Burning Embers

By Gerri Zimmerman

2152 A.D., Neptune

A brief, but sharp, high-pitched screeching sound erupted from the gilded birdcage. Lenora Greystone tapped the cage gently with her gnarled finger.

“Hush, my sweet. All is well. Be quiet today, my pet.”

(Image by Larry White from Pixabay)

For some reason, every bone in her blue body ached on this quiet day. She grumbled quietly to herself as she pushed back some stray strands of her glorious white hair. Then, she breathed deeply. This action temporarily cleared her sleepy brain. Getting old was hell as far as she was concerned.

To take her mind off her pain, she glanced at two pictures that hung on one of her living room walls. These were pictures of the two most important men in her life.

Her eyes watered as she ran her fingertips over the frames of both pictures. She dabbed at her eyes with one finger to flick a tear from her cheek.

“I will not think of either one of you. I will not! Not today, anyway.”

Tearing her eyes away from the pictures, she began to study a tiny pale-yellow flower, which she found in a pocket of her dress. With her gnarled, crippled fingers, she caressed the soft petals of the flower.

She decided to direct her thoughts to the flower, instead of the two men. She had trouble picking the flower this day because lately, she had difficulty bending over and getting back up. She had become stiff with age. Damn it, anyway.

Very few flowers grew on Triton, and those that did never lived very long–as Triton’s tainted, toxic atmosphere did not condone plant growth.

She realized she was not quite finished admiring her flower, however, as she began to inhale and savor its mild floral fragrance. It saddened her that this creation of nature had to die, but then, everything and everyone eventually died.

She contended memories should die too, but they didn’t. They merely faded but could be resurrected, if desired. Did she want to resurrect the past?

She tried to stay in an upright position, but her weary body resisted. Still, she was able to watch a small fire burn in her ancient stone fireplace. Occasionally, a small eruption of flames would shatter her concentration–not that her concentration was that good anymore.

Her light brown eyes strayed to a small piece of wood that had dislodged from the main fire. She watched the spent wood as it glowed, smoldered, flickered slightly, and then burned completely out. The fire was dead, and embers remained.

To see the two men in her life again would please her. This was unlikely, however, as they had each gone separate ways. That wasn’t quite true. She’d left them.

Her memories still plagued her and begged to resurrect themselves, and so she stopped resisting, and let the memories flow.

She closed her eyes. The flower fell from her hand and landed silently on the mud floor.

✸✸✸

Many years ago:

Young psychic Lenora Greystone held a small picture of Prince Dames Morloch and the Royal Family of Boron. Her assignment was to protect them. She would soon meet them.

On a nearby table rested a small picture of a loyal friend, Raoul Langley. Her thoughts centered on both men this day, Prince Morloch and Raoul.

Her eagle eyes took one look at the prince and had no doubts that he represented royalty, through and through. She found she was also smitten.

The prince was tall, dark, and very handsome with sexy stark blue eyes. He stirred Lenora’s blood as no other man had–not even Raoul.

God knows, Raoul had told her repeatedly he loved her and that he wanted to marry her. She had lost count of the refusals she gave him because he wasn’t the right man for her. She had yet to convince him that he was a friend, nothing more.

✸✸✸

Lenora entered the gates of the booming village of Boron and mingled with the throng of residents who awaited the arrival of the Royal Family.

She knew when the Royal Family arrived because the residents of Boron expressed their excitement with hurrahs and hoorays. The noise was deafening.

She spotted the prince’s Chief of Security, Jackal Corab, who flanked the prince. He and the prince stood in a hovercraft decorated with red and white banners, various sized balloons, and the name of the Morloch Royal House boldly displayed on the front of the hovercraft.

She watched the prince wave at the residents of Boron. These were his people—the people who adored him. They wanted no other leader.

She noted Princess Zeta and her son, Crown Prince Makial, waving to the residents. Makial was the spitting image of his father. There was no denying parentage in this case.

The prince’s security team, which consisted of 40 highly trained security men, surrounded the Royal Family.

The prince reached out to the people of Boron by shaking their hands when he could. He did this once a year and enjoyed himself immensely.

She watched as the prince glanced at his wife, his smile changed to one of stiff and unyielding. When his eyes met his son, his smile softened. It was apparent to her that the marriage was not a happy one.

Quite unexpectedly, her psychic senses kicked in. She was overwhelmed with fear for Dames’ who was in imminent danger. When she experienced this overwhelming type of fear, she knew she must take immediate action; and she did just that.

She propelled herself forward through hordes of residents and headed directly toward the prince.

She was taking a big chance that his security team might take her down before she could reach him. She was, however, more than willing to take that chance, even if it meant her death.

