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Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
Romance versus relics chapter 20
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Romance versus relics chapter 20

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  • 1. <br />Hello and welcome to chapter 20! As you know, in the previous segment, Nellie went on a mission searching for love. Well, she may or may not have found love, but she found some action. That was a fun, light-hearted segment which warmed the heart, as well as other things. *wiggles eyebrows* This chapter is a whole new ballgame, however. This time, my dark side rears its horrifying head, so prepare yourselves for a journey into which all Hell breaks loose. Things will get a bit ugly before the tale is done. I have made some really good use of Photoshop in this chapter as well, as some of you may notice. I hope you enjoy the chapter, although I may end up having to hide from some of you, so that you don't kill me! LOL<br /> Note: This chapter contains sexual situations, partial, implied, and brief nudity, and graphic violence.<br /> <br />He seethed in fury as he glared at the man and woman who slept so peacefully in the bed before him. His eyes blazed with loathing at the way the man had attached himself to and wrapped himself around the woman's body. The room was deathly silent, save for the couple's deep, even breaths, and the sound of the rapid drumming of his own heart pounding in his ears. As he continued to watch, the man moaned softly and moved even closer against the woman's warm, sleeping form.<br />His body trembled with the rage that was growing stronger within him, and he felt as if he were in the midst of his worst nightmare, from which he knew he would never awake, as his gaze moved around the room and came to rest upon the pile of discarded clothing strewn about near the far corner.<br /> <br />He held up and looked at the woman's undergarments he had plucked off the floor when he had first entered the room. He moved his fingers across the satiny material gently, almost affectionately, as he closed his eyes and imagined he could feel the warmth of her body as if he had just removed them from her. His eyes still closed, he brought them up to his face and stroked them tenderly across his cheek, enjoying the silky feel against his skin. The woman's scent lingered upon them and he buried his face into them, inhaling deeply.<br />A trace of her prior stimulation was evident and, despite the situation, he felt himself becoming aroused. The whole chamber reeked of the sleeping couple's intimate encounter, and the scent of him was mingled with hers and it stoked his fury. When the woman moaned softly in her sleep, his eyes snapped open.<br /> <br />As he gripped the handle of the large dagger he had brought with him, an almost irresistible temptation swept through him to slit both of their throats right where they lay. The razor-sharp blade glinted in the torchlight and the cool, smooth handle felt soothing in his grip. It seemed to send an itch from his hand up through his arm, urging him to do the deed. No! His mind screeched at him so loudly it felt as if his head would explode. I am NOT a cold-blooded murderer! Besides, he had not received what he wanted from the woman yet. She owed him, and he would convince her to mend her ways and give him what was his due.<br />The rage welled up inside him again and burned within him like the molten lava that boiled within the bowels of an erupting volcano. Suddenly, he broke the silence in a voice loud enough to wake the dead, " Whore! Slut! Get up . . . NOW!" He smiled maliciously as the couple jerked awake and he saw their fear.<br /> <br />Youssef groaned miserably as he opened his eyes. He felt nauseous and dizzy from the after-effects of the potent drink he had consumed just a few hours before. He winced as a sudden, sharp pain shot through his skull like a bolt of lightning. Finally, his sleepy eyes focused upon the man in the room wielding a very large, dangerous-looking dagger. The man was glaring at him, his eyes blazing with raw, unadulterated hatred and disgust.<br />Nellie had not consumed as much of the wine as Youssef had, so her mind was slightly clearer upon waking, but she felt disoriented nonetheless. When she saw the man hovering near the bed, waving the large knife around like a maniac, she tried to scream, but her throat constricted painfully and no sound would come. She could only gape, horrified, hoping to wake up from the hideous nightmare she was having. <br />" Get up . . . NOW!" the man ordered loudly again. Nellie was hesitant to uncover herself, but Youssef slid from beneath the covers and stood to face the man.<br /> <br />Youssef gasped sharply and reared backward as the man pointed his blade toward him and snapped, " Stay back! Do not come any closer." Youssef was astonished by the expression of pure loathing on the man's face. The room was dimly lit, but it was easy to see the hatred and revulsion blazing in his eyes. The man seemed familiar to Youssef, but he could not quite discern his identity, although it tickled the edges of his memory.<br />The blade still pointed in Youssef's direction, the man turned his gaze to Nellie, still hunkered beneath the bed covers, embarrassed by her state of undress. " Get up, whore!" the man demanded furiously. " Get up, or your lover will feel the wrath of this blade!" he snapped crossly as he jabbed the dagger slightly toward Youssef's abdomen. Nellie cried out in shock and horror as she quickly got out of the bed. Mortified to be standing naked, with the two men in the room, she quickly moved to grab the cover from the bed to wrap around her body. " Leave it!" the man commanded harshly, and Nellie looked up at him, horrified.<br /> <br />Nellie's heart caught in her throat, and a rush of fear spread throughout her body, exploding in her mind like an atom bomb. Incredulous, she croaked, " Gustav?" The man's voice was that of Gustav Delven, but on first glance, that was as far as the resemblance went. His appearance had changed drastically, and instead of acting in his normal suave, sophisticated manner, he was like a crazed madman. A combination of lewdness and disgust gleamed in his eyes as they slowly moved over her nude form. Nellie's skin crawled, and she broke out in goose bumps, as she tried her best to cover her nakedness with her hands.<br />" What is wrong, Nellie?" he sneered nastily. " Overcome by a sudden bout of modesty, no? Where was that modesty before? So, this is your version of exploring alone? I practically begged to come with you, but you said no!" He laughed, but it held no humor. " It is fine for him to admire your beauty and enjoy your body, but not me, no?" He allowed his gaze to travel the length of her body once more, enjoying watching her growing discomfort. Then he sighed. " Go ahead and cover yourself, you slutty little tramp!" he said furiously as he brutally flung her the undergarments he still held in his hand.<br /> <br />" Do not speak to her that way!" Youssef bellowed irately, forgetting his own state of vulnerability while the other man wielded a large, dangerous weapon. He felt very protective over Nellie, and as long as there was breath in his body, he could not just stand there and say nothing.