At First Light - Suzanne Paschke - darmowy ebook
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Having escaped the clutches of her abusive and controlling husband Cheryl Prescott flees the city she grew up in to live a new life under a false name. Years later when her car breaks down in the small town of Mount Kiernon, Cheryl – who is now better known as Sarah Walker – is forced to spend the night waiting for it to be repaired.Discovering a town that is hurting as much as she is, Sarah decides to settle down and call the town her new home, opening a cafe along with her heart to the people of Mount Kiernon. As relationships with her customers grow, so do the feelings she has for the local mechanic, Jamie.Will Sarah open her heart to let Jamie in, or will the new life she has built on lies crumble when her past threatens to return?

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At First Light

Mount Kiernon, Volume 1

Suzanne Paschke

Published by Suzanne Paschke, 2016.

This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

AT FIRST LIGHT

First edition. July 3, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 Suzanne Paschke.

ISBN: 978-1533747754

Written by Suzanne Paschke.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Eight

Chapter Twenty Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty One

Chapter Thirty Two

Chapter Thirty Three

Chapter Thirty Four

Chapter Thirty Five

Chapter Thirty Six

About the Author

 

For Craig.......who makes my heart sing.

Prologue

You are mine, he had sneered. No matter where you go, I will find you, little mouse. You hear me, woman? You are mine.

The words echoed around her head as Sarah lay in bed, hands clutching at the sheets, chest heaving as she attempted to bring her breathing back under control. Slowly releasing her death grip on the cotton sheets she sat up, her racing heart beginning to slow to a normal level. It’d been years since she’d dreamed about that day. About him. Yet even now, she could remember with startling clarity the moment those words of hate and vitriol had left his lips. The look of betrayal, anger and blame etched on his features as he had spoken.

They had been standing in the courtroom. He next to his defence lawyers, paid for by his wealth. His parents like tall soldiers behind him in the docks. Immaculately groomed, their tailored clothes didn’t betray the lies, horror and injustice they believed she had brought upon their son.

She’d been on the other side of the courtroom with her lawyer. Her face showing every sign of the worry she felt. Her hands had gripped the edge of the table in front of her so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. In the docks behind her: no one. No parents, no friends or loved ones to lend their support.

“Madam Foreperson, have you agreed upon a verdict?” the judge inquired.

“Yes, your honour, we have.”

“How say you?”

“We the jury, find the defendant Jeff Prescott, guilty as charged.”

With the guilty verdict read, Sarah found she could no longer stand. Her knees buckling as the heavy weight that had been sitting on her shoulders for the past two years finally lifted. Tears came unbidden to her eyes and she began to shake uncontrollably. Vaguely she could feel strong hands reaching out in an effort to support her, guiding her back to the seat that she could feel being pushed under her legs as they gave way.

The years of hell had finally come to an end with one word.

Guilty.

The sheer relief and elation she felt at hearing the verdict that she had so desperately longed for was short lived as an uproar that could be heard from the other side of the courtroom came to the forefront of her mind. Cries of shock and anguish from Jeff Prescott’s supporters reverberated around the courtroom. Sarah’s side of the courtroom remained ominously quiet with the lack of supporters behind her. Standing next to her, her attorney’s face showed no sign of emotion as he waited patiently. The only sign at all from him regarding the verdict was a hand that was clenched in a fist at his side.

“Order! Order!” The judge banged the gavel with force.

Her authoritative voice cut through Sarah’s reverie as she forced her mind to focus on where she was. Willing her body to find the strength to stand on her shaking legs she rose once more to face the judge. A hush slowly descended around the room as order was restored, Jeff’s supporters becoming silent to listen to the final words of the judge.

“Mr Prescott, you have been found guilty and are to be remanded in custody until sentencing next week. Members of the jury the court thanks you for your time. Court is dismissed.” Banging the gavel one final time Sarah watched as the judge walked out of the room, the jurors soon following after.

Sitting in the bed, her heart rate and breathing now returned to normal, Sarah continued to remember that day. How as the two police officers who were standing near Jeff Prescott had begun to walk in his direction to escort him away, he’d turned and spoken those words to her. Words that she would never forget.

You are mine. No matter where you go, I will find you, little mouse. You hear me, woman? You are mine.

Chapter One

Walking the last few steps to work that morning Gloria heard the hum of music coming from inside the café where she worked. Smiling as she approached the door, she stopped for a moment as she spied her boss and good friend, Sarah, moving in time with the beat. The large windows of the café and the cutout behind the front counter allowed her to see through to where Sarah was located in the kitchen, singing what seemed to Gloria to be possibly the loudest and most out of tune sound that a pair of human lungs had ever produced.

God, she really does have an awful singing voice, Gloria thought, wincing as Sarah hit a particularly shrill note.

Raising her hand to knock on the glass front door to alert Sarah to her presence she waited for a break in the music. Not finding one she instead rapped loudly on the door. She laughed as Sarah jumped in surprise at the noise, ceasing her singing immediately. Gloria saw Sarah’s body go rigid for a moment before she turned her head to look over her shoulder. A smile broke out across her face as she saw who had interrupted her wailing. Gloria waved and kept laughing as she waited for Sarah to come over to unlock the door.

Walking over to the docking station where a mp3 player resided Sarah pressed pause on the device silencing the music and headed to the front door. “Morning!” Sarah trilled with a smile on her face as she opened the door allowing Gloria entrance into the café. Once she had walked through, Sarah locked the door behind her. “No keys this morning?”

