The Beating of a Solitary Heart

  The air was cool and dark as the moon floated in and out of view behind a thick veil of clouds. Shadows faded in and out of view like dark phantasms, as pale light drifted through the knotted branches above her head. It still looked like the same forest, but at the same time, it was also another place from many years in her past. She looked down at herself as she walked and found she was wearing her old green top and tan skirt. How long had it been since she had worn that particular outfit? In the back of her mind, she was certain that she still had it, tucked away safely, somewhere in a trunk back home. In her right hand was her old quarterstaff, a gift from Ephinny, so long ago. As she turned her head to look at it, the long tresses of her hair fell over her shoulder and she felt the weight of her traveling bag, filled with her belongings, including her scrolls, as it bounced gently against her left hip.

 As she was taking all this in, she became aware of a second set of footsteps directly beside her, long and steady. Slowly her eyes drifted to the right, and then up the fine pale tunic past the dark cloak and the wavy cascades of dark hair. The pale skin of his profile as he strode with a casual gate. His hands were clasped behind his back, as if he were a nobleman, inspecting his personal orchards.

  She looked up at his face again, and her breath caught. It was Nickoli Vampyra, and yet, not him. She couldn’t believe what her eyes were showing her.  David as Nickoli, or perhaps Nickoli as David. The similarities were almost terrifying. The hair was longer, like David’s though dark, like Nickoli. The piercing green of the Bacchi’s gaze was replaced by the deep, contemplative brown of her lover. His stride and the sound of his voice, David. The accent and movement of his limbs, Nickoli.

  “What?” she gasped.

  “Something concerns you?” The apparition said in David’s voice, but with Nickoli’s same crisp, fluid accent. It was almost maddening. She felt her heart begin to thunder in her ears, just like the last time she met the strange creature. That almost irresistible pull of attraction flared up within her.

  She forced her lungs to work and continued walking.

  The creature that was a combination of both friend and foe looked down at her and smiled coldly.

  The ancient Bacchi gazed at her with David’s thoughtful eyes. “You are not the child that was seduced all those years ago. There is wisdom in your eyes now, or perhaps we should simply call it practical experience?”

  Gabrielle said nothing. It was as if she could no longer speak.

  This hybrid of Nickoli smiled with David’s smile, only much colder. “You still fear the blood,” he said evenly. He seemed very pleased with himself. “That is good. That is very good. Yet you still took one of his mortal children as a lover in the end?” His eyebrows arched in wonder. “Perhaps you understood more than he gave you credit for?”

  Gabrielle’s mouth worked, and noises that might have been parts of words came out.

 “The intriguing question is: Now that you stand at the threshold, you hesitate?” Nickoli said, raising a finger to emphasize his point. “Why?”

  Gabrielle shuddered. David’s voice with Nickoli’s self assured arrogance was a chilling combination.

  “What do you want?” Gabrielle finally asked.

  “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” He replied easily. “Everything all neat and tidy, presented before you in a simple little package? Forgive me, but this doesn’t work that way. You have the pieces to the puzzle before you, but you have to put them together. I can only present the choices.”

  “What are you?” Gabrielle asked.

  “A guide,” he replied easily. “One who can show you the possibilities? However, you must choose which path to follow. Think of me as your conscience, if that makes you feel any better.”

  “But why do you look like this?” Gabrielle persisted.

  “My appearance was chosen by you,” he replied easily. “It is a personification of those things which you fear and those things which you desire most. Before you had encountered your David, should we have encountered one another, I would have appeared to you as your late daughter; for that image represented those things you both feared and desired most.”

  “Hope?” Gabrielle whispered.

  The man smiled again and nodded. “My appearance is a direct result of your journey down the path. You control how I am manifest.”

  “So,” Gabrielle said, her nerves calming with the realization. “You represent the things I want the most, and scare me the most?”

  “Exactly.” He replied.

  “But I’ve faced more dangerous things than Nickoli in my life?” Gabrielle countered.

  “But none that so enthralled you, despite the terror.” He said simply. “The fact that the terror was also so desirous made it the more intense for you. Drove it deeper into your soul, you understand?”

  “I think I do,” Gabrielle said uncertainly.

  “Good,” Nickoli replied. “Since that is settled, more or less, we can continue.” He stepped past her and the universe suddenly opened up into a desolate stony land. Craggy mountains sore all around them to snowy, barren peaks bathed in white clouds. There was no sun, though there was light. Pale and harsh, but brighter than the moon.

