Books in this series…
Book 1 – The Psychic’s Tale by Chris Quinton
Book 2 – The Soldier’s Tale by RJ Scott
Book 3 – The Lord’s Tale by Sue Brown
The trilogy was nominated for Best Reviewer Read of 2012. in the Alternative Lifestyle M/M genre (December 2012)
Corporal Daniel Francis has returned to his childhood home in England to heal; the only one of his unit that survived a roadside bomb. His reasons for skipping medication are based on a stubborn refusal to become an addict, and he is overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt.Doctor Sean Lester has joined his father’s surgery and when he is held at knife point by a patient high on drugs it is Daniel that leaps to his rescue-much to his horror.
When Sean nearly runs Daniel down in the dark he finds a man who needs help, and resolves to be the person to show Daniel that it is possible to live through guilt and find happiness.
Set against the backdrop of the Fitzwarren family curse, The Soldiers Tale is a story of one man’s fight to find his place in a new world outside of the Army.
Mrs Condit Reads Books 4.5/5 – This anthology is three related stories of a 400 year old curse and the effects still being felt today. The interesting thing about it is the three stories are written by three three very talented authors and the transition from one story to the next is so smooth it makes it seem as though it was written by one person. I recommend the anthology to readers who love history, mysteries, and love.
Hearts On Fire Reviews – 4.5/5 – Throughout the story, it was really nice to see how Daniel had been improving with his own reactions to situations with some help from Sean. It didn’t really concentrate on the curse, just a soft touch of them. I have to be honest, I didn’t like Sean at the beginning and fortunately, I had grown a fond of Sean toward the middle of the story. It was interesting to see how Daniel and Sean were connected to the curse itself. That was making me enjoying the curse much more. Highly recommended, but please read The Psychic’s Tale first before you start this one. You’ll love Daniel.
Top2Bottom Reviews 4.5/5 RJ Scott has delivered not only a compelling addition to the saga but has also written a story with so much heart and emotion, filled with adversity and angst and ultimately, love and healing—which truly is her trademark and her talent. I’ve come to depend on it with every one of the books she writes.
Jessewave 4.25/5 – The “fated lovers” element was there, but pushed far to the background, and the Fitzwarren curse was more of a backdrop than the determining matter that brought them together as lovers. Sean and Daniel’s romance would’ve made just as much sense outside the context of the Fitzwarren mystery.
Dark Diva Reviews 4.5/5 – The Soldier’s Tale is a heartfelt and a painful journey toward seeing yourself as others see you. Daniel is an amazing character. RJ Scott has done a brilliant job continuing the tale.
“Uhnnnn, damn it, sod it, bloody hell—ghuuu.” Daniel Francis couldn’t keep the grunts of pain and expletives from spilling out of his mouth. Letting loose the torrent of noise was the only thing that grounded him. He had only meant to rest for a few minutes, but, God, how much worse could this pain get? He was trapped now, sitting in the dark, surrounded by the scent of pine toilet cleaner, like some kind of bloody cripple. Scared. Stupid. A waste of space.What had happened to the man he’d once been? Why the hell was he stuck in the men’s toilet at his local surgery, literally scared to death to walk out into the waiting room? He had been doing so well today pushing the pain away. He had taken the pain meds like he was supposed to. They took the edge off the throbbing long enough to fake how well he was doing, and he had yet again survived his monthly visit to see a doctor. In this case, it was the second time since coming home that he had seen Lester, Sr. The doctor had been his usual efficient self, dismissing Daniel with a cursory glance at his records on the screen in front of him.
“Here are the scripts for your pain meds and muscle relaxants. I’ve lowered the level of Sertraline although I’m not comfortable with your request to do so. Keep to the prescription, use the ice packs. Come back and see me in three weeks so we can re-evaluate, and I can re-issue your medication.”
The doctor had continued with the usual inane questions that experts always threw at him, and Daniel made a show of listening while he focused in on grey hair, bushy eyebrows, and pale grey eyes. He was half listening, already deciding he’d had enough of the blurred edge to his world on these damn tablets. He would fill the prescription, but that didn’t mean he had to take the capsules. The doctor certainly didn’t need to know. Daniel was his own man, and he could make his own decisions. He wasn’t a kid who had to do what he was told all the bloody time. Hell, he’d had enough of that in the Army.
As a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Engineers, Corporal Daniel Francis was an explosive ordinance disposal expert—part of a small unit of highly-trained specialists. Men and women who provided munitions neutralization and disposal for both military operations and training exercises around the world, he was trained, experienced, good at his job.
Daniel missed his friends and his fellow soldiers, and he felt the familiar twinge of loneliness that always came with the memories of the soldiers he had commanded. They had been a tight team of six men and one woman, their work enabling the Army to handle battlefield conditions with fewer distractions. They were experts in their field, providing mine clearances and defusing roadside bombs in war zones, and they had been employed in post-conflict situations as well. Daniel’s expertise, and that of his team, provided the skills needed to sweep fields and roads and to clear homes and other buildings in towns, making what remained of any civilian population safe.
