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Between Fire & Ice

by Charmaine Pauls

Between Fire & Ice

Cy is heir to the powerful empire of his parents, a mining enterprise in Chile, South America. Their future power depends on his ability to produce an heir himself, a daunting prospect, as the human race is becoming infertile. But Cy's mother – a brilliant, cold-hearted scientist – left nothing to chance, when she, in the year of her son's tenth birthday, headed a project to artificially inseminate a fertile woman. At thirty years of age, Cy is instructed to marry Elena, who his parents surrogated and adopted for one purpose only – to have his baby.

Elena was hidden in a secluded cloister in the ice-lands of Patagonia, where the nuns, renowned for their mysterious magical practices, taught her the art of meditation and healing. A cruel education ensured that Elena submitted to her destiny, namely to give Cy a child. But soon Cy will learn that there is more to his bride than shy submissiveness. Under her gentle beauty hides a powerful woman who can give Cy the peace he is yearning for. She holds the key to his heart, and for once, he may just begin to believe in the destiny that had been preached to him all his life.

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Release Date: 2012
(previously released with Melange Books)


Chapter One

Ciro Augusto Dominguez laid his palms on the desk and rose stiffly from his chair. His body tensed in defiance. He did little to hide his anger from his parents, facing him.

“I am supposed to marry this woman, who you have adopted, and make her pregnant?” he said bitterly, directing his annoyance at his mother.

Francisca stood-her arms crossed, her chin lifted-in that dominant posture she took whenever she was heading for a clash with her only child.

“You always knew, Cy,” she said pointedly, arching an eyebrow, as if she didn’t expect his outburst.

Cy turned his gaze to his father. Mauricio stood two steps behind Francisca. His lips were sealed in a firm line, his arms crossed too. There was no point in looking at his father for support. Of course Mauricio would back his wife. He always did. Francisca was the dominant one. The alpha female. She stood there, cold and calculating, dressed in her tight-fitting Italian suit and high heels, looking at least twenty years younger than she should, thanks to cosmetic surgery. Cy sneered. His mother was artificial in every way. The designation didn’t fit her. She had never been a mother to him. They stood watching him, contemplating his next move.

His knuckles turned white as he clenched the edge of the expensive cherry wood desk, trying to control the rage that swept through him. He was tired of being a pawn in their struggle for power, for wealth. It was true that he had always known. He had been told since childhood, like other children would be told a bedtime story. He just never thought about it. Up to now, it had been some kind of distant knowledge pushed to the back of his mind. Now the time had come, and though he should have expected it, it was dropped on him like hot oil.

“You talk as if we are animals, chosen for breeding,” Cy said, his eyes accusingly on his mother. Even her French perfume made him sick.

Francisca took a step closer to his desk, her voice turning cold. “You know that our empire depends on it. On you producing an heir. Your father and I did our duty. Now it is your turn.”

Cy straightened and gave her an icy smile. Francisca had never made him feel like more than a duty. “A high price to pay for power,” he snarled. “Is it worth it, Mother?”

Francisca didn’t flinch at his sarcastic inclination on “Mother”. Leaning toward her son, she put her hands on the desk in front of him, challenging him to defy her superiority, piercing his gray eyes with her cold, black ones. “Nothing is more important. All the luxury you live in, you owe to us, to our enterprise. The people, our employees, the towns we support with our money, are looking at us for the answers. Fertility is being wiped from the face of the earth. It is up to us to give them hope, to ensure human survival.” She narrowed her eyes. “Your father and I have invested more money than what most royal families can afford to create you a fertile wife. Most sons would die for an opportunity like this. You should show us the gratitude we deserve,” she hissed, “even if you are not capable of showing the respect.”

Cy held his mother’s gaze, unblinking. “This is not exactly what I want for my life, or what suits my lifestyle, Mother dear. You didn’t bother to ask me what I wanted.”