<br />The other man laughed, almost manically. " I will speak to her in any manner I choose." He waved the dagger around for emphasis. " How do you intend stop me?" Gustav eyed Youssef's nude body, allowing his gaze to come to rest briefly on one area in particular. He laughed again, gesturing toward the object that had caught his attention. " Nellie, this is what you chose to invite into your bed? I have so very much more to offer!" <br /> <br />" Listen, you care about the girl, so you are not going to hurt her. Why do you not simply let her go?" Youssef said, ignoring the vindictive man's last remark. He highly doubted it was true, but merely a petty jab used to rile his anger. All he wanted was to insure Nellie's safety, unable to bear the thought of her being hurt.<br />" No, no, NO!" Gustav screeched. " The whole point is to not let her go! She belongs with me! She belongs to me, but you chose to interfere, to take her away from me!" He fell silent and stood there glaring back and forth between the two of them, breathing heavily.<br />" Gustav" Nellie said gently, taking Youssef's lead from her position at the opposite side of the bed, " let's go somewhere and talk, just the two of us. I'm sure we can sort everything out." Gustav gazed at her, stunned. While he was considering her suggestion, Youssef took advantage of his distraction and lunged at Gustav.<br /> <br />Seeing the sudden movement from the corner of his eye, Gustav whirled around toward Youssef, dagger out in front of him. There was an unexpected whooshing noise, along with the grotesque sound of tearing flesh as the razor-sharp blade plunged into Youssef's mid-section. Gustav watched in growing horror as Youssef dropped to the floor with a thud, never crying out, even once, in agony.<br />Nellie's jaw dropped, her eyes widened in terror, and her shrill screams pierced the air. She could not believe this was happening and desperately wanted to wake from the hideous, obscene nightmare playing out before her horror-struck, tear-filled eyes.<br /> <br />Nellie screamed, " Youssef!" Her body was racked with sobs and whimpers, and she wanted to run to Youssef's side, but it seemed that her feet were rooted into place and she could not move. She could not see Youssef where he lay on the floor from her position, so she could not assess the damage the dagger had caused, but she felt it was bad because there were no sounds coming to her from his direction.<br />" Oh my God, Gustav, look . . . just look at what you have done!" she sobbed pitifully. She gazed into his eyes, trying to read them, but she could see no emotion there. It was as if he had gone someplace else momentarily. She screamed at him then, " Gustav!" Nellie watched in amazement as his eyes seemed to come back into focus and he glared angrily at her. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out another . . . large dagger!<br /> <br />" You did this, Nellie, not me!" he growled from between clenched teeth. " If not for your betrayal and blatant rejection of me, none of this would be happening!" A distant expression crossed his face, and a strange smile formed upon his lips, as he turned his gaze to the weapon he held in his hand. " It is beautiful, Nellie, no? When I saw the both of them in the Relic Merchant's shop, I could not decide between the two, so I purchased them both!" he chuckled softly and glanced down a Youssef's unmoving body. " He may keep that one! This one will do nicely for me." <br />Nellie remained rooted to her spot, silently whimpering. When Gustav next looked at her, his expression had changed to one of sadness and sorrow. He whispered hoarsely, " It was an accident, Nellie. The stupid man threw himself onto the blade." His brow furrowed thoughtfully. " Now, you must get dressed!" <br /> <br />Nellie dazed, and in a serious state of shock, wordlessly moved toward the pile of clothing that had been discarded no more than a few hours ago. She realized that Gustav was right. The whole thing was her fault. Many factors were included in her realization. If she had stuck to her policy of exploring alone, if she had not allowed Youssef to influence her to drink the wine and had taken the diary back to Helmi Burak right away, and maybe . . . just maybe if she had taken the time to give Gustav a call, the nightmare in which she now found herself would not be happening.<br />As she bent to retrieve her jeans from the floor, Gustav said, " No! You must wear these garments instead." He tossed a bag at her, which landed at her feet. She reached into the bag, and a puzzled expression crossed her face as she gazed at the contents. " Do not just stand there looking dumbfounded" he snapped. " Put them on!" When she was finished, he went to her and grabbed her roughly by the elbow, leading her toward the door. She winced in pain, but did not cry out.<br /> <br />" Look, Nellie" he smiled. " We are a matched set! You have not mentioned my change of appearance. Do you like it?" When she refused to answer, he went on, " You see, I needed to make myself, 'blend in', so to speak, so not long after our last conversation, I stopped shaving. I suspected you were not alone, and that you were consorting with that man!" Gustav's nose crinkled in disgust. " As it turns out, I was correct!" A sharp stab of pain exploded inside his heart as he thought about the way she had betrayed him, which was almost immediately replaced by vindictive rage, and an agonizing need to get even.<br />A spiteful gleam sparkled in his eyes and he gave her elbow a firm squeeze. " Well, he is of no use to you now, Nellie. Look at him!" Nellie pinched her eyes shut and shook her head vigorously, but he forcefully turned her around to face the direction in which Youssef's body lay motionless. " Open your eyes and . . . LOOK!" he commanded harshly, as he reminded her who was in charge by tapping her firmly in the back with the flat side of his blade.<br /> <br />Nellie was unable to stifle the scream that rose up into her throat when her gaze fell upon the man who had been so alive, so vibrant, and so warm earlier that evening. Her heart shattered into a million pieces, her stomach clenched excruciatingly, her body trembled uncontrollably, and her mind was flooded with guilt. The thought that she could have prevented the nightmarish events playing out before her was too much to bear. She felt light-headed, and her knees buckled beneath her weight, and then her body began sliding toward the floor.<br />Gustav quickly wrapped his arms around her and held her up, feeling sudden pangs of remorse for causing her such distress. " I am sorry, Nellie" he whispered tenderly against her ear. " Come. We must go now" he gently urged. " I found a perfect place for us to spend some time alone together for awhile." <br /> <br />" Where are you taking me?" Nellie asked when they reached the marketplace. The hour was late. Youssef's and Nellie's intimate encounter had begun at 7:00pm the evening before. They had fallen asleep around 10:00pm. Gustav had interrupted their sleep three hours later. Now it was nearly three O' clock in the morning and there was no one around the market, except for a late-night tourist or two, but that still made Gustav feel a bit on edge.