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Authors: Andy McDermott

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BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
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The same look was on his face that evening.

Nina was curled up in an armchair reading a book, ignoring the television. She raised her eyes to see her husband, stretched out on the sofa, paying just as little attention to the events on screen. “Earth to Eddie.”

He blinked and lifted his head. “What?”

“You were miles away. Penny for your thoughts?”

“Sounds like a good deal,” he said. “If I’d had a penny every time I’d had a thought, I’d probably have about … oh, three pounds seventeen by now.”

“That much?” They both smiled. “So what’s on your mind? You had that same look this afternoon when we were with Lola and Don.”

Eddie hesitated before replying. “I was thinking about … well, what Don said. About having kids.” He sat up. “I’m wondering if he had a point. Do we want to have kids, and if we do, are we leaving it too late?”

“We’ve still got plenty of time to decide,” she assured him. “Like you told him, we’re not
that
old.”

He didn’t seem convinced. “I dunno. I’m past forty now, you’re coming up on thirty-five … I mean, Christ, my mum and dad were only twenty-one when they had me.”

“Times change, though. People had kids when they were younger back then. My parents were in their mid-twenties when I was born.”

“I suppose.”

Realizing that the matter was still bothering him, she put down her book and joined him on the sofa. “Hey,” she said, putting her arms around him, “
do
you want to have kids?”

Another pause. “I don’t know. I really don’t,” he said, closing a hand around hers. “I mean, it’s not like we haven’t talked about it before, and it’s one of those things you just sort of assume’ll happen after you get married. But … there’ve been things that got in the way. Like mad cults and lost cities and psychos trying to start World War Three.”

She grinned. “Minor distractions, then.”

“Yeah. Most people just worry about how it’s going to affect their careers. We keep having the weight of the bloody world dumped on us.”

“It’s not really something you want to make a child deal with, is it? Probably a good thing we haven’t had one after all.”

Nina had meant the comment lightheartedly, but a sudden downcast twinge to his expression—which he hurriedly tried to hide—warned her that Eddie had taken it more seriously. “Hey, hey,” she said apologetically, “I was joking. I’m not ruling it out, not at all. But our lives have been, well … complicated.”

“Yeah, I know.” He intertwined his fingers with hers and squeezed her hand, then kissed her cheek. “Although …”

“What?”

“Well, things are a bit less complicated at the moment, aren’t they? All the IHA’s operations are ticking along without any trouble—”

“Don’t jinx it!”

He laughed. “I’m right, though, aren’t I? The Atlantis dig’s back up to speed after what happened last year; the Egyptians asked us to help with the tomb of Alexander the Great—”

“If that’s what it really is,” Nina cut in. Even the top experts in the field were not entirely certain whether the new excavations in Alexandria would bear fruit.

“Whatever, we’ve still got our hand in. And the Indian government’s working with us on the Vault of Shiva, and even the Peruvians are letting the IHA get involved with what’s happening at El Dorado.”

“Grudgingly,” she said, with a flash of professional annoyance.

“The point is, they’ve still asked for our help. So we’ve got all these digs going on at once, and you know what? They’re all going smoothly.”

“You are
so
jinxing it!”

Eddie grinned. “They’re going smoothly,” he insisted, “and you know why? Because you put people in charge
of each of ’em who know what they’re doing. So that means you don’t have to micromanage everything anymore.”

She treated him to a particularly sulky scowl. “What do you mean, ‘anymore’?”

“No, you never once looked over anyone’s shoulder and told them to dig six inches to the left, did you?” he said, kissing her again. “But the IHA’s in a quiet patch at the moment. We’ve been talking about taking a break for a while—maybe now’s the time. And there’s the book thing too.”

“Right, the book thing,” Nina echoed. It was her turn to become thoughtful. “I still don’t know what I want to do about that.”

