Romance Versus Relics Chapter 18


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Romance Versus Relics Chapter 18

  1. 1. <br />Welcome to chapter eighteen! In this segment, the drama and mystery begins to heat up a bit more. Hopefully, you will find it an enjoyable read. I know I had a blast writing it! *big grin* Well, enough of my blathering; It's time to turn the page and get on with the story . . . . <br /> <br />Youssef stood with Nellie on her deck after bringing her home from the airport. " Your French friend is a bit" he paused, searching for an appropriate English word, " intense, yes?" He remembered how possessive Gustav had seemed toward Nellie, and it made him wonder exactly how far their relationship had gone.<br />Nellie smiled, " He's most definitely a passionate man, if nothing else." Though she tried to make light of the situation, Gustav's actions during her visit surprised as well as perturbed her. His sudden outburst, and his hasty proposal of marriage had been completely jaw dropping and unexpected. Intense was a good word.<br />" Well, I cannot say I blame him" Youssef murmured softly. " You are a very desirable woman, Nellie Blye." As he gazed into her beautiful green eyes twinkling in the moonlight, he could almost understand why the Frenchman seemed so determined to keep her to himself. Unable to resist, he took a step closer to her. Her scent tickled his nostrils, sending waves of desire up into his brain. Unable to stop himself, he leaned toward her and pressed his lips to hers.<br /> <br />The kiss was light and almost chaste, but it had the effect of feeling electrified. Nellie's heart began to race as a spark of excitement shot down her spine all the way down to her toes. Youssef felt much the same way. His desire to take it further welled up inside him, but he knew that now was not the time. He could sense the young woman's confusion, and he knew she had been almost devastated by a previous relationship. The last thing he wanted to do was push her into something for which she was not ready. If and when she came to him, he wanted to allow her to do so on her own terms.<br />As quickly as it had begun, the kiss was over and he reluctantly pulled back from her. He was surprised to find he was almost embarrassed as he gazed into her eyes. Deep within them, he saw a mixture of emotions dancing about. <br /> <br />" I am sorry, Nellie" Youssef said softly. " I do not know what came over me. I should not have done that. It was quite impulsive of me." <br />Nellie, her lips still burning from the heat of his kiss, was only sorry it had ended so abruptly. His lips had been warm and inviting, and their touch had instilled a desire from deep within her for more. Feeling confused by her wandering emotions, she offered him a wavering smile. " It's alright, Youssef. There is no reason to apologize." Trying to lighten the moment, she added, " What's a sweet kiss between friends, anyway?" <br />Visibly relaxing, yet slightly disappointed at her final comment, he smiled. " I guess I should be going. You have a job to begin tomorrow." <br /> <br />As Nellie prepared to lie down in her bed . . . alone, she took a moment to wonder what it would have been like if she had asked Youssef to stay. Her whole adult life had been spent mostly as a loner. She lived alone, ate alone, explored alone, and slept alone. Having a permanent mate or partner had never really crossed her mind until recently. Now her heart seemed to be yearning for something more. She released a long, melancholy sigh and wished things could just go back to the way they had been.<br />The perplexed young woman had gone from never thinking about being with anyone in particular, to practically obsessing over three, very different men. With another sad sigh, she lay down and pulled the covers over her tired body. Nellie had the feeling that sleep would not come easily, nor be as restful as it could be.<br /> <br />Nellie tossed and turned as vivid dreams played in her sleeping mind like a movie. She dreamt first of her most recent attraction, Youssef Nagi. He was kind, handsome, and considerate, but he had an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding him that simultaneously troubled and thrilled her.<br />Then there was Gustav Delven. He was handsome, passionate beyond belief, and his touch had sent her senses reeling and set her body on fire. Yet, he seemed to have a dangerous side lurking just beneath the surface and a possessive nature, which was quite overbearing and disturbing to her.<br />First, and foremost, there had been Ho Sung Kim. He was a good man, with a good heart, as well as being extremely handsome. His tender, selfless, lovemaking had sent her over the edge of ecstasy and beyond, and left her yearning for more. She had given herself to him, heart, mind, body, and soul. Yet, he had betrayed her trust and crushed her heart by being a married man, which rendered him off limits to her. Still, she mourned the loss of what could have been the mating of two souls forever.