Twilight Times Books logo

 

 

 

Having foiled sabotage of Project: Tesseract, Sherlock Holmes and Skye Chadwick try to find the spies responsible. But they don’t even know what the spies want! Their relationship complicates matters; both feel strong attraction, but Holmes especially refuses to admit it. Can they work out their relationship? Can they determine why the spies are after the tesseract? And can they stop it?

 

Chapter Excerpt

 

To order this book:

Format: ePub, PDF, Mobi/Kindle compatible
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; eReader; Fictionwise; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit; Sony eBookstore
List Price: $6.50 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
Order this book via check or credit card
List Price: $19.95 USD

Reviews

 

The Case of the Displaced Detective

At Speed

SF mystery

Stephanie Osborn

 

 

 

Chapter 1—Ruminations and Rehabilitations

Skye woke up in a hospital bed on Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs the afternoon following the shooting, which was Saturday. Her chest and belly ached miserably, and there was a taste in her mouth as if all the armies that had ever marched had tramped across her tongue.

"Uhg," she groaned softly, smacking her mouth in disgust.

As sensation and full consciousness slowly returned, a previously unnoticed grip on her fingers tightened, and a familiar, English voice murmured, "Skye?"

"H-holmes? Is that you?" Skye wondered, confused.

"Yes, Skye. I am here."

Through the slits of her barely open eyelids, she saw a dark form loom over her, coming to sit gingerly on the edge of the bed. As her eyes finally responded to her mental command to focus, the form resolved into Holmes, who was now dressed in the RAF uniform he kept in their office. He reached for something beyond her range of sight, then brought his left hand back with a small plastic cup, a straw tucked inside it.

"Here. Sip this." His right hand never let go her own. Skye allowed him to place the straw in her mouth before sipping the cool water.

"Oh, that's better. My mouth tasted nasty."

"That would be the narcotics," he replied, the hint of a smile on his tired face as he returned the cup to the bedside table.

* * *

"Oh." Skye gave him a bleary-eyed scrutiny, and Holmes read it accurately.

"No, my dear. Watson broke me of that habit some years ago, at my own request, I might add. And I must confess, I find this world of yours stimulating enough that I have no interest in such substances, anyway." He allowed the hint of expression to become a full-fledged smile, and he said, "Dear old Watson, it seems, was equally as determined as dear new Skye. But it does mean I have some experience with nasty tastes in one's mouth."

"How bad?" Skye gestured to her bandaged, aching torso.

"Punctured left lung, lacerated spleen." Holmes drew a deep, pained breath. "Considerable blood loss. The spleen was not so damaged as to require complete removal, fortunately. There is speculation it caught a ricochet; the bits of metal pulled out from that organ definitely did not add up to a complete bullet, as opposed to the one in the lung, which emerged intact. But lung and spleen are repaired now, and you are getting blood." He gestured at the IV bags hanging nearby, where a deep-red fluid dribbled through a tube into her arm. "In fact, one of those is mine. They were low on your blood type." Then he quipped, "And relative to some of the people in this age of yours, it seems I am quite the healthy specimen." He paused, becoming very serious. "Skye, I must apologise…I had to break my oath to you."

* * *

"Wh-what?" Skye wondered, confused.

"I swore to you I would not let go. And I tried, Skye. I even insisted on being in the surgery. They scrubbed and gowned me around you, but I never let go." He squeezed her fingers gently. "I thought perhaps you might be able to feel it in your subconscious. And I considered if I let go, you might, too. I could not have that."

Skye stared at him, shocked at the revelation of what he had done in his effort to ensure she remained alive.

"But they needed more blood for you," Holmes went on. "I volunteered. I had no idea they would need to take me into another room to obtain it. I came back as quickly as I could. And I have not let go since."

"Thank you." Tired, dark-circled blue eyes smiled back at him, more gratefully than he knew.

"I could not have my pupil expire under my tutelage. Especially one that has now saved my life twice." Holmes waved it away.

"Holmes…" Skye began, face falling.

"Yes?"

"Never mind." She sighed, discouraged.

* * *

He gazed down at her. Her expression was easy to interpret, given her level of pain and the medications coursing through her system.

"Never a pupil that is not also a deeply held, trusted friend," he said, his grip on her fingers tightening. "Never. And…there have only and ever been…two."

Drowsy blue eyes shone happily before sliding closed again.

* * *

Morris came by late that evening. He brought Caitlin Hughes' love, and word she would be by soon; and the news that Colonel Jones had set his tactical guard force around the Chamber. He added that Jones himself would not come by to visit, to prevent drawing undue attention to the injured scientist, but sent his greetings, good wishes, and congratulations.

Morris did not tell her there was a clandestine guard around her in the hospital, or that Holmes had requested it. "After all," the detective had said, "I cannot be awake continually, and news of this is certain to get back to our little ring, as soon as Thompson fails to report in." Morris and Jones had agreed, and the matter was arranged.

But Morris was beginning to suspect the ups and downs he'd seen in the relationship between Holmes and Chadwick were due to something more than the occasional clash of demanding, eccentric personalities. He had seen the expression on Holmes' face when he entered the base emergency room alongside a critically-injured Skye, holding tight to her hand: it had been the look of a man whose heart was being ripped from his body. Clad in a wrinkled, loose, blood-soaked shirt, untucked over blood-smeared trousers, Holmes was pale to the lips, and he refused to leave Skye, demanding to be allowed into surgery with her. When the medics attempted to forestall him, he drew himself up to his full height, stared down that aquiline nose, and informed them categorically that he had given Dr. Chadwick his word not to leave her, and had no intention of breaking it. Morris interrupted the argument with an order to have Holmes scrubbed and gowned, and the detective sneaked him a furtive, grateful glance before following the ER staff through the double doors to surgery—still clutching Skye's white, limp hand.

Morris hadn't seen Holmes again until Skye was moved from recovery into a room. And even then, the detective was still holding the scientist's hand. Noting the general's curious glance, Holmes calmly and rationally explained the nature of his promise to Skye, and Morris admitted it made sense. It seemed Holmes also explained it to the medical staff, because they encouraged him in his endeavor, agreeing on its beneficial effect on Skye's subconscious.

But Morris still thought it was interesting.

The general noted, however, the conjoined twin effect had now been broken: Though he remained close and attentive, Holmes was no longer in constant contact with Skye. Morris wondered if it was because Skye was now awake, and the contact might give away more to her than Holmes was willing to admit.

He decided to keep his visit short for Skye's sake, seeing the dark circles under her eyes and the way she kept blinking sleepily. But he was curious when, after they'd been chatting for about five minutes, Skye turned her attention to Holmes and murmured a cryptic, "Nasty taste." Holmes chuckled and reached for the cup of ice water on the table, holding it for her to sip. "Ooo, better," she said after several swallows. "Thanks."

"Nasty taste?" Morris wondered.

"From the pain medications," Holmes explained. "We had that little discussion when Skye first awoke."

"Tastes like I've been drinking straight MMH," Skye made a face.

"Monomethyl hydrazine?" Morris queried in amusement. "Yeah, that'd be nasty, all right."

"An organic compound? What is its use?" Holmes' eyes brightened at the discussion.

"Rocket fuel," Skye explained, groggy but lucid. "Chemical formula CH3N2H3. It's a hypergolic fuel that, when mixed with dinitrogen tetroxide as an oxidizer, instantly reacts and produces a substantial thrust."

"But it's toxic as hell," Morris laughed.