<br />" Just be quiet and keep your head down!" he snapped in a harsh whisper. " You will see soon enough. I cannot afford to have you be recognized. If that happens, it will ruin everything!" A small smile played around the corners of his lips as he thought about the plans he had made. He was going to enjoy himself immensely, and in the back of his mind, he felt that Nellie would enjoy herself as well. He would do his best to make her forget all about that meddling Egyptian man.<br /> <br />" Please remain calm and do as I say!" Gustav growled in a low, threatening tone as held the dagger in front of her as reminder of who was in charge. " We would not want to have another accident now, would we?" As soon as Nellie had caught a glimpse of the direction he was taking her, she had tried to make an escape. Why would he be taking her there? <br />They now stood at the top of the stairs which led down into the secret basement beneath the market. " Promise to be good?" he asked and she nodded, so he sheathed the dagger and put it away, to Nellie's great relief. Soon, Nellie found herself in a familiar place with passages and corridors she had already traveled.<br /> <br />" Just keep moving" Gustav said as he ushered Nellie quickly down the corridor. " We will be there soon, and then we will be able to relax and let the good times begin." <br />Nellie shivered. She felt the good times would never begin again for her. Her heart was guilt-ridden over what had happened to Youssef, and all she could do was think about him lying on the cold floor of Queen Hatshepsut's personal chambers in a deepening pool of his own blood. She wanted desperately to fight against the man leading her forward, but she was afraid. Although she was highly skilled in Martial Arts, she had never been taught to fight in violence, only for sport in a good-natured way. Besides, she was very tired and traumatized, which made her no match to take on a man wielding a large mean-looking dagger. Soon, they had reached their destination. Gustav opened the door to the Queen's Lair and led her inside.<br /> <br />" This bed, Nellie" Gustav whispered huskily in her ear, " is going to be where we consummate . . . our reunion." Excitement stirred inside him at the mere thought of finally having his desire for her satisfied. He knew she would love it too. Once he had worked his magic on her, she would belong to him forever.<br />Nellie cringed and her body began tremble. She could barely stand the man standing so close to her after what he had done, much less the thought of actually allowing him to touch her again in an intimate way. Gustav claimed the stabbing of Youssef to be an accident. If so, it was an accident that would not have happened if Gustav had not been pointing a sharp blade in his direction. " Oh yes, Nellie" Gustav whispered, " You will enjoy my . . . technique." <br /> <br />" Oh, but first we need to get you clean. You reek of him!" he suddenly exclaimed. The fury he had felt when he had first seen the two of them snuggled in bed together was creeping back into his heart. He winced and pressed a hand to his temple as the vision formed in his mind. What made it worse were the visions of the act they had been performing before falling asleep. How could she? He thought furiously. How dare she reject me and run straight into HIS arms?<br />Nellie said nothing, but at the mention of Youssef, a picture came into her mind of the two of them wrapped in each other's arms, writhing, breathing heavily, and murmuring words of passion to each other. She released a pitiful sob of mourning for the man who would never get a chance to love again. She was rudely brought back to the present by Gustav, who roughly grabbed her shoulders, spun her around, and directed her toward the bathroom.<br /> <br />" Can't I even bathe without having you invading my privacy?" Nellie boldly screeched when Gustav appeared beside the tub. Even as she said it, she knew he intended to invade more than her privacy before the day was done. She was completely humiliated and scrunched her body below the water's surface to hide.<br />Gustav chuckled sardonically, " I am afraid not, Nellie. Leaving the room while you draw the bath and undress is one thing, but I cannot go away completely and give you time to figure out a way to run away from me. That makes sense, no?" He paused and Nellie noticed a strange gleam twinkle in his eyes. " What is with all the sudden humility, Nellie? You did not appear to be so reserved last evening." She looked at him, her eyes wide with astonishment. " That is right, Nellie" he said quietly, almost sorrowfully, " I heard you with him. I followed you into the temple to see what you would do. For a long time, I sat in the library room, waiting for you to emerge from the private chambers. When you never came out, I crept up the stairs and stood outside the bedchamber. I felt as if I would die when I heard you rutting like two wild animals!" Fury rose in him then and he commanded, " Lie back. I want to see you." She hesitated, and he shouted, " NOW!" <br /> <br />Nellie had never felt so much humiliation in her life. She turned her head to the side and closed her eyes, trying to pretend she were somewhere else, anywhere else, but it only made things worse because the only thing that came to mind was poor Youssef and horrors she had seen recently.<br />" Oh Nellie, you are so enticingly beautiful" Gustav breathed as his eyes roamed slowly over her body. His mind wandered to all the delightful things he would do with her later. " I think it is time you picked up the soap to get yourself clean." When Nellie ignored him, trying to make him go away with her mind, he barked, irritated, " Or would you like me to wash your body for you?" That propelled her into action and she reached for the soap.<br />As she began to wash, Gustav watched her hands moving over her body. He groaned softly as he felt arousal beginning to stir within him. Oh Nellie, he thought wistfully, you will love me soon. " Alright" he broke the silence suddenly, " it is time to get dressed. I have something special for you to wear today!" <br /> <br />Nellie gazed at her reflection in the mirror and was aghast by what she saw. The slinky dress Gustav insisted she wear was not her style at all, and she felt like one of the prostitutes who walked the streets on the seedy side of large cities, minus the heavy makeup and attitude. She could feel his gaze burning into her back, and it made her skin crawl when she caught the leering sparkle in his eyes in the reflection. Gustav had not watched her get dressed because he wanted to enjoy seeing her after she was done instead of seeing it little by little, so he had stood just behind the divider wall to wait. While she dressed, he had elaborated on his discovery of her and Youssef in the queen's bedchamber. He told her he had sat there, with his back leaned against the wall, listening to them go at it like rabbits in heat. The feelings of betrayal instilled within him an agonizing mixture of rage and anguish he thought would surely kill him. Finally, when all was silent, he had gone into the room and saw them sleeping in each other's arms. It had been almost as if he had blacked out, because the next thing he remembered, he was standing in the Relic Merchant's shop with his purchases in hand. " Turn around" he requested softly, " I want to look at you." <br /> <br />" Vous êtes sexy" Gustav breathed as his eyes slowly traced the curves and contours of her body, first down, and then up again to connect his gaze with hers. " Je te veux si mal" While Gustav obviously approved of her new look, Nellie felt more naked than ever from the way the man's eyes seemed to burn with an insatiable hunger as he leered at her. Nellie's knowledge of the French language was minimal, but she knew he said she was sexy. When she realized his second phrase was 'I want you so badly', her heart lurched in fear. Realizing the moment was drawing nearer, her mind worked feverishly to find a way to prevent it.