When she reached the prince, she shoved him to the ground and shielded him with her body. Lying on top of him, however, gave her a feeling of intimacy, which made her feel uncomfortable. She reminded herself that this was her job. Thoughts of intimacy were subdued.

She saw his blue eyes glare at her in anger and astonishment. Lenora couldn’t blame him for being angry. To have a woman knock him down was unthinkable. To have a woman protect him would be embarrassing. Better he is embarrassed than dead.

✸✸✸

The prince noticed the trademark of a psychic on the woman–a tan circle at the center of her forehead. He knew he was safe. His body relaxed. There was no need for him to take drastic security measures.

Though he knew he could have her put to death for physical contact with a member of the Royal Family, he wouldn’t. There had to be a reason for what she did, and he would find out what it was.

The prince watched as the woman’s light brown eyes twinkled at him. Did she know what she was doing to him? Did she enjoy tackling a man? Could she feel his hard groin? She had to. That must be why there was a light shade of red on her smooth cheeks. She must be as flustered as he. Good! He found he was enjoying himself immensely at her expense.

He had to admire her agility, for she was lightning quick on her feet and knew how to wrestle a man. Second, she was an exciting woman, if exciting was the word to use.

This psychic disabled him with finesse. Rendered incapable of moving was a new experience for him. He decided, rather quickly, he did not want to move. It felt good to have her right where she was–in fact, too damn good. Granted, this was not the most dignified position to be in for a prince. Right now, however, it was all right with him.

He could see a look of desperation and fear plastered on her face. She was still holding him down with her body. He knew she was about to speak to him. A slight grin developed on his smooth dark blue lips. It would be interesting to hear what this unique and mysterious woman had to say. How would she justify her present position to him?

He watched the mysterious woman’s eyes darken slightly as she scanned the immediate area. She stood rigid, yet in command of her faculties–whereas, he was not. If she could read his mind at that moment, she would know that she had best remove her body from his; or he was going to embarrass himself?

✸✸✸

Morab was going to have to come up with a good reason for not killing the prince when he had the chance, which had been a scant few seconds before the psychic had entered the picture.

Because Morab and his accomplice Nico failed to murder the prince, as planned, the princess would be very angry with them.

Morab was not worried, however, as he knew how to appease the princess. Sex was her true weakness. He was passionate about her.

Morab was very ambitious; and knew if he bided his time, that one day he would stand beside her as her husband.

Morab and Nico crept away from their hiding spot and made their way to meet with the princess.

✸✸✸

Dames rose from his confined position to tower over this strange woman who knocked him down. He saw her stand tall and knew she would not be intimidated by his height or by him.

They faced each other as adversaries–watching each other for any weakness. A battle of wills was at play.

He elected to negotiate a truce by extending his right hand to her. His hand engulfed her small and capable hand–the very same hand that had saved his life this day.

She was an attractive woman. Then his attention focused on her tan birthmark. It was the size of a silver dollar situated in the middle of her forehead. This, coupled with her wraparound black streak in her white hair, clearly labeled her as a Neptune psychic.

The star-shaped lapel pin on her shirt indicated that she was a class ten psychic—there was none higher. This also meant she was very talented and very capable of protecting.

His priority was to find out why she attacked him. He had a security team. He wasn’t aware of additional security in the form of a psychic.

The answer to his question must occur behind closed doors. He knew where interrogation would take place. Yes, he had the ideal place in mind.

“Follow me, please, strange lady. I have signaled all clear to my security team.” Dames remarked.

“You have saved my life. I didn’t think I was in danger, and my security team saw nothing. Explain your actions. And tell me who you are.”

“Very well. My name is Lenora Greystone. The Psychic High Council on Neptune hired me to protect you from a possible assassination attempt. When I saw danger in your aura, I had to act right away.

“I was born here, in the city of Boron. My mother lives with her second husband in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boron.”

“What is it like to be a psychic?” he queried.

“Most challenging. My life and those I always protect require me to be on guard. This takes a toll on one’s health, but a short vacation a few times a year helps. And there are monetary rewards, which will give me a comfortable retirement package.”

“I gather when one is a psychic, they might consider it a curse,” Dames commented, his eyebrows arched slightly.

“Yes! At times, it can be,” Lenora responded.

“I gather your job is hard on relationships,” Dames stated, knowing the answer before she spoke the words.

“Dedication to my job is too demanding on a relationship.”

He hadn’t realized a psychic’s dedication ran so deep and was so ingrained in that species.

“Don’t you want marriage and children?” Dames asked, clearly interested in her and her response.

“Of course, I want those things. My mother was able to marry and give birth to me but at great cost.”

“At great cost. I don’t understand,” Dames remarked.

“My father was not a psychic, you see. After a few years of marriage to one, he realized he couldn’t handle the stress. He left us. Later, my mother married a psychic, and she is now very happy.”