Corporal Francis had become the go-to man, the person the recruits turned to when they were unsure, the one whom the rest of the unit relied on as a sounding board as they puzzled out difficult situations. He was capable of focusing completely on the mine or bomb or incendiary in front of him, using his skills as the key to surviving a disarmament. He kept the balance between absolute certainty in both his skills and those of his unit and knowing precisely when the time had come to pull back and relieve the horrendous pressure on his men. Daniel had been able to call on his ability to sink into utter stillness at any given time.
Corporal Francis was decorated with awards and citations, resulting from situations that he and his team had survived. Others who praised and paid and wrote articles in newspapers back home called it incredible bravery. He and his team, however, simply called it a job.
That was then, but he had to live in the now.
Daniel Francis, invalided from service, no longer a corporal by name or possessing the ability to be a corporal by physical action, sat cowering in a sodding bathroom unable to even attempt a short walk home. He was damaged goods. Twisted and scarred and unable to even bloody breathe properly at this moment.
“How are you feeling today?” the doctor had asked with a raised eyebrow. Daniel had hesitated before answering. Post traumatic stress disorder was probably not something Dr Lester had much experience in, and the questions he asked were from some kind of script clearly approved by some specialist somewhere.
And Christ, that had been a leading question. The headache that had been nagging at Daniel all day went full blown and intense as he’d tried to formulate a suitable answer.
“I’m good,” he’d finally said, as firmly as he could. There was no way he was giving the doc any openings for further questions.
“Is fine. Improving every day.”
He’d lied. He’d said those five words as convincingly as a pro. Which he was. Daniel had managed to convince the much savvier medics at the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Birmingham. The medics and shrinks there had been more difficult to convince: they were far too familiar with PTSD, not to mention severe injuries. However, Daniel had stuck to his claims, and though still reluctant, both his body and brain docs had discharged him back to his family home in Wiltshire to “heal.”
The goddamned fucking lies were acid inside him. He had seen friends crippled or ripped from him by fire and metal, faces gone or reflecting the terror that had occurred with their deaths. His head was as screwed as it could be and still leave a chance for him to pass as something like normal.
As for his knee? What if he told the doc the truth? That oftentimes the pain was so personal, so intense, that he couldn’t breathe or stop the tears from scorching his skin as they marked runnels of disappointment down his face. What if he had to admit his failure to deal with physical discomfort when Tommy Llewellyn had lost both legs? What the hell good would that do? He was alive, alive when so many of his unit had not survived, alive enough to walk and to feel the pain when they could no longer do either. He’d be goddamned if he was going to travel the rest of his days on earth in a drugged up anti-pain stupor.
Daniel could have become addicted to the Sertraline and pain pills, unable to go an hour without them, much less a day. He didn’t need the softened edges that made his memories blur. He demanded for himself the ice-cold, cut-glass edges of memory. He wanted to remember. For the Ones under his command who never made it home.
He forced himself to walk naturally from the doc’s office, refusing to show that his knee was close to giving out, the metal pins holding the bones together as rough as barbed wire grating under his skin.
“Three weeks,” the doc had reminded him as he left, and he had managed to respond to the affirmative even as he realised he needed to sit before his knee gave way. He judged the distance to the door in the convoluted nest of corridors and cubicles that constituted the surgery. The toilet was nearer. In any event, Daniel wasn’t ready to face the receptionist with her beady eyes and her concern over how he was feeling.
He locked the door behind him, shoved the toilet lid down and slumped until he sat on it. A small part of his mind registered the fact that he’d sat. He pressed blindly with both thumbs into the knot of incredible pain in his knee joint. The blast that had ripped through his team had inflicted contusion, blunt force trauma, burns, and penetrating wounds on those who had survived.
Daniel had been fortunate: many of his injuries had been superficial, except those to his face and knee. Triage had sent him behind the lines to a field hospital, where he’d been threatened with an amputation above the knee. Infection had hit the bone. Even if they were able to cure the infection, there was no guarantee that the knee would be anything close to normal, but it didn’t matter. What the surgeon said didn’t matter a damn. Nothing would have made Daniel sign that form. He might die? Then he’d die. But he’d do it with two legs. Thank fuck he’d been lucky enough to prove the doctors wrong.
Daniel’s face healed. He’d been given as much plastic surgery as was possible, but some scars remained, curling and twisting under his hairline and down his neck. He was a disgusting thing to look out now, damaged, past his sell-by date.
Feeling bloody sorry for himself, his throat thickening with emotion and unshed tears, he bowed his head and pressed more deeply into the skin over twisted muscles and tendons. His pain decreased, but Daniel couldn’t tell if the spasm had eased or if he had caused enough damage that his system had released endorphins
Silently he sat. Breathing deeply. Visualising his breathing. In, out, in, out. The rhythm became steadier than the knotting around his knee, and he realized dimly that he was trying to formulate an excuse for sitting in the bathroom for so long. God knows how long he’d sat here, sweat sliding down his face and his stomach churning.
