I am Romona Hilliger, author of Romantic-Suspense.
Thank you very much to the Romance Junkies Blog Team for this opportunity to tell you about my new release at CHAMPAGNE BOOKS www.champagnebooks.com
Contemporary Rating v. sensual
Set in rural Victoria, at the very southern edge of mainland
CAN THE BONDS OF THREE, STRUCK IN CHILDHOOD, SURVIVE THE TRIALS OF LOVE AND WAR?
Bryce has forsaken everything, even Kate, the love of his life since childhood, and all for the sake of his career in medicine. His obsession is not for fame or money, but to bring health to underprivileged, indigenous children in the far remote regions of
Frank, the returned war hero from Iraq, wants Kate because he can’t have her. She still loves Bryce. But the brutality of war has twisted Frank’s mind and he’ll stoop to anything to snare her love.
Will Bryce and Kate ever find a way through the heartache that their separate ways has brought them? Or will they have to accept that the bonds they forged as children were not meant to last into adulthood.
BOOK AVAILABLE CHAMPAGNE BOOKS www.champagnebooks.com
PLEASE ENJOY THE TRAILER
EXCERPT. THE SOLDIER’S GIRL
*** Wakefulness brought realisation and with it, the grim reality that today was ‘make or break’ time.
Katherine Morgan rose and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. On silent bare feet, she padded across the bedside carpet and polished wooden floor to the window. She flung it wide to the sweet morning air of Dongala and breathed in its purity. The small rural town in Victoria, with its green, gently sloping hills, was located at the very bottom edge of Australia. The earthy smell of freshly turned soil, abundant-flowing rivers, sheep, dairy cattle and vast fields of waving grain; these were things that made her hometown so special. But today, her spirits sagged depressingly; the decision she had to make would influence the rest of her life and her stomach clutched in cold anticipation. If only she’d left things as they were, then, life would still be simple and uncomplicated.
The five councillors from the Dongala City Council, gathered at the apron of the dirt airstrip. Kate stood with the crowd gathered in the small building that served as an airport lounge. There was an atmosphere of festivity as the buzz of chatter mingled with the sounds from outside where the school band practiced with brash notes on bagpipes and drums. Frank Davis, Dongala’s sole but proud contribution to Australia’s efforts in the Iraq war, was coming home on leave today.
In all the hustle and bustle, Kate spotted Bryce Collard and her heart leapt until reality smacked her flat in the face. She watched him stop to talk to people. Well-liked, they were glad to see him, and with eager smiles on their faces, they clapped him on the back in affection.
She willed herself to remain calm despite her foolishly racing heart. After last night she must not show her emotions, not ever again. She hung back in the area of the airport lounge that was marked OFFICE and though she was making every effort to put the final touches to the “welcome home” banner she’d been working on, her trembling fingers hampered her to the point of being a fumbling mess.
Funny, how things had just happened; Bryce was in Dongala, too. He and Frank had been best mates since their school days and it was fitting that he be here on this special occasion.
“Been a long time since the boys first went away.”
Kate turned. It was Mr. Collard, Bryce’s father. Stooped and gaunt after his long bouts of illness, he leaned on the work-bench she was working at.
“Hello Mr. Collard, nice to see you out and about,” Kate smiled.
Mr. Collard turned and, better to brace himself, rested his behind against the bench. “Bryce, my dear son, insisted I come and join in the celebration.”
“Yes. Ten years in fact,” Kate continued. “Soon after they left high school.”
“Aye, Kate. Both lads set off to carve out the careers they aspired to. Barely twenty at the time. Bryce gone off to study medicine in Melbourne, and then, to specialise in paediatrics in America.”
Kate gave him a glance as he reminisced quietly, but his tone and eyes bursting with pride.
He shook his head. “That long time gone, it knocked me up some, I can tell you,” he sighed. “Still, I admire his commitment, and I’m proud of him.”
Kate studied the drawn and saddened face. Everybody knew only too well how close father and son had been, and how Bryce leaving home had devastated his father.
“And Frank gone off to join the army,” her voice took on a keen edge, in the hope of changing the subject and softening the hurt in his eyes. But bar a faint smile in politeness, she knew it hadn’t worked.
