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The Luna Legacy: Torcal Trilogy, #3

The Luna Legacy: Torcal Trilogy, #3

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The Luna Legacy: Torcal Trilogy, #3

Length:
678 pages
9 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 19, 2019
ISBN:
9781386582175
Format:
Book

Description

The Luna Legacy is the third historical thriller in The Torcal Trilogy. It follows the award-winning The Grotto's Secret and The Sacred Symbol. Each book is a stand alone story, but you may enjoy reading the series.

In 1492, masquerading as Cristóbal Colon's trusted envoy, Ana-María de Carbonela is in a dangerous predicament. Living as a man and pregnant with Christopher Columbus's child, she is given a secret mission by Queen Isabella to find and protect an ancient secret. But Ana-Maria is not alone in searching for this secret. Will she be able to stand up to the might of the leaders of Aragón and their powerful hidden agents? Or will this ancient secret fall into dangerous hands?

In the present day, Nina Monterossa races across Europe to help Skye Coventina find out the truth about her father's strange death, linked to the mysterious birthmark Nina and Skye's father share. After discovering she is the last Luna, Nina is hunted from rural Spain to Cork and across Egypt by a man who will do anything to get his hands on an ancient and powerful Luna relic. Can she save the world's heritage - The Luna Legacy?

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 19, 2019
ISBN:
9781386582175
Format:
Book

About the author


Book Preview

The Luna Legacy - Paula Wynne

The

Luna Legacy

Paula Wynne

Prado Press

London, United Kingdom

Author Copyright

Copyright © 2019 by Paula Wynne.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed Attention: Permissions Coordinator, via the web address below.

Paula Wynne, Prado Press: http://paulawynne.com/contact

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions or locales is completely coincidental.

Editors: Samantha Allen, David Imrie

Book Designer: Slavisa Zivkovic

Cover Designer: Travis Miles

Map illustration and symbols: Kateryna Oliferovska

Author Contact

Paula runs BookLuver.com and features monthly book giveaways. Check it out at http://bookluver.com/book-giveaways or hit 'subscribe' to get notified about new giveaways and competitions.

Follow Paula on:

http://paulawynne.com/

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https://twitter.com/paulawynne

https://www.facebook.com/authorpaulawynne/

Or join Paula’s mailing list to find out about new books:

http://paulawynne.com/vip-news

It All Starts With Elixa

If you’d like to read the prequel to The Torcal Trilogy, grab ELIXA before you read this book.

Also by Paula Wynne

Elixa

The Grotto’s Secret

The Sacred Symbol

The Luna Legacy

Coming Soon

Flying Without Wings

Cold Feet

Reader’s Praise for The Grotto’s Secret

Past and present blend masterfully together in this page-turning thriller; guaranteed to leave readers wanting more. Angela Crouch

"The Grotto’s Secret is a fast-paced, exhilarating thriller that left me panting for more." Ros Brookman   

"A good read. I was hooked very early in the story and kept hooked throughout. The Grotto’s Secret is for fans of Kate Mosse and Dan Brown." Graham Bird

Reader’s Praise for

The Sacred Symbol

I was hooked by the first chapter of The Sacred Symbol. A page-turner right to the end. Another masterpiece from Paula Wynne!

Richard Butler

I have just started The Sacred Symbol and I'm enchanted! I don't want to stop reading.

DeeAnn Murphy

"Recommended for fans of Dan Brown,

a brilliant read"

Sue Brown

"Reminiscent of Dan Brown, the Sacred Symbol combines history, mystery, and thriller to

capture you from the first chapter and eagerly

keep you turning pages."

Jane Geiger

The Sacred Symbol is full of suspense to the end.

Corinne Lehmann

The Sacred Symbol' is an intriguing story.  Wow!  I can't put it down.  So many little plots all intertwined to make up a bigger picture.

Irene Adam

Amazing how Paula Wynne is able to go back and forth between centuries and not lose the reader.  When I started The Grotto's Secret, I was concerned about following the plot, but it held me enthralled.  The Sacred Symbol is no less mesmerizing.  Really glad I discovered this author and her talents.

Linda Frank

The Sacred Symbol gets you hooked at once and is hard to put down.  Looks like I'm going to lose some sleep before I finish it!

Michael Murphy

For my husband Ken Sheridan

You are my elixir!

There is no life without water.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize

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See the map in colour:

https://paulawynne.com/the-luna-legacy/alhambra-palace-medieval-map

10 Years Ago, Amun Oasis, Egypt

An ear-splitting scream echoed around the oasis. Kamuzu sprinted between the palm trees in time to see his brother plummet into the half-moon shaped pool.

He kicked off his leather sandals, jumped up onto the wet stone ledge and fell to his knees. His gaze darted left to right. ‘Seff! Seff!’

Seconds went by.

The silence of the oasis was broken by birds flitting between the bunches of orange dates hanging below the spiky palm branches. Kamuzu glanced over his shoulder. At the bottom of the tree a machete lay glinting in the sun. Beside it a huge bunch of dates that Seff had hacked down earlier sweated in the heat.

Rocking back and forth, Kamuzu turned back to peering through the lazy trails of heat drifting up from the warm spring.

He bit down on his bottom lip. His gaze locked onto the middle spot where a bubble surfaced and popped.

