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Ghost Sight

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Story Title: Ghost Sight

Type of story: Long Fic

Main Characters: Roman and Ella, Aden and Belle, Nic and Geoff, Mike and Danni, Gabby and Jacob, Toby and Amy-Belle, Brett, George and Irene.

The Children: Georgie, Sophie, Meggy, Sammy, Lily, Liam, August, Fleur. Angel, Robbie, Mira, Taylor. Jennie, Daniella, Kai.

Other Characters: Jacko Thompson, Pete Gillette, James Taylor-Barnes, Charlie, Leah, Miles and Leona, and “The Ghost”

BTTB rating: A (L, SC, V/D)
Genre: Drama, Thriller,
Does story include spoilers: No
Any warnings: Will warn at the beginning of each chapter if necessary
Summary: Roman lost his sight once before. it made him cherish every single time he saw his wife or kids but when something out of his past turns up in Summer Bay he falls once more into darkness. Determined to cope alone he shuts everyone out, including Ella. How can they get through this? And what is the secret he's not saying....





Roman stood in his house going through envelopes and scanning the information on them until he reached the one that mattered. It was about the funding for the restaurant and he opened the bank letter and scanned there response. It was a goer and he laughed out loud. Turning around he faced the door he left open and gasped in shock.

“You,” he muttered. “But you are dead.”

“Hello Hardcore, nice family you have.”

“No, you can’t be here, you can’t do this,” Roman cried out feeling that pressing ache turn into an explosion of pain. He felt his left eyelid flickering and he blinked to try and ease it.

“Why can’t I be here?” The other man asked him stepping into the house and looking around as he crossed over to the sofa and sat down.

“Because…” Roman’s voice slurred the word as he fought against the darkness closing over his eyes.

“Because you shot and killed me?” The man asked.

“Yes, I killed you.”

“Must mean I’m a ghost,” he drawled after Roman seemed to collapse in on himself dragging out a chair to sit down when his legs didn’t want to hold him up anymore. “Am I a ghost Roman?”

“Yes,” Roman screamed out.

“Think about it, you saw me…”

“Hawaii,” Roman groaned, “That was why I kept feeling like someone was watching me….”

The other man stood from the sofa and walked into the kitchen going through the cupboards until he found a bottle of whisky. Unscrewing the bottle he took a long drink from the bottle before glancing at the label.

“Nice, certainly got yourself a nice little life here, and well the Mrs,” the guy murmured drinking more from the bottle, “I know her don’t I?”

“Leave her out of this,” Roman stood, forced to clutch at the table to support him. His headache was worse, the pounding resonating through his whole head making him want to be sick.

“But I should go say hello, been a long time since I saw her last,” he said slowly, “When was it exactly? Oh yeah, before you killed me.”

“You… keep…. away…. from ….. her….” Roman groaned out.

“But we have so much catching up to do…”

Roman swore and staggered over to the door. His only thought was to get to Ella and protect her. He grasped the door, feeling his head throbbing and gave the other man a last look before getting out of there. He dropped his car keys and nearly passed out as he bent down to pick them up, taking several tries before he even got his car door open. His fingers were numb and he couldn’t seem to fully control what he was doing. Finally starting the car up he put his foot down on the accelerator his only thought to get home to Ella.

He swerved over the road before getting control and easing back. It wouldn’t do any good if he totalled the car he told himself. The sun glared through the windscreen and he flinched at the pain the influx of light caused. Unable to bear the light hitting his eyes he automatically closed them just as a stone disturbed by his erratic driving flew up. It hit the windscreen before bouncing harmlessly back to the side of the road. Exaggerated by the intense pain pounding inside Roman’s head the stone hitting the windscreen sounded just as loud as a gunshot and he gasped at the influx of memories and threw his hands up in horror as though expecting a second shot. The car veered to the side of the road and up on the bank before all control was lost and it smacked into a tree crumpling the front of the car like it was made of paper rather than metal.

In his haste Roman hadn’t fastened his seatbelt and he careered forward his head connecting with the windscreen with a sickening smack sound before he slumped over the steering wheel unconscious.



Roman opened his eyes slowly and nothing.

He closed them quickly and then opened them again.

“Not again,” he groaned.

He could only remember last time. Gardy. Nicole and Aden. The … well everything he did. And because of Mark. Dammit, why did his past always ruin things?

He began to feel the start of panic building in him and forced himself to swallow back some of those feelings before he screamed like a sissy.

“Roman, easy, I’m here,” Ella’s voice.

“No, you can’t be here,” he called back quickly.


He felt her warm hands on his skin and flinched unable to stop the reaction. He knew that he’d upset her by that because she stilled but then he felt her lips touching his.

“You’ve been out of things for a couple of days,” she continued, “We’ve been worried about you.”

We. The kids. Dammit no. No. no. no. no.

“Ella get out.”

“What?” She stilled.

“I don’t want you here,” he said again, “I don’t want to see you,” he added before bursting into hysterical laughter. “See,” he muttered.

“What is going on Roman?” Ella asked and she must have pressed the buzzer to get someone in because after a minute he heard the door open and then close. He had to get used to relying on sound again. Swish and quiet click. Then footsteps and then he felt the cool hand of a woman on his wrist before another click. Like clicking a pen.

“Roman,” Rachel’s voice.

“Rachel,” he said back sobering.

“Want to tell me the last thing you remember?”

“Rachel, don’t bother. I’m blind ok, I’m freaking blind again.”

“What?” Ella gasps.

“I still need an answer,” Rachel’s voice was calm, cutting over the panic he could feel washing off Ella in waves.

“Driving my car like an idiot. Taking a corner too fast,” he muttered.

“What does he mean blind again?”

“I’m still in the room, blind not deaf,” Roman snarled out.

“But apparently not talking to me,” her voice displayed her hurt. His head couldn’t help but put up the mental picture of her inside his mind. Not a happy image either, no his head decided to have a joke at his expense and put in a picture of her in tears. He hated himself knowing from her voice that she must be close to crying again.

Moving his hand restlessly he felt the tug from the intravenous drip in his arm, and then the thud as his hand connected with the metal bar at the side of the bed. It reminded him that this wasn’t a dream and he cursed under his breath.

“Steady,” from Rachel.

“Yes Doctor,” he muttered sarcastically.

“Okay, we’re going to run a series of tests…”

“Like last time,” he interrupted, remembering the drill.

“Yes,” Rachel again. No panic in her voice. Calm and controlled like always.

“Will someone please tell me what is going on?” Ella. He could hear the raw pain in her voice and wanted nothing more than to ease it. But. The Ghost. How could he let her anywhere near him? She would be disgusted with him.

“I’m blind Ella, and I need, I think it will be best if we don’t..” he stopped sensing something was going on. The door. He’d missed the door opening.

“Dad,” Nic’s voice. Broken and upset. Dammit.

“Get out,” he muttered, “Out all of you.”

“Okay I think we need to give Roman some space,” Rachel again.

He waited hearing the door opening, footsteps leading out and then slowly closing.

“I don’t want Ella in here again,” Roman stated, “I want to change my next of kin forms. And er…” he stopped and stumbling got hold of his wedding band and tugged it off his finger. “give her this.”

He heard Rachel gasp before she reached out and caught hold of his hand, her fingers cool as she took the ring off him. Then the sound of her retreating, the door going and finally he was alone. He rubbed his face opening and closing his eyes again and again just in case that altered anything but no, he was blind. Blind as a bat as the proverb went.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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Warning: Some use of strong language/ swearing.

Chapter 1

Miles looked again at Ella before he sighed.

“Are you totally sure you want me to do this?”

“I’m sure Miles, he doesn’t want me to be part of this and normally I would..”

“Sort him out?”

Ella nodded, “But there is something different this time, I’ve never known Roman to be deliberately cruel like he has been. There is something that we are missing about this.”

“As long as you know I’m only doing this for you, as far as Roman is concerned he’s being a jerk and I don’t want anything to do with him right now,” Miles muttered feeling like he was beginning to pout.

“You better sit down,” Ella gestured to the long sofa moving over to it herself and easing down. She crossed one leg over the other and placed her hands in her lap.

Miles couldn’t help but notice that she was still wearing her wedding rings. The three that went together and he couldn’t help but think how the light caught the diamonds just so. Roman had never had a romantic bone in his body except when it came to Ella so he couldn’t understand why the other man, especially after just getting re-married and moving home, had handed back his wedding ring and began acting like a jerk.

“Ella,” he began to protest just thinking about Roman’s behaviour and suddenly demurred, sitting next to her on the sofa. Maybe she had a reason for him that he could understand.

“Did you know that Roman went for counselling?”

Miles uttered a faint gasp.

“Roman did?”

“Yeah, he began going to see her whilst we were still married, because he couldn’t cope with everything that happened, Alexi, going into witness protection, his family being targets because of what he’d done in the past.”

“I had no idea,” Miles whistled through his teeth and shook his head. Roman in counselling. It didn’t make sense, and yet, it made perfect sense. When Roman came back from Witness Protection he was different, bitter, angry, and scared. In all the years he’d been Roman’s friend he’d never seen the man show his fear. Sure, times when he was scared on someone else’s behalf but not real fear.

“No, well I don’t suppose he wanted that many people to know, this, dependence thing doesn’t come easy for him,” Ella stated slowly.

“And now he’d dependant on us?”

“In part,” she murmured, “but also he doesn’t want to be a burden.”

“He has to accept that people need to help him now,” Miles muttered his thoughts going back a number of years until he reached the time this had happened before, Roman had suddenly seemed to morph into a non-communicative bad tempered monster almost overnight. Now he could understand part of the reason Ella had decided on divorce, you couldn’t deal with Roman when he was like this. “Ah, of course,” he murmured.

“For some reason he’s decided that I shouldn’t be around and as much as that ….”


“Pisses me off,” Ella corrected.

“Well that too,” Miles grinned for the first time in days he thought suddenly remembering the postcard arriving, the invitation to the welcome home bbq and just when they had all thought things were going to be okay Roman had left on an errand and then everything came to a crashing halt. Crashing, how apt he thought with bleak humour.

When reports of the accident had come through they hadn’t understood why Roman had been on the wrong side of the road, with no seatbelt on. Roman was usually such a safe driver, in fact he’d had no accidents for the past twenty years not to mention that his new car hadn’t even gotten a scratch on it before the accident.

Miles acknowledged that it wasn’t just the shock of accident and the accompanying drama with Roman that had Ella so spooked, no, there was something else and he frowned.

“I better go, he needs picking up from the hospital,” Miles murmured after a while.

“Try not to let him hit his head too much as he gets into the car,” Ella said softly.

Miles couldn’t help laughing, how she managed to remain so strong sometimes he just didn’t know, her husband had awoken from a coma and rejected her and she was still battling for him. He knew that after the day was done he was going to go home and hold Leona for a very long time.

“Right got it, that’s hit his head a lot when he gets into the car….” he punned weakly.

“Yeah, and you might get away with it because he can’t see you,” Ella suggested.

“Oh yeah, like that would stop him!”

“Probably slow him down a little,” she muttered her voice starting to show the strain.

Miles looked at her before he reached out and took hold of her hand.

“Why don’t you give Jacko a call to come down?”

“And have him do what?”

“Maybe he can help us figure out what is going on in that man’s head of yours.”

“Jacko isn’t a miracle worker….”

Miles laughed again, sensing that he was supposed to. He heard his phone beep and knew that he’d missed a call. Sliding it out of his pocket he read the message that alerted him to a voicemail and he gave Ella a quick look before trying to discreetly put his phone away.

“It’s okay Miles; I know that right now I can’t do anything to help Roman. You don’t have to feel guilty,” she said quickly and he half-shook his head at her words.

