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Excerpt for Dominic: In the Shadows of Angels by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Dominic flung the blankets back. “What lies?” He left the bed to stand by her side.

Keziah turned away a fraction. “You’re naked.”

Dominic looked down. So he was. Not a stitch of cloth covered him. For a moment he contemplated humility but decided against it.

“I do hope you found removing my clothes as pleasant as I found removing yours.”

Despite her obvious discomfort, Keziah faced him. Her eyes remained rigid on his face and she stepped so close that her body warmth washed over every inch of his skin. Every inch. He lowered his hands to cover his engorged awareness of the woman. Where the hell were his breeches?

“Your brother and first mate undressed you,” she told him icily.

Dominic cleared his throat. “Of course,” he said lightly. “And the cook changed your clothing.”

Keziah’s dark eyebrows raised a fraction. “I’ve yet to meet this cook of yours.”

“She may be a delightful entity.” Dominic detected a slight thawing in her demeanor. “Tell me, is my boyish charm helping your mood?”

Keziah’s grey eyes swept across his shoulders, then lowered to his belly so slowly that Dominic almost felt her gaze brand him. “Is that what you think you have?” she asked in a low voice. “Boyish charm?”

“I am still naked, you know.”

Keziah looked him in the eyes again. “I know, and there’s nothing boyish about you.”










DOMINIC

BY

KISS CARSON



IN THE SHADOWS OF ANGELS

BOOK 2








ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



Dominic: In the Shadows of Angels Book 2

Published by Kathleen Curtis at Smashwords


Copyright 2016 Kathleen Curtis



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For Cameron


Husband

Father

Hero


CHAPTER ONE


Happy Moments Home for the Aged

Edinburgh – 2070


Aged care nurse, Keziah Mitchell, paused by the raised garden bed of bright sunflowers and rubbed her thumb along the artificial petals. All she had ever known was fake. Fake flowers. Fake air. Fake people. She bent to smell the scent of dust and plastic rather than the freshness of a real flower, and released a heavy sigh. Sometimes she felt that she didn’t belong in this grey, man-made world, instead preferring the earth of years gone by. She wanted to smell the salty heaviness of the ocean, and taste rain on the tip of her tongue. However, born five years after the great war of 2040 that wiped out most of the world’s natural resources, she wouldn’t experience those things.

Ever.

Keziah had moved to Scotland from Australia three years before and she’d never known the likes of a retirement home like Happy Moments. Rows of single level, single room aged care units lined each side of the courtyard like perfect, identical gingerbread houses. Two courtyards across, the houses were built in the shape of castle towers, and further down, still, the less mobile occupants lived in a replica Edinburgh Castle – not to scale of course. Reduced to ruins during the war, the real Edinburgh Castle no longer existed and Keziah had only seen its image in old photos and on her e-Reader.

Five years too late, she thought as she turned away from the plastic flowers, and the recording of bees that buzzed from somewhere in the back of the garden. Happy Moments had attempted to recreate the world in better times and that was why Keziah chose the aged home as her lifelong vocation. Although lifelong wasn’t very lengthy these days. Sixty years ago the life expectancy of a woman was eighty-two years old. In 2070, a woman born after the war would be lucky to live past fifty-five. Fortunately, Keziah still had thirty good years in her.

A wry smile lifted her lips. Fortunate? No one would want to endure this synthetic life for longer than fifty-five years.

Above her, the real sun shone through the transparent armor, dull and uneventful. It had rained day and night for the past week, and added damp grey skies to the already bleak outlook of the world. The transparent armor protected the occupants of Happy Moments from the frequent acid rain and the extreme ultra violet rays that filled the sky whether the sun shone or not. Thanks to the armor, the aged patients could sit on the park benches and chat, or join friends for their daily walk, or simply sit quietly to contemplate bygone days without the fear of toxic gases.

Keziah’s grey eyes rested on her favorite resident, Ella Benedict, who sat in her rocking chair on the small verandah of her house. Ella had lived at Happy Moments for ten years. She’d moved there with her husband, Luke, an enjoyable old man who loved and respected his wife greatly. Unfortunately, Luke had died two years prior but Ella still sat in her rocking chair, his rocker pulled close beside her. Luke’s chair.

Sometimes, Keziah would visit Ella only to find tears brightening her faded blue eyes. She would admit that she’d spent the morning with her beloved Luke. In fact, the old dear insisted that Luke had remained behind after his death, to love her, to accompany her throughout her final years. Well, his ghost, anyway.

Keziah fastened her long dark hair into a ponytail as she crossed the plastic grass and glanced at her watch. Just enough time for one last visit before her shift ended, and her four week annual leave began. She ascended the stairs to the verandah of Ella’s gingerbread house. “Hello, Ella. How are you today?”

“I’m well, Keziah. And you?”

“I’m okay.” She sat on Luke’s chair, much to Ella’s amusement. “My four weeks of annual leave starts tomorrow. I wish I had someone to share the long days.” She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees, the white shirt of her nursing uniform unforgiving across her back. “If I lived fifty years ago I’d be going somewhere exciting. Maybe on a cruise to the Caribbean, or camping in the Highlands.”

Ella’s chuckle shook her shoulders. “It gets cold in the Highlands,” she replied.

“I would rather be cold than feel nothing at all.” Keziah sat back. “Ella, don’t you miss nature? Don’t you ever wish you could go outside and…I don’t know… I’d love to know some of the adventures you and Luke experienced.”

Ella’s wide smile gave Keziah a brief glimpse of the beautiful woman she’d once been. Luke often boasted of his wife; of how her hair, now silvery white, once held the russet hues of a spangled sunset.

“Life is what life is,” Ella said, wisps of longing in her voice.

She can say that, Keziah thought with a sigh. She lived when the world was whole.

Ella’s small hand, bent with age and arthritis, indicated to a red-leather bound book that sat on the square wooden table by the door.

“I have a gift for you.”