‘Wah!’ Suddenly Seff’s head broke the surface, ‘Wah!’

Kamuzu fell back onto the hot sand, scorching his palms. ‘That’s not fair! You’re not supposed to scare me.’

Seff scrambled out, the sun gleaming on his chocolate skin. He shook his wet hair and warm drops splattered around. ‘Come on, your turn.’

Kamuzu held back, his eyes narrowed.

Seff scoffed, ‘Ah, maybe you are waiting to see if I die from the curse.’

Ignoring his brother’s remark, Kamuzu began to slip down the side of the low crumbling stone ledge surrounding the spring. His bronzed fingers gripped a boulder as he hesitated.

Seff reached over and grabbed the rock. It loosened and Kamuzu lost his grip. He slithered the rest of the way down the ledge and plopped into the water.

Tears stung his eyes. He quickly wiped them away. Seff must not see them. If he did, Kamuzu would blame it on the steamy water.

Seff grinned at his brother. His white teeth shone in the blinding sunlight as he dipped his foot back into the pool to splash water into Kamuzu’s face. ‘You want something to be scared about?’

Kamuzu trod water but remained silent.

‘I mean really, really scared.’

‘You’re not allowed,’ Kamuzu fought back the tears. ‘Oumi said you’re not to scare me.’

‘So, are you going to tell or not? You know we’re not allowed here because of the curse. But if you tell, I won’t show you the secret.’

Kamuzu swam to the side and clambered up. Wiping the tang of minerals off his mouth, he sat on the stone wall and looked over at his brother. He chewed on his lip, trying to decide if he should get involved in Seff’s game. ‘Is there really a secret?’

‘Yes! So, if you are going to finally grow up, now is the time. Otherwise run home with your chicken feathers clucking.’ Seff slipped back into the pool, took a deep breath and ducked his head under the water. This time he stayed down much longer.

On hands and knees, Kamuzu leaned over the side. ‘Seff! Seff!’

Seff eventually surfaced, spluttering and coughing up water. He cursed the Almighty.

Kamuzu was shocked at such words coming out of his brother’s mouth. ‘Hey, Oumi said we are never to do that!’

‘I think we need Babai.’

Kamuzu bolted upright. His heart pounded against his ribs. ‘No!’

Their mother had forbidden them to come here to swim, but hers was a mild wrath. If their father knew, then they would be in deep trouble.

If Seff was prepared to face that then this secret must be something big.

Without further hesitation, Kamuzu sprang off his perch and landed in the spring beside Seff. ‘Okay, show me. Then I will run for Babai.’ He held up his hand.

Seff smacked Kamuzu’s palm. ‘Deal! Take a deep breath and go down as far as you can. Look at the bottom. Don’t stay too long. And don’t open your mouth in shock!’

Kamuzu filled his lungs. The musty smell of the damp stone walls lingered in his nose. He grimaced, but dived under and ploughed downward for a while. He blinked his eyes, gazing all around the clear water for Seff’s secret.

Then he saw it.

A skeleton’s face pulsed as the waters shifted, its horrific toothless mouth grimacing up at Kamuzu. He shot out of the spring, choking and coughing up a mouthful of warm water.

‘Did you see?’ Seff shouted.

Too shocked to speak, Kamuzu could only nod.

‘What else did you see?’

‘Only … only the mouth gaping up at me.’

Seff grinned. ‘Have another look.’

Braver now that he had proven himself, Kamuzu took another deep gulp of air and dived under. He pulled the water back as he sculled down a little deeper this time.

The sun, glinting on the water, sent a sudden shaft of light down through the depths. Kamuzu nearly choked when it shone on a chain tied around the skeleton’s arm and another around its leg.

Kamuzu surfaced yelling. ‘Chains! Around the arm and a large stone tied to its ankle.’

Seff clenched Kamuzu’s fist in a brotherly handshake. ‘Today you have grown up.’

‘Someone killed that man down there,’ Kamuzu spluttered, tiring from treading water.

‘I know, that’s why I said we need Babai.’

Kamuzu’s eyes widened. Their father would not be happy about this. They had disobeyed Oumi when she had sent them out to pick dates.

Seff flicked water into Kamuzu’s face. ‘Go on. You said you would call Babai when you knew the secret. You want that thing to stay down there and haunt you at night?’

No further delays were needed. Kamuzu scrambled up the stone wall. A sudden grin filled his face. ‘Did you see the briefcase that its wrist was chained to? Why don’t we dive back down for it?’

‘Okay, fetch the machete.’

Kamuzu ran to the machete, left abandoned beside the large cluster of dates that Seff had cut for their mother. He handed it to Seff, then grabbed the sharpest stone he could find and plunged in. With eyes bulging, Kamuzu dived towards the skeleton. Seff was already there brandishing the machete a corroded section of the chain rather than go near the grey sinews that still held the skeleton together.

They took turns to hammer away at the rusty links. When he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, Kamuzu kicked his way to the surface, his stone weighing him down as Seff also came up for air a short way away. He paddled his legs while taking deep breaths of warm, steamy air.

He dived down only to find Seff had once again beaten him. He admired his brother’s strong lungs, but he wasn’t going to give up. It was important that he show his brother that he, too, was becoming a man.

After several dives down to the skeleton, between the rock and the machete the chain finally came apart, and the briefcase started to float away from its drowned owner.

