For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.

Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (

* * * * *

Chapter 26: Giving Up Smoking i

She had made it through the night.

Morien sat in the passenger seat of the Volvo, listening to the engine muttering about the hour. Her father sat hunched behind the wheel. A dull light reflected onto his spectacle lenses, making them and his thoughts impenetrable. The sun had risen, colourless and subdued behind a bank of cloud. The Welsh countryside glimmered under a covering of dew. Birds wavered between grey sky and green landscape, the haze of purple mountains in the far distance standing vigil.

Everything seemed to be veiled and quiet, unwilling and unable to face the onslaught of the coming day and reality.

She had made it through the night. Her body echoed with pain and exhaustion, but she forced her body out of the car, barely stopping to talk to the doctor, half-running down the now-familiar hospital corridors, as they echoed in turn with her footsteps. Sullivan was left far behind.

These corridors seemed as reverent and still as a church. No, Morien thought, a small, country chapel compared to the cathedral that was St Vincent’s. And in her headlong rush she felt as if she was the only living thing remaining.

But she needed to see her… whatever state she was in now, she needed to see her.

By a miracle, she had made it through the night.

It was a quiet room, small, containing only a few beds, making room for equipment. Machines that hissed, machines that beeped, machines that dripped. That morning, beyond the nurse’s station, only one bed was occupied, in the corner.

There was a chart at the foot. Not much of it made sense, but one thing caught Morien’s eye at the head of the page.

Name: West, Rosamund Sarah Bailey.

Rosamund West. Why had she hidden herself away for so long?

She walked round the bed, conscious of her own heartbeat keeping time with the EEG, conscious that it wasn’t that long ago since Striker had crept into her hospital room and watched and wondered. Had she felt like this: so reverential, so in awe, as if she’d come in to confess her sins?

Gently she sat herself down, her head bowed for a moment, and then she reached out and wrapped her hand round Striker’s still fingers.

Her lover’s hair seemed so dark against the white of the pillow. Her skin was ashen, as if every drop of blood in her had haemorrhaged through Morien’s fingers to stain the floor of the Salem Chapel. Her chest and abdomen were a mass of bandages, too thick to disclose any movement. She looked entombed. Tubes punctured her skin, her arms, snaking past her head like a hidden Medusa. Morien could hear the hiss and click of the machine that supported her breathing. A plastic mask covered her nose and mouth, clouding with air.

She squeezed the hand in hers and opened her mouth, but was suddenly unsure of what to say. Words that had only been part of the drone the night before, this morning, finally came to the fore.

Vascular surgery, they had said. Transfusion. Blood. So much blood. And a lifetime of thoughts and expressions and phrases — procedures, surgery, discussed, dismissed, pursued, imagined, until Morien could feel the scalpel parting her own skin. And all now condensed to a single word.


"Hi," she started. "It’s me. I... I...." She took a breath. This was Striker. "How did you do this? How did you do this for someone you didn’t even know?" She gazed down at the quiet face. "You’re a remarkable person, Rosamund West. But then, you said yourself, you’ve got a way with more than words." She squeezed her hand again.

Striker was unresponsive. The machine hissed and clicked.

"I took a leaf from your book, though. Almost literally." She pulled a book out of her bag, and held it up for Striker to see. But her eyes remained closed — lashes resting long and dark against her cheeks. "I hope you don’t mind."

She placed the book on the edge of the bed and, briefly, brushed her fingers over the worn cover: Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales.

Then she picked a tale.

"‘Once upon a time, in a country a long way from here, there stood a flourishing city, full of commerce; and in that city lived a merchant so lucky in all his ventures that it seemed as if fortune waited on his wishes.’" ii

And to the beat of the cardiograph, the expectant hush of the ventilator, the room bore witness to the merchant’s downfall, his beautiful daughter, and the Beast with whom he made a dreadful deal.

The room seemed still quieter as Morien’s voice died away on the happy ever after.

She closed the book and put it to one side. Still clutching Striker’s hand, she rested her chin on her own outstretched arm simply to watch her lover breathe; watch the breath cloud the mask; willing her chest to rise and fall.

