Tag Archives: romance

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.

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Authentic historical settings…

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BOOK REVIEW: I made it as far as about the second page before I was cheering for Rosa. Or falling for her, to be more precise. But her vulnerability makes for difficult reading. It’s so hard to see how she will ever find happiness under the influence of her sister and the weight of societal tradition. I was really worried for her as I read. I wanted to be her hero and save her from the horrible choices she had. I was so into this story – completely captivated…. In a broader sense, I’d say this is an interesting study of how a calculated marital arrangement might take time to get going, but may well develop into something rich and powerful…. The resolution for sweet Rosa worked very well for me. This is a poignant little regency romance with plenty beneath the surface.

Preview In Want of a Wife on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: I like the villain…. No, I don’t mean I’m on his side or anything – just that I like the way this kind of character contributes to the angst of the period and makes for interesting reading. He makes it so difficult for the heroine and hero to get together – for romance to flourish (and I agree with other reviewers that this is a good romance). The villainous uncle is portrayed, I think, quite realistically. He has so much power and brings this to bear against what we are hoping for as we read, and just when it looks like he’s being defeated, he goes and does something to rip the heart out of our triumph. What he does is an excellent bet-you-weren’t-expecting-that moment, which sets off an exciting and wonderfully written journey and pursuit that we have to live through before we can have any kind of happily-ever-after…. Yes, this is a terrific love and adventure story. It’s heart wrenching, touching, enlightening and steamy. And it also has a classic Victorian era villain, whose portrayal is particularly powerful and interesting in my opinion.

Preview Devin’s Dilemma on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: The heroine is a handful. Way too intelligent and strong willed for the conventions of her time. The way she fights, deceives and manipulates to get what she wants out of life makes for a bit of a romp, but the fact that this tale is based on a true story is quite sobering. It’s also very romantic and interesting because of that. For word of this lady to be around 300 years later, she must have made quite an impression at the time… I felt well enough immersed in the early 18th century setting, with minimal detail allowing the plot to move along quickly, making for a fast and exciting read. There’s a cute supernatural twist that offers another dimension to the tale. This quite cleverly heightened the intensity of the climax and ending with a parallel timeline. It also brought our protagonists to the intersection of storytelling and true-to-life… Well done!

Preview The Berkshire Lady on Amazon

Going on about love after 5 minutes…

Beauty Skin Deep

Kate was pleased to be accompanied by others struggling to learn the steps. The lesson began with men lined up together and women lined up opposite. There was no touching. It was just a matter of following the steps to learn the pattern of movement. One two three, one two three. It was quite simple really, and Kate was soon walking through the eighteen step routine that zigzagged along the wall.

When it was time to take partners, that silly tingle in her belly returned. Her eye level was in line with that damned dimply chin, and Ben’s hand closed over hers as another big, warm paw pressed against her back. And she forgot the steps immediately.

“Are you ready?” he asked as the music started.

“Uh huh,” was all Kate could offer in reply, and the hand upon her back firmed, and she was drawn close to that powerful frame. She then completely surrendered as control of her body was taken from her. And she was rising and falling to the music and being swept along in a dizzy haze that took her breath away.

“Are you okay?” Ben asked softly. He seemed to be there in the cloud with her.

“Uh huh…” Kate uttered again.

“You’re doing very well.”

Kate wasn’t game to look at Ben’s face. She clung to one rippling shoulder and stared at the other one. The force of his body was against her hip, and his powerful thigh was driving between her legs and lifting her. The heat of his groin against her sex was something completely unexpected, and it was wonderful.

An hour passed in an instant, and Kate swayed against Ben’s chair while he changed his dance shoes for the boots he had worn earlier. His hand returned to her back as he guided her from the hall to his car. He opened the door for her, and she turned to him and placed her arms around his shoulders. He met her lips softly at first, but his passion was soon crushing her to his body, and she moaned into his mouth. He drew back and touched her cheek, caressing her face, and his hand moved to the back of her neck as he bent to her again.

Kate was on her toes, or perhaps her feet had left the ground. She wasn’t sure. The hand upon her back had slipped beneath her top, and she could feel its coarseness against her skin. The heat from his kiss was swirling in her head, and she clung to his hair as he mauled her neck. She was pinned against the car, his manhood rigid against her belly as he again lifted and kissed her open mouth.

“Is there a motel?” Kate asked, with her words ending as Ben’s lips again met hers, only that time he seemed a little restrained.

He smoothed hair from her face and delved into her eyes. He kissed her again, softly. “I’m a little out of practice.”

“Oh? I hadn’t noticed.” Kate held the man’s eyes. They wavered but quickly regained their intensity.