“She still loves your father. Am I correct?” Dames asked.

“I’m sure she does. She doesn’t talk about him. I haven’t seen him in years.”

The prince decided to change the subject.

“Will you, your mother, and her husband accept my invitation to come to the palace and meet my family? We, as a family, should thank you.”

“I accept the invitation on behalf of my mother and her husband, but I must choose the day and time. And, in all honesty, I don’t know if they will be able to come.”

“So be it, Lenora, saver of my life. Send a messenger to the palace with your response to my invitation.”

Then he reached for her right hand and put it into his huge ones. He looked deeply into her light brown eyes.

“Until next we meet, friend.” Then he placed a feathered kiss on her hand. She felt warm and pleasantly at ease.

She pulled her hand from his very slowly and watched him as he walked away. She must control her feelings when it came to this handsome man.

✸✸✸

Dames walked in an opposite direction from Lenora. His chief of security, Jackal, walked at his side.

“She’s good at what she does,” Dames commented.

Jackal grumbled, and Dames chuckled.

“Don’t worry,” Dames remarked. “You and your men will still guard my family. She, however, has another assignment. You will assist her when necessary.”

Jackal nodded his assent. Dames noted Jackal’s stiff posture, which reflected his resentment and frustration.

He didn’t tell Jackal that Lenora probably already knew who it was that wished him dead. He wished he knew who it was.

✸✸✸

Lenora was greeted by a palace security guard who escorted her to a large antechamber.

Until Dames elected to enter the chamber, she had time to look around. The room contained plush sofas, chairs, and end tables. Various sized pictures of Triton hung on the stone walls of the room.

When Lenora heard a crackle and pop from a huge fireplace, she felt more at home. Until Dames made his entrance, she had time to think.

Snap, crackle, and pop erupted from the fire. The flames from the fireplace were hypnotic. As a result, she found she could mentally relax without much effort. She watched the embers as they changed colors. They went from bright red and yellow to grey and then black.

She hadn’t heard Dames enter because her thoughts were wandering.

She wrapped her arms around her torso to absorb whatever warmth remained from the fire. For a moment, she felt safe, a feeling she seldom experienced. When she felt this calm, she often became extremely sensitive to vibes in the air.

Dames had indeed arrived. Her psychic senses could feel him. Alas, he had entered her temporary sanctuary. She turned her head to greet him.

✸✸✸

Dames opened the door to the meeting room to find Lenora standing in front of a fireplace. She seemed to be absorbed by the fire and didn’t know he was there. This gave him some time to observe her.

She was a beautiful woman. She wore her hair ultra-short. The traditional psychic horizontal black hairstreak at the crown of her head stood out. She was dressed in white, which not only emphasized her blue skin but also the slimness of her body.

He found that she no longer looked at the fireplace but was now looking directly at him. She stood rigid. It was as if he had given her an order not to move. She needed to relax. He was going to help her do just that.

“Your mother and her husband couldn’t come?” Dames queried.

“No. My mother was not well, and her husband was on an assignment. She begs your forgiveness,” Lenora replied.

“Perhaps they can come another time, Lenora. I’m glad you remembered to call me by my given name. Come, let us begin the tour.”

He did not touch her, but she walked beside him as if she belonged at his side. How was he going to handle the attraction he had for this uncommon woman? He would decide that later.

He directed her to a large ballroom.

“There have been many social activities in this formidable room. Recently, visiting dignitaries from another district came to see how I run the palace and manage my people.

“Because they come from another area, they didn’t know of one of many accomplishments, especially that of construction of our much-needed hospital.”

“My people were most pleased,” Lenora remarked.

He looked at her in utter amazement.

“Your people. I’m guilty of neglecting them. I must make reparations.”

“You owe us nothing but exceptional leadership. I see no problem there, do you?”

“Then, I am going in the right direction, the positive direction. This news pleases me.” Now, let us proceed to other anterooms and a few of the bedrooms.”

Lenora didn’t feel comfortable with the word bedrooms.

“I beg your pardon, Dames, but I must keep this visit short. I accepted your gracious offer to meet with you at the palace to discuss today’s threat. It is important you and I discuss this. Someone wants you dead. There is an assassin at large in our great city. Can we go somewhere where we will not be overheard, even by your security team?”

“Very well,” Dames said. Where could he take Lenora that might be private? Then, an idea came to him. He would take her to the hydrocarbon lake.

Various types of floral surrounded the modified hydrocarbon lake, which was located just outside the palace walls. It was a very peaceful setting for a quiet meeting.

“Please sit down on this bench,” Dames said.

He picked a small yellow flower from the palace garden and handed it to her.

He watched as she inhaled the flower’s subtle fragrance and closed her eyes.