He didn’t have to feel guilty but he did. He also felt ashamed on Roman’s behalf. What was the man thinking rejecting not just Ella but his family? His kids deserved better than to go through this again.

“I should go, but you call me if you …” Miles trailed off.

“We will be fine; you just take care of Roman and look after yourself and your family,” Ella gave him a sad smile, “Is the little one walking yet?”

“Oh he’s walking and talking, first word he learnt? No. So everything is no this and no that. Why do we teach them to speak?” He of course referenced the son he and Leona had that completed their family, little Jamie Roman Copeland. Adoption of Millie had also gone smooth thanks to Ella employing Jacko and Pete to track down Millie’s biological father. All he had to do now was marry Leona but since she had gone back to school herself, albeit part-time at the moment as she wanted to spend as much time with Jamie during these years, and was in addition planning on furthering her education with a degree course, they had put off the wedding until after she graduated.

“You’d think I’d learnt that lesson after Mike, but no, I went and taught the others to speak. And er, Mike’s first proper word was actually ‘crap’.”

He couldn’t help the belly laugh that erupted.

“Thanks, Ella I needed that,” he gasped out wiping at his eyes.

“Now I’ve packed a bag for Roman with his clothes and things,” she told him as she escorted him to the door. He watched her step inside the study and returning a moment later with a bag she handed to him.

“Thanks, I’ll let you know how it goes,” he promised before leaving.

Ella watched Miles’s car pulling out of the drive before stepping back inside and closing the door. She wiped at her face feeling the need to rub away the traces of her tears. She couldn’t afford to fall apart because she actually didn’t know what had caused Roman to do what he’d done. The accident was baffling. All those years of driving the kids around had made him even more cautious a driver, not to mention his defensive driving training. Yeah, maybe that had been a long time ago but she knew that he refreshed his skills when he’d been recalled to the reserves. Up until he’d gone into witness protection, Roman had spent two weeks a year on training to keep him current. Even having to pass his fitness tests and go to the gun range.

Walking into the lounge she collected up the cups and went into the kitchen. There was something they were missing. Plucking out her phone from her jeans pocket she dialled Pete’s number.

“Ok, here we are,” Miles murmured knowing he sounded nervous, he still had yet to tell Roman about the bag of clothes he had for him.

“I think I could tell that by you turning the engine off.”

“Are you sure that hospital didn’t kick you out just to get rid of you?”

“What are you trying to say Miles?”

“Well,” he paused shooting a quick look at the other man, “you’d make a bad-tempered-evil son-offa-bitch sort of guy look like Mr Happy.”

“Can you really blame me?” Roman began sounding bitter.

“I can blame you for shutting your wife out, I can blame you for not being there for your kids. But it is kinda you for running away isn’t it?” Miles sucked in a breath feeling that he’d gone too far but hell, Roman had to see what he was doing to other people and then he froze, see, that was an interesting word because at the moment Roman couldn’t see. Last time this happened he hooked up with Gardy and look what happened then.

“I suggest that after you get me inside you can leave, your duty will be over,” Roman said quietly.

“Yes sir,” Miles snapped out.

He unclipped his seatbelt and got out of the car. Going around the back he took out the bag Ella had supplied him with and then opened Roman’s door.

“What did you get…”

“Out of the back? Ella packed some clothes for you. I wouldn’t have been that kind.”

“Miles, I get it ok, can you just drop it. I don’t want to go to the house.” Roman snapped at him again.

Miles sighed before he put his hand on Roman’s shoulder as he stood up getting out of the car.

“How do you want to do this?” He asked him, “Do you want me to .. well tell you stuff?”

“What sort of stuff Miles? Like how much of an idiot you think I am? Well I don’t need that right now. All I want is to get inside my house so please just… guide me inside then you can leave your duty has been done.”

Miles was glad that Roman couldn’t see him as he flinched at the cutting words. Even though he reckoned he’d given his fair share back at the man he was still no match for him. Moving Roman’s hand so it was resting on his shoulder he began to move towards the house, telling him when he had to step. Roman handed over a set of keys to him as they reached the door and he opened the lock before stepping inside.

“Careful,” he warned Roman earning another unsighted glare off the other man, “Right, I’m setting the bag with your clothes in on the table,” Miles muttered doing that, “Sofa is three paces to your left.”

Roman nodded and took careful steps towards the sofa waving his hand in front of him until he touched the cream material. He altered his course and moved so he could sit down, seeming to collapse with a sigh into the deep cushions.

“Keys on the table next to your bag, I’ll be back to check on you later,” he told Roman carefully and moved over to the door.

“Thanks,” Roman said quietly, so quietly in fact that Miles was uncertain that the other man had spoken but then he glanced at him and saw the toll this was obviously having on him. His shoulders were slumped and he leaned slightly forward, his head down.

“That’s ok,” Miles found himself saying before he left, making sure the door closed with a loud click so Roman would know he’d left the house.

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Chapter 2

“Hello,” Nic called as she entered the house.

Hearing her, Ella stepped out from the study and greeted the other woman. “Got time for a coffee?” She asked conscious that Nic wanted to go see her Dad.

“Of course,” Nic offered a brief smile.

Ella moved into the kitchen and began making the drinks. She went to the cupboard and took out the biscuits giving a grin as she noticed that there were definitely less in the packet than when she’d left them the previous night. Sammy of course, she surmised. The boy was like a bottomless pit at the moment.

“So what is it Nic?”

“It’s about Dad,” Nic bit her lip as she looked at her, “Last time he was like this…”

“Back up a minute, last time?” Ella stopped and turned to her, “there was a last time?”

“Let’s go sit down it’s a long story.”

Ella paled but continued to make the drinks taking them through the archway and looking at the lounge, she chose to use the dining table and moved to sit there, placing the cups down and taking a seat. Nic was forced to sit opposite her and gave her a quick flash of her grin as she obviously recognised the tactic having seen her display it with her siblings when they were in ‘trouble’.

“Dad was in a car accident. It was before he went to prison.”

Ella nodded and took a sip of her drink and waited for Nic to continue the story. She couldn’t believe that Roman hadn’t told her he’d been blind before.

“He shut us all out, especially me and Aden. That was when we .. well anyway, we couldn’t cope with him and that is when he called…” Nic stopped.

“What is it?” Ella bit out, sensing something bad was about to happen.

“He called Gardy,” Nic all but whispered.

Ella swore immediately folding her arms across middle. She knew it was a defensive posture and couldn’t help herself.

“Why?” She whispered.

“Dad was having flashbacks, remembering the Mark stuff. He wasn’t doing so good,” Nic paused.

“So,” Ella prompted after a minute.

She took a long drink of her coffee and held her hands around the cup to stop them shaking. How much more of their lives were going to be destroyed by that one action she asked herself bitterly? Now Roman was what? Punishing himself all over again. Only this time he was punishing her too and their children. She met Nic’s concerned gaze. All of their children she silently amended, Nic included.

“Gardy did some crazy stuff,” Nic muttered, “When Dad got his sight back he was blackmailed by Gardy into … doing armed robberies. Until Dad had enough and he and Gardy had a showdown. Dad was shot and Gardy disappeared leaving Dad to take the blame for everything. He confessed about Mark and refused all help.”

“I see,” Ella said draining her cup and heading into the kitchen where she refilled it. She found herself drinking that down too before heading back to where Nicole was still sitting.

“He didn’t tell you any of this?”

“No,” Ella muttered, “And I think he should have done don’t you?”

“Yes,” Nicole murmured sounding disappointed.

“So this, blindness, is related to Mark?”

“I don’t know this time; I haven’t seen him since the hospital. But it was last time. El,” Nic stopped.

“It’s okay to be scared Nicole,” Ella told her patiently, “But Roman, he saw Louise, his counsellor and well he’d worked through stuff so I don’t know.”

“He was seeing a counsellor?”

“Yes, it began after we got back from Bosnia and he was still seeing her up until a month ago. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Ella could feel her defences crumbling and that core of iron that had been getting her through the last week disappeared at her own words. Roman hiding so much of himself from her yet again and he was always telling her off if she didn’t immediately tell him her every thought. She felt anger replacing some of the hurt and knew that she needed it right then, despite the fact that it would damage their relationship, a relationship that had just been repaired and she thought was better than ever. Well that was a joke if he could do what he’d done. If he could shut them all out without even caring what they were going through.

“I’m going over to see him later and I know that Mike is too.”

“There isn’t any point is there? He won’t accept your help.”

“He’s going to have too,” Nic’s voice displayed her own rod of iron and that made Ella smile temporarily.

She pulled out her phone and looked at the display wondering what to do and who to call. There had to be something she could be doing and she felt the powerless of her situation before making her mind up and dialling.

“Hello Jacko, we need you guys here. All of you. And bring everything you have or can get your hands on about Mark,” then, pausing to hear the response. “No it’s bad. It’s the worst thing that could happen. Roman is blind, like before apparently. He’s refusing help.”

She rang off when after Jacko swore profusely (and apologised for swearing) he promised to round up the others and get there as quick as they could. She saw Nic grinning as she dialled the second number, Rachel.

“Hello Ella, I was wondering if I’d hear from you,” her friend said.

“Why didn’t you mention that Roman lost his sight before?”

“I can’t talk to you about Roman’s case,” Rachel sighed, “You are no longer listed as his next of kin and unfortunately….”

“Unfortunately?” Ella prompted.

“I’m no longer his doctor. My colleague, Sid Walker, is.”

“Ok then,” Ella closed her eyes briefly, “what can you tell me about hysterical blindness?”

“I can send you an email,” Rachel murmured, “give you some places to go and research the subject.”

“Thank you, I’ll be in touch.” Ella rang off and looked over at Nic before she stood and headed into the study, the other girl following behind.

Pulling up her chair behind her desk she logged on to her emails and immediately saw the one from Rachel. Opening it up, she double-clicked on the first link and saw the bulk of information on hysterical blindness and its causes. Clicking on the print icon she printed out two copies and handed one to Nic.

“I think she went with the easy to understand version first,” Nic commented.

“Good job, I’ve got enough of a headache,” Ella groaned before printing information from the next set of links. She refilled the paper in the printer and then grabbed a folder to put the documents in, doing likewise for the bundle that she handed to Nic.

“So wait, we’re investigating this but we have to be neat about it?”

“I don’t want the kids stumbling across this stuff,” Ella murmured, “Well Sammy has probably already read all this anyway but…” Nic half-smiled at that, “besides I seemed to have been turned into a neatness freak by your father.”

“Now that one I believe. I wonder how mad it made him that you have a messy gene and I got a ‘can’t cook’ gene?”

“Plenty mad on occasion,” Ella muttered with feeling.

Nic let out a laugh before she looked down at the paperwork in front of her. There was so much information and Ella could tell that the other woman was swamped by it. She herself was feeling deluged. Why the hell hadn’t Roman told her about what happened to him before, she cursed again.

“It really gets me that things can be so great one minute and within moments they all fall apart again,” Nic groaned before obviously catching sight of something, “What’s that?”

“That?” Ella murmured before she caught on to where the other woman’s focus was. She gave a half-sob before pulling herself together and fetching the papers that Nic had seen and spread them out on the desk.

“Yeah this,” Nic sniffed, “are you moving?”

“No,” Ella shook her head, “These are the plans we had drawn up to extend the house. The tract of land next to us came up for auction and Roman wanted me to get it. I thought he just wanted to make sure that no one used the land for building. Anyway, it seems that inside his head he was thinking about this,” she paused and sucked in a breath as she looked over the plans, “first, knocking down the garage. Then expanding the house. Ground floor was going to be a dining room and new lounge. Upstairs he wanted us to have a bedroom that would have a veranda, plus en suite and walk in wardrobe or dressing room. It would also mean that we’ could expand the attic rooms, put in another couple of bedrooms.”

