We’re onto the final chapter!! In a couple of weeks (I’d love it to be less, but this time of the year is very busy at my normal 9-5!) you will be able to grab your own copy, edited and beautiful, for your e-reader. I’m in love with the cover design that I created, and I’m delighted to find photoshop gets a little less scary each time I use it. So much so that I’ve taken the opportunity to work on the current covers of the trilogy again! I love the larger look, and the gleam of the gold, and after a rather honest reviewer found the current versions “not worthy” I thought I better thrust aside my usual modest tastes, and get stuck into it. Now I just have to resist doing anything else *lol* Below is the new official cover for Pandora’s Curse, as well as the last chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter Twenty One
‘HOW?’ Burst out Eoin as he gaped at Ally, mouth working while his brain rushed through all the information. The astonished look as he realised the virus, to some extent at least had succeeded, was accepted by Leesa and Cato as genuine shock. The councillor nodding at Eoin, his own jaw low, just as his wife entered the room.
‘Mama!’ Ally cried out in excitement while Leesa laughed and Eoin pressed a hand hard to his temple, the overload of unexpected information bringing on an instant headache. It only took a few seconds for his nan-virus to balance it out but those few seconds were enough to make him feel a profound sympathy for the few humans in their town that suffered weekly from an extreme form of headache; migraines he remembered as the pounding pain stilled.
‘Darling,’ her mother cried in a voice that, while welcome when compared to Cato’s permanent tones of disapproval, always seemed to make the tiny bone in his ears twang in a way that set his teeth on edge. ‘I’m so happy to see you awake! We were so worried!’
‘Mama, I’m pregnant!’
Frances pale eyes widened till all a full ring of white was visible around the iris. She stared at Ally then, ignoring the two men, turned to look at Leesa.
The woman gave an excited bounce making the curls that hung out the end of the scarf bounce too, her clasped hands to her mouth as she nodded at Frances.
‘It’s true, Fran! TRUE! I triple checked it myself.’
Cato stood swiftly, shunting the seat along for his wife to sit beside Ally. Eoin moved back, body humming with excitement. He wanted nothing more than to wrap Ally tight in his arms but he held back, letting Frances cry and embrace her. Ally laughed with her mother, tears slipping down her cheeks.
‘But how?’ Frances exclaimed when she pulled back from Ally.
Cato grunted. ‘The usual way I presume.’
Frances rolled her eyes and swatted her husband. ‘Don’t be obnoxious.’ She looked to Leesa, ‘She shouldn’t be able for at least another five years?’
Leesa shrugged a coy smile on her lips as she regarded Eoin and Ally. It made Eoin stiffen slightly, suddenly alarmed she somehow knew. But the moment of panic passed as Leesa gave another beaming smile. ‘We knew it would start to change one day. It’s these little steps we need! The best, best sign.’
‘Oh god,’ Ally said in such a sudden tone of doom Eoin felt his heart seize in fear she was about to tell about the virus.
‘Where are we going to LIVE? We haven’t finished anything! Do we even have supplies? Did the sifters come back? Did they have any luck? Were Eoin’s suggestions any good? Oh heck there’s so much to do!’
The questions came faster and faster, Ally’s face flushing as she stared around at each person but didn’t seem to register their faces, to involved in her abrupt itemising of everything they needed.
Breathing out in relief Eoin smiled as Fran began to laugh, Leesa too.
‘Darling! Don’t worry! It’s all going to be fine.’
‘Mama, I need to know,’ Ally said voice pitching higher with urgency. ‘Your house isn’t big enough for us AND a baby, where will we live?’
‘Your house,’ Cato said dryly, causing his daughter’s eyes to snap to him.
‘What?!’ Eoin and Ally said in unison.
Leesa cleared her throat loudly while flapping her hands at Cato and Fran. ‘No! You promised. Let’s get them up and show them. I’ll gather everyone.’
Twenty minutes later, showered and dressed in clean clothing, Ally and Eoin made their way behind Cato and Fran, who kept glancing back with wide smiles at the two of them, walking to the town centre only minutes from the hospital house.
Ally, her arm hooked through Eoin’s, gave it a gentle squeeze again and he looked down to her face, unable to stop his own face splitting with a smile.
‘Can you believe it?’ she whispered, eyes glimmering with tears, her expression earnest with excitement. ‘I mean, you were so worried. But look! You did it!’
Eoin bent to kiss her, the two of them pausing for the moment, arms around each other. When they pulled away, just as Cato made a grumbling sound with another swat from Fran, Eoin winked at Ally.
‘Well, one part is working. Only time will tell, love.’
She nodded, snuggling close as he put his arm around her back, hand settling on her hip. ‘Can’t wait to see if the rest works,’ she whispered. He smiled, squeezing her hip gently.
