Sometimes the past won’t stay where it belongs.
Marc and Natalia are settling into parenthood, but they can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu when it comes to their new baby.
Sensing they’ve been a family before when something horrible happened, they journey back in time, through hypnotic regression, to eighteenth century Belgium, where they relive a shocking past life that challenges their love more than any other and causes repercussions in the present.
Last time, remembering their past lives brought Marc and Natalia together, this time it may tear them apart.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Forever Flames by Debbie Christiana, Marc and Natalia are back. This time Natalia’s pregnant and the couple discovers, when the baby is born, that they have issues from a past life with her. Once again, Marc and Nat undergo past-life regression, but now instead of bringing them closer together, it seems to be tearing them apart. They blame each other for the mistakes they made and they pain they caused each other and Giovanna, their new baby daughter, during that past life. And as before, Marc’s strange birthmark/tattoo plays an important part, especially when he tries to have it removed.
As in the first book in the series, Christiana’s characters are almost too realistic. Marc and Nat have the problems you’d expect from their age differences—she’s twelve years older than he is—as well as the ones consistent with having a new baby. Forever Flames is well written, but much too short for me. As always, Christiana leaves you wanting more. This book is only a novella, so hopefully, a new book in the series will be coming out soon.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Forever Flames by Debbie Christiana is a welcome addition to her Twin Flames series. We’re reunited with a lot of the old characters from the first book, Twin Flames, like Marc, Nat, and their new baby girl, Giovanna. Yes, we did meet her in the last book, but then she was a ghost. The story isn’t really a romance this time as Marc and Nat are already married, but that doesn’t take away from the charm of the book. I still think the author is a very brave soul for crafting a story about an older woman falling for a younger man, especially when the difference in ages is over a decade.
As before, the story is very well written, the characters are believable and charming, and the plot is strong, with some very interesting twists and turns. I was very surprised to see some of the problems that Marc and Nat ran into after their baby was born. Not that the problems were realistic, they were. But usually in a series like this, a couple who married in the first book seems to breeze through the second in idyllic bliss, not having a care in the world. Unfortunately, that rarely happens in real life. It’s nice to read an author that understands that.
We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful, it’s that women are strong. ~ Laura Stavoe Harm
“This is all your fault!”
The vise-like grip tightened around Marc’s hand. He held his tongue, as his fingers were on the verge of breaking. It was hard to believe his beautiful Natalia, at forty-one, had this much strength in her delicate hand.
They arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night, happy with the anticipation of bringing their first child into the world.
Things had changed.
The sun rose and empty coffee cups filled the garbage bin. As the contractions came harder and faster, Natalia’s euphoric mood vanished. She had been at this for hours and Marc didn’t know where she got the conviction or the stamina.
Whoever coined the phrase “the weaker sex,” when referring to women, couldn’t have been more wrong. She was propped up in bed with the covers spewed to the side, her cheeks flushed with exhaustion and sweat. Feeling helpless and unsure of what to do, he fed her ice chips and showered her with words of love.
In return, Natalia’s tongue had sharpened.
“My fault?” What hadn’t been his fault these last few hours, including the lack of world peace and the economic collapse?
“I didn’t get in this predicament by myself.”
“You should have left me alone then.”
She scoffed. “Left you alone?”
“Let’s face it. You can’t keep your hands off me. You have no one to blame but yourself.”
“Oh, pleeaazzee.” Natalia grimaced. “Get the hell over yourself. This isn’t the first time you’ve gotten me in this mess.”
The contraction subsided and she loosened her hold. Marc breathed a sigh of relief that turned into a weary groan. The nurse peered at the two of them over her wire-rimmed glasses, eyebrow cocked and clipboard in hand. “Ms. Santagario, I was under the impression this was your first baby,” she said. “Is my information incorrect?”
Natalia didn’t answer her. Instead, she gave Marc a haughty expression as her lips curled into a “get-us-out-of-this-jam” smirk.
“Yes, this is our–her–our first baby.” Marc tripped over his tongue. “Don’t mind her ramblings.” He in turn shot Natalia a self-satisfied grin. “She’s a crazy bundle of raging female hormones.”
The nurse scribbled something on Natalia’s chart and headed out the door. “My shift is ending. Your new delivery nurse is Jennifer Herrera. When I see you tomorrow, you’ll have a brand new baby. I’ll let the doctor know you are in transition.”
When they were alone, he leaned over the bed. “You think having our baby is a mess?”
“You aren’t the one lying here, are you?”
No, he wasn’t and, like most men, he was glad.
Natalia tackled the onset of another contraction and reached for him. Marc made the mistake of hesitation. She had done a job on both of his hands and he needed a minute to decide which one ached less.