Seff dropped his machete to grab the briefcase and kicked his way upwards.

Kamuzu followed, dropping his battering ram to lighten himself so he could race after his brother. His rock sunk into the sand at the bottom of the oasis, but Seff’s machete rested on the skeleton’s lap.

Side by side, the brothers climbed out and sat on the ledge. The sun baked down on them, but neither noticed as they tried to open the case.

The lock remained steadfast.

Seff cursed again. This time, Kamuzu turned a deaf ear. He didn’t care how much Seff swore. He may even join him in a minute. They had used all their strength to bring the treasure chest to the surface and now it refused to open.

‘Do you want me to fetch your machete?’

‘First, let me try this,’ Seff grabbed a rock from the ledge. ‘Mind your hands.’ He raised the sharpest edge towards the blue sky and inhaled sharply. With a loud crack, he slammed it down over the lock.

The briefcase sagged open and spat out its soaked and mouldy lining.

Both boys stared inside.

There was only one thing.

‘A stone?’ Seff hissed. ‘All that trouble for a useless stone!’ He tossed it aside, rose to his feet and plunged angrily back into the water. When he surfaced, he muttered, ‘We’d better not tell Babai after all.’

Kamuzu held up the shiny black rock. A shaft of sunlight glinted on the strange X mark on the top. It reminded him of the shape Oumi made on top of her bread. Like Oumi’s loaves, the stone radiated a soothing warmth into his palms.

In the water, Seff resurfaced, cupped his free hand and splashed Kamuzu. ‘Let’s go home now, I’m bored with all this treasure hunting.’

‘Why?’ Kamuzu asked.

‘I want real treasure,’ Seff climbed out again and dragged his shorts on without waiting for his body to dry. As he stalked off, he muttered over his shoulder, ‘One day I will go to the coast and become a real pirate.’

Kamuzu sat dead still, entranced by the stone.

Seff hoisted the large bunch of dates onto his broad shoulders. ‘Come on! Leave that stupid stone. You know what Oumi always says … whoever takes what lays in peace will be cursed.’

Kamuzu ignored him.

Seff stomped off in a sulk. ‘Are you coming? I have to take the dates home.’ His footsteps faded into the distance.

Motionless, Kamuzu sat looking at the treasure.

The chirping birds had suddenly gone silent, as if they were also in awe of the stone. Now, only the disturbed water lapping against the ledge broke the tranquillity as Kamuzu studied the strange mark cutting through the middle. He couldn’t read, but it was the sign that Babai made in the sand when he showed his man where to take the goats for the day.

Seff was always right. Always. But today he was wrong. This wasn’t a useless stone.

He held it up to the morning sun and watched as its rays caught the inside of the strange symbol. All of a sudden, the stone came to life in his hand. Whirls of fire-coloured light lit up a web of glass-like crystals inside the X. And bursts of fiery orange shone up out of the stone.

It was the most beautiful object he had ever seen.

Kamuzu stroked the smooth surface. Already he loved the stone. In that moment, he decided he would hide it. It was a sin to lie. He knew he could be damned to hell, but he would tell Seff that he had thrown the stone away.

And then he would take the briefcase back down to the skeleton so that any other visitor to this watery grave would not easily be able to tell that it had been disturbed.

Where could he hide his new treasure so that nobody would see it? In a palm tree? No, when the desert sent a sandstorm it would be blown out and he would never find it again. His eyes glinted as a thought entered his head: better than it being buried would be for it to sit in plain sight where it looked the same as all the other stones.

Luckily, Amun was too remote for tourists and too cursed for the locals. With the tiny oasis being private, his crystal stone should be concealed in among a pile of other rocks, so it would be disguised and only he would know where it was hidden.

All Kamuzu had to his name was a few clothes and his shoes. Yet now he had his very own treasure. He didn’t know what it was worth, but he would keep it until one day he could travel to the real world and find out.

In the meantime, he would seek out the stone when nobody was around, and he would gaze at its beauty. Beauty his brother had not been able to see and had instantly dismissed.

The treasure was his now, and would always be kept hidden. A smile tugged Kamuzu’s mouth. Yes, today he had grown up. Thanks to Seff and his secret.

A secret even Seff would never tell.

Skye Coventina
Present Day, Covent Garden, London

Skye Coventina’s hands trembled as she held up The Telegraph and read the front-page headline: Skeleton of 50-year-old is actually 500 Years Old

She had read the article so many times that she could almost recite it out loud. Not that she wanted to; not with all those ears at the door.

Reaching out, she snapped off a row from a milk chocolate bar lying half eaten on the kitchen counter. Although she might never beat the cravings entirely, she kept them mastered by rationing out each square one at a time.

But this deserved a row. A whole row.

A sudden clamour outside her window startled her. Her doorbell chimed its deep dong. And then a second and a third time. Skye flinched. Her heart skipped a beat and her head spun around as her eyes latched onto the door. Not again!

Previously, she supposed, it had just sounded like a doorbell to her, but after the last day of hearing it chime time after time its sound scraped at her nerves like one of those sickly festive songs beckoning in the Christmas rush. She really would have to get it changed.

As she tiptoed into the hallway, her slippers squeaked with each tentative step. She kept telling herself to get a new pair but always forgot the moment she left the house. Flipping them off, she crept to the door on her tippy-toes. With one eye over the keyhole, she groaned inwardly.

