The Centre Cannot Hold – Part 3







Sunday 16th October

1 pm



"And what has got you both looking so worried?" Klaus asked Dave and Mick. "I would have thought you'd have been enjoying yourself hugely?"

"We are..." Mick took a sip of wine.

"But we were just talking to the RCM pit," Dave continued, "and they've got either a problem with the telemetry, or a potential overheating situation."

"We were just trying to work out what it might be."

"Ah I understand fully," Klaus smiled, "it would be like me having inside information from inside the players dugout during a soccer game, knowing what is going on behind the scenes can be upsetting to your enjoyment."

"Exactly, and up here we can't be directly involved like they are down there."




“There  - it happened again!”


Heather looked at the readout on Denice’s screen, and then said “Lover, any sign of a problem on your end?”


“No - Denice got a bug on her screen?”


Heather looked at Denice, and said “I’ll answer that in two minutes.  Janine – what did you find out?”


“You were right,” Janine said as she walked in, “some of the other pits have had the same issue.”


Heather nodded as she looked at the screen, and then said “Ton, need a favour – tell me when Sandy approaches turn three again.”


“Got it,” Tonia said into the headset.   “Approaching in three… two… one…”


As Denice watched the screen, she saw the spike, and looked at Heather.


“Someone is playing a game – and it’s not a one we like,” Clint said as he looked over.  “Leave it with me and some of the other pit heads…”





"So what is going on ladies and gentlemen," Marina asked as she joined the little group huddled round the computer on a table.

"They are looking at just how bad a model I make darling," Kylie said with a sigh as Sami and Kerry shook their heads.

"We aren't Kylie," Pippa looked up from the screen, "you know damn well that these are some beautiful images that you should be proud of."

"Wot we are talking about are little fings I can do to make great even better," Gio smiled. "and we do tricks like this even for the very top models."

"That's true Kylie," Jeannie looked at the screen, "my pictures are usually all worked on."

"And that doesn't worry you darling?"

"it did once," the disabled model smiled, "I took it as a criticism of both my work, and how I looked, but really its neither of those things."

"If we can make incredible beauty even slightly more perfect then we are going to do it Kylie," Pippa leaned back, "it truly is standard magazine practice."






“Well, when you suggested we play a game, this was not quite what I had in mind,” Steve Carlton said as he looked up at Capricorn and Allison.


“I don’t see you complaining,” Allison said as she stroked his cheek, “are you?”


“No – I actually think this is – exciting,” Steve said as he pulled on his wrists.  He was lying on a therapy table, his wrists and ankles strapped to the sides with medical tape.


“Oh I can see that,” Allison said as she stroked her hand over the bulge in his pants, and then slowly unfastened and pulled them down, while Capricorn reached over and kissed him fully on the lips.



“Hmmm – now why didn’t I ask you to do that earlier,” Steve said, and then he groaned as he felt Allison’s hand on his cock.


“Hush,” Capricorn said as she pressed some medical tape over his mouth, and then looked at Allison, “today, we want to take very, very special care of you, Steve Clayton…”





Andre smiled as he took out his cell phone, and said “yes?”


“The plan is proceeding,” a male voice said in Russian, “they are bound by now, given the people in that team, to have figured out someone is causing the spike externally, and will call for help.”


“Good,” Andre replied quietly as Anouska and Selena watched from beside him, “they are going to contact her I am sure – be prepared to move when she comes along.”


As he put the phone away, Selena noticed Charlotte taking her own phone out, and looking at it.  She stood up, said “excuse me a moment, Madame” and walked over to where Helen was standing.



“Someone’s causing a glitch deliberately?”


“It looks that way,” Heather said into Charlotte’s ear.  “I know it’s an imposition, but any chance you can come down to the pits and add your expertise?   Clint and a couple of others have gone to see if someone is doing it remotely on the racecourse.”


Francesca came over and smiled as Charlotte said “okay – I can be there in a few minutes.”  Putting her phone away, she said “please offer my excuses if anyone asks where I have gone Mamma – there is an issue in the team pits I need to go and help with.”


“Of course,” Francesca said as she watched her daughter walk off.


“Where’s Charlotte going to,” Eleanor asked as she came over.


“Heather has asked her to go and assist with a computer problem,” Francesca said, and then she looked at her old friend.  “Why?”


“Something I heard Mick and Dave say…  I may just follow her down,” Eleanor said as she turned.


“Eleanor, darling, should I be…”


“No – enjoy the race,” Eleanor said as she set off for the doors.




“Are you sure,” Helen said as she looked at Selena.


“Am I a hundred percent sure?  No.  Does my gut tell me someone on the opposing team may pick an occasion like this to try something?  Yes.”


Nodding, Helen said “stay with Francesca – I’ll go and check with the race team.”





Steve’s eyes were wide open as he felt Allison slip onto him, and then he groaned and closed his eyes as she felt his grip on him, moving up and down as he started to throb and grow larger inside her.  He could feel Capricorn’s kisses on his bare chest, her tongue running over his own nipples as he felt something begin to stir inside himself, and started to shake.


“Oh yeah – you get the idea now,” Allison moaned as she felt him respond to her movements, and felt the heat inside herself before Steve opened his eyes wide and started to shake, giving himself to Allison as she threw her head back and groaned.


“There – that wasn’t so bad was it,” she sighed as she kissed his chest, and then slipped off him, removing the condom from his cock and kissing it before she looked at Capricorn.


“My turn next,” she said as she removed her dress, Steve staring at her chest as she walked forward, and then rubbed them on his tape gag.


“Would you like to kiss these, big boy,” she whispered, Steve nodding as he rubbed his gag over them and Capricorn moaned softly.





“This way, Ma’am,” the guard said as he opened the door to the wide tunnel, Charlotte thanking him as she walked through, then holding her back as the door closed.


“Oh baby, you pick now to really start kicking,” she said with a sigh as she stopped for a second, and then walked along, not hearing the door opening and closing behind her or the soft footsteps following her down the corridor.


Some sort of sixth sense made her turn round, but there was no sign of anyone behind her, so she turned and started walking again.  Eleanor stepped out of the shadows and followed behind – every sense was screaming this was a trap, and if she was right…


Helen quietly entered the tunnel and made her way down, keeping to the sides and to the shadows.  She could see Charlotte a ways down, and someone else following – but as she came closer, she relaxed when she saw it was Eleanor.  “She must have some misgivings as well,” Helen thought to herself – and then she tensed as she heard something.



It was the sudden opening of the door that made Charlotte whip round, as she saw the man standing there, wearing coveralls but pointing a very real gun at her.


“You will come with us,” he said quietly, Charlotte hearing the Russian accent as she was grabbed from behind.  She could feel the hot breath over her head as another voce said “I do not think she will give us too much trouble.”


“Brother, are you wrong,” she said as she drove the heel of her shoe into his foot, making him yelp as he let go of her.  The first man raised the gun and aimed it at her, before he said “I said you will come with us, and you will – willingly or otherwise.”


“I don’t think so arsehole.  Carlotta – DUCK!”


As Charlotte threw herself to the floor, Eleanor fired at the man who had been standing behind her as he got up, watching as he dropped to his knees and then fell forward.