<br />Gustav reached a hand out toward her, " Come" he smiled tenderly. " It is time we had a little talk." As he took her hand and led her back into the bed chamber, his desire for her burned hotter. Once again, images played in his mind of the wonderful things he would do to her once he got her into bed. <br />When they had almost reached the love seat, Nellie's voice broke into his thoughts, " Gustav, please, let's leave this place. It was all an accident, so we could . . ." <br /> <br />" Non!" he bellowed furiously, as he grabbed her shoulders roughly and whirled her around to face him. The look of unadulterated raged blazing in his eyes nearly caused Nellie's heart to stop beating for an instant. Then it pounded so hard against her breastbone, she feared it would burst free and explode. " We are not going anywhere until I say so!" For several long moments, he merely glared at her as if he wanted to kill her. Suddenly, his demeanor changed again and he grew calm and smiled. " Do not worry, Nellie, we shall leave this place, but not yet. We have a few things we need to . . . discuss." <br />" Why?" Nellie whispered hoarsely. " Why are you doing this, Gustav?" Her mind was nearing its breaking point, and she felt as if she could not take much more of this nightmare before going completely insane, as insane as the man who now tormented her seemed to be.<br /> <br />" You betrayed me, Nellie" he replied in a tone void of emotion. " You have hurt me beyond measure, just like the others. I thought you were different, that you were sweet and honorable." His voice cracked then, as if he were holding back a sob. " But you rebuffed me. You refused to allow me to come to Egypt with you, but then you were here, loving up on him, the whole time!" <br />" It was not like that, Gustav" Nellie whispered. " It wasn't like that at all! It's like something came over us . . . something very sudden and very strange. I . . ." <br />" I KNOW what came over you!" he sneered harshly. " Pure, unadulterated, disgusting lust! Lust that made you chose to abandon me, just like she did!" A solitary sob did escape him then, and his tone seemed to change to that of a lost little boy. " Oh, Mère, why did you leave me?" <br /> <br />" My mother did not die when I was eight years old as I told you before" Gustav confessed. His voice trembled and Nellie wondered if he was going to cry. " For all I know, she is still not dead." As he continued his story, he kept his gaze lowered toward the floor and shuffled his feet like a little boy. " As I told you, my mother made her living by entertaining men. We lived in a brothel, so there was only one room with a bed and a connecting bathroom. When I was very small, she used to make me hide in the closet while she had visitors. Sometimes, she would have one visitor after another, and I would be in that closet for endless hours. There were times I spent the whole night alone in that small, dark space." Nellie saw his body trembling at the horrible memory, as his eyes brimmed with tears.<br />He sucked in a sharp breath and continued in an agitated tone, " I could hear them, Nellie! It was horrible and frightening. I remember the first time. I think I was about five years old, and I thought the man was hurting my mother, so I left closet to check. The man was upset and left without paying her and . . . she beat me! She beat me and told me to never come out of the closet until she came for me. After that, I never did. I learned to pretend I was not there, but someplace else." <br /> <br />Nellie's mind reeled as she struggled to grasp what she was hearing. Sympathy and sorrow for the innocent child he had once been mingled in her heart alongside the anger, loathing, and fear for the man who had commented such an unfathomable, violent act a few hours ago. " Things took a different turn just before my 13th birthday" Gustav continued in his new 'little boy voice', " Mère determined that I had grown too old to hide in the closet while she had 'guests'. On my birthday, her gift to me was a new 'babysitter'. Her name was Yvette De Vere and she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Mère and Yvette decided it was time that I make the transition into manhood. So that night, I stayed in Yvette's room while Mère 'worked'. Gustav closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and released it slowly. When his eyes opened they held a faraway look, as if he had been projected back to that point in time. " It was both frightening and wonderful, Nellie!" His lips curved into a wistful smile, and his eyes gleamed with a mixture of lustful desire, uncertainty, and fear as they bore into hers. " She did startling and amazing things to my body, as well as urging me to reciprocate and do them to hers." Nellie's knees grew weak, she felt sick to her stomach, and she could suddenly stand no longer, so she plopped heavily down onto the loveseat. Her sudden move did nothing to stop the flow of Gustav's words and he continued to tell his story.<br /> <br />" After that night, I never spent another terrifying, lonely night in that dreadful closet!" Gustav smiled musingly and continued, " Unfortunately, Yvette could not take charge of me every night. She still needed to earn a living and see paying customers, so it began that the ladies of the house took turns watching over me. It seemed that each one had something new to teach me. It felt wonderful to be the center of attention and I grew to love every minute of it!" The smile faded from the man's face, and his eyes grew dark. " But, I have learned that no good thing lasts forever. One day, just prior to my 15th birthday, Mère made an announcement. She came to me, over the moon, flooded with breathless exhilaration. One of her regulars had fallen in love her, and had asked her to marry him. He was willing to whisk her away from her life of paid promiscuity. I was very excited and thrilled for her . . . until she told me the man was unwilling to play father to her bastard son whose father was unknown to anyone." His voice broke then, and he fell silent as a single tear rolled down his flushed cheek.<br /> <br />Nellie was flabbergasted at what she had just heard. She had been raised by two loving parents, who loved her dearly, and each other very much until their deaths. It was incomprehensible to her how it would feel to have lived such a life as Gustav's. Although she had been traumatized and mistreated by the man, her heart could not help but to go out to him. When he began to speak again, she did not know how much more she could take. <br />" She ran away with the man and abandoned me one week before my 15th birthday. The ladies of the house tried to comfort me, and they even threw me a grand party, with all the trimmings! They also allowed me to choose any one of them I wished with whom to spend some 'special private time'. I was able to remain at the house for a couple of weeks, but the women had no legal rights to take me to take me in permanently, so my aunt was called to come for me." <br />Nellie found her voice and spoke. " I'm so sorry, Gustav. It must have been horrible for you" she whispered sadly. " Please, may we leave this tomb now and speak with the authorities? I'm sure if we explain it was an accident, they will understand." Nellie started to rise from the love seat, but he pushed her back down.