“Then what is this one?” Nic pointed to the other plans.

“Expanding the pool house so that they have more bedrooms but that really depends on Danni and Mike though and what they want. We’ve got an issue with cars. We all have a car each…”

“Except for you who seems to have a car, a jeep and a motorbike,” Nic pointed out.

“Yeah and we have surfboards. If the garage goes then behind it is the shed where we keep the camping equipment and also the additional patio furniture and BBQ. All of that needs storage so this plan here is for a two storey garage.”

“That will probably end up being turned into a house for Georgie.”

“No chance, he’s definitely army bound,” Ella said before bursting into tears.

“Oh El,” Nic cried coming around the desk and putting her arm around the other woman.

“I can’t believe Roman is such a jerk,” Ella sobbed.

“Oh come on El, how long have you been married to him?”

Ella’s head shot up at the question, “This time? Two and a half weeks.”

“Wow, nearly three whole weeks before something went wrong. Is that a new record?”

Ella couldn’t help it; she went from misery and tears into hysterical laughter in a few seconds feeling that lead weight of misery on her chest lifting. It didn’t remove the pain of Roman’s defection though and she knew that for now she’d have to put that away or she’d never be able to focus on helping Roman.

“You should go ahead with this,” Nic waved her hand over the plans.


“Because you need something for you, and also,” Nic paused, her eyes like lakes of pure blue in her pale face, “You need something that will promise you there is a future and not this, this pain and the torture of uncertainty.”

“But it is uncertain Nic,” Ella cried.

“No, it’s not. Dad loves you.”

“Not enough to be here with me so we can deal with this together,” Ella muttered.

“Maybe he loves you enough not to put you through…”

“No no,” Ella interrupted fiercely, “not after what we went through with Witness Protection.”

She stopped and looked down seeing the blue lines on the large sheets of paper blur as more tears shot into her eyes. She blinked them away and focused once more.

“I have to go,” Nic pointed out after a few moments.

“I know,” Ella nodded.

She gave her a hug before escorting her to the door and watching as she got into her car and left, staying there until she could no longer even hear the car. Then with a sigh she moved into the lounge and began reading some of the information she had printed out.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 3

“Mum!” Sophie shouted up the stairs again.

Ella slowly came awake and pushed back the hair from her face. Her right arm was numb and she focused on where she was. In bed, still wearing yesterday’s clothes and her arm was clutching Roman’s pillow to her. She moved in the bed dislodging the paperwork she’d brought up to read last night scattering the pile on to the floor. She rubbed at her eyes and slowly sat up in the bed to focus on the clock on her bedside cabinet.

“Dammit,” she cried out and shot up racing into the en suite. A quick splash of water on her face and brushing her teeth gave her a rapid freshening up before she peeled off her top and after reaching for the deodorant she moved back into the bedroom. Searching through the drawers she dragged on another top and headed out the door to race down the stairs. She gave a small moan as she realised she was wearing one of Roman’s old T-shirts and hoped that the kids would be too preoccupied to notice.

“I’ve been calling and calling,” Sophie pouted at her.

“And I’m been asleep. Would it have killed you to come up and knock?”

“Mum!” Sophie wailed and stamped her foot before running into the kitchen and then through to the table where everyone was sitting.

Ella followed her daughter at a slower pace sighing with relief when she saw that there was some coffee in the pot and not only that but it was hot. She poured out a half cup for herself, added a splash of cold water and then took a long drink.

“We’re late,” Sammy called out to her giving her a look over the top of one of his books.

“I know,” Ella called back before stepping through the archway. She looked around the faces at the table before sighing, “You know what, I think today is a snowday,” she murmured.

“Really Mother, really?”

Ella smiled at Meggy’s question and looked over at her twins, Fleur and August, then Lily and Liam.

“I no understand,” Lily muttered at her, pouting.

“It means that we get the day off school,” Meggy explained quickly.

“Snowday?” Mia asked walking in from the veranda and looking at them.

“Sammy explain it to Mia and Marcus please, I need to go find junk food.”

Ella stood and walked into the kitchen topping up her cup first and then opening the fridge. Suddenly she was hungry and realised that she’d skipped dinner last night and well couldn’t remember eating lunch either.

“I can cook you something?” Sophie’s voice was soft as she asked the question.

Ella closed the fridge and turned to look at her daughter, “Just some toast if you don’t mind?”

Sophie nodded and began to get busy so Ella left her to it and moved back into the dining room and sat at the table. Liam climbed off his chair and moved over to climb up into her lap and she put her coffee down hurriedly before hugging her suddenly clinging son.

“Does this mean we can go see Dad?” Georgie asked looking around the group.

“And er,” Mia began, “I think that I need to… move out.”

“No!” Meggy gasped.

“And me,” Marcus added in a quiet voice.

“No one is moving out, unless well, you all go. And as for your Dad, well I can only ask him. Remember guys, he’s pretty hurt at the moment so we have to wait until he gets better,” she said slowly hoping that she wasn’t lying to her kids, “Mia, Marcus, you are family so you have to stay.”

“My Dad has moved here I could go…” Marcus trailed off and looked at Sammy before meeting Ella’s gaze.

“Only if you take Sammy,” she replied.

“Hey!” Sammy protested with a glare.

Marcus gave a relieved giggle before he too moved over to her and accepted her hug.

“Love you a whole load,” she whispered into his ear, smiling as he gave her a happy grin and resumed his seat before taking a big bite of his toast. She looked round all the kids noting their expressions and could tell they wanted answers from her that she couldn’t give them. As far as they were concerned their father had dumped them and she couldn’t blame them for being mad at him and wanting to know why.

“Mum, if we’re not going to school, what…” Sammy began giving the others a sneaky look.

She hid her smile at that. Normally Sammy was the first to protest at missing school so her not being woken up in time to take them there was probably not so much an accident.

“I think we need to do some sorting out and I have some tasks for each of you, then well, definitely some nice lunch and a couple of films this afternoon?”

“Nemo?” Lily called out immediately.

“God no,” Georgie groaned.

“Me likes it,” Lily muttered pouting at her older brother.

“I think we should let Marcus and Mia choose the films,” Ella pacified her daughter and sneakily knew that she wouldn’t protest Marcus’s choice or for that matter, Mia’s, her precious flower child was still a bit shy of the other girl especially when she kept seeing her older sisters acting more grown up around her.

Sophie stepped through the archway and presented her with a plate of cheese on toast and she sighed gratefully, finding that her appetite was returning.

“So there was one thing I wanted to ask you about,” Ella began looking round her kids as she ate.

“I didn’t do it,” Meggy muttered before glaring as the others laughed at her.

“I see Megan Hope Harris,” Ella gave her daughter a look before smiling over at her, “And what didn’t you do?”

“Nothing, see, I didn’t do …” Meggy paused as she seemed lost in thought, “anything,” she finished.

“Well…” Ella made it seem as though she was contemplating something enjoying teasing her daughter for a second before she grinned at her, “it’s more to do with the house,” she said cryptically.

“We’re not moving,” Georgie asked shocked.

“Not quite,” Ella said, “Your Dad and I bought the land that was for sale over near the garage and we drew up plans to extend the house. Add an extra bedroom and some more rooms downstairs. Plus we were thinking of an extra bedroom in the attic.”


“Are you asking us? Or telling us?”

“I gets to sleep in the attic?” Lily’s awed sounding question cut over the chatter from the others.

“Sammy do you want to go get the plans from my study, they are on my desk.”

Sammy nodded and shuffled out of the room coming back moments later with the paperwork. They spread it all out on the table hurriedly clearing away breakfast dishes. Together they pointed out things in the plans, discussing amongst themselves.

“So who would get your old bedroom?”

“How will Dad find his way around if you change everything?” Sammy’s question cut through the chatter and everyone fell silent.

“I think he’ll learn,” Ella murmured softly moving to stand next to her son, “Besides, this…” she gestured to the plans with her hand “was what your Dad drew up. He thought of extending the house and all this.”

“Oh,” Sophie gave her a look before her eyes shot down seeming pointedly looking at her belly, “Is there anything else you want to tell us?”

“What?” Ella asked puzzled before she realised what her daughter meant, “No, there are no plans for a new nursery,” she said emphatically.

“Are you sure?” Georgie muttered, “Seems like we’ve heard that before and look what happened.”

He pointed to Lily and then Liam before a gesture at the twins and grinned at her embarrassment as she flushed.

Ella glared at her son for a moment before she gave him a sneaky grin and lifted her hands so she could count off on her fingers.

“One, baby photos, two Facebook…. Need I say more?”

“I think you’ve made your point, especially since you did that online photo album for Mike.”

“More against Mike,” Sammy pointed out.

“He should not have dared me,” Ella said quietly.

“He was drunk at the time,” Sophie added in defence of her brother.

“Anyway, about the house…” Ella guided them back on subject before another argument broke out, although it was funny watching Mike’s face at the wedding reception with the slideshow she’d put together.

“I think it will be good.”

“Yeah Mum,” Sophie murmured, “We should do it. Meggy can have the extra bedroom up in the attic…”

“Just keep me chained in the attic then,” Meggy grunted.

“Oh Megs, don’t be so dramatic… last time we did that you chewed through the chains…”

“Mum.. grr,.. “ Meggy groaned and flounced out of the room into the kitchen.

Ella smiled and looked around the others. “Right, I’m going to get a shower, if you can clear this away and get changed we’ll go sort out something to do,” she murmured.

Catching sight of August and Fleur she moved over to them and knelt down looking into their puzzled faces. Of all her kids the younger ones had no idea how to handle what was going on.

“Want to come up and play in Mama’s room while she has bu bu?” She asked them and took hold of their hands leading them out of the room and up the stairs. Although they were only nearly four they loved emptying her clothes drawers and dressing up as princesses, even more so than Lily if that were possible.

Walking into her bedroom she spotted the pages of her research into hysterical blindness scattered about on the bed and floor and hastily scrambled them together before placing them on a high shelf in her wardrobe. She didn’t want the twin to read it, although if they were anything like Meggy and Sammy they would understand it and be able to write essays on it before lunchtime.

“Here you go..” she gestured to the drawers in her dressing table and grinned at the identical expressions of mischief they had.

“Mama when we see Dada?” August asked using the lisp she’d picked up from Lily.

“Soon, Dada is poorly sick,” Ella told her daughter.

Fleur tilted her head to one side and looked at her, “We help hims feel betters?”

“You know what, I think we can do something.”

Ella smiled at her girls nodding at her before they got distracted into pulling out her lace nighties and wearing them as princess gowns. She stepped into the en suite and had a fast shower before grabbing clean clothes and getting dressed. Leaving the girls playing she moved back down the stairs and into the study to get her laptop and Roman’s MP3 player. She hooked it up and cleared the memory on it before selecting a range of songs that meant different things to them. Some of the ones she used to play back in the day and them the one they’d danced to at their wedding reception in the Sands hotel.

“Right Sammy,” she called out.

“Yeah?” He muttered unenthusiastically from across the room where he was playing a game with Georgie.

“Grab your mic,” she instructed.

He looked at her puzzled for a moment before grinning, “Cool,” he murmured and shot out of the room.

“What’s cool?” Sophie asked from the kitchen where she was standing with Mia and Meggy.

“Going to have you record messages for your Dad on his MP3.”

“Oh that is cool,” Meggy squealed and clapped her hands.

Georgie paused his game and put the controller down before walking over to her side, “Mum do you think this is a good idea?”

“I do,” Ella said quietly.

“Ok,” he said back but folded his arms at her anyway.