<br /> <br />Nellie woke, groaned, yawned, and rubbed her sleepy eyes, wishing she had been wrong about not catching a restful night's sleep. Her head throbbed painfully and her body seemed to ache in places she was unaware she had. She stood and padded to the bathroom to begin her daily ritual of showering and getting ready for the day. As she had her morning coffee and downed a quick breakfast of toast and jam, she thought about the day's task ahead and wondered if it would shed any more light on MorcuCorp and its dealings.<br />As she headed out the door to make her way to her new contact, Sopdu Hawas, she hoped and prayed she would learn some good news about Youssef's company. She hated to think of the man, in whom she had a growing fondness, as being some sort of disreputable villain.<br /> <br />" You have made the correct choice, and the profitable one, in signing up with MorcuCorp!" Sopdu Hawas smiled broadly at Nellie. " I need money to buy off some officials in town, but they refuse to accept perfectly legal Morcudollars!" He paused for effect and rolled his eyes. " I am far too busy to dig up the six hunks of copper they want, but I am willing to pay you to do so. What do you think?" <br />Nellie remained silent for several long moments as she mulled it over in her mind. Paying off town officials? She thought. What could that possibly be all about? Nellie wondered if Youssef fully trusted this character, the way he said he did not trust Dalida Barakat, although Youssef had not told her so this time.<br /> <br />" I would say I think I have six hunks of copper right here with me" Nellie replied, deciding to go along with the game for now. Of course curiosity and the desire for adventure, both, aided her decision.<br />Sopdu grinned broadly, " This will work out great! Let me just package this up in a standard MorcuCorp Bribe Box. One of the head merchants, Fatima Admin, will accept this bribe to pay off the workers. Deliver this package to her and she should give you some useful information, a location to be exact. This location will be where the 'opposition' to our work here keeps most of their information. We need to get in there and find some things." <br /> <br />" Hello, Nellie" Fatima smiled warmly. " It is nice to see you again." She took the box from Nellie. " This bribe goes a long way in earning the support of the local merchants. As for the information you seek, the people who hate MorcuCorp have established a 'secret base' at the edge of town. I believe Sopdu Hawas wants you to infiltrate this base and steal information from their computers." She smiled again, " Good luck, Nellie! I consider my effort in this complete." <br />Nellie sighed as she watched the other woman walk away. She thought miserably, computers . . . again? I may have to take a computer crash course if things get any more technical! She made her way across town to the address Fatima had given her and was surprised at the jovial, heavy-set woman who opened the door. She was friendly and pleasant, so Nellie hated lying to her, but she had a job to do. Nellie told the woman she was on assignment to inspect the constructional integrity of her home, and the woman readily allowed her to have a look around the place.<br /> <br />At first glance, Nellie could hardly fathom that such a quaint home could contain a command center somewhere below. Furthermore, she felt the friendly woman, Mena Lufti, who had let her in could not possibly know anything about such a thing. While Nellie made her rounds on the first floor, and then the second, the woman went into the kitchen to make some tea.<br />Nellie found nothing suspicious upstairs, or anywhere else in the house, and she was perplexed.<br /> <br />Finally, she decided to check out the bathroom, the only room she had not yet investigated. Beneath the lid of the toilet tank, she found a note. It was old and brittle, but she was able to make out the faded numbers, 2341, written on the faded paper. She remembered seeing a device on the wall in the master bedroom downstairs with a key pad. Checking, to make sure the woman was still in the kitchen, Nellie slipped back into the bedroom and quickly punched the numbers into it.<br /> <br />Suddenly, a hidden staircase was revealed and Nellie knew she had found the entrance to the secret command post. She quickly slipped down them and found a matching keypad on the other side. When she punched in the numbers again, the staircase closed, covering up the fact that she had used it.<br /> <br />The place was a maze of locked security doors and puzzles of floor panels, which needed to be triggered in a certain order to unlock the doors. It was a bit frustrating and time consuming, but Nellie managed to get them all opened.<br /> <br />She quickly made her way through them, wondering what lay ahead and if it was all worth it. What if she discovered something horrible about Youssef and his company? She desperately hoped that would not be the case.