I’m editing Isabella’s Gift/Lighthouse Bay/Not sure yet what it will be called in various territories, but it will be out in Australia and the US in September. Here’s a sneak preview from a scene, set in 1901 in a lighthouse on the Queensland coast.
The kettle boils and Matthew wordlessly makes the tea. Isabella sits and waits, wishing for something she cannot articulate. She had been feeling fine and light, just half an hour ago. Now the dark network of memories is closing around her again, just as the dark clouds outside are pressing out all the light.
But the tea helps. Hot and sweet.
“Tell me about your sister,” he says gently. “Are you close?
Isabella smiles, thinking of Victoria: as dark as she is fair. “We were terribly close as children. We grew up on the north Cornish coast. Father was a jeweller. Oh, he was quite mad. He’d work late late in the night, with his hair all stuck up…” She gestured to her own hair. “He had the strangest clients: barons and so on from European towns I’d never even heard of. He was terribly popular. All his jewels were made with cold connections. Every clasp bent and wrapped into shape by hand. His hands were so strong he could crush a tea tin with his fingertips. After Mama died, he let us run wild. We’d spend all day down at the beach collecting shells and stones, then come home and make brooches and bracelets.” Isabella drops her eyes, thinking of Arthur. Once in her life, she’d mistakenly thought that Arthur and she would have so much in common. But Arthur never took joy in making jewels, not the way Papa did. Everything Arthur did was without passion. Bloodless.
“Do you not think it strange,” she asks, after a few silent sips, “that I haven’t missed my husband at all?”
“No. I presume you left him because he didn’t treat you well, and that you were prepared to miss him.”
“Sometimes I worry that there is something wrong with my heart.”
Matthew doesn’t answer. He seems comfortable simply to sit and wait for her to continue.
“Perhaps it is broken,” she says. “Not a broken heart in the usual sense, not a simple crack down the middle. But broken like a clock that has been taken down from the mantel, disassembled by a rough hand, then left in pieces on the floor. Broken so it cannot work right again.” She checks herself. She is talking too much about nonsense. If Arthur were here, he’d admonish her for drawing attention to herself with her wild ideas.
But Arthur isn’t here, he’s dead at the bottom of the sea.
“My husband is dead, Matthew,” she says softly.
“Then what have you run away from?”
He nods, seems about to say something, then thinks better of it. “You don’t have to tell me anything. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.”
She tries to be bright. “Then you shall think me too mysterious. A secret-keeper. Perhaps even a liar.”
He holds her gaze in his a moment, another moment, time winding out. The sense of his masculine presence, the oil and sea smell of the place, the darkness of his eyes.
“I couldn’t think ill of you,” he says at last. “Put it out of your mind.”
Something flares into life inside her, something she has never felt properly before so at first it puzzles her. A warmth, down low. A tide of longing to press her whole length against his. This is desire. She desires Matthew, the lighthouse keeper. It surprises her, but not unhappily. She doesn’t know what to do, so she stays where she is. It’s unlikely he feels the same, and he would not think it proper for her to express her feelings. She finishes her tea. The rain has eased. It is time to go.