She grinned at him before sorting out the rest of the playlist and getting all the kids to record their messages including her princess-costume wearing twins. Leaving them all in the lounge she moved into the study and recorded her message. She spaced them out on the MP3 player interspersing them with the songs she’d selected for the playlist. Then grabbing her phone she called Miles and left a message on his voicemail, first letting him know that she’d kept the kids off school because they needed some time to assimilate what was going on and then telling him she had something for Roman. She waited a heartbeat before asking if he could take it over to him.

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  • 1 month later...

Chapter 4

Roman awoke from a feverish nap. The darkness he lived in now never failed to scare him each time he opened his eyes and saw nothing but black. This time was worse than before if anything because this time he knew that he was missing out on so much, Ella, the children, his life. The hardest thing had to be waking without Ella beside him but even if she’d been there he knew that he couldn’t be with her. She was better off without having to pander to his disability.
Staggering off the sofa where he’d been sleeping he stepped slowly, carefully into the kitchen. The tops were full of pots that he hadn’t washed up yet and he hated feeling suddenly helpless.
“Thought you were never going to wake up Hardcore!” A voice called out.
Roman startled, looking around with his sightless gaze trying to get a fix on where the voice was coming from.
“Who are you?” He gasped out the question.
“You know who I am…”
Roman shook his head and forced himself to ignore the mocking voice as he stumbled around making a coffee. Finally getting a cup made he took a fortifying sip of the brew noting with a measure of distaste that he’d made it stronger than he normally had it. He had to relearn how to do everything now from making coffee to brushing his teeth he thought feeling sorry for himself. Sipping some more of the coffee he remained standing in the kitchen thinking about what he needed to do. Wash up. Find some food. Get a shower. Rubbing a hand over his face he knew that he needed to shave too and wondered how he was going to manage that.
“Maybe you should ask for help?” The voice asked slowly as though aware of his thoughts.
Roman shook his head vehemently, slamming the cup down so hard that coffee sloshed over the side and on to the top before he moved swiftly through to the lounge and up the stairs. He found himself staggering as he tried to maintain his footing and still avoid any missteps until finally he was in his old bedroom. Remembering the layout he staggered over to the bed and collapsed on to it. No sooner had he made it than he heard the sound of someone clapping accompanied by mocking laughter.
“Well done Hardcore, well done.”
“Get out,” Roman snarled wanting the voice gone.
“I can’t. I don’t have anywhere to go, guess you have to put up with me,” the voice said slowly.
Roman was about to say something else when he heard the sound of the door going downstairs. Getting to his feet he put his hands outwards and moved until he touched the wall. Guiding himself out of the room he passed what he felt was someone standing near the door but dismissed it as his imagination. The ghost wasn’t real, he told himself as he moved back down the stairs and into the lounge.
“Who is it?” He asked feeling a bitter note in his voice.
“Miles,” Miles said, “Ella sent some more things for you. Food, clothes, mp3 player, that sort of thing. Maybe she should have put in a couple bottles of whisky from the state of this room.”
“What do you mean?” Roman bit out the question.
“The empties that line your top, you know all the empty bottles. Beer, whisky, and even a bottle of tequila. Thought you no longer touched that particular stuff,” Miles said slowly, “you know after your stint at karaoke!”
Roman inclined his head before offering his sightless gaze towards the spot where Miles’s voice came from.
“I needed a drink,” he said slowly, his voice not betraying what he was thinking, or for that matter what he was thinking.
“Well I’ll just clear this and then be on my way, since you aren’t going to offer me a drink,” Miles muttered after a while.
“I’ve run out,” Roman said just as slowly.
Miles grunted and then Roman heard the sound of a trash bag being filled. The clang of the empty bottles highlighted just how much had been drunk and he forced himself to stand there without moving as Miles made a couple of trips to the bin outside and then a repeat journey back.
“Ok, that’s clear,” the other man murmured, “pots are in the sink. I refuse to do washing up at home so I don’t care if you are blind you can do it your damn self.”
Roman inclined his head again and forced himself not to react as he showed Miles to the door making sure it was closed behind him.
“Very good,” that mocking voice came from behind him.
“I thought you were a ghost, a figment of my imagination. But ghosts don’t drink do they Mark?”
“And finally Hardcore gets it,” the ghost muttered with a slow hand clap, “give the man a medal. Except they did didn’t they Hardcore, you went and got yourself a chest full of medals and what, they didn’t take them off you?” he twisted his lips as he spoke scathingly about Roman’s exploits, not that Roman could see it, “and they let you keep them.”
Roman ignored the taunt, “So my only real question is: what do you want?”
“I want to see you suffer,” Mark Gillen murmured.
“And then?”
“Aren’t you going to ask me how I survived? Being shot in the head tends to prove fatal.”
“I’m presuming that I missed, bit careless of me actually,” Roman drawled as if he had this kind of discussion every day.
“Roman Harris, the great and powerful Roman bloody Harris. You had no idea just how much people hated you did you? Acting so high and mighty, swanning around camp and volunteering us for every mission going whether we were up for it or not.”
“Obviously twenty years is enough for you to store up a big grudge. Maybe you need to realise that you aren’t the only one. Perhaps you need to find someone to talk to about this.”
Roman moved over to where the breakfast bar was and blindly reached out searching for one of the stools he knew that were there. Finally his hand hit the back of one and he blindly grabbed it, pulling it out and climbed on it. From there he knew he’d be able to focus on where the voice was coming from. Maybe even act on it, but for now his plan was merely to listen to what Mark wanted. Only then would he be able to deal with it.
Deal with it, he scoffed silently. He couldn’t even see the other man let alone do anything about it. And Ella. What if the guy went after Ella? There was only one way he could protect her and that was to keep away from her, deny what she meant to him in some way.
There were no pictures anymore around the house, he’d removed them before going to Hawaii and although he was grateful for that he knew that it stop Mark from finding out about his kids. He had to distance himself from them so that they would have some small measure of protection. How many times Ella had been hurt because of him, he asked himself bitterly, his sightless eyes going to the space where Mark was.
“The only one?”
“You said I wasn’t the only one to hold a grudge…” Mark drawled and from the way the sound of his voice seemed to travel around the room it seemed that he moved from the door into the hallway and stairs and went over to the long sofa.
“Let’s see,” Roman said stalling for time as he focused on what he could hear, “Elliot, then Gardy, twice, Elliot again, Alexi, oh and William, Gardy’s brother.”
“That’s right, your baby brother.”
Roman took in the sharp hiss of breath that Mark made and the way he heard rustling as the other man stood up, the fall of his feet on to the floor as he stepped forward. All these he took in as he listened carefully.
“What do you know about my brother?” Mark hissed out the question, obviously flustered by the mention of the other man.
“Seems he developed his own grudge, came after me twice. Spent some time in prison. You know if you’d been around then he wouldn’t have … well died alone.”
“Elliot is dead?”
A momentary feeling of remorse went through Roman at the careless way he’d pronounced Elliot’s death to his only relative before he sucked down those feelings and instead listed that as a potential weapon to use against the other man.
“Oh yes,” Roman said infusing his voice with something he knew would sound like glee just to add to the image he was presenting, “don’t worry though I didn’t kill him. Cancer did.”
“You are a Bas……”
“Really?” Roman interrupted folding his arms across his chest, “resorting to name calling?”
“Very clever Hardcore, you nearly got me there,” Mark muttered; the tone of voice still seemed to have a hint of anger to it Roman thought. He’d have to focus and memorise all the different tones of Mark’s voice in an effort to work out any weaknesses.
Suddenly he grinned to himself at the way he was thinking about strategies that didn’t rely on his eyesight. Remembering his earlier depression he blinked as he forced it back out of his head.
Last time he was blind it was a result of the trauma he’d gone through over Mark’s supposed death and yet the other man was here, alive and well if the taunting voice was anything to go by.
So consumed by his inner thoughts he didn’t pay attention to the sounds that came from Mark as the other man moved off the sofa. The strike across his face stopped his laughter but confirmed that he was dealing with a flesh and blood man and not some strange figment of his imagination.
Yeah, protecting Ella had been at the forefront of his mind, but not just from the threat of Mark. No, if he were going through some strange manifestation of PTSD, represented by this recurring bought of blindness, he didn’t want to be in the same house as Ella or the kids, not if there was a risk of hurting them at all.
He felt the jarring slap and the sting as feeling returned to his face afterwards. Open-handed. Right hand. Not a fist. Perhaps the gunshot to Mark’s head caused some damage to motor function?
Allowing himself to look shocked at the slap wasn’t a problem, when you were blind anything seemed to be a shock.
“Hardcore,” Mark began to speak.
“Stow it,” Roman muttered lifting a hand and rubbing at his face as though the slap had really hurt, he could swear Ella had hit him harder on well there had been a number of occasions, “When you’ve decided what you want let me know, I’m going to bed,” he added and turned to grab the bag Miles had left for him. Stumbling over getting a grip on the handles he finally grasped it and lifted it up before walking over to the other side of the room and with an outstretched hand to try to guide his way he made his way out of the room and up the stairs. He could hear Mark’s mocking laughter following him all the way up the steps until he managed to get into his bedroom and shut the door behind him.
More stumbling until he sat on the bed and reached into the bag. His hand closed around the MP3 player and he knew that he frowned as he pulled it out the bag. Putting the headphones in his ears he felt for the buttons on the player and finally pressed play. Hearing one of the songs he and Ella loved to listen to made him gasp as a wave of emotion went through him but then when it ended and he heard Lily’s sweet voice, complete with lisp come through the speakers had him reach for the pillow on the bed to stifle the cry that crawled through his soul.
Ella was reaching out to him. She was letting him know his family was there and he yanked at the headphones in his ears scared of the emotion it would stir up. He had to protect them at any cost.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 5

Roman pulled the headphones from his ears and put the MP3 player away in his bedside cabinet. Hearing the children had cheered him up and he hated that Ella would know that. Then hearing her voice had robbed him of thought and breath for a moment before he listened to her words. She asked him what he was thinking off putting them all through this again and he didn’t have a means to respond, or even the words to tell her what he was thinking. She deserved so much more than him and yet he knew if he did actually tell her that she’d kill him, a lot.
Smiling at the thought of his diminutive wife kicking hell out of him brought him sharply back to the present. Ella needed to be careful, she needed to know about Mark but how could he get a message to her when he couldn’t even see a piece of paper to write on it, let alone manage to use his phone.

Hearing footsteps outside his room he closed his eyes and breathed in and out slowly, as if he were still asleep. By his reckoning it was early morning, his body clock still waking him up as though he were still needed to do the school run, but he wanted to find out as much as he could about what Mark was up to and to do that he needed to play along.