Immediately, the book piqued Keziah’s interest. Since the start of the electronic age, before the great war, real books – made of paper – were a rare treat and usually hidden in stuffy buildings, out of sight and out of reach of the common people. Ella’s book looked old. Really old. And incredible.

“Take it,” Ella urged. “Since we had no daughters Luke wanted you to have it.”

“Me? Ella, I can’t accept gifts from you. You know that.” Keziah’s eyes drifted back to the book.

“Borrow it. Return it to me when you are done.” Ella leaned closer and placed a bent hand on Keziah’s knee. “Does it call to you?” she asked quietly. “It called to me, once, and I went on an adventure beyond my wildest fantasy.”

Strangely, the book did call to Keziah. It whispered promises of adventure, life, and love. She desperately wanted to touch it, feel its history, and hold it for a time. She wiped her palms on her nursing whites.

“Keziah, take it.”

Without hesitation, Keziah took the book from the table and balanced it on her lap. She studied the red cover to make sense of the barely there picture imprinted. The leather vibrated under her hands, scarcely enough to feel, but it vibrated with an intriguing life of its own all the same.

Ella touched the cover. Tears welled in her eyes. “This is a special book,” she said, her voice unsteady.

“What’s it called?” Keziah asked, searching the binding for a name.

“Whatever it wants to be called. It is a create-your-own-adventure book where you are the heroine, and the hero is the love of your life.” Ella dabbed the tears on her cheeks. She sat back in her rocker to smile at the empty air next to her, where her cherished husband once stood.

“How wonderful,” Keziah replied breathlessly. “A hero of my own.”

“And a love special enough to fight for. No matter what happens you can’t give up on him.”

Keziah looked at Ella, concerned by the old woman’s sudden despair. “Here, let me look at you.” She started to stand.

Ella shook her head. “Real love is so rare, Keziah. If you find it, as I did, grab it and don’t ever let go.” She tapped a crooked finger on the cover. “Whatever the book throws at you, fight. Do you understand?”

“Ella, this is fiction. What you suggest is impossible. A person can’t become part of the story.”

“Humor an old woman. Open the book and let it show you some magic.”

Magic? She’d read a dozen books on her e-Reader about magic, some about wicked witches, others about wizards and escapades beyond her wildest dreams. Keziah opened the cover. Musty odors rose from the old pages, unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. Her grey eyes closed and she drew in a deep breath, taken back twenty years to her grandmother’s house where she encountered her first real book. Paper books had all but vanished, so to see and feel her grandmother’s copy of Mystery Stories for Girls was an extremely special occasion for her.

Keziah opened her eyes, tucked stray strands of dark hair back into her pony tail, her hands trembling as she opened the book to a random page. She read the first line. Ella turned to—. Before she could read further, each line of neat type mingled into the one below. Words blurred. Letters bled into the next, all the way down the page, every page, until the story became incomprehensible.

Startled, Keziah shoved the book from her lap. She jerked to her feet and ducked behind the chair. The book fell to the wooden verandah floor with a solid thud and lay unanimated. What just happened?

Ella’s gentle laugh rippled through the recycled air. “Don’t be alarmed,” she said. “Remember the magic.”

The book’s cover flipped open. Yellowed pages flicked forward, shuffled backward, and stopped a few pages from the front cover. Chapter One quickly typed itself about halfway down the page in large, bold, cursive font. An entire story had filled the red book. Keziah saw the words herself only seconds before, and she often saw Ella scour the pages reading the magical, yet secret adventure inside. Was it a trick book? A magic book? Keziah had wished and wished for some magic to whisk her away from her boring existence but she hadn’t expected her wishes to be granted. Carefully, she eased around the chair.

“The story has chosen you,” Ella said, the joy in her voice barely contained.

Keziah squatted and reached for the book. “Chosen?”

“I know I sound insane but this is a special book. My grandmother gave it to me, and now we want you to know the magic.”

Keziah wanted to believe in magic more than anything, but in a dull, grey and brown world filled with few joys, magic was non-existent. Life was far from memorable. Oceans were more dry waves of sand and pebbles. The war had leveled the forests for soldier accommodation and weapons. Animals were imprisoned in a zoo, not in the wild or as domestic pets. Any building or place of historic value had been destroyed in the war or simply decayed and crumbled.

Although she was born into it, Keziah’s world was foreign and empty. She picked up the book and sat again to balance the precious item on her knees.

“What you will experience inside those pages will take your breath away. You can go anywhere, to any time if you are prepared to take the journey.” Ella smiled. “Where would you like to go?”

Keziah lowered her eyes from the old woman. Books couldn’t physically take her anywhere. Books couldn’t come to life. And magic books were things of fantasy. She should thank Ella for taking her away from her heartless world for an instant. For one sweet moment. But the reality of it was more than discouraging. The book wasn’t magical, and Ella was only a disillusioned old woman who pined for a man who died years ago.

“Keziah, try to believe. Where do you want to go?”

The open page was solid and rough under her fingertip. She’d been advised time and time again not to encourage Ella but the dear made the unbelievable so believable.

“I want it to take me anywhere I might experience a bit of adventure.” Her light shrug didn’t indicate compliance or dismissal.

“Say goodbye to boredom. Now, would you like to go back in time?”

“Ella…” Keziah couldn’t play along any more. “I appreciate that you want to cheer me, but…time travel?” She sighed and stared across the plastic grass to the plastic sunflowers and fake bees. I wish… “Three hundred years ago bees were real.” Her voice was distant, almost as distant as her mind.

“Much was real three hundred years ago.”

Keziah stroked the cool red leather. “I want to believe.” She looked at Ella, encouraged by the woman’s bright gaze. “Right now I’m reading about the eighteenth century and majestic tall ships.”

“The book could take you back three hundred years to when bees and ships were real.”

