WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE?

By Margaret Price

CHAPTER ONE

BLACK HOLE

Colonel Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach stood at the graveside, staring down into the dark hole in the ground. The funeral was like the dozens of others he had attended. The Priest had said all the right words. The eulogies had ranged from impassioned to somber, his own being the latter. The graveside service had been equally solemn. The day overcast and cold, yet the threat of rain remained only a threat. Unlike all the other funerals that Klaus had attended, however, this one left him empty.

All the other mourners had gone by this time, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He drew a deep breath, his eyes moving to the head of the open grave. Only a small cross with “von dem Eberbach” marked the place that would soon be covered with earth. The new headstone would not arrive until later.

What words of wisdom do you have for me now, Father?

How many hundreds of times had he heard the same thing? “When I was your age, I was of higher rank. And married.”

What advice do you have for me now?

“Colonel?” a voice said quietly, breaking into Klaus’s thoughts. “Whenever you’re ready, sir.”

Klaus turned to look at the man who had been assigned as his driver. Then he looked up, seeing only a single car remaining where there had been dozens. Now for the last part of the ritual. The funeral feast. He dreaded this. He hated parties to begin with, and to attend one over a death, this death, was just…

Klaus sighed heavily and straightened, wordlessly walking to the car. He just wanted it all to be over. He just wanted to fill the black hole that had so inexplicably opened inside him.

What advice do you have for me now, Father?

* * *

Klaus ignored all the orders to take extended bereavement leave, to take time off, to get away. Get away? How do you get way from a hole inside yourself? I don’t want to think. I want to work. I need to work.

Klaus looked up, seeing his men working diligently at their desks. From time to time, he would receive a quick sideways glance. They’re trying to gauge my mood. Normally, he would have found this infuriating. But not now. Instead, he found himself incapable of losing his temper. In fact, he found himself incapable of feeling anything. Just the black hole that had opened inside him, threatening to swallow him completely.

A few days later, the call came telling him the grave marker was ready and would be installed at the end of the week. Did he want to be there when it was placed? Unfortunately, work conflicted with this, and Klaus told the person on the phone to go ahead as planned. He hung up and closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath. He would look at it on Sunday, after mass. And take flowers, because you were supposed to take flowers. Perhaps then he would find closure. The placement of the marker would end this ordeal. Hopefully. And put an end to the black emptiness inside.

* * *

Sunday arrived quickly and Klaus found himself back at the graveside. It had been covered with earth, the small cross having been replaced by an austere granite headstone. As he stood looking at the inscription, someone came up behind him.

“It looks like your mother’s.”

Klaus did not even bother to turn around. “What advice do you have for me now, Father?” he asked bitterly. “What words of wisdom?”

“Klaus…”

“Go on, say it,” Klaus challenged. “When I was your age, I had the same rank and was also a widower.” He turned to look at his father, his eyes blazing. “Only your son lived.”

Klaus’s father could not have looked more hurt if he had been physically struck. His mouth dropped open, but he found himself at a loss for words.

“What will you be telling me now? That I should re-marry, the way you didn’t!

“Klaus!” his father snapped.

“No, I’ve heard enough,” Klaus spat back. “I did what you’ve been pushing me to do since I was eighteen. Don’t talk to me about this again. Ever.” So saying, he strode off, leaving his dumbfounded father staring after him.

* * *

Even after the placement of the headstone, Klaus found the black hole remained. The following Sunday he returned to place fresh flowers on the grave and stopped short. Someone else was there laying flowers. One of his in-laws, probably. Shit, I don’t want to see any of them now. Not this soon. When the person looked up, he recognized Eroica and the anger that had eluded him for days suddenly boiled over.

“What the hell are you doing here, Lord Gloria?” Klaus demanded as he stormed through the cemetery.

Eroica rose to his feet, meeting the attack head on. “I’m merely paying my respects, Colonel.”

“Respects my ass,” Klaus snarled. “Didn’t you give me enough grief before I was married? Now you come to pester me again! I just buried my wife and son—” He broke off and closed his eyes. My wife and son, he thought, feeling the hole within him open again.

“I apologized for that years ago,” Eroica said gently. “Mercedes accepted it. Why can’t you?”

“Because my wife didn’t know you as well as I do”

“Colonel, I’m not here to fight with you.”

Klaus glared at him. “Why are you here?”

“I wanted to see you—”

“You son-of-a-bitch. Have you no sense of decency? You’re lucky we’re in a cemetery. Otherwise I’d deck you right here and now.”

Eroica gave the man before him an odd look. “Did you love her?” he asked suddenly.

Klaus was completely thrown by this. “What the hell kind of a question is that?”

“A normal one. She loved you. Absolutely and unquestioningly.”

Klaus stood staring at the Earl in a stunned silence. “How the hell would you…?”

Eroica gave a small smile. “She told me.”

“What?” Klaus struggled to get hold of his thoughts.

“Your wife was the most extraordinary woman I’ve ever known.”

“What?”

“Can we go somewhere where we can talk?” Eroica asked calmly. “You need to know a few things that Mercedes never told you.”

* * *

CHAPTER TWO

MERCEDES VON DEM EBERBACH

Dorian found himself wondering why he had decided to come to Germany again. It was bad enough that he had been unable to prevent Klaus from marrying that…Amazon, but now it seemed the whole bloody country had turned against him. The artwork he had set his heart on turned out to be a forgery. He had narrowly escaped bumping into Klaus on the street. And when he ducked into a restaurant, he ran smack into Mercedes, Klaus’s bride of two months. He had expected her to give him a wide berth. Instead, she looked him in the eye, her expression as hard as her husband’s.

