Lives up to the promise

1. A

November Snow has seen her own burial a thousand times. It is the only thing she knows about her future.

In a war amongst vampires and fairies, a small advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat. And a psychic who can peer across the globe, unspool the past, and probe the future is more than a small advantage. Everyone wants to use her for their own ends: the ancient king, the black sheep, the dutiful son, the lost boy.

But November Snow wants things, too, before death comes for her. She wants purpose. She wants friendship. She wants love. She wants happiness. She wants respect. And she will not settle for less.

Pulled into the midst of a royal family feud centuries in the making, she must forge her own path through violence, betrayal, first loves, and mortal peril as she struggles to come to terms with her gift and her destiny, even as she knows this for certain:

She dies at the end.

Available on Amazon

BOOK REVIEW: She is going to die and she knows it. Genre aside, that right there is a powerful and intriguing story idea. No one has threatened her or anything. She has simply seen her own funeral. Brilliant. The big question to be answered here is laid out plainly in the title, and within a page or two of reading, we’re in. We’re going to need to know how and why she dies at the end…. So now we have a clear and simple yet powerfully intriguing question, but do we have a story journey to back it up? Definitely! The setting is a tangible paranormal world with interesting relationships between the different species and plenty of historic complexity. Certainly 3 dimensional. And the tale of who our heroine is and how and why she dies is rich and captivating storytelling…. For mine, this book is every bit as good as the title.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the universe…

1. A

Captain Aricka Badu left Taarken Prime twelve years ago for very good reasons, and she seldom goes back. It was supposed to be a short run, but, between the pirates, a brewing civil war and her ex, she may never get to leave.

Caden Carnes hadn’t seen Ari in twelve years, but he’d never stopped thinking about her. Given their past, it wasn’t exactly surprising she stayed away. What was surprising was seeing her back on Taarken…ever, the mining planet she’d abandoned along with her lover and her family.

Her brother’s mining hauler is missing and Caden asks for Ari’s assistance along with her ship to go find it. One discovery leads to another, until all their secrets are out. Caden and Ari don’t have long to discover the most important thing in the universe; You can actually go home again.

Available on Amazon

BOOK REVIEW: This sci-fi setting is like real. It’s actually quite brilliantly understated. When imagining the universe being depicted here, it’s as if there’s nothing to prove – as if it’s just a matter of fact that this place exists and we all know it. This is a powerful human drama and romance set elsewhere, not on Earth…. The depth in the story itself is also impressive. We can easily imagine the prequel, which would be potentially even more intense and dramatic. I quite enjoyed joining in at the tail end of a story, with lives already blown apart, and seeing everything come together…. An intelligent and nicely constructed read.

Brilliantly crafted Historical

1

Available on Amazon

Set against the open skies and wild beauty of southwest England in 1430, The Heart of Darkness is a medieval mystery about one young woman’s quest to shed light on the dark secrets of her shire’s sheriff and help him hunt down the villains responsible for a spate of local kidnappings—before they strike again.

Her courage began to desert her under Sir Richard’s cold, questioning stare. ‘Good day, sir. I—I—am Rowena Walden, my uncle, Lord Cunningham, sent me,’ she managed to stammer. ‘He said that you—needed a clerk.’

When Lady Sabina spitefully volunteered her well-educated cousin Rowena as temporary personal clerk to Chaucy Shire’s sheriff, she could not refuse. An unmarried young woman with dead parents and nothing to her name has little choice. But Rowena dreads it. She has heard a lot about the darkly handsome knight: heartless, hot-tempered, impossible to please, just plain bad… As she meets Sir Richard’s cold, unnerving stare for the first time, the future does not look good.

However, Rowena is not the only one with a problem. Strangely, Rowena’s presence at Eaglestone Castle deeply disturbs Sir Richard, who appears determined to intimidate his terrifyingly cunning new clerk into quitting. Unfortunately for him, Rowena finds her new master as fascinating as he is frightening. His finances are over-stretched and highly irregular, and his murky past seems to conceal a dark and painful secret. His fury at the meddling of a lowly clerk whom he cannot sack because of her connections is intense, and his unexpected flashes of tenderness towards her only add to the confusion.

But with the local people growing increasingly angry at their sheriff’s failure to find three kidnapped girls, Sir Richard is forced to enlist Rowena’s help. Can this precarious pair catch the villains who have been carrying off Chaucy’s maidens before they strike again? And can Rowena get to the bottom of Sir Richard’s mysterious financial woes before he loses everything?

Then the stakes become higher than ever when the man whom Rowena thought she would never, could never, love challenges his greatest enemy to a fight to the death. Will he triumph, or will his life bleed away into the dust, and her heart with it?