"I see," Holmes said, fascinated. "Chemistry is something I have yet to resume dabbling in, since arriving here. I shall have to see about that, once the investigation is complete."

"When I get outta here, I'll see what we can do, Holmes," Skye offered. "Cait's a chemist by education and training, you know. Not to mention Agent Smith and the various FBI labs."

"Excellent. I shall look forward to it."

"And on that note, I've got to get on home; Julia will be waiting, and she'll want to hear how you're doing. I'll pop by as often as I can, Skye. You behave, and do what you're told for a change so you'll get well," Morris admonished the scientist, who managed a weak snicker. "And you," he jabbed a finger at Holmes, "take good care of this young lady."

"I intend to," Holmes replied very soberly. "Insofar as is in my ability."

"Which is considerable," Morris nodded agreement, and departed.

* * *

Caitlin came by the next morning, bringing a bouquet of flowers. Holmes noted they were lupines, probably greenhouse-grown given the time of year, mixed with Indian paintbrush, and Skye was delighted. With tears in her emerald-green eyes, the project manager hugged her best friend.

"You scared me witless," Caitlin muttered, dashing away moisture in her eyes as she grumbled. "Don't do anything like that again!"

"What, exactly, would you have had me do, Cait?" Skye wondered. "Sit back and let the apparatus get sabotaged? Let Holmes take a bullet in the chest? Tell me what I should have done differently, and next time that's what I'll do."

"How about arranging for a proper vest in advance next time?" Holmes answered for Caitlin.

* * *

"Thank you!" Caitlin exclaimed. "See? Even Mr. Holmes agrees with me!"

"Believe me, guys, nobody regrets that more than me," Skye admitted ruefully. "But I wasn't used to having a vest, and…I just never thought. Stupid oversight. Absent-minded-scientist syndrome strikes again. I'm sure Colonel Jones and Agent Smith never considered I wouldn't have one. Holmes probably didn't know they existed, and by the time it dawned on me I'd be facing down something serious, it was kinda too late, ya know?" She shook her head and gave Holmes an apologetic glance. "I'm not exactly the best investigative assistant in the world, I'm afraid."

"You will do, well enough," Holmes said in a deadpan tone, but both women saw the twinkle in his eyes, which were a light grey, open and cheerful. "I have no plans to replace you anytime soon, in any event."

"She makes herself into a blasted human shield, and then says she's not a good assistant," Caitlin fussed, then rounded on Holmes heatedly. "All I can say is, you better damn well be appreciative, Mr. Holmes. If she gets herself killed because of you, you'll be answering to me, and it won't be pretty."

"Cait!" Skye exclaimed, shocked.

* * *

Holmes met the indignant verdigris eyes of Skye's best friend with single-minded sincerity.

"If Skye should ever die because of me, Dr. Hughes, I can assure you, I will either avenge her speedily, or very shortly find myself answering to a far higher Authority than you. I give you my word as a gentleman on that."

"Okay." That mollified Caitlin, who nodded.

"As for appreciation," he added, glancing at Skye, "I would hope it goes without saying."

Skye gave a little Mona Lisa smile, staring at her hands on the coverlet; she nodded.

"Good," Caitlin remarked vehemently, then completely changed her tune. "Mr. Holmes, do you need a lift up to Skye's place to get a change of clothes?"

"That would be greatly appreciated. When you are ready, come by. I will make myself available at your convenience."

"Okay. How about lunchtime, after church?"

"Perfect."

"Oh, and if you want, Nate or I can pop by to feed the horses and the cat. Just let us know. We got your message and took care of it yesterday and this morning already."

Before Skye could answer, Holmes nodded again. "Thank you. I was pondering how best to handle caring for the animals."

"Consider it done. I'm off," Caitlin reverted to her usual cheery self. "See you guys at noon."

* * *

Holmes refused to discuss the case with Skye until she was strong enough to go home.

"No, my dear, I will not," he reiterated unequivocally, "because there is neither need, as Harris seems to have retreated from the spotlight, and we have no other leads. Nor is there cause to divert your attentions from the more important matter of healing."

So it was nearly a week before Skye could pry anything of substance from Holmes' lips. He spent almost all his time in her room at the base hospital, even sleeping in the recliner by the bed—Skye didn't realize he was standing guard, although Holmes was beginning to wonder if he wouldn't have done so anyway, to watch over her.

But he found his way up Ute Pass each day to the ranch. Most days he caught a ride with Caitlin; sometimes he took a taxi. For the most part, he only stayed long enough to do the chores, bathe and dress in clean clothes before descending into the Springs once more, although on Friday he spent several hours away. Skye assumed he was sleuthing, but she had little time to wonder, as the doctors kept her busy with follow-up examinations. Eventually both of them arrived back in her hospital room.

* * *

The odd missive from Colonel Jones had also found its way to Holmes at the hospital, mostly bland updates on their investigatory progress, and the autopsy report on the dead saboteur, none of which held any earth-shattering information. Not that he had expected it to. Holmes was sufficiently satisfied with the military investigators' abilities to allow this part of the case to remain out of his hands for the time, while he guarded Skye.

"After all," he pointed out to Skye after he returned from his extended absence on Friday, "these gentlemen and ladies are rather more skilled than the Yard chaps of my day."

"So it's good to have competent backup?"

Holmes met her eyes, replying with a world of meaning, "Yes, it certainly is."

Skye's grin turned into a wobbly, pleased smile, and she dropped her gaze to the blanket as a delicate flush covered her face.

He paused, giving her a chance to collect herself, then added, "There are now custom bulletproof vests awaiting us both on the ranch, by the way. Might I remark that your aim was excellent, my dear? The post-mortem found no less than three bullets from your weapon embedded in Thompson's solar plexus, out of the six you fired; his descending aorta was quite lacerated. Two of the remaining three were also found within the corpse, one in the chest, the other in the abdomen. The other two rounds were found within your magazine, unfired. By contrast, his weapon contained ten rounds, all of which were emptied, and only two of which found their target. And that, I suspect, was due largely to your efforts to shield me." He bowed. "Indeed, I should say I have an excellent ‘investigative assistant.'"

Skye blushed deeper, her grin growing wider.

"I do have one question, though, Holmes."

"And what is that?"

"Do we know how Thompson got a weapon onto the base?"

"As a matter of fact, we do. It seems there was a hidden compartment within the driver's seat of his automobile. They found two…I believe the term was, ‘static-proof bags' inside. According to Colonel Jones, using such bags to contain the desired contraband would have prevented even a trained dog from locating any firearms or explosive devices. By the way, it is my understanding they have yet to find the ‘package.' Nothing of that nature was discovered upon the body. Jones is operating on the theory that the package may have been delivered at an earlier time and cached somewhere within the facility. He is performing a detailed search of the Chamber for contraband."

"Oh," Skye said, frowning in thought. Her companion saw it, and decided it was time to divert the conversation to some lighter fare.

* * *

"Now," Holmes rubbed his hands together briskly, "I have a message or two secreted about my person. Nothing is written on paper; rather, each message IS my person. They are nothing especially important, however, so do not feel pressured, my dear, if you do not feel up to it today. But by way of exercise, and to combat ennui, let me see what you can read."

Skye's eyes narrowed, and to Holmes' delight, he saw a canny look enter the sapphire gaze. Her glance traced his form from head to toe.