“Imagine that.” Her voice was distant again. In her mind she had decided but the words had trouble leaving her lips. Would she be considered crazy if she agreed to what the old woman proposed? What if…? What if she took the book home and the magic didn’t work? What if she didn’t take the book home and she died a bored, loveless woman with a pasty complexion and spiteful tongue? “If I take this home I could lose my job.”

Deep dimples appeared in Ella’s cheeks to widen her smile even more. “If you don’t take it you will never know.”

“Never know what?”

“How it feels to be truly loved by a wonderful man.”

Keziah shared Ella’s smile. “You’re always the romantic.”

Ella pushed the book further along Keziah’s lap. “Let it take you back in time three hundred years and show you an adventure beyond your wildest dreams. I know the perfect man for you. His name is Dominic Lamont.”

“Dominic Lamont.” Keziah repeated the name and smiled.

“Do you mind men with auburn hair and hypnotic blue eyes?”

Keziah’s imagination was still caught on the man’s name. “Is he tall? Does he have a wicked sense of humor?” She closed the book and hugged it to her breast. “Is he sexy?” she whispered and stifled giggles behind the book.

“I’m sure he thinks so but you’ll soon find out.”

Keziah drew in a deep breath and tightened her grip on the edges of the cover. Here was her chance to be whisked away to live a life of color and texture. Her sepia reality was old and moldy. She wanted to see the many colors of the ocean and feel cool sand between her toes. She closed her eyes and her world turned every shade of blue imaginable. Deep blue. Light blue. Green blue. Then a thought made her heart beat a little faster. She opened her eyes and grinned at the silver haired woman.

“I want him to be a pirate.”

Ella’s eyebrows shot up. “You want Dominic to be a pirate?”

Keziah let go of her doubt, her desperation to immerse herself into an energetic world of sensations overcoming all fear of ridicule. “Yes, oh yes. The more vibrancy the better. Ella, I want it all.”

“Adventure on the high seas,” Ella mumbled. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Keziah glanced at her watch, amazed that so much time had passed. Dreaming of a better life made the time move much faster. On her feet, she tucked the book onto the crook of her arm momentarily wondering how she would smuggle it out of the home. She bent and squeezed Ella’s hand affectionately.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve read it.”

“Read it?” Ella said, her tone incredulous. “You are about to live it.” Her arthritic fingers gripped the sleeve of Keziah’s white nurse’s shirt. “Listen carefully. The book comes with warnings. Don’t let anyone steal the book. You can’t go back. Once the page turns there is no going back until the end of your story. Take care of your characters, and above all, take care of yourself.” The old lady tugged her down until their faces were level, nose to nose. “There is a storm on the way, Keziah,” she whispered, “and you’ll be caught right in the middle of it.”


CHAPTER TWO


Tenements all in a row. The multi occupancy tower blocks weren’t pretty like the gingerbread houses at Happy Moments. Well, they weren’t pretty at all. Tall and grey they replaced most of the woodland and National forest in Scotland. There were people, lots of people, but nowhere to put them. Therefore Mother Nature lost the age old battle against humans. Inside, the flats were bleak. Most had concrete floors, no carpets at all, and concrete walls that no hook would drill into. Heaven forbid if the tenant wanted to make their home a little more tolerable with pictures of family and friends.

In her one bedroom flat, Keziah swiped her finger across her e-reader and stopped at an oil color of a magnificent frigate with bright white sails. The ship plowed through a rough blue-green sea while rain plummeted. A vein of white gold lightning pierced the dark sky. So many colors. So much character and potential to encourage the soul. She shifted in her brown suede armchair. The image made her heart ache. Now, rain made people sick.

There were bits of sailing ships in the local museum – a plank of wood; a partial sail that could fit in the palm of your hand; half a mast. But Keziah wanted to see more than a dozen splinters of wood and a forlorn piece of canvas. In her heart, she yearned for adventure and dreamed of living when the world was whole and free.

Sounds of peak hour traffic drew Keziah to the small window that overlooked the main road of her tenement burgh. The low sun struggled to break through the smog and dust particles that floated through the air. Horns blasted. Tires screeched. She cringed and waited for the collision, possibly the fourth within the hour. Luckily, disaster was averted. Twenty levels below, one of the latest model solar powered hover cars had broken down. Dressed in a protective suit to guard him from the stale air and deathly sunlight, the owner stood beside the car and argued with two drivers of contemporary cars, hand gestures aplenty.

Keziah moved away from the window to look around her apartment at her sparse belongings. She didn’t belong in this fast paced, impersonal world. There was too much pollution. Too much steel and concrete. Escape wasn’t an option, and it was the same in every country, even Australia. Thirty years before, the Lucky Country had experienced an influx of population when other major countries purged their excess peoples. There was no work. No peace. No joy. Her move to Scotland hadn’t made her life any better, but at least she’d found a job, and a friend.

The red leather book sat on the round side table beside her favorite chair. If the manager of Happy Moments discovered she’d accepted a gift from a patient, her vacation would become permanent unemployment. Keziah put her e-reader on the table and picked up the book. It sat in her hands, heavy, the cover cool and soft to touch. The combination of leather and paper looked old, the pages yellowed over time. She sat on the sofa and ran her hands over the smooth leather again. Ella had insinuated that the book was magical. Keziah wanted to believe all the stories her favorite resident told her while she made her bed, gave her medication, or wiped away tears of heartbreak.

Stories of ghosts.

Stories of an enchanted castle.

Stories where love conquered all.

Keziah longed for more than what her current life offered. She wanted an existence, not monotonous boredom. She wanted to explore, not live in fear of the outside. But more than that, she craved to love unconditionally, and be loved in return.

“I want Dominic Lamont,” she whispered.

Rubbing her eyes, she sat back and managed a quiet chuckle. What was she saying? Dominic Lamont wasn’t a real person. Ella Benedict simply possessed the gift of persuasion, and the ability to bring dreams alive. Ella knew how much Keziah wanted to live in the past and the old woman had played on Keziah’s desire to meet the man of her dreams and live a life of happiness. The book’s cover glistened with untold tales, with myths yet to come true, and legends yet made. It couldn’t hurt to dream her way to a new place, and time.