Ella ushered Lily, Liam and the twins out of the car and over to the school gates. With them gone for the day she would finally get a few moments to herself, she thought with a smirk crawling on to her lips. Lily was still demanding to see her father and although she’d spent extra time with her daughter to try and soothe her there was only so much she could do before Lily managed to get her own way. Luckily she’d managed to sign her up for Ballet lessons so that was one distraction she used to keep her occupied.
Watching them walk inside, Lily obviously bossing everyone about made Ella give a small smile before she dashed back to the car and set off. A quick trip took her across the Bay before she pulled up outside the diner and hopped out of the car heading inside the building. Ella spotted the boys immediately, Jacko, Pete and James and went over to sit with them.
“How you doing Girlie?”
She smiled at Jacko’s question.
“I’m doing ok, surprisingly. Now then, let me get a coffee and we’ll talk.”
“Yeah, why does I get the feeling that we’s not going to like this talk so much?” Jacko muttered casting a look at Pete and James.
“Well it starts with you telling me everything you know about Roman’s blindness and ends when I’m satisfied that I’m not going to kill you,” Ella responded and flashed an innocent sweet looking smile at them at the end of the sentence that if they knew her at all meant that one if not all three of them was going to get killed. They should be familiar with the smile it was the one that Lily presented just before she got one of them into trouble. Like making Pete climb up on the garage after the teddy bear she’d slingshot out of the attic window and then telling everyone that Jacko had thrown the bear out.
Yeah, that kind of innocent.
Moving to sit at the table, Ella waited until everyone was sitting and the coffee arrived before looking at Jacko first. His shifty eyed gaze was enough to tell her how bad this situation was.
“Here,” Pete said slowly pushing a file across the table towards her.
“Don’t ask us how we got that,” James added in his laid back drawl.
Ella looked at them before she opened the plain manila file cover. Underneath was a second cover with the words ‘Top Secret’ stamped across it top and bottom. As she looked at the thick file she blinked back tears to stop herself from giving into emotion. This was Roman’s army file. His personal file. It was classified ‘top secret’. Not only was she about to break several laws reading this but she was also going to break his confidentiality. Her hand shook as she reached for her coffee and took a long drink.
“If I read this then I can never unsee it.”
“We know,” James was the one who spoke.
“Girlie, you wanted all the info on Mark and Roman; well most of it is in there. The court martial documentation, the details of the missions we went on, Roman’s training.”
“Jacko I’m aware of that but there will be other stuff in here too, other things that Roman hasn’t told me and….” Ella dragged her cup closer to her and wrapped her hands around it.
Jacko cursed not-so-much-under his breath, “He should have told you,” he added after a heartbeat.
“Did he go and see Louise?”
Ella nodded, noticing that Jacko and Pete both glanced at James when he asked the question. She sensed underlying tension from them at the mention of the counsellor’s name.
“He did and he kept on seeing her, every two weeks up until we went to Hawaii.”
James rubbed a hand over his face before taking a drink of his own coffee.
“I did some stupid things,” he began slowly, “I started hitting out at people,” he added looking down at his hand and only then did Ella notice that his wedding ring was absent. She sucked in a sharp breath. They’d never even had James and his wife over for dinner, never met her and yet every time they wanted something James dropped everything and came running. Why, she wondered.
“Hitting out?” She asked slowly.
“Drinking too much, getting angry too easily,” James shrugged, his shoulders lifting slowly before falling back down.
“I see,” Ella spoke again.
She looked at Pete and then Jacko and saw identical looks on both their faces, expressions of understanding and compassion.
“We’ve all been there,” Jacko muttered gruffly.
“What do I do?”
“Read the file.” James answered after a long silence.
“Ok,” Ella knew she still had a pensive expression on her face as glanced down at the file in front of her. She hastily closed the top cover as she saw Leah approaching them. She had an idea that her pensive expression of a moment earlier had been replaced by a guilty one when she heard Jacko snigger at her.
“Hello Ella,” Leah greeted her, shooting the three men an enquiring look.
“Leah,” Ella nodded slowly, “You’ve heard about Roman?”
“I have,” Leah said softly. The other woman gave them another look before she pulled up a chair and sat slowly down. “Roman and I were dating, in fact we were going out for dinner,” she began.
“Do you really…. “ Ella began.
Glancing down at her hands she noticed that she’d curled them into fists and hastily hid them in her lap under the table and out of sight of the others. Roman wasn’t the only jealous one she thought with a silent sigh.
“Tony’s nephew Brendan, he’s autistic or spectrum, sorry not sure what but anyway he used his slingshot to fire a stone into the car. It broke the windscreen and we swerved off the road. When Roman came around in hospital, he was blind.”
Jacko nodded like he already knew the details Ella thought. Why would Jacko know when Roman had never told her? She hated him for a second, hated them both, Jacko and Roman. Why was it that they were always dealing with secrets, she asked herself, knowing that her eyes were gliding down to glance at the folder on the table.
“It was psychosomatic. He was reminded of the incident with Mark and…” Pete began trailing off when she looked at him.
She looked next at Leah, reading a guilty expression on her face. Whether for telling her or for that she’d been dating Roman at the time. Dating. Sleeping with. Ella substituted inside her head silently. Yet another woman from her husband’s past.
“I think …” Ella stopped and looked round at everyone. She didn’t think. Couldn’t think. What was she supposed to do in this situation? Her husband was blind. Refusing contact. It was all about Mark. Elliot’s brother.
Her thoughts spiralled downwards as she was reminded immediately of the six months she’d been held hostage by the other man.
“Ella,” Leah began.
“Then he called Gardy.” Ella said flatly.
“He did.”
Jacko and Pete shared a look.
“So we’re pretty much screwed,” Ella murmured.
She looked down at her cup and saw that it was empty. Not only that it was empty but her brain also told her it wasn’t vodka and she could do with a shot or two of that right now. Ex-lovers, enemies, Roman lying to her, albeit by omission in this instance, although she remembered the way he was so secretive over Elliot and then there was his year in Witness Protection. How much could their lives have been different if they hadn’t had to deal with half of this stuff?
“I think that you have a reason for his withdrawal and if anyone could bring him out of this I would bet on you.”
Ella looked up at Leah’s quietly spoken comment.
“Thank you,” she murmured to her friend.
Leah nodded and eased up slowly and after returning the chair to the other table she turned again and collected the empty cups before heading over to the kitchen.
“If it was because of Mark last time, and I can see how the cracked windscreen would trigger memories of the incident…”
“Roman has been in car accidents before without this happening, so tell me what is different?” Ella cut through Pete’s comment.
“We have pictures of the crash,” Jacko muttered slowly.
Pete nodded and pulled out another folder. He slowly spread out the pictures on the table.
“He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt,” Ella said absentmindedly, recalling that detail from when Charlie had pitched up on her doorstep and told her about the crash.
“Is that unusual?”
Ella nodded at the question.
“How unusual Ella?” Pete added.
“In twenty years? I’ve only known him not to wear a seatbelt about three times. It was a ritual. We made the kids watch us belt up so they knew that it was important.”
“Go through the day with us?” James murmured pulling out his laptop and starting it up.
Ella waited a few moments as Leah brought over more drinks for them and James fiddled with the laptop before she spoke.
“We were on a flight back from Hawaii. We had a car from the airport to bring us home. We met the kids, they insisted on putting on a welcome home party for us to celebrate,” her voice broke and she sucked in a breath before started again, “to celebrate getting remarried. Roman was speaking to Mike. He’d been told there was mail waiting for him at the house. Something from the bank. He decided to go over and pick it up. He never came back.”
“Did he make it to the house?” James asked softly.
“I don’t know,” Ella said before looking down at the pictures of the car accident. She gave a small gasp before nodding. “Here look, envelopes,” she pointed out a bundle of white envelopes on the dashboard of the car.
“So he collected his mail. The car wasn’t attacked. I think we are safe to assume…”
Ella looked up at James as he stopped talking, “What?”
“Something happened at the house.”
“Process of deduction?”
Despite the circumstances Ella had to smile at Jacko’s sarcastic tone.
“Obviously, he’d collected the letters. Aside from the impact from the crash there was no other damage of any significance to the car. We have to assume that something happened whilst he was collecting the letters.”
“Someone or something? Is that why you brought me his whole file?” Ella asked, “What is the likelihood of someone else being after him?”
“Seriously? You’ve known him for how many years and never wanted to kill him?” Jacko shot out.
Pete looked at Ella before he poked his friend in the ribs.
“What the…” Jacko muttered.
“I was obeying orders…” Pete grinned.
“She didn’t say anything.. oh…” Jacko offered Ella a brief smile of apology before the three men laughed at her expression.
“That’s better,” James murmured close to her ear as he reached for his coffee.
She shot James a small smile making herself ignore how tight her face felt as she forced the muscles to do what she wanted. Smiling hadn’t been on her to-do list lately. “I know, I’m so bottled up. I just want to slap Roman for doing this to us again and then, well, who is the most likely to do something like this to protect us? And then there are the kids, they are driving me mad wanting to see him.”
“We’ll figure this out girlie, somehow we always do,” Jacko promised her.
“With your track record Jacko, that isn’t hopeful…” Ella murmured glancing pointedly over at Leah before looking back at the blushing man.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 6

A week had gone past since her meeting with the Jacko, James and Pete. She had tried her best to get the kids back into routine of school and their activities. Sophie was back working at the diner helping to fill in what would have been her father’s shifts. Gabby was helping out with transport to and from school whilst she was busy with sorting out the house ready for the contractors to start.
Not to mention that her exhibition was almost ready in the art gallery in Yabbie Creek. It felt strange to do all that without Roman. Without even speaking to Roman and she was shocked at how easy it had been not to confide in him let alone rely on him. She put it down to the way she’d become more independent during their time apart and hoped that it wasn’t a sign of things to come.
No, she told herself silent as she changed gears and focused back on the road in front of her, she was not going to even countenance the possibility that she and Roman were not going to make it through this.
Another half hour saw her arriving outside the studio where she was meeting up with James. He’d called her and let her know he had more information on Mark and rather than drag him all the way to the Bay she’d said she meet him here.
Grabbing the groceries she had stashed on the back seat she moved inside the building and set about opening windows to let in some air as she brewed a strong pot of coffee. Then with a guilty feeling enveloping her she moved over to the dining table and opened up Roman’s personnel file beginning reading.
Stopping after a few minutes she rubbed her eyes, shooing away the tears that had crept into them and focused on getting out a pile of stationery from one of the drawers over the other side of the room. Using the notepad she began to write out a timeline of events surrounding the court-martial in order to get her head around it. There were no transcripts included in the file, but she knew with a single phone call she could get them.
Looking at the information she did have it seemed that Roman hadn’t put up much of defence to the charges levelled against him another sign of how much the Mark stuff affected them. Not that what was happening at the moment was a big indication.
Ella frowned at the way her thoughts were going before she was interrupted by the doorbell and moved over to answer it. James spoke briefly into the intercom and she let him in before heading into the kitchen and making more coffee.
“Good,” James grinned at her when she presented him with a cup as soon as he walked in through the door. He stepped over to the table shooting her a look as he set his briefcase down next to the stack of paperwork she’d created.
“Ok, so it got the better of me and I started reading. Roman was really messed up wasn’t he?” She asked slowly, aware that she was biting her bottom lip nervously.
“More so than we ever knew,” James confirmed sitting down at the table and taking a slow drink of his coffee.
Ella busied herself with the coffee pot for a few moments before heading over to the table and sitting back in her seat. She looked at James again.
“Why didn’t they try Roman for murder? It says that his original charges were…” she stopped and looked at James.
“I don’t know,” he answered her and she could tell from the look on his face that he’d had similar thoughts himself.
“I don’t understand it. Unless…” She couldn’t bring herself to say the next words in the sentence. If it were true then how could it have happened? Why? She shook her head.
“Mark is alive. But then why would they cover it up?”
“How could they? You were there James you saw Roman take the shot. We know he never misses.” She slapped her hand down on Roman’s file for emphasis. Roman was a sniper even under arduous circumstances he wouldn’t miss.
“We didn’t even check to be honest. We dragged his body into the back of the vehicle. Got in and set off.”
“But Roman… I mean there were…”
James closed his eyes and visibly swallowed indicating the effort this was taking for him, “We .. there was blood all over his face, wounds. The windscreen was smashed. Roman wasn’t .. he was in shock. Gardy was in the back..”
Ella lifted a shocked gaze to James and saw an equally shocked expression on the other man.
“Gardy knew,” she whispered, “He knew that Mark was still alive and all these years he kept it secret because he wanted one over on Roman.”
“We would need to speak with whoever was doing Graves Registration.”
“But even if that were the case what does it have to do with what’s happening now?”
“There has to be a connection between the Mark stuff then and now. Just …”
“Roman wanted to be alone.” They spoke at the same time and looked at each other.
“Look we can’t possibly be saying that not only is Mark alive but that he’s tracked you down in Summer Bay.”
“James why aren’t we saying that? Roman told the hospital that I was no longer his next of kin. He returned his wedding ring. Why would he do any of that unless he was trying to protect me?”
“No, I can’t…” James shook his head before he tugged his phone out of his pocket and looked at the display, “I don’t even know who to call?”
“We need to confirm that Mark is alive first. We…” Ella gave James a look knowing that if Roman had’ve seen her expression he would have asked her what she was planning, “bug his house.”
“We’ll find out for certain if he’s being controlled in some way,” she said slowly.
James nodded and dialled on his phone, the call connected because he spoke into it.
“Pete, we need to conduct internal surveillance on Roman,” he stood and moved a little way off to explain to the other man what they were thinking.
Ella focused on the file in front of her re-reading sections before looking back up some minutes later when James sat back down opposite her.
“We need to get Roman out of there,” he murmured.
“I can get Miles to get him to the hospital or something.” Ella shrugged.
“So if this is somehow the ghost of Mark then, what.”
“What do we do about it?”
“Ella, we need a plan,” James told her, “Mark knows Roman. He’s a trained SAS killer. With no doubt many other years of dubious experiences under his belt.”
“We need confirmation,” Ella muttered, “And once we have it, we have to let Roman know.”
“Roman’s blind.”
Ella flinched from James’s quietly spoken words but she lifted her head and met his gaze evenly, “Even blind I’d bet on him over some psycho killer,” she told him and saw a responding smile however fleeting cross James’s face.
“So let’s get researching. Let’s see what we could be up against.”
James took out his laptop from his briefcase and set it up on the table.
Ella gave him another look before she went over and got them more coffees. It was going to be a long day.