* * *

On this particular day, Holmes was clad in tan chinos and a scarlet short-sleeved polo shirt, which set off his brunet complexion well. His feet were encased in brown socks and loafers. A leather belt, mate to the loafers, cinched his trim waist. Skye thought he looked quite fit and attractive, and she let her expression say so. But she was focused on details far more obscure than articles of clothing, and her bright azure gaze probed every inch of his body.

* * *

Holmes suddenly felt his breath taken away by that glance. The realization she now knew him well enough to detect the smallest minutiae, the slightest discrepancy not only in his appearance, but in the very shape and posture of his body, shook him deeply and profoundly. He abruptly found himself struggling to maintain his composure.

"What flavor?" Skye pointed to his left trousers pocket with a grin.

"Butterscotch, of course," he chuckled, glad to have the diversion of thought, pulling the small bag of hard candy from his pocket and offering it to her. "I know it is your preferred sweet."

She extracted a piece of candy, unwrapping it and popping it into her mouth to suck while, to Holmes' mild surprise, she continued to scrutinize him.

"Hmm. Holmes, sit down there." Skye pointed at the straight-back visitor's chair, and Holmes sat obediently, aware she was ferreting out something else.

"Put your feet up on the bed," she ordered, and he suppressed a smile.

Oh, very good, my dearest Skye, he thought proudly, completely missing the fact that he had used a very telling endearment, while raising his legs and crossing them at the ankles. Very good indeed.

"Oh, that's great news," she muttered after several seconds inspecting the soles and heels of his shoes. "I'm glad to see you doing that. Not that I minded, of course. But when I'm laid up like this, you can get around without having to depend on someone else. Have you gotten your permit yet?"

"More. I have, this very morning, gotten my licence," he confessed with a chuckle, extracting his wallet and slipping the new drivers' license from it, flipping it onto the bedclothes for her to examine. "With help from General Morris as to preceding paperwork. He—and, I suppose, the powers that be—finally took your injunctions to heart and forced through a birth certificate, social security identification, and a few other matters, on my behalf. I gather an organization known as ‘MI-5' provided significant…overseas assistance. I am now fully ‘legal,'" he said smugly.

"So that's where you were this morning! Do those ‘few other matters' possibly include a concealed carry permit?" Skye wondered, surveying the license before handing it back. "Or is that little bulge at the top of your…um, hip, due to something other than a pistol?"

"They do, and you have deduced it," Holmes nodded, pleased at her skill. "Morris did not like what happened to you as a result of my lack of weaponry. Not only did he expedite the paperwork, he expedited the weapon acquisition. Next time I shall be able to defend myself, instead of getting my dearest companion shot."

It dawned on him just then: Skye had readily recognized the slightly different conformation of his backside as a result of the concealed carry. He struggled to avoid flushing in embarrassment. I suppose turn about is fair play, but when did she…?

"What did you get?" Skye wondered, interrupting his musings.

"I am most used to a revolver, so that is what I obtained."

"What kind?"

"Smith & Wesson, .357 magnum. The same as I shot in the Peterson range."

"Nice choice."

"I thought so. Soon we shall both be duly outfitted for whatever comes our way. Now, I have it to understand from the nurse at the station that they intend to release you tomorrow."

"That's what it sounds like."

"So let us discuss a few matters of logistics. Skye, I am patently no nursemaid. But as I have mentioned in the past, I have learned a few things from Watson over the years, and I am quite prepared to see to as much of your convalescence as I can…if you wish it. I can, for instance, help you get about the house, and prepare some basic, healthy meals. I can also, if…necessary…change the dressings on your wounds. Thanks to Watson, I have also learned to recognise when infection is setting in, and can get you to your doctor, should that occur." He dropped his gaze briefly. "I…cannot help you with more personal matters. While I could draw water for your bath, I expect you would be more comfortable having Dr. Hughes come in and help you in and out of the bath."

* * *

Skye realized Holmes was embarrassed. He was considerately offering to help, but also candidly admitting that said help was limited by his own knowledge and experience. And that experience did not extend to tending private female matters.

Well, he wasn't much known for his enjoyment of feminine companionship to begin with. So it stands to reason. He's come a long way, just living in the same house with me, letting me take care of him, let alone him offering to help take care of me.

"That's okay, Holmes, don't worry about it," she reassured him with a smile. "I'm only allowed to shower for the next few weeks anyway, to prevent infection in the incisions. I'm sure we'll manage fine. You don't have to do anything. I'll just be glad to get home."

"Very well." Holmes nodded. "We will simply see how matters go. Tonight I will prepare your bed; I am certain by the time we arrive home tomorrow, you will be more than ready for it."

"Sounds lovely," she sighed, leaning back into the pillows. "I can't wait."

* * *

The next morning, Holmes brought down a change of clothing for Skye. He had felt uncomfortable, rummaging around in Skye's closet and dresser, but Caitlin had been busy, and assured him Skye would appreciate not coming home in hospital scrubs. So he searched through her closet until he found an old pair of soft, freshly laundered elastic pants in which he had seen Skye perform yoga, and that he thought might be a comfortable fit. But all of her shirts seemed too small: Skye's upper torso was badly swollen from the dual traumas of gunshot and emergency surgery. So he got one of his own t-shirts for her to wear. Then he returned to Skye's bedroom, mustered his composure, and delved through her lingerie, fishing out suitable undergarments. Her athletic shoes and a pair of socks finished the collection.

Slim fingers carefully folded everything, even the undergarments, smoothing over the silken fabric as gently as if it had been the skin of its owner, before tucking all inside Holmes' own duffel bag. He intended to ensure she had everything she needed to recuperate well. Holmes was entirely too aware of how close he had come to losing Skye, and began realizing how important she was to him, every whit as important as Watson—though he was decidedly loath to use the one word that kept popping into his mind in relation to her.

He loaded the bag and a bed pillow into the car and headed down the mountain to the hospital at Peterson. There, he carried the bag into Skye's hospital room. She was up and alert, and a nurse waited with her. Holmes greeted Skye cheerfully, handing the bag to the nurse.

"We are almost ready, Skye. While your nurse helps you dress, I shall bring the car around to meet you."

* * *

He exited the hospital, navigating the Infiniti to the rear entrance to meet the wheelchair, then got out and helped the nurse ease Skye into the passenger seat. It wasn't easy for her; the wounds in her chest and upper belly were obviously still very painful. Holmes looked into the blue eyes to check her condition, and saw a glazed expression, overhung with creased brows—her medication was in full effect, but she was still in pain from the movement. Oh, my poor dear Skye, he thought, hiding a sympathetic wince. Just then, she gave him a rueful glance.

"I know," he murmured. "I will get you home as soon as possible, my dear."

The nurse handed the detective the empty duffel. Holmes leaned into the vehicle, reaching past Skye into the back seat. There, he deposited the bag and produced the pillow.

"Here. Hold this close. The doctor said it would help during the drive."

He placed it against Skye's chest, wrapping it around her injured side before buckling her into the seat belt.

He went around to the driver's side and climbed in, switching on the ignition. Skye hugged the pillow to her chest, and they started off.

* * *

In his office, Colonel Jones picked up the phone.

"Activate the security system full time," he ordered. "I want observers on the audio and video round the clock, 24/7. Notify General Morris to activate backup per plan Bravo and have them standing by. Yes. Five minutes ago."

He hung up, then picked up the phone again.

"Adrian? Yeah, they're headed home. Yeah, a couple nearby for quick response would be good. As close as you can get ‘em without her knowing. You're kidding. They do? Perfect. Yeah, that sounds good." He hung up and leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

"Well, that's as good as we can do for now," he decided.