The town hall, the original Stadthaus from many millennia ago, was the only remaining pre Event building in the town. It stood out sharply amongst the domed earthship dwellings that occupied the rest of the space, apart from a log house that one family of humans had insisted on building. The Stadthaus had needed repairs over the years, but the town had made every effort to keep it looking as original as possible. The tall stone building with its domineering exterior, four dramatic pillars and double staircase, sat in a thicket of trees, the roads to and from it thick with gravel. The crunch of many footsteps as most the townspeople seemed to appear, all smiling and laughing, watching Ally and Eoin with excited but secretive expressions.
Other councillors stood waiting on the stairs, smiling down as the family and friends approached. Cato mounted the stairs while Fran motioned Eoin and Ally to stand to the side.
‘Friends,’ Cato declared in a voice that carried. ‘Scientist Eoin and Hunter Ally have returned! Join us shortly for the grand reveal we’ve all been waiting for. But first let me thank Eoin and Ally, and announce their own grand reveal, we’ve just discovered Ally is pregnant!’
Shouts and cries of delight filled the air. Beside him Ally squeezed his arm that little bit tighter. Eoin glanced down to see her smile had hardened somewhat. He patted her arm.
‘It was going to happen.’
‘Would it have killed him to wait a couple of days?’ Ally hissed without moving her lips, smile firm in place. Eoin snorted in amusement.
That made Ally smile, she leaned against him as Cato continued.
‘Before they left, they left me in charge of purchasing some materials that Eoin had arranged for sifters to hopefully locate.’
Eoin exchanged a puzzled look with Ally with the crowd of people, still wearing those smug smiles all roared in approval at Cato’s statement.
‘Eoin, as is befitting his Scientist nature, had attempted to narrow down sites for the sifters, in the hopes of increasing their success.’
Another roar of excitement made Cato pause, waiting for the lull.
‘So it wasn’t surprising when, three weeks after the couple left, we had sifters arrive.’
The crowd began to laugh, the sound making Eoin and Ally stare at them all in bemusement.
‘What we didn’t expect was almost three TONNES of materials!’
Eoin’s jaw dropped, Ally’s too.
‘And while our couple had set aside some goods for exchange, they didn’t have that much!’
Raucous teasing cries broke through the laughter, causing more hilarity. Cato turned to face Eoin and Ally, still keeping the volume for all to hear.
‘We called a town meeting. Of the ten spots you’d suggested to the sifters, SIX turned out to be decent. Heck, beyond decent, finds! Thanks to you, half the town, more actually, were able to have access to materials we’ve been seeking for years!’
The laughter melted away as everyone began clapping with enthusiasm, whoops and whistles punctuating the ringing applause.
Motioning the crowd to silence again, Cato continued to address the couple. ‘In exchange for this momentous occasion, we decided it would be only fair to help you with your home, as you’ve helped so many with theirs. Now,’ Cato addressed the crowd, ‘let’s show them home!’
The crowd divided as Cato and Fran lead the way through, Eoin and Ally following with the other councillors following behind them. Eoin found his head ringing from all the sound but the delighted energy was infectious. Ally thanked all the well-wishers while Eoin flushed, nodded and smiling to those who thanked him. It felt a little awkward with knowing all he’d done was provide suggestions as to where to dig, but no one saw it that way.
They walked the wide forest path that wound around the town, into the gentle hills. The rain came down again, brisk and strong then snapped off just like a tap but the humid air stopped it being cold. Passing the various and all unique earthships made Eoin anxious, Ally too if the grip on his arm was anything to go by. They rounded the enormous ancient sycamore tree that signalled the edge of the land they’d laid claim to and headed down the short skinny path. Before they’d left it had just been a dirt path, the grasses and shrubs trimmed low on either side. Now fresh gravel had been laid, with the occasional wide flat stone that someone, one of the artists in the town, had decorated with paint. Ally gave a tiny squeal, pointing at one stone that had a beautiful image of a wolf painted on it. Eoin smiled at it then her, staring down as they passed over it. The path widened. The couple stopped abruptly on the track.
Behind them the crowd fanned out, noise filling Eoin’s ears as everyone demanded.
‘Do you like it? Do you?’
Ally stared, heart feeling oddly large for her chest in the moment. Beside her Eoin stood stiff, eyes tracing the shape again and again as the tips of his ears began to turn pink.
‘Ally?’ her mama whispered to her as she squeezed in between her and Eoin, arms around their waists. ‘Do you like it?’
It looked just like the design she and Eoin had spent months working on. Ally’s throat swelled with emotion, stopping any words escaping. She nodded rapidly.