Another lot hunting her down to ask if she was the daughter of a 500-year-old.

A face squinted at the door, but thankfully, he couldn’t see her through the keyhole. On impulse, she stuck her tongue out at him. Then, shook her head at herself. Acting like a kid!

The crowd of reporters bustled on her doorstep, each jostling to be first in line for when she would appear. As well as the constant jabbing at her bell they had been calling her phone and even questioning her neighbours.

Skye sneaked back to the kitchen table and reached for another row of chocolate, but her fingers only met silver foil. None left! She crept back into the hall, resenting that she should feel this nervous in her own home, and opened the dresser’s top drawer and rummaged around.

Nothing in there.

Licking her lips in anticipation of smooth chocolate melting in her mouth, she opened the middle drawer. None there either. Had her flatmate taken them? No. She hid her stash in here because her flat-mate, Jess, knew these drawers were out of bounds.

Post, utility bills, old pizza home delivery leaflets, dead batteries and curled up shopping receipts she’d thought she would need some day but never did, were all stuffed into the dresser.

Easy to hide a chocolate bar under all that junk.

The last drawer also yielded no fix. In desperation, Skye yanked open all the drawers, hoping that even just a stray piece or two might have slipped down into the sideboard.

Nothing.

In frustration, she slammed the sideboard doors.

The doorbell went again. The damned, sodding reporter must have heard someone inside. She scrambled back to the kitchen and closed the door behind her. She gritted her teeth as the latch clicked loudly into place. Back in the hall the sideboard drawers hung open and one door swung ajar as if she had been burgled.

Thank goodness the reporters couldn’t get to the back of the apartment. They wouldn’t think of jumping the tall wooden gate. Or would they? Skye ran to the kitchen window that looked out of the side of her house and yanked the blind down.

There!

Now, no one could see inside. They couldn’t see her falling apart.

She stood in the middle of the kitchen and glanced around. She normally remembered where she had hidden them. Having just bounced into her thirties didn't mean she was starting to lose it already. It must be all that hubbub outside fraying her nerves. Only in the last month or so when Jess had been nagging at her to stop with her sweet addiction and lose weight had she decided to go underground.

Jess meant well. So how could she be so unaware of the way she taunted her by scoffing chocolate after chocolate in front of her?

In the middle of the room, she stopped dead in her tracks. She had been so focused on herself and her own miseries over the last few days that she hadn’t really digested what they had said about Daddy’s age.

Skye shook herself.

Five hundred years old! It couldn’t be true. Not Daddy. Some weird, other guy, sure, but not Daddy. If he had lived that long, why wasn’t he all wrinkled and shrivelled?

Instead, he had always been an attractive, virile man. She was biased of course. Ever since she was a kid, she had believed Daddy to be the handsomest man on earth. Even two husbands couldn’t beat Daddy.

So how come he was five-hundred looking like fifty, instead of the other way around?

It just didn’t make sense.

Worse still, why on earth had he been shot in the back of the neck. She thought of his birthmark and how, as a child, she had traced the strange cross shape.

She had always wondered why he had one and she didn’t.

Now she would never know.

Tears stung Skye’s eyes. She gritted her teeth again. This time harder, biting down on her jaw to stop the silly emotions from getting to her. She slumped against the kitchen counter and placed her hands on the cool marble counter.

Images of him ran through her mind. Jumping from her care-free childhood to arguing with him and storming off in a teenage huff, and back to them picking up stones along the shore of the lake and seeing whose was the flattest and could be skimmed the furthest.

Then the images leapt back of her cuddling in his arms and pulling his neck forward to run her fingers over the birthmark again.

Tears snuck down her cheeks and rolled over her lips into her mouth.

No! She wasn’t going to fall apart. She stomped her foot and swung around. Using the back of her hand, she dashed away the tears and pulled a tea towel from the cupboard to dry them with.

Thank God! She exhaled hard.

There at the back a mini chocolate bar nestled on top of another tea-towel. That was pretty stupid. Jess could have spotted that. Okay, she didn’t use the kitchen much as she was always eating out with her boyfriend, but if she so much as washed a glass she might have reached for a towel and … wham! The mini bar in its hiding place could have been revealed.

Skye tore off the wrapper and stuffed the chocolate into her mouth. Two bites and it was gone.

She slumped back against the counter and closed her eyes. Her head sunk backwards and she rubbed a hand around her neck to ease the tension. It stayed there and traced out the birthmark shape from his neck.

Maybe the time had come to speak to her sister. She didn’t want to, hadn’t done so for the best part of a year. Each chat it was all that small talk. Like how’ve you been, how are things at work … blah, blah, blah. And then bickering and bitch-fights quickly followed.

Feeling the tears again tickling her cheeks she wondered how her sister was doing in all of this.

A thought suddenly popped into her head. Skye dashed to the tiny telly in the kitchen corner, switched it on and lowered the sound to silent. Flicking channels, she found the answer soon enough.

Skye watched images of her sister battling her way through the reporters as they pushed and shoved a microphone in her face, calling out questions. Although Ellie just held her head high and ignored them, Skye recognised a look on Ellie’s face that said: Help, get me out of here. As usual, her sister was bottling her emotions and she would eventually burst.