Book review: This is superbly written. There are no shortage of authors who can take you to another time in history. This author transports you. The detail. The imagery. The attitudes. I was completely blown away reading this story. The depiction of a mood of honour and chivalry is so well done. Sir Richard the dark knight is completely human and real. Beyond the fabled fantasy character of a knight in shining black armour, he’s a true, flawed, earthy guy. I have no doubt he is a brilliant depiction of a man of medieval times. So too our heroine, Rowena – the damsel to be saved. The depiction of Rowena as a resourceful, intelligent woman gives some well-deserved oomph and dimension to the fabled damsel in distress. I like the way these two main characters are drawn so believably while being written into a plot that is everything the wonderful fables of knights and damsels offer… This story has adventure, mystery, truly gritty and meaningful romance, and it has a kick-arse climax. You have to catch the battle scene at the end! But make sure you treat yourself to an autumn in medieval Chaucy first. You’re going to feel like you live there.

Cool SciFi

1

I like the Braxians. From the opening scenes of this story it’s easy to imagine them. An alien race enslaved by humans. It’s easy to get on board with their plight and cheer for them. The conflict here is the kind that immediately pulls you into the fictional universe depicted. What transpires from there is a pretty good thriller and an excellent romance. We are given plenty to satisfy the appetite in this fast paced, action packed episode, and where we end up feels like it’s just the beginning. Classic sci-fi romance with a good serve of intrigue.

View on Amazon

White Knuckle Thrillers

HMP

BOOK REVIEW: It’s the contrast between the unrelenting, high octane suspense and the excruciatingly slow burn of romance. That’s what it is about this author’s writing. Of course you get that a lot in these kinds of books, but Sandra S. Kerns does it so well. The crime here is complicated and deeply woven through the cast of characters. This is a damned fine police story. The action starts with the witness to a murder unconscious in an ER, our hero by his side, our heroine nursing them both. Unravelling what happened is a great read… The romance is between a strong, positive, yet damaged, woman and a tough, gritty man who is all heart and impatience. Expertly drawn, these two have you feeling that slow burn and living it with them. I was particularly pleased with how things came together at the end – the way the hero took charge… Excellent romantic mystery/thriller.

TDC

BOOK REVIEW: Frigging hell, this doesn’t let up. Heart pounding, nail biting… if you’re looking for a relaxing read – this ain’t it! This is masterly suspense and a great thriller. You want to climb into the book and help out the goodies – save them from the relentless bad guys, whoever they are. It’s not clear exactly who to fear until the end. The who-done-it is brilliant. Get comfy because you won’t be putting this book down, although you’re likely going to be pacing the room while you read rather than relaxing in a chair… Excellent. Top marks.

Romance real and powerful

RR

BOOK REVIEW: Slow burn with plenty of heat…This is one of the better romances of this kind I have read. It’s a letdown when the hero is a shallow playboy type and the heroine allows her attraction to him to overpower her better judgement. The mix here has the heroine not being overpowered at all. Maggie is a terrific character – her strength not wavering until the final scene, and even then we have to wonder who it was that lost control and succumbed to the attraction – or indeed whether they both did. There is a depth of honesty and realism in these characters that handles the tryst between the powerful bad boy and intrepid good girl way better than some bestselling books of late…. This is a fast read but not a quick fix story. It’s sexy and highly entertaining.

GG

BOOK REVIEW: Compelling characters…This is simple little love story with a hell of a lot going for it. It’s simple in plot but the setting and characters are gripping, raw and powerful. The dialogue is tremendous. The moment Artie opens his mouth we can see him. The way he contrasts with the guy he falls for – the way their differences so realistically complement each other is what creates the power in this story. That and the depiction of life and death on the Bering Sea in winter – another brilliant contrast with the warmth and tenderness of new love. Couple this with hot sex scenes and a smart twist at the end… A top read.

Novels & Novellas by G.S. Bailey, edited by Sher Chambers (BEd)

19th century colonial New Zealand

Book review:

Romance in your heart and a degree of interest in how women have changed their world over the past several generations – this wonderful way of being and intriguing social development are the centerpiece this story is woven around. It is woven expertly. We experience late 19th century New Zealand through magical imagery – the use of metaphor is amazing. This book is crafted intelligently and beautifully.

It is also real and true to life, not over-dramatized. The struggle our heroine faces is within herself. There are the expectations of society, which stand firmly in the way of romance. Anna is not rebellious, though. She believes in and upholds the social values, even though at a depth she FEELS differently. What of love in the face of duty and tradition? This conflict is powerful within her. It threatens to defeat her. Her human flaws have her seeking refuge in the anti-depressant remedies of the day… Our heroine is far from perfect. She strikes me as intriguingly real.

Will she find strength and rise above? Will she take a step along the difficult and powerfully transforming path women have walked over recent generations? I was enthralled by the telling of this story. I was particularly impressed by the harsh reality of the resolution. Again, it hits hard with the truth. It took utter desperation for Anna to make her choice. There was an awful lot riding on it. Either way, the consequences were going to be extreme.