It was still touch and go, they had said. Words bandied around from last night, this morning and in-between still flittered in her head. Laparotomy. Organ donation. Love. Miracle….

Words from a lifetime ago:

"Hello, love, can you hear me? You’re in hospital."

"Can you tell how deep that wound is?"

"We almost lost her early this morning," a consultant had murmured at her as she’d made her entrance. "We’d almost given up on her. But her condition started to improve just a little while ago. Nothing we did. She wants to live. She’s still unconscious, but she’s stable. However, I must warn you, it’s still…."

Touch and go….

She touched a finger to an alabaster cheek. In a moment in time, she’d changed from a knight to an Arthurian lady.

My Lady Rosamund.

MY lady… Rosamund.

"Hold on," she whispered.

The EEG beat strongly. The ventilator hissed in regular time.

* * * * *

She soon came to know the hospital as if she was following a thread through a labyrinth. However far she strayed — the canteen, the toilets — she’d always find her way back to Striker’s bedside. But she would never stray for long. Mostly she sat by the bed, one hand resting on a motionless arm, the other propping up a sketchpad, a jotter, a book. Sometimes she’d read out loud, sometimes simply to herself, sometimes the book was forgotten on her lap and she’d simply stare at the cool marble of her lover’s skin. The gentle planes of her face. She’d talk to her, about everything and nothing. Sweet nothings in the unhearing ear. Ideas, plans, wishes. And all too often she’d find herself drifting off, falling into sleep next to Striker as if she could reach her there. This way, minutes stretched into hours, stretched into... but here time had no meaning.

But she’d find herself awakened by an abrupt Welsh voice, or a soft Welsh voice, depending on the shift. And she’d wait outside, listening to the voices of the consultants and nurses talking in hushed medical tongues. Or she’d find her father waiting to take her home, talking of food and rest and things that didn’t seem important.

Home, now, was only a blur of hot restlessness and waking dreams in the dark. Counting each clock tick until it was time to go back to the hospital. In the dawn hours she’d find herself padding downstairs to the sitting room, unveiling the canvas, touching the picture; a mark here, a stroke there. No colour.

No colour in life or art.

But now the room had started to change from the first time the nurse had shaken her awake and shooed her out on that first day of vigil. It was still too quiet, but in that quiet there was a new spring. Vase by vase, almost bud by bud, flowers started to bloom; creeping round the walls, transforming the still church into a living arbour. From Idomeneo, from Kishen, from Drake.... Messages of support, hope, love.

Still too quiet. Just the hiss of the ventilator, the beeping of the EEG.

She took the book out of her bag, flicking through the familiar stories. Such a lot had happened since the American bad girl had turned storyteller for a friendless stranger. She remembered sitting on a train and thinking of her voice before she’d even met her. What was the poem?

Morien closed her eyes and recited:

"’Gweld y more gynta

yw'r agosa yr awn

at ddarganfod gwir ryfeddod.

Saif yno'n arlais, i'n didol,

yr amlinell rhwng nef

a daear, gofod a dyfroedd.’"iii

Language like a magic spell.

And a sound beyond the silence.


The slightest movement under her hand. Fingers slowly curled up to touch her own.

Something mumbled, incomprehensible under the plastic mask.

"Cariad?" She was on her knees now. The EEG picked up the beat, the ventilator wheezing.

Another hand inched up and touched the mask, gripping it just enough for it to move.

And the rusty whisper of a voice, barely more than a movement of cracked lips, allowed a single word.


"Oh God, Striker." Morien’s utterance was as tiny as her lover’s, muffled by a sound — half-sob, half-chuckle.

And the first light of a blue gaze through half-closed eyelids.

The first glimmer of dawn, as the sun cracked the horizon.

The first slight curve of her mouth as that gaze met green.

And Morien was speechless.


Striker’s hand shook on the mask, fighting against the tough elastic, and for a moment, the opaque plastic obscured her mouth again. The ventilator hissed briefly. And then the fingers moved again, regaining strength for just a short time.

Morien glanced back at the nurses’ station. "Should you be doing that?"

There was the tiny flash of humour in the lidded eyes, like brilliance through clouds. "Fuck it."

The nurse was coming. Morien could feel the disturbance in their air.