“Oh, God. Why are you always so happy in the mornings? No sane person likes mornings the way you do. Especially not one like today, it’s bloody freezing out there. And no, no keys. Mum borrowed my car to run errands and I forgot to take the key for here off it before I did,” Gloria grumped as she began to unravel her scarf, the two women walking towards the back of the café, through the customer area and into the kitchen. Sarah remained in the kitchen as Gloria took the few short steps further towards the back of the café and the small area where the staff kept their belongings. 

Sarah laughed as she returned to working on the slab of chocolate in front of her. Using a knife she expertly wielded it to create perfect chocolate curls. “It is a bit fresh this morning,” she stated simply.

“A bit fresh?” Gloria repeated incredulously. “It’s cold enough out there to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. I nearly slipped on my rear end twice this morning because of ice on the front steps at my place.”

Sarah stopped what she was doing and looked up from her work. “Yeah, it was quite a frost overnight,” she admitted. “Good for business though,” she added, “Just think of all the extra hot drinks we’ll sell.” A wicked gleam crossed her face at the thought of the ongoing success of the business she so loved.

“True. Alrighty then,” Gloria began as she entered the kitchen area once more, pulling her work apron with the logo on it over the top of her black trousers and black button down shirt, “What needs doing this morning, boss lady?”

“Can you switch The Beast on, refill the coffee station, and prep the tables please? Once you’ve done that would you mind popping down to see Frank at the bakery for the rolls and things to see what’s going on? He’s late with his delivery today.”

Gloria nodded her agreement of the tasks set her. “You really can’t refer to Bessie as a beast, you know. You’ll hurt her feelings.” Gloria noted as she walked towards the coffee machine. Switching the power on to the machine she lovingly stroked the side of the machine like an owner would their beloved dog. “She didn’t mean it Bessie. Don’t you listen to the nasty lady.”

“Ha! Nasty lady my ass. That machine hates me and I have the scars to prove it!” Sarah protested. She held up a finger as proof. “See? It attacked me again yesterday.” Sarah could use the overly expensive coffee machine that had been purchased for the café well for the most part, but it seemed to come with a price almost every day. With small burns dotted over her hands, some of which were still healing, Sarah had taken to referring to the coffee machine as The Beast. But Gloria had managed to not only tame the machine she affectionately called Bessie, but had seemingly charmed it into submission, earning her stripes as Sarah’s top barista in the meanwhile.

Sarah reached over as a silence descended as the two women went about their individual tasks and pressed a button on the docking station to resume the music. A male’s voice filled the café together with the sound of guitars and drums. Gloria rolled her eyes as Sarah’s voice began to warble off key along with the singer. Her choice in music didn’t always mesh with her own tastes, but Gloria figured if it made Sarah happy it was worth it.

Watching Sarah Gloria frowned for a moment as her boss put a cake with the now completed chocolate curls on top of it into the display fridge near the front counter. Not for the first time she wondered what Sarah’s story actually was.

***

Sarah had first appeared in Mount Kiernon eighteen months ago. Mount Kiernon was a small town situated on the coast, with mountains looming large behind it. A vibrant mining town in its heyday it once boasted a population of around 5000 people. But with the closure of the mine nearly seven years ago Mount Kiernon had steadily shrunk in population to where it now sat around only 900 people. The months following the mine closing had been particularly hard for the town as people had found themselves suddenly out of work with no prospects of finding anything new around the area.

Many families began to move over the next twelve months as they found work away from the town. Those who remained behind had found it tough. So when the company that owned the mine announced an expansion of another of their mine sites three hours south of Mount Kiernon, a number of the locals who had still been looking for work had applied for and won positions there. Most had chosen to move away to be closer to their new place of employment, but some who had stronger ties to the township had stayed, becoming fly in, fly out workers. Mount Keirnon may have been a small town, but those who lived there were fiercely loyal to it.

With the closing of the mine also came the closure of a large number of businesses within the town. Just a few at first, but the number grew. The bank closed, moving the branch to Penwick, a larger town located forty minutes away. With not enough trade for two pubs, one had closed, the owner moving away to the city of Franklin, located roughly a two hour drive north east of Mount Kiernon and the closest city to the town. The speciality shops that sold trinkets and homewares closed their doors, leaving only one small homemade crafts store that doubled as the tourist information centre remaining. The toy store that was a part of a large national chain went the way of the bank, closing its doors and reopening in the same town as the bank that had left. The people who lived in Mount Kiernon had known it would happen. That it would only be a matter of time before businesses began to leave just as people had chosen to. The buildings that had housed the businesses remained empty as did houses in the town. For sale signs went up, the print on them fading over time as they stood untouched.

Even logically knowing that businesses would close as the population dwindled, it didn’t make it any easier for the townspeople. Those that had chosen to remain behind found themselves becoming even more loyal than before to the businesses that the town had to offer. The locals became desperate to keep businesses alive within the town and not see any more relocate from the township or even worse, to close down permanently.

So it went on for the next few years.

But there was always a light for what sometimes seemed like a dark tunnel to the people and businesses of Mount Kiernon: school holidays. In particular the long break of the summer school holidays. With a long, sandy coastline overlooked by domineering mountains, the idyllic beach located just a ten minute drive outside of Mount Kiernon offered families that visited it a haven to escape from the hustle and bustle of their daily life. The large, shallow sandbank that filled most of the bay was deep enough for swimming while offering a shoreline that was filled with pristine white sand, making it the perfect location for families with young children who wanted to spend time playing on the beach. The locals considered it their hidden gem, and more than a few of them had been quite distraught when a visiting journalist from Franklin who had been staying with her uncle for a weekend in Mount Kiernon, had been introduced to the beach. It wasn’t the fact that the journalist had visited the beach, but rather the article that had soon after appeared in the Franklin Gazette, the newspaper based in Franklin city, that heralded the idyllic spot.