Roman woke slowly putting his arms out he felt for the other side of the bed, sighing when he found it empty and then cursed. Of course it was empty, he wasn’t home with Ella. Even if he were blind he should know that by the way the bed was smaller, the way he couldn’t smell her perfume.
Easing carefully out of the bed he navigated his way into the bathroom and put the shower on, checking the temperature with his hand three times before finally undressing and stepping into it. Then it was fumbling around with bottles on the nearby shelf to find his shower gel. The distinctly floral scent that came out of the bottle he’d finally selected convinced him that he’d got the wrong one but he used it anyway out of frustration and too annoyed to try and find shampoo he used the same product on his hair.
Double and triple checking that he’d rinsed it all off he finally stepped out of the shower and searched on the towel rack for a fresh towel before finally giving up and stumbling over to the sink to grab a toothbrush. The toothpaste wasn’t where he’d left it the night before and he clumsily dragged his hand along the shelf until he found it. Then three attempts later he finally got some on the end of the toothbrush, and probably everywhere else he thought with a groan.
He hated that everything took so long. A five minute shower in the mornings took forever, brushing his teeth should have taken a couple of minutes but here he was still fumbling around.
Rinsing off, he placed his toothbrush back in the cup and then more fumbling before he put the toothpaste back in place. Finally he rinsed down the sink wondering if he was getting it clean or not before he stepped out of the bathroom and back into his bedroom.
Clothes. The next arduous task. Ella could have dyed all his clothes bright pink and he’d never know he thought with a sigh as he imagined the look on her face if she’d actually done anything like that. It would be an expression similar to those that Meggy or Lily had when they were plotting something.
He groaned aloud as he thought of his kids and how he was missing them before pushing the emotion aside. Even if he managed to get out of this he doubted Ella would actually forgive him and besides he needed to keep his focus on what was happening here not thinking about the kids. Or Ella.
Finding and pulling on a T-shirt and shorts he grabbed socks from the draw, thanking Ella silently for pairing them up so that he didn’t have to struggle with them before he made his slow way out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
“Well well well, finally decided to get up did you?” Mark’s mocking voice reached him as he stepped down off the last step and into the lounge.
“Morning,” Roman muttered back in response to the taunt. He skirted around all the furniture and made his slow way into the kitchen. His hand connected with empty bottles stacked on the top and he clumsily began putting them in the recycling box before stacking all the washing up on the draining board.
“You are out of food,” Mark told him.
Roman lowered his head and closed his eyes briefly.
Food shopping would be a nightmare in his present state. Nic and Aden had done that when he’d been like this before and besides that he had no idea what the money situation was. He and Ella had just resumed their joint account and now he wasn’t working.
“I guess you need to go shopping then,” he said slowly.
“ha ha, you are so funny Hardcore,” Mark shot back.
“Me? Why do you think I’m going to let you sponge off me Mark?”
“Because you killed me,” Mark said quietly.
Roman felt the guilt immediately and knew it showed on his face when he heard Mark’s quiet laughter.
That was what he had to get a handle on even though a voice inside his head was telling him that it couldn’t be just his guilt over Mark that caused his blindness because obviously with the other man here in front of him, alive and well. Perhaps it was the culmination of everything that he’d done in his past haunting him and if that were the case then he’d never get over it. He allowed his depression to show on his face because that was what Mark wanted, for him to be miserable, to be controlled in that way.
He allowed his movements to be extra clumsy as he made himself a cup of coffee, scalding his lip with a too hasty slurp. All this made Mark laugh at him and he congratulated himself at sussing out what the man wanted. Of course his unhappiness was just the start, Roman told himself silently, Mark would escalate, would want more from him perhaps Ella’s money if not something else.
And he had to stop Mark.
Even if he had to kill him to do it.

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  • 1 month later...

Chapter 7

Miles approached the door of Roman’s house knowing he looked nervous. What if Roman resisted coming out with him? What if it was true and some psycho was inside with the other man?
Rubbing his hand over his face he knocked at the door and waited. Across the road from them he knew that the ‘boys’ as they were collectively known were waiting in a non-descript white van. Once he’d managed to get Roman out of there he was to indicate if he’d seen any sign of anyone else there. From there he knew they were planning to get inside the property and do some recon.
Frowning as he internally rehearsed what he was going to say he was startled when the door flew open and shabbily dressed Roman stood in front of him.
“Who is it?”
“Miles,” Miles murmured.
“What do you want?”
“A cup of coffee and a chat?” Miles cursed silently as he went off script.
“Try the diner,” Roman’s response.
“I would but you don’t seem to be there at the moment. And I’m not gabbing away to Irene she’ll think it’s a date.”
Roman glared at him, or if he could see it would have been a glare before he laughed and stepped aside to let him inside. He couldn’t help his frantic looking around to see if there was any sign of someone else there before he moved over to the kitchen and automatically began making the coffee.
“Shouldn’t I be doing that?”
Miles grinned and spun around to look over at Roman as he sat at the counter on one of his breakfast stools.
“Considering it took you long enough to get to the door, no.”
Making the coffees he handed one to Roman as he looked around the kitchen. Washing up was done, tops were clear and it looked ok. Miles wondered how long it had taken Roman to do.
“So why are you here? Has Ella sent…”
“Ella had nothing to do with it,” Miles interrupted the other man, “Rachel contacted me about you missing an appointment with Dr Walker,” he stated the excuse that they had come up with.
Roman groaned before putting his hand in his pocket and pulling out his phone. He looked at it redundantly before holding it in the general direction where Miles stood.
“That works better if it’s switched on,” Miles told him taking the phone from his grasp, “Where is your charger?”
“I don’t know if Ella packed it,” Roman admitted sounding as though the words were forced out of him.
“I take it the bag is upstairs?”
Roman nodded, “Miles I..”
“Whatever you are going to say don’t bother. No-one is going to begrudge you help in whatever form your pig-headed pride will accept.”
“Except ..”
“Yeah, except her. She’s a little bit ..”
Roman grinned, “Annoyed?”
“More downright aiming to kill you on sight.”
“Will…” Roman stopped appearing to bit back his question.
Miles lent in closer until his mouth was close to Roman’s ear, “Will she forgive you? Eventually. Will she let you live? Doubtful. Does she still love you? Unfortunately.”
He was rewarded by Roman’s immediate relieved expression before it was replaced by the neutral one that he’d had earlier.
“Thanks,” Roman said quietly.
Miles patted him on the shoulder before he moved out of the room and up the stairs. He noticed that all the doors were open as if Roman had checked them before heading downstairs to open the door and he was suddenly buoyed by thinking that there was a solution to this, a reason for it happening before he headed into Roman’s bedroom. He spotted the bag he’d brought round from Ella and moved over to it, finding the charger for the phone immediately and also the electric shaver she’d put in. Taking both of them he headed back down stairs and paced back to where Roman was still sitting.
“Success,” Miles told him.
“She put the charger in?”
“That and well this,” Miles took the shaver out of its box and tested it before he placed it in Roman’s hand.
“She put an electronic the shaver in,” Miles explained, “Guess she really hates it when you have a beard.”
Roman flushed red as his sightless eyes met with Miles’s, “She gets a rash.”
“Do I need to know this?” He asked and was rewarded when Roman went redder before the other man turned on the stool away from him before he began shaving.
“So can you do something with my phone?”
“Like make a call or something?”
“Miles don’t be an ass; I mean make it so I can send a text.”
“Sorry, it needs someone better than me,” Miles looked at the phone in front of him as he plugged it in to charge, “What are you going to do for money?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you don’t have money,” Miles began finally broaching a subject he personally found uncomfortable, “You’ve got a mortgage on this house that you can’t pay for because you aren’t working.”
“Did Ella put you up to this?” Roman asked dropping the shaver on to the top narrowly missing his half-drunk coffee.
“No she didn’t. You’ve cut her out Roman, why should she even care about you?”
Roman rubbed his hand over his face and groaned through his fingers before turning in the direction where he believed Miles was, “So what do you suggest?”
“I suggest that we head out to the hospital and try and see whether you can get your eyesight back. I imagine that going to work will be a lot better if you can see,” Miles outlined.
Roman groaned again before he staggered off the stool and headed slowly out of the room and up the stairs. Miles heard some thumping sounds before Roman called out that he was fine followed quickly by muffled swearing.
Looking down at Roman’s phone he plugged it in to charge and switched it on. Surprisingly there were a number of missed calls and texts messages and it beeped again and again as it connected to the network with even more messages and a couple of voicemail. Looking at the screen he was surprised that there weren’t more calls from Ella but then he remembered the expression on her face when she’d been sitting in his lounge with Jacko, James and Pete and they’d outlined this plan to him. Maybe ‘pissed’ wasn’t quite the right word, maybe ‘homicidal’ didn’t cover it either he thought with a grin just as Roman came back into the room.
“So..” Roman muttered.
“You have missed calls,” Miles told him.
“I can imagine.”
“Want to listen to them?”
“Not really.”
“Want me to play them anyway?”
“You better,” Roman staggered back over to the stool where he’d been sitting and sat himself on it.
Miles fiddled with the phone for a minute before he managed to play the messages. First one was from Ella wondering where he was and was recorded the day of the crash. He could see that even listening to her voice was hard for Roman. Then there were calls from the kids, from his parents and Leah.
“So,” Miles said ending the voicemails.
“Let’s go,” Roman stood moving to the side, his hand reaching towards the hooks at the side of the fridge. He located his keys and held them up to Miles, “Yellow fob on one of the keys?”
“Yes,” Miles confirmed as he too stood and walked with him to the door.
They walked out of it checking that the door was shut behind them before Miles took hold of Roman’s elbow and guided him over to his car which was parked just in front of a white van. As he set off to take Roman to the hospital he gave two toots of his car horn and watched out of his rear-view mirror as the doors of the van opened and the three men got out and headed over to Roman’s house.