The crowd of friends, some close but most acquaintances stayed put, watching as with her mama, and papa, Eoin at her side, they walked toward their new home.
The long front of the house was made up of full height windows, the glass angled back to catch the full sunlight streaming down. Behind the wall of windows, four domes rose, following the length and curve of the front windows. Walking to the right end of the windows, Ally stared at the beautiful framing woodwork before reaching out to stroke it.
‘Did Stefan do this?’ she asked, finally finding her voice.
Her mama smiled and nodded, inclining her head to those behind them. Turning to look at the crowd, Ally spotted the strawberry blond hair and pressed her hands to her mouth, blowing Stefan a kiss of thanks. The man instantly turned pink, much to the amusement of those around them.
Next to her Eoin smiled at the crowd then turned back to the house, his eyes tense with longing. Her papa spoke up.
‘We’ll let you explore it all. But we’ll be back. Dinner’s at Eoin and Ally’s,’ he called to the crowd who cheered. ‘Bring your favourite meal to share!’
He turned to Ally then hugged her close. ‘Really glad to have you back, sweetie. Enjoy looking. We’ll see you tonight.’
She kissed his cheek and squeezed his hands before he let go, reaching for her mama’s hands and led her reluctantly away, both looking back, waving and smiling.
Eoin kept waving as the crowd dispersed, impatience welling. When the last of them disappeared down the track he turned to Ally.
‘After you!’ And pushed the wooden framed glass door open.
They walked slowly into the greenhouse corridor, staring in awe. The thickened glass let the sun in and the misshapen slate paved floor captured the heat, letting it slowly disperse into the air. It felt as humid and warm as a proper summers day. A wide planter box ran the length of the windows, as high as his knees making it easy to lean in and pluck what you wished. The number of mature plants growing in the space made him feel a rush of gratitude.
‘Everyone must have donated a plant,’ Ally said, her eyes glittering with tears, the occasional one slipping down. ‘Oh they are so good to us!’
‘Look at the materials, Ally,’ Eoin said, staring around them. ‘Everything looks top quality. It must have been an amazing fine.’
‘You must have made those sifters fortunes,’ Ally agreed. ‘That glass! It has almost no plastic at all it!’
She was right, only the very, very occasional fleck of colour showed in the otherwise clear windows. High quality indeed.
They walked from one end of the greenhouse corridor to the other, passing four doors on the way as they examined the variety of plants. The watering system, concealed beneath the dirt, only revealed itself in the skinny tubes that ran beneath a covered tubes from the rooms to the base of the planter box. Eoin smiled, pleased to see every part of their plans had been utilised. The water system to utilise all the rainwater they would collect had taken some planning. But it would make use of the fresh water four times over, once as drinking/showering/cleaning water, then as grey water, then as black water. The grey and black water was recycled to use on the plants within the greenhouse, and the inner rooms, and then the rest flowing through buried pipes that lead out into the front yard space. Yielding plenty of nutrients while breaking down the waste products to a level that wouldn’t contaminate anything.
‘Which room first,’ Ally asked excitedly. ‘Our bedroom or your study?’
‘Study,’ Eoin said. ‘Seeing we’re already here.’
They stood at the right end of the greenhouse. Ally motioned the glass inlaid wood door to him.
‘Your room, you first.’
Turning the beaten metal handle, Eoin pushed the door slowly open. The large windows at the front of the room allowed the heat and light from the glasshouse to fill the space, warming it pleasantly without the humidity. Small planter boxes beneath each window were full with fragrant rosemary. Ally laughed as she bent to smell it.
‘I’ll bet mama decided on it. Rosemary for memory!’
Eoin nodded with a smile while dragging his gaze around his new study. Wide bench tables ringed the room, reminding him for an instant of the lab. Ladder like stairs led the way to a loft area that when they climbed up revealed to be a comfortable sitting area with a porthole style window that looked out onto their front yard space with its view of trees, shrubs and a glimpse of their neighbours earthship home.
Climbing back down, they opened the door at the back of the curved room, all the rooms in the house circular to provide good aeration and strength to the structure. The little door led to their second bathroom, a neat space with toilet, sink and shower. A door on the other side led to the first bedroom. Ally hesitated for a second before opening that door and looked to him.
‘This will be..’ she placed her hand just beneath her belly, an expression of wonder spreading. Eoin smiled and took her hand, lifting it to the handle and opened the door with her.
The simple room had no decorations yet. The rounded walls were a smooth cream, the plaster adding a sense of warmth. Like the last room, like all their rooms had been designed, it had the large windows to welcome in the light and warmth with planter boxes beneath. These boxes were full of bright and cheerful marigolds, the orange flowers a welcome splash of colour. They stood admiring it and climbed the loft, noting the slight variations in view. The porthole window was able to be opened a few inches, letting fresh air in. Back on the ground level, Ally took another slow turn as she studied it all.