Skye gripped her mouth. Oh no, poor Ellie. She needs me. Her throat closed. Besides, Daddy would want them to be together at a time like this.

She swallowed hard and realised her throat was aching from fighting back the tears.

At last, Skye let them flow freely. She sobbed as she thought once more of the beautiful x-shaped birthmark on the back of Daddy’s neck.

Right where some bastard had shot him.

At that moment, a loud clunk startled Skye. She crept to the window and peered out at the path leading down the side of the house. A reporter, with a long lens hanging over his shoulder, was climbing over the gate.

Time to leave.

While Skye packed a hiking bag, she tried Ellie’s phone numbers. Both the castle main phone line and Ellie’s personal mobile number went to voice mail. She left a message on both numbers asking Ellie to call her as soon as possible.

Downstairs the doorbell chimed again.

Skye didn’t want to be on the news. She wouldn’t be seen dead in this body! Especially after Ellie looked so beautiful and elegant on TV. In comparison she was a frump; no one would believe they were sisters. Who would want to interview Mrs. Drab when her sister, Mrs. Glam, was on hand?

Skye grabbed her passport and stuffed a few things in her backpack. If Daddy had been killed, were they both in danger?

A shiver ran through her, raising goosebumps along her arms. Ever since Skye had been old enough to think to look, she and Ellie had been on different planets. Even had she asked about it, and she would never have allowed herself to show that much interest, more than likely Ellie would have refused to let her see whether or not she had the same birthmark as Daddy.

Could Ellie be in danger?

No, she mustn’t think like that, she must get to her as quickly as possible. Then, together, they could work through this. She knew there would be arguments and fights, but chocolate would sustain her.

All packed up, Skye raced down the stairs of her apartment.

Tiptoeing to the back door, she peered into the garden. The fence-climbing reporter was nowhere in sight. Quietly, she let herself out of the back door, sprinted down the long, rectangular garden and out the gate that was hanging off its hinges.

The bruised and wounded sky threatened to dump on her at any minute, but she ignored it. Pulling her Pashmina shawl tightly around her shoulders, she took one more look at her home.

Nothing like her sister’s fairy-tale castle. Far from it, in fact, but at least it was her own, not borrowed like Ellie’s.

A throb of pain hit the back of Skye’s throat. She rubbed her nose, snubbing her guilt at allowing herself such thoughts about her sister. Yet an abrupt sensation came over her; as so often before, she wished she could go back and change what had happened between them.

On the street, she headed for the nearest place where she could get lost in the crowd.

Covent Garden Market.

Skye slipped into Covent Garden Market and silently thanked God she lived close to the famous market that attracted traders, shoppers and tourists every day. Despite the grumbling sky threatening yet another downpour, the market already buzzed with a local band blaring out their music. Whenever their songs stopped, traders cried out to announce their goods.

Skye slipped behind a stall full of handmade clothing and turned to see if anyone had followed her. Having her face splattered across the television news this morning didn’t help matters. It made her feel as if her features begged to be noticed in the crowd. She dropped her head and tried to get past a toddler who was demanding sweets from his mother. When the mother refused, he started throwing a tantrum.

Heads from all over the market turned and stared.

Skye cringed and ducked behind a stall of flapping tablecloths. She inched sideways and crept towards an old wagon with brightly painted blue wheels. The crates stacked with plants would disguise her from any preying eyes.

For a moment, she stood still, pretending to study a plant’s leaves as she stroked a velvety flower petal.

Under hooded eyes, her gaze darted left and right.

Feet shuffled on both sides as people shoved and pushed through the throng. Leaving the comforting smell of fresh herbs and flowering roses, she sidled past a few more busy stalls, constantly glancing back over her shoulder.

No one seemed interested in her.

Instead, people haggled over prices, ran their hands over the goods on offer, tried on garments or jewellery and squeezed fruit to test their ripeness.

All just a day’s market activity.

Her clenched jaw finally relaxed, and she opened and closed it widely to release the tension.

Heading towards the food stalls and the way out, she heard the fans cheering at the miming and juggling acts in the cobbled arena.

Passing a cheese stand, Skye picked up a taster stick with several tiny cubes of fresh goat cheese and popped them in her mouth. The next stall had bites of cured meats and she sampled them too. They may satisfy her grumbling stomach, but only chocolate would take the edge off the morning.

The fresh scent of citrus fruits and ripening berries, vied with the pungent odour of tomato vines, ageing vegetables and the bitter stink of cooking oil from the stalls frying food. The smells started churning in her stomach.

She had to get out of here and down into the tube station, so she could get to the airport for her flight. Although it would mean a long wait until boarding, she preferred the safety of being checked in rather than ambling around a thriving market killing time.

Just then, a horrible feeling came over her. She glanced over her shoulder. As usual, the market entrance and exit were bursting at the seams. She spotted a man with dark glasses obscuring his eyes.

Why sun glasses on a dismal, dreary day like today?

She slunk back behind a stall full of tourist curios. Spying on the man, through caps with British flags emblazoned across the top and tee-shirts shouting Big Ben, she breathed heavily. Each breath rasped up into her throat, but she gulped them down again to stay quiet.

She couldn’t allow the panic to come back. Chocolate was the only cure, but she was all out. She gazed up the street to Mr Sharma’s convenience store. She could grab a temporary supply of chocolate there before going down into the tube station.