“Lord Gloria,” she said coldly.

“Frau von dem Eberbach,” the Earl replied, equally coldly.

“I’m glad I bumped into you.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I need to talk to you.”

Dorian’s large eyes grew even larger. “You do? What could you possibly have to talk to me about now?”

“Your relationship with my husband,” came the startling reply.

“My what…?” Dorian blinked. At first, he thought she was joking, but she looked completely serious. He nodded to the back of the room. “How about back there?”

“Fine.”

The bewildered Earl led the way and took a seat, giving the woman opposite him a searching look. He had been trying for nearly a year and a half to end the relationship that had finally ended in her marriage to Iron Klaus. Finally ended, for all intents and purposes, his pursuit of the Iron Maj—no, not Major. Not for some time, although he still could not get the fact that Klaus was now a Lieutenant Colonel through his head. It seemed he would always think of him as his Major.

“Well, Frau von dem Eberbach,” Dorian said in as even a tone as possible, “what relationship are you talking about? I thought everything was cut and dried two months ago.” When you married my Major.

“Lord Gloria, I’m not a brainless female, so kindly refrain from treating me as such,” Mercedes replied coolly. “You and I both know the reason Klaus married me.”

Dorian’s eyebrows went up and he sat back in his seat, idly twisting one of his long curls around a finger. “We do? I thought it was because he loved you. Isn’t that the usual reason a man marries a woman?”

The woman studied him a moment. “Lord Gloria, take a good look at me,” she challenged. “You’ve been calling me an Amazon from the moment we met, and it’s true. I’m almost as tall as you are. I’m not even remotely pretty. I’ve been described as being a handsome woman, which to me means I look like a man in drag. And I have very long blond hair that looks remarkably like yours.”

“Yes, that is your most attractive feature, I must admit,” the Earl replied sharply, tossing his own hair over his shoulders.

Mercedes glared at him before adding, “And the other day, one of my husband’s agents mistook me for you.”

“Really?” Dorian laughed delightedly. Then he realized the full implications and his eyes widened. “Oh!” he gasped. His voice dropped in pitch. “Oh…” He shook his head. “Oh, no…”

“No? You’re telling me I’m not a showpiece to hide an ongoing relationship?”

“Oh, my dear woman, if only that were true,” Dorian sighed longingly. “There is no relationship. There has never been a relationship, although Lord knows I’ve tried.”

“Never?”

“Not even so much as a kiss on the lips.” Dorian held up his right hand. “Cross my heart and swear on the Bible.”

“Don’t do that,” Mercedes snapped. “It just makes it worse.” She sat staring into space a few minutes, her mind spinning. The implications of what she suspected were far too devastating to contemplate all at once. Why hadn’t she listened to those rumors before the wedding? Before it was too late? Before she’d fallen in love with the man?

Dorian saw tears starting to well up in the woman’s eyes and drew a deep breath. Great. Now she’s going to cause a scene and the Major will blame me. To his amazement, Mercedes thanked him for his time and left.

* * *

Several weeks after his chance encounter, Dorian found Mercedes waiting for him in the lobby of his hotel. He had no idea how she knew where to find him and looked around, wondering if her husband were lurking in the shadows.

“If I didn’t know better,” the Earl said calmly as he strode up to her, “I’d think you were stalking me, Frau von dem Eberbach.”

“Listen to the pot calling the kettle black,” Mercedes replied as she got to her feet. “I need to speak with you again, Lord Gloria.”

“About my non-existent relationship with your husband?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

Dorian sighed heavily. “Fine. If you don’t think it’s inappropriate, we could go to my room.”

“That will be fine. I don’t think I’m in any danger of being attacked by you, am I?”

Dorian was amazed when the woman actually smiled at him. My God, she’s actually trying to be friendly. What the hell is she up to? He held out a hand. “This way.”

Within a few minutes, Dorian was unlocking the door to his suite. He was inwardly grateful that he had told his team to go on to a celebration without him. He had claimed he wanted to change into something more festive. In truth, he had simply wanted to have some time to himself. So much for that.

“I’m afraid I can only offer you the contents of the mini-bar,” the Earl said as he led the way into the room. “Or I could order room service.”

Mercedes shook her head as she took a seat. “No, thank you.” She drew a deep breath, wondering exactly how to start the bizarre conversation. To her relief, she did not have to.

“So, you still think I’m having some sort of an affair with your husband, Frau von dem Eberbach?” Dorian asked pointedly.

“No,” came the startling reply. “And…my name is Mercedes.”

“I know. The Major always preferred a Mercedes,” Dorian replied coldly as he took a seat.

Mercedes let this pass. She had heard all the jokes about her name to last a lifetime. “Lord Gloria, I’ve thought long and hard about several things since you and I last spoke,” she said slowly. “And I’ve come to several…disconcerting conclusions.”

Dorian sat back in his seat, his head cocked to one side. “Oh? Such as?”

“Klaus doesn’t love me.”

“I’m not really interested in your personal—”

“He loves you.”

Dorian felt his heart miss a beat and a hand went to his mouth. I did not just hear that.

Mercedes gave him a steady look. “I’m a…substitute for you.” She paused a moment before admitting, “No one ever gave me a second look until I moved to Bonn. Then, suddenly, I’m being courted by the most eligible bachelor in town.”