At first the press went mostly unnoticed, but nevertheless there was a small trickle of tourists who began to seep into the town. It was enough for the owners of the abandoned mine to sit up and take notice. Then came an announcement which made the residents of Mount Kiernon both wary and excited. The company who owned the mine and the site on which it was located had decided that the abandoned mine would make a good location for a museum based on mining. A few years after the hardship of the mine originally closing had begun, it started to look like Mount Kiernon might possibly be getting back on its feet again.

To the surprise of some of the more sceptical locals, Mount Kiernon had morphed into a tourist destination. Every school holidays would see the streets filled with families who had driven the few short hours from Franklin on day trips to go to the museum and then the beach. The locals of Mount Kiernon welcomed anyone to their town with open arms, and certainly more than welcomed the money that visitors brought to local businesses with them.

But in such a small town the locals only had the abilities to cater for so many visitors with all their varying tastes and desires. When the Mount Kiernon Bakery had received a request for wheat free, gluten free Turkish bread and had to explain they didn’t have any, Frank, the baker had received a torrent of abuse about not catering to those with allergies. Clive, the owner of the local pub had been on the receiving end of a tongue lashing about not having a large enough selection of imported beers on hand. Even Joan, the proprietor of the small supermarket in the main street had felt belittled at times at the stock she held, or didn’t hold as the case was more often than not, on the shelves of the supermarket.

The one exception was Jenny, a no-nonsense, gruff woman in her forties who had lived her whole life in Mount Kiernon. As the proprietor of the local newsagent that doubled as the post office, she refused to be talked down to or made to feel disparaged by anyone who declared she didn’t hold enough variety in the magazines that sat upon the stands. She was also the owner of a rather acerbic tongue and was never shy in holding back on her opinions of people who chose to comment on the lack of choice available. Jenny was only too well aware as to whom the main clientele were for her business, and it wasn’t the people that came into town looking for a beach read. If they were after a trashy celebrity magazine or a puzzle book, they could find one. But if it was the latest architectural design magazine, they were out of luck. Jenny was proudly unapologetic for this fact and it made the townsfolk love her all the more for it.

Those that visited the town would always remark that they loved the beach, and the museum was interesting, but that there simply weren’t enough shops for them to browse through to entice them to stay any longer than one day in the town. Most tourists would find themselves driving beyond Mount Kiernon and heading to Penwick to go window shopping, eat at a restaurant or to stay overnight. As it was Mount Kiernon only had one guest house, Betty’s Bed and Breakfast. Betty was known for being the town gossip and loved to chat to the folks who were passing through, eager to find out as much as she could about each and every one of them.

The locals of Mount Kiernon would tolerate the way they were often talked down to by visitors to the town, simply grateful for the money that was trickling into businesses, and glad for the customers who brought a new vibrancy to the town along with them. But at the end of the day, when the shops were closed and the tourists returned to Franklin or wherever they may have come from, it was always with a sigh of relief from those left behind in the town.

It had been four long years since the mine had closed, and three more since the mining museum had opened. The ebb and flow of the tourists kept occurring every school holidays, and nothing changed. Sure, the council had tried to encourage new businesses into the area, but with no guarantee of income during the school term, prospective business owners had decided it wasn’t worth the risk for the small reward the school holidays would bring.

So when a bright red sign that read ‘SOLD’ on it went up over the long ago faded ‘For Sale’ sign in what was once the old bank, it became the talk of the town.

Chapter Two

“Stupid car!” Sarah swore as she saw the temperature gauge of the car climb into the red danger zone. Pulling over to the side of the road she pressed a lever before exiting the car, slamming the door behind her. Walking to the front of the car she felt around under the hood, feeling for the latch. Pressing down on it she lifted up the bonnet and secured it into place.

She was greeted with steam rising from the radiator together with an odd gurgling noise. Letting out a string of expletives that would have made a truck driver blush she threw her hands in the air in frustration. This can’t be happening. Please not now. Not when I’m so close to where I need to be, she thought. So, so close.

She knew she had been pushing the car hard. Particularly in the heat she had been feeling beating down on her throughout the day through the windows of the car. It was only the first week of June, barely even the beginning of summer and so far it had proven to be an unusually hot one. At least it was if the owner of the hotel she had stayed at the previous night was to be believed. He’d told her how the weathermen were blaming the unusual heat for the region on global warming. Sarah just blamed dumb luck.

She’d been travelling all day. She was tired, grumpy and now hunger was beginning to gnaw at her. Sighing, she could feel tears pinprick behind her eyes. No, she determined. Not happening, not now. Suck it up, you’re not falling apart now and certainly not over a car. Forcing herself to calm down rather than letting her emotions overtake her, she closed her eyes and went through a series of breathing exercises she’d been taught to help her manage stress.

Feeling calmer she located her cell phone in the car and proceeded to dial the number for roadside assistance. Explaining her predicament to the customer service operator she was promised someone would be sent out to help as soon as possible. Frustrated she ended the call and let out an exasperated sigh.

“And how long is ‘as soon as possible’ exactly?” she muttered at the device in her hand. “Twenty minutes? An hour? Three hours? Would it have killed you to at least given me some sort of time frame to work with?”

They’ll get here when they get here, she scolded herself. It’s not going to kill you to wait for a bit. And it’s not the operators fault. They can’t tell you what they don’t know.

