.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

BROODING REBEL TO BABY DADDY

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

Dear Reader,

Autumn is my favourite season.  Hands down.

Fair, freckled, auburn-haired, I am not built for living in the sub tropics of Australia. So, when that first cool change of Autumn hits my part of the world - bringing with it a yearning for flannelette sheets, a rummage through the scarf box, a thirst for soups and stews and cool hands wrapped around a hot drink - I’m in my bliss.

When I knew this book would be set in a small town, my mind went straight to the Bright area of Victoria, one of the prettiest spots I’ve ever visited, especially in autumn. With its stunning fall foliage, piles of crackly leaves underfoot in glorious reds and browns and oranges, there’s something so deeply wholesome and cosy about such a place.

And so Radiance was born; a fictional town near Victorian snow country with one set of traffic lights, a yearly Pumpkin Festival, glorious flora, quaint architecture and a cast of colourful local characters who tried their danrdest to take over the book.

Add a notorious heroine in hiding, a smoking hot bad boy made good, a whole lot of warm memories and flawed decisions to sort through, and I had myself all the ingredients of a warm, hopeful, redemptive, intimate, small town love story.

I hope you warm to Radiance and its people as much as I loved creating them.

Happy reading!

 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

EXCERPT

 

It was chilly in the high-country town of Radiance, Victoria, the day Sable Sutton returned; a damp, grey tincture coated the countryside like a filter, the air as sweet and sharp as a green apple on the verge of ripening.

It was about as different as it could be from the squinty Los Angeles sunshine and bone-dry Santa Ana winds Sable had left behind.

She shivered as she stood by the wonky front gate. Vintage men’s jacket rolled at the cuffs, light silk shirt and ripped jeans doing little to keep out the icy air, as her gaze skipped over the veil of sodden, autumn leaves covering the overgrown path leading to the shrouded house beyond.

The trees had grown in since she’d been away; crowding the pitched roof, the dark gables, the arched windows, making it look even more like the Gingerbread House the local kids had called it. Not only because of its fairy tale appearance, but due to the witch they believed lived inside.

The ‘witch’ being Mercy Sutton, Sable’s own mother. Drier of herbs. Maker of potions. Scowler at children. Spurner of public displays of affection. Private ones too.

Sable flinched as her left butt cheek twitched, but it was not her mother, poking her with a metaphorical stick through the bars of her cage, demanding to know why she’d come back.

 It was her phone buzzing in her jeans pocket. A long message from her agent, Nancy, promising work, soon. Photography jobs on the horizon after no doubt calling in every chit owed to give her pariah of a client a way back in. Only then did she ask where on earth Sable was. Though Nancy barely acknowledged there was a world outside New York, so Sable had no clue how to explain Radiance.

The stiletto heel of Sable’s ankle boot scuffed the ground; the scrape unsettling a crow who lifted into the air with an offended ‘ark’ and a flapping of wings.  She watched it fly over the trees towards the neighbour’s place.

The Thorne place.

Rafe Thorne.

Her heart twinged, the way it always had when the boy next door winked into her subconscious. Though for someone whose emotions had always run close to the surface, she’d done a pretty fair job of shutting all that down over the years; the twinges and the winks.

No use musing over brooding eyes the colour of scorched earth, when they were on the other side of the planet. Same went for wild dark curls. Fingernails permanently stained from the hours spent under the bonnet of some broken down car or another. Body tough, lean and wiry.  Yellowed leaves shifting beneath heavy boots as he chopped wood. Sweat glistening on his strong arms. Brow furrowed in endearing concentration...

Sable blinked herself back to the present to find her heart not only twinging, but now skittering, and performing some pretty spectacular thumpity thumps.

For the wood chopping was the last true memory she had of Rafe - nineteen-years-old and smouldering - the day before she’d skipped town without saying goodbye.

She let out a hard, fast breath, and gave herself an all over body shake.

Her heart had been through the ringer of late and was not in any shape to twinge.  Or skitter. And especially thump. Besides, that’s not why she’d come back to Radiance.

When a person’s life unravels, as swiftly, relentlessly, and mortifyingly publicly as Sable’s had just done, once the dust settles it brings with it a sense of clarity.

Her epiphany?  Her meteoric success as a photographer, the notoriety that came from dating someone even more well-known than she, and the creature comforts that had come with all that had clouded things for a good while.

When it had all been stripped away, she was left to figure out who she was without those safety nets. What she wanted.