  They stood upon a layer of shingle at the bottom of a wide shallow bowl that may have been a dry lake.  Before him were two doors.  Within each door she could see an image of Lila’s home. It was night, and the moonlight shone silver on the bed within. On one bed, David lay, slumbering peacefully. On the other, there was nothing, as if the bed were waiting for her to return.

  “Unlike many people, your choices are quite simple, actually,” Nickoli said softly as he stepped past her to stand behind, allowing her full view of both scenes.  “It is a similar choice faced by the one who lies there.” He pointed at David. “He set his feet upon his path, now, you must do the same. You need not choose the same, if you do not wish it.”

  “How do I know which one is the right one for me?” Gabrielle asked, staring at both possibilities.

  “You must follow your heart,” the man said behind her. His voice had dropped somewhat and there was an icy edge to it.

  “I know what my heart says,’ Gabrielle replied. “But I also know what my mind says. I just can’t tell which is which.”

  “That can be easily remedied,” the voice said again from behind her, now even more chill and malevolent. “Your heart tells you what you need; your mind tells you what you want. When the two are in concert, the answers are easily reached. In your case, however, your mind recognizes his lineage, even if you choose not to recognize it. This makes you wary.”

  There was something so evil, so menacing in that voice that Gabrielle felt her blood chill in her veins.  Once again, her heart began to pound as she perceived some threat, some monstrosity near her. Her instincts screamed to life.

  “You wonder if, at some point, he would turn on you?” The apparitions continued. “Though your heart tells you that this will never happen. You must decide which you believe? Will your love keep him from becoming that which you fear? Or will your fear drive you away from that which you love?”

  “Xena always told me I had to face my fears,” Gabrielle replied. “I couldn’t let my fears control me.”

  “Then it all comes down to a simple question, doesn’t it?” Nickoli’s voice was low, guttural, almost like a beast.

  She turned to look at the man behind her and saw him, large and ominous, with glowing eyes and deep protruding fangs. Blood dripped from his chin and an inhuman growled issued forth from his throat, echoing in the valley.  His hands ended in razor sharp claws and he stared at her with pure, unrestrained hunger.

  “How would you choose to face something like me?” he roared and he charged at her, murder in his hungry crimson gaze. An inhuman howl split the night.  Gabrielle didn’t think, she merely reacted. She turned and bolted through the door where she could see David, lying asleep. All she wanted was to be safe. To feel protected from this monster closing in on her.  She dove through the opening…


  And rolled over in a fright, her eyes locking on the embers of her dying campfire, the bedroll soaked in sweat and a scream dying on her lips, replaced by the distant, wailing howl of a wolf, somewhere in the hills. Her hands found her weapons and she was on her feet in an instant, her breath heaving and her heart booming in her chest.

  Her eyes darted to and fro, searching for that monstrous figure before she realized that she had succumbed, yet again, to another horrible dream. She dropped back onto the soft earth and rubbed her head, fighting back the tide of emotions. In that turmoil, one thing became abundantly clear.

  Her eyes drifted up and to the east where she beheld the first rays of the morning sun.  How much of that had been the dream, she wondered. Then her eyes fixed on the path down which she had chosen. She had made camp at a small junction. Two roads stretched out before her. One led back to Poditea, back home, back to him. The other led away from him and to unknown places.

  “David,” she breathed, and without even bothering to pack her meager supplies, she ran as fast as her legs would carry her towards home.

  Once she had gone, a single shadow stepped out of the concealing underbrush, his usual wry smile on his bearded face. Ares crossed his arms over his chest and chuckled.

  “That should about do it,” he mused, and he vanished in a flash of light.

  David wiped the sweat from his brow as he and the rest of his crew positioned the last of the heavy timbers that framed the pavilion.  With the added support, the old floor of the dismantled house was now stable. David helped position the timber and began hammering the long wooden dowel into place. He looked over at Salius and Timitus, working on the small open-air archway that would serve as the focal point for the wedding ceremony.  He smiled.

  The heat had been unusually intense that afternoon and the men had gone through massive amounts of water to keep hydrated. Even now, as the sun was beginning to arc back towards the west, he could se the waves of heat rising from the ground. He took a long drink of water and wiped the grime and sweat from his brow, moving to assist with one of the posts lining the entry walk. He wanted to get the last details finished before sundown so he could show Gabrielle in the morning.

  “Come on fellas!” he shouted encouragingly. “We’re nearly done!”

  He was just about to send one of the boys to fetch Beltanus and the “beer wagon” when another worker came running up to him.

