by Lily Harlem
Totally Bound / Pride Publishing
Ebook ISBN: 9781784304867
Print ISBN: 9781784305222
[ Contemporary Romance, MM ]
While some passions live on the surface, others—wilder, darker passions—have to be kept buried deep.
[bctt tweet=”Read #excerpt of Dark Warrior by @lily_harlem #gay #romance #interracial”]
Leo Rotherham gripped the lap belt securing him to the creaky plastic seat. He’d known that the trip from Nairobi to the furthest corner of Moshi was going to be tiresome but he was so exhausted it was an effort to even sit upright.
The pothole-laden, two-tire track they’d been winding along for the last few hours really didn’t help matters either, nor did the fact that he’d finished his water and the driver sitting next to him had such awful body odor he feared his olfactory nerves had been permanently damaged.
He glanced out of the window, which, despite the intense heat, was wound up. The dust, he’d soon found out, was intolerable and swept in sharp gusts through the smallest crack.
“We nearly there, Doctor Leo,” the driver said.
“Great,” Leo replied. He was treated to a gappy grin. Why the driver, Salim, had so few teeth, Leo didn’t know. He was only a young man, perhaps early twenties, yet he had hardly any enamel. He also had bright pink gums and plump lips that were thick and dark.
Leo licked his own dry lips and held on as the Jeep jolted through a particularly nasty hole. It was so deep it made the vehicle squeak and creak in complaint and his behind left the seat for a moment before crashing back down.
“The mountain is there,” Salim said, pointing at Kilimanjaro looming in the distance. He didn’t seem to notice the rough ride.
“Mmm, yes, it’s beautiful.”
And it was, but Salim wafting his arm around had increased the pungent smell in the enclosed space.
Leo shut his eyes and held in a cough. He’d admire the stunning mountain later, when he was in the open air and not peering at it through a windscreen splattered with mud and bugs.
He’d never thought voluntary work for the charity Medics On Hand would be an easy task—never once convinced himself it would be glamorous or sophisticated—but he’d hoped he’d be able to breathe. Surely that was a basic right.
“The hospital is very excited that I bring you today.” Salim steered around a deep pit in the track that would have taken out the suspension.
“Good, I’m glad. Are we nearly there?” Leo narrowly missed whacking his head on the window as the vehicle lurched.
“Yes. We nearly there, very nearly there.”
Leo heaved a sigh of relief. Nearly two hundred miles in a twenty-year-old Jeep through scrubland and along dirt roads lined with prickly trees—hiding goodness only knew what creatures—was about all he could take, especially after a twelve-hour flight from London.
London. Boy, that felt like a long time ago. His mock Tudor semi in Brixton already seemed a thing of the past. The rooms still held all of his furniture but the kitchen cupboards were empty and a gardener had been paid to keep a check on the lawn and shrubs. Seeing it again in a month’s time felt like a long way off.
“Your room is ready for you at the hospital,” Salim said. “I, myself, painted the walls last week.”
“That was very kind of you,” Leo said.
“Not kind, necessary.” Salim studied Leo and pulled a face. “They were covered in mess. We didn’t want our new doctor to have to sleep in such a place. Now it is bright and shiny and waiting for you. Clean covers on the bed too. Sister Afua organized that.” Salim sighed. “She is so good. So good to everyone and beautiful too.”
Leo smiled, sensing the youngster’s love for the head nurse who he’d heard great things about from the guys at the charity.
“You will like her, a lot.” Salim nodded enthusiastically. “You have a wife, yes?”
“Er, no. I don’t.” Leo held up his left hand, showing his empty ring finger. “No wife.”
“Oh.” Salim frowned. “Girlfriend then?”
“Nope, no girlfriend.”
Salim continued to sport a worried expression. “Sister Afua is someone I love very much. She is very special to me.”
“It sounds as if she does wonderful work with the local people,” Leo replied.
“She does, yes. And I love her for that and…” Salim patted his chest. “I love her in here, in my heart, in my soul.”
“Well, I’m pleased for you. Love is very precious and when you find it, you should hold on to it tight and not let go.”
Apparently satisfied that the new doctor wasn’t about to steal Sister Afua from him, at least not straight away, Salim smiled once again and continued on the dusty journey.
Leo stared straight ahead. There’d never been a woman in his life. He just wasn’t wired that way. He’d flirted, sure, and certainly he’d been flirted with—nurses, patients and other doctors. But he’d never fallen for a girl, never even got further than a quick kiss and a grope at a teen disco years ago. He’d finally admitted to himself and his parents in the second year of medical school that he was gay and the relief had been enormous, especially when he’d sparked a relationship with another doctor, Hans, and they’d moved in together.