Ty chertovski suka” the armed man said as he turned and fired, Charlotte looking up as Eleanor grunted and fell to her knees.  “Oh goddess, no,” she whispered as he walked quickly over and forced her to her feet, saying “you precious mother is going to have to sto…”


She watched as his head was twisted, the cracking sound clear as he dropped to the floor, and she saw Helen standing there.  “Are you all right,” she said as she looked at Charlotte.


“I am – Eleanor…”


Both women walked quickly over as Helen knelt down to look at Eleanor, who was holding her arm as a dark stain spread on her shoulder.


“I’ll live – it’s a through and through,” she said through gritted teeth.  “Little Mother…”


“Thank you,” Charlotte said quietly, and then she let out a moan before looking down.  “Oh lord…”


Helen and Eleanor looked at her, then at the floor, before Eleanor said “we’re going to need help…”






“Piet – when did you get into town?”


“A couple of hours ago,” Piet said as he shook Alex’s hand, and kissed Francesca on the cheek.  “Where’s Roo?”


“She was called down to the pits for something,” Francesca said as Alex handed the tall South African a drink, “let me get word to the team you are here…”


Shirley smiled as she stood with Penny and Rhenia.  “I see the father to be is here, which I think Charlotte will like,” Penny said.


“Ah good – I see I was right to be here.”


Penny turned suddenly as she heard the voice, and saw the tall African woman standing beside her.


“Karen?  I didn’t know you were coming here today?”


“I come where I am needed,” the Umali said with a smile, “and I feel today is going to be the most auspicious of days – although I fear…”


“Karen, when you turn up I always worry,” Penny said as she took her cell phone out.  “Lover, where are…”  Shirley looked at her Number One as her face suddenly hardened and she said “where are you?


“Okay – I’m on my way, I’ll let the crew know.  What else do we need?


“I’ll inform her as well.  What can you tell me about them?”




“One moment please,” Penny said as she listened, and then looked across the room.  “Understood – stay there, I’m on my way.”


“Penny, what’s happened?”


“There’s been an incident,” Penny said quietly, “Shirley, can you get in touch with Clint, tell him Charlotte has been delayed, and do they still have the problem.  Karen – come with me.”


As they walked quickly off, Penny grabbed Veronica by the arm and said “the Sisters have need of you,” before they walked quickly out of the room – but not before Francesca saw them.


“Would you excuse me one moment, please,” she said to Piet and Alex, before she hurried behind them.


“Penny?  What’s happened?”


“He tried to snatch Charlotte – Eleanor is injured, and – well, you may be about to become a grandmother.”


“I…  Pietre…”


“Not yet,” Penny said quietly, “we need to clean a mess up first.”





“There’s a medical room over there,” Helen said as she helped Eleanor to stand up.  “Charlotte, will you be all right walking the short distance?”


“I’ll cope,” Charlotte said as she panted, and they walked over to a white door, “MEDICAL ROOM” printed on the front.  Helen held Eleanor as Charlotte opened the door – and all three of them heard “HMGHHDDDDD!!!”  “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” and “Oh shit” intermingled.


Charlotte looked up to see Allison Clarke pulling on her dress while Capricorn Delaney turned and looked as she straddled Steve Clayton.  He raised his head, Helen raising an eyebrow as she saw the tape over his mouth, before she said “right now, I really do not want to know what happened here.  You have about three minutes to get him free, get dressed, and sit quietly in that corner.”


“What happened – Mrs Ball, have you been shot,” Allison said as she grabbed a pair of scissors and cut Steve free, while Capricorn pulled her clothes on.


“Yes,” Eleanor said, “and slightly more worryingly, my young friend here has broken her waters.  Do you know what that means?”


Uhsrrhbhttt – sorry, you’re in labour,” Steve said as he peeled the tape from his mouth.”




“In here,” Helen said as she opened the door and Penny, Karen, Veronica and Francesca came in.


“Carlotta,” the Marchesa said as she knelt where Charlotte was sitting, “what happened?”


“I’ll tell you – in a minute,” Charlotte grunted as she looked round.  “Penny, get these three out of here – without seeing what’s out there.”


“Understood,” Penny said as Steve fastened his jeans.  “I want you three to come out of the room, turn left, and do not look back – I’m taking you back up to the suite.”




“I’m not going to tell them – I have other things to worry about,” Penny said, the three of them going with her as Veronica helped Eleanor to take her top off.


“It’s a through and through – Glock by the looks of it,” Veronica said as she looked at the wound.  “Who killed them?”


“I shot – Helen worked,” Eleanor grunted as Veronica wiped the blood away with a sterile wipe.


“You’ll need stitches – but you’ll live – again,” she said as she went to the side and picked up a pair of gauze pads, pressing them to Eleanor’s shoulder as she said “Helen – pass me the tape will you?”


“Here,” Helen said as she looked at Francesca.  “They were Russians – they were going to use her to get to you, weren’t they?”


Francesca stood up and nodded as Helen said “someone needs to tell me just who is behind this, and they need to tell me very soon.”


“Yes – yes we do, but forgive me if I delay a little while longer,” Francesca said as she held Charlotte’s hand, “I have a bigger thing to worry about right now.”


“Tell me about it – Karen, let me guess, you knew?”


“I may have had word, Little Mother,” Karen said as she held her other hand.




“You found a device,” Shirley said as she looked round.


“We did, Madame,” Clint said over her phone.  “It had been abandoned, but it was designed to hack into the car system and send false alerts at regular intervals.  Heather has it to examine, while Denice watches the car.”


“Very well – I’ll keep you informed on other matters,” Shirley said as she saw Penny come back in, the two girls and boy walking off as she came over.




“Eleanor and Helen neutralized the threat – we’ll need clean up, but we have two other problems.  One of them shot Eleanor in the shoulder – she’ll live, but we need to get her to a hospital.  Veronica is with her now.”


“I can arrange for my car to come to the entrance, and get her there,” Shirley said as she sent a text.  “The other problem?”


“Charlotte’s waters have broken.  Francesca is with her now, but we’re going to need some medical advice.”


“Karen Boyd is here – she’s talking to Sami Mitchell at the moment.  Do we have ten minutes?”


“I believe so, yes?”


“Okay – return and help Helen and Francesca, text me when Eleanor and Veronica have left, and I’ll get Karen to you.”


“Madame – Helen…”


“I know – but first things first.  Go.”



“Short breaths, Carlotta – just as you have been taught,” Francesca said as Charlotte squeezed her hand.


“A bloody month early – great,” Charlotte grunted as Penny came back in.


“Veronica – can Eleanor move?”


“What happened?”


Penny whirled round to see Ed Preminger in the door, looking in.


“Our Russian friends tried to take Charlotte,” Eleanor said as she stood up, Ed looking outside and saying “one shot, one – a broken neck?”


“Ed, we’re going to need discrete clean up,” Francesca said as Charlotte gripped her hand again.


“I’ll call for that – you were shot Eleanor?”


“We have transport waiting Admiral Preminger,” Penny said, “but we’d rather not attract attention at the hospital.”


“Let me talk to the driver – I’ll tell him what to do,” Ed said as Veronica supported Eleanor.    She stopped for a moment, looked at Charlotte, and said “good luck” before the three of them walked off.