Francisca straightened. Their eyes were level. In her heels she was as tall as her son, a head taller than her husband. “What we want is beside the point. I never suggested that you change your way of life. All you have to do is make her pregnant. For as long as she is fertile, she will serve us. It has been decided. The two of you will…” she searched for a word, waving a manicured hand in the air, “... breed, as you so delicately put it. Don’t worry,” she added smugly, “she has good DNA. We have been thorough. Our scientists have done an outstanding job. You will make very clever, if not pretty, babies.” Her lips twitched into a smile. “We ran all the tests. She is definitely fertile.” Her eyes glittered at her own brilliance.

When Francisca saw Cy’s frown deepen in further disapproval, she said, rolling her eyes, “And it doesn’t mean that she has to be involved in your life, or in anything for that matter, not even in raising the children, as long as you keep up the show. The children, pray that there will be,” she said dramatically, “will be well taken care of. When she has no more purpose, you can simply let her retire to wherever you wish. She will not inhibit your lifestyle.

“But as far as the media is concerned, you will be the perfect, happy couple. You will keep up appearances. Here, you can do with her as you wish. See her, or not see her. Have your lovers, or not have them. But you will fertilize her when she ovulates.” She added hastily, “Of course you cannot maltreat her, because the Bureau of Female Rights is stricter than ever. The world is hungry for fertile females. One wrong move from your side, and she will be taken from us.” Her voice turned softer, masking manipulation. “Besides, I met her twice. It shouldn’t be that difficult. She is not unappealing.”

Cy listened in silence, all the while feeling the injustice of his mother’s suggestions growing, stinging at his heart. As soon as he had been born, he had been cast aside, sent away to private institutions to be trained for his future role as president of his parents’ empire, Dominguez Enterprise. They owned all the copper mines from the most northern tip of the Atacama Desert to the Chilean midlands. His childhood never included love or acceptance. And now his parents were asking, no—instructing—, him to do the same.

His father moved from the shadows into the morning sunlight that fell through the big window in Cy’s home office, speaking for the first time. “We sought out the best female egg and male sperm we could. It wasn’t easy. Neither was it cheap. Our scientists have put considerable effort into this, from the day that you were only ten years old. This woman has been created and surrogated for you. She is fertile. You will take her as your wife and have legitimate children to ensure our empire survives. I will hear no more of this.” As always, Mauricio had little to say, but when his decision was made, there was no turning back.

Cy felt the pinching headache he had woken with worsening. Damn, he needed to instruct his pharmacist to increase the dose. The pills didn’t help anymore. He was on edge this morning, having again been tormented by the strange, reoccurring dream that stole his sleep and left him strangely agitated. Political and social problems were never-ending, the mines under his management were on the verge of a strike, his headaches getting more severe by the day, and now this. God knows, he didn’t need this complication in his life. He rubbed at his temples.

He knew this day was coming. They had always told him. That she was there. A child made in a test tube, carried by a surrogate mother, born to his parents, and hidden in some cloister in the southern glaciers. Just last month his mother had told him that they had done more tests to be sure. Just last month she had told him that the woman was fertile and how lucky they were that their investment had worked. He had known. Still, he battled to accept what was laid down in front of him, how his future was to be molded like clay in the hands of his parents. At least up to now he had lived with the illusion of freedom. He was an independent bastard and hard to live with. He had his share of women, and he was happy with that. He wanted no wife.

“Why don’t I just jack off, give you some semen, and you can fertilize your virgin’s womb right there, wherever it is that she lives? That way we will have an immaculate conception,” he said with a wry smile, sarcasm and anger tainting his tone.

Francisca brought her face a few inches closer to his. Her eyes reflected the blackness of her long, straight hair, expertly twisted into curls this morning. “You know it doesn’t work that way, anymore. Do you seriously think we haven’t considered that? The fetuses are being rejected by the female bodies, more and more. The risks are getting bigger. And after every miscarriage the chance of falling pregnant again gets slimmer. Our best chance is at natural conception. You are familiar with the reports. You’ve seen them.” She threw her hands in the air. “There is no reason why this shouldn’t work. You are fertile, so is she. Just get on with it, for God’s sake!”

