Holiday Books
Release Date:

Jul 20, 2018

ISBN:

978-1-949068-61-0

More From Elsa →

Where the River Bends

by

Elsa Winckler

Kalinda Evans works for the Anglo-Boer war foundation in Canada. She’s sent to South Africa to make sure everyone who lost their lives in the war will be remembered. On her drive to the guest farm in Kimberley, South Africa, Kalinda picks up a female hitchhiker and is startled when just moments later, the woman vanishes. Kalinda would be convinced she was dreaming…except there’s still a white lace handkerchief on the passenger seat.

Extreme sports enthusiast and computer game designer Zack Carter is always after the next big challenge. He’s far too busy for romance and adheres to a three-date rule, until he meets his parents’ latest guest. When she relays the story of her mysterious experience, Zack’s family shares the local ghost story. Kalinda and Zack work together to solve the puzzle of the ghost and how it all ties in with the war and the work Kalinda is doing.

As their attraction grows, Zack realizes he no longer feels the need to prove anything to himself. He only needs to prove to Kalinda that he’s more than a good time.

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It was dusk. The black tarred road stretched endlessly out in front of Kalinda. She focussed on the white stripes on the road as they disappeared underneath the car. About fifty kilometers back, she’d left the national road from Bloemfontein and since then, there hadn’t been another car in sight.

Her eyes were tired; her head felt thick. Leaning forward, she adjusted the air conditioner. Cooler air wafted through the car. Maybe it would help her to stay awake.

The flight from Toronto had been long. Extremely long. She’d flown to London, caught another plane from there to Johannesburg, South Africa. At the moment, all she remembered were the long queues and the many, many people.

Her original plan was to stay in Kimberley overnight. She now realized she probably shouldn’t have changed her plans. But the urge to reach her final destination was stronger so she’d sent a message to the guest house close to Paardeberg where she would be staying for the next few days, informing them she’d be arriving earlier than planned.

She was so angry at herself. When she’d divorced Neil two years ago and fled to Canada, she’d left her past here in South Africa. And, with time, she’d convinced herself she had completely recovered from the trauma of that horrible time. But the minute she caught a glimpse of a blond guy at the airport, who reminded her of Neil, she wanted to flee as far away as quickly as possible.

When her employer, the Anglo Boer War Foundation, had asked her whether she would visit South Africa, she didn’t hesitate. Neil’s emotional and physical abuse during their very short marriage was something of the past. She never even thought of it any longer. She’d even managed to put the last menacing message he’d left on her phone out of her head. “I’ll get you. Somewhere, when you least expect it, I’ll get you!”

But now his words were back, haunting her every moment.

Kalinda rubbed her temple where the beginning of a headache pulsed. Surely the man in the airport couldn’t have been Neil—he only reminded her of him. But, damn it, she reacted like a terrified puppy.

Tomorrow was Monday and the sooner she did what she came here to do, the sooner she could have a whole ocean between herself and South Africa again. She was leaving again next Friday, which meant she should have enough time to finalise the task that had been assigned to her.

She yawned and shook her head in an effort to stay awake. At least her hands had stopped trembling. Maybe she should listen to the radio. She fiddled on the panel, but a scratching noise was the only sound she could find. Radio nowhere. Of course. In some remote areas in South Africa, finding a station was impossible.

Gripping the steering wheel tighter, she leaned a bit forward. The farm where she would be staying couldn’t be too far away. According to the web page there should have been numerous road signs along the way that were supposed to help visitors, but so far she hadn’t seen anything. The GPS showed she was close, but she had yet to see a specific indicator.

The tyres of the car sang on the tarred road, her shoulders relaxed for the first time since she’d left the airport. Gradually, she became aware something was amiss, though. She rubbed her one arm. Was it her imagination or had it turned cold all of a sudden?

She lifted her foot from the pedal and glanced at the temperature meter. It was fifteen degrees Celsius. That was weird. It was February, after all, one of the warmest months in these parts of South Africa. Something had to be wrong with the car. Maybe she should pull over and check.