* * *

The pair arrived at the ranch with no untoward incidents, Skye deciding Holmes was an excellent driver, especially as he took care not to jar her. Holmes parked near the side steps and came around to help Skye out of the car. He took her arm and helped her over to the steps. Skye stepped onto the first stair, then gasped loudly, clutching at her side.

"Oh, wow," she moaned, trying to ease the pain in the incisions. "How can climbing a step hurt my chest and stomach so much?! It isn't anywhere close to my legs!"

"As Watson was fond of remarking, it is all attached, my dear girl. Can you make it?"

"Yeah, if you don't mind my waiting ten minutes in between each step. Be patient and I—"

Without warning, Holmes swept her up in his arms and carried Skye up the remaining few steps, then deposited her back on her feet.

"There," he said quietly, moving in front of her to unlock the door. "The quicker we get you into bed and settled, the better."

It was less than five minutes before Skye sat on the edge of her bed. Permitting no detours, Holmes guided her straight there, turning down the bedclothes for her. From her perch on the bedside, she struggled to lean down and reach her feet to remove her shoes. Pushing too hard, Skye grunted, a distinct note of pain in the sound despite herself. Suddenly Holmes was crouching in front of her. He deftly untied her sneakers and eased them from her feet.

"Now lie down," he instructed.

* * *

Skye obeyed without question, inching herself down onto her good side, lifting her feet onto the bed, then rolling onto her back. The entire process was tentative and slow, but to Holmes' gratification, was unaccompanied by any more vocalizations. She didn't even try to reach for the covers, so Holmes grasped them firmly and tugged them over Skye's exhausted form. She sighed in relief.

"Oh, it feels so good to be in my own bed again," she breathed, closing her eyes.

"I knew it would. I remember how good it always was to come home to Baker Street after a case took me away."

Cerulean eyes opened, looking up at him with pain Holmes suddenly realized was not physical.

"I'm so sorry, Holmes," she whispered, glancing away, tears filling her eyes. She blinked hard, and one tear spilled over.

Holmes' heart wrenched. She misunderstood, he thought, pained. Immediately he sat on the bedside, remembering how she had offered comfort after he had received his immunizations.

"No, no, Skye," he soothed, brushing away the tear with his fingertips. "There is no need for this, my dear. I was merely drawing an analogy. In truth, this ranch is my home now. And, as I have spent many recent nights in the chair by your hospital bed—‘recliner' though it may have been—I, too, will be glad to sleep in my own bed tonight."

"Are…are you sure?"

"Positive."

"That makes me think. Why did you spend every night at the hospital? I would have thought…I mean, with your reserve…"

"Were you offended?" Grey eyes met blue, watching cautiously.

"No. It was kind of nice to know I was being looked after. I felt…" she shrugged, "safe."

"Good."

"But why?"

Holmes thought fast. He HAD been looking after her—standing guard. But when he requested the undercover guard detail from Jones to aid in that endeavor, he had conferred with that worthy as well as General Morris and Skye's surgeon, who was a colleague of Dr. Wellingford. The surgeon had been concerned lest undue stress be placed on his patient, fearing her healing would be slowed if she were aware of the potential danger. So they decided not to tell Skye of their concerns until several weeks had elapsed, and she was stronger.

But Holmes was unwilling to suggest as a cover that the reason had been personal, concerned Skye might surmise the nature of the debate raging within. For he had realized she had become dear to him, dearer than he would ever have dreamed possible. In truth, the part of him that held her dear had found it very agreeable to remain by her side. But that was anathema to his thought processes and his principles. So his heart and his mind—the artist and the detective—were at war, and until the conflict could be resolved, the subject was verboten.

"Principally, Skye, it was as your friend Dr. Hughes said last Sunday," Holmes dissembled only slightly. "You were willing to offer your life in defence of mine." His voice shook and he steadied it quickly, continuing without pause, "I could hardly ignore the bonds of friendship, especially in such a circumstance. I swore I would not leave you, and I have abided by that oath to the best of my ability."

* * *

"Aw," Skye murmured, touched. She had caught the tremor in his voice and it moved her deeply to know the man she loved had been disturbed by the prospect of losing her. She did not believe it arose out of love, not romantic love anyway, but to know she was important in his life was comforting. She had decided in the hospital that, if he wanted her beside him in any capacity, she would do her best by him. Better to have his friendship than not to have him at all, she determined.

* * *

But before she could formulate a coherent reply, Holmes patted her shoulder.

"Now you, my dear, are in need of rest. Enough of such worries for the time. Close your eyes—there's a girl—and sleep. I shall be in later with your medications."

Skye let out a long, contented sigh, and Holmes watched for a moment, as she seemed to melt into the bed. Then he rose from the bedside and left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.

* * *

The rest of the day went well, and for that first day, there was no question—Holmes brought Skye her meals in bed. She was still very tired and in a fair amount of pain, and he couldn't bring himself to force her out of bed merely to come to the kitchen and eat, when it was so easy to bring a tray to the bedroom. Bathroom breaks proved a bit problematic, but Skye assured him that if he would only help her into and out of the bed, she'd manage the rest on her own.

"Because the incision where they dug the bullet out of my spleen hurts like bloody blue blazes, especially when I try to sit up in bed. Not to mention I look like a blimp, so it's harder than usual to begin with."

"It would stand to reason, in both cases. Your body took considerable abuse, Skye."

"I know. I'm just impatient."

The rest of the day went well. Skye watched the small television on the corner of the dresser, but only made one attempt to read: Her pain medications rendered it difficult to focus. Holmes did the chores, and after dinner, when he brought her pain medications, he also proceeded to tuck her in for the night, metaphorically at least. With a comfortable sigh, Skye settled down. Holmes turned off the bedside lamp, closing the door behind him as he left, and in less than a half-hour, Skye was soundly asleep.

* * *

The next morning, Sunday or not, the physical therapist showed up. Skye's lung had collapsed as a result of the gunshot penetration and had to be reinflated, and her doctors were concerned it could collapse again, so they had prescribed deep-breathing exercises to strengthen her lungs and the surrounding muscles.

"Hi there, I'm Martha Carpenter, and I'm going to be your nurse and physiotherapist, dear," the plump, motherly woman remarked; she vaguely reminded Holmes of Mrs. Hudson. "Call me Martha."

"Okay, Martha. I'm Skye. Oh joy, I'm so looking forward to PT," Skye tried not to groan, struggling to sit up in bed. Holmes helped her shift into position before piling all four of the bed pillows behind Skye's back, helping her to sit comfortably.

"Now, now, Skye, this won't be quite as bad as you think. We're going to use an exercise machine to help us." Martha dug in her therapy kit for a tube-and-bottle apparatus. "This is a blow-bottle, Skye," she handed the device to the scientist. "I'm going to teach you how to use it, and I want you to use it every day, to do the exercises I'll show you. Are you her boyfriend?" she asked Holmes.

"Um, no," a blushing Skye answered before a mildly taken-aback Holmes could. "Mr. Holmes is one of my two best friends, and he…rents…my spare bedroom."

"Oh, okay, so this is Mr. Holmes," Martha nodded knowledgeably. "Is he your principal caregiver, then?"

"Yes. I will have assistance from Skye's…other best friend," a warm glow filled the detective, "a woman by the name of Dr. Caitlin Hughes."

"Good. I'll teach you how to take care of this little device, then, when we're done," Martha observed. "It's important to clean it, preferably after every use, to avoid infection. Skye's at risk for that, given the lung puncture, and pneumonia at this stage would be bad."