Happily ever after? I strongly recommend reading to find out. You will meet some other richly interesting and well depicted characters along the way. The hero will tempt you with his raw ideals and charisma, but will ultimately win you with his grasp of love and respect. The domineering sister is genuine in her concern for Anna’s youth having slipped away and her seriously diminished potential for attracting a suitor. The suitor Anna attracts and who earns the approval of her family is also a product of the time – appallingly so…

In conclusion, I want to again mention the imagery. The setting is delivered vividly to all of our senses. This compliments an excellent story.

A ghost story

….. Time passed again before Wendy opened her eyes in the bedroom of Randal’s house. She was at the end of the bed. Randal and the wife were sleeping. She moved hand over hand until she was above the wife. It was more than a week since she was last there, she sensed, without being able to reason it. The wife was close to ovulating. It was time.

Wendy experienced a rush of excitement at what she was about to do. She held the pillow on either side of the wife’s head and pressed her face close. Her form was touching the bedclothes, but she could pass through the barrier easily. She lowered her face closer, staring at the wife’s closed eyes, the eyelids twitching. A breath was drawn through parted lips.

The wife’s eyes suddenly opened, and she screamed. Her face twisted in terror, and she slithered from the side of the bed and onto the floor. Wendy reached for the sleeve of her nightdress and clung to it. The woman was up, and Wendy covered her back, wrapping her arms around, but the wife shrieked and squirmed violently, thrusting herself forward and running from the room, brushing at her skin.

Randal stirred. Wendy drifted into the curtain, blending within the folds of fabric. The wife had gone into the children’s room and slammed the door. Randal was sitting up, peering around in confusion. He yawned and rubbed at his face.

He was a man now. When Wendy had fallen in love with him he was a boy. His features had sharpened. There were laugh lines where his cheeks used to be too chubby for wrinkles. He kept his hair shorter now. His chest was covered in hair where it used to only be sparse. Wendy remembered the feel of his chest. The memory of the old man from one of her previous lives was fading, but she remembered the serene contentment of love and how she so wanted that with Randal. She had died while fully consumed by the notion, and in death it haunted her.

Read on your device

Remains of a Local Girl: Part 1

beauty-3d

Aussie cold case murder mystery. Steamy romance.

 

Chapter 1

 

“Chocolate!” Kate poked her girlfriend’s foot with a toe. “We need chocolate.”

Leanne glanced from the television. “We don’t need chocolate. We need men.”

“Nope, chocolate!” Kate sat up facing Leanne on the other end of the lounge. “Someone has to go to the shop.”

Leanne huffed and hugged her pillow.

“So, get a man, Lea. Call Tommy.”

Leanne’s eyes rolled. “I mean like that.”

A movie love scene was on the television.

Kate glanced then smiled at her friend. She ran her nails along the sole of Leanne’s foot, making her jump and giggle. Leanne kicked out and Kate straddled her, tickling her ribs. Leanne shrieked and squirmed, laughing out loud and complaining until Kate let up and returned to sitting on her end of the lounge.

“We need chocolate.”

Leanne was still puffing. “Okay, chocolate. Who’s going to the shop?” She reached to the floor for the remaining two DVDs. “What’s next?”

“Mathew McConaughey.” Kate leaned across and took the How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days DVD from Leanne’s grasp, glaring a mock challenge. “But chocolate first, and ice cream. Do you have any ice cream?”

Leanne sat up cross-legged. “What about chocolate coated ice creams, Triple Treats?”

“Okay. Rock-paper-scissors!”

The girls played the game with Kate picking the rock and losing. Leanne laughed. “You’d better put on a bra.”

Kate was in track pants and a tank top. She had stayed over at Leanne’s house and hadn’t dressed from bed as yet. She raked back her hair and retied it with a scrunchie. The shop was just across the road. “Give me your shirt?” she said, getting up. Leanne’s flip-flops were by the door. A car pulled into the driveway, prompting Kate to peer through the blinds. Her face flushed, her chest tingling. “Shit!”

“What?” Leanne cried, rushing to her side.

“What the hell’s he doing here?”

The car belonged to Kate’s ex-fiancé. He approached the front door. She wanted to run and hide but grabbed her pillow, huddled on the edge of the lounge, and pretended to be watching television instead.

“What are you doing here, Stephen? Why aren’t you at work?” Leanne demanded as he walked in.

“Hey, sis, what’s up?” he replied cheerily, his eyes flashing to Kate and his smile ending. “Kate. Hey.”

Kate glanced without turning her head. “Hi, Stephen.”

“I just need my golf clubs,” Stephen told his sister, his face red as he edged past her and went up the hall to his old bedroom. Leanne lived with their mother in the family home. Stephen was married now and lived in the city.

Kate glared at Leanne, who shrugged helplessly, holding her hands out. Kate folded her arms tighter at the sound of the man returning. The movie had restarted. She fixed her eyes upon the screen, her brows lowered.