He kissed her again, deeply and with more tenderness and control that time. Kate responded, though she suddenly felt unsure, and her confusion was leading her beyond the heat of the moment. She wanted to know what he was thinking. He lifted and took to fiddling with her hair at her shoulder. He seemed to be struggling with something, and she waited.

After a long moment of silence, in which passion almost audibly faded, Ben looked up with a light, disarming smile. “I haven’t made love to a woman since Sylvia.”

Kate understood the significance of that statement immediately. She recoiled inwardly. “Love? Who said anything about making love, cowboy?”

His smile broadened with a hint of resignation. “Yeah, I know. Lame, huh?”

She had begun fiddling with the front of his shirt. The thought of the housewives of Goran Vale flashed to mind. “No, it’s actually quite sweet, but it’s not very realistic.”

He lifted her chin and smoothed hair from her face. He kissed her again, softly yet confidently. “Oh, it’s realistic. It’s just too soon for a word like that.”

He wasn’t reading her at all.

“We should go. It’s getting late, and I have jobs tomorrow before I leave.” Kate got in the car and closed the door. Ben stood for a moment then walked around and got in the other side. “Can we skip the restaurant and stop at that roadhouse again?” she asked.

He nodded and drove off. It was a good fifteen minutes before he spoke. “I’m sorry, Kate. I didn’t mean to spook you.”

“Well, you did spook me, cowboy—going on about love after five minutes.”

Ben smiled. “I know. I can usually go a good ten minutes before bringing that up too. It’s a form of premature ejaculation.”

Kate laughed. “Speaking of—that! You know what we could have been doing right now if you weren’t such a sap, don’t you?”

“I know. Damn it. I think there’s a motel just up ahead, though.”

“Nope. Too late. Moment’s passed, and all I want is a steak sandwich now……”

Read all about Ben and Kate: Kindle Countdown 99c sale this week.

 

Meanwhile, in another corner of the universe…

ipadmini_707x1018 (5)

 

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.

Available on Amazon

Ben scores his first date with Kate…

Beauty Skin Deep

Ben finished his beer and strolled back out onto the street. He thought for a moment about his washing but decided to walk down and pay Bobby a visit after all. He wouldn’t try to press for information about the missing girl. He would just call in to see how the home gym was going, and it occurred to him he might be fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with the lovely Kate again.

He could see Bobby was still in the garage as he approached the house. There was a silver Range Rover with the number plate ‘RISSMAN’, in addition to the car he had seen the day before. The front door was open, and he heard Kate squeal and laugh. There was a man’s voice too. Ben knocked and stepped back.

Kate approached the door giggling and looking back over her shoulder. She turned, and Ben greeted her with a smile.

“Afternoon, ma’am.”

“Oh… Officer?”

“Ben… Ben will be fine, ma’am. I was out and about and thought I’d call by and say hello to Bobby. Am I intruding?”

“No… God, no! Um… Ben this is, um, a friend of mine, Paul… Paul, Ben’s the local cop.”

A tall, weak-chinned man had appeared behind Kate. His hands were upon her shoulders. Ben nodded.

“May I go around the side? I can see Bobby’s there in the garage.”

Kate squirmed from between her friend and the screen door. She opened it and shuffled Paul back a bit. “Can you check on dinner for me, please? I’ll just be a few minutes.”

“What do I do?” Paul asked.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Just… I’ll be there in a minute.” Kate slipped through the door and closed it. She was blushing and avoiding Ben’s eyes.

“Is everything okay? I really didn’t mean to intrude.”

“No, it doesn’t matter. He’s just… I don’t know… It’s fine. And I wanted to ask you a favour.”

Kate had stepped close. Her blush had faded, and her warm, brown eyes were enticing.

Ben wondered in that instant if any man had ever denied her anything.

“I was wondering if I could help with your investigation.”

“Help in what way?” Ben sat back on the porch rail. It gave him a little more room to breathe.

She smiled coyly and shrugged. “I don’t know. In any way I can. I might be able to check the newspapers from when the girl went missing. I saw there’s a library near your house. Maybe they have something there. Or you could let me see the police report.”

Ben met her smile and wondered how she knew where his house was. “Ma’am—”

“Kate! Not ma’am… Kate. You were saying?”

“Kate, I really don’t have the authority to invite civilians into the station to look into missing persons.”

“So, take that one little file home and invite me to dinner. I’ll sneak a look while you’re busy cooking.”

“I can’t cook.”

“Frozen pizza?”

Ben hadn’t stopped smiling. “You’re pushy!”

“Tomorrow night?”