No. She too, still recalled that time with a heavy heart. From as far back as she could remember she’d worshipped Bryce and still did, but he’d never shown any more than a ‘shared-childhood’ interest in her. He thought of nothing but being a doctor. His obsession was not for fame or money but to bring health to the indigenous children in the remote regions of Northern Australia. Now he was back, albeit one of his rare visits, with his father the only reason. He hadn’t changed much. Except for the tan derived from the tropical Queensland sun, and it only served to enhance his masculinity. Tall and broad-shouldered, with deep-blue, smiling eyes that matched the smile on his lips, gave him the kind of sensuality that women found hard to resist. And as he’d always done, he wore it all with such ease, as though he wasn’t even aware of how his maleness could have had such a devastating effect on the female gender.
Kate risked another glance at Bryce. He’d stopped to talk to one of the councillors and was now coming toward her. The very sight of him brought back that old longing that refused to be extinguished. His dark, short-clipped hair revealing his small well-shaped ears and the turn of that handsome jaw was held in a strong and determined line. Bryce was a stunning contrast to Frank’s boyish good looks. A blast of red hair and brown eyes with pinpoints of mischief dancing in them. But in Bryce’s long absences it was the gregarious Frank who displayed more than a platonic keenness in her and gradually he’d helped her heal from the loss of Bryce, at least, cushion its sharpness, and they’d started going together.
“Well, Frank’s plane is due, so, I’ll go wait outside with the others,” Mr. Collard said, standing up and dusting off the seat of his pants. “Come visit some time Kate, it would be lovely to see you.”
“Thank you, I’d love that,” she smiled and watched him walk away, then made another assault on the last of the gold cords she was working with.
She stiffened at the sound of that deep clear voice. She looked up, way up, and into that brilliant smile.
“Bryce,” she responded quietly, her voice barely a quiver riding up from a throat that was so stricken with mixed feelings, it caught and choked.
Bryce studied her face. He understood how she felt about the whole sorry situation, because he’d been there with her, too. A short but deeply poignant situation, that didn’t die just because they had ended it the night before.
“The banner done?” he said, idly as though that was all that mattered, while his gut ached as if he’d been hit hard, right in the solar-plexus. “I was told to collect it from here. I wasn’t aware that you—”
Still smarting from their long and painful parting of the night before, she returned sharply. “Yes, I’m the one getting the thing together.” She could hide her anger and pain from him but not her passion and if she didn’t watch out, it would be her undoing, so, she was glad of the moment they snatched to lapse into silent reflection, each of their own hurt.
To indulge his long-denied love for this woman who’d always tortured him with her gentle charm. The innocence of it. Every move she made, the way she walked, the smoky tone of her voice. The delicate bone structure of her face, the evocative aroma of her hair and the breath-taking seduction of breasts, now truly a woman’s, thrusting erotically against the soft silk of her blouse. He gave a short laugh that he hoped would disguise his own painful emotions. “Seems like only yesterday that we were all still at school, and look at Frank now. A war hero,” he remarked, with naked pride in his old friend.
Kate knew he was trying to keep the conversation on a safe level but it wasn’t that easy for her. “Frank and you were good mates,” she said, a little too brightly. “You still are!” she plunged on, with unexpected vehemence.
Bryce swallowed hard, he knew what she was getting at, but he wouldn’t rise to it. He’d just let the ensuing pause linger without further comment that he knew, would only erupt into a heart-breaking scene.
Kate worked at the banner a little more furiously. No, he wasn’t going to let anything destroy that mate-ship and she realised the thought of it was stirring her to fury born of frustration. She had to stay calm and to achieve that, she might as well talk.
“All those years ago, Frank became restless after you left. That’s why he joined the army. Did he ever tell you? He wanted to serve his country. Do something worthwhile. Like you. You two always stuck up for each other—” she broke off, and the piteous way she’d strung all those sentences together, brought Bryce close to breaking his resolve to let her go from his life.
“You were precious to us too. Five years younger, we always looked out for you.”