He checked his watch—ten minutes to seven. The surgery was past closed for the evening.
Shit. He was stuck in the bloody bathroom, unable to fucking leave even if he could. Locked in. Hope remained that someone’s appointment had run late, that there would be a staff member who could let him out, even though Dr Lester had probably departed for the day. Daniel moved with the caution of the very frail, testing each change in position, measuring his own ability to deal with the stiffness and the pain. Then, gathering every ounce of his remaining energy, Daniel pulled himself to his feet. His fingers clasped the help bar so hard he thought it had given way, and he tottered, light-headed and soaking wet with sweat. Abruptly, the air shifted, and the sweat began to cool, and he shivered. A little twinge in his wrecked knee warned him. Breathe, in and out, the rhythm stronger than the pain.
He had never dreamed that he would need the alterations to bathrooms for disabled users, but he thanked God for them every time he got stuck. The lock twisted under his clammy, sweat slick palm, and he cursed as the metal slipped. Wiping his hand on his thick wool sweater, he managed at least to turn the lock on the second try. He sagged against the door jamb, the little he had done leaving him breathless.
Only evening light illuminated the corridor, and using the wall both as a support and a guideline to exit, Daniel stretched and pulled on the twisted muscle until it finally completely relaxed. By the time he’d hobbled to the door to the reception area, he was able to allow the knee to take weight. Experience had taught him he needed to stop for a few minutes and allow the knee more time to relax, for the muscle to forget about continuing to spasm. Quietly, he waited, staring at his faint reflection in the glass partition to the darkened area beyond.
His hair was no longer military-short, but long and untidy and, Jesus, verging on wild. It curled unhindered to his collar, the longer hair covering more of his scar. Daniel wasn’t totally ashamed of his disfigurement, but he didn’t want to set out to scare grannies and children.
Six months, that was all. Six months and the man he’d been had found himself replaced with this lesser being. Thinner, muscles tired, exhausted, his skin pale, his stature bent. Fuck. He’d signed up knowing he could die for his country, but he’d never signed up to become a pathetic burden on the same country that had relied on him.
Wait. He tilted his head. Someone was talking in the darkened area, but he couldn’t make out who. The corridor where he stood was darkening by the minute. His eyes were tired. There were two raised voices, but not the receptionist, not a woman’s tones. Cautiously he moved towards the door, pressing his ear against the cool wood, instinct bringing him to a stop. His military training kicked in, and he automatically assessed the situation before he jumped in. The second voice sounded erratic and edgy, a curse surrounding each word though the tones were slurred.
“…sort this… I can phone the pharmacy… I’m your doctor so I can prescribe you…”
“…just the fucking pad…prescriptions is currency… thass’all I bloody need…”
The first man? He said he was a doctor? Didn’t sound gruff enough to be the older Doctor Lester. Maybe it was the younger, the son, new to the surgery. Daniel had seen him from a distance. Tall, blond, unattainable and aloof, and a bit on the slim side to count as an asset. The second man, the threat. The environment. Closed area, only two doors in, one of which he was leaning against. There was more talking, raised voices. Was the second guy armed? Adrenaline rushed his system.
He crouched lower. Changing the expectation was the name of the game. Anyone who attacked the situation would be expected at shoulder level, not in a crouch. His knee protested, but as he had done on the battle field, it was easy to push pain away as the impetus for action coiled in his spine.
There was a lull in the talking, and he strained to hear. He heard other noises, like a chair being dragged across the floor, and then, suddenly, hoarse shouting. The soldier in him came to the fore, and coiled energy underlay his motions.
He assessed the situation in the half second required to shove open the door. A man in a suit, a white shirt, his hands raised, placating. The victim. Another, a smaller figure, hooded, his back to Daniel. He caught the glimpse of a knife, wicked, sharp and silver, glinting in the streetlight illumination from outside. The man in the suit startled as he spotted Daniel. Daniel knew he had seconds as the hooded figure turned on his heel, all the while waving the knife. Daniel sidestepped the blade, feinting left and bringing his arm up to block the return sweep, ducking and using his foot to catch the guy at the back of his leading knee, the most vulnerable point Daniel could use to overbalance the intruder. In between one breath and another, he twisted the guy onto his front, dropped his weaker knee against the other man’s lower back, and yanked back the intruder’s hood. Long, dark hair slipped free, and he clutched it tight.
“Drop the knife,” he snarled, smashing the guy’s face into the carpeted floor, pushing it harder when the hand holding the knife refused to let go. The intruder tried to struggle and twist, but it was a pathetic attempt, nothing that worried Daniel. Easily dominating the moment, he moved his hard body and made the person under him whimper in distress.
“Let—up!” The voice intruded into Daniel’s concentration. He glanced up at the other man, then down again, pressing his thumb into the pulse point of his opponent’s wrist. The other man released the knife because his fingers refused to hold it. Using his foot Daniel pushed the knife away.