“What’s to think about? For fuck’s sake, love, they’re offering you six figures to write about all the stuff you’ve discovered! I know it’s not like we desperately need the money or anything”—he waved a hand to encompass their Upper East Side apartment—“but you’ve got to admit it’d be a hell of a bonus. Christ, if you want I’ll write everything up for you. Although I can’t type, so I’ll have to scribble it all down in biro.”

“Just make sure you leave out all the things that are top secret,” she reminded him, amused. “Oh, and the part where you were wanted for murder by Interpol.”

“And the part where you got a faceful of crap while you were crawling through a sewer pipe.”

She grimaced at the memory. “It’s all glamour being a famous archaeologist, isn’t it?”

Eddie sniffed her cheek. “You got most of it off. This book, though—it might be the perfect time to take a bit of a break and write it, while things are quiet at work. And we could also do some”—a lascivious smirk crept across his square face—“other stuff.”

Nina feigned innocence. “What kind of
stuff
, Mr. Chase?”

“Oh, you know. Shagging like rabbits.”

She laughed, swatting his hand off hers. “There’s that subtle charm I fell in love with.”

“Yeah, it’s irresistible, innit? I’m serious, though, and
not just about a nonstop fuck-fest.” Nina giggled. “I mean about the book, and having a break from work. We could take a really long holiday, somewhere we haven’t been before—and with absolutely nothing to do with archaeology.”

Now she feigned horror. “Oh, let’s not do anything crazy …”

“Grant invited us out to Hollywood, remember? We could do that as part of a West Coast tour, maybe—start off in Seattle, then go down through San Francisco to LA to watch him filming his next movie. Even though it’ll probably be as big a piece of crap as his last one.”

“I thought you liked action movies.”

“I like
good
action movies.
Nitrous 2
was absolute bollocks, though.”

“I think you mean
Ni-two-rous
,” Nina corrected with a smile. Their movie-star friend Grant Thorn’s most recent film had gone by the rather awkward moniker of
Ni2rous
on its posters, providing a source of endless amusement to the couple—as well as late-night talk show hosts.

“Yeah, when nobody even knows how to pronounce the title, that’s probably a bad start. It really was complete arse, though. That bit where he dived out of the car that went over the cliff and fired a grappling hook to grab hold of his mate’s car that was jumping the other way? That was so fucking unrealistic they might as well have had him grow wings.”

“It wasn’t any more unbelievable than his other movies, and you liked those.”

“I
used
to like ’em. Maybe I’m growing old.”

Her smile returned, wider. “Maybe you’re growing up.”

Eddie snorted. “No danger of that, love. But I’ve got to admit, these days I’m happy just to watch Matt Damon moving purposefully for two hours. Still, actually getting to see Grant filming should be fun. Something to tell the grandkids.”

“That kinda presupposes kids,” said Nina. “I guess this conversation’s come around full circle.”

He shifted position to face her. “So … what’s your
view on that? You’re …” He paused, choosing his words. “You’re not dead set against it, are you?”

She also gave careful consideration to her reply. “No,” she said at last. “No, I’m not against it. It’s just that, like I said, our lives have been complicated. But if things did get more straightforward, then …” Another moment of thought. “I wouldn’t say no.”

From the look of delight Eddie was trying hard to contain, it was clear he was happy with her answer. “Nor would I.”

They kissed, then held each other tight. “It’s a big decision, though,” Nina said at last.

“Yeah, taking a sabbatical to get paid half a million dollars and have loads of sex. Big decision.”

Nina prodded him in the stomach, making him flinch and laugh. “I don’t mean like that. It’s more about … well, what Don blurted out.” She became more serious. “We
are
getting on, in a purely biological sense. The risks start to increase almost geometrically every year once a woman passes thirty, and the older the man is, the greater the likelihood of complications too.”

“What kind of complications?”

“Just getting pregnant in the first place becomes harder, for a start. Then there are things like an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes—”

“I thought you were a doctor of archaeology, not pregnancy!”