Striker’s mouth moved, a touch of a dry tongue on drier lips. "Where... am I?"

Morien placed a gentle hand on Striker’s forehead. It felt lukewarm, clammy... alive. "You’re in hospital, my love, in Caernarfon."

Striker’s eyes momentarily closed, the mask slipped back over her face. Morien could feel the puzzlement under her fingers, and a jolt of cold worry ran through her. The nurse was at her shoulder. Others entering the room.

"Cariad," she whispered. "You know who I am, don’t you?"

The nurse persuaded her to her feet. A doctor took her place at Striker’s side.

A single connection left, hands still touching.

And, just for a moment, Striker opened her eyes again. As blue as the sky over the bay. Her fingers bent under Morien’s, a single finger lingered on her palm.

Always, my love, that finger said. Always.

* * * * *

Gentle moments of consciousness. Growing longer. Now time mattered more than anything.

Morien would find herself staring at Striker for hours; just watching and waiting. Roles reversed - the irony wasn’t lost on her. Watching her stillness, broken only by the tiny movements of sleep as insignificant and beautiful as cloud-shadows across a dormant land. Watching for the signs of waking — the flex of a muscle, a muffled sigh, a blink... once... twice....

The slightest movement of a tubed arm, and the mask would be pulled off.

"You’re still here."

"Where else would I be?"

A breath so deep she almost moved the bandages. "Out havin’ fun."

"No fun without you, cariad." Morien clutched her hand to her, cradling it in her own. "How are you feeling?"

Striker looked at her, an eyebrow raised slightly. "Like I’ve... been shot." She put the mask back on her face, just for a moment, breathing as deeply as she could.

Morien smiled down at her. "Okay, so that was a stupid question."

"Are you okay?"

The question was soft and muffled, but still caught Morien by surprise. "You get shot three times, almost died and you’re asking if I’m all right?"

The mask came off again. "Are you?" came out as a wheeze, a noise that made Morien’s chest constrict.

"Cariad, please put that back on."

Striker put the mask back on, but her hand grasped Morien’s, asking the question that her blue eyes echoed.

"No. I’m not all right. I almost lost you."

Striker lifted Morien’s hand, placing it on her own cheek, nuzzling it gently; a strange mixture of soft skin and cold tubing to Morien. But the skin was warm, and Striker was alive. That was all that mattered. She looked down at her love’s face: her eyes dark, shuttered rings against white marble.

There was silence in the room again, and again the machines filled the void. But neither woman seemed to hear them.

Morien eventually spoke: "I don’t know what to call you anymore."

Striker looked at her, her eyes unfathomable — gauging Morien’s thoughts. And then away. The mask covered her face, until: "Striker."

"But your name’s…."

"Striker." She struggled for breath. "No one calls me… Rosie anymore." She glanced beyond Morien. The nurse was approaching. Striker held out a hand, wanting just a few more moments alone with Morien and the nurse seemed to relent. She clutched the smaller woman’s hand to her, and captured her eyes with her own, needing to explain. "Rosie died twenty two years ago."

Morien’s own breath caught in her throat. She closed her eyes, unable to bear the bleakness in Striker’s gaze. Unable to bear the thought of the pain this woman had endured over the years. But she remembered what Striker had said just a few days before. Somewhere inside her was that ten-year-old girl. She opened her eyes again, wondering whether to say what she was thinking, unsure of whether it would hurt this woman she loved. She licked her lips and spoke. "You’re wrong, you know. Rosie’s only been asleep." Striker’s brow creased a little, as if she was thinking, as if she was troubled.

Morien continued. "I want to call you Rosie," she said.

Striker seemed to be examining their joined hands; slowly she entwined their fingers. "We’ll see," she finally said, and slipped the mask back on her face.

She looked so tired. So pale. So strange that a woman of such height and presence could look so small and fragile. Her eyes drifted shut.

"You need to sleep," Morien said, brushing an errant lock from the damp forehead. There seemed to be an answering smile behind the mask: the laugh lines deepened around Striker’s closed eyes. Morien shifted, intent on leaving her to her rest, but Striker still held her hand.

And then that breathy whisper came again, muffled behind the mask. "Morien…."