<br /> <br /> Nellie carefully made her way down a stairwell and into the next room. She sighed heavily at what she discovered.<br /> <br />It was another room with many floor panels to trigger in a certain order in order to get them to open another set of locked security doors. This one took Nellie a bit longer, but she managed to get through it and find the computer she sought.<br /> <br />After turning on the computer, Nellie merely stared at the computer screen for a long time, not knowing where to begin. She was an adventurer, not a computer hacker! After opening up several files she saw in various places, something popped up that caught her eye.<br /> <br />Suddenly, files began popping up with The Resistance's plans inside them. Her name was even mentioned several times in connection with helping them to recover the three Sacred Relics. A lot of the information was typed in some crazy code which Nellie could not understand, so she was not sure if it was good or bad news about Youssef and MorcuCorp.<br /> <br />Anger suddenly flared up inside Nellie's heart. She had begun to get the feeling she had been used in a nefarious way, either by Dalida or Youssef. Nellie could not be sure which, because of the code she could not understand, but she desperately hoped that Youssef was not making a fool out of her. He would not do that, would he? <br />On her way to report back to Sopdu Hawas, Nellie told herself to remain calm. She was hired to do a job, after all, and was that not what employers did? Employers were supposed to 'use' their employees to get jobs done, and she was merely doing the job for which she was hired. Somehow, however, it pained her heart to think that all she was to Youssef was purely an employee.<br /> <br />" Excellent!" Sopdu exclaimed happily when Nellie returned to him with a disc full of information. " We are sure to figure out their plans now. Let me digest this for a bit. I do have a minor task that you can do in the mean time." He paused briefly and smiled. " It is time that the locals understood how bad for business and growth The Resistance is. If you could go explain this to at least five natives, it would really help our cause quite a bit. Word will spread quickly thereafter!" <br />Nellie wondered exactly what she was supposed to say to the people when she did not understand it herself. Sopdu handed her a slip of paper with a 'script' to recite to the locals. Although slightly uncomfortable with all of it, Nellie left to do her task, wishing she was deep in a tomb somewhere instead.<br /> <br />Nellie explained to the first stranger she met that The Resistance was actually the bad guy, while MorcuCorp was only trying to help the people of Al Simhara grow a better economy by making better products and bringing in more tourists for business. The Resistance wanted to put an end to all that and keep all the revenue for themselves.<br />" Ah" the man said thoughtfully, " I never thought those guys were too bad, but I guess I need to rethink things now." <br /> <br />" You are so right!" the General Merchant exclaimed once Nellie had stated her piece. " Those shiftless layabouts should work within the system if they want to affect change. Their anarchist tendencies will lead to the destruction of humanity!" <br />Nellie was taken aback by how easily the General Merchant had switched gears. She had been quite passionate about backing The Resistance the last time Nellie had spoken with her on the subject. With a shrug, she made her way back to report to Sopdu, having made her five contacts.<br /> <br />" I hear your 'education campaign' has improved the natives' outlook toward MorcuCorp while costing The Resistance a lot of popularity! Now is the time to move on some of these lucrative contracts that we want. Stop by the Relic Merchant's shop and convince him to accept a contract with MorcuCorp. You may need to butter him up a bit first." <br />As Nellie headed toward her destination, she groaned miserably. The Relic Merchant was the last person on Earth with whom she wanted to deal. She cringed to think what sort of 'buttering up' he would be expecting! Nevertheless, Nellie was on a mission, so she gathered her resolve and entered the shop. Her eyes widened in surprise, and relief, when she walked to the counter and looked up.<br /> <br />Instead of gazing into the lewd, lustful eyes of Fahad Madbouli, she was looking at Mena Lufti, the woman whose house held the secret command center of The Resistance below. Nellie wanted to ask about Fahad, but did not want to mess with fate. She handed the woman the contract instead.<br />Mena Lufti smiled, " Well, you seem to be a very nice person, Nellie Blye. Unfortunately, I cannot honor the first shipment of this contract. If I had three pieces of Turquoise, I could make some 'relics' real fast to ship to MorcuCorp. Honestly, they would not even know the difference. If you do this for me, the both of us will be rewarded." Again, Nellie felt a brief moment of guilt for handing over the three Sacred Relics to The Resistance.