“Sorry,” Stephen said as he rushed through the room with his golf bag over his shoulder. His gaze had flashed to Kate, his comment seemingly directed at her as well as Leanne.

Leanne closed the door and slumped back against it. Kate glared at her again.

“You two have to get over this, Kate. It’s been two years.”

“I am over it.”

“Oh, yeah, it really looks like it too.”

Kate swallowed at the lump in her throat, sniffling. “It’s not so much him. It’s just that I feel like shit lately. We’re going to be thirty soon, Lea.” Kate wiped at a stray tear. “He’s the last person I wanted to see today. We’re supposed to be hiding, aren’t we?”

Leanne flopped on the lounge, cuddling her pillow. “We could go shopping instead.”

“What?”

“Let’s go on that dinner cruise. Take me as your plus-one.”

The nervous tingles from earlier resurged as defiance, filling Kate’s belly. “Really? You’ll come?”

“Yep. But you’re not allowed to tell anyone I’m not corporate. Let me pretend, okay?”

“Corporate’s crap, Lea. It’s all superficial posturing at these functions. Just have fun but don’t trust any of the men and you’ll be fine.”

Leanne smiled. “Okay! So, let’s go shopping!”

 

Chapter 2

 

“Shit!”

Kate slapped her hand over her mouth to prevent any other sound escaping until the pain subsided. She had trodden on her shoe with the heel digging into the arch of her bare foot.  The man she had spent the night with was still sleeping and she was desperate to sneak away without waking him.

She found her panties on the floor and pulled them on then wriggled into her little black party dress then scooped her shoes. Her hair was matted at the back of her head, but she couldn’t risk the light from the bathroom, so she slipped out the door cringing at the clunk of the latch as she pulled it closed.

She was out of there. Phew. That was lucky.

Kate hurried along to the elevator with that familiar feeling of relief warming her chest and making her feel the euphoria of a successful escape. There was a line-up of cabs waiting, and fifteen minutes later she was again on noise alert as she attempted to sneak into her apartment.

Her big brother, Bobby, was crashed out on the lounge with his neck kinked and his head twisted to one side, jammed against the arm. He couldn’t be left like that, so Kate prodded his shoulder.

“Bobby, what are you doing out here?”

His eyes shot open and his jaw flapped. “Katie, there you are! I was waiting, but I went to sleep.”

The television was still on the movie channel, showing an old black and white movie.

“But I told you I’d be late, and what about work tomorrow?” Kate scolded as she turned the television off and started pushing Bobby toward his bedroom. He was too sleepy, rubbing his huge face and clinging to his pyjama pants, trying to hold them up. “Look, it’s nearly time for you to wake up, anyway,” she went on, scolding a little more.

Kate’s manner with him was authoritarian. Bobby’s intellectual maturity was equivalent to that of a young teen, while he was actually approaching forty years-of-age and was the size of a refrigerator.

“But where were you tonight, Katie? I already went to bed, but then I woke up and you still weren’t home!”

Kate was in no mood to explain. “I was out, okay? Just go to bed.” With that she left Bobby and went to her own room where she pulled off her dress and fell into bed. It was already after five, though, and two hours later the alarm on her mobile was vibrating and jingling away on the bedside cabinet.

It was Friday and, following her RDO yesterday, it was the last workday before a month-long summer vacation. The day was clear and sunny, and the crowded ferry ride to work offered another twenty minutes nap time. The morning passed in a rush, tidying up loose ends that would prepare her workstation for a temporary handover. At about 1pm, Kate ended up sitting with her chin propped on her hand, nonchalantly gazing out at her multimillion dollar lunchtime view of Sydney Harbour. Her thoughts meandered from the steady stream of runabouts and water taxis zipping in and out of the shadows of the Harbour Bridge to the yachts and small fishing boats bobbing on the white-tipped swell around Fort Dennison. She watched a large yacht in full sail cut its way through the crowd and dash toward the ocean. Her gaze lingered on the shimmering horizon for a few moments then swept back to the ant-like community of tourists milling around the Opera House forecourt.

From the ninth floor cafeteria of her work office building on George Street, Kate took to pondering the way the faded old yellow and green ferries docked at Circular Quay seemed to remain motionless while the water swelled beneath them. Perhaps they were moving a little, she surmised, concentrating on the alignment from the top of one ferry to the roof of the passenger terminal, and the hazy numbness in her brain then wandered back out to the horizon while her mind separated and drifted off into the lingering hot flush of embarrassment at the idea of Lance Emerson.

Lance was a guy Kate had thrown herself at on the dinner cruise the previous night, someone she had arranged to meet at the Gold Coast after he had finished his work commitments in Australia.

God, I hope I didn’t come across too desperately, she mused horribly.