Dames was looking at an extremely rare flower, as rare as the flower she held in her hand. This flower, however, must be cultivated carefully.

“This is my favorite private place. I come here when I can to sort out my cluttered mind. Notice the smoky haze over the flowers. There is a feeling of sereneness and tranquility here. Lenora, are there times when you can do this, too?”

“Dames, I seldom have the time to relax, let alone think. I must always be on guard! For instance, when I knocked you down, I saw someone aim a weapon at you. I saw it here.” She pointed to the top of her head. “There is more than one person involved. I see, in my mind, that you know your killers. They reside in the palace.”

“Do you have names for these individuals? Tell me who they are.”  Dames commanded.

“I don’t have names yet. I’ll let you know when I do,” Lenora stated.

“Lenora, what are your plans?”

“I will survey the palace grounds. I will look for a weak area or areas that are inconspicuous. Please understand me, it’s not that I believe your security team is not doing their job. However, I may see something that your security team might overlook. I will connect with your security chief at the appropriate time, and he and I will see to it that additional security is added where necessary.”

“Excellent! This is the beginning.”

With each word he spoke, he crept closer to her. He was tired of keeping his distance. Dames wanted to kiss her. It would be one small transgression. He could live with that.

When he was close enough, he held her hands. Then, he placed her hands on his chest.

“I am going to kiss you. Do you have any objections you wish to voice?” Dames whispered.

“Would it do any good…”

“No, it wouldn’t, my rare flower,” he said and promptly kiss her.

“Dames, this can’t go any further. It can’t. You do understand.”

She turned her back to him and made her way quickly out and away from the palace.

Dames felt bereft as he watched her leave.

✸✸✸

Raoul watched the prince and his beloved. It was difficult to watch his beloved return the prince’s kiss.

He also saw the prince’s security chief and vice versa. When their eyes met, they knew they shared a rare intimate moment with the prince. They also knew they would say nothing about it to anyone.

✸✸✸

Princess Zeta strolled toward her husband. When she was close enough, she puckered her lips while touching his chin with her manicured fingernail. She knew this irritated him. She enjoyed his discomfort.

“Husband. I see a psychic has been hired by our home planet’s security administrative section to protect us–from what, pray tell? You have always had enemies. Surely, our security team can handle any threats.”

“It is believed the assassins will attempt to murder me or our son, or both. I hope that the psychic will find them. Her name is Lenora Greystone in case you haven’t already heard. Our security team will assist her.”

“I know her name. Tell me, my devoted husband, did you enjoy your episode of intimate contact with Lenora? I believe that is her name.”

“That was unworthy for the princess of the realm,” Dames stated bitingly. “You should thank her for saving my life. I kissed her as a token of my esteem.”

“I don’t intend to thank her. I supposed kissing her was a form of thank you. What will you do next, take her to bed?” Zeta commented as she exited the gardens.

“Zeta, come back here this moment!” She was gone, and he knew she would not come back.

✸✸✸

Zeta knew precisely what was going on in the palace. However, the elimination of her son and Dames must occur first before she could become the supreme ruler. Her hired assassins must accomplish this.

She would inform her hired assassins that they must now eliminate the psychic known as Lenora Greystone. They might balk at first, but if she paid them enough, they would do what she hired them to do.

She found herself giddy with excitement. She was confident that very soon she would be head of the realm.

✸✸✸

Raoul saw Lenora leave the palace. He hurried to be by her side. When he finally caught up to her, she stopped in her tracks. She’d stopped so suddenly that he almost knocked her down.

“Raoul. What are you doing here? I thought I saw you–and here you are. It is a good thing you didn’t sneak up–I would’ve decked you.”

A slight blush stole over Raoul’s face. He had been following her and saw the prince kiss her. He was guilty of eavesdropping.

“I rather suspected you’d spot me. When I was very sure it was you, I decided it was time we talked,” Raoul admitted.

“Raoul, I know you better. Tell me the truth.”

No way would he tell her the truth. Besides, she would deny that she loved him. She’d been denying the sexual attraction for years. One day soon, he would prove to her just how strong the attraction was.

Lenora heard him, but also heard unfamiliar sounds emanating from her surroundings. The sounds were that of muffled footsteps. Instinctively, she reacted by pushing Raoul down onto the hot, hard ground, knocking him out temporarily.

Before she could take the next step, however, she felt pain at the back of her head. She, too, fell onto the hard and unyielding ground.

✸✸✸

Morab and Nico stood over the psychic. The princess wanted the psychic dead. His next step would be to put a knife into her body.

Morab took his knife from its sheath and plunged it into the psychic’s back. The man was out. One down, two more to go. He started to whistle.

“We will be well paid for this job,” Morab uttered.

Nico cringed at what his friend had done but knew it was necessary if they were to live another day.