Resigning herself to the situation Sarah returned to the stifling heat of the car to prepare for the wait. Not for the first time she wished her car had air conditioning. Pressing the button for the hazard lights she locked the car doors, before lowering one of the windows slightly in the vain hope of encouraging what little breeze there was outside to flow through the vehicle. Reaching into her handbag Sarah searched until she found one of the granola bars she sometimes kept in there. Grimacing at its appearance all squashed and misshapen, it looked like it had been flattened more than once. She wondered how long it had been in her bag, but noticing it was still before the due date she ate anyway. Somewhat satiated, she closed her eyes despite the heat, allowing herself to rest for a moment.

The rapping of knuckles on the windscreen woke Sarah rudely from her unintended nap. Wide eyed and instantly alert her heart was racing as her hand immediately moved to her waist where she wore her personal alarm. Turning her head slowly she was relieved to see a uniformed man’s face looking at her through the car window. She surmised quickly that he was somewhere in his mid-fifties, with hair greying at the temple and a gut that suggested a love for food. He was looking in at her where she sat in the car, a genial smile on his face.

Spying what she knew to be the roadside assistance icon sitting above the breast pocket of the work shirt he man was wearing Sarah began to relax, letting the grip she had on the personal alarm lessen slightly. Spotting a van with the same logo emblazoned on its side by the edge of the road she took her hand off the alarm entirely realising this was who she’d been waiting for.

Geez stop being so paranoid. It’s just the roadside guy, not some weirdo roadside killer. He’s not going to hurt you.

He waved at her, smiling. “Sorry, love,” he called loudly so he could be heard through the gap in the window. “Saw you were sleeping and I didn’t know how to let you know I was here without giving you a fright. Figured it was better that I knocked on the window than toot the horn,” he offered by way of apology.

Her hands shaking from the adrenaline rush that had stemmed from her surprise awakening she unlocked the door and stepped out of the car. Sarah could feel a trickle of sweat that had formed between her shoulder blades begin to make its way down her back. She knew she probably looked an absolute mess, but she was so beyond caring that she really didn’t mind at all if she appeared as if she had been dragged backwards through a hedge. As far as she was concerned this day just needed to be over and done with, appearances be damned.

Still, a girl had to have some kind of dignity. Using her fingers she scraped her long chocolate brown hair away from her neck. She could feel the underside of her hair had become damp with sweat, a few tendrils sticking to her neck. Twirling what she held in her hands into one big loop she dropped it, letting it fall forward over one shoulder.

Standing at five foot four Sarah was considered neither tall nor overly short. The flat stomach that she had during her teens and early twenties was now at age twenty seven slightly rounded, a testament to her own love of food. Yet Sarah was strong and fit, choosing to work out regularly to keep in shape. It still didn’t stop her from despairing about her hips and thighs like most women, which to her seemed just that bit too flabby no matter how hard she trained. But she was realistic about her body. Sarah wasn’t model material nor would she ever be, so the cellulite that sat at the top of her thighs she had long ago learned to live with.

She had been called pretty more than once in her life, but Sarah considered herself to be more on the plain side of things. She was thankful for the naturally tanned complexion her oval face had which helped to hide the rosy glow her cheeks and straight nose seemed to get as soon as there was any kind of heat about. Her favourite feature, her lips, were full and lustrous. Over the years Sarah found that she rarely had to wear lipstick to make them stand out and in fact preferred not to. It wasn’t that she was against wearing makeup, but if a slick of lip gloss could do the same trick as a blood red lipstick that screamed ‘look at me’ then she was all for it.

But it was Sarah’s eyes that had garnered her the most comments over the years from people, in particular from her nana. “Your eyes are as pale as the blue of the ocean on a perfect summer’s day,” her Nan had remarked nearly every time Sarah had seen her. These days for the most part Sarah considered them to be washed out and lifeless rather than the sparkling colour of the ocean that her Nan claimed. 

There was a time though that Sarah would have agreed with her Nan. Not so long ago she would have claimed her eyes as her best feature rather than her lips. Sarah’s Nan was right about her eyes. They sparkled and danced with light and joy when she was truly happy, and darkened several shades when upset. Whatever Sarah felt her eyes revealed more than she would ever care to admit.

At least they had once upon a time.

But that was another person in another life.

Now standing in front of her would be rescuer Sarah offered him a smile.

Age lines cratered the man’s face, and his eyes crinkled as he continued to smile at her. “Sorry again,” he apologised once more extending a hand towards her. “My name’s Don. Got a problem with your car I hear?”

Sarah took the extended hand and shook it. His handshake was firm and his genuine smile seemed to act as a balm to her frayed nerves. Giving him a small smile of her own in return as she reclaimed her hand from his grip, Sarah buried both her hands deeply into the back pockets of her jean shorts and nodded. “Yup,” she agreed. “The car overheated. At least I think it did. I lifted the bonnet to have a look, but I’ve got no real idea what I’m looking at.” She gave a shrug of her shoulders with her explanation.

Don took a few steps towards the front of the car and began looking at the area where the radiator was housed. Sarah glanced at her watch, surprised to find it had been nearly two hours from the time she had first called for roadside assistance. It had been a warm day, and sleeping in the car even though the window had been slightly open hadn’t helped with the extra heat that had accumulated in the vehicle while she had slept. Dressed simply in jean shorts and a T-shirt Sarah became aware of the cotton from the T-shirt sticking to her back where she had become sweaty in the car. Peeling the T-shirt away from her skin she fanned the material in an attempt to create a breeze along her back.

“It was a hot one today, alright,” Don commented in his slow drawl noticing her actions.

“I didn’t think it was all that bad, really,” she admitted. “At least, not until I fell asleep in the car. Now I’m hot.”

