last night, so I just hid."
"You did that very well. You had me worried. I was frantic when I couldn't find you."
"How did you find me? I shielded until long after I was inside the shopping area, and I know that has Shields too."
Again he was very gentle. "Did you not realise that if you were able to shield, its Shield must have been switched off?”
Leonie looked crestfallen as he went on. “It only has Shields on when the shops are open, not at night. Once you dropped your Shield – when you fell asleep? – we spotted you, but I couldn't get to you until the shopping area opened. And do I even want to know how you got into a secure and guarded shopping area in the middle of the night?"
"Probably not," Leonie acknowledged with a grin, her crestfallen look disappearing. "I didn't know about the Shields not being on."
"I'm glad you didn't!"
"Anyway, I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions?"
"Go on then, fire away!"
"What made you want to be a doctor so much?"
He was surprised. "That's your first question? Most women would be asking about the other women I'd slept with."
Leonie shrugged. "Mostly they aren't important. But it was you wanting to be a doctor that started the problem with your family, so it must be really important to you."
He was amazed at her perception. "You know how to cut to the heart of things, don't you?" He carried on, "When I was about nine, my little sister was born. She only lived a few hours and my mother was devastated. She tried to put a brave face on it for us kids, but I decided then that I wanted to use my life to stop others suffering like that. I didn't realise that they had other plans for me."
"Do your parents know it was because of your sister?"
He shook his head. "They were so upset by losing Jenny, how could I tell them that?"
"Jenny, that's a pretty name. I like that."
He smiled at her, amused that she seemed to have been distracted by his sister's name. The distraction didn't last long.
"Did you tell anyone you wanted to be a doctor?" she asked.
He answered honestly. "Yes. I had a friend, Clare, and we grew up together from when we were small children. I told Clare, and she encouraged me, especially when we were older and I was applying to college."
"What about Clare? Did she go to college?"
Prospero sighed. "No, Clare’s parents felt more education wasn't necessary for girls, that she should get married, raise a family, run a household. Clare said she didn't have the courage or strength to go against them for herself, but by supporting and encouraging me to do what I chose, she was doing something to move the world on. She saw my family’s demands on me as old fashioned, out of date."
"What happened to Clare?"
"She got married and is running a household and raising a family, just like her parents wanted. She has three small boys, and a fourth child on the way."
"Is she happy?"
"Happy? I don't know. Content perhaps, rather than happy."
Leonie nodded and appeared to be thinking about her next question.
Prospero took a deep breath. "Leonie, you should know that Clare was the first woman I ever slept with."
She looked at him as if he were being stupid. "Well, obviously," she said.
He stopped, pulling on her hand and swinging her back into his arms. "No, not obviously. We kept it secret and since then the only people I have ever told are Andrew and Gabriel and now you. So, why obviously?"
Leonie grinned up at him, eyes full of light and mischief. "She was the person you were closest to, the only one close enough you could tell her about your ambitions, and she's female. I should think that makes it pretty obvious but also it's the way you say her name in your head."
He was astounded. "You're reading my mind?"
She shook her head. "No, but I can hear you say her name."
He protested. "But I was shielding, I always shield, it's automatic. You do too."
She nodded and shrugged at the same time, a movement he found extremely…arousing, given he still had his arms around her. "I didn't hear anything else, just her name. And the other names that matter, of course. You were thinking about them too."
He was wary now. "Which other names?"
Leonie gave him a dark look. "It's not like they are any secret. Lesley, Melanie and Marie. I mean, I've been told of loads of others but those are the only ones that are important."
Prospero released her and started walking again, though he kept hold of her hand. "If I didn't know better, I'd think Gabriel or Andrew had been telling you all my secrets."
She shook her head earnestly. "They haven’t, honest. Others have, but they don't know which ones are important. That was you." Still holding his hand she half ran, half danced so that she was ahead of him and could look back at his face, her own etched with worry and concern. "Was I wrong?"
He stopped and pulled her back into his arms again. "No, you weren't wrong, don't look so worried." He bent his head and kissed her, meaning it to be reassuring, but he was again taken aback by the effect she had on him. He took a deep breath. "You have every right to ask, and every right to know. It's just…" He paused and ran his hands through his hair. "I thought it would be easy, telling you about all this. It's all history, done and over, way in the past. But it turns out it's not—either easy, or in the past. You've already made me think again about my relationship with my family, and agree to go meet them for the first time in years. I'm starting to re-evaluate how I treated Clare. None of it paints me in a very good light and any minute now you're going to ask me why Lesley and I split up."
Leonie nodded as he paused and then continued, "And I thought I was the injured party there, utterly in the right, and I strongly suspect you're going to make me look at it differently."
Leonie smiled at him. "It doesn't have to be now, we've got forever. Tomorrow, next week, next year, never, whenever you want, there's no hurry."
"No," he said. "I'll tell you about Lesley now. I said I would and it will only get harder. The others can wait, but you should know about Lesley."
He guided her over to a bench and they sat down. Leonie looked at him expectantly, but he didn't know how to start. Eventually he just came out with it. "I made her pregnant. We were careful, but not careful enough."
"You have a child?" Leonie's eyes were wide, her skin paler than usual.
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