  “I think you might have a problem?” he grinned.


  “She’s coming this way,” the man said quickly. “And she’s not even being sneaky about it!”

  “Oh, really?” David smiled. “Well, I’ll just head her off at the pass.” He gave a few instructions and jogged quickly off towards the bend in the road.  There was no way she was going to get a quick peek before tomorrow.

  He rounded the bend and saw her running toward him.

  “Hey!” he shouted. “I told you to come back here tonight,” his voice trailed off as she drew near and his smile melted to an expression of concern. She was pale and haggard, her hair plastered to her head from perspiring. Her gate was unsteady and, as she drew nearer, her breath was coming in exhausted gasps. Her eyes were wide with something close to panic, softening only once she saw him.

  She staggered the last few steps up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck as her legs finally gave out completely.

  “Whoa,” David caught her. “Easy now.”

  Her breath was rasping, and despite the humidity and the heat, she was perfectly dry.

  David looked down at her skin and saw the faint coating of pale salt all over her body.

 “Holy shit,” he breathed, and he scooped her up, running back towards the work site as fast as he could.

  Once he was within earshot, he bellowed at the top of his lungs.

  One by one the laughter and hollering faded as the men on the site realized something was amiss.

  “Salius!” David bellowed as he rushed past the first few men and headed for the barn. “Unhitch one of the horses and get back to town! I need several large table cloths that your father uses! Go!” He looked over a several other men standing next to one of the tables.

  “Get buckets of cool water, fast!”

  The men darted off towards the nearby stream.

  David passed into the barn and with a sweep of his leg, he cleared a long bench. He could feel the quivering in Gabriele’s muscles.

  “You are going to cramp like a son of a bitch,” he muttered as he lay her down. “Where’s that damned water?”

  He pulled his shirt off and ripped it into to large pieces as the first man came in with a full pail.

  David dunked the rags, rolled one of them up and placed it underneath her neck.  The second one he left saturated and began gently wiping water across her limbs.

  “Just take it easy.” He said quietly as her head moved slowly from side to side. Her mouth moved, though David couldn’t make out the words.

  “It’s okay,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m right here. Just lay quiet now.”

  Her body slowly began to roll to one side as her limbs contracted. Soft painful sounds began to emanate from her lips.

  “Here it comes,” David thought.  Gabrielle winced as all her muscles began to tighten of their own volition. He continued wiping her down as the men brought in more and more water.


David also called for a small cup, and began having her drink slowly in small sips as he tried to get her re-hydrated. The whole time, she never stopped looking at him, her eyes pleading as the strangled moans issued from her. Her body began to shiver.

  Another man, standing near the door shook his head. “I seen this before,” he muttered. “When a man get like that, it’s all over.”

  “Anything constructive to offer, Garson?” David shot at him. “If not, grab some of those lemons from the table and bring them here!” His eyes blazed with determination.

  The chided man, Garson, a thin, middle aged man whose frame seemed to be constructed of tough wire, ran out to the large table and scooped up a big wooden bowl that still held some of the remnants from their early afternoon meal. In it were several large lemons.  He brought them in and set them next to David’s feet.

  “Another bucket, only half full of water, please,” David ordered as he continued attempting to cool down Gabrielle’s body.

  The bucket magically appeared at his feet next to the bowl.  David dunked the rag in the water again and let it rest on Gabrielle’s shoulders. She felt the cool water running down her back and chest. And the shock of it made her shiver. It was as if her entire being had revolted. Her limbs burned as if they were on fire, even her chest seemed unwilling to take in air. She watched him with eyes, alight with pain.

  “Just try and take it easy,” he said as he drew out his big bowie knife and sliced the lemons in half. He squeezed them into the water and dropped the rinds in after. Then he sloshed the bucket around a bit before dipping the small cup and putting it to her lips.

  “Just sip it,” he instructed her. Her throat convulsed reflexively as the liquid went down her throat. She coughed and winced in pain.

  “I said sip it,” David smiled gently.

  “I did,” Gabrielle croaked. Then something like panic filled here eyes once more.

 “I can’t move!” She gasped.

  “I know,” David said quickly. “Just relax. Your muscles are cramping because you’re dehydrated. It’ll take a while.”

  “It hurts,” she winced. She took a little more of the water and this time, it made it down her throat. She could feel the cooling fingers spreading throughout her body, and fizzling away as the heat within her consumed it.