‘The bed should go there, do you think?’
Eoin nodded. ‘There would work too.’
She snuggled against him and sighed happily.
Hugging her, Eoin kissed her cheek before thinking of something.
‘What will we call them?’
Ally pursed her lips then pulled away, heading for the door that led to the kitchen. As she opened it she turned with a speculative expression.
‘Aiden? For a boy.’
Eoin followed. ‘And a girl?’
The room was divided by a wide bench behind which the kitchen was neatly fitted against the back curved wall. A coal range oven dominated the space, its soft green colour making Ally exclaim in delight before she answered his question.
Eoin considered that, slowly trying the name aloud while Ally opened all the cupboards, squealing in delight when she found the crockery she’d been carefully collecting already set in place.
‘I like it,’ Eoin said, making Ally pull her head out from the cupboard beneath the bench table to stare at him quizzically.
‘Ren. I like it.’
Ally nodded, face still wrinkled with concentration as she moved into the front of the room, where the solid dinning room table with long slab seats on either side sat bathed in the afternoon sunlight. A moment later, as she climbed the stairs to the loft, she turned abruptly making Eoin jerk back, just grabbing the rails in time as he climbed up behind her.
‘Or Erity. Ren or Erity. What do you think?’ She didn’t wait for his answer, scrambling up the last couple of rungs. ‘Oh look! It’s a sitting area. Oh lovely. Jaismine and her husband had to have made this, don’t you think?’
The wide seated comfortable looking couch certainly bore their normal trademarks. The quirky hand dyed fabric; Eoin reached out to pull at the wooden base of the seat. It slid out with ease, converting to a guest bed that would easily sleep two. ‘I think so,’ he agreed. ‘Looks just like their work.’
‘Erity or Ren?’ Ally called, already climbing back down the stairs. Eoin rushed after her, not wanting to miss the bedroom reveal as she flung the door to their room open.
He forgot the question, breath exhaling in a sigh of pleasure.
Painted a soft green, their bedroom smelled of lavender and jasmine, the vine tied carefully to a railing that led out of the planter box beneath their windows, following the window frame up and around. A new bed that looked twice the size of their last was made up with a beautiful quilt that looked like a stained glass window, all manner of pieces arranged in a rainbow of colours divided by strips of black. Plump pillows with the same style covers sat at the head. Eoin stared while Ally made soft sounds of delight, reaching out to touch it.
Clearing his throat, Eoin said, ‘your mama has outdone herself.’
Ally gave him a watery smile as she sniffed and nodded. He stepped close as she turned and hugged her close as she gave a shuddered sob.
‘So happy to be home! Look at it! Am-az-ing. So hap-py. So grate-ful,’ she hiccupped the words while tears slipped down her face again, making Eoin laugh softly at her and bent to kiss them away.
‘We’re very blessed.’
Ally hiccupped and laughed at that, her hand on his as he gently rested it beneath her belly. ‘Very, very blessed!’
Laughing with her, Eoin sat back on the bed, Ally on his lap. They sat in silence, listening to the gently sounds of their new home. It felt overwhelming to be here, to find the design the two of them had spent months creating. He’d expected to get back and have to spend several months creating it, with the help of those willing. Instead, here it was, finished, complete, just waiting for them. It felt truly unbelievable.
‘Oh! So, Ren or Erity?’
Ally’s demand pulled him back and Eoin laughed, kissing his wife’s pouting mouth.
‘Let’s meet them first then decide,’ he suggested.
Ally narrowed her eyes for second then grinned, her gaze cheeky. ‘I guess that works. Now, how long before we need to think about making a dish for dinner? Because I feel we need to do honour to this house and .. ahem .. bless this bed?’
Eoin laughed while lifting his hands to cup his wife’s face, lips just above hers.
‘Mmmmmm,’ Ally said a moment later with a chuckle. ‘Just like that.’
Seconds later a heavy rumble of rain on the roof made them stare at each other, eyes wide as they grinned in delight. With a happy squeal Ally tugged Eoin down, the two of them shuffling about to snuggle while staring out the windows to the rain. The soothing sound, the scent of the fresh bedclothes, Ally in his arms and their baby tucked deep within her, Eoin let out a sigh.
‘What?’ Ally twisted to look at him, violet eyes glimmering in the slanted light.
Eoin rubbed his nose against hers gently. ‘Feeling very blessed in this moment, love.’
Those violet eyes went shiny and she nodded, a dreamy smile spreading. With the rain still coming down hard, the two of them dozed there on the bed, in their new house, with their little one between them.
Have a great weekend everyone!