<br /> <br />" I just happen to have three pieces of Turquoise with me" Nellie smiled, reached into her bag, and handed them to Mena.<br />Nellie hung around awhile waiting for Mena to construct the relics. The woman worked very quickly, and soon Nellie was holding the relics in her hands. They were almost exact copies of the Sacred Relics and Nellie gazed at them in awe. " Thank you so much, Mena!" she exclaimed breathlessly. They are beautiful!" <br />Nellie made haste to report back in to Sopdu Hawas. The man was delighted upon her return.<br /> <br /> <br />" This is great news!" he exclaimed excitedly. " It does not matter that we never found the three Great Relics when we have a steady income stream coming in. You have helped MorcuCorp a great deal, Nellie Blye, and you will not be forgotten! You have gained great renown in Egypt." <br />Nellie thanked him and graciously accepted the Ancient Coins he offered as payment. She made her way home, showered, and slipped into a comfy nightshirt for the evening.<br /> <br />At 6:00pm, the evening was still young and Nellie was feeling the need to hear a friendly voice. She took out her cell phone and dialed her best friend, Zhan's, number. It would be midnight where he was in China now, but it did not matter because Zhan usually worked at the General Merchant's shop until 11:00pm, so he would still up and awake.<br />" Hello?" Nellie heard Zhan's pleasant voice on the other end of the line.<br />Nellie's excitement soared to be connected to her friend. " It's so good hear you, Zhan!" she exclaimed breathlessly. " How are you?" <br /> <br />" Hey Nellie, it is great to hear your voice!" Zhan replied, truly ecstatic to be hearing from his friend. " I just sat down to take off my shoes. It has been a really long day. I have some good news. Shen and I will be moving into our own house soon! This one has become awfully crowded with so many children and all. Plus, Shen wants a place of his own so he and Sun will have a nice place to live once they are married. Hopefully, they will not kick me out too soon afterwards. It has three bedrooms, so if they decide to have a child right away, they will still have room for me for awhile. Plus, it will give them a built-in babysitter!" <br />Zhan's hearty laugh delighted Nellie, and nearly brought tears to her eyes. Before she could find her voice, Zhan spoke again. " What is wrong, Nellie?" Zhan could almost always tell when something major was troubling his friend. He sincerely hoped things were going well for her.<br /> <br />The concern she heard in Zhan's voice touched Nellie's heart. She would never know how she had been so lucky as to find a solid, faithful friend such as Zhan Su. She managed a small laugh, hoping to put his mind at ease as far as she was concerned. " That's great news about the new house, Zhan!" Nellie replied. " Are you sure you guys will be able to deal with all that peace and quiet . . . as well as the solitude?" Zhan's laughter coming through the line was like music to Nellie's ears. " Don't worry. I'm fine, Zhan, just a bit tired is all." She paused to take a deep breath before continuing, " I do have some things I'd like to run by you, though." <br />Zhan listened quietly as Nellie told him about Gustav Delven in France and the strange way their relationship had seemed to develop. She went on to tell him about Youssef Nagi and the work she had done for him, as well as her concerns about the integrity of his company. Of course, she could not leave out her trip to France with Youssef, and the way Gustav had become all possessive of her. Nellie told him about the attorney and Francois Lambert's memoirs too.<br /> <br />" My goodness, Nellie, it seems a lot has been happening with you lately" Zhan replied thoughtfully. Suddenly, he was very concerned for his friend. The incident in France with Gustav particularly worried him, especially when he remembered the mysterious breakage of his cell phone, the urgency to return home when there turned out to be none, and the way the Frenchman had jumped in immediately, volunteering to inform Nellie of his return to China because of important business that could not wait.<br />Zhan released a long sigh. " The main advice I can give you, Nellie, is to follow your heart, but let your brain and instinct be your guide. If you engage all those things in the correct measure, you cannot go too far astray. There is one other thing. Please . . . be careful!" <br /> <br />Nellie laughed again. She thought Zhan was making more out of it than necessary. She did not feel she was in any real danger, except of course, the danger of losing her mind. " Like I said, Zhan, don't worry too much about me. I am a big girl and I can take perfectly good care of myself. It's just that . . . well, it's all so confusing! One moment, I feel one way, and the next moment, I feel a different way." Nellie laughed again, " There is something to be said for the simpler days of solitude!" <br />Zhan's laughter reached her ears again and she laughed too. It felt good to laugh again. Nellie did not do much of that lately. " My goodness, will you look at the time? We've been talking longer than I thought. It must be getting very late there. Good night, Zhan. I love you, my friend!" Once they were disconnected, Nellie felt slightly empty inside. It had been really good to speak with her best friend once again.