“What do you expect me to say? Congratulations?”

“No.” Mercedes sighed heavily. “We both know Klaus is a man driven by duty. I’m to run the Schloss, produce an heir, and be the perfect officer’s wife.”

Dorian nodded. “That seems to sum it up nicely.” He paused, asking, “So, why come to me?”

“I…I want your help.”

“What?” This was the last thing Dorian expected to hear. “You want my help? How? Why?”

“Do you still love Klaus?”

“Oh, God, yes!”

“Then tell me…how do I make him happy?”

Check that, Dorian thought, not the last thing he expected to hear. He looked at the woman across from him and found himself intrigued. Then he realized why Klaus had found her worthy enough to marry, even for duty’s sake. There were hidden depths to this woman.

“Frau von dem Eberbach, I’m not sure the man is capable of being happy,” Dorian replied knowingly.

“Let me put it this way…” Mercedes cleared her throat nervously. “How would you make him happy?”

Dorian waved a hand in the air. “Oh, that’s easy, I’d—” He broke off, his eyes widening. “Oh! Are you asking me what I think you’re asking me?”

“Lord Gloria, I’m hardly a Victorian maiden.”

“I’m going to assume that you and he have…”

“Yes.”

“Bitch. You could’ve lied to me.” To Dorian’s surprise, Mercedes actually laughed. He was surprised to find she had a very pleasant laugh.

“Lord Gloria…”

“Dorian.”

This brought a smile to the woman’s face, and Dorian was surprised again when he realize how her face lit up when she smiled. For the first time in his life, he found himself fascinated by a woman. Then he wondered if it was just his own narcissism. She did look an awful lot like him.

“Dorian. How do I…?”

“My dear Mercedes, need I remind you I’m gay?”

Again, Mercedes laughed. “You’re also a man,” she pointed out. “If I’m a surrogate for you then… What do you advise as the best way to…?”

Dorian held up a hand. “I need a drink,” he said as he got to his feet.

“Now, there’s a surprise.”

“What?”

“I never expected you to be embarrassed talking about sex.”

“You want me to give you advice on having sex with the man I love,” Dorian pointed out. “You don’t find that…odd?”

“I find all kinds of things related to the both of you as being odd, to be honest,” Mercedes replied calmly. “But I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with him, too. He’s complicated, infuriating, and quite possibly the most fascinating man I’ve ever met.”

Dorian gave the woman a look of amazement. “That just how I feel!”

Mercedes drew a deep breath. “Then…will you help me make him happy?”

“On one condition.”

Mercedes gave the Earl a suspicious sideways glance. “Which is?”

“You tell me everything.”

“Everything? As in…everything? You want me to write you pornographic e-mails?”

“Yes, everything, in detail.” Dorian saw a stunned look come to the woman’s face and gave a curt nod. That’ll fix you. Come to me with this preposterous—

“Agreed.”

Dorian almost dropped his glass. “What?”

“I said I agree to your terms.”

Dorian stood staring, his mouth agape. Now what do I do?

“I think I’ll have a drink, too,” Mercedes said mildly. “I’ve a feeling I’m going to need it.”

* * *

CHAPTER THREE

FOLLOWING ADVICE

“Klaus…”

The only response this got was a sleepy grunt.

Mercedes leaned closer to the man’s ear. “Klaus, darling…” she whispered. “Wake up.”

Klaus gave another low moan and shifted position. Or at least, he tried to shift position. With a jolt, he realized he was blindfolded, spread-eagled on the bed and tied to the bedposts. “What the hell…?”

“Good morning, my sleeping beauty,” Mercedes purred in his ear.

Klaus pulled at his bindings, being relieved when he realized he had not been stripped of his pajamas. “What are you doing to me, woman?” he demanded.

“Oh, really, I thought you were an intelligence officer.”

Klaus gave an annoyed growl. He had trained himself to wake at the slightest noise, the slightest movement. So how the hell had she been able to get him into this position?

“How did you get me this way without waking me up?”

“I sang to you, and you slept like a baby.”

“Sang?”

“Mary had a little lamb…”

Klaus cursed under his breath. He had also trained himself to fall asleep to the wretched nursery rhyme. Damn the woman for realizing this. “Alright, you’ve had your fun. Now let me go.”

Mercedes gave a small laugh. “Oh, my darling Klaus, I haven’t even begun to have my fun yet.”

Klaus stiffened upon hearing this. “What?”

“I’m trying something new.”

“And I’m trying very hard not to lose my temper.”

“Go right ahead, Klaus, dear. You’re absolutely gorgeous when you’re angry.”

“Shit.”

“You want me to be the mother of your children, don’t you?”

Klaus remained silent. He did not like the direction this conversation was taking.

“Well, we’re going to do things on my terms.”

“There are easier ways of telling me.”

“My terms, Klaus.”

“Meaning?”

Mercedes started to unbutton the front of his pajama top. “Meaning, we do it my way.”

Klaus found himself too stunned for words. Then the woman he had thought was a reserved individual started to cut the sleeves of his pajamas. “What the hell are you doing!” he demanded. “These are my best pair of pajamas!”

“No, they’re not. Anyway, I bought you a replacement,” Mercedes said as she went on to cut off his undershirt and then pull the material out from under him. “Several replacements, in fact.”

“So you’ve been planning this?”

“Um, hmmm…” Mercedes purred as she started to nip at his neck. She could not help but smile at his reaction, each nip causing him to catch his breath. “I’ve noticed something about you, Klaus, dear.”