"Oh, I can do that. Holmes doesn't have to clean up after—"

"Now you be hushed," Martha scolded. "If he doesn't want to, he can say so himself." She glanced at Holmes.

Holmes manufactured an innocent, unassuming expression and put it on, looking back at Martha calmly but silently.

"See there?" Martha commented to Skye. "Now you just do what I tell you, and keep up with your exercises, and let the rest of us take care of you."

"For a change," Holmes interjected. Martha grinned.

"You'll be well in no time. Are you in much pain?"

"I'm fine," Skye muttered sheepishly.

"She finds it difficult to rise from a prone position," Holmes observed, seeing Skye wasn't admitting to it, "and cannot yet bend over—to reach her shoes, for instance."

"Yeah, but everything's all swollen," Skye protested.

"You said yesterday it hurt, Skye," Holmes reprimanded.

"And I need to know," Martha nodded approval at Holmes, "so I don't start you off with something too hard, or that's going to hurt too much. I want you to do these exercises, not quit because you're in pain."

"Okay," Skye sighed, defeated. "What he said, then. The spleen incision seems to aggravate the worst. But there's also a lot of chest soreness. I sneezed this morning when I woke up and thought I was gonna die."

"You didn't tell me that." Holmes grimaced.

"By the time I could get my breath to call you, it was all over." Skye shrugged.

"All right," Martha decided, "let's get started…"

* * *

When Martha was done with Skye, the scientist was exhausted and sore.

"Who knew breathing could be such hard work?" she muttered to Holmes. "I feel like I've run a marathon."

"I'm not surprised," Martha remarked. "You're in very good shape, dear, but unless you actually do things like marathon running, your lungs aren't as strong as you think. When I'm done working with you, you'll have a good, efficient respiratory system. Now, Mr. Holmes, let me teach you how to handle this thing, and I'll be off…" She picked up the blow-bottle and led Holmes into the bathroom to show him its proper care.

* * *

As Martha left, Caitlin arrived.

"How's my sis?" the full-figured redhead asked brightly, coming into the bedroom. She took one look at Skye and stopped dead. "Wow. You look like shit."

"Gee, thanks," Skye muttered sarcastically, shooting Caitlin—and Holmes, who stood behind her—a rueful half-grin. "I won't editorialize on what you looked like when you had pneumonia."

"She has just completed physical therapy," Holmes explained.

"Ew," Caitlin decided. "So would a hot shower make you feel better?"

"A hot shower would feel like heaven," Skye enthused. "Can I hope you're here to help me do that?"

"You betcha," Caitlin beamed. "Mr. Holmes, if you would excuse us?"

"Of course," Holmes murmured, retreating. "I will remain within earshot should I be required."

"Excellent," Caitlin said, satisfied. "C'mon, Skye, let's get you into the bathroom."

* * *

The hot shower helped, as did the luncheon Caitlin prepared with Holmes' assistance. Then Caitlin did some laundry for them, and when that was done, she hugged Skye gingerly and prepared to head home.

"I'll pop in every day after work for the next few days, until you two get settled into a routine. By that time, you probably won't need my help with the shower, Skye. Chin up, girl, you're gonna get better faster than you think."

"I hope so," Skye fussed fretfully. "I hate feeling so helpless, and like I'm a burden on people."

"You're no burden. Besides, I owe you, hon. And I suspect Mr. Holmes feels the same way."

"It is certainly true Skye has my gratitude for all she has done on my behalf," Holmes agreed.

"See? So just relax," Caitlin soothed. "Oh, I also took the opportunity to make a list of what groceries you needed. I'll pick those up before I come over tomorrow, and bring ‘em by."

"Cait, you're a jewel," Skye smiled.

"Well, I have to get groceries for home anyway, and I'd rather you had someone with you all the time, at least for the next few days." Cait shot a surreptitious glance at Holmes, and he realized she must have some idea of what was taking place behind the scenes. "This way, Mr. Holmes can stay here with you, and I can get your stuff when I shop for my own. So it's not an issue."

* * *

Caitlin was as good as her word. She kept a close eye on the pair, assisting whenever needed, often arriving on the heels of Martha the physical therapist. Martha and Caitlin soon considered themselves a tag-team in Skye's recuperation, partnering with Holmes in the overall endeavor.

Holmes found himself thrown into even closer quarters with Skye as he cared for her, and this created significant turbulence within his being. The great intellect was still secretly at war with the artistic soul, the soul possessed of the heart of a romantic. More and more he found himself wanting to be near her, to be with her; she invaded his dreams at night, and even when he was reviewing the latest missive from Colonel Jones, Skye was never far from his thoughts.

This circumstance irritated him almost to the point of disgust. It simply would not do, this infatuation he seemed to have for his liaison. Holmes was above it; he had, years ago, deliberately chosen to forswear the softer emotions—save the friendship he had developed with Watson, and then only after meeting the man and getting to know him. So, too, had he permitted a friendship with Skye, finding her equally worthy of that sole relaxing of his standards. He had developed his compassion over the years, realizing it was hardly becoming of one dedicated to upholding moral truth and justice to be as cold and merciless as those he purported to abjure. These were softer responses he permitted.

But love was utterly out of the question. He had observed the tendency in most of the population to be reduced to insipid, cloying comportment and positively asinine reasoning by the onset of this single emotion. Holmes flatly refused to be one of the masses in this respect. He would not submit to allowing such behavior, such attitudes, within himself.

But he made the mistake of allowing that rejection of the softer sentiments to come through in his behavior several days after Skye returned home. He let his care of her become matter-of-fact and offhand, then watched in consternation as her eyes widened and she retreated mentally and emotionally. This resulted in a near-catastrophe later that day; finished with the afternoon tea he had brought her, she attempted to return the tray to the kitchen by herself. But the chest muscles on her left side had been partially cut, both in order to extract the bullet and to reinflate the collapsed lung; they weren't yet strong enough to support the weight of the tray and its contents.

So a tremendous crash in the hallway startled Holmes from his study of one of Skye's forensics texts. Sprinting into the hall, he found Skye leaning against the wall clutching her left breast, the remains of her tea tray about her feet. She looked up at him with pain-filled eyes.

"Skye!" he exclaimed in exasperation. "What the devil are you doing?"

"Taking my tray back to the kitchen."

"And why did you not call me to take it for you? You aren't strong enough to lift that." Leaving the tray and its contents where it lay, Holmes herded Skye back to the bedroom.

"I didn't want to bother you." Skye tucked her head, ashamed.

"Why would you think it would bother me?"

"I'm not stupid, Holmes. You've been short with me all day." Skye looked at him reproachfully.

Holmes stopped dead. Damnation, he thought in consternation. I'd no idea she knew me that well. She knows I am perturbed about something, and she knows it has to do with her. And it hurts her. I must find a way to resolve this…this emotional impasse, and soon, else either I shall lose my closest associate, or she will deduce the nature of the problem. And neither alternative is acceptable.

"Forgive me, Skye," he offered. "I had no intention of being brusque with you. My mind has been on…" He cast about in his head for some suitable source of distraction.

"Oh," Skye said in relief, crawling back into bed. "Is it the case, then?"

"Yes," Holmes jumped on the proffered subject. "Perhaps we might discuss it later."

"Okay. But Holmes, are you sure you're not just sick and tired of having to tend a full-grown baby?"