“What about?” Ben motioned to the door.

“He’s nothing. He’s just my boss. I’m sending him home after dinner.”

“Okay. Around six, and it’ll be fresh pizza, not frozen. And white wine?”

Kate stepped to the door and smiled back over her shoulder. “Or beer.”

She stayed at the door while Ben walked back to the front gate. “What about Bobby?” she called after him.

“Next time… I got what I wanted,” he called back.

“Me too!”

………………….

Read all about Ben and Kate: Kindle Countdown 99c sale this week.

Sale price only available to US & UK customers.

I was shocked by how far this went…

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BOOK REVIEW: This is an intense, shadowy thriller, paced for a quick read. There’s plenty of angst in the awkward, fledgling, arranged romance between our main characters before the real challenge even begins…. The 1980s setting is authentic and well suited to stories about this kind of crime – it’s kind of what makes it so shadowy. It works well. The descent into the murky depths of perversion as the thriller aspect of the story builds is another highlight. The climax is grim and hard-hitting. The romance finds a way…. This stands alone as a terrific read, but there’s definite potential for a follow-up and study of some of the secondary characters.

Available on Amazon

April 1985

9c

They called them the soccer field bones:

Her head bumped across the corrugations in the floor of the late sixties Valliant station wagon. The corrugations were two inches apart, with the aperture about a quarter of an inch deep. It was enough to make her head bounce over each ridge as she was being pulled from the open tail-gate of the rusty old vehicle, her body still warm from life and, as yet, soft and pliable.

Her long brown hair left streaks of blood on the cold metal surface. Her head clunked over the hinged gap where the tail-gate joined the corrugated floor. It slid more quickly as her body slumped, and her head then landed in the mud with a wet thud.

She was dragged along steadily. She was fairly light—a slight girl. She was only twenty-three, and would always be.

Her white uniform was stained with brown grime from a grubby kitchen floor and watered down blood. She had been left outside in the rain for a while before being dragged up into the back of the Valliant wagon. It was still raining, lightly yet steadily, the drops washing her young white skin. The skirt of her uniform was bunched up her back and above her waist, exposing her thighs and hips. Her underpants were around her waist with the crotch slashed. Two buttons from the front of her uniform were still lying in the grime on that kitchen floor. Her bra was cut in the middle in front. Her uniform covered her right breast, the light, steady rain washing saliva from her left.

Her hair slithered through the mud as she was dragged along by her bare ankles: Her shoes and stockings were back on that grubby kitchen floor, one shoe resting on its side against the stove, the other right-side-up in the doorway to the lounge. Her stockings were on a round cane mat in front of the sink, but one leg was protruding onto the polished wooden floor surface and was, right then, soaking up a trickle from a pool of her blood.

She was dragged through leaves and twigs, and her body slumped into a hole in the ground. The hole was about three feet in depth, the bottom a few inches deep with rain water. She was on her right side with her left leg crossed forward and her left arm slung back. A leather boot pressed against her hip, rolling her onto her back. Her head remained to the right with her mouth and eyes open. Raindrops went into her mouth, and they splashed off her glazed eyeballs. A shovel full of mud, gritty with tiny pebbles, landed on her belly—on her white uniform. The next shovel full of mud and twigs and leaves landed on her upper chest and neck.

Her torso was covered first, then her mouth and eyes. Her long brown hair was still strewn above her head as it was slopped with mud. Her left leg was still bent up slightly as her thighs were buried. Her right arm was wedged beneath her body. Her left arm was above her head, and her left hand was the last part of her young body to be covered, the leather boot pressing down, forcing it into the mud less than two feet from the ground surface.

Over the next half hour the hole was steadily filled, then patted down and covered with wet leaves, an arrangement of eight small rocks and a dead tree branch. The leather boots then trudged off through the mud toward the Valliant wagon. Then the engine roared and the rusty old vehicle rolled away into the night.

It was well into the night, close to dawn of the 17th of April 1985. The air was cool, yet the rain clouds had kept the temperature mild for a southern autumn. As the sun lightened the clouds, the rain eased and left a mist hanging in the air above the grave site. The ground was soaked, and with the clouds dissipating that afternoon a short burst of sunlight made the air steamy.

The day was short, though, and it rained again that night, but on into the winter months the soggy earth covering the young woman’s body gradually compacted and leached of water. The dead tree branch remained in place, although it was essentially out of place. There were no trees nearby, and it had been dragged there purposefully.

There were shrubs and vines. There was a thicket of prickles that kept children well away as they walked from the back of the school, across the creek to the local swimming pool. The dead branch was from a gum tree a hundred yards distant. It took several years to lose its leaves and for those leaves to blow away or disintegrate into the mat of undergrowth that had covered the grave.

