Jesse Holt flees south to forget, pursued only by his conscience and the shadow holding on to his soul. Only at a remote southern bay can he find solace, or that’s what he tells himself, anyway. Instead he meets Lisa Dillon, who lives for the day – and the night – offering Jesse a way to shut out his memories, temporarily at least. But Lisa’s determination to live in the moment is only one of the barriers between them, as Jesse fights to break free of his past and make a new life for himself. Without Lisa, who knows only the sun in life and nothing of the shade – or the real Jesse. The safest thing he can do is keep her a distance, just like he does with everyone, or else risk shining a light on his true self. Because when the sun shines on darkness, shadows still remain…
Looking down at The Gutter, Mason Bay, Stewart Island, New Zealand – Photo credit Colin Monteath – www.hedgehoghouse.com
“You can stay here.”
Lisa turned to face him, only metres from the hut and wearing her pack. “I’m going to sleep in the cave.”
“The cave?” He shook his head. A very good litigator… “For Christ’s sake, don’t be so melodramatic. There’re two levels of bunks. We’ll take one each. I don’t bite.”
“I don’t need your permission to sleep in the cave.” She glanced at her smartphone.
He inclined his head. “What have you got your phone out for? It’s useless out here.”
“Torch,” she said, only a flicker in her expression betraying her uncertainty.
“Using that as a torch? Here? Where’d you get that bright idea?”
“Your puns are almost as bad as your pickup lines.” She tried to analyse why she was standing sparring with him when she really needed to get to the cave and set herself up for the night. I’ll be fine. She shivered without noticing.
“If you’re cold now you’ll be colder tonight. In the cave.” He stepped forward.
She studied him expertly, the green eyes that seemed to have darkened from the emerald glance he had given her earlier, the tall strength that was evident in his stance. The way his chin seemed to be chiselled out of his jawline, with that definite cleft, and his mouth. That made her think of only one thing. Was that a dimple? She tried to judge whether she would need to stand on tiptoe to –
“Do I pass muster?”
“Oh.” She blushed, not used to being called out.
“What if I promise not to make another pun? Would you stay then?”
She rallied, her confidence when she had first arrived now a distant memory. “I’m more worried about the pickup lines.”
“I can’t promise to stop those. So you could be in for another Freudian slip.”
“Oh,” she said again, trying to kick her brain into “speak” mode. And out of “lust” mode.
“I need the practice, after all.”
“And you’re going to practice on me?”
A definite nod. And a hint of the dimple. She watched avidly. There are worse fates. “I guess you’re right. It would be cold. In the cave.”
“Yep.” He stepped up on to the porch and pushed at the door, holding it open for her as she walked past him into the hut. Thank Christ my arm has stopped aching.
“Other trampers will probably turn up anyway.” She spoke more to reassure herself but he heard her.
“Need a chaperone, do you?”
“Nah.” Just some kind of antidote for all consuming lust. She swung her pack down on to the bare wooden floor, trying for an air of nonchalance.
“You can always call the cavalry on your phone.”
Why does it feel like he had the upper hand now? She gritted her teeth. “Look, save it for someone who cares, all right? I’m only here to get away from the boss from hell. I don’t need you being a smart arse all evening.”
“Something wrong at work?”
She looked at him, her dark eyes smouldering as she unselfconsciously raked back her hair and snagged it with a tie. Too late she realised she could hardly go off on a rant about Blake to a total stranger, even here. Her conscience pricked at her. “Not really. It’s all good.”
His eyes narrowed. “Say it like you mean it.”
“I do mean it. Can we just leave it alone? Or, more to the point, can you leave me alone?” She tugged at her pack to remove her small cooker and food for dinner.
“I’m already set up,” he said, making no reference to her flash of temper. “Don’t worry about getting your gear out. It’s just more to pack away in the morning.”
The morning. Which in theory would arrive after twelve hours alone in a hut with the most disturbing guy I’ve ever met.
Doughboy Bay Hut, Stewart Island, New Zealand – Photo credit – www.tramping.net.nz
Lisa studied him expertly, the green eyes that seemed to have darkened from the emerald glance he had given her earlier, the tall strength that was evident in his stance. The way his chin seemed to be chiselled out of his jawline, with that definite cleft, and his mouth. That made her think of only one thing.
Jesse Holt forged a new life away from the memories that haunt him, but the past is never far away. Meeting Lisa Dillon gives him a moment – or a night – of respite, and a glimpse of what might have been if things were different. If he was different. Lisa wants the one thing he can’t give, and telling her the truth would end things between them anyway. But will Jesse catch up with his past before it catches up with him?
Dark hair blew around her face as she came into view at the tail of the aeroplane. Jesse stared at her, incapable of saying anything – again – unable to move away from the glittering dark gaze that fell on him, the tall, lithe figure that seemed to merge curves and athleticism into one.
An overachieving brother…a mother playing favourites…luckily staying under the radar suits Lisa Dillon just fine. Life’s about having fun – after all, responsibility and a career will still be there when she wants them, which won’t be anytime soon! Sure, Jesse takes life seriously, but a guy as hot as that doesn’t come along every day – more like just for one night. But Lisa’s party girl reputation masks a clever mind, and a dare thrown in anger becomes a challenge to solve the mystery. Without any idea of the consequences.
The road by Lake Wakatipu, close to Kingston, southern New Zealand
A Southern Shelter is Book 2 in my “Across the Strait” series. It’s set in southern New Zealand – Queenstown, Arrowtown, Kingston and Stewart Island all feature. There’s even a mention of Athol (Southland!) and the Mataura River. These beautiful areas are an ideal setting for a New Zealand romance novel, offering remoteness, together with gorgeous and unique scenery.
A Southern Shelter is a contemporary New Zealand romance novel, or at least that what I intended to write when I planned to write a sequel to A Southern Star. And it is still that – a guy and girl overcoming obstacles to be together in a happily ever after. Which is a good thing. As I wrote, though, the story took on a life of its own and the social issues that I feel strongly about made their way more into the story. There’s a fair bit of debate in (romance) writing circles about whether readers want pure escapism when they read, or whether it’s okay to include some realism. I’ve chosen the latter path – that was the story that was in my head. So A Southern Shelter does include direct references to the Family Court, loss, and family violence. There is a strong romantic element in the story, but also quite a bit of the (unfortunately) real world around Jesse and Lisa. And in writing about significant social and personal issues I didn’t want to just “explain them away in a paragraph” and move on quickly to, for example, Jesse and Lisa having some first world problem out on a date.
For that reason (and I do say this with every book!) I think Jesse is my favourite hero. Writing “him” was in some ways difficult but also very rewarding. There was so much I wanted to include about him and his story, and the way Lisa was able to “grow” from an arguably selfish, hedonistic person into someone who was touched by life, and then realised there was more to life than the next glass of wine. This book and my own research reinforced to me the importance of the work done by Police and Family Court Judges, lawyers and staff, and the personal toll this can take.
The geographic locations referred to in A Southern Shelter do exist although the situations, businesses and people referred to in those settings are totally fictitious. Because of the subject matter some names and places are simply not given to avoid any perception that situations are based on real/specific events.
Those readers familiar with Stewart Island will realise there has not been accommodation “on the hill” in Oban for many years, since Ferndale House was destroyed by fire. The hotel (and pub) referred to on the island in A Southern Shelter are imaginary and their mention does not refer to Ferndale House or any other establishment.