After partying her way through university, Kate had spent five years peering over the partition of a tiny office cubicle down on the second floor. She had spent five long years calculating and mailing off insurance payouts and basking in the view from the cafeteria at lunchtime.

She covered her mouth and yawned as she turned from the window, and she looked up to meet the incredibly blue eyes of her supervisor, Paul Rissman. He was standing with a tray of food in his hands, grinning down at her. She felt his gaze had just lifted from her cleavage.

“Hey, Paul. What’s up?”

“Do you mind?” He motioned with his tray.

“No. Please. I’m on my way back, anyway.” Kate stood to leave. She wasn’t really in the mood for Paul.

“I might call around tonight,” he suggested as he placed his tray and took a seat.

Kate forced a smile. “I’m probably going to be a bit busy helping Bobby pack and get organized.”

Paul nodded, and Kate felt the heat from his gaze as she stood straightening her skirt. She didn’t mind the way he and the other men in her department would always watch her. She dressed for it. However, she did sometimes regret the one occasion after a work party when she had responded to Paul’s advances and spent the night with him. It had been in her first week in his department, the week she had broken up with her fiancé. Since then Paul had taken to dropping by her place quite frequently. Without offering any real commitment, he had adopted the role of alternate boyfriend. He would subtly fade into the background when she was seeing someone, but between times he would casually resurface. Her regret over having encouraged him didn’t extend to discouraging him, though. It was all too easy for Kate, and it meant she was never totally alone.

His gaze remained focused on her legs as she fixed her hair. “I might be up the coast myself next weekend. Do you wanna hook up?”

Kate shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

She left Paul and returned to her work station for two excruciatingly slow hours in anticipation of her holiday. Finishing work at three, she cleared her desk and said her goodbyes. It was cool and breezy in the shadow of the buildings, but the sun was baking the paved walkway around the quay. Kate checked the time for her ferry, finding she had just missed one and had forty minutes to wait for the next. She strolled around the foreshore to a small grassy park where she found a spot on a bench-seat facing the water, and sat to enjoy the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun.

She took a book from her bag and opened it, but she often sat there in the park on a sunny morning or afternoon and just watched people. There was the usual variety of walkers: tourists strolling along gazing at the boats in the harbour or up at the towering office buildings and hotels, business people on leisurely meal breaks or rushing from one appointment to another, commuters spilling out of trains and ferries or clambering to refill them, and both morning and afternoon there would be a scattering of joggers and power walkers weaving amongst the slow mass moving around the foreshore.

If only Paul wasn’t such a dickhead, Kate suggested to herself quite seriously. Otherwise, he’s actually perfect. He’s divorced with teenage children. He’s got a great apartment. And he’s loaded!

Kate watched a group of young businessmen stroll past. They were accosted by old Gladys, a homeless woman dressed in a floral head-scarf and a tattered grey poncho carrying a large nylon shopping bag—someone Kate had seen many times over the years she had been working there at the Quay. She appeared to be running her usual routine of begging for money, and Kate watched as she approached another man and extended a shaking, twisted little hand from beneath the poncho.

After being denied repeatedly, she appeared to give up, and shuffled over to a garbage bin and started searching through it. She found something to eat and took it to a bench along the wharf a little. It appeared to be the crust of a sandwich, and from her shopping bag she produced a bottle wrapped in newspaper.

A woman sitting on the other end of the bench got up and stepped into the steady stream of walkers. People were eyeing the old woman and making a wide berth as they passed. Her poncho had hiked up to reveal her lower legs and thick, salmon coloured stockings. There were holes in the stockings, through which there appeared to be several other layers of fabric. From beneath her head-scarf, Kate recognized her gnarled yet kindly face, and wondered if the woman had found her teeth, as she seemed to be chewing quite easily on the crust of bread.

Kate strolled back around to the ferry terminal where she bought two packaged salad sandwiches and a bottle of apple juice. She took the food back to the old woman and sat down beside her.

“Hi, Gladys,” she started, and the old woman smiled, an intelligence shimmering within her eyes that always startled Kate a little. Kate offered the sandwiches and drink, and Gladys clasped her hands as she accepted them. Kate smiled and nodded, acknowledging the old woman’s gratitude.

Or maybe I should just accept that I’ve turned into a gold-digging little bitch who’s destined to be single, Kate mused, giggling within herself as she watched another young businessman stroll by. Maybe I should be thinking about how to consolidate my life alone after Bobby moves out. I could find a cheaper apartment. I could dump this stupid job and find a small accounting firm, maybe down the south coast or somewhere.

Kate often envisaged herself growing old alone. She saw herself as a powerfully self-assured woman who had traveled the world. She would be the eccentric aunt to her friends’ children, the one they would come to with their dreams and wide-eyed fancies. She even saw a little of herself in Gladys—at least in the old woman’s gumption.