As he offered a sacrificial hand, she snapped at him. “If you can’t be supportive, then get the hell out of here.”
“You’re being totally unreasonable.” He took a step back. “Were you like this the other times? Because if you were, I’m glad I wasn’t there.” Marc wrapped her fingers around the metal bar on the side of the bed. “Squeeze this. I’m out of here.”
“Good.” As the contraction reached its peak, she writhed in pain from side to side, clutching the railings. “I can do it myself,” she said, wincing.
Marc stood taut. Could he leave her like this? Even for a short time? He considered himself a patient man. A virtue required in a relationship with Natalia. A fact, he had known for a very, very long time. However, everyone had their limit.
Natalia was right about one thing. She could do it herself. Her strength and passion were two of the many things he loved about her. Neither one meant anything they said just now–it was a stressful circumstance. He’d be back. She’d be glad to see him, and they would be fine. Right now, they needed a break.
Without a word, he slipped out the door, into the hallway of the maternity ward, and waited. He couldn’t bring himself to walk away until the new nurse arrived.
A young woman clad in yellow scrubs from head to toe approached him. A hospital hat covered her hair and a paper mask hung around her neck. “Good morning,” he said. “Are you our nurse?”
“Yes. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jen.”
“I’m Marc. I have to step out for a few minutes and didn’t want to leave her alone.”
“First time father?”
An odd awareness swept through him. His first reaction was to blurt out a resounding ‘no.’ Over the course of many millennia and vast amounts of past lives, he had fathered and Natalia had given him many children. What fueled his anxiety was this was the first time he would be part of the incredible experience of bringing his child into the world. All he could manage was a slight nod.
“Don’t take too long,” Jen warned him. “Transition usually only lasts from 15 minutes to an hour.”
“Thanks.” He took a step and paused. “Take good care of her. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t worry, she’s in good hands.” She pulled open the door and went in.
With one swipe of his hand, the elastic paper cap on his head was off and in the garbage. The gown followed. The signs on the wall directed him to the waiting area. Huddled in the small, cluttered room, a box of donuts between them, were their combined families, patiently waiting for news. Natalia’s brother, Robbie, and his partner of sixteen years, Ben, were deep in conversation over who would win the baby pool the employees of the vineyard had put together.
“If Nat has a boy in the next hour that weighs seven pounds, I win!”
Ben waved the crumbled paper marked with squares in the air, his charismatic personality and silver-blue eyes shining.
“Don’t spend the money so fast, my friend. It’s a girl. I’ve said so from the beginning.” Sam, the vineyard’s expert wine maker, sat with his arm around Marc’s aunt, Mariella. In their sixties and both alone for many years, Marc was glad they had found each other.
Mariella noticed him standing the doorway. “What’s wrong, Marcos?” She hurried toward him with her arms open. “You don’t look so good. Is Natalia all right?”
Her dark brown eyes flickered with concern. She had raised him from age four when his parent’s died, loved Natalia like a daughter and considered this baby her first grandchild.
“She’s fine. I just need a little air.”
Robbie laughed and slapped his back. “How bad is it in there? Has my sister thrown anything yet or is she just throwing obscenities around?”
“Yeah, she’s ready to kill someone. Preferably me,” Marc said.
“Maybe we could go in there and face the storm for a few minutes,” Sam offered. “We’ll need to put on one of those paper gowns.”
“You might be better off with a suit of armor,” Marc warned. “But do what you want.”
The men flagged down a nurse and asked to see the patient in room four-thirty-two.
“Come on, Mariella.” Marc put his arm around his aunt. “Let’s get a quick cup of coffee. I need to get back.”
Natalia rested back against the soft pillow, grateful to have a minute or two before the next contraction. Exhausted, she closed her eyes and let the small pieces of ice linger then melt in her mouth. Such a simple thing gave her so much pleasure. She’d been hard on Marc, but it made him leave, and that was what she wanted. She loved him and their unborn baby more than anything, but he was getting under her skin. She understood he felt powerless to help her, but shoving spoon after spoon of ice into her mouth, fluffing her pillows, and covering her up after she threw the blankets off, wasn’t what she needed. She wanted to be alone.
“Hi, Natalia,” the new nurse greeted her. “My name is Jen. I’m your delivery nurse.” She flipped through the report from the previous nurse. “Your contractions are coming about three minutes apart?”
So much for time to myself.
“Yes.” Natalia caught her breath, wrapped her hands around the sheet and pulled herself through the pain. When the contraction diminished, the nurse checked her vital signs, guided her feet into the stirrups and positioned herself at the foot of the bed. The amount of traffic between her legs since she’d arrived did wonders for her modesty.