“Let. Go.” Jesus, the guy in the suit was insistent. Thing is, finishing a takedown when spectators jeered and threw stones was nothing. He could push through this. In a movement as smooth as he could manage, he clambered to his feet, pulling at the intruder and shoving him at the reception desk, tense, watching for retaliation, alert to the possibility of another weapon.
What he saw was a boy, no older than seventeen or eighteen, eyes dark and huge in his face, the hood fallen and twisted around his neck. He was shaking, sobbing, and—what the fuck—the other man moved between them, holding out his hands and talking softly.
“He didn’t mean to hurt you, Connor. Let’s get you out of here. It’s okay, we’ll sort this…”
Nonsense slipped from the man’s mouth, a mumble of placating claptrap, politic-speak. Suddenly Daniel felt fury spiral up his spine. He’d risked his own very stressed and fragile body to save the doc, and the doc was acting like Daniel had committed a crime.
“He had a fucking knife,” Daniel snapped, leaning on to his other knee, the burn in his bad leg causing him to favour it.
“He wasn’t going to hurt me,” the man snapped back, his tone as hard as Daniel’s. Daniel couldn’t understand the annoyance in the other’s eyes. His anger was directed at Daniel, not at the boy who stood shaking in the corner. Daniel watched as the doc’s gaze slid to the side of his face, but he damn well refused to move his hair to cover it.
“D-Doc, please… Doctor Lester.” The boy was pleading with him, his voice shaky and slurred, then suddenly he slumped into the doc’s arms. Lester didn’t even seem surprised. He quickly pulled out his cell, dialling and speaking in short, clipped tones.
“Ambulance, Steeple Westford surgery, overdose.”
Daniel listened to the man who the unconscious guy had positively identified as the younger Doctor Lester. What the bloody hell kind of Wonderland had he dropped into where he was the bad guy? He watched Lester place the boy in recovery position; the patient seemed to be breathing, but was limp and unconscious. The doc traced the lad’s face where Daniel had pushed him into the carpet. He looked up at Daniel, who gazed back at him steadily, just waiting for the doc to try something.
“What the hell did you do?” he finally barked at Daniel, his handsome face creased into an angry frown.
Daniel took a deep breath. The adrenaline pumping through his body had been giving him an edge, but now it was starting to recede, and the pain in his damned leg was back.
“What did I do?” What the hell? Why am I the one being handed the anger? “He’s the one with the bloody knife.”
“He’s high, for God’s sake. I was talking him down.” Doc was vocal in that clipped, closely cropped, precise way that Daniel had previously only heard in the young army officers who had avoided grunt work by virtue of education. Born with silver spoons in their mouths, the lot of them, including the doctor glaring at him.
“Yeah, looked like it was working.” Daniel injected sarcasm into his voice then winced. I sound like a bloody kid, not an experienced soldier with a valid point. Doctor Lester pointedly ignored him, hunching over the prone figure of the boy. Daniel edged towards the door. He was not waiting around
for any more shit. He had enough of his own to deal with.Daniel left the young doctor to do whatever he needed to do, limping away before people started asking questions. He wasn’t going to stand and watch the accusation in Lester’s face, even as he lost himself in the depth of the man’s bloody green eyes sparking with indictment. Now was not the time to be attracted to anyone, least of all someone so unlike the cool, calm level-headedness he’d seen from the numerous army medicos he’d talked to and been seen by. Young Dr Lester’s level of passion and heat in crisis was disconcerting.
Daniel needed to go, had to leave, and action followed thought immediately.
Within a few minutes he had half walked, half tumbled back to his house. The one-story rambling white cottage with its tangled autumn country garden and high wall was his family home. His parents were long since gone, and Daniel had no siblings, so the house had become his retreat. When he’d been injured, he wanted to be at home, his home, where there was peace and memories that made him smile. He had waited while the broken bones healed, waited to hear that he was cleared to return to his role in the Army. If he couldn’t be on the front line, he wanted to serve in some kind of capacity, advisory, something.
When the medical officer turned up in his room, his expression stern and serious, Daniel knew. There had been some placating words, words like pension and support and counselling. And then it was over. Just over.
The front door shut behind him, and he was finally alone. The adrenaline left his body, dropping steadily until only he and what he’d done remained. He hadn’t overreacted. He hadn’t. The intruder had a bloody knife. Never leave an opponent armed no matter who might say otherwise. The last time he’d done that, the last time he’d second-guessed himself, and trusted another, people had died for God’s sake.
He wasn’t some stupid, soft idiot who allowed shit to happen to him. He was a brave man, a strong man, and he made things happen to other people. Daniel repeated those two sentences over and again as he made his way through the house, turning on lamps until the rooms were flooded with light. He closed all the curtains. Finally nothing of the dark outside remained inside his house. On unsteady legs, he went first to the bathroom and then to his bedroom. He tipped out his tablets into his hand and counted them: two of the white ones, three of the pale cream, one red one. In a single second, he threw them in the bin. He didn’t need all this shit to take the edge off the pain. He was a soldier, and he had a high pain threshold. He could manage on his own. Pain proved to him that he was alive.