She loved the buzz of the market but suddenly it started to irritate her.

Cars blared their horns, brakes squealed, and tail pipes backfired as the traffic around the market heated up. Drivers yelled at each other, fighting for parking spaces while motorbikes snaked through the jams.

Taking one more glance at the sunglasses man, she saw he was looking in the opposite direction.

Skye bolted. Racing out of the market she choked on the fumes of a car exhaust as a trader idled beside the entrance, unloading bales of cloth. She ran up the row of restaurants and coffee bars.

Her head swivelled around to see if the sunglasses man was really stalking her or if she was just badly in need of a chocolate fix.

Shit!

He was following her. His long stride caught up to her far too fast. She dodged a woman pushing a twin pram with a third child standing on the buggy board. The woman spotted her trying to overtake and veered the pram sideways, catching Skye’s ankle.

‘Ouch!’ Skye hopped along, grabbing her ankle to release the tingling from the knock, and let it go again.

‘Sorry,’ the woman steered back the other way, ‘I was trying to get out of your way.’

Muttering to herself, Skye hurried past and slunk into an Italian restaurant’s doorway.

As the pram passed, with the twins hollering and the child griping, the stalker cornered her in the doorway. The restaurant was shut up for the day so no chance of getting help.

She held back the emotion bubbling inside. She'd let it go soon enough, when she allowed her mind to finally grasp the fact that someone had killed Daddy, but now she had to function.

A shudder ran through her.

Was the stalker here to do the same to her?

The man grabbed Skye’s elbow and spun her around to face him. His cigar breath assaulted her nostrils. ‘Are you one of them?’

‘What?’

‘A Luna?’

She looked at him as if he had just landed from Mars. ‘You’re the loony, mate, not me!’

‘The birthmark. On your father’s neck. Do you have one?’

His big hairy hand grabbed at her hair and twisted her around. Through a sudden ray of light coming in from behind the gloomy clouds, she glimpsed his beady eyes through his dark Ray-bans.

He peered at her neck.

Skye inhaled sharply, bent her neck forward, and plunged both her elbows backwards into his stomach.

The man let out a yelp as he doubled over.

She fired her elbows back one more time and they hammered into his face. Before he had time to react, the nearby convenience store’s door jangled open. A short Indian man poked his head out, ‘What’s going on?’

‘Mr. Sharma,’ Skye waved and ran to him. She pushed past him into the store.

Struggling to his feet, the sunglasses stalker dusted down his knees and stumbled after Skye.

* * *

Through the window, Greg watched the overweight woman grab a handful of chocolate and stuff some money into the Indian’s hand.

The bitter aftertaste of his last cigar rested on his tongue, so he slipped a peppermint chewing gum into his mouth to help curb the craving for a new cigar.

The fat bitch was proving more difficult to follow than he had expected.

* * *

‘Thank you,’ Skye spluttered, after Mr Sharma pushed the door shut ahead of the man’s approach. She followed the shopkeeper back to his tiny counter and till sandwiched between wine and beer coolers.

Taking a long, deep breath, she rested against a rectangle coffin freezer with a sliding top housing ice creams and fat plastic bags of ice.

Mr Sharma peered at her. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Yes, I’m fine now.’

‘Who is that man?’

‘I don’t know, but he kept grabbing my hair.’

Skye glanced over her shoulder. She couldn’t see the door from where she stood because there was a newspaper rack in the way.

Mr Sharma hesitated, his eyes flicking to the door. ‘Maybe I should lock the door and call the police?’

At that moment, the door jingled as someone entered.

* * *

Despite the chill coming from the ice freezer behind her, a burst of heat-fear shot through Skye. She stretched her neck to see who had entered.

A young girl with pink punk hair standing on end and a face full of piercings whooshed past Skye to the counter and asked for a packet of cigarettes.

Skye blew out her cheeks in relief. She leaned forward, so she could see the doorway. The man stood just outside with his phone to his ear.

* * *

Greg tapped on a call button on his phone. ‘Boss, the Coventina girl doesn’t have the mark’

‘Okay, keep on her tail. I want to know her every move. She may know something about the birthmark.’

‘Yes, Boss.’

‘Whatever you do, don’t kill her. I want her alive.’

‘I’m on it, Boss. I won’t let her out of my sight.’

He shook himself and glanced over his shoulder into the shop. Unable to see the fat cow anymore, he spat out the chewing gum.

Turning to peer more closely into the innards of the cluttered shop, he saw her looking directly at him.

* * *

Skye’s shot hastily back to her previous pot obscured from the door. She pressed herself against the ice freezer again.

Why was he hanging around? What did he want?

She shuddered.

If her father’s killer was already after her, what was happening to Ellie?

An abrupt thump startled her. She turned to see that the pink punk had dropped a couple of cold Coke cans in front of the till. Her coins skittered over the counter as she paid Mr Sharma. His cash register chimed as it opened, and the coins clattered onto others.

Beside Skye, the Slush Puppy machine whirred. With nerves on edge, she turned to see it held two huge glass containers of slowly swirling ice, one red and the other blue.

‘What is that man after?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘I should call the police,’ He insisted.

‘No time.’

‘But―’

The door jingled.

