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Savage Awakening

By:Anne Mather

Savage Awakening
Anne Mather


IT WAS the chimes of the church clock that woke him.

Ironically enough, he'd grown used to sleeping through the wailing call  of the muezzin. Four years in North Africa, the last eighteen months in  an Abuqaran jail, had made such sounds familiar to him. That, and the  staccato shots that erupted from time to time across the prison yard.

Not that he'd slept well, of course. A thin blanket thrown on a concrete  floor was hardly conducive to a sound-let alone a comfortable-slumber.  But it was amazing what the body could get used to, how little  sustenance it needed to survive.

Still, he had survived, and after six months back in England he should  have become accustomed to the ordinary sounds of civilised living again.

But he hadn't. He was still coming to terms with the fact that he was  not the man he used to be and whether or not he slept well-or at all-was  a small problem in the larger scheme of things.

Not liking the direction his thoughts were taking, he thrust back the  covers and swung his legs out of bed. At least sitting up no longer  caused the sickening feeling of dizziness he'd suffered during his first  few weeks of freedom. And his limbs, which had been almost skeletal  when he returned, were gradually filling out, his muscles strengthening  with the regular workouts he subjected himself to every day. The doctors  had warned him not to try and do too much, but there'd been no way he  could control the desire to regain his health and strength, and moving  at a steady pace had never been good enough for him.

Consequently, although his psychological problems showed little sign of  improvement, physically he felt much better than he had even a month  ago.

Which was such a sucker, he chided himself grimly, pressing down on the  mattress and getting a little unsteadily to his feet. Sometimes he had  the feeling he'd never make it, never recover even the belief in himself  he'd once enjoyed. Perhaps it would be kinder all round if other people  realised it, too.

Nevertheless, he'd had to give it a try. And, to that end, he'd bought  this house in a village far enough from London and the life he and Diane  had had there before he'd been sent to Abuqara to cover the civil war.

Diane didn't approve of his decision. Mallon's End was the village where  she'd grown up and where her parents still lived. She thought he was  crazy wanting to leave the exciting opportunities London presented  behind. He'd already been offered his old job with a commercial  television station back again and she couldn't understand why he'd  turned it down. He didn't honestly know himself. But, thanks to the  legacy his grandmother had left him, money wasn't a problem, and there  was always that offer of a book deal if he should choose to write about  his experiences as a prisoner of the rebel forces in Abuqara.

He crossed the floor to the windows, shivering a little in the cooler  air. The polished boards beneath his feet were cold, too, but he didn't  notice them. He was used to going barefoot. The first thing his captors  had done was take his shoes away from him. And although initially his  feet had blistered and been agony to walk on, gradually they'd hardened  up.

All the same, he was used to temperatures that usually hovered near  forty degrees Celsius in daylight hours, and although England was  supposed to be enjoying a heatwave at the moment, he hadn't noticed.

Pulling the curtain aside, he peered out. Outside the long windows, the  gardens of the house stretched in all directions, lush with colour. To  someone used to bare walls or stark packed-earth streets stripped of any  sign of civilisation, it was an amazing view. Even the months he'd  spent since his return in his comfortable apartment in Belsize Park  hadn't prepared him for so much beauty. This was what he needed, he told  himself, what he'd dreamed of while he was in prison. It was a  humanising experience.

Beyond the grounds of the house, the churchyard offered its own kind of  absolution. He could see cottages through the swaying branches of the  elms and yews that guarded the lych-gate, and an occasional car passing  the bottom of his drive on its way into the village proper.

It was all so-yes, that word again-civilised. But he was still isolated  from the people and places that had once been so familiar to him. It was  strange but while he was a prisoner, he'd longed for company, for  someone who spoke his own language.                       


He'd had some conversations with the captain of the rebel forces.  Fortunately, he'd known a little of his language, and the man had been  surprisingly intelligent and well read.

Yet now he was home, he found himself shunning company, avoiding  conversation. He was a mess, he thought ruefully. Diane was right. He  wouldn't blame her if she got sick of trying to get through to him.

Even so, he thought as he moved away from the windows, given the hassle  of the last few months, surely he had a right to some peace, some  tranquillity. God knew he hadn't been prepared for the amount of  interest his return had engendered, but what with interviews, phone-ins,  online question-and-answer sessions, he'd begun to feel persecuted all  over again. He'd wanted out, not just out of London, but out of that way  of life. His old way of life, he acknowledged. And if that meant he was  cuckoo, then so be it.

A shower removed a few more of the cobwebs that were clouding his  system, and after towelling himself dry, he dressed in drawstring sweat  pants and a black cotton T-shirt. He pulled a rueful face at his  roughening jawline and decided he liked not having to use a hair-dryer.  In North Africa his head had been shaved, and since his return he'd kept  his hair barely long enough to cover his scalp. Diane said it suited  him, but then, she'd say anything to boost his self-esteem. She was  worried about him, worried about their relationship. And he couldn't say  he blamed her.

The house felt chilly as he went downstairs. It was barely seven  o'clock, after all, and until he'd worked out how the central heating  operated, he'd have to live with it.

But at least the place had central heating, he mused gratefully. These  old houses often didn't, but the previous owner had apparently demanded  that comfort and he was glad.

Nevertheless, he would have to see about getting some decorating done.  The heavy flock wallpaper on the stairs and the crimson damask in the  main reception room would definitely have to go, and he needed a lot  more furniture than the bed and the couple of armchairs he'd brought  with him. The rest of his furniture was still in his London apartment  and, until he'd definitely decided he was going to stay here, it would  be staying there.

But this place was big enough for several living and bedroom suites and  he couldn't exist with what he had. He would have to visit a saleroom;  an auction saleroom, perhaps. These rooms would not take kindly to  modern furniture.

Thankfully, the kitchen faced east and already it was warm and bathed in  sunlight. Like the rest of the house, it could do with some updating,  but he decided he rather liked the rich mahogany units and the dark  green porcelain of the Aga.

However, the Aga presented another problem and, rather than try to  figure it out this morning, he started a pot of coffee filtering through  the strong Brazilian grains he preferred and turned with some relief to  the gas hob.

Pretty soon, the kitchen was filled with the appetising scents of hot  coffee and frying bacon and he was glad his mother had suggested taking a  box of groceries with him. Left to himself, he would probably have had  to go out for breakfast and that was definitely not part of his plan.

The kitchen windows overlooked the gardens at the back of the property  and he stood staring out at an overgrown vegetable plot as he drank his  first cup of coffee of the day. There was such a lot to do, he reflected  with a twinge of apprehension. Had he bitten off more than he could  chew?

But, no. The whole idea was that he should be able to fill his days to  the exclusion of all else. He didn't want time to relax, time to think.  Until he'd figured out whether he was ever going to feel normal again,  simple manual labour was what he needed.

The sound of footsteps clattering across the paved patio outside brought  his brows together in a frown. Dammit, he thought. No one was supposed  to know he was here yet. He'd deliberately stowed the four-by-four in  the garage to disguise his presence. Who the hell had discovered he'd  moved in?

He moved closer to the windows and looked out. He couldn't see anyone  and that bothered him, too. He had heard the footsteps, hadn't he? He  couldn't be starting having hallucinations. God, that would be the last  straw!