<br /> <br />Nellie decided to sit and have a look at Francois Lambert's memoirs. Talking to Zhan had started her feeling nostalgic, and she desperately wished she were in China to see it, and Zhan, in person. Knowing where Ho Sung was now residing, however, put a bit of a shadow over being in China. Thinking of him sometimes still felt like rubbing salt into a fresh wound, and it was hard to bear the thought of being that close to him, knowing she could never be with him. " Oh, get a grip, will you, Nellie?" she chided herself aloud. " You have to get over it sometime!" <br />Nellie opened Francois' book and soon found herself completely enthralled by its contents. It was filled with secret Nectar recipes, their histories, and their origins. Francois had even included instructions for her follow as a guideline for completing the work he never had a chance to finish. When it began to make her feel melancholy, she sighed and closed the book. As she rose to put it away, her cell phone began to ring and she retrieved it from where she had laid it on the sofa after hanging up with Zhan.<br /> <br />" My goodness, Gustav" she asked when she heard his voice, " how are you? Why, it must be the wee hours of the morning there by now!" <br />Gustav chuckled softly, " You are correct, Nellie, but I could not sleep, so I decided to call you. I needed to hear your voice. Have you finished your job yet, and are you ready to come back to France? I do miss you, so much Nellie. I desperately want to see you!" Nellie could almost hear the man pouting, like a child.<br />Nellie smiled and replied gently. " No, not yet Gustav, I'm sorry. I do still have a few matters which need to be settled here before I will be ready to travel. As a matter of fact, I do have some business to which I need to tend in France someday soon. It seems that one of Francois Lambert's last requests is that I buy a Nectar-making machine and experiment with the recipes listed in his memoirs. It may well be a week or two before I am able to return to France." She listened while he tried to point out reasons she should make it sooner, but her mind could not be changed. " Good night, Gustav" she said softly. " Try to get some sleep." <br /> <br />" Damn it! Damn it all to Hell, Nellie!" Gustav bellowed furiously as he hurled his cell phone across the room, bouncing it off the far wall. " Why? Why must you refuse me at every turn?" He knew Nellie was, at least, physically attracted to him. The man could tell from the way her body involuntary reacted to his touch every time they were together. So, what could be holding her back? " The Egyptian man . . . Youssef Nagi" Gustav growled irately. " Are you really alone, Nellie, or are you with him?" A blinding, jealous rage roiled up from deep inside him as he imagined Nellie in the arms of another man.<br />" You belong to me, Nellie Blye!" he raged on as one of last night's Nectar glasses, which had been left on the coffee table, joined his cell phone on the floor after it shattered against the wall. Completely absorbed in his own anguish, he did not hear the front door open and close quietly.<br /> <br />" You are at it again, I see" Colette Bonnet accused in a condescending tone as she approached him. " You really need to stop this . . . right now, Gustav Delven! I can see history repeating itself all over again." Colette glared angrily at him as she remembered the last time he had allowed himself to become insanely obsessed with a female. " After the last time, you said you were done, and that you would never let things go so far again! But . . . here we are, heading down that same disastrous road. You really need to consider exploring your other options, of which there are many." <br />Colette's voice lowered into a calm, threatening, tone as she went on, " I will take whatever steps necessary to prevent another . . . incident from occurring." Colette watched Gustav's eyes darken into stormy pools, raging like an angry sea, swirling with dangerous loathing and disgust.<br /> <br />" Do not dare use that threatening tone with me, Collette" Gustav replied in a dangerously calm tone. " Who do you suggest I choose instead of Nellie Blye . . . you?" He inwardly cringed as he recalled the time Colette and he had 'experimented' with each other as teens in the hayloft of their grandfather's barn. They had been young, curious, and bored, so they did what comes natural to those whose hormones are raging out of control. After several weeks of being clandestine lovers, Gustav had grown bored and tired of Colette's constant clinginess, so he had put an end to the situation. It seemed to him now that his cousin had never really gotten over him. He believed the only reason she had helped keep his secret was to get another piece of him.