<br /> <br />" No!" he retorted. " Do you not see? They will never understand! They will lock me up and throw away the key!" He inhaled deeply and continued in a calmer tone. " I have never told anyone else what I have told you. You are a good listener, Nellie. There is something else I want you to know." Gustav closed his eyes tightly for a moment as if trying to recall a long-forgotten, painful memory. When he opened them again, his little boy voice had gone.<br />" Before I met you, several years ago, there was another woman" he said solemnly. " She was strikingly beautiful, with long, golden hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a smile that could light up the world. She was an adventurer like you, Nellie. Like you, she had an air about her that I could not resist, and I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Her name was Bailey Carlisle, and she had traveled to Champs Les Sims from London. At first, like you as well, she resisted my advances, but soon she agreed to see me. After a while, things grew more serious and she agreed to become my wife. As my fiancée, I insisted that she stay with me on her exploration visits to France and she thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed." <br /> <br />" On the surface, she was sweet and chaste, but a fire burned within her that only shone when she was alone with me. In the bedroom, the lady became a tiger! She was a very enthusiastic, passionate lover, and it was as if she could never get enough of me. I willingly gave myself to her, heart, body, mind, and soul. She was the first person in my life for whom I felt I would die if need be." Gustav's voice trembled with emotion and he paused to take a deep breath.<br />" One day, during one of her visits" he continued, " I came home from work early, only to discover in bed, in my bed, with another man! She was riding him like a bucking Bronco, panting and calling out his name, over and over again. They were so engrossed in their activity that they had not heard me enter the room. When I slammed door, hard, she rolled off him and she sat there gaping at me open-mouthed while he scrambled for his clothing and quickly left the house." <br /> <br />" I had made Bailey Carlisle my world, Nellie, and my world came crashing down on me that day. I was completely and utterly devastated. When I asked her why, she merely looked at me and told me that she could not bear the thought of only having one man for the rest of her life; that she needed more than one man could give. She told me then that she was calling off the marriage and was leaving me because I did not know how to share." Gustav paused, swallowed hard, and then went on, " I wanted to strangle her then or slap her, but I could never strike a woman, so I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. She began to laugh hysterically and mock me. Finally, I let her go by shoving her away from me. She stumbled and fell backward onto the floor. I waited for her to get up and begin ridiculing me again, but she did not move. When I went to check, I saw that she had hit her head against the corner of the side table. She was dead, Nellie, dead!" Gustav's voice trailed off as an involuntary sob escaped him. He stood as if lost in thought for several moments as Nellie sat in stunned silence.<br /> <br />" I merely stood gaping at her still body for long while" he continued softly, turning his gaze in Nellie's direction. " The next thing I knew, my cousin, Colette, entered the room and began to take charge. Instead of calling the authorities, we wrapped Bailey's body like a mummy and took her to the Forgotten Burial Mound. Her final resting place is inside a well-hidden sarcophagus deep down in that tomb." <br />He fell silent and raised an eyebrow at Nellie as if he was waiting for her reaction to all he had told her. Nellie was actually struck speechless, and all she could think of was a question that suddenly popped into her mind. " Why are you telling me all these things?" she whispered in a quivering voice. She was suddenly very frightened as she thought of some of the movies she had seen where killers made confessions such as these to their victims because they never intended to release them alive.<br /> <br />" Because" Gustav replied slowly, " you are exactly like her, Nellie. You made me think you cared for me, but then I find you in the arms of another man." His soft demeanor changed then, and Nellie could see sparks of anger glimmering in his gaze. " You have hurt me! You were becoming a very important part of my world, and you crushed me beneath the heel of your boot!" A vision of Nellie writhing in Youssef's arm, moaning her pleasure came to him and made him strangely aroused. He wanted that for himself in the worst way. Suddenly he was leering at her again in his lewd way of earlier. " Story time is over" he said in a seductive tone. " It is time to take action. Now, stand up and remove the dress." When Nellie shook her head and remained seated, his fury flared up full force. " Take it off, NOW, or I will cut it loose from your body!" he growled menacingly. Nellie panicked then, so she jumped up to run past him, but he caught her and whirled her around to face him. With one hand, he grabbed the straps around her neck and tore them away. The other hand swiftly pulled down the top of her dress.<br /> <br />" Do not run away from me, Nellie!" Gustav scolded with a sigh as he leered at her exposed chest. " The result would not benefit either of us." His previous anger seemed to fade away as he continued to appreciate her newly-exposed parts and he reached out to caress one of them. Nellie gasped, and her body trembled in fear as his hand cupped around it and his thumb moved lightly back and forth across its tip. " Oui" he whispered huskily, " You are so soft and tender. Your skin feels like silk beneath my finger tips." Nellie was petrified and could not move. Before the events which had occurred during the past twenty-four hours, she may have enjoyed his delicate fondling, but now all she felt was violated, as well as being disgusted and ashamed. " Now, strip off the dress!" he urged again.<br />" Gustav" she ventured in a small voice, " can't we stop this? Attempting to buy time she added, " We could make a fresh start! Why . . . why are you doing this?" <br /> <br />" Did you not ask this question once already, Nellie?" Gustav replied as he began to remove his own clothing. " Oh, do you mean this particular phase of my plan?" he smiled as he tossed his clothes to the side and stepped closer to her. The warmth of her naked skin against his as he pressed his body against hers sent shivers of anticipation and desire shooting down his spine, and his heart raced madly. He was finally going to receive his heart's desire, and once it was done, he was sure she would love him and choose to go away with him where they would begin a new life together.