“Okay,” Penny said, “now for you young lady.”


“Piet is going to hit the roof that he’s not here…”


“He is here, Carlotta.  He arrived a short while ago – as soon as we know what’s going to happen, he will join you, but it cannot be here.”


“Obviously not,” Charlotte groaned as she panted again.  Looking round, Penny found a wheelchair and brought it over as Karen helped Charlotte to sit in it.  “Let’s get you out to the corridor,” Helen said quietly, “before we get some help for you.”




Pietre,” Ken Boyd said as he shook hands, “so you managed to get over for a little while as well?”


“I did indeed,” Piet said as Shirley looked at her phone, and then walked over as Karen came from the other direction.  “I just wonder where Roo has got to.”


“I’ve got a message from her,” Shirley said as Karen joined them, “and for Karen as well.”


“Now why would… oh,” Karen said as she looked at Ken.  “Where is she?”


“Why would you wonder where Roo is, Karen unless….  O liewe Here, het sy gegaan in arbeid? “


“Well, if she’s asking for me, looks like she might be,” Karen said as she handed Ken her water glass.  “Where are they?”


“She’s been helped by Penny and Francesca to where an ambulance is coming.  Come with me and I’ll take you there.  Ken, would you let the others know?”


“I’ll start spreading the word – call me,” Ken said as Andre looked on with Anouska and Selene.”


Chto proiskhodit?


Pokhozhe, chto miss Sharlotta van der Pil nachala rozhat' - ya uznayu, chto yeye muzh ukhodit s etoy zhenshchinoy.


Andre and Anouska looked at Selena, before he stood up and said “excuse me” and walked off.


“So Little Mother is about to be a mother,” Anouska whispered, “a most bountiful day…”


“Mister Kannenikov – are you all right?”


Andre turned suddenly as he saw Nessa Richmond standing behind him.


“Forgive me, Madame Richmond,” Andre said as he regained his composure, “an unexpected message from home.   I had hoped we would have the chance to talk, but I fear I may have to leave shortly.”


“Well,” Nessa said with a smile, “allow me to say one thing before you go.”


“And that is?”


Nessa smiled as she walked up to him, and whispered into his ear “if you dare threaten any action against my family, in whatever form, I will personally see to it that it is the last thing you ever do.  I know who you are, I know what you threatened – and you have picked the wrong people to try this on.  Do I make myself clear?”


She stepped back, smiled and turned away, Andre rubbing his chin as he thought her message over.






“There you are you big lug,” Charlotte said as Piet came running to her, “you should have told me you were coming.”


“Blow that – is it really time already?”


“Well, her contractions are starting,” Karen said as she looked at Piet, “and that sure looks like an ambulance out there.”


“Piet – this is Karen Kumalo, a friend from Zim,” Charlotte panted out as she gripped his hand.


“Nice to meet you – we talk later,” he said as two paramedics came in.


“I will make some calls – where are you going?”


“St Luke’s” the paramedic said as they wheeled Charlotte out, Karen nodding as she took her phone out.


“Teacher?  This is Karen – it is time to offer all prayers and send the messages…”




“Excuse me, Madame,” Penny said as she looked at Mary Clarke and Cassandra Stone, “a small piece of business I need to take care of.”


“Of course,” Shirley said as her phone rang.  “Shirley Xavier?”


"Shirley it's Agnes."

"Hi Agnes,” Shirley said quietly “how are you all doing?"

"Recovering from a VERY successful party."


"Look - the reason I've phoned is something that may or may not be important, but which I thought that maybe both you and Kay needed to know."

"Sounds intriguing."

"You know Colin Gresham-Fox is in Brussels for this Brexit thing?"

"I did."

"Well he phoned Sue, and she thought something he said was interesting enough that she phoned me, and I am now phoning you..."

"Is it that serious?" Shirley interrupted.

"Possibly," Agnes took a deep breath, "Colin was chatting with several of the political guys there and it seems the Sisters of Maisha became a topic of conversation."

"Okay," Shirley paused, "what was said?"

"One of the Poles said he'd heard that the Russians were very unhappy with the Sisters. That they think the Sisters are poking their noses in where they aren't wanted...Especially in the US."

"Oh crap," Madame whispered under her breath, "How well is this Polish chap informed?"

"Very it seems, and he wasn't the only one to have heard the story, a Rumanian diplomat backed him up."

"Did they have any clue that talking to Colin this might get back to us by a circuitous route?"

"Sue doesn't think so, she thinks it was just late night drink fueled gossip, but I do think you ought to know.

"I agree Agnes, and thank you for ringing."

"How was Aggie?" asked Caroline as Shirley put her phone away, “and where did Francesca go?”

"She was fine, but she passed on some serious news....You and I need to talk."




VA Hospital




The doctor looked over as Veronica opened the door and helped Eleanor in.


“Commander Veronica Joyce, USCGI – this is Captain Eleanor Ball.  Admiral Preminger should have called?”


“He did – this way,” he said as he showed them into a waiting room, Eleanor groaning as she sat down and he examined the wound.


“Any idea what did this?”


“Glock – and it’s classified,” Eleanor said quietly. 


“Understood – well, it’s a clean wound, so let’s get you patched up…”






“Goddess,” Caroline whispered, “Eleanor?”


“Taken for treatment and Charlotte is on her way to the hospital as well.  I understand Admiral Preminger is instigating clean up.”


"So,” Caroline said quietly, “you think that the shit that just happened is the action against the Sisters that Colin heard about?"

"I fear so Caroline," Shirley paused to collect her thoughts, "Charlotte is probably the most visible face of the Sisters, if they think the Sisters are who Francesca and all the others are acting for then she makes a logical target."

"Well we know from our own sources that most intelligence and police agencies believe that they have been penetrated by the Sisterhood, why should the Russians believe anything different?"

"On that I agree."

"Do we have them so worried though that they'd do something this risky?"

"That is a million dollar question my dear Caroline, and one that really we need answers to right now."

"I could grab the Dancer and try squeezing him, I'm sure Carina would love to help me."

"It's an idea,” Shirley said, “but I think that maybe Penelope might be better placed to talk to him, she is after all Helen's lover and that buys her a certain in status."

"Agreed," Caroline nodded, "shall I brief Penny, or will you?"


“You do it, I need to let people know what has happened to Charlotte in part.”


“Penny,” Caroline said as she walked quickly over, “you know what has happened?”


“Oh yes – why?”


“We need you to have a quiet chat with Dancer – it looks like the Russians wanted to hit the Sisters as well.”


"Damn it…  Can this wait until after I've talked to a couple of other people first Dom?" Penny whispered.

"About what the two youngsters were up to with that kid?" 

"You heard," Penny smiled. "With all of them being well under age I think it’s safer having parents and friends deal with this, not anyone official."

"Alright, but when you are finished then Madame and I need talk to you, and you need to talk to 'him'."

"Okay, I can do that.  Give me five minutes,” Penny said as she put her smile on, and walked to Cassandra.


“Cassandra, Mary – can I have a quiet word with both of you please,” she said as she steered he two women into a quiet corner.


