Welcome to Fiction Friday, a chance to share snippets of my books with you. Some are old, some might be books in progress, eventually some may be entirely new content.
Today’s excerpt is from the fourth and final book of my Tales of the Pacific series, which was originally issued in 1988-89, and tells the story of a group of travelers who meet as a hurricane closes in on the island of Oahu. I’ve given you a taste of From Glowing Embers, Smoke Screen and Rainbow Fire, and today I’ll share a bit of Out of the Ashes.
You might notice there are links with each of those titles in the previous paragraph. I’ve linked to Amazon, but the books are available at all online bookstores. You can find links to each one here. Just scroll down to the book you’re interested in and click on the store you like. Easy-peasy.
Some of you have asked if the books are also available in print. I don’t have the rights to publish them as print versions, only the e-versions. If you find the originals at a used bookstore, they will not be identical to these since I’ve done some tweaking and editing.
Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, where Out of the Ashes takes place is one of my favorite places on earth. I think you’ll see why when you read the book.
Alexis Whitham has escaped there with her young daughter to begin a new life. (Note the mama kangaroo and joey on the cover, hint, hint? Is that perfect or what?) Alexis finds that her new home isn’t quite as isolated as she had expected. A nearby national park houses rangers, one of whom is inextricably tangled in her life immediately, although he desperately does not want to be there. They share more than location, though. Alexis and Matthew share wounded hearts. You can find the opening of the book at my website, and this is what follows.
Enjoy this excerpt from Out of the Ashes.
Matthew Haley was having his second cup of tea. He had drunk the first an hour before dawn. That was the time when memories took over his dreams, forcing him into a sweating awareness that he was alive and the two people he loved were not. The tea was a ritual cleansing of dreams, a cup of reality, a passage into daylight.
Two cups were required to produce the desired effect. He drank it steaming hot and as dark as the sky when he awakened. He sweetened the first cup with Kangaroo Island’s own honey, a honey that was known nationwide. He never drank that first cup without thinking of the way Jeannie had always sneaked an extra spoonful into her morning tea when she thought he wasn’t looking.
But Matthew had always been looking, because everything Jeannie had done delighted him.
Invariably he drank the second cup plain as he stood at the cabin window and watched the sun climb past the tree shadowed horizon. And each time the sun cleared the treetops, he put all thoughts of the past out of his head and concentrated on that day alone.
He had no reason to believe that today would be any different. He stood at the window wearing little except the expression that had become as much a part of his face as his long, straight nose or the dark brows that sheltered cold blue eyes. The expression said, “Don’t touch me. I know you mean well, but I don’t want you in my life.” It was an expression that had chilled the heart of every man and woman who had tried to get close to him in the three years since his wife and son had died on a ferry plane to the South Australian coast.
The sun had scarcely peeked through the straight, tall trunks of the park’s sugar gum trees when Matthew heard a banging at his door. He set his half-finished tea on a wooden table and, cursing softly, climbed the stairs to pull on a pair of khaki walking shorts before he responded. There was no need for anything more. He knew who would be waiting patiently on the steps. Harry Arnold, another Flinders Chase ranger, was checking on him. Harry checked on Matthew each morning, just as he checked on the park’s kangaroos, emus and koalas. No one else could have gotten away with such a blatant show of concern. Harry did. Simply because he was Harry.
“A bit early, even for you,” Matthew said as he opened the door.
Harry wasn’t on the stoop. A woman with cornsilk hair and china doll features stood blinking at him, a music box figurine come to life. Beside her stood a pigtailed pixie who was investigating the hair on his chest with curious eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman began.
Matthew crisply cut her off. “The park is closed. If you’re campers, the ranger station opens at—”
Alexis didn’t move. “I’m not here to see the park, Mr….” She waited for him to give his name. When he didn’t, she stepped back to look at the brass plate beside the door. “Haley?”
He nodded, frowning. “I don’t mean to be rude, but as I said, the park isn’t open. I’m not on duty yet.”
“That’s okay,” Jody said before Alexis could speak again. “We don’t care if you’re official. We just want you to come take care of my koala.”
Alexis silenced Jody with a look. She had the distinct feeling that the scowling brown-haired ranger was about to close the door in their faces. “I’m Alexis Whitham, and this is my daughter Jody. We live on the Bartow farm, at the park border. There’s a koala in our front yard, and he’s sick or injured. We have no idea what to do and no one to help us. If you don’t want to help—” she leaned on “want” just a little harder than she needed to “—perhaps you’d be kind enough to tell us who might?”
He noted the accent. The china doll was an American, which didn’t surprise Matthew; he placed her immediately. She and the little girl had been the source of Kangaroo Island gossip for the last month. Americans weren’t unheard of; they visited along with the throngs of other tourists who swept on and off the island with the regularity of the tides. But few Americans had ever chosen to make their homes here. From what the locals could tell, this one and her daughter planned to stay.
Matthew had heard all sorts of conjecture; he had even heard how lovely the foreign stranger was. And he had to concur. She was small and delicate, with features sculpted by a master craftsman and pale gold hair that didn’t quite skim her shoulders. Her eyes were a blue so light they were startling.
No, the gossips hadn’t exaggerated, but now, as then, he wasn’t the slightest bit interested. “Koala? Are you certain?”
Alexis forced herself to be polite, even though the adrenaline rush of the morning had stripped away much of her natural courtesy. “I’m certain. He’s lying under some bushes in our front yard, and he was alive when we left.”
“He knows we’re trying to get help,” Jody added. “I told him.”
Matthew’s eyes flicked to the little girl. He didn’t smile. “And he listened?”
“Of course.” Jody tilted her head. “Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”
“Because it’s five o’clock in the morning.”
“I’m sorry,” Alexis apologized, pulling Jody toward her to silence her. “We won’t bother you any longer.”
Jody gasped in protest. “But—”
Alexis tightened her grip on her daughter’s shoulder. “Come on, Jody.”
Matthew couldn’t deny they were bothering him; they were. He’d barely had time to shake off his nightmares, barely had time to escape behind the walls that were his only way of making it through each day. But neither could he deny that they had done the correct thing by seeking him out. Even if koalas hadn’t been protected under Australian law, he would have been the right person to ask for help. He knew about suffering, and he’d be damned if he let any creature suffer needlessly.
“If you’ll wait just one minute, I’ll come with you,” he said gruffly. “Just let me get some clothes on.”
As if drawn by his words, Alexis’s eyes dropped to his bare chest. The ranger was tan and fit, a man who spent his days outdoors under the sun. He was broad-shouldered, but narrow hipped and long-legged. Somehow the strong, rangy lines of his body were more comforting than the austere contours of his face. He was a handsome man—or would be if he smiled, but there was nothing warm or reachable about him. Even though he’d said he was coming with them, it still wouldn’t have surprised Alexis to have him shut the door in their faces and never open it again.
“We’ll wait in our car,” she said, raising her eyes to his face. Nothing there had changed. He was still regarding them with an expression she could only characterize as frozen.
She had a sudden flash of compassion. Wounded recognizing wounded. She had never learned to cover her own wounds so thoroughly, but then, women were taught in childhood to be wide-eyed and vulnerable. It was training she had never quite been able to overcome.
She wondered what had put the sorrow behind the ice in his dark blue eyes.