After eating one of the sandwiches, Gladys packed the other one and the drink in her bag and waddled along. Kate strolled back around to the terminal, and when her ferry docked, she sat out on the deck and lost her thoughts in the excited faces of a group of school children, returning from an excursion into the city. They were wriggling in their seats, anxious to get to the edge of the ferry and look over the side, but there were two teachers with stern faces and folded arms, one either side of the giggling, squealing little cluster of energy.

Kate dozed in the warmth of the sun. It was a little after four by the time she stepped off onto Manly Wharf on the far side of the harbour. She called into a childcare centre for her daily chat with Leanne.

“Can you do that one?” Leanne asked, pointing to a toddler with a nappy sagging between its chubby legs. “In the blue bag,” she said before Kate had a chance to ask where to find a fresh nappy. Kate grabbed the nappy and put a pair of disposable gloves on.

“What’s his name?” Kate asked, having never seen that particular child before. He was a dark-skinned little fellow with huge, brown eyes and a gummy grin. He claimed a handful of her hair, and she kissed his belly and remained there for a moment while he explored her face with his wet fingers.

She ended up spending an hour there in the baby room, which was not an unusual occurrence, as Leanne always seemed to be flat out when she stopped by. She changed nappies mostly, going through a pile of rubber gloves. What a disgusting waste, two pairs per child, that’s 20 gloves I’ve just contributed to the environment.

“So, I’ll pick you up on Wednesday, and we can take my car to the airport, okay?”

“Okay. Have fun up in the hills. And don’t worry about Bobby. He’ll be fine on his own.”

With still a good two hours before dinnertime, Kate slipped up to her apartment and changed out of her work clothes. It was only a short walk to the beach where she laid her mat, and discarding her skirt and bikini top, she settled back with her book. It was a good book, a somewhat gruesome psychological thriller. She began reading, but her mind soon drifted to a conversation she’d had earlier that day with her mother.

Her mother was forty-nine and having problems with her third marriage. It seemed to Kate she would burn herself out with the intensity of a new romance, and after a few years there would be nothing left. Kate never knew her father, but she could recall a handful of daddies before her mother brought Bobby Ray home.

Her mother was a psychiatric nurse with over twenty years’ service at a facility for the intellectually disadvantaged. Bobby was an in-patient who, upon being discharged, needed some help settling into a normal life.

When her mother had first offered Bobby Ray a home, Kate was eleven and very territorial. Bobby was twenty-three, and he was like an oversized boy, who soon evolved into the big brother Kate had always wanted. He became a long term boarder, taking residence in the refurbished garage, and Kate and Bobby set up house together after her mother moved out with a new man. After Kate finished university and began working, they moved to an apartment closer to her work. What developed was an odd sort of relationship that was difficult to explain to new acquaintances, so they agreed to unofficially adopt one another as brother and sister.

My soon-to-be long distance big brother, Kate soliloquized. She would certainly miss Bobby. She would miss his big, jolly hugs and his slow beaming smile, and she would miss his company watching movies at night. But she knew it was time for them both to start something. Though, just what the hell I’m supposed to start I’m not so sure about, she groaned, and she consciously abandoned that frustrating train of thought.

She sat up to stretch. There weren’t many other sunbathers, and she had chosen a secluded spot, but since she had been lying there, two older men had set up close by. They were both looking over, and she waited a few minutes, arching her back and enjoying the attention, then she rolled over and lay back down to deny them any further entertainment.

Then again he is so comfortable, Kate sighed as her thoughts drifted back to Paul Rissman. He doesn’t challenge me or demand anything… Of course, I could never love the guy, but he always seems to be there when I need him, and if I don’t feel like it, he usually takes the hint and leaves me alone. He’s probably my perfect match in a practical sense, she concluded for the moment, although the argument was far from settled.

She wriggled her bikini top into place and sat up. There were children playing in the small waves rolling ashore, and Kate found herself watching them and wondering what it would be like to be the mother who was playing with them, but that only led her to the irksome and frustrating memory of the end of her relationship with Stephen. She could see herself suffocating him with her insecurities quite plainly in hindsight, and the thought always made her cringe inwardly, sheer idiocy.

Kate dressed and strolled along the cafés and clothing boutiques, finding a new bikini for her holiday. Bobby was cooking dinner when she arrived home.

“How was your last day?” she asked, stepping beside him and reaching up to give his massive shoulder an affectionate squeeze while leaning in to sniff at what he was stirring in a small pot.

“Good. They gave me them.” Bobby smiled and motioned to an open set of tools on the dining table.

“Is that all? For their best worker!”

Bobby’s smile broadened, and Kate kissed his big, whiskery cheek. “I’ll go have my shower.”

Kate got to thinking of her mother again while she showered, about how much they were alike. Since Stephen, Kate hadn’t held a man for more than three months. And like her mother’s relationships, hers always began wild and passionate and burned out quickly.

