BLACKTHORN NEVER DID find out the woman’s name that afternoon—where she shared a couple of hours eating bread and honey—nor over the next few days. Somehow the woman always managed to skilfully change the subject, divert her attention elsewhere or just plain ignore her entreaties altogether, all with that same soft smile.
Infuriating, disarming, persuasive. She had come up with a number of adjectives with which to describe her enigmatic bee charmer, and some she wouldn’t even repeat in polite company.
My bee charmer?
With an audible sigh, Helena checked not only her wayward thoughts, but also her pace. This afternoon the heat was intense, the air heavy, ominous and irritatingly thick with insect life. Full of unreadable scents and tension.
She had been at the hearings all morning, and now her jaw ached. There was a twitch in her cheek from where she had clenched her teeth, added to which, the left side of her temple throbbed. She rubbed at it with out much hope of easing the pain building behind her own physical tension.
What she hoped for was that a few hours with the mysterious woman would help ease some of the pressure, as being in her company had done over the last few days. It was strange to think how easily she had opened up to this woman, and how at ease she made her feel.
Walking close to the edge of the fountains in an attempt to gain any benefit from the cool spray, Helena proceeded up the avenue toward her rendezvous. Not that either of them, at any time, had made any arrangement regarding these afternoon trysts. It just seemed to have been something implied and accepted.
THE FIRST TIME Fleet Captain Helena Blackthorn saw the Bee Charmer was in the park of the fountains. Blackthorn sat, as she nearly always did, at the top end away from the main concourse. Her chosen spot the fountain where water cascaded from an urn held between the breasts of a mermaid with an enigmatic smile.
It was the movement out the corner of her eye that caught her attention. She had just closed the com-link on her wrist, cutting off the last few words of a disembodied voice. Head bowed in frustration, she ran her hands through short cropped hair and, turning, saw an image in white touched off with a halo of summer gold.
Something flashed in the sun’s bright light. A woman stood perfectly still some way off, her hands raised before her, as if beseeching someone or something. Then Helena saw why. Noticed the tiny flashes of iridescent colour. Small brightly coloured butterflies fluttered about the woman’s hands.
Any thought of the heated argument she had just been having vanished at the sight that held her mesmerised. Sucking in her breath she quietly watched the performance unfolding. The moment was broken when her com-link beeped insistently. Turning her attention away, she keyed the receive button and had to restrain herself from snapping out the words, Captain Blackthorn.
When the voice on the other end wasn’t that of Admiral Cairns but of her First Officer, Marin, Helena glanced to her left to see if the woman was still captivating more than just butterflies.
She was gone.
DRY CHOKING HEAT. She hated it. It burned into her brain and body, as well as her eyes, despite wearing protective goggles from the glare overhead. The grit was everywhere, even in her damn underwear.
CIA Agent, Karen Stone, crouched down in the tight confines behind the huge boulder leaning in against the solid safety listening to the Special Forces team leader, Sergeant Johnny ‘Jack’ Daniels, whisper instructions to the rest of the group. Simmons spread out the tactical data across his knees as others peered in over shoulders, scanning the topography on the aerial and hi-res shots.
Stone wasn’t a part of their team. Just an observer. An unofficial, official observer. She had supplied the Intel and, as such, had come along for the ride, which was the official line— confirm the kill for the Agency. That was the supposition. At least, as far as the craggy-faced Sergeant Daniels was concerned. But she had her orders, other orders, outside of Daniels’ mandate. If these guys couldn’t bring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi down, then she had to. It was up to her to pull the trigger and make the kill.
The electrical storm raged across the darkening sky, in complete contrast to what Arianrhod felt. Or, to be more exact, what she didn’t feel. She didn’t feel anything. In fact, she felt empty, devoid of any emotion. A fact which bothered her on many levels. Had she compartmentalised them all, as was her want in times of stress, or did she just not feel anything as many seemed to believe?
It had been four weeks to the day since her mother—who they were now calling the great Don—had passed away. And, in that time, all hell had broken loose. In many ways it was fitting that a storm should rage tonight of all nights. The night she has to give her final answer to the Council. Would she, as her mother’s heir, give up the life she led and take up the reigns of power to become the next Mhor Rioghain? The next Great Queen? As Captain of the prestigious star-cruiser, Bright World, pride of the Prydain Navy, she doesn’t want to think about it.
She had told her mother no, as her mother had lain on her death bed. She had told the Council no the morning after the traditional night of mourning and reflection. And now out here, alone with her thoughts, she knew otherwise. Deep in her heart she knew there was no more escaping. No more running away to join the Navy. No more hiding behind the uniform she wore. The Council of Seven would confer the title on her whether she wanted it or not. She was her Mother’s chosen successor. There was no one else, and she knew it.
BAREFOOT AND DRESSED in a simple but elegant Chanel black dress, Rachel Cellini stared at her reflection in the length of display window that reached from floor to ceiling. It offered a superb view out into the valley below, but the view of the soft lights twinkling in the gathering dusk didn’t hold her attention, rather the stark drawn features that were her own. The eyes were deep set, tired and full of suppressed emotions. Strange mixed emotions that she still hadn’t managed to get a handle on. Her dark auburn hair was, as was her usual want, cut in a soft bob in at the nape. She ran a hand through the kinked wave, brushing the bang that always threatened to fall in her eyes. It dutifully settled back in place.