Holmes drew a deep breath, admitting honestly, "I am no nursemaid, Skye. My temperament is ill-suited to the task. Nevertheless, as I believe I have mentioned, I have had occasion to tend Watson in the past, with Mrs. Hudson's capable help, of course. And now I have Dr. Hughes and the good Martha to assist. It is a matter of friendship, Skye."

"But I don't want you to feel obligated."

"I do not. A full-time nurse was offered while you were still in hospital, but I strongly suspect we would both be more comfortable without such disruption to our home life."

"Well, that's true. And there's nowhere for her to sleep, anyway. Unless she's willing to camp out on the couch in the den."

"Indeed. Now, let me go and tidy up the tray lying in the hallway," he noted, allowing his eyes to crinkle at her, "and then I shall return and discuss the case with my investigative assistant."

Skye giggled, and Holmes went off to clear away the mess.

* * *

"…So no one's seen hide nor hair of Harris since the sabotage attempt?" Skye verified, propped upright in the bed by a stack of pillows.

"Since before," Holmes averred, slouched in the armchair in the corner, his long legs sprawled out in front of him. He had considered sitting on the bedside, but given his internal debate, vetoed the notion. "I suppose that is hardly surprising. His intent was to flee as soon as the deed was done. It is a reasonable hypothesis to assume he decided to flee beforehand, to provide himself with an alibi during the attempt. It would be rank foolishness to believe he actually went to visit family, as he told us."

"Agreed. It's interesting, though. I wonder where and when he'll turn up. Do you think he'll have the guts to come back to the base?"

"That remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt whether he would have the temerity. He did, after all, contravene ‘Sauron's' orders by failing to assist Thompson."

"So what about this military police thing? One of ‘em is in trouble, you said?"

"I did. Surveillance records on the airlock access to the Chamber indicate a military police officer breached the crime scene tape and performed a walk-through of the facility." Holmes shook his head. "Hopefully he did not inadvertently tamper with the evidence. I recommended to Jones that he be watched closely. He may have been an accessory, in which case he may know the whereabouts of the sabotage package. We stopped one attempt. That does not argue there will not be another."

"Ooo, good point. So what else is up?"

"Mm, let me think," Holmes pondered, searching his memory for items he could tell her without revealing her own potential danger. "Oh, an inventory of Thompson's personal effects turned up one rather interesting detail. It seems Thompson was wearing something called a ‘datastick' on a lanyard about his neck. It was hidden inside his shirt, and Jones and Smith suspect this was one of his hacking tools, containing appropriate programs."

"Oh, that's interesting. What-all did it have on it?"

"Unfortunately, that cannot be determined," Holmes observed, permitting a wry twinkle in his eyes.

"Why not?" Skye asked, puzzled.

"Because the lanyard was of such length as to hide the datastick in the region of the solar plexus, and because my investigative assistant is such a good shot. Between the copious quantities of blood, and the fact the thing took one of your bullets directly, it is mostly in pieces, I have it to understand."

"Oh," Skye said, face falling. "Um…should I say I'm sorry?"

"Of course not. You had no way of knowing, and having been in one or two altercations with a revolver myself, I had much rather you ended his destruction than allow it to go on, merely for the sake of acquiring one additional piece of evidence."

"Okay. Thanks."

* * *

Another dismissive wave of a long thin hand was her reward.

"Rest for now, my dear. I shall bring your supper in due course. By the way, your show of strength earlier was impressive."

"What do you mean?"

"You carried the tray most of the way down the passage before your grip gave out. As I did not hear the sounds of running feet, I assume you were walking at a normal pace."

"Yeah. I felt sore, but I was doing okay. Then, when the muscles started getting really tired, a sharp pain ran through my chest, and I dropped the tray."

* * *

"Do we need to ensure you have not torn the stitching?" Holmes queried, raising an eyebrow in concern. He felt the flush as the high cheekbones turned a dusky red, for he knew checking that particular wound meant exposing her breast, but if the matter needed tending, it was best to know, and know quickly. He could always call Dr. Wellingford if necessary.

"Um, no, it's okay. I, um, I went into the bathroom while you were cleaning up the tray and checked everything." Skye blushed, also understanding.

"Did you check beneath the bandage?"

"Yeah, I peeled it loose, checked, then stuck everything back. Had to add some more adhesive tape, but nothing's bleeding, and no sign of additional bruising. I look like a rainbow already, though."

"Mm. Well, lie down and rest. You have enough time for a short nap before supper."

"Okay," Skye agreed, pulling the pillows from behind her back and settling in.

* * *

That night, upon preparing for bed, Holmes smoked no less than two pipes before retiring. It was a pretty little problem of its own, this reaction he had to Skye. She was an attractive woman in many ways, and Holmes was well aware he had an artist's sensibility for beauty. He was also aware beauty was not merely in the outward appearance: Skye had all the qualities Holmes admired, regardless of gender. She was thoughtful and imaginative, with a strong moral fibre tempering the lot; possessed of a keen intellect, quick-witted, sharp-eyed, determined to the point of stubbornness, and as she had proven, loyal to the death. She was also possessed of a sensitive, caring nature.

I once told her I doubted she could harm another with impunity, he recalled. And now she has killed a man. I wonder if there will be repercussions. He put that thought aside for later, determining to watch for any signs that might cause concern.

So the detective was quite knowledgeable of the fact she held strong appeal for him. Moreover, he knew his sentiments were unusually deeply attached in this instance.

But Holmes had serious doubts what he felt for her could be construed as love, excepting possibly that congenial affection found between bosom friends. No, in all likelihood, it is merely the strong affection found between comrades in arms, those who have done battle side-by-side, complicated by the fact we are of opposing genders. After all, I have every reason to feel strong gratitude to her. She has now saved my life twice; she has supervised my transition to this new spacetime continuum, seeing me ensconced in a new life; and has even opened her home to me. Indeed, and well you should feel gratitude, Sherlock. Else you should be thoroughly put to shame. She has a large heart, has my dear Skye, and on several occasions has bared it to me rather despite her wont, I suspect, in order to aid me in understanding this world of hers the better.

He shook his head. No, it is not love, not as the poets term it. I need not concern myself with it further. Undoubtedly it is a response which will fade in time, and likely was brought on by the emotional reaction of seeing my closest friend—in this world—at death's door. It will be best put from my mind, and allowed to wither.

That determined, Holmes tapped the dottle from his pipe and crawled into bed.

But he found it most annoying when a reproachful Skye haunted his dreams, looking at him with a sad, cerulean gaze.

 

 

Chapter 2—Artistic Pursuits

After the first week, Skye grew stronger faster. The stalwart Martha arrived every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and refused to allow Skye to come down to Colorado Springs when asked. She soon declared Skye's progress excellent, and added lightweight chest exercises to the breathing exercises. She monitored Skye's diet, advising Holmes on her food, to help her improve. By this time, Skye was up and about herself, assisting in the kitchen, though Holmes rose before she did and had breakfast ready when she woke.

Caitlin, too, continued dropping by to help out. Sometimes Nate came with her; then Holmes would go outside and the two men would work around the barn, mow the lawn, trim the shrubs, or any of the thousand-and-one outdoor activities a ranch required. They talked little, but Holmes was glad of the male camaraderie, knowing inside the house, Caitlin and Skye were happily ensconced in what Holmes privately—and affectionately—thought of as "female frippery." It was good for everyone, he decided.