Ella focused on not looking at her watch for five minutes. It didn’t work because she looked up at the clock about the nurse’s station. Miles was late. Which meant that Roman was late. Not that she was really supposed to be there, it wasn’t part of the plan but she couldn’t just keep sitting back and doing nothing.
Looking up again she saw that barely a minute had passed since she’d last looked at the time but she was rewarded when she spotted Roman and Miles walking in through the double doors. She had to hide her smirk when she saw Miles nervously falter on seeing her there and then gasped when Roman seemed to pause and turn in her direction and stop for a second as though he knew she was there. She smiled at that and waited to see if he would say something before watching as he slowly turned away when Miles led him down the corridor.
Waiting another minute she followed the way they’d gone and eased into the consultation room before Miles closed the door. Stepping silently to the back of the room she smiled some more as Roman once again stopped as though he could sense she was there.
“Who are we ….” Roman paused, “seeing?”
“Dr Walker I believe,” Miles informed him.
“He wears the same perfume as Ella,” Roman muttered under his breath and groaned when he heard Miles gasp.
“Hello Roman,” Ella finally spoke, a smile playing on her lips, “I’m actually not wearing perfume.”
“Strawberries,” Roman bit out.
“Just the shampoo,” she confirmed.
“Miles go get a coffee,” Roman instructed and grinned as he must have heard the door open and close in rapid succession, ”So what…”
Roman sucked in a breath and turned as though he was looking directly at her.
“What about him?”
“The paperwork at Graves Registration was missing as was a death certificate from Mark’s file. What are you hiding Roman?”
“Well I don’t see anyone else in here,” she said and gasped at her choice of words.
“Funny enough, I just don’t see,” he muttered rubbing a hand over his face, “Where’s the chairs?”
“Three paces to your left and one pace up,” Ella directed him and watched as he moved to take a seat.
“So I take it that the boys are in town.”
“They are,” she confirmed.
“What do you think you can do?”
“Nothing, we can’t do anything you have to do it. That’s why you are blind.”
She moved to sit in the seat next to him and reached out slowly to take hold of his hand.
“You know I can’t bear it if you are hurt again?”
She nodded slowly because her voice was too choked up for her to be able to talk and although he couldn’t see she knew that he’d know what she was thinking. And feeling.
“I have a message from James, he said to remember your Tai Chi,” she murmured softly, “they are staying at the house. We’re going ahead with the building work. I’ve distracted Lily with ballet lessons. She’s trying to get Liam to go too,” she said quickly knowing she had only a few more minutes with him.
“I can’t see my little prince liking that.”
“No,” she half-smiled.
“El,” he murmured.
“We’re okay, all of us, we miss you obviously.”
Roman nodded before he leaned forward, pausing at the last second before he finally found her lips and kissed her. She placed her hand at the back of his head and kissed him back greedily knowing that this had to last her for a long while whilst he sorted things out. She and the boys could only do so much; it was up to Roman to finish it, to face up to his unresolved feelings and of course he still had them despite talking to her and to his counsellor. This wasn’t something he was ever really going to get over.
“I can’t,” he gasped and pulled back from her, “don’t do this again,” he added.
Ella sighed and slowly stood up straightening her skirt and smoothing a hand down her clothes. She looked at him wondering what to say before she took out her compact and looked at her reflection.
“How did you know I was wearing lipstick?” She mused as she wiped off the smudged red lipstick from around her mouth. She held out a tissue to him and he reached up automatically, his fingered fumbling before he took hold of it and used the tissue to wipe his mouth.
“Good job you aren’t mad at me,” he said slowly, otherwise you might have let me go around all day with your lipstick smeared all over me.”
“Oh I am, just you wait.”
He smiled up at her, “how long have I got before you get fed up with me?”
“That happened ages ago,” she said slowly.
She was glad he couldn’t see her face at that moment because she suddenly felt close to tears. Having to cope with all this, with the kids on top of figuring out what was going on with Roman was suddenly too much. She turned away and looked out of the window blinking back tears before gasping as Roman moved to stand behind her.
“Definitely strawberry,” he whispered.
She spun around and found herself wrapped in his arms feeling the beating of his heart under her fingers as she clutched at his chest. He lowered his head and of course he found her lips even though he couldn’t see her face. She gave in to the passion inside her and grinned as she felt his answering passion.
They broke apart as the door opened and admitted Miles into the room.
“Glad you got the chance to talk,” he said drily.
Ella felt her face flushing and glared up at Roman who was giving her an innocent expression.
“I have to go,” she murmured finally.
Lowering her hand she trailed her fingers against his before forcing herself to walk away and out of the room.
“Shut up Miles,” she heard Roman’s voice saying as the door closed.
Squaring her shoulders she slowly walked away.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Chapter 8

Ella looked over at the door as Jacko et el walked in through it. She found herself smiling at them before giving them an enquiring look.
“We fitted cameras in the hallway and the main lounge,” James told her.
“Yeah, we avoided the bathroom and Roman’s bedroom,” Jacko grinned at her, “y’know jus’ in case you’s visits him!”
“Any sign of…” she released a breathe feeling a knot of tension inside her belly.
“Not yet.”
Frowning at the way they were obviously holding back on her she moved into the kitchen and began making coffee.
“Ella,” Pete said slowly having walked into the kitchen behind her.
“I know there is no guarantee that this has anything to do with Mark but…”
“We got a lead,” he interrupted her.
She pulled back the hand she’d held out to him and tucked her arms around her middle holding on to herself.
“Someone fitting Mark’s general description was spotted on the same flight back as you.”
Ella gasped out loud as she thought about things. Roman had the nightmare on the flight back and seemed unsettled. Had they been stalked whilst they were off enjoying themselves? She gasped again remembering the first night of the holiday when she’d dragged Roman down to the beach and they’d had sex. Thoughts about when something similar happened once before, with Elliot being the potential voyeur that time.
She felt herself paling before bile rose in her throat and she charged out of the room and up the stairs, heading to the bathroom in her rush because she knew that she wouldn’t make it in time to the en suite. Her stomach heaved and she threw up.

“What did you say to her?” Jacko muttered his eyes on the stairs.
“Just that maybe Mark had been in Hawaii with them.”
James sighed before brushing past them both and fixing the drinks, taking out a bottle of cold water for when Ella came back down.
“Elliot,” he said slowly.
“What about him?”
“He messed with them. Ella was different afterwards,” James continued as though Jacko hadn’t spoken.
“She left Roman,” Pete pointed out, “the island,” he added.
“I remember. She was…”Jacko paused, no doubt feeling disloyal for talking about them like this, “dead inside. Similar to how she was after …” he stopped but they all knew he’d been about to say the name Gardy.
“Jacko,” James murmured.
“Maybe she should have stayed away, kept in the UK and then she…” Jacko cursed and turned away from them for a moment.
“She couldn’t stay away mate, she’s in love with Roman. You’ve seen them together. No matter what happens to them there is always this force that pulls them back together.”
They might have laughed at how that sounded had it come from James with his tai chi and other senses stuff but it was from Pete, noted for being more rational of the group. They faced each other in Roman’s kitchen, the kettle beginning to boil and fill the space with steam and each one of them nodded in turn like they were promising something.
“Roman did what he did for us,” Jacko said slowly, “And we owe him for that and half a dozen other times he’s saved our lives.”
“Not forgetting how Ella has picked us up on occasion,” James said slowly.
“So this is Mark. He’s pissed at Roman. Wants to blame him for what he’s gone through over the past twenty years,” Pete added.
“But the one he needs to be mad at is Gardy.”
Pete groaned, “Who is dead.”
“But William isn’t,” James pointed out.
“So what are you suggesting? Considering that we have no idea of William’s whereabouts.”
“I’m suggesting that we mock up a file on quote –Gardy – unquote only we use William’s details instead. We send Mark off to on a wild goose chase.”
“It won’t work,” Ella said softly from behind them.
“El?” Jacko slipped into the diminutive of her name as he looked over at her.
“Don’t drag William up, don’t go there. We’d… “ she gasped again, “put him in the past. Charlie has warrants out for his arrest. There was a nationwide hunt for him. What he did to my little girls, indirectly to Marcus, I couldn’t cope if you drag that up again.”
James nodded and looked slightly abashed at her words as did Pete and Jacko. He also noted that Ella had changed and obviously taken a shower, her hair was still wet. Glancing at the others he nodded again and saw them guide her through to the lounge where they sat down whilst he made the coffee. There was always a plan b.

Ella frowned at them and the way they were treating her, Jacko even calling her ‘El’ instead of his usual ‘girlie’. She was stronger than they thought; coping with Roman’s death and all it entailed, taking care of the kids, rebuilding the diner. She wasn’t the ‘El’ who’d fallen apart after Elliot’s tricks so her reaction had to be clamped down on, she was strong enough to deal with Mark or whoever it was that was messing with them, she had to be.
“Here’s coffee,” James said redundantly as he placed a tray of drinks on the coffee table in front of them.
“No William stuff,” Ella said again looking at them, “I don’t even know if Roman…” she stopped and sighed.
“We get it girlie,” Jacko reached for his cup and took a cautious sip.
“So Mark was in Hawaii. Obviously he recognised Roman and decided to follow him. There were security cameras around the hotel.”
“James,” Pete prompted.
“We’ll check them out. Can you remember if there was anyone following you at all? Any feelings like you saw someone on more than one day?”
“No, there was nothing like that,” Ella muttered noting she folded her arms across herself again, “Wait, no.”
“Ella?” James prompted.
“Roman had this nightmare on the flight back, he said Mark in it. I woke him up. Is that connected? He hasn’t had bad dreams for ages,” she said slowly wanting it to be something so they could find out what was going on. She knew from their expressions that she had a hopeful look on her face and tried not to react to their expressions. It had to mean something, didn’t it?
“It’s entirely possible he did notice something.” Pete said to the others.
“Let’s review the footage. Check the flight manifests against security footage from passport control,” James outlined.
“I’m not even going to ask how you’d get access to any of that,” Ella shook her head and reached for her coffee. She took a long drink and remembered the breathy kiss she’d shared with Roman just a short while ago. Her lips curved as she realised he hadn’t bumped noses with her or anything like that, no, he’d found her lips just so. They were so in tune and she owed it to him to …. Stick with this and see where they ended up. “So that gives us a starting point?” Ella asked them after a while.
“It does, but you need to know that whatever is going with Roman, he’s still blind Ella,” Pete said slowly.
“I know. Last time apparently it was the guilt over Mark which triggered it.”
“If this is Mark, he’s going to be using that against Hardcore,” Jacko muttered.
“And we can’t…” Pete stopped when he saw Ella stand up and retrieve her phone from her pocket.
“It’s Miles, apparently you can send text messages by using your voice?” she read out slowly.
“Yeah,” James was the first to respond.
“Well Roman needs help to sort it on his phone,” she added giving James a look.
In fact she noticed they’d all turned to look at James and he went red in the face at the attention. “Where are they?” He asked.
“At the café in the hospital,” Ella murmured.
Pete handed James the keys and he nodded as he set off to go sort out Roman’s phone.
“I can’t believe that you don’t know how to do that,” Pete commented to her.
Ella smiled at him before she pressed her finger to the screen of her phone, scrolling through the menus before she spoke, “Send text to Miles, James is on way to fix phone.” She enunciated clearly.
After a moment they heard the buzz from her phone as the text was delivered and she grinned at them before putting it away.
“I take it that was payback for James nearly breaking your ipad?”
“Maybe,” Ella shot them a smile.
“Can we get him to see Louise?” Pete asked out of the blue mentioning Roman’s counsellor.
“No,” Ella sighed.
“No? Not even going to try one of your tricks?”
“I don’t think there will be much point until we know who or what we are dealing with? If this is Mark, and I don’t even like using the work ‘if’ because we are all certain it’s him aren’t we? Well anyway, we need to find out what he’s been doing for the past twenty years, and as we do that Roman has to figure out exactly what has triggered his blindness.”
“That won’t be easy,” Jacko said slowly.
Ella nodded.