He had been strong and certain, and he knew what he’d done at the surgery was right. There was no way he was going to doubt himself because he was looking at his life through a drug-induced haze. Hell, that made him no better than the kid he’d thrown to the ground. Still half dressed, Daniel fell into bed and pulled the covers over himself. With a grunt, he rolled onto his stomach. His hand naturally slipped under the pillow, and his fingers closed firmly around the hilt of a knife. Cold, hard metal within reach. It comforted him, more so than the Browning pistol. Far more than his uniform that had attracted fire in foreign lands from people resentful of his presence. The knife signified stealth and strength, and he knew how to use it. He closed his eyes and stretched out each cramped muscle in turn, forcing the ache in his knee away to the dark parts of his mind. Those dark depths were the only part left of him that could handle the memories and the pain.
Sean had just about reached the end of his tether. Stress knotted in him, and his normal politeness was pushed aside in lieu of barely hidden irritation. The police had made another visit in the morning, alerted by the hospital as a matter of course. They just wanted to tick all the boxes on what they termed the “Connor Simmons situation,” and Sean really had tried very hard to assume his best doctor persona to deal with all the questions. Yes, he knew Connor Simmons, the boy that had threatened him. Yes, he knew Connor’s medical history and all of its implications. Yes, Connor was his patient and not his father’s. No, he didn’t want to press charges. Yes, that was a decision based on clinical evidence and not just because he knew the boy and the boy’s family. Sergeant Andrews, all spit-shine and officious, tutted and hovered, his face showing his displeasure. Given he was one of Sean’s patients, Sean did wonder if the other man’s irritable countenance was more to do with the recent recurrence of his piles than frustration with Sean’s decision.
He had far more important things to consider. He had his best friend’s sister in hospital, her newborn son fighting for his life. He tuned out the monotonous questions and thought about how he was going to visit the hospital before dinner tonight. He wondered if Phil would be there. The poor Fitzwarren family spent so much time in hospitals one way or another. Damn curse and all it meant for his friends.
“We would recommend the records show—” Andrews tried one last time, but Sean wanted this finished.
“There’s no need for that,” Sean interrupted. “The patient has been discharged by this surgery into hospital care.” He remained adamant, and after some disapproving final comments, the policeman closed his notebook and left. Sean was tired, and the last thing he needed were people like the cop and that idiot wannabe hero type from last night, interfering in the care and understanding of one of his patients.
“You know my opinion on this.” His dad’s voice was tight with the same disapproval as Andrews’, and Sean groaned inwardly. They were at loggerheads over most things. His dad was a doctor true to the old ways, stubbornly attached to methods that made Sean shudder with his own form of disapproval. He glanced around the empty waiting room, seeing only Edna behind the desk filing records, and she had been privy to many of their heated disagreements in her time.
“He’s my patient, Dad; it’s clearly not up for discussion.” His dad made a sound halfway between a sigh and a snort and turned on his heel. Sean thought he made out muttered words like idiot and boy, but at the age of twenty-nine, it wasn’t the first time he’d been called either, nor would it be the last. Surgery was due to start in ten minutes, and the door opened revealing a harried mother with small baby in her arms.
“Doctor Lester—” Sean was immediately in doctor mode as the baby squalled and sobbed, the mother not far behind. All thoughts of his dad or cops or dark-haired ninja aspirants pushed to the back of his mind as he triaged the situation by sight alone then scooped the baby confidently and expertly from the hysterical mother.
It was the start of a very long work day, patient after patient, with ills from the baby’s milk rash and ear infection to the current rush on non-seasonal flu. If the day was long enough, then the evening spent with his parents for dinner with no escape was even longer. It wasn’t that he particularly disliked having dinner with the family, but he was tired and irritable, and his dad had this way of getting under his skin. He managed to excuse himself by ten, walking back the mile between his parents’ Georgian-style house and the surgery. His home was a small cottage and had been part of the original farmhouse. It had been converted along with the main house, which housed the surgery complete with two consulting rooms and a small dispensary. It was linked to the surgery by a corridor but blocked by two connected doors that he hadn’t had to open since he began working here. He guessed it had been originally designed for the resident doctor to be on site, but the cottage, a quaint mismatched level of rooms and tilted ceiling, hadn’t been properly inhabited by a doctor since his dad left after marriage. Marrying his mum had been financially a good move for Doctor Lester Senior, and the large, six-bedroom house that came as her dowry, for want of a better word, had been the ideal home for the socially upwardly mobile village doctor. It helped that his mum and dad were wildly and completely in love. Whatever his problems with his dad in professional terms, his home life was an excellent and very stable one.
He normally found comfort in the warm cosy home, walls solid and whitewashed inside and out. He closed curtains and poured a small whisky. Hesitating a moment he sighed heavily and then tipped every drop back in the bottle. Tonight wasn’t the night to take the edge of his frustration with alcohol. He was officially on call, although he was backed up by out-of-hours surgery support. He settled in the old chair by the fire, half wishing he could be bothered to lay a fire and then dismissing it when thinking of the smoke that pushed back in the room whenever he did that. He really needed to think about getting the chimney swept, and he added it to his mental list for another day when he had less pressing matters to think of, including Connor Simmons.