“Okay, I want you both to sit down, and I want you just to listen and say nothing until I am finished.  A few things have happened in the last hour – one of which is Charlotte has gone into labour.”


“Already – isn’t she not due for another month,” Cassandra said quietly.


“Well, that’s not going to be a problem now, I assure you,” Penny said, “but – look, I found her in a corridor, and got her into a medical room while I called for Francesca.  Only – there were already some people in the medical room.”


“There were?  Who,” Mary asked.


Penny took a deep breath, and said “Allison and Capricorn – and Steve Clayton.”


“Oh,” Mary said, “and what were they doing there?  Playing Doctors and Nurses?”


“Not quite,” Penny said quietly as Cassandra’s eyes opened wide.  “How much not quite,” she said quietly.


“Well – if I said Yankee Stadium?”


Cassandra looked at Penny as Mary said “I don’t get it.”


“I do – and Steve was the pitcher?”


“He was – and I think he was a willing player, but you two need to talk to them make sure they understand.”


Mary suddenly gasped as she said “oh my god – but she’s barely thirteen!”


“They all are,” Cassandra said quietly.  “Thanks Penny – leave this with us…”


VA Hospital


“Right,” the nurse said as she finished securing the dressing to Eleanor’s shoulder.  “Rest for a few days, and you should be all right.  The doctor will come and see you in a few minutes.”


“Thank you,” Eleanor said as she slipped a jumper on.


"Am I right in saying that we need keep no official records of this Captain?" the senior nurse asked.

"If that's your way of asking if this is national security related, then yes, this should not officially have ever happened."

"I understand," the nurse spoke to a couple of the younger nurses, "they know now that they need to forget whatever they might see and hear."

"Thank you," Eleanor took a breath, "has anyone informed my son and his family?"

“What do you think?”


Eleanor and Veronica watched as the doctor looked to the door, where a thirteen year old girl was standing in a coverall, the top buttons open and the legs tucked into short four inch heeled boots.


"You think you can keep this secret from us?" Katy stood hands on hips, "Uncle Adam is just parking the car."


“Jan and Katherine?”


“Mom’s on the track, and Gran is still feeding the crew,” Katy said as Adam joined her.  “Mom – what happened?”


“Someone tried to kidnap a friend – I stopped them, but got shot in the process,” Eleanor said as she stood up.  “Veronica brought me here, for a bit of privacy.  How’s the race going?”


“They’re in the lead for now – but who shot you Gran,” Katy asked.


“Foreign agents – and I really can’t say more than that at this stage.  Charlotte?”


“I think she’s on her way to the main hospital now,” Adam said as Katy looked at the others.


“Charlotte?  They tried to snatch Charlotte?”


“They failed – that’s the important thing…”





“Sheesh,” Tom Callaghan said as he looked at the covered bodies, “what the hell happened down here.”


"The key thing is, it stopped something worse,” Ed Preminger said as the trolleys were brought in.  “Mr Callaghan - can I rely on you and the FBI to keep this quiet?"

"It all happened in a fairly public way Admiral, but I spoke to my superiors, and they'd clearly already heard from your people, so we will do what we can to make sure that no one reports this ever happened."

"Thank you Mr Callaghan..."

"My name is Tom Admiral, and well Eleanor Ball is sort of like family."

"I understand," the naval man smiled, "and you can call me Ed if you wish."

"Thank you Sir."

"So are we likely to see 'Rupert' here this afternoon now?"


“I don’t know – he tends to appear when he is least expected…”


“Tom – Admiral Preminger.”


They both turned to see Rupert Brooks standing there, his hands in his pockets as he looked round.  “Well – I see we have a mess that is been cleaned up here.  They are confirmed Russian agents?”


“Your experts are checking now, but eye witnesses confirm the Russian accents,” Ed said quietly.


“And those eye witnesses?”


“A full report will be with you by tomorrow morning Rupert – can’t say more than that.”


“Whatever has been going on, Admiral, Tom – it needs to be stopped now.”


“If I am right,” Ed said quietly, “whoever is behind this is about to discover the biggest can of whoop-ass as it is dropped on him.  The kidnap target was the daughter of the Marchesa di Cambrello.”


Rupert looked at both of them, and said “Ah.  Right.  Let me have tickets for the ringside seats, will you?”



St Vincent’s Hospital


“Dr Boyd?  Dr Cameron, duty obstetrician.  How is the patient?”


“Getting fed up already,” Charlotte said as she panted while holding Piet and Francesca’s hands.


“Well, it’s a good sign that you’re getting upset,” Karen said with a smile.  “Charlotte van der Byl, approx. 36 weeks, waters broke about two hours ago, contractions coming every three to four minutes.”


“Deep breaths, Roo,” Piet said as Francesca felt a throbbing in her pocket.  “I will be back in a few minutes,” she said as she stepped out of the room, taking a deep breath and looking at her phone.




“Marianne – word has reached you?”


“I had a call from Teacher – is she really about to give birth?”


“A short while yet, but yes, she is in labour,” Francesca said as a familiar song played in the background.


“Okay, I know that tone – what else has happened Francesca?”


“Nothing that need concern you or John, Marianne, be assured of that.  Can you let Piet’s parents know the news?”


“John has already phoned them.”


“Good – I will keep you updated,” Francesca said as she ended the call, and looked out of the window.


“We stopped them, Marchesa?”


“For now Karen,” Francesca said without looking round, “but they were the symptoms.  We still need to excise the cause.  Is there any news on Eleanor?”


“She has been treated – her son and granddaughter are with her now.  Francesca – I counsel caution.”


“I always am cautious,” Francesca said quietly.  “But now, my place, my focus, is here.”


“And after that?”


“There will be a reckoning of some kind, if it does not happen before…”


Karen looked at Francesca, before she heard another voice say “Marchesa?”


“Hannah – you have heard?”


“I have,” she said as she bowed to Karen, “and as a Sister, I wanted to remind you of what you said to me when we first met.”


Looking at her assistant, Francesca said “and what is that?”


“That if we are called to act as Sisters, and we do so out of anger, that is the wrong motive.”


Francesca shook her head and smiled as she said “and that is wise counsel – thank you Hannah.”


“Francesca?  We need you in here…”




10 pm Local Time


The training camp for the Sisters of Maisha


“Is there any word,” Poison asked as she came into the mess hall, and looked at those gathered there.


“Not yet – we wait, we pray, we hope,” Teacher said as Liz looked at Leader.  “Although I did hear Karen was there.”


“So what do we do about someone attacking Little Mother?”


“We are already doing it,” Leader said quietly, “some of our newest sisters are delivering a message to certain people on our behalf.”


“And that message is?”


“Do not wake the sleeping bear – not if you wish to survive the experience.”


Poison nodded as she said “still – let’s all hope she gets through this, eh?”




5 pm

Pocono racecourse


“So you’re coming back here?


“All right, Adam,” Jan said as she looked at her mother, “once the race is over, we’ll come up as fast as we can.  Any word on Charlotte?”


“No – no, of course not.  See you in a while lover.”  As she put her cell phone away, Katherine handed her a salad.


“Who would want to do this to her, Jan?”