Cy started to feel the effects of the sleepless night and the headache that refused to ease. It was wearing him down. He sighed, running a hand over his face. “Do we have to get married?”

His mother jumped at his first sign of weakness. She went around the desk and placed her hands on the tense muscles of his upper arms. “An illegitimate child will not be eligible for the inheritance. You know the law.” He didn’t miss the fleeting look that passed between his parents. His mother had never forgiven his father for his half-brother, Mauricio’s illegitimate child.

Cy sighed heavily again, desperation starting to win over anger. He was running out of arguments. “She is only a child.”

Francisca spoke softly now, her voice soothing. “She is twenty. And she is fertile. She is ready.”

Cy shook his head. “Ten years younger than I am. Why the rush? Most fertile women aren’t married off before twenty-five these days, at least.”

Francisca shot her husband another look. Irritation at her son’s stubbornness made her purse her lips together. She let go of Cy, walked to the window and turned her back on him.

Taking her cue, Mauricio said, “We paid a lot of money to create her and keep her, to educate her. She has been well taught, on all subjects. She knows what is expected from her–publically, as well as in your bed. She will not embarrass you, or this family, in her role as wife. Now, don’t you embarrass us. This is our family’s only chance. There are no more fertile women out there to arrange another marriage for you. If you keep up this stubbornness, she will soon slip from our fingers.”

Cy massaged the back of his aching neck. “Meaning?” he asked wearily.

Mauricio’s gaze turned dark. He lowered his voice. “Meaning that word has gotten out. Someone leaked information about her existence. Time is of the essence now, before the media gets hold of the story. We have prepared a public statement, created a false history for her, to be sent out with the wedding announcement. We intend to turn this into positive publicity for our family. But your mother and I had secret offers from other royal families. They are willing to match our investment to acquire her for their own heirs. They are desperate for fertile women, Cy. They are desperate for what we can give you.”

Francisca turned back to Cy. “Of course we cannot do that, dealing into their hands like that. We cannot give her to them. If we don’t produce an heir, and they do, they will eventually take over what is ours. But we will not lose. The Council of Fertility Research has offered us twice the amount of money we have invested in her, should you choose not to marry her.”

Cy felt his dislike for his mother flare up, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. He was no fool. Despite how well the Council kept it hidden, he knew what they did in secret, of the experiments and the torturous tests under their humane banner. He felt his anger rising again, worsening his headache. “You created her. You even adopted her. You are responsible for her. And yet, you are willing to send her to a laboratory as nothing more than a lab rat, her eggs to be distracted until she produces no more, only to be submitted to torturous tests and God knows what, until there is nothing left of her?” His voice lowered dangerously. “Don’t think I don’t know what the Council is, what they really do.”

Francisca arched an eyebrow. “You are well informed. Getting sentimental now, Cy? She is just a means to an end.”

Cy was caught between a rock and a hard place. Inside, he fumed. His mother had played the ultimate trump card. She knew him too well. He could never stand by and watch them send an innocent girl to such hell. He drew his hand through his thick, black hair. “So, if I refuse to marry her, you will deliver her to the Council?” His voice had an air of angry resignation.

Francisca couldn’t hide her irritability now. She sighed and checked her wristwatch. They had another appointment lined up. “You will leave us no choice.”

Cy turned and looked through the window at the garden oasis of his Atacama Desert estate, not wanting to look into his parents’ eyes in his moment of defeat, not wanting to give them that pleasure. “When are you going to bring her here?”

“She is already here,” Mauricio said. “Has been for the past two months for her body to acclimatize. Having grown up in the glaciers, her body has to get used to the heat. The desert was a shock to her system.”