✸✸✸

Raoul wakened slowly. After massaging the back of his head, he spotted Lenora as she lay nearby. He dragged himself to be at her side.

When he spotted the knife protruding from her back, he felt a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. She couldn’t be dead.

He pulled the knife from her back and turned her over. He checked for a pulse and breathed a sigh of relief when he found one.

“You’ll be all right my love. Trust me,” Raoul remarked as he lifted her into his arms.

He saw her eyelids flutter open. She attempted to speak, but he reassured her instead.

“Easy, my dear. Someone hit me on the head and thought they had murdered you. I haven’t the slightest idea why. I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“I’m so glad you are here, Raoul. I must get better right away. I must protect the prince and his son from assassins.”

“You say someone wants to murder the prince and his son. For heaven’s sake, why?”

“I’ll tell you all later,” Lenora whispered and then fainted.

✸✸✸

Lenora was released from the hospital forty-eight hours later. She couldn’t rest because she had a job to do. She couldn’t do her job tied to a bed.

“Raoul, I must return to work. There are lives at risk.”

“What about your life. You could’ve died from your injury. You must rest,” Raoul countered.

“Well, I didn’t die. I’m going back to work. Now!” Lenora placed a quick kiss on Raoul’s forehead and left.

He shook his head in disbelief. He decided all women were crazy, including psychics.

“You stubborn woman!” He yelled at her as she rushed toward the palace.

✸✸✸

Dames couldn’t believe Lenora had returned after suffering a grievous injury. She was conversing with Jackal, probably about additional security measures.

“Lenora. I wish to speak with you. Now, please!”

“I’ll talk with you later, Jackal,” Dames stated briskly.

Lenora and Dames were now alone with no security in place. He was livid that Lenora had returned.

Jackal had told him of the assassination attempt on her life and that Raoul had saved her. He couldn’t thank Raoul enough.

“Lenora, please sit down on this bench.”

Lenora sat down willingly. She was tired and didn’t feel well. She knew she shouldn’t be working but felt obligated.

Dames walked casually around her. He didn’t know what he could say to make her go to her home and rest. He decided to use, therefore, his power as a prince.

He stopped in front of her. Her eyes were partially closed; her lips were dark blue, instead of light blue; and she slouched while sitting.

He put his hands on her shoulders, which forced her to look up into his face.

“I order you to go home and rest. Jackal will take over while you recuperate.”

✸✸✸

Dames glanced at her retreating back as she wobbled away. He had wanted to kiss her when she had been so close. When she pulled away, he almost… He wouldn’t think about that now.

Lenora’s wellbeing weighed heavily on his princely responsibilities as he walked to the security chambers in the palace.

✸✸✸

Lenora sat up in her bed when she saw that Raoul had stopped by. She had to thank him for saving her life.

“Raoul, please sit.”

“Thank you for saving my life. I can never repay you,” Lenora mumbled as she lifted one of Raoul’s hands and put it against her cheek.

“Dames has commanded that I rest at home for a time,” Lenora mumbled.

She noticed Raoul was quiet, too quiet. What could be wrong?

“Raoul. Say something. Anything. I’m worried about you.”

“You’re worried about me. Don’t be. You almost died. You must think about yourself and me. We belong together. This was ordained a long time ago. Let us marry soon.”

Raoul pulled his hand from her grasp and held her tightly against his hard chest. Her lips called to him, and he wasted no time in claiming them.

Her mouth tasted like honey. She didn’t fight him or the kiss. He felt hot and groaned as he heard her whimper. She wanted him. He’d prayed for this response, and now she was his.

She wrapped her arms around his neck. There were no holds barred. Then, out of the clear blue, she withdrew from him.

He wasn’t angry with her, merely confused. He turned his back to her to calm himself down. He took deep breaths and shuttered.

“Lenora, my love. I almost lost you. I couldn’t live without you,” Raoul stated, and then he turned around to face her. He saw tears cascading down her cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” Raoul asked as he pulled her into his embrace.

“Raoul, my dear friend, it tears me apart to say this to you, but I don’t love you. I cannot marry you. I’m so sorry.”

He looked down at her tear-streaked face. He backed away.

“I know you don’t love me and never have. I’ve tried not to think about this. I still have hope that one day you’ll surprise me and tell me you’ve fallen in love with me. I look forward to that day. In the meantime, is there anything you need?”

“I need your friendship. That’s all I can handle right now.”

“You will always have that,” Raoul commented.

✸✸✸

Inside the Royal Palace:

Morab informed Zeta of his prowess that day. He had killed the female psychic.

“What about my husband and son? Their demise means more to me than some idiotic psychic. Well? No answer. You and your partner had better do the job you were hired to do, or I will get someone else to do it. Now, get out! I must think.”