<br />Nellie cringed as he tenderly stroked her cheek. " I am going to make love to you, Nellie" he whispered huskily. " You have proven by your promiscuity that you enjoy the caress of a man, just the same as all the women I have known." He lightly trailed his finger tips along her jaw line down to her shoulder. " I will show you the wondrous things I learned while staying at Madame Lefebvre's house. You will be astounded by the pleasure I will give you, and you will never want to leave me again!" Nellie gasped sharply as he suddenly scooped her up into his arms, threw her onto the bed, and quickly covered her body with his.<br /> <br />Nellie cried out in shock and horror as his weight pressed down on her, and her heart hammered erratically against her breastbone in such a way that made it difficult to breathe. Her arms were pinned down and she could not move. " No!" she screeched. " Please, Gustav, don't do this! I'm not ready. I . . . ." <br />" Shhh" Gustav cooed softly. " Do not worry, Nellie. I will make you ready." He tried to kiss her, but she turned her head to the side and the kiss landed on her cheek. " Very well then" he whispered huskily, " there are other ways I can use my lips and tongue to give you pleasure." Nellie's skin crawled as his lips moved to her neck, her shoulders, and beyond, stopping to pay close attention to her most sensitive places. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine she was somewhere else. When he positioned his body directly above hers, she tried to mentally prepare herself for the final violation by telling herself it would all be over soon.<br />Suddenly, Gustav emitted a sharp cry of alarm, and she felt his body weight being lifted from her. She quickly sat upright in bed to see what was happening.<br /> <br />Nellie stifled a scream as her eyes fell upon the spectacle before her. Gustav was wielding his dagger and cursing at a man who had intruded upon his privacy, seemingly unaware of his unclothed state of dress. The new man was wearing dark clothing and a hat. The two men were moving around in a strange sort of dance as Gustav jabbed at the man with his sharp blade and the target would dodge and twist out of the way. Several times, the newcomer hit or kicked Gustav in the abdomen or chest and he would be knocked backward, but he would run right back at the man, trying to run him through with the large knife.<br />Suddenly Gustav lunged at the other man swinging the dagger as if trying to behead him, but the man ducked and the blade only made contact with his hat, which flew off his head. The man then turned and made eye contact with Nellie for several seconds and she gasped sharply, suddenly remembering her own nudity. She quickly scrambled off the bed, grabbed the slinky dress, and wriggled into it. She was incredulous at the identity of her rescuer. <br /> <br />It was Ho Sung! Her heart was suddenly flooded with more dread and fear than it had been before. She had already witnessed one man being stabbed with a sharp blade. What if Gustav succeeded in killing Ho Sung with this one? " I do not know who you are, or why you came here, but before I am through, you will be sorry to have interfered upon my private time with my lady!" Gustav growled furiously at Ho Sung, and then lunged toward him again.<br />Ho Sung, using his highly-advanced Martial skills, easily side-stepped Gustav's attack as he spun around and came back with an attack of his own. Almost simultaneously, Ho Sung delivered a flying kick just beneath Gustav's chin and a chop to the hand which wielded the huge dagger. Nellie looked on, horrified as she watched Gustav's head jerk backward from the blow and his body sailed a few feet back as well. At the same time, the dagger also went tumbling through the air. Nellie screamed and felt as if she may vomit as she watched both return to the floor with a loud clang and a thud. <br /> <br />All grew silent in the room, save for the sound of their breathing and Nellie's retching. Ho Sung's heart was heavy as he gazed at the man lying on the floor. He knew the man would not be getting up of his own accord any time soon. Although the man had been hurting Nellie, traces of guilt trickled into his heart for having used his Martial Arts skill in the name of violence, but what else could he have done to defend himself against such a dangerous weapon? There had been no reasoning with the man who had seemed so hell-bent on killing him.<br />Behind him, Nellie began to sob uncontrollably and it brought Ho Sung out of his thoughts. He quickly turned and rushed to the woman who still held his heart.<br /> <br />" My God, Nellie! Are you alright?" It ripped Ho Sung's heart to pieces to see such grief and sadness in her eyes, and to feel the way her body trembled uncontrollably as he firmly gripped her arms. More guilt came crashing down on him for not getting to her sooner. " He did not . . . Did he . . . ?" Ho Sung could barely think the word, let alone say it. He could not bear the thought of Nellie being hurt and violated that way. She opened her mouth to speak, but then she merely shook her head no. Immediate relief washed over him. At least he had gotten to her in time to prevent one horror from happening. <br />Ho Sung rose to his full height and held his arms out to her. After only a moment's hesitation, she rushed into them and he encircled her in a warm embrace.<br /> <br />" Oh, Ho Sung" Nellie sobbed against his strong shoulder. For several long moments, she only held onto him and wept. Finally, she spoke again, " This whole thing is my fault! If I hadn't . . . if I had only gone exploring on my own like always . . ." Now that it was over, the reality of the situation hit Nellie hard. Up until this point, everything had been so surreal and nightmarish that she had no time to think about it, or have it all sink into her mind. " Oh God" she wailed as she clung to Ho Sung for comfort that would not come.<br />She cried for a long time while the man tried his best to offer comfort, as his heart ached for her. " He . . . he killed poor Youssef and it's totally my fault!" she cried as she pulled back from Ho Sung, not feeling worthy enough to have his arms around her, but the man was not ready to break the connection.<br /> <br />Immediately, Ho Sung wrapped an arm around Nellie's shoulders. " Nellie" he said softly next to her ear, " your friend . . . he is not dead." Nellie gasped sharply and turned her head to gaze at him, wide-eyed and incredulous. " I was there before I came here" he continued slowly. " I found him unconscious on the floor. He was breathing . . . scarcely, and he had a pulse, although it was very weak. I called for help and he has been taken to the hospital. As soon as we can get out of here, we can go there to check on his status, if you like." <br />A spark of light entered Nellie's eyes as she gazed at him. " Youssef's alive?" she sniffed. " I . . . I can't believe it!" She looked down at herself and sighed. " I . . . I can't go anywhere in this outfit. I look like a prostitute!" Nellie went to change into some more suitable clothing while Ho Sung went to check on Gustav.