Cy flung around in fury. How much could they hide from him? “So much deceit. Two months! Before I even agreed to anything. How do you expect me to trust you, when you act like this? You sicken me,” he spat out. “Where are you keeping her?”

Mauricio’s brow gathered in a warning way. “Watch your tone, son.”

It took every drop of Cy’s self-restraint to keep his temper under control. “Where?” he repeated evenly.

Mauricio looked at him warily. “It’s better that you don’t meet with her before the wedding. You’re too... explosive... right now. She hasn’t had much contact with males. No need to frighten the girl before the marriage.”

Francisca, seeing her son’s dark face, said, “Don’t fret. She is at the hot springs with her midwife who traveled with her. She is guarded. For her own safety. And of course, for ours. We don’t want to take any chances. There have been incidents of abduction in similar cases. There are a lot of powerful, desperate families who wouldn’t bat an eye in arranging a kidnapping. No one, besides us, our trusted scientists, and the nuns, naturally, knew about her existence until yesterday.”

Mauricio moved forward and leaned with his back against the desk, his hands in his pockets. “We have no reason to distrust our people. Despite all our precautions, someone else, maybe at the springs, knows about her. Whoever that person is, he didn’t waste any time in selling the information. We started getting requests for her acquisition yesterday, which is why we cannot delay the matter of your wedding any longer.”

Cy ignored his father’s last comment, frowning disapprovingly. “You mean acquisitions as in buying her, like a horse, or a cow?”

“Don’t make it sound like we trade in humans,” Mauricio said irritably. “It would have been a legal donation for our costs suffered. You know that.”

Cy pinched the bridge of his nose. Reality was slowly but surely sinking in. “This wedding, when is it to take place?”

Francisca straightened her tailored jacket. Now that her son had submitted, she was back to her old, formal self. “Friday.”

“Today is Tuesday!” Cy exclaimed. But he understood what his parents were doing. They wanted to get it over and done with as soon as possible, before he had time to change his mind, or to find a way of backing out.

Francisca took on a professional tone. “It will take place here. Your estate. This is the best option from a security point of view. We’ll have more control. I have already liaised with your Security Secretary.”

Of course she had, Cy thought. “We haven’t had any attacks, or even attempted attacks, on our family for years,” he pointed out. “Do we really have to go overboard?”

Francisca ignored his question. “Security will run pre-checks for everyone that needs to pass the gates. The Head of Security will put the procedures-that I will communicate to him-in place, and will ensure that all staff is duly informed. I have given a list of the wedding service suppliers and coordinators to the security personnel. We’ll sharpen up our checks before and after the ceremony, to be on the safe side. Can’t take any risks. And press releases are going out today.” She tapped with her long, red fingernails on the desk. “That pretty much rounds it up,” she said perkily, happy with herself.

Cy’s steel gray eyes narrowed. “Press releases?” He hated publicity. It was a necessary evil, as far as he was concerned. He was hoping to keep this whole farce as quiet as possible.

Francisca smiled, pouting her glossy, red-painted lips. “Of course. The public loves an uptown wedding. We have to optimize on this. Get all the value from the public’s goodwill that we can. Don’t worry, son. I have everything under control. Your father and I are heading back to Santiago now, but I’ll monitor everything from there. We’ll be back on Friday morning.” She walked around the desk and gave him a peck on the cheek. “And try to co-operate, will you?” She shot him another dashing smile from over her shoulder as she turned to leave, self-assured like someone who always got her way.

Cy groaned inwardly as he watched his parents leave his office. This was the last thing he needed. A virgin bride. Damn his birthright and all that came with it. He punched a touch-button on the communication screen and blasted into the microphone, “Get hold of my pharmacist and tell him to prepare a shot. I’ll be in the lab in ten minutes. I need something stronger than pills today. And tell him to increase the dose when he makes the next batch. The damn pills are not working anymore.”

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