Anxiously, she focused on the road again while trying to look for a spot where she could stop the car. She turned into a long curve, still looking for a spot when she quickly had to step on the brakes.

Right in front of her, in the middle of the road, stood a woman. Kalinda’s heart nearly stopped. She clutched the steering wheel tighter, the brakes screeched and the car shuddered to a halt centimetres in front of the woman.

Before Kalinda could take another breath, the passenger door opened and the woman got into the car. With her, a nearly overwhelming scent of citrus filled the small space around them.

Too stunned to say anything, Kalinda stared at the woman. Her passenger turned towards her. It looked as if she’d been crying. Her eyes were red and her hand opened and clutched around a white, lace handkerchief.

“Are you perhaps going to Paardeberg?” As she spoke, it became even colder in the car.

Kalinda tried to talk, but her mouth was so dry, it was difficult to form any words. Something very odd was going on, but she was so stunned, it was impossible to decide what exactly was bothering her.

She swallowed and tried again. “Yes, I am. But who are you?”

“We should go; I have to find him,” the woman said and looked in front of her.

Kalinda’s brain was struggling to make sense of what was happening but she started the car. Her heart was racing. Who was this woman?

She turned to look at her passenger again. Shock made her gasp out loud. Her hands slipped from the steering wheel. Cold fingers touched her spine. She blinked, looked again. There was nobody else in the car. Only… She lost her breath. On the car seat next to her lay a white, lace handkerchief.

The car was veering perilously close to the side of the tar. Afterwards, she would never be quite sure how she managed to turn the steering wheel so the vehicle stayed on the road. Paralysed with fear, she stared in front of her.

It didn’t make sense; what had happened?

She stepped on the brake; the car came to a standstill. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably. Quickly, she opened the door and nearly fell out.

Outside it was warm. Like it was supposed to be in February. Agitated, she turned around, trying to find the woman in the dusk. It was quiet. And apart from the thorn trees, the grass, and the bushes, there was nothing else.

Something cold moved down the back of her neck and she turned around quickly. Was that something moving farther down the road or was it her imagination? Her heart pounded jerkily and her palms were clammy. Kalinda moved forward and froze. There was the woman again, farther down the road.

Kalinda opened her mouth to call out, but she couldn’t make a sound. The figure moved in her direction. She was coming closer. Kalinda stepped back, fear tying her insides in a knot. The woman came closer and closer. Kalinda moved farther back, her breath was ragged, her eyes focused on the woman before her in the road.

Behind her, lights appeared and tyres screeched. She jerked around; a car was fast coming towards her. She should move, but her feet were glued to the road. Something cold moved behind her, she was shoved to the side, and she fell to the ground.

For endless minutes it was deathly quiet. Frightened and distraught, Kalinda tried to stand up but winced with pain. She’d landed on her hands and knees and had probably scraped them on the tarred road.

But at the moment that was the least of her worries.

A car door opened and closed, footsteps came closer. Her throat was dry, her heart was racing, but she staggered upright and turned in the direction of the noises while she frantically tried to figure out what had just happened.

An older man was walking towards her.

“Miss? Are you okay?” he asked.

She wanted to answer him, but her voice had lodged in her throat and for the life of her she couldn’t produce a sound. She nodded and motioned down the road.

“Is it your car? Do you need help?” the man asked.

She shook her head and swallowed. Tried to talk again. This time she succeeded. “No, I don’t think so.” She crossed her arms around herself and leaned forward. If only her head would clear and she could think again, she might be able to process the whole bizarre episode of the last few minutes.

“Sweetheart, what happened?” a woman’s voice said next to her.

Frightened, Kalinda looked up, but the woman who was walking towards them was not the same one she’d seen earlier. This woman was older and was looking sympathetically at Kalinda.