“I want to picnic by a river. I want clean air and sweet rain, pirates, and an adventure I won’t forget. No regrets.” The words poured from her mouth so fast they mingled together until barely logical.

A love I’ll not forget. No regrets.

A book couldn’t save her but she needed to believe in something. Eyes closed, she willed herself away from twenty seventy and its overcrowded way to survive.

“Take me to seventeen seventy. Please.”

The tenement flat still encased her, stark and cold compared to the vivid images of blue and green in her mind. Keziah bowed her head.

“Someone save me.”

On the sofa, the book’s cover opened. Pages turned from the force of an unseen hand; one, two three. A comforting fragrance rose from the yellowed paper, the faint scent of almonds, or vanilla. Whatever the smell, Keziah loved it. This time, the book’s magic didn’t scare her. She’d hoped it would wake up like it had at Ella’s house; yearned for it with her entire existence. Print typed onto the paper, each letter slow and deliberate. Like an author’s thoughts they poured onto a blank page, giving life to a brand new story. My story. Keziah moved closer to read the type.

How do you love the man of your dreams?

Very slowly.

Keziah touched the print and found the ink was still warm on her fingertip. She read the lines aloud. She agreed wholeheartedly. And often. The page turned to Chapter One and words appeared, slowly at first, but quickly gained speed until she barely kept pace. Cross-legged on the cold floor of her flat, she pulled the book onto her lap and ran her fingers along the indents of the words. It really was happening. Somehow, the book was drawing her into its magical world whether she was ready or not. The typing stopped at the bottom of the page. Keziah bit her lip. If she believed Ella, which she did, the book was about to change her life. Forever.

The frigate still sailed silently across the screen of her e-reader and battled the storm to end all storms. The turbulent sea pulled the ship this way and that while the lightning threatened to end its days at the bottom of the fathomless depths. Maybe it was a pirate ship. Maybe it was Dominic Lamont’s ship. The most gorgeous man she could ever imagine filled her mind. He stood on the highest crow’s nest of his pirate ship, hand to his bronzed brow to survey the clear blue water stretched ahead of him.

Chapter One. What would she lose? Better still, what would she gain by reading a magic book? A man. Her man. A story all about her. And if she was lucky, she would experience an adventure to tell her grandchildren.

“Okay,” she told the room confidently. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

She settled into her favorite brown suede armchair with the thick arms and a wide cushion, and started to read.

An ocean.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

1770

Colossal gusts of wind, swift and unpredictable, tossed waves and swirled past the lone frigate; spiraling around the huge column of rock and up the cliff face to the nearby pine forest. The squalls picked up the sweet scent of pine, scurried back down the precipice and swept across Dominic Lamont who clung to a rocky crag near the top of the cliff. Swaths of auburn curls flicked into, and out of, his eyes all at once and constant. His cream linen shirt, ruffled at each wrist, beat his solid chest, pressed against his stomach by the wayward ocean elements. His fingers ached from the force of their precarious hold as he attempted to find a hole to shove the toe of one of his best boots. With a grunt of exertion he heaved his body up another foot, blue eyes searching the rock face for more crevices.

This looked much easier from the ship,” he mumbled. “However, boys will be boys, and men will climb cliffs.”

Far below, his beloved frigate, Ban-dia, lurched between the blue green waves, momentarily lost behind the thick white crests that slapped into her prow. Her naked masts swayed with the sometimes erratic rhythm of the water, up and down and side to side at will. Dominic’s attention returned to the task ahead. There was no point wishing for the comfort of his cabin, especially now he hung over a hundred feet up a cliff with no more than faith in himself to keep him alive.

To his right, and at least twenty feet below, an officer and two shipmen from His Majesty’s Royal Navy followed with a vigor Dominic had not predicted. That particular officer happened to be his cousin, Richard, and he pursued for reasons unknown. Perhaps the crown wanted his head for piracy. Perhaps his father had sent Richard to arrest him for crimes against family.

Images filled his mind, pictures of his brothers’ expressions before they dissolved into the icy abyss. Dominic drew in a deep breath and looked at the top of the cliff, so close…yet so far…He should have punished her there instead of accepting his father’s lenient ways. Now, he’d lost two brothers, and spent the better part of a year on the search for scattered pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

The dizzying maelstroms eased and Dominic silently thanked Mother Nature for her reprieve. Barely two arm’s length further, the plateau teased him mercilessly. If he stretched…Still his fingers didn’t reach the overhanging grass, green and silent it awaited him. He anticipated its cool touch under his tender fingers, and the softness of its cushion under his back, but to get that comfort he needed to keep climbing.

Thunder rumbled. The low-pitched sound vibrated through the rock under his fingers. He looked up, his grace for Mother Nature sorely dwindling…

Engrossed, Keziah turned the thick page as she had finished reading. She flicked back but a blank page greeted her. Forward. Back. Forward. Back. Her story had disappeared. Her hero. Her escape route. Ella’s caution played in her mind. Once the page turns you can’t go back. Unsatisfied, she tossed the book to the floor and stood to pace the few steps it took to cross her lounge room. Arms folded, she stared at the grey concrete wall. Adventure awaited but was she ready to escape her mundane? What other surprises did the book have for her? If it deleted her story after it wrote it, how would she change the parts she didn’t like?

“So many questions,” she muttered.

Only the book could answer her truthfully. She wouldn’t really know any answers until she breathed the story, touched the story; until the story existed within her.

Soft flutters brought her gaze back to the book. It lay open to the next page and merrily typed the words that would whisk her into the journey of a lifetime. Still unsure of her next move, she approached the book and lowered to her knees to read the words.

A storm, not what I need.”

With considerable effort and undue pain to his biceps, Dominic heaved his body up another few inches. He glanced at the sky. Rain would definitely ruin his parade, but lightning would create difficulties. If struck, he would experience more than difficulties.