  The sound of galloping hooves could be heard from outside. A few moments later, Salius and Timitus came running in with armloads of fabric.

  “Got them!” Salius announced, breathing heavily.

  “Good,” David said quickly. “Set them down, then each of you take one down to the stream, stand right out in the middle and soak them for a count of thirty. Then, as you bring them back here, I want you to twirl it over your head as fast as you can, understand?”

  The two young men looked at him in confusion.

  “You want us to twirl them?” Salius asked.

  “Over our heads?” Timitus finished.

  “That’s right,” David replied. “Get going! I’ll explain later! Salius, you come back first, Timitus, wait five minutes before you come back, then just keep them coming, okay?”

  Exchanging curious looks, the two young men jogged out of the barn with their fabric in tow.

  David went back to trying to cool Gabrielle’s body. She watched him intently, her face tight.

  “I wasn’t expecting this, you know?” David said casually. “I know you wanted to see the little project going on here, but, Hell. I was expecting you to try something a little more subtle?”

  He removed the rolled cloth from behind her neck and dunked it in the water again before replacing it.  Her eyes simply stayed locked on him as he worked.

  “I guess you had a revelation of some kind?” David asked. “It must have been a pretty big one to have you sprinting all the way back here on the hottest day of the month?”

  Gabrielle felt the cooling water washing over her and she swallowed dryly.  David fed a little more of the lemon water to her. She was able to drink it more easily. The tendrils of coolness flowed a little further into her limbs with each sip.

  After a small eternity, the pain in her limbs began to ease; though she was still unable to move.

  Then Salius came walking into view, swinging the large cloth over his head. He caught it neatly and his eyes widened momentarily in surprise as he handed it to David.

  “Understand now?” David asked with a smile as he let the cloth fall atop Gabrielle’s body.

  Gabrielle felt a shock of cold, cooler than she would have anticipated. The feeling soaked into her skin as she lay, mostly in the fetal position.

  David dipped the cup and held it back to her lips. She drank a little more deeply and felt the coolness flow into her.

  David finished with the cup and put his hand gently on the cloth covering her.  Then he removed it as Timitus came in with the next one. David handed the used cloth to the boy and took the second one, draping that over Gabrielle. The coolness settled back over her as the new cloth contacted her flesh.  Suddenly she felt sweat beading on her forehead.

  Timitus stood there marveling.

  David looked back. “Get rolling, kiddo,” he ordered. Quickly, the young man ran off back towards the spring.

  “Where’d you learn this trick?’ Gabrielle asked weakly.

  David smiled. “Read it in a book when I was a kid. Now be still”

  He wiped the sweat from her face.

  “That’s a good sign,” he commented. Then he gave her more of the lemon tainted water.

  Gabrielle sipped again and a painful sigh escaped her lips.

  “You’re always going to be there, aren’t you?” she asked with just a hint of resignation.

  David seemed to consider that for a long moment as he set the cup at her lips again. Then he nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I will. Unless you think I should, uh?” He held up a hand. “Never mind. You’re in no condition to make important decisions. Just relax.”

  “No,” Gabrielle started, but David held the cup to her lips again, silencing her protest.

  “Later,” he said with just a hint of irritation. “Now shush.”

  The sun was almost completely set behind the distant hills when David called off the last of the chilled blankets.

  Even the skeptical Garson was amazed that Gabrielle still lived and seemed to – unbelievably – be recovering.

  David left the last blanket on her and kept giving her the water. Her limbs had relaxed and she lay on her back, her eyes closed.

  David had stopped with the water and was gently massaging Gabrielle’s strained muscles. She let his strong fingers sooth the fire in her limbs as he worked.

  Finally, she opened her eyes and looked at him as he went back to the nearly empty pail of lemon water. When he turned back, she was staring at him drowsily.

  “Well?” he said casually. “You’ve overheated, cramped up, sweated it out, and stopped again. I’d say you’ve run the entire gambit?”

  “David?” she asked thickly.

  David’s eyebrows rose as he pressed the cup to her again. He actually managed to raise a hand and stop him.

  “I need to ask you something?” she said.

  “Drink the last of this, and then you can do whatever you want.” David said.  He held the cup to her lips and let her drink it at her own pace. Once it was gone, she sighed.

  “Is it done?” she asked.  David looked down at the pail and nodded.

  “I’d say that you’ve drunk the whole two or three gallons, yup.” David replied.

  “I mean your little project?” Gabrielle asked.