And what she wanted most, hadn’t changed. Not since she was a teenager, traipsing barefoot through the forest surrounding this small town, ancient camera in hand, mooning after the local bad boy, imagining a softly filtered version of what her life might one day look like.

Deep down, she wanted nothing more than to be someone’s mother.

So here she was.  Back in Radiance. The place she now saw as the crossroads of her life. Where, if she’d taken a left, instead of a right, things might have turned out very differently.

Too jet-lagged to face her mother, Sable turned away from the Gingerbread House, and gripped the handle of her suitcase, dragging it over the bumpy cracks in the footpath, and made her way next door.

Only once the overgrown forest came to an abrupt end at her mother’s fence line, she stopped so suddenly her suitcase bumped against the back of her boots.

“What on earth -- ?” The mist in the air all but swallowed her words.

For instead of overgrown grass, sad patches of dirt, tangles of blackberry bushes, husks of old cars and farm machinery, there lay acres of lush green grass a few goats, a cow or two, and a plethora of happy chickens. For a second she wondered if her terrible sense of direction had failed her yet again, and the Thorne place had been over the other fence.

But no. There was the tree that had once shaded a darkly foreboding pile of wood in the shape of a house. Only now it draped over a gleaming Airstream caravan, shining like a silver dollar against the distant backdrop of the fiery poplar, maple, and liquid-amber-covered foothills leading up to the peak of Mount Splendour (more of a big hill, really) that overlooked the whole of Radiance.

She’d not expected life to have been put on hold when she’d left, but how had this not come up during one of Mercy’s rare, uncomfortable phone calls? Something along the lines of, “Oh, and by the way, the Thorne house burned down/fell down/was taken up by aliens.”

Then Sable spotted a window slowly closing at the side of the van. Meaning someone was home.

Twinge.

Was it Rafe’s father, the fearsome Mr Thorne? Or could it be Rafe himself?

Skitter. Thump.

Was Rafe even in Radiance anymore? Her mother’s news reports were clearly lacking.

Only one way to find out.

Luggage bumping along behind her, Sable strode down the compacted dirt driveway, around the dam – its golden-brown water a reflection of the cloudy autumn sky – and up to the front door of the shiny Airstream.

She lifted a hand and knocked. Her heart thumping so hard she could now feel it in her throat.

After a few long moments, the door swung open, nearly hitting Sable in the nose. And a lanky, dark-haired young woman blinked back at her.

For a snapshot in time Sable imagined it might be Rafe’s girlfriend. Or wife.  Even while her stomach rolled at the thought, like a ball of wool tumbling over the edge of a cliff, she reminded herself she’d been prepared for the possibility.

And that it didn’t change anything.  Not for her.

For it wasn’t Rafe’s heart she was after.  Not that he’d ever look at her that way again after the way she’d left.  As for her heart? Bruised, shaken, and shamed by recent events, it was in recovery and would be for some time.

The young woman’s eyes rounded comically. “Sable Sutton? Oh, my gosh! It’s you! It’s really you!”

A heartbeat later, Sable’s synapses came back online and she realised it was -  “Janie?”

Rafe’s younger sister had been a little kid when Sable left. Not even ten. Now a grown woman, she threw herself at Sable, wiry arms wrapping her up tight. Tighter than she’d been hugged in years. Which made her bruised and shaken heart cough and splutter, like an old engine trying – and failing - to catch.

Sable gently extricated herself from the hug.

“Look at you,” said Janie, eyes skipping over Sable as if she thought she might disappear in a puff of smoke at any second. “Still the wild-haired wood elf I always thought you were, but with an edge. Yep, its official. You’re even more ridiculously cool in person than you are in your feeds!”

Sable somehow kept her next breaths even.

She’d prepared herself for the possibility that some locals might have found her online. It wouldn’t have been all that hard. The photography contest she’d won, and the prize – a year in New York with a place to live, a guaranteed gallery show, and a top agent – had been a big deal.  But it was her move to LA after that was all said and done, her connection with a certain well-known TV chef, and the recent blistering disintegration of said connection that had made her life the stuff of social media heaven.

“Thank-you,” Sable managed. “But I’ve never been close to cool my entire life. And the social media stuff?  My – “ well not hers, her ex’s – “publicist put most of that together. Ninety-nine percent of it isn’t really real.”

Ha! laughed her subconscious. If only she’d figured that out years ago.