“Whoever it is, I think they may be about to find they have made a great mistake…”




“Excuse me – Mister Kannenikov?”


Andre turned round and smiled as he said “It’s Penelope Harker, isn’t it – Helen’s partner?  I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting before.”


“No – no, somehow, that has not managed to happen before now.  I wonder if I could have a quiet word with you – over there?”


“Of course,” Andre said as they walked into a corner, while Shirley and Caroline looked on.


“I’ve had security stepped up at the New York offices,” Caroline said quietly.


“The same has happened at Aldwych and LA,” Shirley said in response, “We need to contain this.  There is a growing list of people who may wish this ended – I have sent Hannah to make sure Francesca does not call Vendetta in anger.”


Caroline nodded as Penny looked over, and said “I want you to listen very carefully Mr Kannenikov, and I want you to pay heed to what I say.  I was in the link tunnel downstairs, and I saw the outcome of the attempt to kidnap my friend Charlotte.”


“Someone tried to kidnap Mrs van der Byl?   Miss Harker, I assure you, I am saddened to hear that was…”


“I know you were behind it, Dancer.”


Andre looked at her before saying “Well, I am a dancer, but you make it sound like a term of disrepute…”


“Only when used in the sense I mean it.  I’m British, Mr Kannenikov, so I am outside whatever plans you and your – superiors – may have for what is currently been debated in this country.  But today, you overstepped the line, so now I do have to get involved.


“And, what is worse, she is a friend of Helen’s as well.  I wonder if you realise just how big a pile of guano you have waded deep into?  But then, I know you have more than one face, Mr Kannenikov, and I have to tell you, your superiors are not going to be pleased.  Two of their operatives killed, and a senior member of US Intelligence injured by a gunshot wound…”


“Penelope,” Andre said in a quiet, dangerous voice, “I strongly advise you to consider your next words carefully.  I do not believe you are aware of who I am…”


“I am fully aware, Dancer – because I am a Sister as well, and today you tried to take a very important person in that group.  Add to that who her mother is…”


“The Marchesa?”  Penny smiled as Andre suddenly looked round the suite.


“She is with her daughter – but when she returns, I suspect she will want words with a lot of people, including you.  So just answer me one question.




He looked into Penny’s eyes, and nodded as he replied “because she and those she works with are a serious impediment to my cause, and they must be stopped.”


“Thank you for your honesty,” Penny said as she reached down, and grabbed his scrotum.  “Here’s my advice,” she said as she gripped tightly, “make your reports, and leave this country by the end of the week.  Because if you do not, I and those I represent will come for you – and we do not make mistakes.”


“I see why Helen is in love with you,” Andre grunted, “you are a match for her.”


“No – I am the softer of us,” Penny said quietly as she walked off, “so answer me one more question – were you the one who betrayed her and her mother?”


Andre felt the grip tighten, and then nodded as Penny said “thank you – we will be watching” and let go, Andre sitting down as she walked away.  She did not see Helen as she went past, her partner standing with her back against the wall, trying to process what she had heard…




6 pm

St Vincent’s


“O, liewe God, hoekom maak die hel soveel seer?”


Ek weet Roo, maar ons is hier by jou” Piet said as he mopped her brow, while Francesca held her hand.


“Okay Charlotte,” Karen said as she looked up from between her legs, “it’s miracle time.  When the contractions start again, bear down with all your might.”


“How…  How much longer…”


“Soon, soon,” Francesca said quietly as she gripped her hand.




“That’s great,” Karen said as Dr Cameron looked on, “I can see the head crowning now.  Another push, Charlotte.”


The young woman grunted and panted, and then screamed out as she pushed down again.



“Okay – the head is out,” Karen said with a smile, “one more push and it will all be over.”


“Then I rest?”


“Then you get all the rest you need,” Francesca said as Piet looked down.


“And…”  Charlotte screamed out as she pushed down again – and then the room was filled with the sound of a baby crying.


“It’s a girl,” Karne said with a smile as Charlotte looked down, “a beautiful baby girl.  Let the nurse clean her up, and then you can hold her.”


“We have a daughter,” Piet said as the nurse took the baby away, as Charlotte said “I thought there were no more…”


“It’s the placenta, Carlotta my angel,” Francesca said as she kissed her daughter’s forehead.  “Now it has passed, that is all, is it not Doctor Boyd?”


“It is indeed,” Karen said with a smile.  “We’ll get you cleaned up and you need a couple of stitches, but very well done Charlotte.”


“And here is your daughter,” the nurse said as she brought the baby over and laid her in Charlotte’s arms.  “Seven pounds three ounces.”


“Hello gorgeous,” Charlotte said as she stroked her cheek with her finger, “welcome to the world.  This is your father, and your grandmother.”


“Hallo my pragtige meisie” Piet said as a tear started to roll down his cheek.


“Have you decided on any names yet,” Dr Cameron said as she looked over.


“We have,” Charlotte said as she looked at Piet, then at her mother, “but I am adding one after what has happened today.  Mamma, may we present Francesca Eleonora Carlotta – Frances Eleanor Charlotte van der Byl.”


Francesca nodded as she allowed Frances to hold her finger.  “Thank you,” she whispered as she smiled, and then looked up.  For a moment, she thought she saw her parents and John watching from the side of the room, and smiled even more.


“I need to call my parents,” Piet said as the nurse took Frances, “give them the good news.  Is there anyone else I can call?”


“I’ll call Shirley, let her spread the news,” Francesca said with a smile as she looked at Karen.


“With your permission, I wish to stay a moment – offer my own blessing,” the Umali said quietly. 


“Come Piet,” Francesca said as she took him by the arm, and guided him out as Karen said “now then, let’s get you cleaned, and then we find you a room to rest for the night…”




6.30 pm

Pocono Racecourse


“May I have your attention please?”


The room turned and looked at Shirley as she stood at the microphone.


“First, I want to thank you all for coming today – the team is holding first at the moment, and the evening buffet is open.


“Second – and far more important – I have some good news.  Frances van der Byl has been safely delivered – a baby girl for Piet and Charlotte, mother and baby are doing well.”


"So any other news you care to impart, dear brother?" Nessa said as she sat with Alex and the others.

"Only that Mother and daughter will be fine," Alex nibbled at his food.  “And Francesca will be back soon.”

"Well,” Nessa said as she sipped her drink, “it's one christening you won't be asked to conduct I suspect..."

"Maybe not directly," Alex smiled, "Francesca and Charlotte had a few words with me a few weeks ago, and they asked if I'd assist George Gordon with the ceremony and give the baby a blessing."

"I suppose that makes sense," Nessa paused, "so does that mean the christening will be in that chapel in Naples where they held the wedding?"

"Either there, or Francesca is looking for some way that Frances can be christened in the family chapel at the palazzo. It seems that's something of a family tradition."

"That Charlotte's father broke when he and Francesca broke-up and he had her baptized as a protestant."

"Exactly."  Looking round, he said “did you talk to Mister Kannenikov?”


“We had a few words – I suspect he is not interested in Richmond Fund support.  Something in his manner…”



St Vincent’s

"Who was that you were on the phone to Boss?" Hannah said as she passed Francesca a cup of hospital coffee.