I do not plan on being a lightning rod, today.”

Lightning briefly illuminated the sky.

If anyone up there likes me, send the lightning away.”

Rumbles, distant at first, galloped across the sky like the faraway approach of a six horse carriage but quickly crashed through Dominic’s coach house leaving the earth to quake in its aftermath.

Two glass vases on the side table along the wall tinkled together. Keziah studied the vases, and her tenement flat, certain she’d felt the vibration described in the book. Outside, the peak hour traffic still struggled along her road on its way to the entrance to the nearest expressway, which really wasn’t much quicker than walking home for most commuters. She could have felt the aftershock of a car accident, not fictional thunder. One more sweep of her apartment assured her all was well and her grey eyes lowered to the book again.

A dozen flashes lit the dismal afternoon and reflected on the turbulent surface of the ocean. Lightning crackled around him and brought every wisp of air alive. Dominic flinched closer to the rock wall. The hair on his arms stood on end. The nape of his neck suffered considerably from warnings of danger. He needed to get off the cliff face or else he would become one with Poseidon’s Finger. Hand. Hand. Foot. Foot. Up! Hand. Hand. Breathe, Dom. He scanned the top of the cliff, so tantalizingly close, now.

Richard’s shouted orders carried across the rock face. Thunder and lightning danced a minuet across the heavens. A stray strand of nature’s force struck the cliff face below where Dominic clung. He required more than hope to keep him alive. He closed his eyes and clenched his body but no assault came. Breathing hard, both from his certainty that Mother Nature wanted him dead, and exertion, he rose another arm’s length and paused. Directly below, stalwart waves wrested the jagged shoreline until bursts of seawater escaped and tumbled back into the ocean again. Dominic had come too far to turn back. Once he secured this puzzle piece, he would sail Ban-dia north and secure the final piece needed to complete the map…

The scent of smoke filled her flat. Keziah went to the kitchen and checked the appliances, their cords, and the stove top for flames. Through the kitchen window she looked straight into the Connor’s flat across the uncovered walkway. Mrs Connor pottered by the kitchen window. The young woman waved and smiled. Keziah returned the gesture. Old Mavis Green lived beside the Connor’s. Old Mavis’s front door lay open and she sat on a low stool in the doorway, smoking what looked like a cigar. Well, that mystery was solved. Keziah returned to her lounge room and sat on the floor, back against her sofa and legs stretched out. Ankles crossed, she pulled the book onto her thighs and started to read again.

Thick lightning exploded across the sky, closer than ever. Its incredible power hissed over Dominic and brought every strand of auburn hair to life. His teeth ached, if that were possible, and for a moment he was sure his skin glowed orange like the embers in a low fire. Lightning struck the cliff with the roar of twenty 36 pounder long guns. Around Dominic, sandstone and hard rock erupted from the precipice and plummeted, crashed into the white washed waves.

Dominic’s cry of panic caught in his throat. His best boots struggled to find a toe hold again but the rock face had disappeared, the last few fist sized pebbles freefalling the hundred foot drop. The wind chose that point in time to gallop out of the ocean and attack him like a feral dog; pulled at his hair, his shirt, and his body until he almost lost his finger hold.

Cool air touched Keziah’s cheek. A scent lingered in her lounge room, fresh but pungent, so much better than anything she’d ever smelled. Like she imagined the ocean to smell. She lowered her eyes.

Lightning struck the cliff again.

Bright veins of lightning burst out of the pages of the book. They connected to the seams in the ceiling with a rush of sparks, and the sizzle of oil in fire. A bubble of energy formed to encase Keziah and the book. The energy crackled and spat above her head, glowed yellow, white, then red. Keziah drew her legs to her chest and stared, awed by the magic that surrounded her. Strands of hair extended from her head to float in the air like long, black tentacles, captured in the energy that Dominic had sent to her. Keziah’s hands trembled but she didn’t let go of the book, the umbilical between her and the impossible. If this was the start of her journey she didn’t want to miss a second.

Inside the luminous pages of the book, the real life image of Dominic Lamont clung to the cliff face. Auburn curls tossed about his strong features. The square of his jaw tightened in a show of determination. Keziah bent to have a closer look at the book’s pages as though she’d forgotten to wear glasses she didn’t need. Was he really her hero? He was even more charismatic than her imagined pirate. So much sexier, even suspended from the cliff by his fingertips. Around her, the bubble fizzed and random sparks flew across the room to disappear into the walls.

“I’m ready,” she told the book. “Bring on the magic.”

Luminous light, brighter than she’d ever experienced spread from the book to encompass her. Unfamiliar scents filled her nose, pungent, sweet and salty all at once. The wind came; the squalls the book told her about, and they swirled about, tugged her hair, her clothes, drew her closer to the durable pages. Even though she didn’t want to miss her journey, the elements forced Keziah to close her eyes and turn her face away from the punishing gusts. For a few seconds, silence deafened her. The wind had died, and left her with the sensation of floating, weightless in an airless void.

CHAPTER THREE


Sounds invaded the silence, unfamiliar, and smells strange and delicious enough to make her mouth water. Eyes still closed, Keziah focused on the sound of her breaths, raspy but not yet panicked, and the feel of her heart thumping a constant and even rhythm. What was that sound? Her brow furrowed. She cocked her head and listened. She’d heard it before but…where? Her senses returned. A multitude of experiences bombarded her. She drew in a deep breath and held it while she attempted to determine each touch of heavenly air, the feel of dry, coarse dirt under her hands, and the coldness against her back.

“Come on.” Her words echoed. “You wanted this, now open your eyes.” She tried but her lids refused to budge. For the first time in her life, she was scared. Her heart beat a little faster. “Don’t panic,” she told herself with a certain amount of censure. “Open your eyes and look around. You wanted this. Now, do it!”