* * *

As the pink punk exited with another clank of the door, Greg slipped inside. He browsed, pretending he was looking for a magazine, but his eyes raked the store, scanning for security mirrors and cameras. The store probably hadn’t been burgled before because it had no obvious security. Either that, or the crafty little Indian fella had them hidden.

He walked into another narrow aisle, the shelves stacked high with groceries, and headed towards the cold drinks.

The vacuum seal of the refrigerated door whooshed as he grabbed a tin of energy drink. It hissed as he cracked it open and he gurgled it down in one long succession of gulps. The caffeinated drink raced into him and gave him a sudden burst of energy. The smell of freshly baked bread drove him crazy, but he would get to eating later. 

Right now, the fat cow wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

* * *

Skye stood still, blessing the concealed nook she had chosen to stand in. All around her, the congested little shop breathed the sounds of everyday life. Sounds she heard each evening when she came here to buy her night’s supply of chocolate, and every day when she chose different brands for her morning commute. Those sounds were always there, but faded so far into her background that she barely noticed.

Yet at that moment, they echoed through her brain with every sound a hundred times louder.

Skye thumbed towards the man and mouthed: Is there a back exit?

He nodded. Gesturing for her to squeeze under the counter and go down a dark, narrow hallway stock-piled with yet more cereal boxes and bags of sugar and flour.

* * *

Greg hurried to the cash counter. ‘Where is the lady who bought all that chocolate?’

The Indian pouted his lips. ‘Don’t know.’

Greg towered over the cowering Indian. ‘Where was she going?’

‘I don’t know, truly sir, I have no idea.’

From the shelf a few steps away, Greg grabbed a tin of beans in each hand. He flung both hands out at the same time, striking the Indian’s head simultaneously from both sides with his canned fists. Instantly, he drew one hand back and slammed the tin directly into the Indian’s curry-scented lips.

The little man screamed as his legs gave way. He sunk to Greg’s feet.

‘Where did she go!?’

‘I don’t know,’ sobbed the Indian through gurgles of blood dripping out of his crushed mouth.

* * *

Skye gaped in horror. She was about to step forward when she saw Mr Sharma make eye contact with her. He shook his head vigorously and his bleeding lips mouthed Go.

Skye followed Mr Sharma’s gaze. Beside her was an entrance to his storeroom, and from that a blessed loading door that must lead out somewhere near the side street.

She slipped through the door and pulled out her phone.

* * *

Greg grabbed the shopkeeper by the throat and hoisted him into the air. He dragged him over to the Slush Puppy machine. With one large hand keeping its grip on the throat, he yanked off the red drinks lid.

Using both hands, he forced the Indian’s head inside. The little man’s feet barely reached the floor as he struggled and kicked out. Greg booted the man’s shins and plunged his head deeper into the red slush.

Above his head, the intoxicating smell of curry spices threatened to get up his nose and make him sneeze. He shook his head in irritation.

On impulse, he yanked the man out of the red slush and dunked him into the blue slush.

Greg hauled the shopkeeper’s now purple coloured Slush Puppy hair backwards and shouted, ‘Where was she going?’

Coughing and spluttering red and blue bubbles of icy slush, the Indian gasped, ‘Please, I don’t know, she didn’t tell―’

Greg didn’t wait to hear the rest. He plunged the Indian’s head back into the slush, holding it down while he watched the man’s arms and legs flail behind him.

After a moment, he dumped him on the floor. While the shopkeeper groaned to himself, Greg marched out.

Now for the fat cow.

* * *

Outside, Skye panicked and shouted at the emergency services operator. ‘Help! There’s a man attacking a shopkeeper.’ She gave the person on the other end the address.

They said they were sending a police car over immediately, but by the time it arrived, Mr Sharma could be dead.

She waved her arms as she shouted all the details at a couple passing by. ‘Help, please help Mr Sharma.’

‘Call the cops,’ the man said to the woman.

‘I just did,’ Skye retorted.

The woman replied, ‘I’ll call it in too, that way they may take it seriously.’

While the woman dialled and reported the incident, the man raced around to the front of the shop.

A crowd was gathering.

Skye bit her lip, wondering if she should go in and help.

But one person came into her mind.

Ellie.

She touched the woman’s arm and muttered, ‘I have to get to my sister.’

Without intending to desert Mr Sharma, she disappeared into the crowd. These were surely her father’s killers and they were already onto her.

She had to get to Ellie before they did.

* * *

Greg spotted a shaft of light coming in through a side door. He charged to it and kicked it ajar. He raced into the small enclosed back garden, filled with empty cardboard boxes and stinking of rotting tomatoes.

The back gate was open.

He glimpsed Skye in the distance, heading towards the tube station.

‘Bitch!’

From the same direction the wailing of police sirens was coming nearer.

Xha El Masry
October, Lanjarón, Sierra Nevada, Spain

Xha El Masry squinted at the startling headline in the Telegraph on his phone. How could anyone live that long? The bone dates couldn’t be wrong. It was the water, he could bet his life on that. And something to do with that strange birthmark.

An X.

He mused on the thought for a long moment and then his phone rang.

‘Boss, the Coventina girl got away.’

Xha listened to the sirens in the background. ‘What the hell happened?’

‘Tell you later,’ Greg panted. ‘I’m on the run.’

‘Xara! Shit! Have you done something stupid again?’

