Hi, all. I’m thrilled to be here on Main Street with all these amazing authors. Lizzi and I are flesh and blood friends, and both live in small town New Zealand, quite a distance from our colleagues in the Big Country on the other side of the Pacific and the top side of the globe.
So our Main Street is getting longer and more diverse! My physical main street is typical New Zealand — a long string of shops on either side of the highway north out of Wellington, our capital city, and a mix of old and new housing for 2,500 people, almost evenly divided into newbies like me (I’ve only been here 15 years) and settler families, whose ancestors walked around the coast in the mid nineteenth century, or over the hills pushing all their worldly goods in a wheelbarrow. We newbies mostly came here to live in the country, but close enough to commute to the capital for work.
We have a wonderful heritage museum, the best cheese shop in the country, four second-hand bookshops (not bad for a little town), an equal number of churches, and more artists than you could shake a stick at.
As for me, I have always loved telling stories, mostly for the benefit of children in need of entertainment.
Three years ago, the first of my strong determined historical heroines, heroes who appreciate them, and villains you’ll love to loathe first made their way into the covers of Candle’s Christmas Chair. A dozen books later, the wind fills my sails and many more plots jostle for daylight.
You can find out more about what I’ve done so far on my webpage and blog. And if you enjoy historical romance, why not download my free sampler book of lunch-length reads, Hand-Turned Tales. You’ll find blurb and buy links on my book page. I’ve just published a companion volume, Lost in the Tale.
This year, I’m stretching my author wings with a post-apocalyptic novella in a holiday anthology for one group, a late-Victorian romance for another, and— for my wonderful new Main Street friends and all you fans — a contemporary.
My heroine for the Authors of Main Holiday box set is on the run, out of touch, in disguise and eating for two. The undercover cop who married her to save her life and stashed her on a hill-country farm in New Zealand hasn’t been in touch for more than eight months. Boy, is he in for a Christmas surprise!
Here’s chapter 1. What do you think? (Warning. Names and details are subject to change without notice. I’ve only just started editing.)
A Family Christmas
Old Trev told Kirilee that choosing the Christmas tree together was a family tradition, and she was family, so she was coming to help. They’d find one close to the pickup (the Ute, he said, which was the New Zealand name for the small farm trucks), and the summer sun had already baked the hilltop tracks hard, so they’d be able to get right to the top, just above the valley with the best size of tree.
Lee didn’t want to move. The wide verandas kept the house cool; open doors and windows catching every elusive breeze. But there was no arguing with family tradition, and Old Trevor Green had changed his mind about her family status months ago. She could date his change from jailor of his grandson’s witness to protector of his grandson’s wife. It was the day she and Cheryl had arrived back from Palmy with the news that Jason had given her an unexpected passenger before packing her off to his family farm.
She curved a protective hand over her bulge.
To Old Trev, the baby made her family, and she was coming to choose the Christmas tree.
What Jason would feel about it, not even his sister Cheryl could guess. No. Not Jason. That was his undercover name. Young Trevor. Trevor Green the second, and whether that meant their marriage was legal, who knew? The name on the marriage license was Jason Winterleaf, same as the name on his passport and his driver’s license. And on an old high school Facebook page, and other electronic trails her brother Bernard had traced, taking delight in showing her some revealing photos with previous girlfriends.
All fictional, apparently, for Trevor Green had grown up on this farm up in the remote Rangitikei country, three hours over dusty tortuous roads to the nearest decent-sized town. Whoever had invented the history had done a good enough job to fool Bernard.
She lumbered out to the Ute and clambered up, shifting over to let Old Trev in beside her. He grumbled about Cheryl driving, as he always did, though the doctor had put him off the road five years ago. “I know every inch of this farm, girl, and could drive it with my eyes closed.”
“You would be, too,” Cheryl retorted. “As good as, and you’re not doing it with your great grandson in the Ute.”
Cheryl was sure the baby was a boy, but both women had agreed not to ask the technician who did the ultrasound. They’d wait to be surprised.
Trevor would be surprised when he turned up to find her big as a hippopotamus and twice as ungainly, or cuddling a baby in her arms. Or running round after a toddler, for crying out loud! On a hill farm! Kirilee Pritchard, who was born to be a city girl, and was good at it. She had grown up in Boston, never held down so much as a summer job, completed her Masters in Business Administration at Bentley and gone straight to work for the global enterprise owned by her much older brother. Personal assistant to one of the Vice Presidents running a North American subsidiary, but she’d been on a fast track from her first day, headed for the global team as soon as she’d shown herself to be more than the boss’s little sister. Never one of the gang. Always set apart. Always dressed perfectly, behaving perfectly, proving herself so she could join her brother’s global team.
No wonder Bernard hadn’t found her since Trevor’s colleagues had spirited her away. Even if he saw her with his own eyes, in her scruffy worn jeans, gumboots, and loose cotton shirt, he wouldn’t believe it.
Trevor would surely be home for Christmas, his sister Cheryl said, though with a little frown that hinted she didn’t believe it.
Lee had a false history too, or so Cheryl said. Leigh Green. Came here on a student visa ten years ago, and stayed for love of a farm boy turned cop she met at Massey University in Palmerston North, which the locals all called Palmy.
Lee hadn’t seen her online identity. She followed the rules and stayed off the Internet, not even tempted to contact anyone back home for fear that Bernard would track her down and take out his anger on her, Cheryl, Old Trev and the baby.
Any hint that she was alive, and he wouldn’t stop until he found her.
She shivered at the thought, and Cheryl asked if she was too cold, which made Lee laugh.
“With my internal radiator? Is it always this hot in New Zealand at Christmas?”
“Nope,” Old Trev told her, and he and Cheryl chorused, “sometimes it snows!”
They’d been telling her that all month, and that the hottest month was usually February. Then one or the other would glance anxiously at the steep hillsides, where the green was fading to brown as the grass dried, and say, “We need that rain they keep promising us.”
Apart from a few isolated falls in November, the clouds that showed up on the evening weather report continued to slide around this small patch of rural New Zealand, carrying their precious burden to other, more fortunate, farmers. In four weeks, the rain gauges hadn’t collected more than a trickle, and down in the tiny settlement at the mouth of the valley, talk at the general store, the club house, and the school gate was all of feed and stock levels.
“At least it’ll be fine for the Mangatehapu Christmas Fair,” Cheryl said. She had taken to heart the midwife’s command to keep Lee cheerful. It made Lee feel like an outsider. Family shared one another’s burdens.
Lee said nothing, not wanting to rock the boat. A lifetime habit that, one that brought her here, to the Rangitikei, clambering out of a Ute on a bare mountain-top, large as a beached whale.