"George Gordon,” Francesca said as she took a sip, and then looked at the cup.  “What is this?”


“They called it coffee,” Hannah said as she sat down.


“Anyway, as Charlotte's only remaining family on her father’s side I think it would have been rude if I hadn't phoned him straight away."

"Even in the middle of the night over there?"

"Yes even this late, and you can hardly talk young woman," Francesca smiled, "I heard you on the phone to Peri."

"Okay you got me," Hannah laughed back, "and she and Betty were both thrilled and asked if I'd pass on their congratulations."

"That was kind of them," the Contessa glanced at her watch, "I'll wait till a more civilised hour to ring Uncle Claudio, and also talk to Elia about a press release announcing the news."

"That sounds like a plan."

"I hope it is, and I'm sure I'll remember other people who deserve to be told directly as well."

"Pieter is phoning Lily he said so she can tell a lot of the people in Madame's London office."

"Good.  Karen – how are they?”


“Charlotte wants to see you,” the young African woman said as she sat with them, “and then I suspect she needs some rest.  I understand some friends will be coming to watch over her.”


“Indeed – Caroline is sending them, and some Sisters are coming from the West Coast.”


“I will stay until they come – I suspect you and Hannah will need to get back to the racecourse – after you have bid them a good night.  Come with me…”




7.15 pm

Pocono Racecourse


“Eleanor,” Shirley said as she saw her coming in with Adam and Veronica, “how are you?”


“I’ll live – what have I missed?”


“I believe Tom and Ed Preminger want a word with you eventually – but for now, perhaps a drink?”


“It’ll need to be a soft one – I have antibiotics just in case.  Charlotte?”


“Gave birth an hour or so ago to a girl – Francesca will tell you when she returns.”


“How angry is she?”


“Hannah has calmed her down – now sit, watch the rest of the race.”




“Katy – what happened?  How is Aunt Eleanor?”


“She’ll live Gran – she stopped something worse happening, and was injured, but they’ve treated that,” Katy said as Jan came over.  “She’s back upstairs now with Adam and Veronica.”


“Good,” Katherine said, “come and help me with the coffees.”


“Any word on Charlotte?”


“A baby girl – both fine.  Come on – you’re needed here…”



"Concentrate everyone," Henri spoke into his microphone, "I know we are all worried about other things, but for now we have a race to win."

"Roger that," Sandy said as she flashed by the pits.

"How are things looking Heather?"

"Looking fine Henri,” Heather said as she looked up, “Denice and I aren't seeing anything we haven't seen before here at Pocono once the sun sets and they put the lights on."

"The wear on that last set of tires was pretty good as well," Clint's voice came through the earpieces.

"Bon," Henri looked down at the clipboard that Janine was holding, "how are things looking from up there Tonia?"

"Sandy has plenty of room, but she needs to watch if the Clayton car suddenly comes to a stop."

"Does Stev have problems?" 

"According to his spotter Sandy, he says they are very worried that the engine won't make it to the end of the race. It's why he's been dropping back."

"Understood, in a way it’s a pity though - I sort of enjoy battling that big Jaguar of his."


“Let us fight our own battles, everyone…”





"Aunty Charlotte is at the hospital getting a baby," Judith told Jennifer as they sat eating.

"Why does she have to go to the hospital?" the other little girl said as she stopped eating.

"Because that's where Mommies go to get babies," Judith said with certainty.

"How do you know?"

"Well it's where my Mommy Annie went to get Rudy and Mags."

Jennifer sat thinking for a moment.  "Do you think that's where my Daddy went to get me? Remember i don't have a Mommy."

"I don't know," Judith's brows knitted while she thought about that. "Perhaps he sent Orlanda to get you?"


Jennifer thought for a moment, and then nodded.  “That makes sense, I think – but there was someone before her.  Dadda?”


“Yes dear,” George said as he sat with the girls.


“Did Orlanda collect me from the hospital when I came?  Judith said that is why Aunty Charlotte is at one now.”


George smiled - a sad smile, before he said “no Jenn – it was your mother who was at the hospital.  She’s not here any more.”


“Oh – where is she Dadda?”


“Watching you and smiling at everything you do from Heaven,” George said, “but Orlanda does look after you now.”


“I like Orlanda, Jenn-Jenn – she’s funny.”


“So do I,” Jennifer said as George smiled at her.






"What is it with the Sinners that we can't seem to have a big group occasion without someone popping out a baby?" Alice laughed.

"It is something of a pattern," Duncan laughed as well.

"Well, it's a good thing then that my wife is a member of the group then," Ken Boyd said as he sat down with his friends.  “And yes, I am remembering John came at Shirley’s party!”

"It's a DAMN good thing," Jo spoke as she and Curt joined the group, "and I hope that I'm never in the position of needing her services in circumstances like this."

"So you two aren't...?" Alice lifted a brow

"Not at least until I've finished college, grad school, and got my practice up and running...No way I'm getting pregnant till then."

"Those can be famous last words," Duncan smiled, “we weren't going to have children till Alice had presented her first collection in New York, but well - fate intervened."

"We are taking every precaution to avoid that," Curt smiled.


“Every precaution?”


“Well – every one short of abstinence…”






"Well darlings a toast to Frances," Kylie said as she held up her glass.

"To Frances," her friends echoed as they clinked their glasses.

"So do you think Aunt Sandy will be starting a book on how tall Frances will be?" Jeannie asked as she sipped her champagne.

"Well Piet is extremely tall, so is her Mom, and I heard so was Charlotte's  father, so I'm guessing at least five ten."

"But Charlotte herself is tiny Doc," Melinda crinkled her nose as she sipped the unfamiliar champagne, "so what happens if the baby has inherited those genes?"

"She has a point," Erica smiled happily, "but it's fun to speculate."

"I heard that she has traces of the same red hair her Mom has," Nikki tried to decide if her parents might object to a second glass of champagne.

"So a tall natural redhead," Kylie looked across the room towards Missy as she chatted with Maddie and Emma, "I wonder how long before someone starts offering a model contract?"


“Oh no – I suspect they may object to that,” Doc said with a grin.




“There you are.”


“Oh – hi Mom,” Capricorn said as she turned to see Cassandra standing behind her, “having fun?”


“In a way – want to come with me for a minute?  Something I want to talk to you about.”


“Sure,” the young girl said as she followed her mother – and then stopped as she saw Allison sitting with Mary.


“Sit down,” Cassandra said as she looked at her daughter, “and tell me exactly what you did this afternoon.”


She looked at Allison, before she said “Did Helen talk to you?”


“No – Penny,” Mary said quietly.  “So my first question – did you really do that Allison?”


As she looked at her older sister, Allison considered lying, but then said “it’s true, Mary – but Steve was a willing partner in it.”


“And did you…”


Allison nodded as Capricorn said “Mom, I know it sounds bad…”


“It sounds bad when Toni and the others talk about the stadium – but they were eighteen, Capricorn.   You’re a bit younger – a lot younger.”


“But Katy…”


“Is not my daughter – and trust me, Jan was not happy about that either.”  Cassandra rubbed her eyes, before she said “I guess it’s natural, but – just tell me you took precautions?”