“Ah, well,” she admitted sheepishly, “when Lola was still at work, I got worried about her and the baby’s health, so I did some reading about any potential problems she might have. What?” she went on, seeing his mocking expression. “She’s the first close friend I’ve had who’s been pregnant. I wanted to be prepared if anything happened to her!”

He chuckled. “See? This is that whole micromanagement thing again. Pretty sure the UN has a couple of actual medical doctors on staff somewhere.”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, jabbing him again. “The point is, it made me realize that the odds of anything
going wrong with Lola’s pregnancy were pretty low—but the risks start rising once a woman gets to my age.”

“But they should
still
be pretty low,” Eddie said. “I mean, you’re in good nick—you exercise, you’re not a lard-arse, you don’t eat junk, you don’t even drink all that much anymore. And I’m still in exactly the same shape I was in when I left the SAS.”

Nina eyed his midsection skeptically. “Uh-huh.”

He made a rude sound. “Okay, so maybe I’ve put on a
little
weight in nine years. But I’m not spending every day running twenty miles with a full pack of gear anymore, so what do you expect? Anyway, we’re both in decent nick, so that should put us in a better position than most people our age right from the start.”

“It’s not just about health, though. There are some things that are still a danger even if both people are in perfect condition. I don’t want to be morbid and depressing, but the chances of a miscarriage go up enormously after thirty. And then there are higher risks of delivery complications, birth defects—”

“Birth defects?” Eddie said sharply, straightening.

“Yeah, I’m afraid so. Autism’s more common in kids with older parents, as well as Down syndrome and other genetic disorders.” She took in his oddly stricken expression. “What’s wrong? Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring you down so much.”

He shook his head. “No, it’s okay.”

“Is that something you’re worried about?” But there was something deeper to his reaction, she realized. “Something you’ve seen?”

His reply took a moment in coming. “Yeah.”

“Where?”

“On a job,” he said, tone becoming brusquer. “Can’t talk about it.”

After six years together, she was attuned enough to her husband to pick up the nuances of those rare occasions when he discussed his professional past—first as a British special forces soldier, then a hired troubleshooter. “A job, not a mission?” The difference was small, but crucial. The latter were covered by the laws
of state security; any secrets from the second stage of his career, however, would be kept for more personal reasons.

“Doesn’t matter. Let’s just say I’ve seen that kind of stuff. And that I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Nina decided not to push him. “Okay, no problem. You and your secrets, though,” she continued, deliberately teasing in the hope of changing the subject. “I think I know you fairly well by now. And after everything we’ve been through together, I can’t believe there’s anything in your past that could shock me.”

Eddie smiled. “Nah, probably not.”

But she couldn’t help noticing that he hesitated before replying.

2
London
Eight Years Earlier

Eddie Chase stared disconsolately up at the flaking ceiling, debating whether it was worth getting out of bed.

There was little to look forward to if he did. It was unseasonably hot and unpleasantly humid, the temperature in the cramped studio flat already oppressive even at this time of the morning, but things would be no better outside. He had no job, was almost out of money … and in the middle of a bitter separation from his wife.

What the hell had gone wrong? He and Sophia had married less than a year and a half earlier, in a mad whirlwind of passion that he thought would last forever. But everything collapsed with shocking suddenness, leaving him stunned and blinking in the wreckage.

The wedding—practically an elopement—was only a month after they met, so the first time Chase was introduced to Sophia’s father was after the honeymoon. And Lord Blackwood had made it clear with every aristocratic curl of the lip that his daughter’s marriage to a soldier—not even an officer, but a common squaddie!—was something of which he utterly disapproved. Sophia soon afterward found herself cut off from her father’s
money for the first time in her life—and not long after
that
, Chase began to find himself on the outside looking in as she renewed old friendships. Friendships exclusively of the male, young, upper-class, and wealthy variety.

BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
10.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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