“Not until you calm down,” Morab replied, and sat down.

Zeta would’ve physically shoved him out but thought better of it. Besides, she had to think. She could do that whether he was there or not.

She thought that maybe she could do the job herself. No, that was not a good idea. Someone might recognize her, unless… Perhaps she should wear a disguise–perhaps that of a peasant. No. A peasant was too far beneath her. Besides, she wouldn’t know how to act the part.

After discarding numerous ideas, she decided her best disguise would be that of a dressmaker. With the appropriate facial skin mask, no one would recognize her. What a brilliant idea, she thought.

She noticed that Morab was watching her closely to see if he could figure out what she was thinking.

“My dear,” Morab remarked. He knew she did not like endearments.

She gave him a glacial glare. He flinched. Would he ever learn her moods?

“Nico and I will finish the job. I don’t want you involved in the demise of your husband and your son. Morab remarked. He almost had her in his arms as he inched closer to her.

She wanted to wring his neck. Instead of having him beaten, she might ease her frustrations by having sex with him. Morab was always ready to make love. Besides, this diversion would take her mind off other things.

She sauntered around him, teasing him in increments with the sway of her hips. Once she saw the bulge in his pants, she all but attacked him.

She wound her arms around his neck, pulled him closer, and bit his right ear.

“Shut up, you fool.” She bit his other ear. “No more talking. Make love to me. Now! I command it.”

He needed no further encouragement. He was hot and bothered. She was a vixen, and he was most assuredly her slave. Besides, he wanted to make love. Commanded to do so made him feel wanted.

✸✸✸

The Outskirts of the City of Boron:

Until Lenora was back on the job full time, she invited Dames to her small abode, situated on the outskirts of Boron.

She sat down with a plate of cooked food in front of Dames and watched his handsome face go through many contortions. Then she produced a hearty laugh, which brought his head up quickly.

“May I ask what you find so amusing? Do I have food on my nose or something?” Dames asked.

Lenora was still laughing. Finally, she composed herself.

“I’m so sorry,” Lenora murmured. “But, you see, the look on your face was simply priceless. I just wanted you to see how I lived and what I eat, compared to how you live and what you eat.

“My people can be happy with very little, you see. Whereas you are used to the better things in life. I simply wanted you to see another side of the people you rule.

“The meal I prepared for us is a common meal of eggs, crispy bacon, whole-wheat toast, and fresh fruit. It is very good and healthy. Please try some of it. If you don’t like it, I’m prepared to cook something you would like. In the meantime, indulge me.”

“A food taster must taste my food first,” Dames stated.

“Sorry, Dames. I am the official food tester for this meal. Don’t you trust me? Think about it. I must protect you, not murder you.”

She smiled at him and saw his taunt expression soften.

He deemed her statement had merit. He had been born rich and was indeed unaware as to how poor people survived the rigors of life. He was getting his first lesson.

“My apologies. I guess I didn’t think this situation through. Of course, what you say is correct. I don’t normally eat what you have prepared, at least not quite the way you have made it. That is, what I am trying to say is…” He didn’t finish because he decided the food might taste good. After all, one should try different foods on occasion. This was the occasion.

He took one slice of bacon, glanced at it, and then put it into his mouth. He bit down. Crunch! He was overwhelmed with the taste, let alone the texture of the meat. It was delicious. He would have to instruct the palace cooks on the proper preparation of bacon.

He ate the rest of the meal and dabbed his lips with a napkin she’d provided. She had just completed her meal. She began to pick up the dishes when he put one of his hands over hers. She glanced at him warily. He was so handsome.

“Stop now,” Dames commanded. “The food was delicious, but I wish to talk to you about why I am here with you. You have always been skittish when around me. Yet right now you seem completely at ease. Explain, please.”

“Let us go to my living room where you will be more comfortable.”

“Very well,” Dames responded.

The room was small but reeked of welcome. Near a medium-sized fireplace, a long green sofa rested. This was inviting and cozy. Dames relaxed.

The walls were a light tan, and there were a few floral paintings on each wall. There was no carpeting on the floor, however. He could hear footsteps, something he never heard in the palace. She was right when she stated he was used to the better things in life. He decided she should have better things, too.

“Lenora, someday, if you will allow it, I would like to give you something for this room, something to remember this occasion by.”

“That’s not necessary, Dames.”

“I realize it’s not necessary but allow me to show my appreciation.”

“Very well,” Lenora remarked.

Dames never thought he could feel so relaxed. He watched Lenora as she placed a long pant-encased leg onto her sofa.

“Dames, I wanted you to relax a little before I spoke to you about the previous assassination attempts. What I have to say to you is disturbing; and I don’t want your security people to be aware of what I already know, at least not until you and I talk. Then, I will talk with your security chief.”