“What? That I married a crazy woman?”

“No, that you like to have someone else drive your Mercedes.”

“Very funny.”

Mercedes giggled and continued to nip at his neck. Then she slowly moved down his chest, pulling a sharp gasp from him as she circled his nipples with her tongue.

“So, you’re gonna try and rape me, is that it?” Klaus sighed. He was surprised at the lack of anger in his voice. He was also surprised at the reaction of his own body at this unexpected attack. Sexual arousal on this level was definitely unfamiliar territory.

“Do you think anyone will believe Iron Klaus could be overpowered by a woman?”

“Damn you!” Klaus pulled at his bindings again.

“Struggle all you like, I’m not letting you go until I’ve finished what I started,” Mercedes said firmly. “And you are going to cooperate.”

“Like hell!” Klaus snarled, letting loose a stream of obscenities as he fought like a wild man. “I’ve killed for less than this!”

“Go ahead, threaten to kill me, if it makes you happy. You can’t fool me.”

Klaus suddenly stopped struggling. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, really, Klaus,” Mercedes said, racking her nails down his chest and pulling another sharp gasp from him. “I’m not a complete fool, you know. You may be in charge out there in the world, but you don’t really want that in here. You want someone else to make the decisions.” She dragged her nails down his chest again and smiled as he arched his back in response. “Iron has to relax or it will break.”

“You’ve been reading those stupid women’s magazines again, haven’t you?” Klaus grumbled. “All that crap about how to please your man.”

“Let’s just say I got advice from a very reliable source.”

“Fuck.”

“I intend to,” Mercedes giggled. “Just relax, my beautiful man, and let me ravage you.”

Klaus gave a disgusted snort. “Now you sound like that bloody idiot Lord Gloria.”

Mercedes was glad Klaus couldn’t see the expression on her face when he said this. It was a combination of delight and sadness. Dorian had been right on nearly every point so far. The only thing he had not known was Klaus’s vulnerability to the nursery rhyme.

“Insults will get you—Oh!” Her eyes grew wide as she saw the growing erection that was straining against her husband’s pajamas pants. “I think we have conflicting opinions,” she observed as she proceeded to cut off the rest of Klaus’s pajamas.

Klaus wasn’t sure how to respond to this. The more he fought, the more aroused he became, which was not what he wanted at all. This is not how married people are supposed to act. Even worse, the more Mercedes seemed to imitate the Earl, the more stimulating he found the experience. What the hell is wrong with me?

Mercedes slowly slid her hands up his thighs and Klaus drew a sharp breath, his body going rigid as she started to knead his testicles. He was trying desperately to concentrate his thoughts. Then she put his penis in her mouth and he could no longer think straight. For the first time in his memory, his body simply reacted as everything went spiraling beyond his control. To his shock, he heard a moan a pure pleasure rising in his own throat. This should not be so wonderful. I should hate it! It isn’t natural.

Klaus could not quite believe what was happening. Could not quite believe what the woman he had married out to duty was doing to his body. Could not quite believe that he had somehow allowed himself to be this vulnerable. And the ultimate point, he could not quite believe how much he was enjoying the experience.

Just as Klaus thought he couldn’t take anymore, Mercedes stopped and sat up, pulling a whine of frustration from him.

“Do you still want me to stop?” she asked in an innocent tone.

Klaus gave a growl, pulling at his bindings. “Damn you, woman! Finish this!”

“My terms, Klaus. You have to ask.”

“I’m not gonna beg!”

“I didn’t say you had to beg, you beautiful man,” Mercedes said seductively. “I just want you to ask. Not demand. Not order. Ask.”

“I’m gonna divorce you after this!”

“Oh, I’m sure Lord Gloria will love to hear about that. He tried to break us up for a year and a half, and you can’t take the heat for more than three months.”

“You keep that bloody pervert out of this!”

Mercedes ran her hands over Klaus’s hips, moving them up and down the inside of his thighs, causing him to shiver. Then she reached back to squeeze his firm buttocks. “What do you think he’d say if he saw you now?” she asked, kissing his hip and slowly moving toward his groin, one little kiss at a time. “At my mercy…” Another kiss. “What do you think he’d do?”

Klaus gave a low growl. What Mercedes was doing to him was bad enough. He did not even what to contemplate what the Earl would do.

“I know…” she whispered, stroking the inside of his thighs with feather light touches that threatened to send him over the edge of sanity.

“Don’t talk,” he snapped. “Finish this!”

“Oh, come on, you dear, beautiful man. It won’t kill you to say please, will it?”

Klaus gave another annoyed growl. To his surprise, Mercedes climbed on top of him. He drew a sharp breath as she took the full length of his erection inside herself. He found himself moving his hips automatically as he penetrated the warm, inviting folds of her body. Suddenly she was attacking his neck again, moving around his throat, pulling at the folds of skin with her teeth. He found himself wanting her to stop and go on at the same time, arching his back and groaning as she moved down to his chest to run her tongue around his nipples and then manipulate them with her teeth. A shiver of pleasure mixed with pain shook his body as she racked her nails along the side of his chest.

Damn the woman for blindfolding him! He wanted to see what she was doing. What she intended next, which apparently was to drive him completely insane, because he was sure he would go mad if she didn’t move soon. He was surprised to hear a whine of frustration escape himself as he squirmed beneath the crazy woman who was currently attacking his chest with the tip of her tongue. He arched his back and thrashed unsuccessfully in his bindings. Iron Klaus does not whine! Iron Klaus does not beg. Iron Klaus does not…Does not…

“Mercedes, please!” he gasped out finally. “For the love of God, finish this!”

