Authors: Ella Skye
Copyright © 2012 by Ella Skye
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living, dead, or undead, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
Edition: April 2012
For my own Giovanni – Sei il grande amore della mia vita.
“Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.”
y yell shattered the bitter London air. And, Brad, ever aware, turned the instant I screamed. His dark head spinning, even as his body tensed and sprang in the direction of the departing Bentley.
He innately understood how my mind worked. In fact, he’d connected my single utterance with the very thing every SIS operative fears the most.
And his best friend Nigel had just been made.
I leapt over a loose manhole cover and heard my Prada boots hit the cobbles. Saw Brad’s body race for the swiftly moving wedding vehicle. And then, all too soon, felt the incredible, earth-wracking explosion, the searing heat, and the shriek of metal against glass as the chauffeured car detonated.
I shielded my face with crossed arms. Shrapnel flecked fierce and hot against my exposed skin, but it was nothing to the pain in my soul.
Allowing time for remaining shards to rocket back to earth, I took a deep breath and steadied myself for what I would see next. They were dead, all three in the vehicle, that was certain. My years at Harvard Medical School had allowed me to see the morgue in all its gory splendor. And a gas accident just south of Boston had given me evidence of the power of explosions first hand. It wasn’t pretty.
What I didn’t know was what the collateral damage would be. A moment before, Brad had been grinning, breathtakingly beautiful in an Armani tuxedo, complete with a white scarf and black, military cut, wool coat that might have been his father’s.
A smile had creased his tanned face, removing him from the snowy setting, and placing him instead in a time when I would have called him by a Roman name and legions would have knelt before him. Fifteen yards had separated us, and yet I could still feel his heat. Smell the fresh tang of his skin.
My heart was in my mouth.
For the Brad in my previous night’s dream had been drenched in blood. The dream that was eerily becoming a premonition of the vilest sort. Professor Trelawney could have her sixth-sense; I wanted no part of it.
So I turned.
Thankfully, he was standing: dazed, stunned and covered in crimson. I closed in on him near the Bentley’s burning carcass. His bared hands groped through the thick, black smoke for some semblance of a door.
The spine of the car was broken and it lay resting on its roof, like a crab dropped by a hungry gull. “Don’t touch it! Wait. Here.” I found Brad’s blistering hands and pressed my shed coat into them. He buried his soot-blackened fingers in the shearling’s thick length and pushed into the inferno as he would mitts into an oven. The noxious scent of burning rubber made us cough mercilessly, and through the blur of tearing eyes, I saw a convergence of other agents and an oncoming police car.
Our colleague, Jack Kingston, was twenty or so feet from me, waving his gloved hands frantically when I finally saw the stream of leaking gas. Grabbing at Brad, I hauled him backward, yanking and screaming as he fought me, still trying to pry open the collapsed rear door.
He was strong as a bull, and my tide of retreat was turning when I felt several other hands grip him. Jack and C, the Chief of SIS’s covert, mobile international teams, were there, shouting at him, holding him under the arms and heaving him bodily away from the snarling conflagration. We were back almost where we had begun when a second blast ripped the siren-filled air, flinging us to the ground with the swipe of a giant’s hand.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Brad was knocked senseless. His head, bleeding from the rear, had met with the immovable straight edge of the cobblestone curb. I knelt in the wet snow beside him, clamping his jaw and shoulders gently to get a better look at the wound.
Jack, beside me now, helping to hold Brad’s torso in line, looked ashen beneath the copper-brown of his flawless, shadow-style beard. His merry mouth was a stark line of white. “What should I do?”
I didn’t bother to look up. “Get me some clean cloth and as much clean snow as you can.”
He was back before I finished examining the wounds peppering my patient’s body. “Thanks. Stuff the snow inside it, folding it so there’s cloth on both sides. Good. Here, hold it against the back of his head, and I’ll fasten it around front.” He worked quickly, despite the horror of the situation, and I found myself thinking he’d have been a great counterpart during the blur of procedures that made up my medical career.
C knelt next to us, his mass further exaggerated by the square stance. His leonine face, smeared with soot and blood, was bleak. His gaze lingered on his Reports Officer’s bloodied fingers, now partially obscured by Brad’s dark hair. “If he’s okay, leave him with Jack and me and see to the girl over there. I think she’s going into shock.”
I glanced up, scanning the crowd for the victim. Sure enough, caught up between two strong men, she was pale and semi-conscious. “Right. I don’t believe he’s got a spinal injury, so you can carry him gently into the church. Put him on the floor and keep his head about six inches above the ground.” I turned back. “Oh, and cover him with something; I think he was well on his way to shock before the second blast got him. Tell the ambulance driver to give him a light sedative too; I don’t want him waking up to this mess.”