Dames sat a little straighter on the sofa. He was now tense and concerned.

“You’ve found out who is trying to murder me and my family.”

Lenora stood and walked over to the fireplace. Her hands splayed out over the tepid flames. She glanced back at him, then back to the flames.

“Your wife has hired two men to eliminate you and your son.”

She had said it, though she didn’t like what she said. She kept staring at the flames until she felt comfortable looking at him.

Dames was stunned and rooted to the sofa. He couldn’t move. He felt as if a ton of chains were keeping him rooted where he was. That his wife would plan to murder him, and their son was unthinkable. This couldn’t be true.

Why would she want to murder him? She dared to include their son. Impossible! He shook his head a few times. It was inconceivable. And yet… There were times when he suspected she might want to do away with him. She had grown to hate him, as much as he hated to admit. If hate was strong enough, there was no telling what someone might do.

Dames bowed his head as if he were in prayer. He wondered if a prayer would do. Silently, he offered one asking for the protection of his son. He didn’t care about himself.

Lenora turned from the fireplace and walked over to Dames. She placed her soft hand on his left shoulder. Her touch made him feel better. It was then, when he looked up at her, that he saw genuine concern etched in her earnest expression. He was sure she cared for him, more than she should.

“Lenora,” Dames remarked. “I believe you. Do what you must.”

“I plan on meeting with Jackal in about an hour. He and I will work on a plan. Once we decide on how to proceed, I will let you know. Trust me,” Lenora remarked.

Dames started to walk away from her, then stopped and turned around to face her. His sexy eyes glanced back into her soft eyes.

“I await your next visit to the palace,” Dames remarked as he started to leave.

“By the way, my cook is going to hate you for changing the palace menus. I find that I like eggs, bacon, and toast,” Dames commented as he closed the door.

Lenora grinned.

Once Dames was completely out of sight, she spotted Raoul walking briskly toward her. What better time than now to speak with him. After all, he had saved her life.

Besides, Dames had mentioned in passing that he was heading back to the palace. He would be safe there, for the time being, that is. She knew Jackal and his security team would be on guard.

Raoul was very close to her now and was extending his arms. She noticed he was about to grab her shoulders.

Hurriedly, before he could kiss her, she placed her hands against his firm chest. “Raoul. It’s good to see you.”

He kissed the tip of her nose, chuckled, and shook his head. He knew she was avoiding a kiss. Damn the woman anyway.

Therefore, he decided her tactics were not going to dissuade him. That her hands were on his chest was a challenge he couldn’t pass up. It was all the encouragement he needed to do what he intended to do in the first place.

He forcibly pushed her arms to her back, kept them there, stared deeply into her eyes, and kissed her.

Lenora groaned. Darn it, but Raoul knew how to kiss. She melted. As soon as he felt her go slightly limp, he released her arms. That was his mistake.

She found herself free from his hold and took advantage. She shoved him away. Caught off guard, Raoul fell onto the hard ground.

The stunned look on Raoul’s face tickled Lenora to no end. The undignified position he was in was humorous. His legs were sprawled, and his arms were barely holding him up. His wavy hair had come down to the top of his eyebrows.

“Here, let me help you get up.”

She reached for one of his arms. He extended his arm to take advantage of her assistance. He wasn’t too proud to accept her help.

“Raoul. Come with me. I’d like to talk to you.”

He stepped back from her and cocked his head to one side. His arms were not extended, but rather hung at his sides.

One day, he would not permit her to stop him from anything he wanted to do. He was getting that desperate for her touch, her kisses, and her love. He was a lovesick fool.

Once they were home, Raoul sat down on one of his favorite chairs. Lenora wandered over to a large window that was nearest to where Raoul was sitting. She glanced back at Raoul and saw that he watched her intently. She did like him. She liked him a great deal, which made it more difficult to say what she must.

“Raoul,” she said, without turning from the window. “We must talk about you and Dames.”

“Ah, yes. Dames, the prince of our domain.”

Lenora caught the sarcasm in his voice. She fully understood.

“Yes, he is that. I love him, and I have a deep affection for you. However, I have a job to do. I cannot and will not allow anyone or anything or anyone to hinder my job. This includes you and Dames.”

Since she hadn’t turned to view his expression to her statement, she missed the painful expression on his smooth face. Nor did she see his shoulders slump.

“I see. Well, that takes me out of your life, doesn’t it?”

“Raoul, I cannot be intimate with either one of you.”

Raoul got up and walked out without saying another word.

Lenora heard him leave. She turned to see the door close silently. She’d never felt so terrible in all her adult life as she did now.

✸✸✸

Lenora met with Jackal and decided the best plan to apprehend the princess and her accomplices. Dames stood nearby.

