by Marguerite Kaye
Eve screamed and the knife clattered to the floor, skidding over the polished wooden boards. Staggering back, she crashed into the door and was trying to fumble for the handle when a large hand clamped around her wrist.
‘How many times do I have to say it! I must not be disturbed in the night.’ The man cursed heavily and the vice-like hold on her arm was released. A switch clicked, and the room – a bedchamber – was filled with a weak electric light.
A sheen of sweat made his black hair cling to his furrowed brow. There were dark shadows under his blue eyes. Beneath the stubble which roughened his jaw, his skin was ashen. He did not look to be much older than when she had first encountered him in the trench, but there was something haunted in his expression that told of suffering beyond description. Eve reached out to touch the crescent-shaped scar on his cheek. ‘You survived the blast. I was so afraid – but you’re alive.’
‘Alive, though there are times when I feel I am in a living hell.’ Major Tristan Daubenay ran a shaking hand through his hair. ‘Every night since the war ended, it is the same. I close my eyes and they are there, the dead. So many of them, I can’t even remember their names.’ He padded over to the bedside table and slopped water into a glass from the jug there. ‘I dream I am back in the trenches fighting for my life. I almost strangled my mother one night, when she tried to waken me. That’s why I gave orders that no-one was to disturb me, not matter what racket I make. I took you for a German spy just now. You’re lucky I didn’t slit that beautiful throat of yours.’ He slumped down onto the bed. ‘Shell shock, they call it in the men. In we officers, it is deemed a lack of moral fibre. My mother is embarrassed by me.’ The major swore again. ‘I sometimes think it would have been better if I had died.’
Appalled by the naked suffering in his face, Eve sat down beside him, clasping his hand between hers. ‘We call it post-traumatic stress now. It is a recognised illness, nothing to be ashamed of. I cannot imagine the horrors you must have lived through.’
His fingers tightened in hers. ‘Nothing to what I’ve seen others suffer. I’m alive, and relatively unscathed. I should be grateful.’
‘Instead of which you feel guilty,’ Eve said gently.
He looked at her in surprise. ‘How did you know?’
She shook her head. ‘When I last saw you it was the night before the
Somme. The odds were stacked against you, you said. And
there was that huge blast, I still cannot believe you survived.’
He smiled the crooked smile she remembered, and fumbled with the buttons on his striped pyjama top to reveal a scar shaped like a starburst over his heart. ‘A miracle,’ he said, ‘and it was thanks to you in part.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I told you the angels of the battlefield signified either death or good fortune. You, my angelic lady in green, brought me enormous good fortune. He reached under his pillow. ‘This. I don’t know how it came to be in the pocket of my tunic, but it deflected the shrapnel which should have killed me. I carried it with me over my heart for the rest of the war. It is my lucky charm. In the night, when I feel the terrors starting, if I can just hold it – sometimes it keeps them at bay.’
In his hand, he held the large emerald which had formed the centre-piece of her necklace. Eve’s blood ran cold. ‘Your lucky charm,’ she repeated with a sense of foreboding. ‘But the scar?’ She placed her hand over the strange indentation, feeling his heart beat steadily beneath her palm.
For answer, he placed the emerald on the scar where it sat, looking curiously as if it had grown there. ‘They couldn’t understand it at the field hospital, by rights the stone should have pierced the bone and then my heart. It is absurd I know, but I fear that if ever I were to lose it, I would die. What is it, my angel, why do you look so sad?’
‘It’s nothing.’ She couldn’t ask him to surrender it, she simply could not. She could only hope that in some parallel universe, the emerald would find its way back to Sebastian’s family, but she was not going to be the one to deprive Major Daubenay of the one comfort he had. So many stories intertwined, so many of Sebastian’s ancestors she had encountered during this bewildering night, Eve felt suddenly quite overcome and in dire need of the one pair of arms she knew were the right ones, the only ones, for her. ‘I must leave now,’ she said, getting wearily to her feet.
‘The last thing I remember before the blast was your lips on mine,’ the major said. ‘The sweetest of kisses, I know it would have been. I doubt I’ll see you again, my angel. Will you grant me that kiss before you leave?’
Hot tears streaked her cheeks as she twined her arms around his neck. With a muffled groan, he enfolded her, pulling her tight against him. ‘My angel.’
It was indeed the sweetest of kisses, tinged with regret, salty with her tears. ‘Darling Tristan, you’ll recover given time. Think of me whenever you hold the emerald,’ she whispered, as the floor began to rock and shift, the weak electric light dimmed, and Eve felt herself falling…
I write hot historical romances from cold and usually rainy Scotland featuring rakes, sheikhs and Highlanders. I also knit and like to drink martinis. I have a time travel short, Lost in Pleasure, out in March, and I'm currently working on a series of three linked short stories set in the First World War, due for release next year. You can find out more about me and my books on my website, www.margueritekaye.com, or join me for a chat on Facebook or Twitter.