Soon, Connor’s notes lay spread across Sean’s lap and sofa. They were tangled and mostly still paper driven, the paper records stopping only at the point two years earlier when Sean had managed to drag the surgery into the twenty-first century. Some observations were from the Salisbury District Hospital, others from counselling sessions, and a few annotations were in his dad’s hand. Curiously he read his dad’s messy cursive. Connor Simmons was a local boy, had been a patient of the surgery since birth, and there were the usual notes of immunisations and childhood illness. It was clear from what he read that he started showing signs of depression around age fourteen, and Sean blinked at the words “needs more exercise” written under a prescription for depression meds. At fourteen.
It went downhill for him from then on, but to be fair to his dad, it happened out of his control, at school. Connor succumbed to an addiction to drugs, cocaine, and speed, getting in with the wrong crowd. It didn’t say that last part in the notes, but Sean had first-hand knowledge of Connor. He’d been at school in the village, and he knew the family. He’d heard the village talking, heard more than people realised. He opened his laptop and logged into the surgery network, running through the rest of his notes in their electronic form, updating the actions from last night in minute detail. But he kept getting distracted. Something was digging away at his thoughts, but for once it wasn’t worrying or thinking of a patient of his. Sighing, he tracked back through his dad’s appointments yesterday.
The last appointment? No, actually the second from last, the only one that fit the details of the display Sean had seen. Daniel Francis, twenty-six, and the only records he could see were the automated records. Ex-army, bomb disposal, time in Afghanistan, injured badly by shrapnel in an explosion, his left side damaged, left knee, thigh, arm, face and neck, his ID number tracking a move to the veterans ward in Birmingham on arrival back in the UK. The man was evidently some freaking war hero, combat-ready, injured, but clearly still in defence mode. Hence the separating of Connor from his knife in such a brutally quick and efficient way.
Daniel checked through the prescribed meds passed by the hospital and rubber-stamped by his dad. Jesus, how the hell did the man make such dramatic moves on the perceived threat when the drugs in his body were so damned disabling? Daniel Francis was a walking medicine cabinet—meds to keep the man sane, meds for highs, meds for lows, meds for the pain, muscle relaxants. He must feel like a zombie. There were no black and white records of post traumatic stress. Daniel’s psyche evaluations were only that which would be expected. His plastic surgeon had recommended more work on his face and neck, but there were notes to indicate the patient had withdrawn from the programme of medical intervention. Having seen the scarring on Daniel’s face, Sean wondered if surgical intervention would have made any difference to what was there. It wasn’t awful scarring—Sean had seen worse on patients caught in fires—but he wondered if Daniel was self-conscious of the marks. Sean made another mental note to maybe book an appointment for some face-to-face time, but he would have to manage it without his dad getting wind of it. The elder doctor didn’t take kindly to interference in his patients by his son. Maybe an informal chat? There were inconsistencies in his prescriptions, modern schools of thought that would never have prescribed the happy pills and the muscle relaxants on the same script.
By the time midnight came, he was ready for bed, but by two in the morning, tossing and turning in his bed, he just knew he wasn’t going to get any sleep. Solutions to this inability to sleep were easy. He handed them out every day to his patients without conscious thought. He should attempt relaxing, maybe aided by finishing a lukewarm drink, but not caffeine, warm milk perhaps. Then maybe he should be asking himself what might be worrying him. All he needed to do was to find the root of the issue, and sleep would normally follow. Simple. He just couldn’t seem to apply any of these wonderful fix-it-all solutions to himself. He wasn’t stupid. He had ideas why he was so restless and irritable. Connor was one. He knew he couldn’t turn his brain off, which made him not able to sleep, which made him tired and even more unable to relax. On nights like this, when the village was in darkness and his thoughts refused to allow him to sleep, there was only one thing to do.
He needed her like he needed his next breath.
She was beautiful, sexy, gorgeous, and all his.
His only extravagance from the inheritance his gran had left him. Low slung and cherry red, a beautiful Audi TT Roadster sat next to his dad’s old battered Land Rover they used for cross country house visits. Two hundred and sixty-eight horses sat under the Audi’s bonnet, and a sound system that blew him out of the water. It was like chalk and cheese, their choice of cars, yet another thing that his dad didn’t expect from him. In his dad’s opinion, a flashy car was not what a village doctor should be driving.
He slid into the driver’s seat, the leather cocooning him, the smell of new and clean intoxicating to the senses, and peace slipped over him as he shut the door. For a while he just sat there, his arms stiff and his hands gripping tight on the wheel. Losing control of Connor yesterday was bad. He hadn’t recognised the lad’s appointment earlier in the day for what it was—a cry for help. Damn it, how the bloody hell had he missed it?