Five blissful years of companionship, love and understanding had all come crashing down eighteen months ago. Hans had felt the tug of home, Germany, and the tug of another lover. The split had been full of tension. There had been finances to sort out after such a long time living together and also the painful matter of dividing friends.
Leo had done pretty well on the whole—buying Hans out of his portion of their home—the mock Tudor—and keeping the local friends for himself.
But still… Eighteen months later he needed more, which was why he was trundling along a track in one of the most dangerous regions of Kenya with his medical license hanging around his neck and a gut full of nerves.
“Ah, it is here. Look, the village.” Salim pointed ahead, catching his hand on a strange raggy doll hanging from his rear-view mirror.
Leo peered forward. Out of the heat haze and the swirls of dust clouds he could see a settlement—huts with dark straw roofs, makeshift pens for animals and rows of crops that appeared thirsty and wilting.
“Cagaha Buurta,” Salim said. “It means ‘mountain feet’. You see, we are at the feet of the great mountain, an honorable place to live.”
“Yes,” Leo said. “It is indeed.”
As they drew closer, he couldn’t help but be shocked by just how primitive Cagaha Buurta was. He’d known it would be basic but had been promised running water and intermittent electricity in the hospital at least.
“We are very proud of our land,” Salim said. “It is part of who we are.” “It is…beautiful,” Leo managed.
A group of children burst forward, barefoot and wearing shabby clothes that looked as though they’d been handed down a dozen times. But their faces were bright and happy and they laughed, waved and ran toward the Jeep as it approached.
Salim laughed. “You can tell. They are pleased to see you.”
“Well, that’s very nice.”
Salim slowed to a snail’s pace as they reached the gathering of children. “Is the hospital far?” Leo asked, glancing around at the huts. He’d seen a picture of the hospital and knew it to be a one-story building, long and low with a corrugated iron roof.
“No, no it is just there.” Salim pointed to the right.
Sure enough, Leo spotted the building he’d traveled thousands of kilometers to work in. When he’d seen the picture, he thought it must have been taken on a bad day. The paint was cracked and one of the windows hung from its frame. But now he saw that the photograph had, in fact, been taken on a good day.
The window was still hanging off its frame but was also smashed. The paint was peeling even worse and weeds grew from wonky guttering. There didn’t appear to be any door to speak of and a pile of rubbish sat on the baked earth by the step.
“You will live there.” Salim gestured forward. “In the room behind the back. You will be very happy and help my people, yes?”
“Er, yes, I hope so.” Leo opened the door and stepped out.
Instantly he was surrounded by children, all touching him and chattering in their native tongue with the occasional, “Please, Doctor, sweets, Doctor,” thrown in.
“Yes, yes okay.” Leo laughed. He’d been warned about this and quickly rooted around in one of his many bags on the back seat of the Jeep. He produced a bumper pack of hard- boiled sweets and dished them out.
The kids yelped and squealed. Some shoved them straight into their mouths, others stashed them away in pockets or clutched them in their fists.
“You make friends quick, Doctor Leo.”
Leo looked up to see who had spoken. An elegant woman with skin the color of the night sky was smiling at him. She wore a floral dress, mainly orange and green, and her hair was tucked beneath a tight, orange turban.
“Sister Afua?” Leo said, hoping he’d guessed correctly.
She smiled. “Yes. Please, come in when you are ready and I will show you around.” Leo stepped forward. A gaggle of his welcoming committee moved with him. He handed out the sweets quicker. The sun was beating down on him and he was getting more and more desperate for a drink.
“Here you go. That’s them all.” He tipped the last few sweets into the hands of a small boy with masses of black curly hair and a silvery scar on his cheek. “Don’t eat them all at once.”
“Thanks, Mister Doctor.” The boy gripped the sweets, turned and ran, the soles of his feet kicking up dust and grit.
“There will be more another time.” Leo smiled.
“More now,” a little girl said.
“Another time. I have to go and say hello to Sister Afua.” He managed to disentangle himself from the kids and walked toward his new colleague. A mother goat scooted in front of him bleating, her youngster close behind.
Leo paused until they’d gone on their way then walked several paces. “Hello.” He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
She smiled warmly and shook. “And you. We have been in desperate need of a doctor for some time. My staff and I do our best but it is hard when there is much sickness and few supplies.”
“I have brought a good stock of medication,” Leo said, following her through the entrance of the hospital. “And I can order more, though it may take some time to be delivered.”
“That is good to hear.” She turned into what seemed to be a small office-type room then reached for a kettle. “This boiled some time ago and now the electricity is off, but would you like some tea, though it won’t be hot?”
“As long as it’s wet, that would be great.”
She nodded and set to adding leaves to a strainer. “Please, sit. I’m sure you are weary after your long drive from Nairobi.”