“Do not deny me my fervour,” said Janie. “You’re the most famous thing ever to have come from this place. Apart from Carleen McGlinty, of course. But she’s local-famous. And only during the Pumpkin Festival.”

“Carleen.  Isn’t she the one who – “

“Runs naked through town after imbibing too much pumpkin spice wine? The very one.”

So, some things hadn’t changed.

Janie followed Sable’s not-so-surreptitious glance over her shoulder into the belly of caravan, then gave her a look – direct and calculating - that was so very Rafe, Sable’s heart tripped and tumbled so hard she winced.

Janie said, “So, it’s not me you’ve come to see after all these years, fancy suitcase in hand. Big shock.”

Sable glanced down at the hand now white-knuckling her luggage handle and released her fingers one by one. “Is he… Is Rafe around?”

Janie shook her head and Sable’s heart dropped.

Till Janie seemed to soften, just a smidge, before saying, “He’s in town, I think.”

Sable’s heart jumped. If she didn’t get control over the thing, and soon, she was going to do herself a damage.

“I can call him,” said Janie. “Let him know you’ve arrived -- ”

Sable reached out a staying hand. “Don’t. Please.”

“No? Then I take it my big brother has no clue you’re back. How interesting. Do you think he’ll be delighted? Or will he cut and run?” Janie clicked her fingers.  “Right, no, that’s your move.”

Sable flinched.

She hadn’t expected her return to be easy. But then neither should it be. The things that had come her way without effort had disintegrated just as swiftly.

Janie flapped a hand her way. “I’m just messing with you. I honestly have no clue how he’ll react. But oh to be a fly on the wall!”

No flies would suit Sable best. Or witnesses of any kind.

Being a person of interest in LA was bizarre. Strangers butted into her conversations at lunch. Posted pictures of her walking, talking, eating. They direct messaged from the safety of their phones with questions, suggestions, professions of love and outright vitriol because to them she was a construct.

But being a person of interest in a small town was a different kind of hell. They talked about her right in front of her. About her mother, about her ragged clothes, about her connection with the Thorne boy.  It had been harder because they did know her.

Which was why – when all this was said and done – she’d find a place big enough to disappear, where nobody knew her name. Nobody knew her business. A place she could live freely, where any decisions she made would be hers alone.

“I’d better head home,” Sable said.

After a beat, Janie looked at her suitcase and said, “So this was your first stop? Interesting.  Very interesting.  Don’t be a stranger!” With that Janie gave her a wave before heading back indoors.

Leaving Sable to stare at the closed door.

Well, she’d just jumped the first hurdle of her return to Radiance without tripping and falling on her face, which after the past few months was a huge win.

Sable headed back up the dirt path.  Her stiletto heels sinking into the packed dirt of the driveway.  And for the first time since she’d stepped off the plane, Sable felt herself fully breathe out.

 

Rafe’s backside hadn’t even hit the stool at the counter when Bear – the owner of The Coffee Shop on Laurel Avenue, Radiance’s main street - said, “Did you hear the news around town?”

Rafe sat. Grabbed a napkin to wipe his already clean hands, a habit built on years of living beneath the hood of a car.  Ordered coffee. And waited for Bear to go on.

For there was no stopping the spread of news in Radiance, whether you wanted to or not.

Big, bearded and gruff, like a Hollywood bikie, Bear’s eyes gleamed as he slid a glossy long black and a small jug of milk over the counter and in his rusty baritone, announced, “She’s back.”

Napkin balled up ready to toss into the bin behind the counter, Rafe’s hand stilled mid-air.  Only one person he knew of from around these parts who would garner that level of ominous expectation.

Rafe tossed the napkin into the bin, damned delighted it didn’t miss. As if not appearing jarred, meant he wasn’t. To push the point home, he lifted off his seat, pilfered a donut from the glass case on the bench, put the lid back into place. Took a bite. Chewed slowly.

And said nothing.

Bear, looking fit to burst, boomed, “It’s Sable-freaking-Sutton! You know - the Aussie photographer. Used to live around these parts, before my time. Dates whathisname - the ice-cool chef from that TV show. Though hang on, that all went kaboom a couple of months back. Affairs, plural. Can’t remember who strayed. Scandalous stuff though.”

Rafe didn’t as much as blink.

“Come on,” Bear protested. “You know who I mean, right?  Even if you’re not a photography buff. Blonde? Wild-eyed? Bohemian beauty?”