“We both did,” Allison said, “and I’ve been taking the pills Mary.  Please, don’t tell Dad…”


“I’m not going to, but we are going to talk about this when we get home,” Mary said quietly.




“There you are lover,” Penny said as Helen came over.


"Penny darling,” Helen said quietly, “what do you know about Uncle Andre that you and the others aren't telling me?"

"What makes you say that darling?"

"I overheard you earlier giving him a talking to," Helen looked for clues in her lovers eyes.  Penny sighed, and said “yeah – we do need to tell you, but we’ve been trying to figure out how.”




Both women turned to see Eleanor standing there.  “Helen, thank you,” she said quietly as she held her shoulder, “for everything.  You want to know why Penny had words with Andre – are you sure you want the answer to that question?”




“All right, I’ll tell you…”




Andre looked over and watched as Helen stood with Penny and Eleanor – the older woman had her arm in a sling, and the tight knot in his stomach was growing tighter.  He then saw Helen suddenly turn and look in his direction, and then walk quickly over.


“Maestro,” Selena said quietly, “Madame wonders if you will meet her for lunch tomorrow.  We can finalise the details of her funding then.”


“Of course,” Andre said as he stood up, “forgive me, I must take care of something…”





Monday 17th October

7.30 am Local Time

Hong Kong

Catherine Lu’s Apartment


“Good morning Beverley,” Catherine said as she came into the kitchen, “have you had your morning workout already?”


“I have Mistress,” Bev said as she stood in her leotard, bowing from the waist.  “Have you heard anything from New York?”


“I just read a message – Charlotte has given birth to a baby girl, to be called Francesca or Frances, depending on where she is.”


“That is indeed good news – shall I make arrangements for a gift to be sent?”


“That would be good,” Catherine said as she heard the ping on her laptop.  Looking at the icon, she clicked on it and saw Helen.


“Helen, I was just saying to Beverley…”


“Forgive me, Honoured Mistress, may I speak in private?”


“Allow me to cleanse myself, and I will deal with the gift,” Bev said as she bowed again and walked off.  Catherine waited until she had gone, before she said “Helen, what is wrong?”


“Honoured Mistress – are you aware of the work that is been undertaken by Caroline and others here in New York?”


“I am aware they, alongside other groups, are looking into a possible attempt to influence American politics by, shall we say, foreign powers.  Why?”


“An attempt was made today to kidnap Charlotte – Eleanor Ball and I prevented it, although she was injured…”




“She lives – but Mistress…”  Catherine could see the look in Helen’s eyes as she said “Penny tells me that Uncle Andre was behind it.  How…  How is that possible?”


Catherine looked to the door as she heard water running, and said “Penny would not lie to you, Helen.  If she says it is, she is telling the truth.”


“But why would he?  Surely he is not a…”


“Helen, will you do something for me?” Catherine asked quietly.


“I serve at your pleasure Mistress.”


“What do you remember of the day you and your mother fled to the West?”


Helen looked at Catherine for a moment, before she said “I was a little child Mistress, only a few years old.”


“I know – but what memories do you have?”


“We…  We were visiting Washington with the corps.  I remember sitting with my father and mother in the hotel room as they talked – they were afraid, anxious, but my mother was holding me, kissing me as she spoke.


“Then my father looked out of the window, and he told my mother we had to go.  She told me we were going to go for a drive, and she put a coat on me, before she too put a coat on.  I remember sitting on the bed as my parents kissed each other, and then he picked me up and we left the room.”


“Go on,” Catherine said quietly.


“We went down some stairs, and outside – it was dark, but the street lights were at the end of the alley, and I remember seeing a car there.  We started to walk towards it – and then someone shouted at us to stop.”


Helen looked at Catherine, a tear in her eye as she said “My mother and father looked at each other, and she took me – the scent of her perfume as she ran with me close to her chest.”


“Do you remember seeing your father?”


“I could not forget that sight,” Helen said, “a man was standing with my father, and he had something against his head.  I remember his smile as he told us to run, and the look on…


“The look on…”  Helen suddenly fell silent as she looked at Catherine, her eyes wide, as she said “There was a flash of light, and I saw the other man’s face - Eto byl dyadya Andre ...”


“Helen,” Catherine said quietly, “you know it was common practice at the time for KGB agents to be placed in sports and other cultural groups.  Is it possible…”


“Forgive me, Honoured Mistress,” Helen said as she bowed, “it is just that memory – and they never really stop, do they?”


“May I offer some counsel, Helen?  Do nothing at this time, seek counsel with the Mongoose and the Swan tomorrow – and then talk to those you trust over there, including Penny.  If he is indeed behind the events of today, then they may already have plans.  And what is more, the Marchesa will have something to say as well…”


“Your counsel is wise, Honoured Mistress,” Helen said as she bowed.  “I will go to Penny now.”  As the call ended, Beverly came in and said “is there a problem, Honoured Mistress?”


“No – at least, not one we can help with in person,” Catherine said quietly.



Sunday 16th October

9 pm

Pocono Racetrack

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Shirley said into the microphone as the doors opened, “I see we have Francesca back with us.  How are they?”


“Mother and baby fine, Father still taking it in at the hospital,” Francesca said before the room broke into a round of applause.


"Congratulations Francesca," Nessa said as she pressed a glass of champagne into the Italian woman's hand, “and welcome to 'the club'."



"The Grandmotherhood, I maybe should call it," Nessa laughed.

"I'm still not sure..."

"Just accept that now you are a Grandmother you will have to live with that label the rest of your life darling."

"I guess I will," Francesca smiled as she realised what Nessa was actually saying. "I refuse to be responsible though for my actions if anyone starts implying this means I'm getting old."

"Oh anyone who is idiotic enough to say that deserves whatever they have coming," Nessa laughed again.

"So what is she like?" Alex asked as he gave Francesca a kiss on the cheek.

"All I can see is both my Carlotta...and James..." her voice trailed off.

"A true Gordon then?"

"At this moment."


“Well there is still time,” Juliette said as she came over to offer her congratulations, “so don’t worry yet.  Piet must still be in shock.”


“He’s not the only one – for a start, this means young Francesca is South African and American if they so desire, as well as Italian…”


“True – you know, if she chose American citizenship, she could one day be president.  Imagine that – Marchesa Francesca Eleonora Carlotta van der Byl, Madame President.”


Francesca shook her head as she heard Eleanor say “they name her after me?”


“In part,” she said as she turned to see Eleanor with Adam.  “How are you?”


“Well, I’m here – so that’s a good thing.”


"You know,” Francesca said quietly, “it suddenly occurred to me that all the gifts and toys that James never let Carlotta receive will now have someone else to love them and play with them."

"I'm sure Frances will do just that Francesca," Eleanor said as she hugged her friend, then winced slightly.

"Are you truly alright Eleanor?" Francesca looked worried.

"I will be. After all, it’s hardly the first time I've been shot."

"Not the first? Mom are there some things you've never told me?" Adam's jaw dropped.

"Oh they were just minor, nothing really," Eleanor cast a warning glance at Francesca not to reveal more.

"Returning to the baby though," Juliette tried to reframe the conversation, "I can just imagine how proud your own Mother would be if she was here Francesca."