My second patient was stable by the time the paramedics had loaded her gurney onto the running ambulance.
The youngest EMT leaned out as he closed the door. “You want to ride with us?”
I shook my head.
He shrugged and the vehicle sped off. I glanced around for the first time in what seemed like years. The majority of wedding guests had departed one way or another; and the police had taken control of the scene, rerouting the minimal traffic and sectioning off the charred remains with vivid yellow tape.
Jack, bless him, was still there. Waiting by the church where he had waited faithfully until an ambulance had taken Brad away. He saw me and walked in my direction, disregarding the wind’s flattening of his artfully unkempt hair. His fingers gripped my coat, removed from Brad when the ambulance driver covered him in an industrial, wool one. “Here.” He held it up for me, and I noticed he’d been crying.
“He’s going to be fine.” I put my hand on Jack’s arm.
But he disregarded my attempt at comfort, brushed away his tears and said, “Put this on; you’re nearly blue.”
I felt the coat slide over my shoulders and shrugged myself into its warm length. My hand met something wet and cold halfway down the sleeve, and instinctively I withdrew it. “Oh, God.”
It was the cloth. Covered in Brad’s blood, wet with melted snow, made of the expensive silk I had seen only hours before on a radiant woman. I hadn’t noticed it at first. That it was part of the wrap Nigel’s bride, Sammy, had inadvertently left on the steps of the church beside her forgotten bouquet.
“It’s from her dress.” My eyes blurred, and I felt Jack’s hand pull a strand of my long, dark hair from where it had caught under the blanket.
“I know. It was the cleanest thing I could find.”
We fought back tears, until I started laughing, hysterically enough that C, had he not already left with Brad, would probably have had
sent to hospital thinking shock had met its third casualty of the day. But as both Jack and I knew, it wasn’t shock. Sammy would have reveled in the poetic injustice.
I design a wedding dress that ends up as Brad’s fucking icepack.
t was three in the morning when he finally awoke, jarred out of his drug-induced dreams by the noisy wheel on the nurse’s trolley. The room sharpened into focus, stinging his parched eyes. He’d been dreaming of his latest op, and he could still see the vivid colors of the Mediterranean behind his heavy eyelids.
A yellow and black fish darted by his head, leaving web-lke currents to filter across his face. More swept by within seconds, passing his torso and thighs until only his ankles felt their lingering movements.
He continued to the mouth of a cave he’d discovered two years prior. Switching on his headlamp, he followed the coursing beam through until the cavern entrance narrowed and slanted upwards. He pumped his legs and surfaced in a subterranean grotto, moist and musical with the rain-like dripping from limestone stalactites.
He yanked the breathing apparatus from his mouth and heaved himself onto a rocky outcropping. Swiveling to a seated position, he pulled off his fins, dropped his tanks and surveyed the ample space before him.
Flat and hard, it was the perfect surface for storing large level crates and their illegal substances. Hidden from any chance observation, the grotto only needed a second veiled entrance, which Brad would see to that today. He’d blast his way into the vicinity of a local farmer’s olive pressing shed. It was a technical demolition job, but SIS had seen to it that all its agents were trained in such work, and so, using the cover of a passing thunderstorm, he would tunnel through.
The farmer would have no idea his cellar was being used as a drug shipping line and would be further surprised to learn how his own olive oil labels would be put to use.
Brad peeled back the rubber of his wetsuit and went to work unwrapping the plastic-sealed cargo of demolition supplies. A distant muffled roll of thunder reverberated around him. Glancing at his waterproof Patek Philippe, he timed the approaching claps. A few more minutes and it would be time…
But he wasn’t in Italy. He was in a hospital, and from the sound of distant voices, it was London.
What the hell happened?
Struggling upright, Brad felt twinges of pain ricochet up and down the length of his skin, pricking and bristling at the soft touch of linen sheets. His head ached with a fury of which hangovers would have been jealous, and his hands felt as though they’d been set on a griddle.
Eyeing the needle in the back of his hand, he followed it up to the bottle hanging beside his bed and squinted to read the miniscule writing. He realized it contained a sedative and pulled it out, replacing the bleeding hole with tape originally meant to hold in the needle. He threw his legs over the bed and promptly clotheslined himself on the oxygen line resting under his nostrils. Removing it, he stood, holding onto the bed as the room whirled around him.
“I’d sit down if I were you.”
Brad managed not to flinch. “What brings you out of your lair, C?”
A chuckle permeated the dark air. “Even half-dead, you’re not easily surprised.”
Despite his inclination not to, Brad collapsed back upon the mattress. “Not your fault. Old men never astonish anyone.”