<br />" Just remember, cousin" Gustav sneered as a malicious smile played on his lips, " you are just as much a part of this as I am, and if this ship sinks, I am not going down alone. Trust me when I tell you . . . I will not be handing you a life raft!" <br /> <br />" Good morning, Nellie" Youssef greeted brightly. " You look amazingly cool and comfortable on this fine day!" <br />Nellie gasped in surprise, " My goodness, Youssef, you startled me!" <br />" I am so sorry, Nellie. Normally, I would never just drop in this way, but I have been trying to call you for two days, but you obviously either have turned off your phone, or you are purposely avoiding me." <br /> <br />Nellie turned to continue the task she had begun, before Youssef's unexpected interruption, before replying. " I was just about to make myself some breakfast. Would you like some?" <br />" I would like that very much, thank you" Youssef responded quietly. The fact that she had avoided his eyes, as well as his last statement had not gone unnoticed. " How have you been?" he ventured. " I hope nothing is wrong." <br />Nellie offered him a quick glance and a smile as she carried their plates to the table. " Not really. I'm just a bit tired and in need of rest, is all." <br /> <br />" I realize you must have questions about your latest assignment for MorcuCorp" Youssef ventured cautiously, as they sat together at the table, and Nellie silently began eating her breakfast. He had begun to worry that she had discovered some things that had caused her to be upset with him. Why else would she have spent the last two days, hiding out here while avoiding any contact with him?<br />When she remained silent, he spoke again, " I promise you, Nellie, that, in time, I will explain to you everything you need to know. Just know, that the work you have done for the company has been more helpful than you can ever know." Still, Nellie said nothing, so Youssef picked up his own fork.<br /> <br />" Oh, this really good" Youssef complimented Nellie, after taking his first bite. Ever the connoisseur, he had to know. " What is it?" <br />Finally, Nellie looked at him and smiled. " It is a recipe my mother invented. When I was very small, I would refuse to eat eggs, but I adored watermelon. My mother felt I should eat eggs for the protein they provide, so she experimented by making eggs with the addition of watermelon. Needless to say, she was successful in getting her little girl to eat eggs!" Nellie laughed at the memory. It is called Eggs Machiavellian." Nellie laughed again at the puzzled expression on Youssef's face at the foreign word. " I suppose Mother named it so because of the devious way she had gotten me to eat eggs. It comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, a fifteenth-century Italian politician, who is associated with deceitful, corrupt practices." <br /> <br />" Youssef" Nellie asked, changing the subject, " I am very curious about something, and I'm wondering if you know anything about it." When he looked up from his plate, his eyebrow raised in interest, she continued, " When I went to the Relic Merchant's shop the other day, I got quite a shock to see Mena Lufti in Fahad Madbouli's usual place. Do you happen to know anything about that?" <br />Youssef took his time swallowing the bite of food in his mouth as he searched for the words he needed to answer her question as subtly as possible. " Let us just say that Fahad has taken a . . . a permanent leave of absence" he smiled reassuringly. " Fahad has always been a vulgar, unrelenting, sort of man, although he usually knew when to back down, but he seemed to be becoming more assertive with you as time went on. I did not like that one bit, and knowing you would have several more dealings with the Relic Merchant during your assignments, I procured the shop from him." <br /> <br />" Mena Lufti is a very nice, personable, lady, and she has always shown an interest in running her own relic shop. She is an excellent craftsman as well" he continued. " I decided to make her a partner, so she owns fifty percent of the Relic Shop. As soon as she earns enough revenue to buy me out, I intend to turn the shop completely over to her." Youssef smiled and changed the subject. " Nellie would you like to spend some time together today? We could go fishing, or just mill around the marketplace . . . anything you like!" <br />" Actually" Nellie replied slowly, hoping not to offend the man who had been nothing but kind to her, " I would like to take a rain check, if you don't mind. I have been very much enjoying my self-inflicted solitude, and I would like to spend a few more days the same way." Nellie felt the need to be alone for awhile to work some things out in her own mind. It had been a long time since she had merely kicked back to relax and work out her emotions and thoughts. Besides, she now had a new concern. What exactly had Youssef meant by " permanent leave of absence" ? With a sigh, she rose to clear away the breakfast dishes.