In September 1990 an eleven year old boy picked up the stick that was the remains of the gum tree branch and took it with him. He snapped twigs off it to fashion a spear and chased after his little sister, trying to poke her with it before tossing it at a magpie that swooped from the tree line along the creek. In July of 1992 a man stood by the gravesite and urinated into the thicket of prickles. He then walked off, kicking one of the small stones and treading on the ground directly above the pelvis of the young woman buried there. Her flesh had blended into the earth by then, and the fabric of her uniform was rotten and brittle. It had all but dissolved. Her hair was fossilised into the leached clay. Her bones were intact. The remaining three plastic buttons from her uniform were inside her abdominal cavity where the clay had caved in. There was a gold friendship ring on the bone of her right ring finger.

In April 1994, the thicket and the remaining seven small rocks were swept away by the blade of a bulldozer, clearing the area for the development of a sporting field. The following summer the ground was cultivated and fertilized, a healthy coverage of grass nurtured along. It was a local council project that struggled for funding, though, and another two years passed before a three foot high mesh fence was erected about ten yards away from the gravesite. Beyond the fence was a soccer field with children training weekday afternoons and games on weekends.

The gravesite was close to the corner of the field, away from the seating area. A tin amenities building had been constructed where the thicket used to be, which protected the ground above the young woman’s remains to some extent. Occasionally someone would walk around behind the building but not often. In the summer of 2004 a new brick amenities building was constructed, though. It was to upgrade and replace the tin structure, and a machine was brought in one Monday morning to dig a trench to run a water line to the new building.

The water line was to run directly through the grave site. The PVC pipe was to be buried at a depth of two feet. The small machine roared into place. The trenching blade sunk into the earth, digging its way down to the required depth. The young operator flicked his smoke away and guided the machine forward. He dug from the wall of the old amenities building straight toward the corner of the new one. The blade of the machine churned the damp clay, spewing it aside as it crawled directly through the length of the gravesite. It missed bone completely. It unearthed it, though. It exposed a part of Grace McKenna’s skull, her ribs and pelvis, and her right leg……

From the Mystery loves Romance novel Ever Since April

Cool Sci-Fi selection

BM

 

BOOK REVIEW: 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.

 

RL

 

BOOK REVIEW: Assuming we don’t wipe ourselves out one way or another, what will the world be in 600 years? What will be our social structure? In what way will technology have advanced? Rune Logic is not far-fetched. The subtle descriptions and clever dialogue have us spending time in a world that is very believable. There is a range of well developed, highly identifiable characters around us. We are led on an adventure where pure logic clashes with emotion on a personal level as well as on a scale where millions of non-conforming citizens may need to be subtly done away with. This is a good read.

 

HITS

 

BOOK REVIEW: Meanwhile, in another corner of the universe… 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.

Erotica with classic storytelling

ES

BOOK REVIEW: I’m just going to lead in with a word or two about Chapter 5: Lord Of Devil’s Night. Let’s make it two words: frigging awesome… Overall this is a varied line-up of creepy and erotic stories with a sometimes conversational tone that adds clever subtlety. Ratz in the Machine tells us to beware the nerdy nice guy, and has a surprising and quite brilliant shift from erotic to horrifying. The Hangin’ Tree, almost poetic, takes you down deep and has you wondering. The Bag Snatchers is freaky, imaginative, and nails the spirit of All Hallows Eve. Voices is the creepy, atmospheric one of the bunch, and A Grim Tribute is grim alright. It’s a seriously twisted tribute to a fairy tale that was little-kid-scary already. But getting back to Lord Of Devil’s Night… You know how it’s so great when you are right inside the characters head? Well perhaps you won’t want to be inside this particular guy’s head but you don’t have any choice. You’re pulled in and forced to experience a blend of eroticism and pain that is thematic metaphor on overload. And… well… good luck with that.

AAE

 

BOOK REVIEW: This story has a lot going for it in a number of ways. Awesome detail and imaginative ideas create a tangible and believable fantasy world – believable enough to pull you out of the real world that is. The heroine and hero both rock. You’re on their side from the start (although they’re on opposite sides) and you’re right there with them when all seems lost at the end. The emotional journey here is expertly crafted. It’s simple and true – a wonderful exposé of the power of love, including the flavours of lust and physical pleasure. The overall idea is tantalising with a touch of humour – life in the Men’s Tent looks pretty good to me… way to be imprisoned:) This is a captivating tale with an ending that tops everything I’ve mentioned so far.