He looked at her with his eyebrows raised. “Not from around these parts then, hey? What we had today, that was as hot as it gets. A day like this and most people around here acting like it’s hotter than Hades.” He returned his gaze to the hood of the car and began pulling at what looked to be hoses and fittings. He made a few grunting and huffing noises as he worked. “Where are you headed to?” he asked a few moments later.

“Just passing through. Well, kind of. I’m moving to Franklin.” Looking at the ground she stared at her feet. What on earth had possessed her to share that piece of information?

He laughed. “I hope you like the cold then. We have long winters and short summers around here. Well, except for this year. This summer feels hotter than we usually have,” Don said, confirming what she had been told the previous evening by the owner of the hotel. “Beautiful part of the world to live in though. Bit of paradise really, if you ask me.”

Sarah said nothing in response. Silence descended between the pair as the minutes ticked by.

She heard another grunt from under the hood. “Aw, crap,” Don moaned eventually.

“Everything all right?” Sarah asked looking over his shoulder into the void of the car. She had no idea what she was looking at but curiosity dictated that she look anyway.

Standing upright Don stretched and walked across to his van and peered in. Reaching in he pulled out what looked like the oldest most threadbare towel that she had ever seen. Wiping his hands on it, he walked the few steps back to Sarah. 

“Hope you weren’t in any hurry to get to Franklin tonight,” he started. “You’ve got a leak in your radiator. I’d hoped it was just a loose hose that I could swap for a new one, but no dice I’m afraid. You’re going to need a new radiator.”

Sarah frowned. “I’m supposed to be there tonight. I’m booked into a hotel there, and I’ve got an early start tomorrow.” She didn’t try to hide her frustration.

“Sorry love, but that radiator has to be replaced. I can get the car towed to Kiernon for you, but you’ll have to wait until the morning when things open again before me or one of my boys will be able to fit a new one. And even then, we’ll have to get one sent down from Franklin before we can fit it for you.”

“Can’t I just get the car towed to Franklin instead?” Sarah asked, exasperation creeping into her voice.

Don laughed. “You could. But it’ll cost you at least a couple of hundred bucks rather than about twenty to get it towed to Kiernon.” He raised his hands in a defensive gesture at the outraged look on her face in response to his news.  “I don’t set the cost, roadside assist do. I just have to follow what they say.”

Sarah sighed, resigned to what was unfolding before her. “Okay.” She paused for a moment, thoughts swirling through her mind. “Where am I supposed to stay tonight then? Is there a hotel in – where was it – Kiernon?”

Don chuckled. “No hotel, sorry. There is a bed and breakfast, though. Run by a woman named Betty.” He crinkled his nose. “Biggest busy body you’ll ever meet, but she’s a good sort really.”

“Don’t suppose you have the number by any chance?’ Sarah asked. She didn’t expect it, but hey, you have not because you ask not, she figured.

“Nope, but it’s no problem though. She only lives a couple of streets down from my wife and me. I’ll call the wife and ask if she can pop over to Betty’s and get you booked in.”

“It’s okay, you don’t need to bother. I’m sure I can find the number with directory assistance and do it myself.” she pointed out.

“Nah, it’s okay love. I’ve got to ring home anyway. Gotta get Jamie to get the tow truck out here to get your car to Kiernon for you.”

“Jamie?” she queried.

“My son,” he stated with obvious pride in his voice. “He works with me at the garage. You can grab a lift to Kiernon with him. I’ll get him to tow your car to the garage and then take you up to Betty’s. That way you’ll know where your car is for the morning.”

Sarah nodded, dumbfounded. This was not in her plans. Don walked away a few steps and she could hear him on his cell phone talking to someone he addressed as Emily. She could only presume that she was his wife.

While Don was busy speaking Sarah got her own phone out and called the hotel she was supposed to be staying at in Franklin. She explained her situation and they cancelled her reservation for her. She was unimpressed to find that they were still going to charge her fifty per cent of the room rate. It was explained to her it was because she was cancelling after check in time had begun for the day making it unlikely that they would be able to book someone else into the room for the night. She wasn’t sure that it was entirely legal of them to do it, but she was getting tired and just couldn’t be bothered arguing the point.

Screw this day. Nothing was really going to plan. She could feel a headache begin behind her temples. Great, just great. By now she should have been in Franklin, in an air conditioned hotel room, maybe taking a bath or having some room service with a cool glass of white wine. Glancing down at her watch she noticed the time creeping around to seven in the evening.

Looking around properly for the first time at where she was, Sarah began to take in her surroundings. She had been so focussed on reaching her destination that she hadn’t really taken the time to look at the scenery when she’d been travelling. Having driven long stretches of seemingly never-ending dual highway for most of the day she had turned off a few hours earlier on to an arterial road that had at first seemed no less busy. But over the past hundred miles it had slowly morphed into a single lane tree lined mountain road. Looking up at the giant tree covered mountain that was beginning to throw long shadows on the ground as the sun began to set she smiled a genuine smile for the first time that afternoon. Sarah had always loved sunsets, but preferred sunrises even more. Standing quietly and admiring the great mountain as the sun slowly dipped lower she heard Don finish his call and walk across to where she was standing.

“Pretty isn’t it? The sunsets here are always good,” he said, interrupting her thoughts.

“It’s beautiful,” she agreed.

“I’ve spoken to Jamie and that troublesome wife of mine,” he said with a grin and affection in his voice. Sarah could tell immediately from the way he spoke that while he might look a little rough and tough, Don was clearly a man who adored his wife. “Emily, my wife, is as we speak, going across to Betty’s to make sure she’s got a vacancy.”