“Let’s sit, gentlemen. I have a detailed drawing of the palace gardens which I would like to discuss a plan of attack,” Lenora announced.

“As I understand it, Jackal tells me he wants you and your son in the palace gardens tomorrow at 6 PM. Word will be released that the two of you will be there with minimum security. This invites the assassins and the princess to make another attempt. We doubt they will pass on this.

“Jackal and I will be in the area with our backups in place. We should have no problem spotting the culprits. We will disable them.”

“You say disable. What exactly does that mean,” Dames asked.

Lenora and Jackal glanced at each other.

“They will be shot, except for your wife. She will be placed under house arrest,” Lenora stated.

“No, they won’t be shot. I want all of them apprehended. They will be tried by the people and sentenced accordingly.” Dames stated.

“But,” Jackal uttered, only to be silenced by Dames.

“No buts. I command this.”

Jackal, Lenora, and Dames dispersed. What else was there to say?

✸✸✸

The palace gardens were in full bloom. Fragrances from various flora species permeated the air.

Corab, Nico, and Zeta were crouched near prickly bushes. They anxiously awaited the arrival of their victims.

Zeta was confident Corab and Nico would finish their job this evening. She heard noises and watched Corab and Nico secure their weapons.

The noises grew louder. The tension had Corab and Nico sweating where they squatted.

The victims were insight. Then, all hell broke loose!

There were sounds of stun guns heard!

The garden lights went out!

Suddenly, the garden lights were on. Jackal stood next to Dames, and Dames had his arm around his son.

Lenora, with her weapon in hand, stood over the bodies of Corab, Nico, and Princess Zeta. They were dead.

“They gave me no other choice but to take them down,” Lenora stated calmly. She walked away, and never looked back.

✸✸✸

Dames tried to contact Lenora, but all he did find out was that she had left for an undisclosed location.  There was no way to contact her.

He tried to reach Raoul, but he was on assignment on Saturn.

This left him with the only person who was most important to him—his only son, Makiel.

One day, however, he vowed he would find Lenora.

✸✸✸

Return to the present:

Dames and Raoul, now older and wiser, walked side by side. It took them many years to find out where Lenora had been hiding.

They could see her house in the distance. Their palms began to sweat, as they got closer.

They wondered what she would say when she saw who had come to visit her this day. Would she let them in after all this time?

✸✸✸

Lenora heard a knock at her door. She couldn’t imagine who could be visiting her.

“Come in, whoever you are.”

Dames and Raoul entered Lenora’s home slowly to find her sitting on a decrepit couch.

Lenora didn’t get up, so they went to her.

Dames and Raoul walked over to where she sat and kissed her on her forehead.

“Don’t get up,” Dames said.

“We missed you,” Raoul remarked.

Lenora, with all the love she had for both, was reflected in her eyes and her voice.

“I’m so overwhelmed that I can’t get up to greet you. I have missed you both. All I can say is: Welcome to my home, my friends. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Dames and Raoul found a few chairs and placed them near Lenora.

Laughter filtered the home of Triton’s renowned psychic, Lenora Greystone, a rare woman, clearly loved and respected by two distinguished men.

“Here is a long, overdue gift from me to you,” Dames commented.

He retrieved a small box from a jacket he wore this day.

Lenora’s hands shook as she discarded the wrapping paper and opened the box.

Inside the box rested a platinum pin on velvet.

Raoul wasn’t about to be outdone. He pulled out a small box from his pant pocket and handed the box to her.

She opened the second gift. A diamond necklace rested on blue velvet.

Tears flowed down her cheeks. She didn’t know what to say, or what to do. She got up and found herself surrounded by Dames and Raoul.

“I don’t know how to thank you both.”

“Don’t say anything,” Dames commented.

“Nothing needs to be said,” Raoul remarked.

“Oh, wait, there is something I want to ask Lenora,” Dames stated.

“Go ahead, ask.”

“After the deaths of Corab, Nico, and my wife, you vanished. Where did you go?”

“I couldn’t continue working after the deaths of the two assassins and your wife. I no longer wanted to do what I did. Therefore, I became a psychic advisor in another village, until recently. I am now retired.

“No more of this. I’m glad you found me. I’m so happy both of you are here.”

She didn’t know what the future held for them, and she didn’t care. All that mattered now was they were together once again.

This story first appeared in Scarlet Leaf Review 2019.
Edited by Marie Ginga

Gerri Zimmerman lives in Crest Hill, Ill. and likes to write sci-fi and fantasy stories that challenge the reader to think and wonder. She has two published novels to her credit. A few of her short stories have appeared in Soft Cartel Magazine, Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, Ariel Chart Literary Journal, Aphelion Webzine, and Metastellar Magazine. Follow her on Facebook.