‘No, but―’

‘Cleaning up your last mess took more than I am prepared to give.’ 

‘I'm on the case, Boss. She won't get far. I'm going down into the tubes now.’

‘Forget it, I know where she’s headed,’ Xha tapped into his phone and quickly Googled flight departures to Ireland. ‘Go and hide. And stay hidden. You've become a weak link, Greg!’

Xha cut the call and sat back.

He’d had a succession of disposable brawn over the years. One more being disposed of was no loss.

Greg’s new taste for public violence was a dangerous weakness that he couldn’t afford.

Thankfully, the chief constable in Ireland was deeply religious. Xha had already worked him over to believe that there were various pagan rituals goings on there. They wouldn't investigate too hard.

His eyes narrowed at a fat woman sitting opposite him, eating a pile of cream off the top of her café latte.

Certain jobs had always been given to Greg, but he had become too messy.

Xha smiled to himself.

He would do Skye himself.

* * *

As Xha dropped the phone on the table it pinged, reminding him of his appointment. The waitress was nowhere to be seen, so he tossed a ten euro note on the table for his coffee.

The Coventina bitch would be heading for Cork. That would have to be his next stop. He’d fly over tonight, get rid of Ellie and find the Holy Chalice. He had tried to get Nathan to sell the retreat, so that he could have the relic as a bonus.

With the Holy Chalice, he’d never suffer again!

But now, he’d better hurry and get this meeting over. More important things had pushed their way up his agenda.

He wasn’t in this spa town on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada for the pure spring water, which was bottled and sold throughout Spain.

Although, inadvertently, that was partly the reason for driving the twisting, unmade tracks of the Rio Lanjarón.

He glanced up at the formidable Sierra Nevada looming over the town. Up there, after a strange incident, a new fountain had sprung out at an older couple’s mountain home.

As he strolled past a row of quaint white houses with blue doors surrounded by explosions of red geraniums, a long queue of locals and tourists lined up at one of the many fresh water fountains.

He thought again of the birthmark.

He had to find out if there were any others with the same birthmark. That would reveal if it had anything to do with the spa owner’s long life.

Someone splashed as their bottle dropped into the fountain. He leapt to one side as though a hot coal had fallen on him. ‘Xara! Shit!’

The tourist spun around. ‘What?’

Xha flapped his expensive linen shirt to get the drop of water off him. He scowled at the tourist and walked away, muttering, ‘Son of a dog!’

Two hours later, up in the Alpujarra mountains, Xha listened to the old couple with a fixed smile on his face.

As they walked around the garden, the old man, Diego, pointed up the hill. ‘Normally, the melting snow in spring provides the fresh water that springs up around Lanjarón, but up here we have to rely on the community operated waterway.’

The wife trailed behind her husband, happy to let him take the lead.

Diego showed Xha the ancient acequia that ran around the back of their house. ‘You see, the acequia originally brought very little water to our home.’

Even though the waterway provided their drinking water, the open ditches had dirt banks.

Xha shuddered at the prospect of drinking water from a dirty rivulet. He gazed around their sprawling property. Although they were high up in the Alpujarras, the October midday sun was warm enough to cause anyone to sweat. He just wanted to get out of the heat. It tormented his skin and he could not allow himself to start sweating. He always wore cotton and linen to keep him constantly cool so there was no risk of sweating. He simply couldn’t afford that.

Besides, wet marks in the armpits or down the middle of a man’s back were so unsightly. He would never allow that. The minute he felt any sweat forming he had to get back into his air-conditioned environment. He paid over the top rates to live a life of balanced air temperatures, but it was all worth it. Gone were the days when he was a struggling teenager, sweating like the rest, but suffering more than anyone ever knew.

He must get out of the sun and see the bottling plant, but as a businessman on a mission he first had to tolerate Diego’s ramblings.

As they walked up over the rugged hilltop, the acequia lay silent. Diego cocked his ear and grinned. They had arranged for him to meet them at the time their water was turned on. Diego rushed over to the rutted groove in the ground and lifted a splintered wooden trap.

An old fashioned, tiny sluice gate.

A sudden gushing sound filled the air. Water, tumbling, rushing and fighting to break free of its entrapment, whooshed down the gully and through into the acequia to irrigate the old man’s land and provide water for their home. Most homes in the Alpujarra mountains received their water through the Junta, which managed the water via a payment scheme.

Xha had studied Lanjaron’s sophisticated network of irrigation channels. The entire mountains range was a myriad of acequias, stone water tanks and water mills. They all took full advantage of the snow melts.

After the fall of Granada in fourteen hundred ninety-two his own family had headed for this area, leaving their homes in the old town of Granada. The Moors had quickly introduced this irrigation technique to bring water to remote areas. He was proud of that, he just couldn’t believe that people still used this system. He had even tried Lanjaron’s minero-medicinal waters, to see if he could escape his childhood curse that remained with him to this day.

A twig snapped beneath his foot and broke him out of his thoughts.

‘You know,’ Diego closed the acequia sluice gate, ‘that Lanjaron’s pure mineral water is bottled and exported across Spain and Europe.’

Xha nodded. Irritation surged through him. Not from the old man, but from his lifelong water pursuit. Despite trying to buy up several small bottlers he could not get his hands on the purity that would give his body freedom.

But maybe here was

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