Kalinda wiped her forehead. She’d probably dreamt the whole thing; that was the only explanation. The long flight from Toronto had finally caught up with her and she’d fallen asleep behind the wheel of the car. Jet lag had her seeing things.

She tried to smile. “I’m fine. I think I nearly fell asleep behind the wheel. I’m on my way to the guest house on the farm called Paardeberg.”

The man laughed and put out his hand. “You must be Miss Evans. I’m Zacharias Carter and this is my wife, Madeline. You’re on your way to our farm.”

Wincing, Kalinda shook his hand.

His wife came forward smiling, her hand stretched out. “We were in Kimberley today but I got your message that you’ll be arriving earlier. We’re always ready for guests, so it’s absolutely no problem.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Carter, I …”

Turning her head, Kalinda looked again in the direction where she’d thought she’d seen a woman. It was nearly dark by now.

“Are you hurt?” Mrs. Carter asked.

Kalinda looked down at her hands, willing herself to act normal. It was only a dream, wasn’t it?

“Miss Evans, your hands…”

“I’m fine, thank you Mrs. Carter. My hands are a bit sore, but that’s all.” Her hands were shaking and she crossed her arms.

“Well, let’s go get you settled in. Follow us; we’re nearly there,” Mr. Carter said as he and his wife turned away.

“Thanks, I will.” A huge feeling of relief washed over her. Thank goodness she was not going to be the only living, breathing being on this stretch of road any longer.

As she walked back, her knees and hands were burning. She climbed into the car and stared in front of her for a moment before she glanced at the seat next to her. Was it her imagination or was there still a whiff of citrus in the air? That would mean she hadn’t been dreaming.

But where was the handkerchief the woman had left on the seat? Kalinda switched on the overhead light and looked under and next to the seat, but there was no sign of the white, lace handkerchief. She could have sworn it really had been on the seat.

Behind her, Mr. Carter pressed the horn of his car and motioned for her to follow him. With one last look at the seat next to her, Kalinda started her vehicle. She slowly breathed in and out. She’d had a dream and she’d nearly fallen asleep.

That was the only explanation that made sense.

Mr. and Mrs. Carter stopped in front of a huge house. Kalinda got out slowly. It was a beautiful place. It seemed as if all the lights were on inside and, along a small footpath, a line of short lamps lit the way. The house looked inviting, friendly. She tried to relax, but she was still so rattled. The dream had been vivid and real.

Grimacing, she bent to take her handbag from the car. One thing was for sure, she wasn’t going to tell a soul about her dream. They’d think she was stark, raving mad. Nobody with a sound mind would believe such a ridiculous story.

She was desperate to be on her own so she could unwind and try and make sense of what had happened. And she wanted to put something on her hands and knees. In the dim light of the car, she couldn’t really see how bad they were, but they were burning.

Mrs. Carter walked towards her. “Come on in, my dear. We’re having dinner and you’re more than welcome to join us. It’s nothing fancy, but we have more than enough.”

She motioned towards a few cottages next to the house. “You’re staying in one of those cottages, but please do come in before I take you there.”

Kalinda opened her mouth to refuse, but Mrs. Carter took her arm and chatted away as she led Kalinda towards the front verandah.

Her tummy growled and, embarrassed, she smiled. “I would like to turn in as soon as possible; it was a long flight, but thanks, I’d love to join you for dinner.”

Before they reached the front door, a man’s loud voice could be heard shouting from inside. “No, no, no! You’re an idiot!”

Kalinda stopped in her tracks. After two years she wasn’t frightened of loud men’s voices any longer, but it had been a while since she’d heard someone shouting quite so loudly.

Mrs. Carter was smiling. “Sorry about that. That’s one of our boys—he’s probably watching rugby or cricket on the television. Please don’t mind him. He’s actually quite house-trained.”

They walked into a large living room. A tall man was standing in front of the television, waving his arms and shouting.

Mr. Carter was smiling. “Switch off that thing, Luke, we have a guest.”