“Yes, it’s a fair distance and with the roads as they are—” Leo stopped himself. He’d thought about adding that they weren’t really roads, not for the last hour or so anyway, just tracks that appeared seldom used.
“Spending money on roads is the last thing my country can afford.” She passed him a chipped mug that held pale brown liquid.
“We must invest in health, in contraception, in vaccinations and then we can have the luxury of smooth rides from one place to another.”
Leo took a sip of the slightly aniseed flavored tea. It wasn’t completely unpleasant and it did make his throat feel better. “Hopefully I can play a positive role in making that happen here, at least for the next month.”
He’d clearly said the right thing because Sister Afua sat, crossed her legs and nodded. “I hope you are right. I also hope we don’t scare you away before your time. We are very…primitive in our facilities and, I’m afraid, how we live. It is not by choice but out of necessity, though I hope you’ll find we make up for it in hospitality.”
Leo smiled, trying to reassure her. “I know what to expect.”
“No supermarket, no coffee shop to read the papers on a Sunday morning.”
Leo raised his eyebrows. It sounded to him like Sister Afua had experienced those things. She must have guessed what he was thinking because she grinned and her chocolate-brown eyes sparkled. “I trained in the capital. For six years I worked there and then I wanted to come home. Help my people.” She touched her chest. “It is where my heart belongs.”
“You grew up here?”
“Yes. We were lucky back then. We had a full-time teacher. A Scottish woman who came at the right time to help me and my friends learn to read. Reading was a gift and meant that nursing college was a possibility.”
“Wow, that’s great. And is there anyone teaching the village children at the moment?”
“We have Malik.” Her expression softened.
Leo could tell that Malik was someone she was fond of.
“He too went to the city. He learned to be a nurse and he helps me here. He also works in the small school, teaching in the evening or when he finds a quiet moment. But he prioritizes the hospital. It is the way it is—life and death must come first over learning the alphabet and numbers.”
“It sounds like he is a very busy man.”
“He is. You will meet him soon.”
“Sister Afua. Sister Afua.” A loud, panicked voice rang toward the small room.
Sister Afua leaped to her feet. Her smile dropped and she rushed to the door.
“Quickly, come quickly,” the person called.
Sister Afua turned with her hand on the doorframe. “Please, Doctor, follow me.”
Leo set his tea aside and raced after the head nurse. They banged down a corridor and into a small ward with slim metal beds pressed against the sides.
“It is Gyasi. He cannot breathe.”
Leo saw that the voice came from another nurse. She had a long dark plait hanging down her back and wore a navy dress. She gestured to a small child who was sitting up on a bed, skinny ribs heaving with the effort of drawing in oxygen, and his eyes wide and frightened. Next to him sat a woman—his mother, Leo guessed. She was crying, large tears sliding down her silky cheeks and her ratty hair stuck up every which way.
“Do we have any of his medication left?” Sister Afua asked the other nurse, reaching into her pocket for keys.
“No, I don’t think so. We used the last when he came in before.”
“Can I borrow your stethoscope?” Leo asked. He’d bet his last pound the child was having an asthma attack but he needed to listen to his chest.
“Yes, of course, here.” The nurse with the long plait unwound one from her neck then passed it to Leo.
Quickly, Leo breathed on the end to warm it, out of habit, then sat on the edge of the small bed. He smiled at the mother and at the child. He could hear the wheeze already. Listening to the child’s chest would just let him know how severe the bronchospasm was.
“I’m just going to press this on you,” he said.
The child didn’t answer. Didn’t even acknowledge Leo. His concentration was entirely on breathing.
The familiar hiss and squeak of asthma told Leo what he needed to know. “He needs Ventolin, Sister Afua. Do you have any?”
“No, we have run out.” She pressed her hand to her temple. “I knew this would happen.”
“It is not something we need much of,” the other nurse added. “Only Gyasi gets like this. No one else sings with their lungs.”
“It’s okay,” Leo said. “I brought some asthma medication. It’s in the Jeep. Has Salim unpacked the supplies yet?”
“I’ll go and check.” Sister Afua raced off.
“It’s in one of the smaller boxes,” Leo called after her. He then rested his hand over the mother’s arm. “It will be okay. I can treat him.”
She nodded, though tears still streamed down her face.
“Is this the box you need?”
Leo turned at the sound of a new deep voice. Standing before him was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. He was tall with clipped black hair and a wide, strong face. His glossy skin was the color of black coffee and his lips, fat and thick, appeared perfect for kissing. But it was his eyes that mesmerized Leo. They were large, the whites a startling contrast to the conker shade of his irises, and framed with long lashes as black as his hair.
“Er, yes,” Leo managed. “That’s the one.”
[bctt tweet=”Read #excerpt of Dark Warrior by @lily_harlem #gay #romance #interracial”]