“Oh god, I didn’t even think about that. What if she doesn’t?”

“Don’t worry, she’ll have a vacancy. Kiernon isn’t exactly considered a bustling metropolis,” he chuckled at his own joke. “Even if she is booked, which is rare, you can stay the night with me and Em.”

“Um...I don’t know if that’s appropriate...” Sarah began, only to be interrupted by the trilling of Don’s telephone.

“Scuse me love, that’s my wife,” he said noticing the number on the display.

As Don took the phone call Sarah returned her eyes to the setting sun and the mountain. It really was a stunning view. She could feel all the tension from the travel and the stress of the afternoon begin to ebb away as she gazed at the vista before her.

“All sorted,” Don announced. “Jamie’s already left, and Em’s been to see Betty and you’re good to stay the night at hers.”

“Thank you, Don. I really appreciate how you’ve helped me.” Sarah informed him.

He shrugged as a text came through on his phone. He frowned as he quickly scanned it. “I’m just sorry you couldn’t make it to Franklin tonight like you planned, but, you’ll get there tomorrow. I’ll replace the radiator as soon I can, and you should be good to go by lunch time-ish I reckon.” He walked across to the bonnet of Sarah’s car and began to pick up the few remaining tools that sat next to it. “Look, I’m sorry, but I’ve just got another call for roadside. I rarely get one a month, let alone two on the same night. I really don’t like to leave a young lady on the side of the road by herself though.”

“I’ll be fine, Don. I’m pretty tough, I can look after myself,” she assured him, smiling.

Don nodded. “Right you are then. I’ll get going. Jamie should be here in about twenty minutes, but just in case,” he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and started searching through it. Drawing out what looked like a business card he handed it to Sarah. “You give me a call if he’s not here in half an hour. I’ll give that boy a royal bollocking if he’s not.” He stopped suddenly and looked bashful. “Sorry for the language, my Emily would give me a right earful for using that sort of language in front of a lady.”

Sarah laughed. “It’s okay, Don. I don’t mind.”

“All the same, if you happen to ever meet my Em at all, please don’t ever mention it.” He finished putting the last of his tools in his van, climbed into the driver’s seat, and with a wave at Sarah he pulled onto the road and sped away.

Looking at the last vestiges of the setting sun over the mountain, Sarah sighed. Walking back to her car, she opened the door and getting in, locked it behind her. Settling into her seat she began to wait once more.

Chapter Three

True to Don’s word, Jamie arrived soon after. Not quite the twenty minutes that Don had expected, but it was within the thirty minute time limit that Don had set for her to call him. A tall lanky man with a kind smile, Jamie not only looked like a younger version of his father, but was just as affable as his dad. Surprising herself, Sarah warmed to him instantly. Jamie did most of the talking on the way to their intended destination, including explaining to her that the town of Kiernon that Don had kept referring to, was in fact, the small town of Mount Kiernon. As they drove along he explained the history of the town and how the loss of the mine had affected the township.

Sarah was quite content to just sit quietly and listen as Jamie talked. She silently smiled to herself. She couldn’t remember the last time that she had felt as easy and free with another person as quickly as she had felt with Don. Jamie too, she thought.

As they rounded a long bend in the road Jamie’s glance swung Sarah’s way. “Almost there now,” he assured her. She could spy lights in the near distance as the road straightened out once again. With the sun now fully set, Sarah suspected that the few twinkling lights she could see in the distance might be coming from homes. To Sarah the lights almost felt like the call of a lighthouse, indicating the safety of the shoreline after the sea of stress she had seemingly been in all day. It had realistically only been about four hours or so since she had first spied the needle on the car beginning to slowly creep upwards to indicate the problem with the radiator but it had come to feel like much longer.

Stretching as best as she could within the confines of the cabin of the tow truck Sarah felt her muscles pull with the effort. She dropped her head to her chest to allow the muscles in her neck the opportunity to stretch out. “Been a long day?” Jamie asked.

“Unbelievably so,” she agreed.

“Look, I know you were supposed to be in Franklin tonight,” he began. He noticed the sharp look that Sarah gave him from the corner of her eye. “Dad told me. He called me on his way to his next job to tell me a few things about your car,” he explained when he noticed the look she was giving him. “But before you head off tomorrow you should drive back this way. It’s a shame we’re driving this stretch of road at night. The view down to the beach from here is pretty spectacular.”

“There’s a beach here?” she asked incredulously.

“Sure is,” he answered, nodding in response. “Just down there on the right,” he pointed vaguely out the direction of the driver’s side window.

“I mean, I knew the coastline was along here, but I thought it was inaccessible because of the mountains.”

“Sort of. We have cliffs in Kiernon which means we can’t get down to the beach at all in town. But there are a few places just along the coast here where you access the beach. It’s really nice in summer to come out here.”

“Can you catch waves out here? Is it a surfing beach?”

“Nah. The surfs not good enough for that. Not that I’d really know though, I don’t surf at all,” he added by way of explanation.

“Mountains and a beach. It seems you guys have it all in Mount Kiernon.” Sarah quipped.

Jamie snorted. “Houses that sit empty because people have moved away, not enough jobs for the people who live here, or people working jobs they hate cos they have no choice. Oh yeah, we have it all,” he said bitterly. From the glow of the dull dashboard lights against his face Sarah could see frustration etched across his features as he spoke. “But at least we have mountains and a beach,” he said softening the tone of his voice, before he added, “even if we don’t have anywhere that can give us a decent coffee.”