Keziah forced her eyes to flick open quickly. She blinked to clear the ache the sudden light caused and frowned. She sat on the ground, legs stretched out and back pressed against the rocky wall of a cavern complete with carved stone pillars and etchings of half-naked people on the walls.

Keziah peered at the etching closest to her until she realized the pictures were of a sexual nature. Her cheeks warmed and she tried to look away but wherever her grey eyes landed she struck erotic images. A few years ago, on the dare of a friend, she’d bought an electronic version of The Karma Sutra and swiped through the pages so quickly that each picture was a blur. That was what the half dozen etchings reminded her of, the sexual positions of the Karma Sutra.

Her cheeks warmed even more and she clambered to her feet, dusting the dry, fine dirt from her hands. Where in the story had the book positioned her? Would she enter it in logical sequence, or had she skipped forward a few pages? In a book, a few pages could be a lifetime.

Her gaze rose to the ceiling of the cavern. Hundreds of black, typed words slid across the rock to swirl and dance across the uneven surface. Some dropped through the air like stones and disappeared into the floor of the cavern. Others spun faster and faster before they exploded into a spark of light. More words poured through the cavern door and marched along the ground, around her feet, and up the walls to join their friends above her head. Keziah couldn’t make out any coherent sentences. It seemed the words simply existed to prove to her that she really had entered the book.

The fictional world looked real enough, the cool breeze across her face and in her hair certainly felt real, but…She stared at the dancing, twirling words. How was it possible? Books comprised paper, cardboard, glue and words – powerful words sometimes – but books couldn’t come to life and a person couldn’t physically enter a story.

Yet, here she stood inside a magical book. Well, that or she’d quietly gone insane. Very quietly. And very insane.

In the middle of the cavern a silver jigsaw puzzle piece hovered in the air. Rounded lumps protruded on either side, and a deep valley, like a bite, had been cut into the bottom. The silver glistened like nothing Keziah had ever seen, and faint jagged lines appeared and disappeared dependent on the shift of light. Keziah circled the strange item. On the other side, the faces of two men shimmered across its surface so fast that she couldn’t describe them if asked.

Fingers trembling, she plucked the oddly shaped piece from the air. The cool breeze stilled. The strange sound, which she now identified as water, stopped. Quiet moved through the cavern. The air seemed to thicken, and the words formed crazy phrases across the ceiling of the cavern. Suddenly, each word in the chamber disappeared with a dramatic twirl and an audible pop. Until three words remained.

He.

Is.

Coming.

“Who’s coming?” Keziah’s voice was a little shakier than she’d anticipated.

The words scrambled and rearranged. Coming. Is. He.

“Who?”

Footsteps crunched on the pebbles behind her. The piece vibrated in her grasp. A scent punctuated the dry smell of dirt and rock. Masculinity and citrus. The irresistible scent of adventure. Her fingers tightened around the edges of the puzzle piece.

“How did you get up here? And how does my puzzle piece fit into your plans?”

She turned to face the man who spoke. The breath left her mouth as a stunned cry and she drew in again in an attempt to ease the panic that had all but consumed her. The man was gorgeous from the top of his auburn head to the tips of his leather boots. Another breath in, deep and noisy. Passion radiated from his handsome face. Not passion for her, but a lust for life.

“You’re real!” she managed to blurt and retreated a step.

“Aye, I am,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Dear Lord,” she whispered.

“Do you require medical treatment?”

“Not yet.”

Keziah recognized the gentle lilt of his Scottish brogue. A Scottish pirate. What more could a woman ask for? She’d calmed enough to stand upright and stare openly at him. He stepped closer. His gaze captured, and held, hers. Clear blue eyes, bright as a summer sky, twinkled with mischief, and blazed with the light of a man determined.

“I ask again, how did you get up here?”

“Where am I?”

Dominic straightened his shoulders. The curious eyes that had considered her now narrowed with suspicion. He came closer. “You know naught of where you are, yet you are here?”

Keziah considered fainting.

“What do you want with my jigsaw piece?” he asked. By now he had edged even closer.

His name carried on the breeze, and confirmed to Keziah that this man was indeed Dominic Lamont. He muttered an oath and turned away from her. In two strides he was at the entrance of the chamber, peering around the wall.

“Richard,” he said. “Damn.” He analyzed her. “I believe you and I are about to become more acquainted.”

Her gaze shifted to the erotic sketches on the walls. Dominic followed her line of sight. The start of a smile tipped the corners of his generous mouth.

“Perhaps not that acquainted. First name basis for now.”

Captivated by the reality of the man in front of her, she started when his long fingers easily circled her forearm. The sensation of his touch made her want to pull away but his hand was warm and strong, and his touch gentle. She had expected him to be made of rough paper but that wasn’t the case. He was made of flesh and blood. Hot flesh and blood.

Keziah showed no resistance as he tugged her along the tunnel. Instead, she trotted after him like a meek lamb. The last few minutes of her adventure filled her mind with wonder, and no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t work out how it all had happened. Focused on the movement of his hair, she followed. The ruffle at the cuff of his shirt stroked her hand and wrist, soft as silk. His shoulders were wider than one and a half of her but still proportionate to the rest of his well-toned body. He had to be strong. Hadn’t the book described his unassisted climb up Poseidon’s Finger?

A gunshot reverberated along the tunnel. Keziah snapped from her dream state and quickened her pace to keep up. Ella hadn’t mentioned the use of guns in her list of wishes! She ducked her head and glanced back. Dominic’s grip on her hand tightened and he pulled her in the direction of the column of light that shone through a hole in the sandstone roof.

“Our escape route,” Dominic called over his shoulder. He stopped under the hole and bent to form a cradle with his hands.

Keziah looked at his hands, and raised her eyes to his encouraging expression. What did he expect her to do? Dominic straightened and surveyed her, hands on hips. Through the hole was the sky, blue and grey, but beautifully clear. Bird calls came from outside, the sound of gulls; the scavengers of the ocean, so her books often told her. Keziah shifted to get a better look but couldn’t see the birds to confirm their authenticity.