  “Oh,” David said, smiling. “Aside from a little detail work, yeah, it’s pretty much done. I don’t think you’re in any condition for the guided tour, though.”

  “I don’t care,” Gabrielle said. “I want to have the ceremony here. Tomorrow.”

  “T-tomorrow?” David stammered. “Uh, okay. Not much time to get everything ready?”

  “I don’t care,” Gabrielle said. “I just want to get married as soon as possible.”

  “Damn,” David smiled. “That’s a switch? Must have been one hell of a revelation?”

  Gabrielle smiled weakly. “You could say that.”

  “I thought I just did?” David grinned. Then he paused. “We’ll need someone to supervise the ceremony, of course.” Then his smile spread again.  Gabrielle recognized it.

  “You’re doing it again,” she said, her hand coming up to massage the headache growing in her skull.

  “Post de-hydration hangover?” David asked.

  “Partly,” Gabrielle managed to add a touch of sarcasm of her own.

  “Good,” David grinned. “I’ll be right back.”

  He stepped out of the barn and moved a few paces from view.

  “Yoohoo?” he called softly. “I know you’re still hanging around.”

  There was a puff of sparks and the familiar smell for fresh roses.

  “Yoohoo?” Aphrodite placed her hands on her hips.  “That’s not the best way to get my attention, you know?”

  “Hey,” David shrugged. “It worked. I need your help with something?”

  “Oh?” the Goddess smiled. “Is this that other part you mentioned?”

  “Yup, though I was planning on a couple of days to convince you,” He shrugged again. “I need you to marry us tomorrow?”

  “Me?” Aphrodite asked in surprise. “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I always cry at these things. How is it going to look if I start sobbing up there while I do whatever I do?”

  “I think you’d do very well, actually,” David said. “Besides, why should I deal with someone who speaks for you, when I got the real deal, blonde and beautiful, standing right in front of me?”

  Aphrodite stared at him for a long time, and her smile grew as an excited look flared up in her eyes. “Okay, hotshot,” she finally said excitedly. “I’ll do it.” Then a sudden look of panic came over her.

  “Oh, man,” she gasped. “What am I gonna wear? I need a facial, and my nails done, and – I gotta jet! I’ll see the two of you later!”

  “Uh, okay,” David said. “I just need to get a few details wrapped up with this place. Then we’ll be set.”

  “What?” Aphrodite said, stopping in the middle of vanishing. “Oh no you don’t! I’m not going to have time to get you two a wedding gift before all this. So…”

  She pointed a finger at the job site and smiled. “Whammo!”

  David winced in fear. There was a flash of light, and when the spots cleared in front of his eyes, he grinned.

  The tools were gone, the grass was clipped, and flowers decorated the posts leading up to the pavilion. The small archway at the far end was covered in white roses and the wood floor shone wetly in the fading light.

  David folded his arms across his chest and looked back at the Goddess.

  “Perfect,” he said.

  “Honey,” Aphrodite said. “A tip. Never do your own decorating, kay?”

  She grinned, waved, and vanished.

   When David came back into the barn, he found Gabrielle pulling herself up into a seated position, and groaning from the effort.

  “Easy there, killer,” David said quickly as he moved to her side. “You shouldn’t be moving around yet.”

  Gabrielle set one foot on the ground, then the other, and would have promptly slid all the way down if David hadn’t stepped quickly to catch her.

  “You just ran a world record marathon in ninety degree weather, babe,” he said as he helped her back up to her feet. “Quit pushing for a while, okay? You’re making me nervous.”

  She was still drawn and quite pale, but she smiled. “I just need to walk it off a bit.”

  “Okay, Coach,” David replied. “But only as long as you have an escort.”

  He helped her walk a few experimental laps around the open part of the barn. She paused at one of the stalls when she saw a large, neatly stacked pile of furniture.

  “What’s all that for?” she asked.

  “Oh, that?” David replied. “Just some furniture for the house.” He looked past her at the stack.

  “Kitchen table and chairs, couch, some end tables, shelves, a couple of wardrobe closets, night stands” He leaned in close to her and whispered seductively. “Bed.”

  Gabrielle smiled and managed a weak jab into his belly.

  “Who’s house?” she asked.

  David seemed genuinely shocked. “Ours, of course!”

  “We have a house?” Gabrielle asked. “You’ve managed a lot in two days.”

  David scratched his head nervously. “In point of fact, the house isn’t built yet, but I found the perfect place for it.”

  “Where?” Gabrielle asked.