“There, you see? I told you it wouldn’t kill you,” Mercedes purred seductively. She started moving rhythmically over his engorged penis, slowly at first and then faster and faster until she was panting with the effort and moaning with pleasure at the same time. To her delight, she heard Klaus’s growls change to moans of pleasure as his breathing quickened to match hers.

When Mercedes finally climaxed, she sat up fully and arched her back, throwing her head back, the low moan in her throat turning into a loud cry that startled the man beneath her. She felt Klaus thrust up a moment before he came himself, and she moved her knees out slightly, repositioning her pelvis to allow him to penetrate her further. She heard a groan of pure pleasure rise in his throat as she did this, her own body stiffening as she allowed herself to be overwhelmed by the experience, a moan of ecstasy escaping her. Finally, she collapsed on top of him and the pair lay gasping for breath.

Mercedes hadn’t expected to enjoy this power play quite so much. Nor had she expected Klaus to be quite so aroused by it. She was delighted and saddened that Dorian had known her husband far better then she had been willing to admit. It only served to underscore the fact that all her assumptions had been correct and she was merely a surrogate for the Earl.

Mercedes gave the man beneath her a kiss on the cheek. “I love you,” she said gently, startling herself with this admission. She had never told him this, knowing that he did not love her in return.

Klaus merely grunted, as coherent speech had yet to return to him.

“Are you really going to divorce me?”

He sighed heavily. What would he say? He wanted a divorce because he wife wanted to have sex with him? “No,” he said at last.

Mercedes laid her head on his chest. “Good.”

Klaus wondered when this game ended. Was he was supposed to ask to be released as well? “Are you gonna leave me tied up all day?” he asked finally. He was amazed at how calm he sounded. He should’ve been furious, but the overwhelming nature of his wife’s sexual attack had taken all the fight out of him. Is this the afterglow everyone’s always talking about?

Without disengaging herself, Mercedes pulled the blindfold off his face and looked into his eyes. “Are you going to hurt me if I let you go now?”

Klaus was clearly horrified. “No!”

“Just checking.” Mercedes was determined to keep her voice light, but had been relieved at the vehemence of this reply. She had no doubts that she had married a violent man and had actually been afraid of retaliation, despite Dorian’s assurances that Klaus would never raise his hand against her. She had been uncertain as to whether she should completely trust the Earl’s word. He could just as easily have been setting her up to be beaten to a pulp by her unpredictable husband. “You did say you’d killed for less,” she reminded gently.

Klaus gave her a steady look. “I always promise to give back double what I’m given.”

Mercedes’ eyebrows went up and she returned the look. “Really?”

Klaus’s eyes grew wide as he realized the implications of what he had just said. Shut up until you can think straight, he told himself.

She drew a deep breath before playing her final card. For this to work, she could not admit to fear. Could not admit to her own uncertainty. She had to stay in control, and she was certainly in the right position for it at present. Didn’t they call this the power position?

“Klaus, I want to make myself clear,” she said firmly. “I’ll be the perfect wife out there. I won’t embarrass you. I won’t make scenes. I’ll do whatever you say and whatever is expected of me. Out there. But not in here. I will not be ordered around in here.” Mercedes paused. “Can you handle that?”

Klaus’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not gonna let you tie me up every time we…” his voice trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Mercedes smiled. “We’ll see,” she replied and kissed him on the mouth.

* * *

CHAPTER FOUR

THE TRUTH

Eroica had been silent for several minutes, watching for some kind of a reaction. Klaus just sat staring blankly into space, having listened in a stunned silence as the story was related to him.

“You’ve been exchanging e-mails with my wife for five years?” he said at last.

“More or less.”

“And she told you everything that we ever—?”

Eroica saw anger starting to ignite in the German’s dark green eyes and he held up his hands. “Only at the beginning. And then only—” He broke off when a dangerous look came to Klaus’s face and cleared his throat nervously. “—when I inspired events.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“She asked for advice on making you happy…” Eroica paused. “On making you happy in bed. After a few weeks, she stopped asking.” He gave a bittersweet smile. “I supposed she figured it out by then.”

Klaus’s eyes narrowed. “By pretending to be you, is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“Don’t get mad at me. I’m not the one who—” Eroica broke off when Klaus jumped to his feet and grabbed the front of his shirt.

“Bastard! I should kill you for coming here with this story!”

Eroica threw his hands up to cover his face. “I have the e-mails!” he cried out. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me otherwise.”

Klaus thought this over and released his grip, sitting down again. “Why didn’t you say that before?”

“You didn’t give me the chance.” Eroica pulled the papers from his coat and held them out. “Before you even ask, I didn’t bring the…intimate ones.”

Klaus’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Because I was sure you’d want to kill me if you read them.”

“I already want to kill you.”

Eroica sighed heavily. “Just read those.” He got to his feet and gave Klaus a steady look. “Your wife was the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met, Colonel,” he said quietly. “She was also a very good friend. I’m not ashamed to say that I loved her as a friend.”

Klaus looked up in surprise.

“I shall miss her.” With that, Eroica turned and left.

* * *

Klaus sat at his desk, staring at the papers before him. He had read and re-read the e-mails that Eroica had given him. There was no denying that Mercedes had written them. He could almost hear her speaking as he read the words.