"Don’t speak, cariad, sleep."

A hand came up again, the mask was removed and Striker regarded her from under heavy-lidded eyes. "I love you." A breath. "Just had to say it."

And then the mask was back on, her eyes closed and her face relaxing into slumber. And again Morien watched her, warm breath rising like mist against the plastic covering her mouth.

"Damn it, Rosie… Striker… whatever the hell your name is… you don’t half know how to get a girl."

But here, at the end, she couldn’t say the same words in return. Not yet. There was something she had to settle first.

She put her head down on the bed — a cheek resting against bandage. Striker didn’t smell smoky any more — too clean, too clinical — but still there lingered the faintest scent of musky roses. She closed her eyes and listened to Striker breathing.

* * * * *

Night had risen like a tide.

Morien had fallen asleep on the sofa; her mind full of noise: beeps, hisses, and three words that filled her life, which followed her into her dreams. And each time she opened her eyes — awake or asleep — Striker would be there, until she wasn’t sure whether she was in the sitting room in the cottage, the work-in-progress on the easel to one side, or in the Intensive Care Unit next to her lover.

But an alien noise punctured the rhythm, dragging her into alertness and to an upright position.

She got to the phone a few seconds before Sullivan, aware that the call could be from the hospital. She was getting better, wasn’t she?

"Hello?" Morien said, her voice thick with nerves.

There was nothing but crackle on the line.


Was that someone breathing? An old, forgotten fear reared up inside.

Another crackle. And then: "Mo... it’s me."

Morien paused.

Me? Who the hell was ‘me’?

"I’ve been trying to get hold of you for days. I phoned home, but there was never any reply. What’s happened to the answerphone?" The voice was familiar: a soft-plum voice that she remembered from somewhere, some time years ago. "I got hold of Drake in the end. He told me you were spending some time in Lleuadraeth. Are you okay?"

Oh. Morien blinked. Recognition soaked into her like a warm cup of tea. "Sophie?"

"Yes, Mo. Sorry, the line’s not brilliant. You sound a little...."

"Where are you?"

"Er... somewhere near Cuzco. Listen, darling, there’s been some stuff going on here and I really need to talk to you. But... Mo... I need to know if you’re okay. Not being able to get hold of you has really freaked me out."

"I’m fine, Soph, I’m...."

Morien looked up at her father. His face was a soft cloud of concern. He didn’t say a word, merely regarded her with a questioning gaze. Heavily, she sat down on the chair.

Crunch time.

"Actually… I’m not all right. So much has happened, I...." She was aware that, despite herself, tears were starting to fall again and her voice was shaking. But she looked at Sullivan, smiling at him reassuringly, and he smiled in return and nodded and turned back upstairs. "Soph, how much time have you got? We really need to talk."

* * * * *

Early morning: the dark still clinging to the corners. She’d woken up in pain and alone. The way the light fell in the room, the mechanical fritinancy, and beyond the sudden patter of raindrops on the windowpane... she was back in London.

Waking up in pain and alone.

The strange underscore of Danny’s sound experimentation in the next door bedroom, she would reach for the cigarette packet, the bottle she’d left under the bed, and a book. Fairy stories, myths, poetry... reading to someone in her head — Shakespearean sonnets — dedicating them to her desire, wreathed in smoke and misery.

Or was it Vinnie’s? Catching forty winks on the settee in the staff room on a quiet weekday night. Listening to the sounds of the medical world. But something had happened, hadn’t it? She’d been woken by the sound of a siren....

A woman, unconscious, close to death.

Half-awake, half-asleep, barely-alive and wondering if the EEG was going to shoot her.

The clack of shoes roused her, and the mental jolt made her cry out with pain, except the sound she made was barely a murmur.

Then there were drugs, and a calm Welsh voice, and daylight coming through the windows. But there was still a part of her that wanted nicotine and alcohol and literature. But most of all...

She wanted Morien very much.

Her body was asleep; numb from the waist up. It was hard to move her arms. The tubes that attached her to the various pieces of medical equipment felt like chains. But her mind seemed to be painfully awake.... Aside from the hisses and beeps, and the familiarity of a waking hospital, she kept hearing voices, sirens, gunshots. Morien whispering her name... except it wasn’t Morien. "Rosie," the voice said. "Rosie."

