At first there had been some press coverage – Rhiannon had looked so fragile in the photographs. Simon Clarendon had asked for some privacy, to allow his daughter time to recover and for them to get to know each other. Unbelievably, the press had backed off and left them alone. Even Katie Dartmouth had been surprised by how the press had agreed to the PM’s request.

Katie – she’d been one of the few people he’d allowed to visit him and the only one who could understand the pain he felt at the loss of his leg. She knew, as only a fellow amputee could, the horror and revulsion he felt when he looked in the mirror – the grief. She’d understood his frustrations at the slowness of his recovery and helped him deal with them.

Their closeness had meant he’d not been able to hide his feelings about Rhiannon any more than he’d been able to from Layla.

“I once thought you and I might get involved romantically, you know, because of the bond we shared. I have to ask, what made Rhiannon different?”

The question hadn’t surprised him, he’d been expecting her to ask.

“Timing, I suppose. You were my first assignment when I returned to active duty. You’d been physically tortured to within an inch of your life. I could only think about getting you home and back here well. It’s different here. There are rules. I broke them just by remaining your friend. I wasn’t looking for a serious relationship either, Danni understood that and you… well you deserved that.”

“And with Rhiannon?”

“It was different. She wasn’t physically hurt, I was. She saved my life and then, because of my injury, we were stranded in a beautiful never neverland where there were no rules.”

“And now that you’re back?”

“Even if it were possible, I wouldn’t want her to see me like this.”

“You won’t always feel how you do now. When you get your prosthetic limb you have to embrace it, make it part of you. You won’t feel whole again and you won’t walk again unless you do.”

He sipped his coffee thoughtfully.

He’d never tell a living soul how much pain those first steps had caused, not just physically but emotionally as well. He’d fought many battles but none was harder than learning to walk again. Had he persevered just for this moment?

He looked at the carved staff at his side Alex had presented him with when he’d told her he intended to start hiking. It was a thing of beauty – a piece of art work, really, but she’d insisted he used it. The carving, she told him, was a traditional Maori design cut into cherry wood. Today was the first time he’d used it. He’d walked from Newlyn along the costal path to Mousehole, pausing to look at the silent boat house at Penlee point, where the Solomon Browne had left from that fateful night thirty years ago. A small, plain memorial marked the spot and he sat for some time, staring at the names of the men lost. They’d all been given awards for bravery and he supposed that was some small comfort for their families. He’d been awarded a medal for rescuing Rhiannon and seeing the men’s name carved into the granite memorial just reinforced his belief that it wasn’t something he deserved. He’d just been doing his job. These men were volunteers, all holding down other jobs, going out into a deadly sea without a second thought. Even for a professional soldier such as him it was truly humbling.

A professional soldier – he’d a decision to make about that. He was no longer fit for active service. The army had been his life for so long and he remembered the time when he’d been forced to take medical retirement – it had been hell. He’d been terrified about how he would survive it. Then his superiors had thrown him a life line in the form of a job. As an instructor, to be precise, at a secret military base on Bodmin moor; he’d be training Special Forces soldiers to work for section twenty as he’d done.

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