“You need to climb through the hole,” Dominic was saying.

Keziah looked at him. Was he serious?

“You.” He pointed to her. “Up.” He indicated to the hole. He formed a cradle again and looked at her expectantly.

Keziah contemplated the escape route. Would she fit? Angry shouts from further down the tunnel shortened her analysis of the hole.

“Now would be good,” Dominic insisted.

Confident she could catapult through the hole with little fuss, she placed her foot into his hands.

“I will lift you closer. Toss the piece through the hole and grab the edges,” he instructed.

Toss the piece and grab the edges. The tasks played out smoothly in her mind, nice and orderly. However, somewhere throughout the actual process, communication between brain and muscles failed. He lifted her. The sound that left her lips wasn’t quite human. Her balance wobbled. Dominic lost his grip, along with his footing, and collapsed to his back on the hard, dirt covered rock. Still clutching the puzzle piece, she dropped like a stone to straddle his impressive chest. Alarmed, she met his perplexed expression.

“Clearly, this will not work.” He raised his eyebrows and tossed his head ever so slightly to his right. “Do you mind?”

Was that a rhetorical question? Of course she didn’t mind sitting on his chest staring into his incredible eyes. Her thighs shifted in tune to his every breath in an innocent, but promiscuous, play of their bodies. Breathe in; thighs widened. Breathe out; thighs closed a little. Dominic rolled. Keziah struggled to her feet and stood far enough away to avoid his touch.

Dominic dusted dirt from his breeches, and measured her with subtle amusement. He bent his knees, contemplated the hole above him, and jumped to grip the edges. With a grunt and a quiet curse he maneuvered until only his legs dangled, and paused to catch his breath before pulling his body the rest of the way through the hole. Keziah saw him roll out of sight. Unsure if he planned to come back for her, she glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the advancing voices.

“Believe me, you would much prefer my company to that of my cousin.” Dominic reached down one of his impressively big hands. “Toss me the piece.”

“If I give you the piece you’ll leave me behind.”

Dominic gave her a look that may have been an affirmation of her words, or an expression of indignation. “You will have to make the decision,” he called down. “Trust the pirate captain or distrust the pirate captain. Make your opinion quickly. Time waits for nae man…or peculiar woman.” His fingers waggled.

Keziah knew exactly what would happen. She would give him the piece and he would run fast away from her. The adventure created for her would go wanting, so would her curiosity. He was a pirate. A Scottish pirate. She wanted to be a pirate, too, but she couldn’t give up the piece, her ticket to stay in the book and play out her story. When she stretched, their fingers barely touched. Dominic wriggled closer to the hole, and she prepared to pounce into his arms.

Behind her, the voices of Richard and his men came closer. She couldn’t make out what they said, only the urgency to their tones.

“Jump!” Dominic ordered, and she did.

His hand clamped around her wrist and he pulled her through the hole, into the light of day. Keziah’s legs buckled and she landed on her knees, on grass, cushiony soft and damp after the storm the book described. Bright daylight all but blinded her and she shielded her eyes until they adjusted. The sun gently warmed her face, instinctively turned toward the heavens and the broken clouds. Beads of sun sparkled in the raindrops that clung to the blades of grass, bringing the landscape alive with beauty.

Why had the human race turned their backs on the magnificence of nature? However Keziah didn’t have time to continue her wonderment. Tugged to her feet and prompted to hurry along, she gazed at the bright colors in awe. So blue. So green. The sky was luminous. Wind rose from the troubled waters below Poseidon’s Finger in a gust of salty air to swirl and flick her long hair around her face. Something yellow erupted from the grass ahead. Astonished, she locked her eyes onto the object. It looked like a…It was!

Keziah yanked her hand from Dominic’s warm grip and fell to her knees beside the small plant. The puzzle piece lay beside her, far enough away not to squash the plant, but still close enough for her to grab if need be.

“Oh…”

Gently, she cupped her hands around the flower. The score of petals were yellow and joined a brown centre. Three more closed flowers poked from the mass of green leaves. Keziah bent and drew in a deep breath, closing her eyes to savor the special moment.

“It’s a flower,” Dominic told her.

“A daisy,” Keziah replied wistfully. “A Zinnia. It’s the most wonderful thing I have ever seen.”

“Take it.” Dominic went to pluck the flower.

“No!” Keziah protected the plant with her hand. “Don’t touch it.”

“There are hundreds of them,” Dominic said and swept his hand to indicate the expansive green escarpment.

Keziah looked across the grass. Sure enough more plants spotted the area, flowers open and reaching for the goddess sun. Dominic plucked the daisy and held it toward her. Tentatively, she took the gift. A live flower. It was beautiful. The petal felt so soft, and tiny hairs protected the stem. The pirate captain was also beautiful but when he reached for the puzzle piece, she shoved his hand away and snatched it up. She caught his look of surprise before he seized her wrist again and pulled her along behind him.

Above her, a bird squawked. A white bird spread its wings wide, allowing it to glide effortlessly on the gusts of air. A seagull. The bird screeched in protest of their presence. The recorded bird calls at the nature museums in Australia and Scotland hadn’t sounded like the real birds at all. Come to think of it, the seagull, the crow and the owl had all sounded the same. Now, she wasn’t entirely certain the museums knew much about nature at all.

With her focus on the bird, Keziah didn’t realize Dominic had stopped. She ploughed into his back and let out a startled oomph. He stared down at the wind tossed ocean, his hair stirring in the unstable flurries that puffed their way up the cliff face. Keziah’s eyes followed his gaze to where his ship bobbed on the waves, fluctuating this way and that. Words could not describe the glory of a wild ocean. Colors blended together, green, blue, grey, and white to make a once in a lifetime sight. A gush of salty air smacked her square in the face, forced her eyes to close and her tongue to flick onto her lips to taste the ocean.