Sarah gasped and placed a hand on her heart in shock. “No decent coffee in the morning? Whatever will I do tomorrow when I’m in need of a caffeine fix?” she mocked lightly.

“Hey, don’t knock it. You have no idea what I would do for a good cup of coffee. Besides, you’ll be singing the same tune if you decide to buy one from the bakery,” he smiled and laughed. His laugh was warm and friendly, hinting at a similar personality as his father’s.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Sarah laughed kindly along with Jamie.

“Oh, believe me, it’s pretty bad. But when there’s nothing else, you take what you can get.”

Silence descended between the pair as they drove the short remaining distance into Mount Kiernon. As they entered the township even with the shroud of night that had descended around them Sarah was shocked by what she saw. It seemed that Jamie hadn’t exaggerated in the slightest when he had spoken about the town being seemingly empty. The amount of for sale signs that the headlights of the tow truck highlighted in its path as it picked its way through town made her gasp in surprise. Some of the houses clearly still had people living in them, as evidenced by the lights burning in the various homes they drove past. But the overgrown gardens and darkened windows that they passed suggested that other houses had been put up for sale with the owners abandoning them and now living elsewhere.

While Sarah found it sad that some of these houses sat empty, it was the main street of the town that tugged at her heartstrings the most. With so many shops unoccupied she found tears starting to prick the back of her eyes. Turning slowly to face Jamie she took a deep breath, “All of this because a mining company left the town?” she asked quietly.

He didn’t ask her to explain what she meant. He nodded and answered slowly, “Yep.” He was solemn. “If you didn’t live here when all the shops were full, it’s pretty hard to imagine what it was like when they were. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve never been really busy like some of the bigger places, but at least we didn’t look like this.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Anyway, enough of all that depressing stuff. We’re here,” he announced as they turned into the driveway of what looked to be the local garage. “Stay put for a second, I’ll just open up and drive the truck in, then I’ll walk you to Betty’s. You’re staying there, right?”

She nodded.

“Won’t be long,” he promised her as he jumped out the cab of the tow truck, leaving Sarah sitting in the silence of the night. She watched as he unlocked and then slid open the heavy door to the main workshop area of the garage. Joining her back in the cab of the truck Jamie slowly inched the tow truck forward before switching the engine off.

“Well, welcome to Mount Kiernon, your new home for the night. Do you need to grab anything out of your car before we head off?” She nodded and walked across to her small car that sat innocently behind the tow truck, not showing any outward signs of the trouble it had given her that day. Reaching in she selected her handbag and a backpack that was sitting in the footwell behind the passenger seat.

“All set,” she announced.

He looked at the few items that Sarah had pulled out from the car with eyebrows raised. “Really? Geez, you travel light. You sure you don’t need your suitcase at all for a change of clothes tomorrow?” he asked as he pointed to the large single piece of luggage he could see sitting exposed through the windows of the hatchback.

She shook her head. “Nope. Got a change of clothes in here,” she lifted her backpack and waved at it.

“Seriously? You could teach most women a thing or two about travelling light,” he joked. He turned his back to her as he reached into the cab of the truck for something.

“Always prepared,” she said in a soft voice.

“Okay then, we are officially done. Let’s head off.” He motioned with a nod of his head for her to follow him as they walked to the entrance of the garage. She took a few steps further forward out of the light spilling from the large open doorway as Jamie began to perform his earlier actions in reverse, first sliding the door shut and then locking the garage.

As Jamie performed his task Sarah found herself shivering slightly. She wrapped her arms around her body in an attempt to hold on to some warmth. It had been a warm day, but the night had brought a definite chill with it. Looking up at the clear night sky, Sarah marvelled at the inky black of night with its diamond studded vista that unfolded in the sky above her. “So many stars,” she said, her voice filled with wonder.

Jamie chuckled a throaty laugh. “You act like you’ve never seen stars before.”

“Not like this, I haven’t,” she confirmed.  “Couldn’t really see them from where I used to live,” she admitted.

“Ah, a city girl then, I guess. Where’d you live?” He began walking down the street, and Sarah easily fell into step with him.

She hesitated for a moment fidgeting, tucking her hair behind her ears before announcing, “Burnleigh,” naming one of the larger cities of the country, located on the opposite coast several thousand miles away.

“I went there once to visit an ex-girlfriend of mine. Was never so glad to leave a city as I was that place.” Jamie grunted.

Me, too. Sarah silently added. Me, too.

Chapter Four

With grey curling hair, homely cardigan around her shoulders and a blue checkered apron tied about her waist, Sarah felt like she had entered some kind of time warp when she first set eyes on Betty. The older lady seemingly had all the quintessential traits of the stereotypical grandmother.

Betty had warmly greeted Sarah and Jamie as she’d opened the door of the bed and breakfast to them, welcoming the pair into her home. Jamie had leaned down and dropped a kiss on Betty’s cheek, bringing a flush to the older lady’s face. Shooing him out the door soon after with assurances to Jamie that she would take good care of Sarah, he had waved a goodbye to both women promising Sarah he would work on her car as soon as he was able to in the morning.

Sarah had followed Betty though the house to a room where Betty had opened a door, admitting entrance into what would be her room for the night. Pressing a large old fashioned key into Sarah’s hand, Betty had also kindly offered her a bowl of soup as a late dinner. Having only eaten the granola bar earlier, Sarah’s stomach growled happily at the prospect of more food and she gratefully accepted the generous offer. Leaving her small bag in the room she turned and dutifully following Betty back down the hallway to a large dining area, where the older lady began peppering Sarah with questions about herself. Sarah had found herself offering only brief answers, instead turning the tables to ask Betty questions about the town. Betty had warmly enthused to the topic, telling Sarah about the local businesses and some of the people who lived in it.