Skye continued to improve, her color returning along with her strength. The day Dr. Wellington came up the pass to remove Skye's stitches, Holmes worried she might hurt herself all over again celebrating, but she handled it without incident. It would still be several weeks, even months, before she was fully recovered, but everyone was pleased with her progress. And Holmes was learning to ignore the flutters and yearnings manifesting in his chest whenever Skye was about, as well as the rather stimulating dreams occurring with disturbing regularity.

* * *

But one thing he could not ignore was the absence of information from Schriever. It had long since been decided that he and Skye should remain secluded on the ranch—she as a potential target, and he as her staunch bodyguard. He knew neither Jones nor Smith was ignoring their situation; one of the principal reasons Holmes made a point of rising before Skye was to call Jones each morning and check in without her knowledge. The officer, he found, was as frustrated as Holmes: There was nothing reported because there was nothing to tell. It was as if Harris, and the rest of the espionage ring, had dropped off the face of the earth.

Part of Holmes, a very small part, hoped it was an indication the ring had been thwarted and given up. But he knew it was foolish to even consider such a thing, and it made no difference: The ring must be broken up and apprehended. No, his concern was growing into misgivings regarding his allies' ability to prosecute the case.

Until the case lurched into life once again, taking a distinctly troubling turn.

* * *

The fax machine in Skye's office let out a loud beep. Skye was busy with Martha, so Holmes went to see what had arrived. He picked up the single page and read.

Tu Jul 8 10:38am MDT

H/C:

Stay on guard. Recent events disturbing. Contact made with several specific medical personnel on case: Generic queries regarding patients with specific injuries, queries originating ostensibly by insurance company. Insurance company denies making inquiries. No names mentioned; presumed not yet known, but uncertain at this time.

In addition, one shooting off-base. A female MP, approximately 5'8" in height, with long straight blonde hair, shot in parking lot of a shopping mall in Colorado Springs last night. Condition serious, but not life-threatening. Cause of attack unknown. Strongly suspect a case of mistaken identity.

Will stay abreast of situation and send immediate notification if further information obtained.

Assume they are searching for C., and take all possible precautions.

-H.J.

Holmes paled, but otherwise showed no reaction. He had half-expected this, but hoped it would take longer to occur. There was, in the end, only so much planning he could do. The ranch had no security system of which he was aware and he could not stand guard over it all himself. And as Skye was still recovering from her injuries, she couldn't be told of the danger. Holmes took the fax and stashed it in his bedroom, in the sock drawer of his dresser, out of sight.

Perhaps it is time to activate that contingency General Morris and I discussed. But I need more information.

When he returned to the den, Skye asked, "What was on the fax?"

"Nothing of importance," Holmes lied smoothly. "Merely…what do you call it? Junk mail?"

"Aw, shit. They got my fax number again. I hate that."

"Indeed," Holmes said, ignoring the speculative glance Martha gave him. "I threw it away."

"Good. I'll have to make sure it's on the do-not-call list…again. They keep dropping that number for some reason."

"That sounds like an excellent idea."

"All right, Skye, back to work," Martha ordered, and Skye resumed her breathing exercises.

Holmes sauntered out of the room, but he was restless the rest of the day, and seemed uncharacteristically absent-minded to Skye.

* * *

Holmes was extremely troubled that night. He helped Skye to bed, seeing her asleep before he could even put the room to rights and slip out; for him, sleep was far slower in its approach. He retreated to his bedroom, where his first order of business was to load his revolver, placing it within easy reach—though hidden—by the bed. Then he turned out the light and put on his pyjama pants and dressing gown. He shoved his feet into his slippers, all the while debating the wisdom of disrobing, of even pretending to take rest…and reached for his pipe.

He paced in the dusky room, deep in thought; smoking the pipe, keeping the bedroom window cracked for ventilation purposes against the fragrant but thick tobacco smoke.

"Damn it all, the data are still insufficient," he grumbled on the third pipe. "I do not even know if they know where we live, although if they do not, they will soon. But I can do no more without information. There is no help for it. I may as well retire for the night, for I can do no good by wearing myself out before I know if there truly is cause for concern."

Holmes tapped the remains of his tobacco into the ashtray nearby; removed his dressing gown and hung it on the bedpost. Easing his feet from his slippers, he swung his long legs under the covers and settled down. Even then, however, sleep did not come.

He lay for a long time, wary, listening to the soft noises inside and outside the house. In the distance, borne on the faint breeze, a coyote howled plaintively; farther away, another answered. Had he not been so tense, Holmes would have enjoyed the serenade with the same appreciation he showed to any soprano's aria. But he WAS tense, extremely so, and thus the beautiful, eerie sounds evoked disquiet rather than peace. His mind dwelt on a single problem.

The crux of that problem: Skye was still too weak to do much at all, let alone anything of a highly physical nature. Oh, the pain had ceased, although the wounds were tender. It was, after all, three weeks since the incident, two since she had arrived home. But she had lost a lot of blood, had two internal organs damaged, and could have easily died if medical help had not been forthcoming. Despite himself, the thought sent a shudder through Holmes' frame.

It stood to reason it would be awhile before she fully recovered—her body had experienced too much trauma to heal any faster, no matter what her caregivers did. She was still undergoing physical therapy to rehabilitate the punctured lung; that was one process, in particular, which could not be rushed. And therein lay Holmes' concern: if retaliation was in the air, Skye was in no condition to defend herself.

Had she been male, had she been Watson, Holmes' path would have been straightforward and clear. He would have stayed with her all night, never leaving her side, revolver in his pocket, ready for anything. He had done precisely this in the base hospital, where there was no question of propriety because of the medical staff coming and going. And if Skye had been a man, Holmes would be doing it even now.

But Skye…is patently not male. In this moment of crisis, Holmes realized the truth he had struggled to deny for days: He secretly relished her womanhood. And part of his mind pondered whether he might proceed straightforwardly anyway.

But Holmes' habit of eschewing the gentler emotions was powerful. And his Victorian sensibilities, though more relaxed than upon his arrival in this continuum, were still not in complete abeyance. So while he chafed at not having her near, or at least as near as part of him wished, he could not rationally justify any other plan than the one he currently executed.

At last, when the clock by his bedside read 2:04 AM, Holmes drifted into a light sleep.

* * *

They were dancing again. Holmes pulled Skye against his chest, remembering it was the accepted custom now, and closed his eyes with a sigh as she laid her head on his shoulder. Contentment swept through him, and he knew he could have stayed like this forever.

A gunshot rang out, and he jumped, startled. He opened his eyes with dread, already knowing what he would see: Moriarty leapt from the Reichenbach ledge in the distance, pistol in hand. Skye's bleeding body lay in his arms, pierced by Moriarty's bullet, the bullet intended for him, her life ebbing away as he sought to staunch the blood with his shirt.

"No, Skye," he whispered, desperate. "Please. Do not let go. My dearest Skye, don't let go."

Her head still rested on his shoulder, satiny cheek pillowed on his bare skin, and she smiled.

"I won't. But you have to give me something. An anchor to hold on to."

"Whatever you need, Skye. To my own life's blood. Tell me what you need."

"This," she said. And somehow her hand was inside his chest; he felt her tender fingertips stroke his living, beating heart. "My anchor. And I'll be yours."

"You have it, then. Your anchour. And mine."

She smiled once more. Her soft lips nuzzled his naked shoulder, trailing delicious fire across his chest, igniting his very being.

Holmes gasped as he gazed down at her nude, perfect body, no longer bleeding and broken. Skye smiled up at him, a beautiful, ethereal expression of pure joy as she pulled his unclad form into her arms. Their lips met even as their bodies met, and Holmes was lost in a sea of warm bliss…

* * *

The terrified scream woke Holmes from sleep, bringing him bolt upright in the bed, heart pounding. Skye!