He pulled away from the surgery and drove through the village at a slow speed, the darkness engulfing the car and blurring the scattered homes. The pub at the edge was the final barrier until he was out on the open road. It twisted and turned, and he opened her up, using sense memory of each bend, his mind concentrating at near full capacity. Rhianna played on the iPod, segueing into Lady Gaga and then into Abba. Finally he felt the stress across his shoulders release, and he selected some Enya to pull him home.
A mile outside of the village he was smiling thinking of the homestretch, his bed, sleep.
What happened next was his worst nightmare. He came to another bend, and there was something in the road. A shadow, a suggestion of shape, a deer, a fox, and he slammed on the brakes, his stomach clenching, the bushes scraping the side of the car as he wrenched it left and away from the shape. He was going to miss it. He knew it as he glanced at the shadow, then shit, he ended up nose-first in twisted yew at an angle. The smoke from the tyres created an ethereal mist around the embedded car on the dark road.
“Shit! Fuck! What the—” He had the presence of mind to turn off the engine, caught between horror and shock that he had nearly killed something… someone. In seconds he was out of the door and stumbling to the shape lying on his side in the middle of the road. A man. Oh god no. “Bloody hell,” he stuttered and dropped to his knees on the hard road, years of training in emergency care to the fore, testing for a pulse. It was strong.
“Didn’t h-h-hit me,” the shape near-whimpered, rolling over onto his back. Sean rocked back on his haunches. Daniel Francis? Lying in the road—not hit? “Why the f-f-fuck you d-driving like Mi-c al Sch’ma’cher?” His voice was strained, vowels slurred, shivery, and in the faint light of shattered headlights, Sean could see the sheen of sweat on grey skin.
“What the hell are you doing in the middle of the fucking road at two in the morning?” Sean snapped back, his fingers moving to palpate across Daniel’s neck.
“W-w-walking,” Daniel pushed out. Sean huffed and held out a hand to help the man up. Walking. What an idiot. Who the hell walked in the pitch black on country roads in the dead of night? Daniel didn’t take his hand, stubbornly using his own instead to lever himself up. He fell back with a grunt of pain and an added groan of frustration. Given the level of damage to his knee, he must have been in one hell of a lot of pain.
“Take my hand,” Sean insisted, putting on his best doctor voice, the deep authoritarian tone that brooked no argument.
“F-f-fuck off,” Daniel ground out, and Sean stood abruptly.
“You want to stay in the road? Suit yourself.” With a harsh exhalation of breath, he crossed to his car, judging he could just reverse from the hedge. Nothing gripped too tight to the ruined bodywork. He flicked on his hazard lights as a warning just in case there were any more cars on the road. Pulling out his mobile phone, he moved back to crouch by Daniel, his free hand automatically touching around the knee, watching the grimace of pain twist the man’s face. He dialled emergency services, identified himself and began to explain—
“No ‘bulance,” Daniel ground out. Sean hesitated, told the operator to hold, and covered the mouthpiece. There was intense desperation in Daniel’s voice, in his wide eyes, and the creases of pain that bracketed his mouth.
“Are you going to let me help you stand then?” Sean waited, counting to five in his head.
“F-f-fuck—okay.” Daniel was cursing a blue storm, but calmly Sean explained how the patient was ambulatory, he was providing assistance, and cancelled the call. Then he pocketed the phone and braced himself to help up the solidly built guy who was almost curled in on himself in obvious distress. Finally, Daniel was standing, leaning most of his weight on Sean, and there was no way he should be walking under his own steam. Except… Sod it. He was. He walked a few steps away, stumbling and dragging his bad leg.
“Get in the car,” Sean snapped. “I’ll take you home.” Daniel kept walking, well, limping, not really walking, and stopping. “Bloody idiot. Get in the car, Francis.”
Daniel stopped fully, but didn’t turn. “You know m-m-my name?” His words sounded less lucid with each syllable he uttered, and Daniel contemplated phoning back nine-nine-nine just to get some help to move his stubborn arse.
“You’re one of our patients. Of course I know your bloody name,” Sean defended quickly, unexpectedly aware he had clearly crossed a subtle line with the soldier broken in the dark. Maybe revealing he knew him, and likely in a more intimate way than most, was probably a very bad thing on Daniel’s scale of bad things. Daniel visibly slumped in place, his shoulders loosening from where they had been so rigid before. Sean sensed victory, just wishing he felt less like it was Daniel verging on unconsciousness and more that Daniel saw Sean was right. “Are you getting in the car?” he added quickly.
“Can’t move.” Simple words but they dripped with a biting terror, and Sean’s heart turned. The compassion that he wore like a second skin snapped alive, and in seconds, he was there, remembering the notes that it was Daniel’s left side that was damaged and scarred. He slipped under the taller man’s right arm, taking his weight. With as much strength as he possessed, he finally managed to get them both to the car door. Daniel’s breaths were fast and uneven, catching snatches of desperate air as his eyes slid closed. Getting him into the car was easy enough; it was like he simply slid in, boneless, and semi-conscious. He was clearly in a place where he could handle the pain, and Sean couldn’t even begin to contemplate how dark that place must be. He didn’t worry about the belt, couldn’t untwist it from around Daniel’s lax body, and cursed as branches pulled and gripped his car viciously, paintwork scratched to buggery. Shit.