Rafe poured in a dash of milk, cupped the black class in his palms, took a long leisurely sip of the steaming hot brew and gave the guy nothing.

Bear muttered about the sincere lack of pop culture knowledge from the straight men in this town.

Leaving Rafe to brood over the fact he hadn’t known she was back. A scent on the wind, a rustle of leaves, a ripple in the space time continuum; surely something ought to have alerted him.

Unless enough time had passed that ripples, where she was concerned, were no longer his to feel.

Bear cleaned the froth spout on his big coffee maker as he said, “Trudy saw her get off the bus from Melbourne not two hours ago, dragging a big fancy suitcase behind her.  Story goes, she was heading towards your place.”

That had Rafe off the stool. Janie was home.

Bear shot him a look that said, Got ya.

Rafe threw a ten dollar note on the counter, and gave in. “Towards her mother’s place, you mean.”

“Her mother?”

“Mercy.”

Bear’s eyebrows leapt.  “You’re kidding.” Bear scratched his beared chin.  “So, is that how you and the younger Ms Sutton became a thing back in the day? ‘Cause you lived next door?”

Rafe let a beat slink by.  “Held onto that question pretty tight.”

Bear had the grace to blush.  “Wanted to give you the chance to tell your side of the story before believing everyone else’s.”

Rafe breathed. And reminded himself that he liked Bear. And the guy was relatively new in town.  So, while Rafe’s part in the Sable Sutton story was ancient history, to Bear - his friend - it was news.

Rafe ran a hand over the back of his neck. Then again. Harder. As if warming himself up for what he was about to say out loud.  “Yes, she lived next door. Yes, we were a thing.  She was seventeen when her photos got her a shot at an agent and a gallery show in New York. She went. The end.”

Bear lifted his chin towards Rafe, mouth down-turned; the manly man’s international sign for ‘respect’.  “My ex was obsessed with her Broken Botanicals series; had these huge amazing prints of fallen trees, snapped stems, shredded leaves. Couldn’t afford the originals. He’d die to know she was here.”

Rafe wondered if Bear knew he was grinning at the vision of his ex dying.

Then Bear swished his black-and-white-checked half-apron aside and pulled his phone from the back pocket of his black jeans and held it out to Rafe.  “Do you follow her?”

“Do I – ?“

“Online. She’s got quite the following for someone who doesn’t post pictures of herself in a bikini. Or isn’t part Kardashian.”

Rafe kept his gaze on Bear’s face, refusing to look. Until Bear’s mouth kicked up in a knowing smile.

Fine, he’d look, then they could change the subject.

Rafe dropped his gaze to the phone.

And there she was. Sable Sutton. Staring right back at him.

Chin lifted, mouth slightly open, long hair, a hundred shades of blonde, a windswept halo around her face. The pose said, ‘Take one step closer and I’ll burn you alive’.

Notions Rafe believed he’d long since buried, began to simmer and shift.  Ripples, after all.  He shut them down fast. Well-practiced. From a time when reacting had meant the difference between dinner or a beating.

“You okay?” said Bear.

“Course I’m okay,” Rafe grumbled.  “Just leave me out of the story the next time you tell it, okay?”

“Done,” Bear promised, his voice deep, and deadly serious. A good guy. A good friend.  And there had been a time, in this town, when Rafe hadn’t had all that many of those. Having the last name Thorne meant having a target on your back. Not that Sable had ever cared about that. She’d only cared about him.

And then she was gone.

And now she was back.

And his head hurt.

Rafe rapped his knuckles on the counter as goodbye, then strolled out of the warm, hipster haven and into the chilly autumn day outside.

Sable.  Despite his best efforts not to listen, her name whispered on the breeze.   Sable Sutton.

Rafe glanced down Laurel Avenue, towards the outskirts of town. Not the showy bit, with the quaint shops, the faux-vintage street lamps, the autumnal trees overhanging the neat footpaths, but the old section.  Not that long ago, before the beautification - holiday money having poured into the outskirts of the snow fields – people had been hanging on by their fingernails.

His phone chirped.  A message from Janie, reading, “Hey bro, you’ll never guess who’s back!”

He put his phone away. And when he next breathed in, he could taste it.

Change. A change was coming. And it had nothing to do with the weather.

He shoved his hands deep into the fleece-lined pockets of his coat, turned, and walked the opposite way.

 

Like it?  Buy it!

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

 

      

 

 

 

 

 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .