Authors: Jackie Williams
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Military, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
Front cover Photography
To honour all the men and women
sacrifice keeps us safe.
I thank my beautiful daughter Natalie for her endless patience and her fabulous photographs.
And I thank my favourite Twerp for listening to all my endless waffling and still coming up with a brilliant title.
was minute, barely there in the afternoon calm and he wondered if anyone else would have ever paid any attention to it, but to him it was as loud and as stark as gunfire.
He remained motionless, his breathing measured and calm, his legs placed wide, steady as
a rock and his hands hanging loosely, ready to strike. He tuned out the sound of the water cascading past his legs and the whispering of the leaves on the trees above his head as he listened to the unnatural silence of the forest close around him.
For a moment he was distracted and his eyebrows contracted slightly as he thought he felt a second pair of eyes upon him but then the original sound was back loud and clear
in the unnatural silence and he decided he had imagined the secondary sensation.
He concentrated on the first sound.
It was barely a ripple in the atmosphere around him, but it was there none-the-less and he tried to hide a knowing smile as the water chilled his fingers and cooled his forearms.
He blew out of the side of his mouth to lift the hair that had fallen over his eye and he turned his head a fraction to
gauge the distance of the sound just a little more accurately.
The wind danced through the treetops way above his head, letting the sunshine sparkle on the river flowing between his legs. The water reached just above his knees and he could feel the cold pressure on his thick waders as the water swirled around them.
He was about to move and confront the irritating intrusion that had caught his ear when he caught a shadow on the dappled bed of the river. He slipped his arms deeper into the water, his fingertips scraping the gravel on the river-bed. He forced himself to focus, keeping quietly calm, his breathing even, his stance aware yet relaxed while his whole body was ready and prepared to strike at the best possible moment.
His eyes opened wide as
the sun glinted on the bottom of the river and he caught sight of the full length of the shadow between his hands. It would be a pity to let this one get away. He was rather fond of fresh trout and this one was a monster.
He waited, poised in readiness as he quickly worked out all the possible scenarios. And then, as the sound at his shoulder caught his attention once again, he dipped his fingers, curled them beneath his prey and
gently caught the huge fish in his firm hands.
He launched himself out of the water and back up onto the riverbank, gripping the fish tightly
now as it struggled and strained in his grasp. He tapped it across the back of its head and dropped it to the grass, then he spun like lightening towards the unnatural sound that had threatened to lose him his dinner.
He roared out loud as he scooped up the now squealing little boy from his crouched position behind some overhanging bushes. There was a huge laugh from further up the riverbank and Joe lifted his chin in acknowledgement of his friend David as he lumbered through the bushes
making his way towards his neatly captured son.
Joe squeezed the squirming urchin in his arms as the boy laughed brightly in his ear.
“How Joe? How did you know I was there? I was real quiet this time, just like papa said I must be and you still knew I was hiding.” His tiny voice bubbled through the forest and Joe grinned down at the dark eyed boy.
“You were too q
uiet this time Robbie. You scared the birds away and if there are no birds it’s because there is something else around frightening them. Like you, you little rascal.” Joe declared as he gave Robbie a quick tickle below his ribs before he placed the child on the leaf strewn ground and showed him the monster trout that he had hauled from the water.
Robbie considered the fish with wide brown eyes.
“Cool, he’s a whopper. You going to eat him by yourself Joe? Or are you going to share?”
Joe looked down at the huge fish.
“I think it might be a little too big for just one person Robbie. You think your dad might fancy some fish tonight? I don’t think I’m going to be able to manage him alone.”
David reached them at last and opened his eyes wide at the size of the beautiful trout. He
had heard Joe’s last words and he looked down at his son.
“Well, I agree that Joe can be a greedy devil. He needs to keep his strength up being the size he is, but I think that this one is too
big even for him to eat by himself. Maybe we should give it to Patrick to cook. We could all have some for dinner tonight.” David ruffled his son’s wavy hair as he looked over at his friend with concerned eyes. “You are coming to the Chateau tonight, I take it? The last of the guests have gone so we have three days clear until the next conference mob arrives.” He sighed and took a deep breath. “I hope they are better than the last bunch of idiots. I was beginning to lose the will to live.” His tone gave away a deep loathing of their previous clients.
Joe gave a snort
as he pulled a wicked looking knife from a pocket in his trousers, and gutted the fish with a quick clean efficiency. He threw the entrails into the fast flowing river and wiped his knife, first on the grass at the edge of the water and then on a cloth from his pocket.
l come tonight if it’s not going to put you to any trouble. It’ll be good to have some decent conversation for a change. If I have to put up with one more inane remark about the benefits of cosmetic surgery, I swear I will punch the person so hard they will need some of the blasted treatment themselves.” He spoke bitterly.
David placed a firm hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“Just put it down to ignorance Joe. They don’t mean anything by it. They actually think that they are helping.”
Joe snorted again. He’d had as much help as he could take.
