I spent much of the past month editing my Tales of the Pacific series written in the late 1980s so I could reissue each of the four as ebooks.
For the past two Fridays I’ve introduced you to the first two books, From Glowing Embers and Smoke Screen. Today I’m featuring Rainbow Fire, book three, set in Coober Pedy, South Australia, a town that exists almost entirely because of the treasure under it’s barren red siltstone hills.
I visited Coober Pedy to research this book, and I was utterly fascinated by this contemporary Australian “Wild West” town. Re-reading and editing brought back so many wonderful memories of that trip. It’s a place like none other I’ve been to.
You can read the opening pages by scrolling down a bit here, but I thought you might enjoy a peek into a scene later in the book, too.
Kelsey has come to Australia to find the father, Jake Donovan, who abandoned her as a toddler. On arrival she learns Jake’s in a coma after falling into a mine shaft, and the local police sergeant has pointed the finger of suspicion at her father’s partner, Dillon Ward, who had the most to gain from Jake’s death. Unable to help her father any other way, Kelsey makes a decision during a conversation with a woman named Melly and shows the men of Coober Pedy what she’s made of. And what better place to do it than the pub?
Enjoy this excerpt from Rainbow Fire.
“Are you gonna do a little mining?” Melly asked. “You know, find a few opals down in Jake’s mine while you’re here?”
Kelsey couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of that possibility. Sergeant Newberry had as much as suggested it, but she had been too immersed in grief. Now she considered the idea. There was nothing she could do for Jake in Adelaide. She couldn’t even see him. But there was something she could do for him in Coober Pedy. She could keep an eye on the Rainbow Fire mine and Dillon Ward at the same time. Maybe she could even find some opal.
“Yeah, I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Kelsey said, warming to the idea. “As his only living relative, I’m sure I must have the legal right, especially if I don’t intend to sell anything I find.”
Dillon broke her train of thought. “You’re not going down into the mine.”
Kelsey hadn’t expected enthusiasm from Dillon, but neither had she expected him to forbid her. “You don’t think so?” she said casually. “How do you plan to stop me? I’m not as easy to sneak up on as my father.” She heard Melly draw a sharp breath, but Kelsey didn’t take her eyes from Dillon’s. “I have all Jake’s good reflexes, and I know how to guard my back.”
“There’s nothing you can do here that would help matters.”
“No? Whose matters wouldn’t I help?”
Melly stood, obviously uncomfortable. “Well, I’ll leave you two lovebirds to settle this by yourselves.”
Kelsey stood, too. “I think I’ll take that beer after all.”
She turned her head over one shoulder and raked Dillon with a haughty gaze. He had said her name with all the finesse of a drill sergeant. “What?”
“How do you plan to mine the Rainbow Fire without my help?”
“I imagine Sergeant Newberry will help me think of a way.”
“Newberry’s a toad, but even he won’t want a woman down that mine.”
She tossed her hair behind her shoulders. “We’ll see.”
Kelsey was halfway across the room before trouble came looking for her. A young dark-haired man who was shooting pool backed in her direction. With some fancy footwork, Kelsey just managed to avoid cushioning the wrong end of his cue in her thigh. She frowned briefly before she started toward the bar again.
She stopped when strong fingers bit into her shoulders. Kelsey allowed herself to be turned.
“Y’almost lost the game for me, doll.”
The words were as ridiculous as the accent. The man wasn’t a native Australian. Wherever he was from, he had learned to speak English by watching old Hollywood gangster movies. Kelsey knew a Jimmy Cagney imitation when she heard one.
“If you almost lost the game,” she said politely, “it’s because you weren’t paying attention.” She lifted her shoulders to dislodge his hands, but the young man gripped them harder.
“I’d rather lose the game than you.”
Kelsey put all body systems on alert. “I don’t like being manhandled.”
“Maybe y’haven’t been handled by a real man.”
The macho pretense was so overblown it was laughable. But Kelsey knew better than to smile. “Please let go of me,” she said as pleasantly as she could.
“Let her go, Serge. We’ve got a game to finish,” said the man standing beside the table.
“Let go of me, Serge,” Kelsey echoed, her eyes locked with his faintly bloodshot ones.
“A kiss to make up for causing trouble.”
Kelsey had never been the kind of woman who could flirt her way out of situations. She knew that Serge was slightly drunk and showing off, but he was really no more than a boy just coming into manhood. Melly would have wrapped her arms around him and kissed him until he was embarrassed enough to push her away. Kelsey’s response was different.
“Let go of me now,” she said quietly, “and we can both forget this happened.”
“Forget?” Serge laughed loudly. “How’m I gonna forget you, doll?”
Kelsey sighed as he pulled her closer. “I’m afraid you’re not,” she said just before she twisted and brought her elbow sharply against his ribs. His howl of pain accompanied the release of her shoulders. He bent over momentarily, hugging his midsection.
Kelsey backed away a step. “Are you all right?” she asked solicitously.
He straightened, snarling in a language she didn’t understand. When he lunged at her in an excess of ruined manly pride, she simply danced aside and watched him sprawl to the floor.
The room was suddenly silent. Even the taped music had come to an end. Before anyone could reach them, Kelsey squatted beside Serge. “Are you all right?” she asked loudly enough for the men nearest her to hear. “I’m afraid you slipped on something. The floor’s pretty slick.”
“Leave me alone.”
“I’m so sorry. I guess you just had some bad luck.” She stood, almost colliding with Dillon. Since the entire episode had taken only seconds, she knew he must have left his chair at the first sign of trouble.
He took her arm with all the courtesy of a grappling hook and guided her away from the other men. “You’re Jake’s brat all right. Nothing he likes better than a barroom brawl.”
Her eyes narrowed. “That’s me. Born to fight.”