Nurses would come in and out (or maybe it was Striker who came in and out). Some would be chatty — if they saw she was awake. Some would be informative. Some would be quiet — if they thought she was asleep. They would bring soothing words and medical equipment and more flowers and doctors....

More drugs.

She must have been asleep for hours.

Or minutes.

Or days.

How long had it been now?

Time to cut out the hard stuff, fuck-up.

She gathered her strength, and pulled the mask over her head, merely holding the plastic in her hand, if she needed it. No more dependencies...

Except... She held the mask to her mouth.

There was a quiet and gentle bustle at the door. Friendly greetings passed at the nurses’ station. An auburn vision with a smile like sunrise.

The room suddenly seemed brighter.

Morien felt like running to her when she saw Striker, overjoyed to see her already awake. She was propped up, the head of the bed had been raised slightly, and pillows stacked beneath the patient’s head and shoulders. She still seemed gaunt and pale, as if she was in shadow. As if she was still bathed in the dark light of an Underground station, shades playing across her skin.

But the sparkle in her eyes was pure summer sky.

She moved forward struggling not to throw her arms, and thus her baggage, round the sick woman.

As if seeing her dilemma, slowly, Striker reached out a hand to Morien, and Morien grasped it, but the blue eyes moved to the bags Morien was clutching. She removed the mask. "Watcha got?" she asked. Her voice was still a rough whisper, but the tone was unmistakable Striker.

"Nice to see you too," Morien said, and taking advantage, she bent down and gave Striker a lingering kiss on the cheek.

Her eye was caught by a new vase of flowers standing on a table near the bed: a rainbow of carnations, chrysanthemums and freesias.

"Who are they from?"

Striker fumbled, finally plucking the little florist’s card from where it rested by the pillows, and Morien understood why she kept it there. The two-word message would have meant the world to her lover. It simply said: Satta, sis.

Morien smiling, carefully placed it back by the pillows where Striker could see it.

"What does that mean?" she asked, sitting, trapping a hand.

"Relax... chill."

Satta. It meant she was all right. They were all right. There was nothing to worry about. It meant she had one of the best friends… no, two of the best friends a woman could have.

It meant Morien was here.

"They’re beautiful," Morien said, but she was looking at the light in Striker’s eyes as she said it.

But then she let go of Striker’s hand, and reached down to the plastic carrier bag that had come to rest under the chair. Carefully, she drew out a single hydrangea bloom. "Mr Maguire called me over as I left the house, handed me this."

Striker looked shocked. Puzzled. "Mr Maguire?"

Morien smiled. "Do you think it’ll fit in here?" She tucked it into the closest vase, where it contrasted handsomely with the other flowers. "Oh, and I ought to warn you, Mrs Jenkins is knitting you a bed jacket."

"What?" Striker almost choked. Morien gripped her hand as she took deep breaths from the mask.

"Don’t worry. It’ll probably be very tasteful. And pink. She wasn’t sure of the size, so she’ll most likely get Dad to try it on first."

Striker spluttered into the mask, and Morien caught a hiss from beneath: "Don’t make me laugh. Please don’t make me laugh."

Morien gave Striker a moment to recover before saying, "I’ve got some other stuff too." She reached into her tapestry bag, pulling out a pile of papers. "That’s from Dai News." She placed a neatly folded copy of USA Today on the table. "It’s actually USA Yesterday, we always were a bit slow up here. And this arrived this morning." She handed Striker an envelope, which the invalid opened with numb fingers. Inside was a card showing a fine art print and pronouncing best wishes from Drake and Kerensa and Get well soon, because we want to meet you properly.

"And there’s this...." Morien opened this envelope, to Striker’s relief. Another card showing a cartoon cat tucked up in bed. Inside was written, in a spider-like, teacher’s hand, a greeting that made her breath catch:

To a woman with real guts

Get well and come home soon,

Sullivan x

"And this is from Dad, too," Morien continued. She handed Striker a pile of what looked like computer hardcopy. "That’s right, isn’t it? Philadelphia Phillies? He used one of the school computers and printed as much as he could off their website: news and results and match reports...." She looked at Striker, expecting an answer, but was startled to see her crying. "Striker?"