<br /> <br />Youssef remained seated as he watched her head back to the kitchen. He sincerely hoped nothing he had said had offended her, but he said nothing on the subject. The man understood perfectly about one needing one's space. He only hoped she would not wait too long to come around again, but he refused to push. " It is quite alright, Nellie" he finally responded. " I understand. Just remember if you need me for anything . . . anything at all, do not hesitate to contact me." <br />" Thank you, Youssef" Nellie replied as a measure of relief washed over her. Youssef Nagi certainly seemed to be one of the kindest, most understanding people she had ever met. For this, she was very grateful.<br /> <br />True to her word, Nellie spent the next several days alone in her dwelling. She actually enjoyed her time spent with herself. Her days were filled by fishing, studying more of Francoise Lambert's memoirs, and keeping up with current events by reading the newspaper to which she had subscribed. Aside from those things, she did a bit of daydreaming about love. She decided that love was a complicated, confusing entity, especially that of the romantic variety.<br />As much as she cared for Youssef Nagi and Gustav Delven, she had never felt the pull from heart the way she had with Ho Sung Kim, and this saddened her. She wondered if she would ever feel that 'special something' in her heart again for another man. Nellie thought that maybe it all had to do with Ho Sung being her first, and only as of yet, intimate encounter with a man. Maybe if she would let herself go and let it happen with someone else, she would get over this hurdle.<br /> <br /> Nellie sighed sadly, and was just about to fold up and set aside the newspaper when a certain article caught her eye. Her excitement grew as she read on.<br /> The Search for Love<br />In search of an experienced adventurer to settle to an argument between friends involving an ancestor's connection to Queen Hatshepsut in a lover's tryst. Requires several explorations and other research. If you are interested, please make contact as soon as possible.<br />With all her questions and concerns about romantic love, Nellie was, indeed, interested in this adventure. She grabbed her phone and quickly dialed the number.<br /> <br />Ho Sung and Sun Young Kim enjoyed a mid-morning, hot cup of coffee together. The habit was something Ho Sung had taken up while working in the Food Merchant's Shop, which catered to many American tourists. He found the sharp, slightly bitter, taste and the caffeine kick it gave him to be quite pleasant. Since then, several of his family members and friends had also begun to indulge in the hot drink, especially his sister. <br />" Ah, this is so good" Sun remarked as she pulled the cup from her lips. " Honestly, I do not know how we survived so long without it!" She laughed softly, hoping to lighten her brother's mood. Sun had been with him for nearly forty-five minutes, and he had barely spoken a word. She could tell he was brooding again.<br /> <br />" Yes. It is a very good drink" he replied quietly, " but, how many cups are you going to drink? You will be buzzing all day!" Ho Sung never consumed more than two cups in one sitting, but his sister was now on her third.<br />" With all that is happening in my life right now, I need all the help I can get!" she shot back with a giggle." I am getting married soon, you know? Then there is the new house Shen just purchased. Oh, Ho Sung, I am so excited! I am about to embark on a whole new chapter of my life!" Though he tried to hide it, Sun was immediately sorry to have shown such enthusiasm as Ho Sung's crestfallen expression became obvious to her. " I am so sorry, Ho Sung" she frowned. " I did not mean to carry on so when you are in such pain and misery. It was very thoughtless of me." <br /> <br />Immediate guilt came crashing down upon Ho Sung at hearing his sister's words. Although his life had suddenly gone down the toilet, he was completely happy for Sun and her good fortune, and he had not intended to come across as anything less. " Oh no, Sun, do not even think such things! You have every right to find true love and happiness in your life, and to show that happiness to the world! Do not ever think you need to temper your elation because of the fate that has befallen me." Ho Sung released a long sigh. " Sun, you are the light of my life right now, and if you find happiness, I am happy too." <br />A single tear trickled down Sun's cheek as she replied softly, " Thank you for that, my brother. I love you dearly, and I am sure that you, too, will find happiness someday. You will find it with, or without this Nellie Blye. I believe fate will turn things around for you very soon." <br /> <br />" Maybe" Ho Sung sighed again, " but that is neither here nor there. I have done at least one thing to take my fate into my own hands. Since I cannot face going back, I may as well set Hui Young free. I have hired