  “Here.” David answered. “Or more precisely, over there.” He pointed out through the open doors to the clearing across from the small walkway that the crew had built.  She saw the thick stringing of white flowers arching between two posts. Suddenly, the majority of her fatigue seemed to fade away, and she began walking towards the opening.

  “Wait a second,” David stepped in front of her. He looked her in the eye. ”You wanted to walk this off a bit, and that’s fine. You aren’t walking about that much for a couple more hours at least, got it?”

  “I’m feeling much better now,” Gabrielle lied.

  “Then humor us mere mortals and have a seat,” David replied sternly. “I still want you to drink a lot more water and rest a bit.”

  “I,” Gabrielle began.

  David put his fingers on her lips. “At what point did you think this became a discussion?”

  Reluctantly, Gabrielle let him lead her back tot eh bench. Once she was seated, David went to the storage stall and pulled from the stack of home furnishings, a large, finely built chair.

  “This might be a bit more comfortable,” he offered. He helped her into the new chair and seated himself across from her, his elbows on his knees as he stared at her.

  “So?” he began.  “You want to tell me why it is that you ran, god knows how far, just to get my attention?”

  Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. “I just – I missed you?” she shrugged.

  David smiled. “I told you to take some time. I don’t want you rushing this if you aren’t ready for it? Call me crazy, but running as far as you did would be considered a rush, wouldn’t it?”

  “David,” Gabrielle stared into his eyes. “I’m ready. I just didn’t know how ready I was until last night?”

  “Sound’s like there’s quite a story behind that revelation?” David offered. “Care to share?”

  Gabrielle looked at him for a long moment. “I simply realized that I rally only had two ways I could go. I could be alone, or I could follow my heart and be with you? I want to be with you.”

  She moved to rise, grimacing as her muscles protested. “I need to move around some more. My whole body hurts.”

  David was on his feet, helping her rise. She walked about a few minutes, her strength returning.

  “So, can I have my tour?” she asked, trying to force a smile.

  “You think you’re up for it?” David asked.

  “I think walking around will help,’ Gabrielle replied. “So long as I don’t push it?”

  David nodded and led her towards the open doors. He stopped at the entrance and faced her.

  “Before you step out of this building and view the surrounding area, I need to warn you that, barring a major natural catastrophe, you might be required to eat a substantial amount of crow.  Are you ready for that?”

  She laughed, and that also seemed to ease the pain in her limbs. “I have no idea what you’re saying,” she admitted.

  David shrugged. “Good. Come on, then.”

  She moved stiffly to the open door and stopped when she saw it.

  Her old house was gone, mostly. In its place was a wide, low platform, strung from end to end in white flowers. A wooden arch stood at one end, decorated in fine white roses that seemed to glow in the light of a rising moon, and the flagstones shone a pale gray.

  “David,” she breathed. “Where’s my old house?”

  “Ah, well,” David shrugged. “You only gave me two days, remember?”

  He led her to the pavilion and they stepped up looking about them.

  Gabrielle stared in wonder at everything, her eyes wide.

  “So, you’re sure you want to do this tomorrow?” he asked. “Because I don’t know how long the flowers are going to last, so I might need to call in a favor and have them replaced if we wait too – “

  Her lips met his, silencing him.

  When they finally parted, he smiled. “I guess we’re on for tomorrow, then?”

  “What,” Gabrielle asked. “You managed to find a priest as well, all while nursing me back to health?”

  “Priest?” David asked as if the thought was an insult to him. “Why a priest? Baby, when I do something, I go all the way. A priest is a middle man.”

  “David,” Gabrielle said suspiciously. “You’re making me nervous again.”

  “Trust me,” David said slyly.  Then he looked about. He stepped back away from her and bowed formally. “May I have this dance?”

  Gabrielle smiled through her confusion. “There’s no music.”

  David stepped up and took her in his arms. “Who needs music?” he countered and he began leading her across the floor.

  After several minutes of non-stop laughter on her part, she had to beg him to pause.

  “It still hurts,” she confessed. “And I’m so tired. I need to rest.”

  “Absolutely,” David agreed. His demeanor changed back to one of compassion. “I’m sorry. Come on. Let’s head back to town.”

  Gabrielle shook her head. “I don’t think I can make it. We can stay here tonight, in the barn.”

  David rolled his eyes theatrically. “The barn? Oh my God, she want’s the barn?” He led her back to the large building, moaning over exaggerated variations of that theme all the way.


  “Yes dear?”

  “You’re pushing again.”

  “Yes dear.”


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