Mallory is on the run from his whole life. He's been working for an environmental activism group, but he's out of control, trying to wipe out the memories of a tough childhood in his efforts to save the planet. When an accident at sea costs the lives of his colleagues, he crash-lands back in his hometown in the far north of Scotland, lonely and at rock-bottom.
It's the last place on earth he expects to find comfort or friendship. But a strange young man is hard at work in the abandoned craft village where Mallory used to take refuge. He's compellingly gorgeous. It takes Mallory a while to get him talking, and when he does, he thinks his new friend is delusional. Vivian believes he's mastered the technique of cold fusion in his makeshift lab: a semi-mythical source of free energy which could change the world.
To Mallory's astonishment, Vivian convinces him. And others have been convinced too - malevolent powers who wouldn't think twice about killing Viv to get at his discovery. He's brilliant, but completely unworldly. All Mal can do to protect him is take him on the run.
They're a wildly mismatched pair. Thrown together in the teeth of danger, they bond despite their differences. Soon Mal knows there's nothing he wouldn't do to save Viv, and attraction springs up between them like fire. But Mal is up against an enemy within, and Viv's time is running out...
I woke once in the night. I must have been dreaming that I was back on the ship with Alan, because my skin was tingling, the hairs on my arms trying to rise. He’d laughed when I’d told him I could feel the electrical field of the northern lights, but I’d been sure of it. Now the same weird currents were passing over me. I sat up a little. The bottle slid off my chest, and I didn’t bother to retrieve it. I’d clearly had enough—the aurora had spilled down out of heaven and into the Spindrift huts. Every window in every chalet and cabin was alight.
The air pulsed silently with power. I didn’t know how, but my marrow gave back an answering reverberation, as if I were standing close to a nuclear core. The lights became a blaze. Then, somewhere far off, glass shattered with a sound like silver music. The windows went dark, and a rich, cultured voice said, “Damn!”
* * * * *
Sunlight, chucking grit into my eyes. I didn’t want to know. I turned to escape it, to roll over on the turf and get on with the business of dying of hypothermia. The earth tipped out from under me, and I dropped like a sack of potatoes onto concrete.
“Shit. Fuck.” I sat up, or tried to. Some passing Viking had apparently lopped off my head and used my skull as a carousing cup. My limbs were weak and stiff. I hadn’t expected to live through the night, but if I had, I should be waking up to the tawny golds and greens of a sand-dune dawn. Instead there was concrete beneath me. Four blank walls of concrete around me, whitewashed and painfully bouncing back the sun. Overhead—I looked, and the effort dumped me onto my back again—a damp-stained ceiling with a single bare bulb.
I was fully dressed, including woolly hat and boots. My rucksack was leaning against one wall. I tried to remember if I’d somehow checked into a youth hostel, because as well as the plain walls and basic lighting, there was a narrow camp bed.
Apparently I’d just fallen out of it. A blanket was tangled around me. I grabbed the edge of the frame and hauled myself into a sitting position, then onto my knees, and then by slow stages I stood up. I controlled the heave of my guts. The bare mattress wasn’t luxurious, but it looked clean and I didn’t want to puke on it.
“Christ,” I said hoarsely to the empty air. “What happened to me last night?”
“You drank a bottle of scotch and passed out.”
I jolted upright. You wouldn’t have thought I could identify a voice from one word pronounced in a dream, but it was easy. Whoever was in the next room—youth-hostel receptionist, prison warder, arresting copper—was the same man who had so succinctly said damn before the northern lights went out. The next room? Yes, there was one. There was a doorway, anyway. I staggered into it and stood there, clutching the jambs on each side.
I was staring into the cafeteria of the old Spindrift shopping block. My bearings thudded into place around me. I’d spent the night in the little galley kitchen where I’d put in lunchtime shifts now and again to help pay for my keep. The cupboards had been stripped out of it, and all that was left of the café itself was a cavernous space. No identifying marks, no lovely if precarious driftwood seats and tables. Even the mosaic mermaid that had once graced an entire wall had been half chipped away, her tail left in a heap of scale-shaped tiles on the concrete floor.
“Bloody hell. Where did everything go?”
There was one bench against the far wall. It had never been part of the café while I’d worked there. Laid out on its surface with scrupulous neatness was an array of equipment like something out of an H.G. Wells novel, or a low-budget Frankenstein film. Metal rods and plates, huge glass flasks, gleaming coils… The whole view blurred like the dream it probably was, and I clutched at the woodwork tighter. A man was standing there too. His back was to me. Until he moved, he had seemed so much of a piece with the whole steampunk setup on the bench that I hadn’t noticed him. Then he turned, wiping his hands on a cloth, and suddenly I didn’t know how it was that I’d ever noticed anything else in the whole wide world.
He was six foot two or taller. His height and lean, spare build were emphasised by the oil-stained coveralls he was wearing. His hair was dark, his eyes a shade between blue and grey that altered with the room’s shifting light. I couldn’t work out why these ordinary factors had combined to paralyse me.