"I don’t believe it," her voice barely a whisper almost lost in her breathing. "Everyone’s so...." She winced in pain as a sob shook through her.

"Hey...." Morien reached forward, gently, resting her cheek against Striker’s shoulder. Placing a gentle hand over her arm. "It’s okay. You’re a hero, you know?"

Striker shook her head, a tubed hand covering her face.

"Striker, you saved me. In so many ways. You’ll always be my hero." Morien reached up and removed the hand from Striker’s face, kissing the palm. "My protector." Another kiss. "My knight in worn-out sneakers." Another kiss. "Besides... I haven’t finished yet." Again she reached into her bag. "I brought you some books.... I thought you’d like to read." A couple of paperback novels from Morien’s own collection, Striker’s copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and a book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets were placed carefully on the table.

This woman was a miracle....

"And this...." She fished into the carrier again and brought out a red rosebud. "It’s not as impressive as the other flowers, but I saw it in the garden and...."

Striker looked at her: green catching blue. Tears were still running down her face. They seemed to be doing that a lot lately. She clutched the rose in her hand.

"It’s beautiful, I love it," she whispered. "I love you."

Morien smiled, feeling like crying herself. "I took the thorns off. I didn’t want you to...."

Too much blood had been spilled. Too much sleeping had been done.

Striker took a few breaths with the mask. Then, "Morien...."

There was a pause, which made Morien worry. Striker couldn’t meet her eyes.

"Tell me they got them," the whisper finally came.

"No one told you?"

She shook her head.

"They got them."

Striker closed her eyes and seemed to sink further into the pillows.

"It’s over, cariad, you needn’t worry."

"No it’s not," was the hushed reply.

Morien caught her unveiling gaze and held it. "You can’t contact him."

Striker looked away, lost in the rose’s closed petals.

"You’ll be a witness against him. It could prejudice the case if you did."

The slightest twist of her mouth.

"Striker, this man is ultimately responsible for everything that happened — to Danny, to the Boom Shack…."

And Striker’s lips moved. "Paully." And there was tiniest ghost of a nod. A sigh that seemed to have come from the ventilator, had it not been for the telltale slump of Striker’s head.

Morien pulled her chair even closer. Her tone was light when she spoke. "But who says we need Gilbert Lamprey? There’s always electoral rolls."

"For which region." It was less a question and more the resigned statement of someone who had been there, thought of that.

"How about the online register? That covers the whole country."

Striker glanced at her. "I can’t... get on it."

Morien lifted an eyebrow. "Maybe not, but you might know someone who can. I don’t know... someone who works for a council, say...."

Striker’s eyes widened. "Morien...?"

"There’s no guarantee…."

"I know…."

"But maybe… we’ll get a lead…."

"A lead…."

"But only when you’re better. When we’re home."

It seemed to take a conscious effort for the American to tamp down her excitement. But then she seemed to relax into the pillows, almost for the first time. She smiled, took a breath, and looked around at the gestures of strangers, acquaintances, friends... her lover.

Home? I think I am home.

She sniffled, then her lips twisted into a wry smile. "Nothing from Dean."

"Dean?" Morien’s forehead creased as she frowned. "Dean Powell? What’s he got to do with anything?"

"Doesn’t matter."

The EEG beeped.

The ventilator hissed.

Finally, Morien spoke.

"Striker... I’ve been talking to Sophie."

There was a long pause. Suddenly, Striker seemed to find the EEG’s screen very interesting. "How’s she doing?" she asked.

"She’s fine. We had a long chat, sorted a lot out. It was good to talk to her."

"Good," Striker said. Her voice was high, and breathless. She rolled the rose stalk between her fingers, holding it as if it was a cigarette, and hoped that Morien couldn’t see her hands shaking.

Morien’s eyes twinkled — little flashes of inner starlight in the deep green sea. "She’s met someone."

Striker’s head spun round, her mouth fell open.

"She’s getting married," Morien continued.


"His name’s Arturo."