-- You were right again. I owe you another pornographic e-mail, but I’m not sharing what happened last night. You’ll just have to dream. Oh, and no, I will not send you the Man In Purple and call it even!

-- I got that red dress you sent. Klaus nearly went mad when he saw it. I went all innocent and asked why it upset him so much. He wouldn’t tell me, but I must say, later on… Well, anyway, don’t be jealous. I’m thinking of replacing all my wardrobe with red everything.

-- Can you believe this photograph! Our Klaus is actually smiling! I was so nervous hosting my first party as an officer’s wife. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your wonderful advice on throwing the perfect party. I know it wasn’t the usual thing I ask. Is it possible for me to love you, too?

-- Thank you for the anniversary present and the note of apology. Klaus wants me to throw it away, but I convinced him that it would not be right, especially since you’ve been trying to keep your distance. Sometimes I wish I could tell him the truth, but we both know how that would go!

-- Klaus told me about running in to you in London. He was furious, of course. I’m taking advantage of that tonight. You are such a wonderful aphrodisiac, my dearest Dorian. I might even share the details!

-- I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner. I know I just sent the quick note about Klaus being injured on his last mission. I hope you’re not angry with me for not contacting you before now. It turns out it wasn’t as serious as we feared. He’s expected to make a full recovery. I’ll keep you updated.

-- Two years. Has it really been two years? Did you have to remind me with such an elaborate anniversary gift? You are such a lunatic. Klaus is going mad! You really are quite evil.

-- I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell you this, my dearest Dorian, then things went badly. I found out I was pregnant a few weeks ago. And just as I found the right words to tell you, I had a miscarriage. Klaus was trying to be supportive, in his own awkward way. Then his father started making his usual noises and Klaus came to my rescue. My knight is shining armor. I think I’m in love with him all over again.

-- My dearest Dorian, yes, I love you, too. You are such a lunatic sometimes. That stuffed bear you sent is almost as big as Klaus and he has threatened several times to chop it into pieces. He does, however, like the new perfume you suggested. How did you know? No, never mind, don’t answer that.

-- Roses again, my dearest Dorian? Our Klaus will begin to suspect I’m having an affair with you if you keep sending them to me. He was very annoyed at the card, but I suspect that’s why you made it out to “The Beautiful Mercedes of the Golden Hair.” I said you were just being you. Klaus said that was true because you’re an idiot. You know, until I met you, I never imagined roses could be an aphrodisiac. LOL

-- I can’t believe I’ve hosted my fourth party as an officer’s wife. I’m getting rather good at these, I think. Our Klaus was positively glowing. Just look at his face in this picture. He doesn’t know I managed to get a few shots of him during the party. He thinks I was spending all evening keeping everyone away from him so he could enjoy the party at a distance, just the way he likes it. I’m going to surprise him with these later on.

-- Oh, my dearest Dorian, more sad news. I’ve lost another baby. I don’t think I’m ever going to give our Klaus an heir. I haven’t been able to stop crying. I just hate going all female like this.

-- I just wanted to thank you again for your phone call. You are such a dear man. Klaus says that you’re an idiot, which I’ve decided is his way of saying, “I love you.” LOL I’m so glad we were able to become friends. I love you dearly.

-- I couldn’t wait to tell you the news! Our Klaus has received another promotion. Full Colonel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy. He says it’s all my doing for being the perfect officer’s wife. Can you believe it? A compliment! He even let me take this picture of him in his new uniform. Isn’t he just the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen? I am so proud.

-- Six months, can you believe it! I’ve finally managed to carry a baby longer than the first trimester. Oh, my dearest Dorian, I think I may actually have this baby! And I had an ultrasound yesterday. It’s a boy. Our Klaus is on cloud nine, and his father is…well, we won’t go there. Anyway, what names do you suggest? I can’t help thinking of you as my other husband. Is that weird?

-- You are a genius, have I told you that lately? Our Klaus loved the names you suggested. He wants to go with Peter Michael. I suggested Dorian as a joke. I won’t repeat his reply, but I’m sure you can guess. I love you.

-- Only a few more weeks left until my due date. I’m so enormous. I had one of the servants take this picture. Can you believe how huge I’ve gotten? I don’t know what this child is doing in there, but half the time it feels like he’s running the marathon. If this keeps up, he’ll be out running with his father before he can walk.

-- Just a quick note, Daddy Dorian! I think I’m in labor. Our Klaus is on the way home and I’ll probably be going to the hospital as soon as he gets here. The doctor wanted me to come in when the contractions were closer together, but you know how impatient Klaus gets. I’ll let you know how everything goes. I’m going to give you the full details of my labor and delivery. I think it’s only fair, since you had so many of my attempts at conception. I love you. And thank you again. Together, we finally managed to make our Klaus a happy man.

“Our Klaus…” Klaus said quietly as he read the words again. He looked at the time and date on the last e-mail and felt a pang of grief. It was the day Mercedes died. Labor and delivery, he reflected. It had all gone terribly, terribly wrong. Twelve hours after this was written, she had died in his arms. And a few hours after that, so did his son.

Together, we finally managed to make our Klaus a happy man.

“Together, we finally…” he said coldly. “Together.” It was all a lie. A horrible, repulsive, perverted lie! How could he have been such a fool to be deceived like this? And what exactly was he supposed to do now?

* * *

Klaus wasn’t surprised when he went to the cemetery on Sunday and found Eroica patiently waiting for him. He placed the fresh flowers in the urn before wordlessly turning to him.