“Stay close to me,” Dominic said. “Watch where you put your feet or you may slip.”

He started down an animal path cut into the side of the rocky cliff face. An adventure of a lifetime still on her mind, Keziah followed, her back pressed to the wall as she crab shuffled behind. Dominic’s sure footing soon had him venture further ahead until several arm’s lengths sprawled between Keziah and the pirate.

The wind teased her mercilessly, threatening to toss her from the precipice and onto the rocks below where the cliff and the ocean would crush her. Lengths of dark hair whipped at her eyes and she wished she’d brought a hair tie along for the adventure. Although, she hadn’t made plans to descend a sheer cliff face on a windy day. So much hair covered her eyes that she could barely see the sea sprawled in front of her. She stopped and tried to shake the hair from her face. Dominic had retraced his sure steps and now stood beside her again.

“Allow me,” he called over the whir of the wind.

Keziah stilled. He parted her hair so she could see. He pulled a bandana from his pocket and expertly arranged it around her head, tying it to keep her hair under control.

“That should make life a little easier,” he said with that delicious Scottish burr.

For a moment his eyes swallowed her.

For a moment Poseidon’s Finger disappeared.

But only a moment.

Dominic winked.

Keziah breathed again and the world came crashing back around her, minus strands of dark hair. Dominic continued his steady way down the cliff face and Keziah followed. Down. Down. Down even further until the goat track no longer carved its way into the rock. There was nowhere left to run. High above, a dark haired man leaned over the cliff, his gun pointed in their direction. He wore a dark blue coat with white facings which identified a navy man. Two other navy men peered down at them.

“Dominic, give me the piece.”

“The piece is not mine to give,” Dominic yelled back. “The young lady has taken possession of it.”

The man’s regard moved to Keziah and she clutched the puzzle piece closer. It was her meal ticket, the only precious trinket linking her to Dominic Lamont and an adventure of a lifetime. No one would take it from her, not even the navy.

“We will have to jump,” Dominic told her.

“What?”

He gave her a cheeky smile that didn’t calm her heart at all. “We will have to jump,” he said again.

“Oh, no we won’t.” Keziah slid back up the precipice a few steps.

“Oh, aye we will.” Dominic grasped her wrist to stop her from moving further away. He now faced her, the wind flicking auburn curls wildly around his handsome face. “Together, we can defeat the world,” he told her. “Jump with me.”

Why did she believe him so easily? He wanted her to follow him to her possible death, and she actually entertained the idea of jumping sixty feet down a rocky cliff into rough seas. She hadn’t realized it a few seconds ago, but she’d already made up her mind. For some reason she trusted her Scottish pirate captain who had taken shape from the pages of a create-your-own adventure book. Keziah groaned. Her thoughts were ridiculous.

She should be writing her last will and testament in the dirt, or running fast in the opposite direction. But where would she run? Her dull tenement flat had vanished. So had her tedious, normal life. Her new life now stood in front of her, encouraging her to take a leap of faith. Before she could stop, she nodded and clutched Dominic’s hand so tightly that she thought her fingers would break.

Keziah drew in a deep breath but failed to properly prepare herself by the time Dominic launched from the ledge and pulled her sharply behind. Her scream echoed along the cliff face. Her legs pedaled the air but she didn’t let go of the piece, or Dominic’s strong hand.

The water was no softer than glass although considerably warmer and she sank deep into its darkness, embraced by its sway and rhythm, fascinated by the thickness of salty sea water. Her hair shifted like octopus tentacles. The bandanna broke free and floated upward. The piece was ripped from her hold but she snatched it back from the ocean’s treacherous grip and held it close.

Instinctively, she kicked for the surface as she’d learned during the handful of swimming lessons she’d attended, one hand stretched for the sky, but her ascent was laborious and slow. Keziah wanted to breathe. Her chest burned. Her want to breathe became frantic and she kicked desperately but the surface seemed to drift further away. Her feeble attempts to swim only increased her need to take breaths.

Dominic’s face materialized. His hand gripped her forearm. He turned and headed toward the warm glow of daylight. Keziah broke through the surface and sucked in a deep, raspy breath. She clung to Dominic and pedaled her legs.

A white tipped wave slapped her cheeks. She turned her face away from the next wave. It washed over her head and pushed her under again, filling her mouth and nose and eyes with salt infused water.

Tugged above the waves, Keziah coughed and dragged damp air into her lungs. The smell of the ocean was delightful, but a stomach full of it didn’t appeal to her at all. Dominic dragged her through the rough water by the lapel of her white nurse’s uniform.

A captain’s gig emerged from the ocean’s surge, topped the crest of a wave and slid down the swell to where she struggled to stay afloat. Male voices yelled over the whip of the wind but she couldn’t make out what was said. Dominic’s deep voice was close, right beside her ear, or so she thought.

Hands, cooler than the ocean, hauled her onto the boat. Puzzle piece held close, she lay in the hull of the four-oared gig and stared at the sky. Thick grey clouds still swam across the perfect blue. Dominic’s face blocked her line of sight. Water dripped from his hair and onto her chest. He studied her with a glint of wonder in his eyes; gently touched her cheek and brushed away the hair that clung to her forehead. He leaned closer but his radiant smile failed to clear the fog that smothered her mind.


CHAPTER FOUR


Ban-dia rolled with the movement of the ocean. The action reminded Dominic Lamont of a bath trinket he owned as a child. Under his mother’s watchful eye he had slid around the tub creating terrible, destructive conditions for the small wooden vessel his grandfather crafted for him. Eventually, the boat spiraled to the bottom of the bath only to be resurrected by small hands and encouraged to float once more. Perchance his bathtub play brought about his love for ships and the sea.

His relish for adventure he inherited from his incorrigible Seanmhair, along with her red hair and blue eyes. From his grandfather he learned that family was important, but family could not survive without love. From his father came honor, and his mother, integrity.


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