“Good news. You’re almost at ten centimeters. I’m going to call Dr. Kapoor.”
The nurse left and Natalia relished some time alone when she heard a voice.
“Hey, sis.” Robbie poked his head around the open door. “Is it safe to come in? I picked the short straw and they sent me in to assess the situation.”
“Very funny.” The three men shuffled in wearing their paper gowns. A small giggle escaped her. “You look like the Three Stooges.”
“You’re doing fine aren’t you, doll?” asked Ben.
An intense tightness ran across her belly. Natalia grabbed the bed rail. “Holy fucking shit!”
Robbie flew to the bedside and cradled her head. “Nat, sweetie, the expression is ‘a mouth like a sailor.’ Well, we’re the sailors. How about you leave the swearing to us?”
“Did you come to help me or give me a hard time?” she snapped.
“Rob, leave her be. No one else is here.” Ben reached over and wiped her sweat soaked hair away from her face.
“Thanks, Ben.” Robbie’s lover of sixteen years was like a brother to her. Natalia motioned to the older man she loved like a father. “Hi, Sam. Come here, I won’t bite, contrary to what Marc has probably told you.”
Another contraction struck and Natalia grabbed his hand. Her powerful grip caused him to yelp. “Whoa, Nat. If you want me to continue to make wine, I need my fingers.” Sam opened and closed his fist then shook his hand.
Dr. Kapoor, an attractive Indian woman of slight build and an abundance of energy, burst through the door. “Natalia, how’s my favorite patient doing?”
She massaged her belly. “I’d be fine if it weren’t for these damn contractions harassing me every few seconds.”
“No contractions, no baby. Your wonderful body works that way. It knows what to do and won’t give you more than you can handle. The last few centimeters are the hardest.” Dr. Kapoor settled herself at the end of the bed and guided Natalia’s feet back into the stirrups. “It won’t be long before it’s time to push.”
In single file the three men kissed Natalia good-bye. “We love you, sis,” said Robbie as they walked out the door.
With her mouth open to answer, an intense contraction took her breath. She reached for the bed railing, but a strong hand clenched hers. She didn’t have to look to know it was Marc.
When the contraction was over, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“Okay, Natalia, it’s show time,” announced Dr. Kapoor.
Giovanna’s warm, safe world closed in on her. Tighter and tighter, it squeezed. The worst part of life on earth was getting there. People didn’t want to die. Dying was easy compared to this.
With each shove, her head bumped against a hard surface and she ended up back where she started. Frustrated that she had no control over what was happening to her, all she could do was suffer through the jostling around. She knew what was ahead. The thrusts would come faster and harder and her temporary living space would narrow. She would briefly lose her awareness and without realizing what was happening, she’d be propelled into a completely new world.
“Come on, Natalia. One more good push and you’ll be able to hold your precious baby.” With Dr. Kapoor’s calm nature and encouraging but firm directions, Natalia had visions of an easy childbirth. She was in a hospital with modern medical advancements that hadn’t been available to her in the frigid hut of prehistoric times, the Middle Ages, or the lodge of the Omaha Indians, when she’d given birth in her previous lives.
She handled the pain well until the last few hours and then it was too late for drugs. They told her the baby, too, would feel the effects. So once again, she was in this time-honored position, pushing after hours of labor and contractions.
“I know what to do. I’m too tired. I don’t think I can.” Her tongue and lips so dry, she was surprised to hear her own words.
“Nat, you can do it.” Marc’s whisper tickled against her ear. “You can’t give up now, baby. Do it for G.”
At Marc’s mention of Giovanna, or G, his nickname for her, tears burned Natalia’s eyes. Not tears of pain but of love for the presence that had lived with her for so long, the determined but playful apparition she and Marc had come to love. When Natalia was six months pregnant, G disappeared. Mariella’s theory was that G was someone from their past, and she wouldn’t be surprised if when they looked deep into their new baby’s eyes, it would be Giovanna staring back at them.
Natalia managed a smile amid her exhaustion. “If it’s G, she’s being her normal stubborn self.”
“It’s her. I’m sure of it.” This time he squeezed her hand. “Come on, baby, let’s meet Giovanna. I’ve missed her as much as you have.”
Natalia’s body ached for sleep but the overwhelming urge to push would soon come. Her tired and stiff fingers of her free hand gripped the handles on one side of the bed.
“Don’t stop now, Natalia,” Dr. Kapoor encouraged her. “You’re almost there.”
She mustered up the little strength she had left and pulled herself up to a semi-seated position. With a loud groan, she pushed with all she had. The next few minutes were a distorted blur, until she heard the baby cry.
“It’s a girl!” Marc yelled. “Baby, you did it. She’s beautiful.”
© 2014 by Debbie Christiana