"Mama would be practically floating on air I think, and Papa would almost certainly be already making arrangements to ensure her future."


“And James?”


“Would be sitting with Piet and discussing the future,” Francesca said with a smile.  “Eleanor, would you hold this for a moment – I need to…”


“Of course,” Eleanor said as Francesca walked to the rest rooms, smiling as she accepted the congratulations.  Entering the room, she stood and looked at the mirror for a few minutes, before she said as a tear went down her cheek “Oh James, I wish you had been here to see this as well.”


“Oh be assured, he saw her, Francesca.”


"Hello Princess Lexa," Francesca smiled as she saw the ghostly reflection in the powder room mirror.  “I wondered if you might make an appearance.”

"Congratulations Francesca," the apparition smiled as the Italian turned to look at her.  “Quite an eventful night by all accounts, but the joy is clear in your eyes, despite the tears.”

"Do THEY know?” Francesca whispered.

"James and your parents are all very happy for you and Carlotta.  They look forward to watching all three of you – sorry, all five of you growing together."


“Five – are you saying…”


“Well, that would be telling,” Lexa said as she took her glasses off and wiped them.  “I am sure others have congratulated and counselled you, but may I offer an observation?”


“Of course – what is it?”


“Allow others to punish those who caused what happened to happen.  Let your daughter, and now your granddaughter, be your focus.  There lies true happiness.”


“They tried to hurt me, Princess Lexa…”


“I know – but let others deal with it,” she said as she quietly faded away.





Monday 17th October

9 am Local Time



"Were you able to get us the plane reservations John?" Marianne asked as she finished filling her toiletries bag.

"Ja,” John said from the bedroom as he closed the case, “I had to twist a couple of arms, and drop a couple of names, but I got us on this morning’s flight to New York."

"Did you go in the garage and get that teddy bear that James never let us give to Charlotte?"


"I did."  John looked at the teddy sitting on the bed, and smiled as he put it into a cabin bag.


"Good, it will be nice that her daughter will get to enjoy it as Roo never did."


"That and the rag doll we know she had from her grandmother.”  Looking in the bathroom, he said “I phoned the van der Byl's, they'll be on the same flight as us."

"I bet they are excited about their latest granddaughter?"


"A little surprised at it coming early, but yes I think excited is about the right world."


"Changing subjects, husband dear, are you going to take that file you've been assembling for Francesca and show her what your Russian contacts have told you?"


"Ja, I think it's as good as I'm going to get.  Besides, I have the feeling something is about to burst."


“Why?  John, what do you know that I don’t?”


Sitting on the bed, John rubbed his head and said “someone tried to snatch Charlotte - that’s what started her labour.  The kidnappers were stopped, but Francesca and others are not happy – not happy at all.”


“Neither will the Sisters be – if someone tried to snatch Little Mother…”


John nodded as he looked up.  “Who knows what will happen while we are in transit…”


Sunday 16th October

9.45 pm

Pocono Racetrack


"Will Piet's parents and John and Marianne be joining us Francesca?"

"To quote Marianne Shirley,” Francesca said with a laugh, “just anybody dare try and prevent them getting to New York to see Carlotta and the baby."

"They are great friends to you," Shirley sighed, "just such a pity in that you lost contact all those years because of what happened."

"I know," Francesca sighed as well, "but in the end I suppose things did sort of turn out well."

"In the end," Alex Richmond looked stern, "if I'd known you and your husband back then I would have given you both a good stern chastising, then done all I could to make sure you both did what I think you both truly deep in your hearts wanted and reconciled."

"Forgiving oneself and putting the past behind you isn't always that easy," Grace Gresham spoke, "and I know that as well as anyone."

"We know you do Grace," Shirley smiled gently at the model.

"Anyway what I came over to do was add my congratulations to Francesca and the family."

"Thank you Grace."

"And can we do the same?" Amelia Murchado kissed the Italian lady.


“So have you talked christening yet?”


“No, I think we let that lie until other things are determined.”





"Is it me, or is that Porsche gradually eating into the girls lead boys?" Maddie said as she looked down, the cars sweeping by on the floodlit track.

"No you aren't mistaken," Dave Clarke shook his head nervously, "they've been gradually clawing back RCM's lead for the last hour."

"We were speculating that Henri has the girls nursing their car home because of some sort of problem." Mick sipped from a glass of Guinness.

"Are the girls still going to win?" 

"Not sure Emma," Dave shook his head, "but I overheard the Cardinal whisper a little prayer for them.”  Looking up at the clock, he said “ten minutes to go…”




“Princess, how is the oil pressure holding up?”


“Coping, Papa,” Jeanne said over the headset, “how much further and how much room?”


“Five minutes – Toni?”


“I think he’s a lap and a half behind you, Jeanne – just keep it steady.”


“Agreed princess – hold course, hold speed, and we should be all right…”


Henri offered up a silent prayer of his own as the clock ticked down.




“Two minutes – they’re into the final lap,” Shirley said quietly.  “Come on, come on…”




“I can’t look,” Katy said as she turned away from the track, the others going out to watch.


“The flags are out – and that is time!  Ladies, we held him off – by half a lap!”


“Well done everyone,” Tonia said over the headset, “forgive me if I don’t hang around, but I have a midnight plane to catch with Roy.”


“Call us tomorrow, Ton,” Sandy said as Jeanne brought the car in, the pit crew clapping as she jumped out and hugged Henri.





“Ladies and Gentlemen, they had our hearts in our mouths for a while there, but they triumphed again – please welcome Jan, Sandy, Jeanne and the crew of RCM Racing!”


As the band played congratulations, the room clapped and cheered as the girls came in, Eleanor looking up as Jan and Katherine came over.


“What happened,” Jan whispered under the music.


“A lot – what did Katy tell you?”


“Enough – how is Charlotte?”


“Resting – Piet has gone to get some sleep before his parents arrive with Marianne and John.”


“And who was behind the attempt,” Jan whispered.


“The Russians – he has left, but he is meeting our contact tomorrow…”



“Francesca – congratulations,” Denice said as she and Heather hugged the Marchesa.  “So who wins the glamorous Granny contest this year?”


“I refuse to enter,” Francesca said with a smile, “that Frances arrived safely is the key thing.”


“Quite right,” Katherine said with a smile.  “I think you are in for a very interesting time, Francesca…”




10 pm

The Russian Consulate

New York


As Ludmilla Parashova stepped out of the consulate building, and looked round, she was not happy.  Not happy at all.  Whatever that idiot Dancer had instigated seemed to have failed, and she had heard through channels the CIA and the FBI were unhappy.


That was not her major concern, though, what worried her the most was if the Marchesa decided to step into the shadows and seek revenge.  That Italian mentality could be a killer…


She heard the footsteps behind her, but did not look round, instead walking steadily, slowly, and looking in a window.


“Good evening,” she heard, and looking in she saw two tall African women behind her.


“May I help you?”


“We believe you can,” the other woman said before she felt the knife slide into her.  “You threatened Little Mother tonight – and you can die knowing she survived, and is now a mother too.”


“Threaten one, you threaten all.”


“For the Heart and the Strength.”


She slid to the ground, her last thought what she would do with him when they met in the next life…







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