an attorney and am arranging the dissolution of our marriage." <br />Sun smiled sadly, " I think that is a good thing. That woman never deserved you in the first place! She is another reason I am glad I am moving soon. Do you know she seems to have some kind of resentment toward me these days? I think it is simply because I am related to you by blood!" <br />" I am so sorry, Sister" Ho sung replied softly. " Really, she should not be that way toward you." Tired of all the doom and gloom talk, Ho Sung suddenly grinned broadly at his younger sister. " Feel like a friendly sparring match today? I seem to have some energy to spare!" <br /> <br />" Prepare to die, Brother!" Sun exclaimed with a giggle as the match got underway. Besides being with Shen Su, a friendly sparring match was one of the things that made her happiest in life. She and Ho Sung had been having sparring matches since they were children, so it reminded them both of happier times.<br />Ho Sung laughed and then his expression became one of mock anger and gravity. " I think not, Sister! It shall be I who will prevail!" Since he had been in isolation at the Resolute Fist Retreat, Sun had been his only source of contact with the outside world. She brought him news, company, and a good measure of comfort. He was always thrilled to see her, but when they had the time to include a bit of sparring, it was icing on the cake. It was one good way to get a reprieve from the frustrations of everyday life, and he enjoyed it immensely. Soon, he was showing off some of his fancier moves.<br /> <br />Sun squealed with a mixture of horror and delight as Ho Sung maneuvered his body into wild flying-kick flip. " Ho Sung" she said when his feet touched the ground again, I know you are a great Martial Artist, and it is fun to watch, but you know how dangerous moves like that can be. It was a bit frightening to see, although exhilarating, all at once!" <br />" I am sorry, Sun" he grinned sheepishly. " I did not mean to frighten you, but it was a lot of fun!" It warmed Sun's heart to see her brother's beautiful smile, for it was a rare occurrence these days. Sun soon left to go about the rest of her day, leaving Ho Sung to tend to his duties at the retreat. As soon as he was finished, he headed back out to the deck. The sun was nearing the horizon, but he was still full of nervous energy.<br /> <br />Ho Sung decided to practice breaking boards, because he felt a great need to hit something. His nights were often restless, filled with dreams of Nellie and the lost love they could have had between them. There were times his heart was filled with bitterness that fate had been so unkind to him, but he would wake in the morning, and slip right into mediation and prayer. Usually the process would ease his mind enough to allow him to go about his day fairly normally, but there were other times when the only thing that brought relief to his troubled mind was physical activities. <br /> <br />After several moments of preparing himself mentally, Ho Sung's hand came down upon the stone blocks and they broke with a satisfying crash. The contact stung his hand slightly, but he did not mind the pain. In fact, he welcomed the pain, because it let him know he was alive. As he began to set up the boards for another round, his cell phone rang.<br />" Hello" he answered gruffly, wondering who could be calling, since he had already seen Sun Young earlier in the day.<br /> <br />Ho Sung's heart lurched painfully and a lump formed in his throat as the voice on the other end began to tell him a story. As the speaker continued, Ho Sung's apprehension grew stronger. He had never been one to listen or pay much heed to gossip, but some of the rumors floating around the village these days highly disturbed him. The voice speaking into his ear now was making his concern grow stronger than ever, causing a sick nausea to take up residence in the pit of his stomach, along with a measure of fear; fear for the woman who had stolen, and still held, his heart.<br />He would somehow make Nellie listen to him, even if he had to tie her down to accomplish it. At least if she heard his whole story, he would know he had done all he could, and then Nellie would be able to make an informed decision, instead of one based upon assumptions and half truths.<br /> <br />Ho Sung had vowed to himself to give Nellie her space. He knew he had crushed her heart, and that he deserved to suffer the pain and anguish of his own actions, but he had tried his best to leave her be, to let her go on with her own life to heal, and to try to find, or make, her own happiness. Unfortunately, that time had passed. The rumors concerning some of the people with whom Nellie had associated herself were too dreadful to merely ignore.<br />" Thank you" Ho Sung said curtly, and then hung up the phone. As he stood in silence, contemplating his next move, he knew his time to be passive had come and gone. He needed to form a plan and take decisive action. The time to sit and remain idle was over.<br />