The Salisbury Key
Shattered by his lover Jason’s suicide, archaeologist Dan Logan is struggling to patch his life together again. He’s desperately following up Jason’s final obsession, a secret buried deep within the military zone on Salisbury Plain. Anything is better than facing the void of his grief.
He’s convinced he’ll never love again. When unexpected help arrives in the form of a soldier named Summer Rayne, the last thing Dan could have predicted is the spark of attraction between them. And at first their relationship is fraught with so much conflict, their investigation into the circumstances of Jason’s death looks more likely to cause one of their own.
But Rayne is smart, and very kind beneath his soldierly reserve. As the mystery of the Plain begins to vortex around them, dangerous secrets emerge, and Rayne and Dan have to work closely together to protect one another and the sanctity of Jason’s memory. A wild new romance takes fire against all odds in the heat of a Salisbury summer, and the soldier and the archaeologist are only on the brink of the mystery of the legendary Salisbury Key.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the upright young soldier who had come to stand by McCade’s desk. Distant bells were ringing in my head. I could smell, for some reason, soya bacon burning on a wood-smoke fire. I remembered a sable-haired angel in a mediaeval painting, there one minute, gone beyond redemption the next time I looked. A nervous squaddie standing guard outside the Stonehenge barricade…
If the sight of me was raising any corresponding memories in Lieutenant Rayne, he wasn’t letting them show. His dark gaze was perfectly expressionless. It rested on me like obsidian, like cool water. It was exquisite and maddening—summed me up in one long look and dismissed me as irrelevant. A task to be dealt with and forgotten.
“Very well,” McCade was saying. “This will just be a preliminary survey, Doctor. It may not be viable for you to start work out there straight away. My final permission will depend upon the lieutenant’s assessment. Rayne, if you take Dr. Logan out to the south gate, I’ll have a jeep sent round for you.”
At last the cool-water gaze left mine. Rayne turned to the colonel. “Yes, sir.”
I was surprised, once out in the sunshine, that I’d recognised him. He had altered enormously, from my one glimpse of him on that Solstice night, which when I thought about it now seemed at once a century ago and only yesterday. I studied him, subtly as I could, as he steered the jeep out past the barricade and onto the plain. He was leaner—less obviously, boyishly handsome. He seemed to have come into a kind of tighter focus. To have burned something off. He still reminded me somehow of a priest, in his intent, unfaltering attention to the road ahead, his stern profile. He had a deep-laid scar across one cheekbone, and some grazing that looked recent. The sculpted mouth was the same, though, tense in its corners as if constantly forbidding itself a smile.
Okay, I was staring at him. I was astonished that anything beyond the basics of my mission could interest me, and I turned my gaze front. He drove with an odd technique, now I came to look, deftly whipping the jeep round the edges of potholes I was sure its sturdy frame could handle. I watched that for a while. The silence between us wasn’t yet awkward, because neither of us had tried to start a conversation, but it had potential. Deciding I wouldn’t be the first to break it, I unfolded the map. Six or seven miles to our destination. They were going to be long ones, at this rate.
I didn’t care. It was quite liberating. All the tiny things that normally bothered me had dropped away. I had liked to be liked, liked to flex a little seductive muscle even from the harbour of my partnership with Jase. To make sure I still had it. But today I didn’t give a damn if we travelled the length and breadth of Salisbury Plain without a sodding word.
The road became monotonous. Even a week ago, I would have loved to be driving out here, watching how the summer was baking the vast stretch of country to its pitch of saffron and gold, but now that remembered beauty was oppressive to me. Almost frightening. Helplessly I returned to my covert study of Lieutenant Rayne’s face. Dark fringe, cut short in spikes beneath his beret. Heavy-duty insignia on the sleeves of his fatigues. He’d done well for himself over the past three years. In weird contrast, that generous mouth, and eyelashes so long they split the sunlight into beautiful brushstroke shadows across his face…
He reached for a pair of sunglasses from the dashboard, and I flinched inwardly. Then I took a breath. He couldn’t have seen me.
“Not far now,” I said, losing my nerve and the game, and he replied, in a distinct, soft Hampshire accent I hadn’t caught back in the briefing room,
“Yeah. You’ve changed a lot, as well.”
I stared out through the shield. For a moment I forgot that I didn’t care about anything anymore and contemplated a rolling dive out the door and onto the turf. Then it occurred to me that he might not mean the night when I had performed my impromptu dance in front of the Stonehenge crowds. Perhaps he had seen me on a more dignified occasion, supervising a group of students or laying out the lines for a dig.
The jeep shot down a couple of hundred more yards of road, her driver still adroitly evading the potholes. Then he continued, “Cut-off jeans, spray-on T-shirt. Oh, and a pair of Captain Marsh’s handcuffs.”
“Jesus.” I folded the map up. I knew where we were now, and I felt an uncontrollable urge to wrap my arms round my chest. I’d have drawn a knee up too, if this had been three years ago and I’d been wearing kick-off trainers, not sensible boots laced tight, the better to impress McCade with my professional demeanour. I was tightly done up inside all my clothes, I realised. Tie, belt, a jacket Jase had given me almost as a joke, for those occasions when only a smart tweed with actual leather elbow patches would do. It was my attract-the-sponsors coat, when we were schmoozing for funding for a dig, something I was very good at. Way too hot for today. I said dryly, “I can’t believe you remember that.”
“It was hard to forget. You had a colleague with you that day. I heard he died.”
I waited for more. I’m sorry, perhaps, or what happened. But he left it as baldly stated as that—no more than an observation. And for once I didn’t reach reflexively for my shield. It was getting damn threadbare now anyway, as the days went by and the differences which made no difference began to wreak transformational havoc on my world. For a moment I was outraged, that he had dared to make such casual reference, where others had tiptoed, used every word but the right one. Loss. Bereavement. This sad time. Never, simply, he died. There was nothing there for me to fight. The words dropped inside of me like two stones down a well.
God. It was real. Nausea washed through me, and I said, “Yeah, he did. What the hell are you driving like that for? You’re making me travel-sick.”
“Dodging every bloody pothole.”
He hadn’t been aware of it. I saw that, saw him glance at his hands as if they didn’t belong to him. A moment later a very faint flush appeared on the cheekbone I could see. He said icily, “Perhaps that’s because I spent the last three years avoiding mines in Iraq, Dr. Logan. The ones I didn’t have to stop and detonate. That’s my job—not nursemaiding academics with more brains than sense around some imaginary bloody Roman town.”
Well, that was real too. And plain enough. “Okay,” I said. “No problem. Turn around and I’ll get McCade to find somebody else to nursemaid me.”
He snorted. The faint, angry colour was still there. “Chances. I already tried to ditch you. You’re my assignment, for as long as you need me, and if you’ve any bloody decency you’ll keep it short.”