Flinging back the covers, he snatched the hidden revolver and sprinted for the door, sparing thought for neither dressing gown nor slippers.

Running across the hall, he burst through the door of Skye's bedroom, his weapon already raised to fire at intruders, only to find her sitting up in bed, alone in a swath of moonlight, blue eyes wide and dilated, trembling badly. Sharp grey eyes scanned the room like a hawk, detecting no sign of another presence. Ascertaining that danger did not appear to be immediate, he unceremoniously shoved the revolver into the waistband of his pyjamas, turned to the bed, and caught her by the shoulders.

"Are you hurt, Skye? For God's sake, tell me all is well!" he urged, staring down into the frightened blue gaze with wide grey eyes.

"Nuh-no. S-sorry. It was…it was the nightmare again."

"Nightmare?" he whispered, lost in twin sapphire pools filled with moonlight. "Your parents?"

"Yeah."

"Thank God." Holmes drew a deep, relieved breath, calming himself. Repercussions. The reaction to killing Thompson is arriving. I did not think it would be without consequences.

He eased the revolver from its uncomfortable perch in the waistband of his pyjama pants, where its weight threatened to overpower the elastic, either tumbling out—not a good thing—or sliding completely inside—also not a good thing.

"Deuced uncomfortable, that," he muttered in annoyance, rubbing the indent the cold metal had left in his skin as he laid the weapon on the nightstand, pointing away from the couple. He sat on the edge of the bed and took another deep, shaky breath.

"I don't think they make pyjama holsters." Skye giggled, a faint note of hysteria in her laughter that disturbed Holmes.

"No."

Suddenly Skye came apart at the seams, catching Holmes completely off-guard. With a keening wail she flung herself into his arms, burying her face in his shoulder, and Holmes found she was shaking so violently he could scarcely hold her. In seconds, hot liquid dripped onto the bare skin of his shoulder, trickling down his torso, as she burst into tears.

Holmes blinked in consternation, silently cursing himself and the entire situation. This was bad; by now he had known her long enough to realize: Skye did not cry. She was far stronger than that, and far more reserved. And on the extremely rare occasions when she did, it was in private, never in front of him, or anyone. But she was also far from stupid; she had recognized the significance of his bursting into her room armed and ready. She knew it meant danger, and the likelihood of an attack. The shock of that new information, coupled with the nightmare and her weakened physical—and emotional—state, meant Skye didn't have her normal reserves of strength to deal with the powerful emotions holding her in thrall.

Pained by her extreme emotional response and wanting badly to lend her of his own strength, Holmes held her close, instinctively rocking as if she were a child and murmuring soothingly.

"Hush, hush, my dear Skye. Everything is fine. You are safe, I am safe, and I fully intend matters will remain so. Hush."

Instead, Skye pressed closer, and he felt her shoulders heave rhythmically as she began hyperventilating. Several wailing sobs convulsed from her throat.

Damnation. She is becoming hysterical. Her lungs alone…I do not wish to strike her, but I must cut this off, and quickly.

"Stop," he demanded, giving her a light shake. "Stop that right now, Skye." He deliberately forced a hint of anger, which he did not truly feel, into his tone.

Skye froze for a split second, to Holmes' satisfaction; his ruse had worked. Then she hiccuped against his shoulder.

"Deep breath," he ordered softly, and she obeyed, drawing in a long, shuddering breath and letting it out shakily. "Another," he commanded, and again she obeyed, more steadily this time. "A third," he said, and she did. She sighed, and he felt her relax against him.

He was just about to release her and see about tucking her back in, when an unexpected—though not undreamed-of—sensation reached his consciousness. A soft, moist circle of flesh pressed against his bare shoulder, leaving behind a damp print and a powerful impression of intense, grateful affection.

Holmes' breath stopped, and very nearly declined to resume, so great was the impact of that small kiss upon his unclad skin. Something inside, something he didn't even know he possessed, ignited. Without any conscious order from his brain, his arms tightened about her, refusing to let go. When his lungs decided to continue function, they worked to make up for lost time, and he found himself breathing rapidly, almost raggedly, while a hot flush stole across his body.

* * *

Skye, sensing the change in him, raised her head to look at him in concern.

"Holmes?" she whispered, confused, meeting the dilated grey eyes. "Are you okay?"

A soft growl rumbled somewhere down in his throat, and abruptly she found herself being kissed with an intensity that set her heart pounding and her mind reeling. The Victorian reserve had broken with a vengeance, and the passionate, artistic nature that lay beneath, only occasionally revealed by whim or need, erupted forth. Holmes kissed her hard, crushing her body beneath his own as he leaned her back into the mattress.

Skye gasped, unsure what to think. Had the tactile sensations been less pronounced, she would have thought she was in a dream, and welcomed it. But this was no dream. Holmes, the man she adored from afar, the reserved deductive intellect, was kissing her with abandon, the body pressing hers into the bed manifesting the evidence of his desire.

Dear Lord, I've wanted this for so long. But now that I've got it, what the hell do I do about it?! I mean, this is HOLMES!

 

 

The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed Copyright © 2011. Stephanie Osborn. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

bar

 

Author Bio

Stephanie Osborn is a former payload flight controller, a veteran of over twenty years of working in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs. She has worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Of those astronauts she trained, one was Kalpana Chawla, a member of the crew lost in the Columbia disaster.

She holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and she is "fluent" in several more, including Geology and Anatomy. She obtained her various degrees from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Stephanie is currently retired from space work. She now happily "passes it forward," teaching math and science via numerous media including radio, podcasting, and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, while writing science fiction mysteries based on her knowledge, experience, and travels.

TTB title: Burnout: the mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281
Extraction Point! with Travis 'Doc' Taylor

Cresperian series
The Y Factor with Darrell Bain. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance with Darrell Bain. Book 3 Cresperian series.

Displaced Detective series
The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus
The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival
The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed
The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident
The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings

Author web site.

 

###

 

To order this book:

Format: ePub, PDF, Mobi/Kindle compatible
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; eReader; Fictionwise; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit; Sony eBookstore
List Price: $6.50 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
Order this book via check or credit card
List Price: $19.95 USD

 

  Author News

Upcoming Appearances

Keep up with Stephanie on Sector Five Radio, where she is the Science and Technology Consultant "Extraordinaire"! Saturday nights at 7PM CST on KTKK 630AM in Salt Lake City!

 

Science Fiction Conventions

AnachroCon, Atlanta GA. February 22-24, 2013

MidSouthCon, Memphis TN. March 22-24, 2013

Alabama Phoenix Festival, Birmingham, AL. May 24-26, 2013

221b Con, Atlanta GA. April 13-14, 2013

LibertyCon 26, Chattanooga, TN. July 28-30, 2013

Archon, St. Louis MO. October 4-6, 2013

Con*Stellation 31, Huntsville, AL. October 11-13, 2013

 

  Reviews
 



 

 

bar

 

Back to Twilight Times Books main page 

 

 

bar

 

  A special note to TTB readers. All contents of this web site are copyright by the writers, artists or web site designer. If you discover any artwork or writing published here elsewhere on the internet, or in print magazines, please let us know immediately. The staff of Twilight Times Books feels very strongly about protecting the copyrighted work of our authors and artists.

 

Web site Copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2013. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved.

Cover art by Darrell Osborn. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 06-25-11.

Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.

 

windy