Within a minute or so, thanking the gods she started and pulled out of the tangle of tree roots and bushes, Sean was at the surgery, the best place for Daniel he thought. The closest safe flat surface was his front room and the sofa bed that he could pull out. He quickly arranged what he needed, then guided the semi-conscious soldier in through the wide door and to the thin mattress. It wasn’t the best bed in the world, but the patient was at least lying still.
“I’m coming back.” He returned to the front door, closing it on the night outside and then grabbed his bag before settling on his knees next to Daniel. “Can you tell me what you’ve taken, Daniel?”
“Don shtake… drugs…” Daniel slurred, forming each word slowly.
“I mean your meds,” Sean explained patiently, “your meds, Daniel?” Daniel groaned and lashed to his right.
“Walking…through it. No meds—”
Sean blinked. That wasn’t right. Daniel couldn’t mean he hadn’t taken any of his meds, the cocktail of pain killers and muscle relaxants that had been prescribed?
“None of your painkillers? Nothing?”
Daniel shook his head mutely and tried to lift his head, his skin clammy with sweat and grey. He was visibly shaking, and then stiffening as his entire body seemed to spasm. The pain that the soldier was in must be inconceivable, indescribable, and Sean made a decision, rummaging for his limited stock of morphine. He loosened Daniel’s jeans to pull them slightly down. Finding the right location, he injected and then sat back. The jeans needed to come off. He had to see the knee, but there was no way he could pull them down over the knee. He would need to cut them off.
“No ‘spital,” Daniel pushed out through gritted teeth, bending his neck to look directly at Sean, his eyes bright with pain. “Promise me.”
Sean hesitated. What if when he cut the jeans away he found damage beyond his care? Had he hit him with the car? What the hell was the idiot doing in the middle of nowhere in the dark? Why hadn’t he taken his meds?
“For God’s sake, you need…” Despite his frustration, he fought to find some compassion and tried to temper his voice with a softness he wasn’t really feeling inside. “Hell, I promise.”
Daniel closed his eyes, letting his head fall back. It seemed the two words had worked, and as the morphine kicked in, the lines of pain bracketing the soldier’s mouth started to relax. Sean took a few minutes, watching as the tension left Daniel’s face. He was gorgeous, and the scarring that curved around his ear was less than it seemed. It was close to his left eye at its extremity, the skin puckered and ridged.
Taking a deep breath to concentrate, Sean sat back on his haunches, reaching for the scissors and cutting from the ankle upwards on the jeans. He slowed as he neared the knee and cut as carefully as he could around the swelling that was pushing against the denim, distorting the shape. It didn’t faze him to see the scars, livid and stretched against the swollen flesh. He had seen worse on his casualty rotation, but what did faze him was why the swelling was so damn bad. Had this idiot really not taken the medication his dad had prescribed? He carried on cutting, running his hand up under the material as he reached the crotch area, and was finally halted by the thickness of the cloth and hard metal under the jeans and Daniel’s shirt.
Curious, he used his other hand to hold the cloth and separated the top from the belt. A knife—a dagger. Ornate on the hilt and inscribed with words that were worn with time.
He didn’t question why this invalided soldier carried a knife, particularly what appeared to be an ancient dagger. He had seen some PTSD, knew some of the decisions made by those suffering seemed at odds with what polite society expected. He had dealt with an attempted suicide from a guy who had lost his whole unit in one go, and he’d been left without a scratch. Survivor guilt, PTSD, so many descriptions for so many different souvenirs soldiers brought home from war.
Daniel’s face was different without the violence in his eyes or the pain in his body. At peace, eyes closed, with morphine-soft sleep allowing him to rest, he had a gentleness to him. He really was a stunning man, all carved sharp angles and muscles. Clearly the wasting on his left leg was not anywhere else. He still had strong arms, a small amount of scarring blemishing his left arm. He must still work out. His thick black hair had a natural curl to it, and he evidently hadn’t kept up with keeping it army-short as it curled around his ears in defiance of style. His eyes were closed, but before they’d closed, Sean had looked past the glaze of pain and wide pupils to the deep mink brown and the lines of amber that specked to the centre. They were beautiful.
Hell, he was just Sean’s type, all dark and brooding alpha male. His dark hair, thick and unruly was currently plastered to his head with sweat, and the dark brown eyes were hidden behind tightly closed lids. He shook his head. Doctors did not harbour impure thoughts about patients, however gorgeous they were. He was not perving on the curve of Daniel’s dick as he cut away the jeans or the muscles that were hard and defined on his broad chest as he pulled the T-shirt to one side. That was just wrong.
He palpated the knee. He knew he’d promised no hospital, but unless he could get this swelling down…
Sighing, he moved back slightly and pulled two blankets over the resting man. He probably had around three hours before Daniel would wake in pain, and he needed to rest, and maybe research a little on knee injuries.