“From your expression, I can only assume you read all these,” Eroica said calmly, indicating the papers Klaus held clenched in his fist.

“Yes.”

Eroica studied the man’s vacant expression. “Colonel, I’m sorry,” he said truthfully. “We never intended to hurt you.”

Klaus gave him a steady look. “I’ve just had five of the happiest years of my life,” he admitted. “And now I learn it was a lie.”

“Don’t you dare!” Eroica snapped. “The only reason you married that lady was to make your father happy and produce an heir. You didn’t love her! You never loved her!”

“That’s not true!” Klaus thundered back. This admission stunned even him. He stood staring at the equally stunned Eroica.

“So you did love her?” Eroica challenged.

“I don’t…” Klaus’s eyes turned cold in a blink, his voice hardening. “Do you really expect me to forgive this?” He threw the papers at the Earl’s feet.

“Colonel—Klaus,” Eroica said firmly. “I love you. I will probably always love you. For a short time, I was able to help make you a happy man. Why can’t you accept that?”

“And then what?” Klaus snarled. “You would have me believe that I married to hide the fact that I’m a pervert like you? That my wife became you for me so I could—” He gave a shudder but pressed on. “So I could have you without feeling guilty.”

“Exactly.”

“You son-of-a-bitch.” Before Klaus realized what he was doing, he had punched Eroica, sending him sprawling. “This is a good place for me to kill you!”

“Fine! Go ahead,” Eroica spat back. “Right on Mercedes’ grave. The perfect place for it. I’m sure she’d be proud of you, Colonel!”

“Shut up!”

“Why? So you won’t have to face the truth?” Eroica snatched up some of the papers beside him and held them up to make his point. He got to his feet, his eyes blazing. “So you won’t have to admit to yourself that it was all a lie that you started?”

Klaus stood glaring at him for several seconds before grabbing him by the collar. “I’m not gonna kill you in the Churchyard,” he snapped as he dragged the Earl from the cemetery.

Eroica wondered if this meant he was going to kill him elsewhere. “Where are we going?”

“The Schloss.”

“Why?”

“Just shut up!” Klaus snapped as he thrust the Earl towards his car. “Get in.”

Eroica did as he was told, uncertain what was going on in the German’s mind. Had his grief finally sent him over the edge? “Colonel…” he said as Klaus got in.

Klaus turned a stony expression in the Earl’s direction and Eroica found himself clamping his mouth shut.

* * *

CHAPTER FIVE

GOODBYE, BELOVED WIFE

Eroica followed Klaus into the Schloss, wondering just what he could possibly have in mind. In his current mental state, the German was capable of anything, including killing the Earl in some very painful ways with his bare hands.

“When was the last time you were here?” Klaus asked suddenly.

“Um…I don’t remember. Before you were married, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Klaus gave a nod and led the way down the main hall. He stopped, holding out a hand, indicating the door to the study.

Eroica frowned before hesitantly entering the room. He looked around, his eyebrows going up. The only change he could see to the room was a collection of photographs on one wall. The most prominent one was a wedding photograph, Klaus looking stern and handsome as ever next to the smiling Mercedes.

Eroica felt a pang of grief when he saw this. He had almost forgotten how her smile could light up her face. Surrounding this photo was a collection of photographs of Klaus, all of which Mercedes had e-mailed to the Earl at some point over the past five years.

He turned back to look at Klaus, seeing a pained look in his eyes before he snapped back to reality and turned. “Follow me.”

Eroica felt it was best not to argue and obediently followed. He found himself being given a tour of the Schloss. All the rooms that Mercedes had mentioned in her e-mails. The last room was the nursery. He looked at the brightly decorated room and could just imagine Mercedes placing all the objects in it. His eyes fell on the enormous stuffed bear he had sent after her first miscarriage. He was actually surprised to see that Klaus had even allowed it to remain in the Schloss, let alone be placed in the nursery.

Klaus crossed to the bear and snatched it up, hurling across the room at the Earl. “Take that ridiculous monstrosity and get out.”

“Colonel…” Eroica began hesitantly. “You’re the one who brought me here.” Then he considered the officer’s mood, and decided that walking back to town might actually be healthier. As he picked up the object, there was a soft clatter and he looked down to see a CD on the floor.

“I’ll have someone drive you back,” Klaus snapped. “And I want you to take everything you’ve sent over the years with you.”

Eroica picked up the CD and held it up. “I didn’t include this with the bear.”

“What is it?” Klaus asked impatiently.

“It looks like a DVD.” Eroica turned it over, seeing Daddy Dorian written in black ink. His eyes grew wide and he turned it around for Klaus to see. “I think, perhaps, we should have a look at this.”

Klaus took the disk and stared at it a moment before looking up. “There’s a DVD player in the bedroom.” He led the way, not even turning to see if the Earl was following.

Eroica dropped the bear and hesitantly followed, standing in the doorway as Klaus dropped the DVD into the tray. A moment later, the recording started.

The room on the screen was obviously the study, the image of the Man In Purple squarely on screen. A moment later, Mercedes took a seat in front of the camera. “Do you like the setting, my dearest Dorian?” she asked before taking a deep breath. “If you’re watching this, I can only assume the worst has happened. I’m afraid I didn’t tell you or our Klaus the full truth. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. You see, even though I look like an Amazon, I don’t have the constitution of one. My doctor was concerned when I had my last miscarriage and told me not to try to get pregnant again.”