<br /> <br />Ho Sung did not have to look too closely to see that Gustav was dead. He had been pierced through the heart by his own dagger. When the dagger had been knocked from his hand, it had become wedged in a crack in the floor in a nearly upright position. Somehow in a freakish sort of way, fate had stepped in and Gustav was impaled on the dagger when he had fallen to the floor. With a heavy heart, Ho Sung stood and released a long sigh. He had never meant for the man to die. His actions had been purely in self-defense. It would take a lot of meditation and prayer to get past this one. <br />When Nellie emerged in the outfit she had arrived wearing, Ho Sung ushered her out as quickly as possible to prevent her seeing the dead man's condition. He then called the police and gave them a brief summary on the situation and said that they would be at the hospital if further questions needed answering.<br /> <br />" Oh God" Nellie sobbed. " What if he dies? I don't think I'll be able to live with myself if that happens!" During the time she had been a captive of Gustav's, Nellie had been sure that Youssef was dead. Knowing now that he was still alive, but barely hanging on, seemed to make it even harder for her to bear. The guilt she felt was overwhelming her and her heart was filled with regret for all that had happened. On top of it all, despite what he had done, she felt horrible for Gustav. He had been a sick man in need of help, not death.<br />Ho Sung was feeling pretty low as well. His mind wondered exactly what words he could say to bring her comfort. Just as he was about to respond, they both look up as the doctor entered the room.<br /> <br />" Good evening, Miss Blye, Mr. Kim" the doctor smiled grimly as he entered the room. He held his hand out to each in turn, " I am Dr. Najja Massri. The dagger has been successfully removed from Mr. Nagi's body. It is a good thing the perpetrator did not pull the dagger out after the stabbing or Mr. Nagi would surely have bled to death right where he lay. As it is, he received a punctured lung and a lacerated liver." <br />" Well?" Nellie cut in anxiously. " How is he? Is he going be alright?" She wrung her hands nervously and looked at the doctor with a hopeful expression on her face. Her heart sank when she heard Dr. Massri's reply. <br /> <br />" I am afraid that Mr. Nagi has slipped into a deep coma. At this point, it could go either way" Dr. Massri explained sadly. " He has a 50/50 chance of survival at this point, but I assure you, we will do everything we can to bring your friend around again." <br />Nellie could no longer listen. As Ho Sung asked the doctor a few questions, she turned her head away and silently wept. Youssef just had to make it! He had to!<br />" There really is no reason for you to wait around here" Dr. Massri stated. " It would probably be best if you go home and get some rest. The hospital will call if there is any change . . . one way or another." <br /> <br />Ho Sung gazed down at Nellie finally sleeping peacefully in her bed. His heart overflowed with love, which shone in his eyes. Alongside that love was also sorrow and regret. If only he had been wise enough to handle things differently all those months ago after he and Nellie had first made love, none of this would have happened, and he could have saved the woman he loved much misery, heartache, and trauma.<br />Nellie had almost gone hysterical when she learned that Youssef Nagi could still possibly die from his injuries, so the doctor had given her some tranquilizers to calm her down and to help her sleep. She had not wanted to take them, but Ho Sung had insisted and she finally acquiesced. Dr. Massri had suggested that Nellie not be left alone, so Ho Sung had agreed to stay with her for the night. With a sad sigh, he left her bedside and made his way to the sofa.<br /> <br />Besides the sorrow and regret, there was an agonizing pain deep within Ho Sung's heart. When he had entered Queen Hatshepsut's personal chambers after tracking Gustav Delven there, it was obvious by the state of room what had occurred there previously. With the clothing strewn about and Youssef lying nude on the floor, there was no doubt that Nellie and Youssef had an intimate encounter and that Gustav must have walked in on it.<br />The encounter itself did not bother Ho Sung that much. After all, he had no right to make judgment on with whom Nellie kept company. What disturbed him was the fear that Nellie had fallen in love with another man. If so, then all was lost to him forever and he would never forgive himself for not reaching out to her sooner, before so much water had run under the bridge.<br /> <br />As he lay down and closed his eyes, Ho Sung thought about the phone call that had alerted him to Nellie possibly being in danger. The woman on the other end of the line had told him that Nellie had become involved with Gustav Delven, but Gustav had made more out of it than it was and had become obsessed with her. He was told that Nellie could be in danger because a few years back, Gustav's fiancée had gone missing and had never been found.<br />When Ho Sung had asked how the woman knew that he was acquainted with Nellie, she merely said that there had been some rumors. She told him that she did not want to see Nellie wind up missing like Bailey Carlisle had, and she felt alerting Ho Sung to the situation was the best thing she could do because she could not go to the police with her information. When Ho Sung demanded to know her name, she finally, reluctantly, told him who she was.<br /> <br />" Good afternoon, Sunshine" Ho Sung smiled at a groggy Nellie. She had been sleeping for nearly sixteen hours. Ho Sung had kept checking on her to make sure she was alright because he had begun to worry, but then he figured that after all she had been through in the past forty-eight hours or so, she probably really needed the rest. " I brought you a cup of coffee" he said softly as he pushed the cup toward her.<br />" Ugh" Nellie said as she reached out to take the cup from him. " My head feels like it's filled with lead." She raised the cup to her lips and took a sip.<br /> <br />" Oh, this is so good" Nellie sighed. " Thank you." As the grogginess from sleep began to clear from her head, trepidation began to settle in. A vision of Youssef lying on the floor in the queen's personal chambers passed through mind and her hands began to tremble. She tried to ignore it and took another sip of her coffee. She also had questions. How did Ho Sung happen to be here? Nellie wanted to ask, but she wanted to wait until she was able to think coherently.<br />Ho Sung smiled, " I will make you some breakfast, Nellie, if you like." He was worried because she had not eaten since being dragged from the temple.<br />" Oh, I could not eat a bite right now" Nellie replied softly. " I'm going to take a shower now. I feel pretty gross." <br /> <br />Nellie emerged from her shower looking more refreshed and comfortable than she felt. She was beside herself with worry over Youssef's condition and was anxiously waiting for a call from the hospital. Ho Sung immediately went to her and took her hands into his, giving them a gentle squeeze. " Nellie" he said tenderly, " I know how anxious and upset you are, and I just want to tell you how sorry I am for not arriving sooner. I deeply apologize for . . . everything!" <br />" Ho Sung" Nellie smiled sadly, " it's not your fault. It's . . . it's mine for inviting Youssef along on my adventure in the first place. I can only hope and pray that his condition improves and I don't have two deaths on my hands." Suddenly the question she had wanted to ask earlier came back to her. " What brought you here in the first place, Ho Sung?" she asked thoughtfully. " I wasn't exactly friendly the last time I saw you." <br /> <br />" A very strange phone call" Ho Sung replied. " It was a woman." He told her what the woman had told him as Nellie listened intently. " The woman's name is Colette Bonnet" Ho Sung finished and Nellie gasped sharply.