“So how did you get the short straw?”
James laughed at Miles’s comment before he looked at Roman, “You got seen by the doc?” He asked him.
“I did, and well…” Roman lifted his hand and waved it in front of his face, his expression not changing.
“So what is the diagnosis?”
“He’s hysterical,” Miles threw in.
“Ha ha,” Roman groaned.
“I take it there are no psychical reasons for your loss of sight?”
“No,” Roman peered at the other man, or at least if he could see that’s what his expression would have been, “I know it’s tied up with what is going on right now,” he added with elucidating further in order to protect Miles in some way, “but I can’t think what it is.”
“The actual crash bringing back memories? Or possible you have to face up to something in your past?”
Roman nodded slowly, thankful that James hadn’t revealed further details to Miles. The other man had a young family to take care of so it was better he was left out of it from now on, and when he got his phone sorted, courtesy of James, he would text Ella and tell her that.
“Ella told me I had a nightmare on the plane back from Hawaii.”
“She told us too,” James confirmed, “We think that you might not have been alone on the flight. We’re checking out options.”
“So if I noticed something?”
“It triggered some subconscious memories. Phone is done,” James said and placed the handset in Roman’s grasp, “Just tell it who you want to text and the message. It will tell you when it is delivered but aside from that it’s on silent so you’ll have to check it.”
Roman nodded again and lifted the phone up closer to his mouth, “Text Ella,” He paused wondering what to send her before smiling, “I love you,” he said slowly, “Send?”
Miles and James shared a look before chuckling at the other man.
“Thought you wanted her kept out of it?”
“I do, but I owe her something,” he shrugged, “now please take me home I need to lay down I’ve got a headache.”
As Miles stood up from the table the sound of his chair scraping back on the tiled floor made Roman wince and he was blissfully unaware of the concerned looks the two men were sharing before Miles led him out of the hospital cafeteria and over to his car. James staying behind so that they weren’t seen together.

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  • 1 month later...

Chapter 9

Roman staggered inside his house, aware of Miles being just behind him. He clumsily moved over to the sofa and collapsed on to it dragging a cushion into his arms and groaning.
“Got any pain pills?” Miles asked in a soft calm voice.
“In the cupboards.”
Miles nodded and eased away before he grimaced at how easy it was to forget that Roman couldn’t see. He routed around until he found the tablets and then after grabbing a bottle of water he moved over to where Roman was laying.
“Here,” he murmured placing the pills securely in Roman’s hand before handing him the bottle of water, “Anything else I can do for you?”
“Thanks, but no, you better get off,” Roman grimaced as he spoke as though just that effort was too much for him.
A concerned Miles gave him a last look before leaving him to it, making sure he closed the door securely behind him.

Roman waited until he heard the door close before he spoke. “You can come out now,” he said slowly.
“Just how did you know?” Mark asked that scathing note still in his voice.
Roman tilted his head as he heard the soft tread of the other man’s footsteps indicting that he was walking into the room. He wondered if he should give away that he’d smelt the cigar smoke or the pungent aroma of whisky combined with the other man’s aftershave. He grimaced as he remembered the times he’d been around Ella after smoking cigars and she’d reacted to the stimuli being reminded of Gardy. They’d all smoked them on occasion back in the day, using them as a bonding device, something they did after getting back from a mission.
“Cigars,” he said finally selecting that as the reason. No need to let Mark know all of his tricks.
“Bit of a surprise you not being here when I came in,” Mark muttered moving past him and into the kitchen from the sound of his footsteps. He heard cupboards opening and closing before muffled swearing. “What did you do with all the booze?”
“You are asking me?”
“Do you see anyone else here?” Mark shot back before laughing at his own joke.
“Do you see me being able to restock after you’ve drunk the house dry?” Roman shot back.
“Maybe you need to get that wifey of yours to do your shopping like a good ‘en?”
“I’d have to be blind, deaf and stupid to give my wife a shopping list and expect to live afterwards. Think I’m scared of you?”
Roman glared in the general direction of Mark before he staggered up from the sofa, and reaching out a searching hand he located the bottle of water Miles had given him before he headed off towards the stairs.
“Maybe you need to think about what I can do to your wife whilst you are stuck here….” Mark taunted.
Roman laughed mockingly. “More inclined to wonder what she’d do to you. You do remember Ella don’t you?”
“She was a brat,” Mark drawled.
Roman could imagine the other man’s expression and smiled despite himself, despite the tension in the room and the fact that he was discussing his wife with a bad guy.
“She would be delighted at being referred to in that way.”
“Considering that you remarried her I’m sure she isn’t as bad as you’d like me to believe.”
Roman smiled again, “Ella arranged the wedding. I went along with it. Do you think I’m here because I want to protect her? No, I’m blind. I’m not the perfect husband she wants. Trust me Mark, you say you are going after her and I’m not stopping you, I’m not even worried,” he held his hands up, “She killed Gardy,” he added slowly.
He could tell from Mark’s shocked sounding question that the other man probably wasn’t even aware that Gardy was dead. How would this affect the situation he wondered silently?
“Gardy came after us. Ella got pissed and shot him. Buried in Yabbie Creek cemetery if you want to check.” He delivered the lines in staccato before continuing the journey up the stairs and into his bedroom shutting the door carefully behind him.

Parked across the street from Roman’s was a white non-descript van where a shocked Jacko choked on his coffee before he let out a loud laugh. So Roman was threatening the bad guy with Ella, just wait until the guys heard that one. Although he was probably not going to tell Ella, It was safer that way.

Ella sighed as she waited outside the room in the community centre. Being summoned to talk to Lily’s ballet teacher was not a good sign. Being summoned to talk to any of Lily’s teachers was not a good sign. She couldn’t wait for those parent teacher talks with Miles when Lily went to high school. Poor Miles. He’d probably put in for retirement faced with teaching Lily.
She waited for all the kids to leave with their parents before stepping into the room and approaching the teacher with caution. Lily was seated next to her with her head down.
“Mrs Harris?”
Ella nodded, “Yes,” she murmured.
“Let me just point out that Lily is an unusual child, she’s very, er, energetic and er, enthusiastic in her approach.”
“Yes,” Ella said again casting a glance at her daughter who was now sitting with her arms folded across herself.
“I don’t feel that Ballet is the… right activity for her?”
“I’m not enrolling her into the army so you’re stuck with her,” Ella muttered.
“Er… Mrs… “ The ballet teacher stuttered trying to come up with a response before, “the thing is my husband teaches a karate class and…” she waved her hand in a gesture that all dancers seemed to do.
“Let me get this straight? You can’t handle my daughter but you want me to enrol her in a martial arts class? Because teaching her how to kill people would be a good thing for her?”
Lily lifted her head and gave them both an innocent smile.
“When you put it like that,” the teacher once more grimaced.
“I’ve paid for the lessons in advance,” Ella began.
“Naturally you’d get a refund.”
“No, I don’t think you quite get it. Lily is taking ballet lessons. I’ve enrolled her. I pointed out at the time that she was a special child and I was assured that you could cope with her.”
“Perhaps Mrs Harris you should have specified just how special she is,” the teacher looked flustered as she spoke, “I really am sorry. I’ve dealt with all kinds of children including special needs but Lily is …”
“One of a kind?” Ella supplied when the red-faced teacher seemed lost for words.
“Yes!” The exasperation that the teacher was feeling at dealing with Lily came through on just that one word answer.
“Then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the challenge,” Ella said smoothly and turning she collected her daughter and eased out of the room before the ballet teacher could say anything further.
“Mama,” Lily murmured.
“Squeals, you can drop the act because it isn’t going to work. You are in ballet until the end of time,” Ella said as she guided her pink wearing daughter to the car ignoring the undignified stomps coming from her.
“But I wants to learn karate!” Lily muttered a fierce scowl on her face.
“Get in the car now,” Ella muttered back.
Ella turned and looked at her daughter, she was standing by the car, her hair pinned up in a bun although it seemed to be trying to escape in places. The filmy skirt she was wearing was bunched up on one side where Lily had tucked it in her tights, which had a hole in over one knee. The sleeves on her pink wrap top bunched up as she folded her arms across herself and gave her mother a glare.
“Lily Alyssa Harris, you will get in the car now and you will be quiet. I’ve never spanked you before but I will today.”
Lily just glared back at her leaving Ella few options. She clicked on the remote and unlocked the car whilst she waited before turning and picking up her daughter and forcing her into the car. A ten minute struggle ensued before she finally got her seated in the car with her seatbelt on.

Walking ahead of a still sulking Lily into the house Ella moved over to the fridge and took out a beer. She drained it in three goes before fixing Lily with a look.
“Upstairs into your room,” she muttered to her daughter.
For a long moment Lily looked at her as though judging if she was going to disobey before finally stomping up every step of the stairs. The slam of the bedroom door told her that Lily had gone into her room and she looked longingly at the bottle of beer wanting to have another one before shaking her head.
“She okay?”
Ella turned at Sophie’s question and gave her elder daughter a rueful smile. “No, she’s a pain in the ….”
“Just like Meggy?”
“What?” Meggy’s disgruntled voice came from the living room.
Ella smiled at her daughter before heading to the table and sitting down. She looked over at Mia struggling to get comfortable with her pregnancy so advanced. Another month and then her baby would be here. Marcus and Sammy were giggling as they did their homework and Georgie must have retreated to his room to study. He preferred to do that most days now and she was worried what effect Roman’s current state was having on them.
“Mama,” Liam called out.
“No,” she murmured back second-guessing her son.
Ella smiled at him before grinning as he climbed off his chair and came over to her. She lifted him on to her lap and wrapped her arms around him.
“Miss Lily is very naughty and has been told off,” she explained to him.
“Lily wants to …” Liam began.
“Lily will do what she is told,” Ella said firmly and bit back a chuckle when she caught sight of Meggy giving her a shake of her head at the statement.
“I don’ts think so,” Liam added.
“We’ll see,” Ella murmured placing a kiss to the top of her son’s head and putting him back in his seat. “Anyway this weekend we have Meggy going to gymnastics, Sophie working at the diner, Marcus seeing his Dad, Mia going into labour, …”
“What?” Mia gasped out looking up.
Meggy giggled again before giving Mia a smile, “Could totally happen!”
“Better not happen!” Mia muttered a scowl on her face.
“So anyway we are pretty busy,” Ella continued.
“Haven’t mentioned Lily or the twins,” Sammy said slowly.
“Or mes,” Liam added.
“I was planning to lock them in their room until Lily behaves,” Ella murmured with just a hint of feeling to her words.
“We’d never seem them again,” Meggy said quietly without looking up from her book.
“You being the expert of course,” Sophie called out from the kitchen.
“Hardly,” Meggy grinned over at her sister, “compared to my sister I look like an angel!”
Sophie snorted before letting out a laugh.
“I think Georgie is camping?”
Ella smiled over at Sammy and nodded. “He is.”
“Dad’s going to miss it,” Sammy added.
“He’ll make it up when he’s better,” Ella said quietly, “besides I think we need to sort out something for us all to do for a week or two whilst the builders are here. We were planning to move into the house but with your Dad there,” she shrugged.
“Maybe we can move to the caravan park?” Meggy suggested.
“I don’t think we’d fit Megs.” Sophie said with a sigh, “Besides I don’t fancy communal showers!”
“You do know that caravan is not actually sleeping outside don’t you?” Sammy pointed out.
“I don’t care!” Sophie shuddered.
“How about…” Meggy stopped and looked over at Sammy before she continued, “going to the studio? I know it will be hard with school and everything but..”
“I think that is a good idea. Let’s see what Georgie says later. Now I need to cook dinner and figure out what I’m going to do with Lily,” Ella smiled at her kids before she stood and moved into the kitchen.
“Military school,” Sammy said without looking up from his books.
“Are you kidding?” Meggy asked her brother, “You really want to give Lily access to guns?”

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