She paused, closing her eyes and drawing another deep breath to steady herself. “How was I supposed I tell our Klaus that? He’s so driven to live up to everyone’s expectations, and that means producing an heir. His father will finally have something he can admit to being proud of, and that will make Klaus so happy. And you know I’ll do anything to make him happy.” Mercedes gave a bittersweet smile. “Thank you for all your wonderful advice over the years. You truly were my second husband, weren’t you? I can see why Klaus loves you, even though he’s too thickheaded to admit it. I hope I loved him adequately enough for you, you darling lunatic.”

She sat back, a startled look coming to her face. She put a hand on her enlarged abdomen and smiled. “Little Peter is running the marathon again,” she said. “Where was I? Oh, yes. Saying good-bye. Well, I guess I’ve said it all. And…Klaus, if you’ve stumbled across this before posting the ‘ridiculous monstrosity of a bear’ off to Dorian, I can only say that I’m sorry if learning the truth hurt you in any way. I only wanted to make you happy. Please, tell Peter his mother loved you, because…I did. Truly. You really are the most amazing man I’ve ever met.”

Mercedes broke off, unable to go on. She gave a small sob and stood up. A moment later, the recording ended.

Eroica stood staring, tears welling up his eyes. He looked over at Klaus, seeing he was just as stony faced as ever. “Colonel, if you tell me you still can’t forgive that lady—” He broke off when Klaus gave a small sob and sat down on the bed. Then the grief he had been fighting for weeks finally overwhelmed him and he broke down.

Eroica didn’t even realize he had moved. Suddenly he found himself sitting at the German’s side, himself in tears.

“What do I do now?” Klaus asked quietly.

“Oh, Klaus,” Dorian sighed, taking him in his arms. To his shock, Klaus did not push him away. In fact, he simply allowed himself to be comforted. What do we do now?

* * *

Dorian opened his eyes and smiled. He wondered when he would stop thinking he was dreaming when he woke up to find Klaus beside him. The man was just so perfect. Everything Mercedes had told him and more, the little vixen. She’d never told him about the nursery rhyme. No wonder she could manipulate the man so easily.

Now it was his turn. It had taken time to get the thickheaded Prussian to finally admit to what Dorian and Mercedes had known all along. In fact, it had taken Dorian doing exactly what he had told Mercedes to do in the first place. Attack.

At first, Dorian was sure Klaus would kill him in one of several very nasty ways. He certainly threatened to enough times, but the Earl kept in mind what Mercedes had told him after she had taken his advice. “If I’d admitted to being afraid, the game would’ve been lost. You know him better than he realizes.”

Dorian kept this thought in mind as he pressed on relentlessly. I know you better than you know yourself, Klaus. So he ignored the threats, the panic, the attempts at escape. When at last he had the man cornered, he went for broke and kissed him, full on the mouth, and the German finally crumbled.

Who’s giving advice to whom now? Dorian thought later as he used every trick Mercedes had described to drive Klaus mad with pleasure for the first time. And again, and again. Christ, the man had stamina! She never mentioned that!

Klaus opened his eyes to see Dorian watching him. Not for the first time, he called him by the wrong name, not that Dorian minded. Mercedes had, after all, been acting in his place. She must’ve done an excellent job, for Klaus to mistake the two. Is that why you fell in love with her?

“The new headstone is being delivered today,” Klaus said quietly.

“Today? Really?”

Klaus nodded. “Are you coming?”

“You couldn’t keep me away,” Dorian replied.

“I didn’t think so, but I thought I’d ask,” Klaus said as he got out of bed and headed for the bathroom. “I’m going to shower and dress.” He turned back. “Do you think you’ll be fully conscious by the time I’m done?”

Dorian sprawled out on the bed and stretched. “Possibly.”

“They’re setting the stone at eleven. Try to look presentable, will you?”

“You can be so demanding in the morning. How ever did your wife put up with you?”

Klaus gave him a small smile. “She didn’t. She ignored me.”

Dorian laughed at this. I’ll bet she did.

* * *

Unlike the day of the funeral, this day was clear, bright, and sunny. Spring was giving way to summer. Dorian glanced over at Klaus, seeing the same stony expression on his face as the existing headstone was removed and a new one was put into place. The German stood looking at it for several minutes, his face unreadable.

“Klaus…?”

“She deserved better than the two of us,” Klaus said quietly.

Oh, no. Don’t you get all reflective and melancholy on me. You don’t know how to do it right. Dorian gave a small laugh. “Don’t be absurd, my darling Klaus. She had two men in her life who adored her. What more could a woman want?”

Klaus gave him a sideways glance and then rolled his eyes. “You’re still a narcissistic bastard, you know that?”

“That’s why you love me.”

“Bullshit. That’s why I hate you.” This was spoken without the German’s usual vehemence.

An amused smile lit up Dorian’s face and he stood watching Klaus for several minutes, wondering what was going on inside his head.

“I think she would’ve approved of that, don’t you?” Klaus said finally.

Dorian looked at the oval-shaped stone. Etched into it, all around the inscription, were roses entwined in wire. He nodded. “I know she would.” He turned back and smiled again. “It’s ironic, don’t you think?”

Klaus turned, giving the Earl a steady look. As he did so, he suddenly realized the black hole that had opened in him when Mercedes died had very quietly closed. “What?”

“That a woman should be the one to finally get us together.”

“You idiot.”

Dorian chuckled and looked over at the headstone. You were right. It does mean I love you.

Mercedes von dem Eberbach

Beloved Wife of Klaus

And Dorian

—END—

 

Eroica