"Arturo?" Striker felt the breath she’d been holding bubble loose and she winced as she stifled a ridiculously girlish giggle.

"I know, even Sappho was married. He’s a local artist. He helps local children find themselves through art."

"It certainly worked on Sophie." Striker said in an ebullient exhalation. Suddenly, she couldn’t seem to stop grinning.

Morien laughed. "I told her about you."

"You did?" Striker’s grin faded.

Morien took back one of Striker’s hands, and slowly drew little, teasing circles on her palm. "I told her I was in love with you."

The EEG beeped.

The ventilator hissed.

A warmth spread through Striker’s body that she’d never known before. Suddenly she felt as if she could breathe unassisted. Suddenly, she felt like tap dancing round the ward.

But the slightest attempt at movement reminded her that she’d been shot three times.

And that she’d never taken tap dancing lessons.

Her chest was heaving, the EEG was skipping, the nurse at the station was looking worried, and she could feel her own ridiculously big smile stretching her face.

She took a breath: "You are?"

"Mmm hmm. I’m crazy about you."

Striker slammed the mask back on her face, gasping for breath, but shining blues never losing contact as Morien threw her head back and laughed a laugh of total joy.

"Hey, sweetie," Striker breathed at last.

"Yeah?" Morien’s eyes crinkled at the endearment and caressed Striker’s hand with her thumb.

"Say ‘Arturo’ again."




The sigh this time was one of pure contentment. Striker couldn’t resist reaching up and touching a soft auburn lock with a finger. Running another down the line of Morien’s cotton headscarf. It was navy again… this time with small red roses round the edge. But none so beautiful as her own lady of flowers.

"You’re weird," her lady smiled. "I can’t believe you’re getting off on me saying my ex-girlfriend’s fiancé’s name."

"Your fault... for sounding the way you do." The rose positively waltzed between Striker’s fingers.

Morien leaned forward, her mouth tantalisingly close to Striker’s ear. Her lips tickled Striker’s earlobe as she said, "There’s a much nicer name I could say."



Striker closed her eyes.


Striker gave a breathy groan. "You trying to kill me?"

"That’s not funny."

Striker smiled. Her eyelids dipped. Morien reached out and stroked a lock of dark hair from her pale forehead, and watched as the blue gaze drifted shut. As inevitable as sunset.

"It’s a beautiful name."

"Thank you."

Morien pulled back and Striker opened her eyes only to lose herself in the tenderness that was shining in her lover’s gaze.

But sleep was coming, and she fought against it, even though she knew Morien would be there — gentle, sweet, loving — when she woke up again. There was one last thing to say. Something she’d wanted to say from the beginning. She took a deep breath from the mask. "Morien, I’ve been thinking…."

"What?" Morien looked worried.

"Maybe this is crazy..." a breath, "...after all that’s happened. But I want to start again."

"What do you mean start again?"

"I mean…." She clutched Morien’s hand in her own and took a gulp of air. After all they had been through together, how could this still be so terrifying?

She looked Morien in her beautiful deep-ocean eyes.

"Hi," she said, "my name is... Rosamund West. I’ve seen you around and… and I think you’re… so beautiful. I was wondering… maybe… if you’d like to come out with me some time?"

i The title of the sweet Wendy Cope poem of love conquering cigarettes
ii Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch again. This time 'Beauty and the Beast'.
iii For a translation, please see Chapter 2.


For now.



Final acknowledgements:

Thank you to all those who have mailed me during the course of posting. It’s been a pleasure to hear from every single one of you. And a special mention to Lynne and Christine for their enthusiasm, and to Boots for keeping me thinking, keeping me on my toes and warning me of the dangers of scatter guns and groin-pooling!

Thank you to The Academy (damn, this is beginning to sound like an Oscars speech — I’d like to thank my lawyer, my hair stylist, the gnome who sits in the newsagents and anyone called Dai) But seriously, thank you so much to those at The Academy for putting up with the endless submissions. And most of all to Steph, at whose feet I am currently prostrated, for her patience, dedication and general stick-with-it-ness. Steph… NO MORE BLOODY FOOTNOTES!!!

And to DG, without whose love I couldn’t have written this.

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