Precious? A moment of hope soared in her heart then it came crashing down again, like a dying man in a desert who thinks he’s seen water. No. It wasn’t the ‘precious’ she yearned for. “How could I forget?” she said, brushing aside her disappointment. “The way you sailed into that big Buckley boy who tried to grab me at the high school party…”
Bryce’s arms ached at his sides, he was hardly able to restrain his desire to drag her into his embrace, press her to his heart, and hold her there. Her gaze fused with his and he was on a collision of guilt and desire. “I couldn’t stand anyone else even touching you,” he said, his voice unusually rough.
“Those were good days,” Kate smiled, pretending she didn’t care. “Along with the other kids we’d all go swimming and fishing together and those football games we’d cheer you and Frank on until we were hoarse.”
His presence was elating her and she felt the stir of stimulation, a gentle pulse within the sensitive part below her belly, so heady and warm. She cast her eyes down. She had to refrain from the bittersweet pleasure of brushing against him, as he stood not two feet away. “Bryce, I loved you even then. Didn’t you know?” she said, her eyes slowly lifting to meet his, and in their bleakness, she saw his bared soul. It made her want to cry.
Bryce bit on his bottom lip. Lying to her would solve nothing. He might just as well tell her the truth.
THE SOLDIER’S GIRL
*** Bryce shivered and pulled the collar of his jacket up around his neck. “You can say that again.”
The pilot grinned. “Well apart from that, nothing much has changed in Dongala,” he said. Bryce returned his smile and moved on toward the gateway.
He wasn’t thinking of the changes in Dongala, or its weather, his mind was focused on Kate.
Since the last time he’d been here and Frank’s homecoming from Iraq, he’d had no contact with Kate, but he could never completely erase her from his mind. There was always something that kept the thread of memory burning and alive. That picture of her when they’d been fishing and she was barely twelve years old. He had no idea why he still carried it in his wallet, nor why he’d never been able to sling the picture out. He had others of Kate. Group photographs as she’d matured to young womanhood, but something in this old photograph seemed always to haunt him. Something in the way she was looking up at him. The pleading in her face as though she needed him to say something that would take her pain away. The way she cuddled lovingly against his arm. Why hadn’t he noticed? Why had he always dismissed her affection as some childish ploy for his attention? Why did he see it only now? A tender love rejected and so painfully held within her, while his obsession for his work and loyalty to his friend had consumed him. Bryce walked the short distance from the airstrip to the town centre and from there he intended to just keep going on home.
There was nobody to meet him as he hadn’t told his parents that he was coming for this one last visit before heading to an even more remote location. This time it was in the northernmost part of the Kimberley region of Western Australia as head of the health unit. He thought of the hope his father had held that he’d come back to Dongala to stay. But now, he was heading even further away, and though his father and mother were aware of it, face-to-face was a different matter. He knew he’d hate the underlying look of pain he’d see in his father’s eyes. The stalwart man, who despite his grief at losing his son to medicine and distant places never reproached him, rather always encouraged him. Bryce felt the stab of pain in his heart. Though he didn’t come home often, he always held in his heart, the wonderful times he’d spent in company with his father.
Bryce slung his back-pack over his shoulder and hitched it across to hook his other arm through. Deep in thought and head down, he sauntered along the familiar road through town, now and again responding to waves of welcome and shouts in greeting, until he reached the end and was passing the pub.
“Bryce,” called a familiar voice. His head shot up and Bryce turned to peer into the smoky dimness of the bar and there was Frank making his way toward him. Once more they slapped backs and laughed their greetings. “How’re you going mate?” they each cried out in unison and before he knew it, Frank in his eagerness, had Bryce by the arm.
“Have a beer before you head off,” he insisted, dragging Bryce into the pub.
“This early, Frank?” Bryce grinned, taking in the few diehard drinkers crouching over their drinks.
“It’s 4 o’clock,” he said taking a glance at his watch. “The sun’s at the yardarm, well near enough. Gets dark earlier in winter,” he laughed. “Besides, I’m celebrating. Haven’t you heard? Kate and I are getting married day after tomorrow. You’re just in time for the wedding, pal. Did you know?”