As Sarah sat and enjoyed the hot, thick pumpkin soup she had been given, together with a buttery slice of crusty homemade bread, the older lady had continued to chat, attempting to engage Sarah further in conversation. For the most part Sarah found she could simply just listen and ask a question here or there as Betty spoke, explaining to her that she had made the soup herself from pumpkin that she grew in her own vegetable patch. Sarah smiled politely and made appreciative noises as she slurped her dinner. Soon after finishing and now replete, Sarah had made her apologies, stating that she was extremely tired after the long day and needed to rest for the night. Nodding her understanding Betty collected up the empty plates and had left Sarah to herself.

Grateful to have escaped from the dining room and into the solitary confines of her rented room Sarah sat on the edge of the bed, and smiled as she gazed about her. The room was simply furnished. A double bed rested with its headboard against one wall. Two small side tables sat either side of the bed, with an identical lamp sitting like sentries on each. Resting under each of the lamps was a crocheted doily that had the appearance of being homemade. Sarah wondered if Betty had created them herself like she had the soup. Gently running her hand over the cover that sat on top of the bed, Sarah could see that a few corners of the patchwork quilt didn’t quite meet perfectly. Definitely homemade, she thought as a warmth spread through her body at the thought of the time and love it would have taken someone to stitch it together. Once more she pondered if Betty was the creator of the handiwork.

Looking around the room further Sarah spied a large chest of draws that sat opposite the bed. On top of the drawers sat a small television with the remote control resting nearby. Next to the television was a round silver platter that seemed to hold an assortment of sachets including tea, coffee, hot chocolate and various sweeteners to enable guests to make their own hot drinks in the room. Four homemade cookies sat wrapped in plastic cello tied at the top with a decorative bow. Made by Betty herself again, no doubt, Sarah guessed with a small smile.

Two coasters sat underneath the two china cups located on the platter along with a small handwritten card indicating to guests that the coasters were to be used under any hot beverages made in the room. The silver platter itself was resting upon a much larger version of the crochet circles that were situated under the lamps. A small bar fridge sat on the floor next to the drawers. Looking inside Sarah found a small bottle of milk. Deciding a hot chocolate would be the perfect thing to enjoy while watching a bit of television before going to sleep for the night, she set about finding a kettle to boil water in. A door tucked on the opposite wall to the main door of the room led to a small, but functional, ensuite bathroom. Inside the small cupboard under the sink in the bathroom Sarah found the kettle nestled on one of the shelves.

Filling the kettle Sarah prepared a cup of hot chocolate for herself. Turning on one of the lamps, she extinguished the main light of the bedroom before carefully walking over to the bed with her hot chocolate and setting it down on one of the coasters on the bedside table. Taking her clothes off, so that she was just dressed in her singlet and panties, she snuggled down under the soft covers of the bed leaning her back against the headboard. Remote in one hand and hot chocolate in the other, she flicked through the channels of the television, selecting a romantic comedy that was already half way through. She had a soft spot for these particular types of movies, in which the two lead characters inevitably ended up together at the end of the film despite all the odds and then seemingly going on to live happily ever after.

Finishing off the last mouthful of her hot chocolate as the credits began to roll at the end of the film, she snuggled further down under the quilt. With limbs heavy indicating her tiredness, Sarah felt happy and comfortable. Placing the mug down on the side table next to the lamp, she used the remote to turn off the television, before extinguishing the lamp. It almost feels like what a home should be like, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

***

Waking in the morning Sarah opened her eyes to the grey of the pre-dawn. As she swung her legs over the side of the bed she stretched and yawned. Placing her feet on the floor she took the few steps over to the curtains which had a crack where they met in the centre, allowing a glimpse and promise of the new day outside. Sliding the curtains further apart to see better Sarah gasped at the sight that beheld her.

What Sarah had been unable to see in the gloom the previous night was that Betty’s Bed and Breakfast was located on a street that sat higher than the majority of the township of Mount Kiernon, affording the house a sloping view down over the town and the houses surrounding it. Directly outside of the window Sarah could see what looked to be a wooden wrap around porch that beckoned people to come outside and enjoy its protection from the elements. Sarah recollected with a vagueness of stepping under the porch last night when Jamie had dropped her off at her lodgings. But it was what lay beyond the houses and the porch that had made Sarah gasp. In the distance she could see the calm waters of the ocean. Near enough that even in the dull grey of the dawn she could just make out the whites of the small waves as they crested in, but far enough away that there were at least a dozen streets on a gradual slope down through the town between where she was and the water’s edge.

From the muted pastel colours that were just beginning to appear on the horizon, it quickly became clear to Sarah the sun would rise over the water. Holy moly. Pulling apart the curtains further to get the best view possible of the sunrise, she was ecstatic to discover that what she had thought was a window behind the curtains was in fact a glass sliding door.

Eager to get outside to make the most of the approaching dawn and the view, Sarah hurriedly searched through her backpack and pulled out a pair of jeans and quickly pulled them on. Unlocking the glass door, she grimaced at the noise the door made as it slid along its tracks. She didn’t know where Betty’s bedroom was located within the house, but she hoped that the noise of the door wouldn’t wake her host.

Stepping over the threshold and outside the chill of the morning air tingled against Sarah’s skin. Glancing along the length of the porch she spotted a porch swing to the far left of the undercover area. To the right of where she stood sat two rocking chairs as if they had been placed there for this very moment. Sitting down in one, Sarah rocked herself gently as she watched the sky.