Perhaps she needed to go to cocktail bars instead of dance-clubs, she mused, but she again pushed the question of men and her future from her mind. Her thoughts settled on Bobby and his move to the house his recently deceased mother had willed to him. It was in a small town not far from the city, and he was planning to work at the timber mill where he was apparently employed as a youth. Kate hoped there would be a position available for him. She also hoped the house was in reasonable condition, as it had been empty for a few years according to the real estate agent.

The removal truck was to arrive to pick up Bobby’s few furnishings at 7am. They would be there by lunch.

Chapter 3

 

Ben McEwen placed aside the memory of his wife’s smile and sat up in his seat. Edna Simms and Margaret Worthington had appeared at the doorway of the Camden bowling club, and after saying goodbye to their friends they approached. They were two ladies in their sixties whom Ben always taxied to town on his social dance nights. They preferred to ride in the back, to be chauffeured, which left him alone with his thoughts for the hour drive back to Goran Vale.

Ben was over the homesickness that had plagued him for a few years after leaving his parents’ sheep station out west. It had been difficult to adjust to life without the security of home and the familiarity of a small outback community. The city had at first seemed a massive jumble of chaotic lives, crammed together and intertwined but somehow cold and detached from each other. However, within a few years he had built friendships and formed his own community again, and although he had taken a semi-rural posting, he had grown to depend on the city to break the monotony of small town life.

At twenty-eight, Ben was settled and happy in a practical, day to day sense, though touching the empty passenger seat he again thought of Sylvia. He remembered her perfume and her knee-length, floral sundresses, and her scarred shins and worn leather work boots. He remembered her constant travel chatter and out-of-pitch singing whenever one of her songs would come on the car radio. His heart lifted, but there was an ache in the base of his throat as he saw her there rocking to her music and drumming the dashboard. He thought of how her hands had been a little too coarse and bony for a woman, and remembering her touch, a twinge of loneliness pulsed within his chest. He fought it off, though, and swallowed the ache away, smiling inwardly, as he always did in honor of her memory.

Camden had faded in the rearview, and the expressway swept onward, cutting between jagged monuments, black against the mantle of stars and the moonless night. Twenty minutes beyond the edge of the city was the turnoff to Goran Vale where the road, narrow and broken, wound up into the reaches of trees and sandstone. Levy’s Bluff offered the final view of the city lights. From there the horizon was a shimmering, white line against the Pacific, and beyond the bluff time retreated as even in summer the mist from the earth rose to shroud the valley below.

The Catholic Church steeple pierced the shroud, as did the defunct concrete grain silos, and winding down from the bluff, the mist thinned to a damp haze that seemed to haunt a small town lost in the eighties.

Ben took the ladies home and waited for Edna to bring his obligatory casserole. He thanked her for it and slowly rolled up the main street to the top end where he lived in his old English-looking cottage roped in ivy.

He fed his dog, Rex, a black and grey mongrel he had bought as a pup when he took the posting in Goran Vale, five years previously. He fed his three cats, all strays that repaid his nightly dinner scrap offerings with undying loyalty and by keeping the mice situation under control. He took the rubbish bag from beneath the kitchen sink and strolled out to the furnace where he stood for a moment watching a commotion down the street. The only business with lights on was the pub, and he watched a drunk being dragged across to the police station house. It was only a short walk, so Ben wandered down to see what was happening.

“Evening, Barry,” he announced, stepping into the foyer.

Constable Barry Fitzgerald was a round-faced, round-bellied man in his early fifties. He had been stationed in Goran Vale for twenty-two years.

“Hey, Ben,” he replied, shuffling from the lock-up stairwell and fixing his shirt. He had obviously been in a scuffle. “Toby fuckin’ Miller again,” he declared, thumbing back over his shoulder.

“Under control, mate?” Ben had stepped in to see what was on his desk. There was a file sitting there he didn’t remember leaving.

“Sarge wants you to look that over. Apparently Bobby Ray’s moving back to town tomorrow.”

Ben opened the file. “Melanie Rose. That’s the young girl who went missing back in the eighties?”

“Yeah, and Bobby Ray’s the retard who was last seen with her.”

Ben tucked the file under his arm. “Are you okay here, then?”

“Yeah, fine!” Barry was sniffing the air. “Is that perfume?”

Ben had danced with a dozen different women in class that night. “Linda always wears perfume for me, Barry. It’s just that she probably doesn’t put it on until after you go to work.”

Barry laughed. “Yeah, well, she’d eat ya ‘live, son. But that young Grieves girl was lookin’ over ya fence again this afternoon. She’d fix ya up.”

Ben strolled home and tossed the missing person’s file on the lounge and had a shower. He collected a beer and opened the file. Sergeant Edwards had a policy of preempting community conflict, so Ben would need to be up on whatever the scenario might be. He browsed through the details of the night of the 1986 Tulip Festival when a young girl went missing, and reports on the boy last seen with her, Bobby Ray. He had been interviewed four times in the seventeen years since the incident, the last of which had been five years previously, in association with an assault allegation in Sydney, June 1998.