“Huh! I know way more than I need to about cosmetic surgery. I don’t know if I can take any more of it Dave. I’m beginning to think that if they can’t put up with the way I look then it’s more their problem than mine. I don’t think I can bear to have anything else done. It’s way too painful and the results aren’t brilliant. I can hardly feel anything in my skin as it is and I don’t want to make it any worse. I don’t think they realize that the skin has to come from somewhere else on my body. That last lot of treatment just about finished me off. They took a slice out of my back this time and there’s barely any feeling there now too.” He grimaced at the thought.
Robbie stared up at the two men towering above him.
“Why can’t you feel your skin Joe?” He reached up a tiny hand and Joe looked down and then squatted to the boy’s level. He didn’t stop the child as he placed his hot palm gently against Joe’s leathery, uneven cheek.
Joe gave a grim smile.
“The nerve endings were damaged by chemicals Robbie. When the bomb blast caught me I was right in the way and my face and hands were really messed up. Every time I have something done to make me look better it damages the nerves even more.” He had never hidden anything from the boy. There was no point really what with the way he looked and most of their visitors had problems too, but there was only so much a four year old could understand.
Robbie brought his other hand up against Joe’s face. He patted his cheeks gen
tly and then leaned in to close the gap between them. He suddenly pressed his dewy cherub lips onto Joe’s bruised nose and blew a huge raspberry. He giggled madly at the buzzing sensation that quivered through his own lips and then he wiped the moisture from Joe’s nose with the back of his tiny hand.
“So why do you have stuff done
if it makes you feel worse Joe?” He looked wide eyed at the man in front of him and Joe stared right back.
He spoke between almost gritted teeth.
“To make me look like normal I suppose Robbie. My face is horrible and it scares some people. They don’t understand why I look like this so I tried to make myself look better. I had a new nose last time, but they took some of my rib to make it and some skin from my back too. It’s still very sore.”
Robbie frowned at the big man in front of him and then looked up at his father. David’s face was immobile, his mouth set in a firm line as he fought the sudden tightness that gripped his chest.
And then the little boy’s face broke into a huge smile. He patted Joe’s cheeks between his palms again.
are being silly Joe. Your face is not horrible. Monsieur Claudel who brings the gas has a really ugly face and I don’t think he was even blown up ever. And you are not scary either. Papa, tell him that he’s being silly. Your face is fine Joe. I don’t want you to do anything to it. I like you just as you are.”
Joe put his big hands over the boy’s
and stifled a laugh as he thought of the unfortunate Monsieur Claudel. He certainly wasn’t the most handsome man around but it made him smile to think that Robbie thought him the ugliest. He breathed out a deep, relieved breath and smiled grimly.
“Well that settles it then.
No more of this awful treatment. If you say I’m fine Robbie, then I’m fine”
Robbie wriggled away from the big man and bent down to inspect the trout that still lay on the riverbank.
He pulled a cloth bag from his pocket with a sudden flourish and pushed the huge fish inside. He picked up the bag and slung it over his shoulder, then looked up at the two silent men.
“I’ll take this to
Uncle Patrick for our dinner. Come on you two, mama and Ellen will be waiting for us.”
David bent down and gave his son a friendly pat on the backside as he scampered away from the riverbank
and onto the path through the forest to the Chateau.
“Don’t run too far ahead kiddo, we’ll be with you in a mo.” David smiled as his son waved a hand over h
is shoulder and disappeared along the path.
Joe closed his eyes for just a moment. He took a deep breath and then squared his shoulders as he moved to follow the boy. David stepped along right beside him.
stood quietly on the opposite bank of the river. She stared at the man standing so still in the water, admiring his strong forearms and muscled shoulders that showed through the material of his dark t-shirt as he bent forwards to slide his hands into the flowing water.
She had been about to rush forward, kick off her heels and plunge her hot feet into the crystal clear, cool water when she had first noticed him from a distance away, back by the bend in the river. His quiet calm was unnerving and for a moment she just stood there staring a
t his strong back and solid thighs, but then she had inched forwards, not daring to make a sound as he concentrated on something in the water at his feet.
back from the bank and then ducked silently into the dark bushes, worried that he would accuse her of trespassing, but then she realized that she was not his concern. She stood waiting for him to catch the fish that had obviously gained his undivided attention.
From this angle she couldn’t see his face, but his
body was undoubtedly glorious and she leaned forwards to gain a better view from behind the bushes, curious to see his hidden features. Eventually drawing level with him, she smiled slightly as she realized that she had an even better view of the beautiful muscles cording his arms and shoulders. She noticed his hard, square jawline but his dark, shining hair had flopped forwards covering his cheek and eyes.
Then she heard him as he puffed out a short breath from the corner of his mouth, lifting his hair away from his face as he slipped his hands deeper into the water and she almost cried out in shock.
The top two thirds of the man’s face was a mask of waxy red skin. His hooded eyes were black ringed and there was a dark bruise covering his swollen nose. It looked as though he had been smashed in the face with a superheated shovel.
For a moment Lucy stood frozen in place and then she almost rushed forward to see if she could help him, but he suddenly let out a huge roar and leapt from the water, hauling out an enormous fish in his firm, capable hands.