“The furniture went to the reclamation yard in Thurso,” he said. “The ovens and cooking equipment were sent to the Calder Foundation hostel. The paintings were returned to the artists who made them, and where these couldn’t be traced, were also donated to the hostel. The scrap from the ventilators and extractor fans—”
“Okay, okay. I get the idea.”
“You asked me about everything.”
“It was kind of rhetorical.” I rubbed my brow. “Wait. I passed out where—by the chalet? You brought me here?”
That was a much easier question. I’d thought so anyway, but my companion seemed to struggle with it. After a moment he nodded curtly. “Dragged you, I’m afraid. I hope you’re not bruised. Look, I’m rather busy. But I can give you something to eat before you go.”
I was too hungry to mind the hint, or I would be once the hangover mists cleared. “Yes, please. That would be great.” Was the guy some kind of electrician, sent to dismantle the wiring? It looked more as though he was trying to set something up. Thick black cables ran across the cafeteria floor, snaking off in all directions. The blue-grey eyes were shadowed with fatigue. Maybe Spindrift was sheltering one last mad inventor before the walls came down. I took a couple of unsteady steps from my doorframe and held out a hand, recalling my manners. “Thank you for hauling my arse indoors. I’d probably have frozen otherwise. My name’s…”
He just stood there, his hands by his sides. He wasn’t going to reach back to me. It felt less like discourtesy than distraction, as if he’d started to think about something else and completely forgotten about me. The timing was good, I decided. Local hero that I was, perhaps I didn’t need to be giving out my name to someone who so far had seemed disinclined to let me freeze or starve.
“I tell you what,” I said, turning my gesture into a thumb-wave back over my shoulder. “Is the old shower block still working? I’ll, er… I’ll go and clean up.”
I left him watching the distance, and I followed another black cable down the corridor and the flights of concrete stairs into the shower room. The meteorologists had only left a basic loo and enamel bath behind them, and I wondered if the cubicles and nice tiled floors had also been a gift of the old laird. I’d taken them for granted when I’d stayed here before, but I hadn’t seen civilised bathroom facilities since Stavanger. That was the trouble with unknown benefactors. Would old man Calder have consented to take my hand, if I’d gone to him to say thanks?
I recalled him vaguely from our school trip. Unsure of why I was thinking about him now, I went to switch on one of the showers. My mad scientist was in residence here, it seemed—there were a few toiletries precisely set out on a shelf, and I stripped out of my cold, damp clothes and guiltily snitched a handful of shower gel. The Laird of Kerra had come out to spend a few minutes on the lawn with the rowdy schoolkids. He’d been tall and lean as a heron. Good-natured, in a distant sort of way, as if thinking about something else.
The water began to heat up. Gingerly I stepped under it. Strange that the boiler had been left switched on, though I wasn’t about to question the gift horse—a cold shower would probably have killed me outright. Gasping, squeezing my eyes shut, I stood under the jets. Wow, I’d better apologise to the man upstairs about his shower gel. This was something expensive. Very subtle, and my brain had already made a scent connection between him and the clouds of hot sandalwood rising around me. I wasn’t prone to strong first attractions. I couldn’t work out what it was about six foot two of skinny, dark-haired nutcase that was making my cock stiffen, half dead with cold as I was, Alan Frost or no Alan Frost.
Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait. I switched off the shower. No towel, so I dried myself off as best I could with my T-shirt, dived back into my jumper and stood thinking. Kindly old heron lord, stalking about the gardens of his stately home… He’d looked down on me with slate-blue eyes, spoken a few words in a deep, rich English voice and gone back to his study of the rhododendrons. Wee thug that I’d been at the time, all I’d taken from it was resentment that a Sassenach held all this land while decent home-bred Scotsmen had to struggle. My handsome inventor upstairs had only a touch of brogue, a first-generation Highlander’s voice.
And the fact was that I knew him. Oh, he was a far cry from the gangly kid who’d passed an uncomfortable month at the Kerra comprehensive while his English public school was having its playing fields upholstered or whatever happened to shut such places down, but I knew him.
I’d left my change of underwear in my rucksack. Scrambling commando into my damp jeans put paid to any nice, warm stirrings in that department. My jumper smelled horrible too, chemical messages from yesterday’s fear and rage still caught in its fibres. It hardly mattered. I was going to add a new layer. I grabbed my T-shirt and filthy socks, shoved my bare feet into my boots and stalked out.
I met my host in the corridor. He was carrying a heap of folded clothes, and for one mad second I thought they might be for me. But the world was too bad for that—men were treacherous, cold-hearted and dumb, and that included me. He was just going for a shower of his own. I didn’t stop walking until I was right up in his face, then I came to a dead halt and blocked his path. “Calder the Younger, now Laird of Kerra, I presume.”