<br />" She is Gustav's cousin" Nellie stated simply. Then she remembered the confession Gustav had made to her in the tomb beneath the marketplace. " And she is not an innocent bystander!" She had forgotten to tell the police of Gustav's confession, but she told it to Ho Sung.<br />" That is very interesting" Ho Sung replied. " In any case, I am happy she informed me. Nellie, if you will allow it, I would like to tell you a story now. It will help pass the time and get your mind off the situation for a while." Ho Sung smiled when she agreed and he led her over to the sofa.<br /> <br />As they each took a spot on the sofa, Nellie gazed at Ho Sung, wondering why he seemed so nervous. She had almost told him she did not care to listen to whatever story he wanted to tell, but then she thought about how rude and ungrateful that would be after having been rescued by the man. " Ho Sung?" Nellie ventured, " I . . . I never did officially thank you for saving" . . . saving what . . . her virtue? After what she and Youssef had done in the temple, she had no virtue left. " Anyway, thank you!" <br />Ho Sung gave her a wavering smile, " There is no need to thank me. I should have arrived sooner." Immediately following the phone call from Colette Bonnet, he had enlisted some people to watch Gustav Delven. When he heard the man was headed in Nellie's direction, Ho Sung had followed and tracked him to the temple, but hiding beneath the market had been a surprise move that had required a bit of tracking. Clearing his throat, Ho Sung began to tell his story.<br /> <br />" Once upon a time" Ho Sung began, " there were two young boys who quickly became the best of friends. As they grew, they did most everything together. It became so that you would hardly see one without the other tagging close behind. These boys both came from prominent families that had never veered too far from the ancient traditions of Shang Simla. One day, when the boys had become young men, they formed a plan to join their families together. They made a vow that if it came to pass that they had children someday, one's first-born son would marry the other's first-born daughter." He paused for breath before going on.<br />" They each married, moved into houses in the same neighborhood, and had children. One had a son, the other a daughter, and so when they were born, they became officially betrothed. The pact made between two young men had been fulfilled." <br /> <br />" The little boy and the little girl grew up together and became best friends. When they were old enough to understand, they were told that someday they would marry. Since they were the best of friends, and it was tradition, the children graciously accepted their fate. Besides, who better to marry than your best friend, right?" Ho Sung closed his eyes for a moment and released a melancholy sigh before continuing, " Shortly after the boy's twentieth birthday and the girl had turned nineteen, they were wed. They loved each other very much, but they soon discovered that they were not in love. The young man was a hopeless romantic, was very family oriented, and wanted children. He tried very hard to do romantic, loving things for his wife, but she felt quite differently than he. She had grown into a very beautiful woman, who treasured her trim figure and did not want to ruin it by having children. Even worse, she told him that she actually disliked children! It was not long before their union became a marriage in name only. They slept in separate rooms and nearly led separate lives. Their friendship eventually suffered because of the tension, and when asked by family members why there were no grandchildren, lies were told to cover the truth." <br /> <br />Ho Sung fell silent with a heavy sigh. His story had touched Nellie's heart and had left her feeling sympathy for the young couple trapped in a loveless marriage. " How sad" she said quietly, breaking the silence. " I cannot even imagine such a thing as that." <br />" Nellie" Ho Sung replied softly, " that young man was me." <br />Nellie was incredulous. " But, how could that be? Your sister is free to marry Shen Su. Wouldn't she subject to the tradition as well?" <br />" Sun Young was betrothed to a man with who she was not in love" he replied. " Her destiny was altered when he was killed in a freak sparring accident. While maneuvering himself into flip kick move, his foot slipped on some wet grass, which threw off his momentum and timing. He landed on his head and snapped his neck, thereby causing a tragedy to become a blessing, because it left my sister free to meet a man and fall in love before getting married." <br /> <br />Ho Sung turned to face Nellie so that she could see the truth shining in his eyes. " Nellie, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was doomed to a fate of misery and yearning for the things I could never have. I remained faithful to my wife, and the thought of cheating never entered my mind or heart. Then I met you. You were so vibrant, exciting, and beautiful! The stories you told of your explorations stoked and reawakened my adventurous side. When I was with you, I forgot all about my home situation, and when I was not, all I could think about was you. My mind and my heart were completely conflicted. I knew it was wrong, but my heart longed to be with you. When you invited me to visit your home, I could not resist, and when we . . . did what we did, that is when the reality of it all hit me . . . and the guilt. I panicked and handled it all very badly, and for that I will forever be sorry and hold regret in my heart." He sighed softly and continued.<br />" You, Nellie, taught me how feels to be in love. You have stolen my heart and hold it in your hands. I will understand if you have moved on and you now love someone else, but I had to tell you my story and let you know how I feel." Nellie was stunned. Before she got a chance to reply, her cell phone began to ring.<br /> <br />Nellie's heart skipped several beats and seemed to leap into her throat when she saw the number displayed on the screen. It was the hospital. She knew in her heart that Youssef had either awakened from his coma, or had died. Closing her eyes for a moment, she inhaled deeply and said a silent prayer for the former. As Nellie had listened to Ho Sung's story, her heart had gone out to him, but her mind was laced with confusion and doubt. At the moment, she honestly did not know how she felt. The only thing that mattered right now was that Youssef was still alive and would recover from his ordeal.<br />Her body trembled and her hand shook as she pressed the talk button on her phone. She inhaled deeply and released it slowly to try to calm herself as she brought the phone up to her ear and answered, " Hello." <br />

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