Ben yawned as he closed the file and picked up the envelope from Police Headquarters he had left sitting on his lounge that morning. It was notification of a transfer opportunity for the posting he had originally requested when graduating from the academy. He had two weeks to respond to the senior constable position in his old home town, and he again read through the letter, then folded it back into its envelope and turned on the television. He flicked past the golf and the late night news and settled on Frankenstein in black and white.

 

Chapter 4

 

Alyssa Lloyd stood staring at her face in the mirror. It was oval in shape, and her features were plain and non-distinct, apart from her lips, or more specifically her smile, which she liked because it revealed her perfect teeth. Her hair was silk, pure, white silk, but without body, so again she tucked it behind her ears.

“Just wait a minute!” she screamed as her younger sister pounded on the bathroom door.

Alyssa was nineteen, four years out of school, and a prisoner of Goran Vale. She worked six mornings a week at Mr Barlow’s general store, and on weekday evenings she had to care for her younger brother and sister while her parents were at work in the city.

She turned side on to the mirror and tugged her work-shirt down. “Come on, grow girls!” she almost sobbed, arching her back and trying to enhance the slight distortion in the heavily woven cotton fabric.

“But I have to go!” came the voice from beyond the door, pleading that time.

Alyssa brushed past her sister, collected her shoulder bag, and strode out into the eucalyptus tinged silence of a Goran Vale Saturday morning.

She lived on Mill Road, which ran parallel to the main street, one block above it. She walked along the row of Goran Vale’s elite houses, all owned by city workers who had formed an exclusive clique that barbecued on Sunday afternoons, then past the back of the school where she had spent her childhood years from five to fifteen, and where she sometimes took a short cut, but only if she was running late. Next to the school was the Catholic Church, a red-brick building with white bordered windows and doors and a peaked roof shaping to a steeple that pierced a canopy of towering ghost gums. The church was on the corner of Mill Road and High Street. Both roads ended there at the old iron gates of the timber mill where piles of logs and stacks of cut timber gave the impression of a working mill, while the wild growth of fern and myrtle claiming the administration building and clumps of woodruff and bugle flowering purple and white all over the driveway were testimony to years of disuse.

From the top of High Street there was a short, steep hill to the main intersection in town where two closed banks lay dormant with faded For Rent signs in the windows. At the centre of the intersection was a clock tower, the clock about to chime 10am as Alyssa stood waiting for a vehicle to pass, a furniture removal truck. It rattled by, followed by a sleek, deep-blue car with tinted windows, too classy to belong to anyone from Goran Vale, Alyssa decided, and she stood watching where the truck was going as the clock began its ten chimes.

Along the left side of the main street, past the front of the Goran Vale State School, was the police station house, outstanding with its brilliant-white weatherboard facing. Next to the station house was a small electronics dealer selling televisions and computers and the like, and the last business along that side of the main street was Tebbit’s Garage where Henry Tebbit, a lanky, balding man with a narrow, sloping forehead that shaped into a nose, was busy hosing fuel stains from the driveway. Along the right side of the main street, next to the abandoned National Bank, was another vacant building that Alyssa remembered as a café. Beyond that and directly across from the police station was the Goran Vale pub with its mildewed-green tiled facing and thick frosted-glass windows. There was a gravel laneway beside that, which led to a car park that Alyssa recalled frequenting as a child in the back seat of her father’s car when her grandfather needed to be carried from the back door of the pub. The laneway separated the pub from the Town Hall, which was a white sandstone structure with towering pillars and a marble slab beneath an arched vestibule that was the coolest place in Goran Vale when the breeze failed on a hot February afternoon. Beyond the Town Hall were houses, some vacant, some abandoned, and a few with occupants who dabbled in vegetable growing.

The truck had stopped on the left side of the main street, five houses down from Tebbit’s garage. It was backing into the house that was directly below Alyssa’s, old Isabel Ray’s house, which had been vacant over the five or so years since Isabel had moved to the city. Alyssa remembered the old woman as the witch who poisoned her husband, or at least that’s what legend had her believe as a child. Her husband had been the school principal and manager of Glenview home for boys, which was an abandoned dairy farm beyond the edge of town. He was found unconscious and severely brain damaged at the base of the farm windmill after eating his lunch, and legend had him toppling off the ladder when the effect of the poison kicked in.

“Anytime you’re ready,” a caustic voice echoed from the corner diagonally opposite, beyond the clock tower, where Mr Barlow was wringing his hands in his white grocer’s apron and scowling from beneath grey, shaggy brows. It was five past ten, and Alyssa stepped out of her daze to walk across the road to work.

More coming soon…

Download PDF or eBook

Purchase paperback