The man turned around. The frown disappeared immediately and laughing blue eyes smiled down at her. It was impossible not to return the smile. It had probably been some time ago anyone would have called him a boy.

“This loud-mouth belongs to us, Miss Evans. This is our son, Luke,” Mr. Carter said and grabbed his son playfully around the neck.

With eyes full of mischief, Luke walked towards her and folded her one hand in his.

“Ow!” she instinctively cried out and dropped his hand.

He lifted his hand apologetically. “Sorry, I didn’t mean …”

Mrs. Carter took Kalinda’s hand in hers. “Shame, sweetie, I’ve forgotten you fell on the tarred road. Come and sit. Luke, get the first aid kit.”

“He’s a doctor,” Mrs. Carter said as Luke disappeared around the corner. “He’ll be able to help you.”

“Look, Mrs. Carter, I can do this myself, please don’t bother …”

“Please call me Madeline, dear. And my husband is Zacharias. What happened that made you fall? Look at your hands; they must be painful.”

“Well, I’m not quite sure but …”

“Well, well, well and what do we have here?” It was a new voice.

Kalinda glanced towards the door. At first she thought it was Luke, but then ice blue eyes landed on her and she realised this was someone different. Entirely different. He radiated energy; his mere presence seemed to fill up the room. Something inside of her moved. Breathing was suddenly difficult.

Like Luke, this man was big and tall. And, like Luke, he was attractive. Impossibly attractive. He had Luke’s black hair and bushy eyebrows, but there the similarities ended. Instead of a clean-shaven face, he had what was probably a week’s worth of stubble and instead of Luke’s easy, open smile, his was mocking. Challenging. And it was doing strange things to her insides.

Her reaction to him was also totally different. She’d smiled easily when she’d seen Luke but now she couldn’t get her mouth to move. Her tongue felt too big, her legs were rubbery, and her heartbeat had increased rapidly. What the hell?

She quickly looked down at her hands, willing herself to breathe. But her body refused to behave normally.

“Zach!” Madeline called out and rushed forward to hug him. “I didn’t know you were coming to visit.” She cupped his face. “What’s wrong? Why are you so pale? Has your asthma been bothering you again?”

He smiled and grabbed her hands. “Relax, Mom, nothing happened; I’m fine. I’m pale because I’ve been to the Antarctic.”

“But that was in November last year …”

Ignoring his mother, he crouched down in front of Kalinda. “Who is this gorgeous woman and what is wrong with her hands?”

Kalinda thought it safest to keep looking down on her hands. What this guy did to her insides was ridiculous. He even had a dimple, for goodness’ sake.

Madeline sat down next to her again. “Miss Evans …”

“Kalinda. My name is Kalinda.”

Madeline patted her arm. “Kalinda is from Canada and she will be a guest here for a week. We only expected her to arrive tomorrow, but then we found her on the road. On her hands and knees. She still has to tell us what happened,” she added teasingly.

Zach took Kalinda’s hand in his and turned it, palm upwards. The minute he touched her, the air around her became too thick to breathe. Damn it, this was ludicrous. He was merely a man.

“I went to Canada last year,” he said.

“Here we go,” Luke said from the door before she could react.

Relieved, Kalinda pulled her hand from Zach’s. He got up and Luke crouched down.

“So, Kalinda who comes from Canada but is South African, tell us what happened to you?” Zach’s voice mocked.

“I …” The words stuck in her mouth.

All of a sudden she felt overwhelmed. Whether or not the woman in her car was a dream or reality, it had rattled her and she desperately needed a few minutes to herself. She got up quickly.

“Please excuse me; I need the bathroom.” She tried to sound in control, but even to her own ears, her voice was thin and shaky. “I’ll take the ointment.” She held out her hand to Luke. “I can do this myself.”

Amused, Luke got up. “Well, if you’re sure.” He handed her two items. “Make sure to clean the wound and then put this on,” he said, pointing to a small tube.

“Come with me, dear,” Madeline said and took her arm. “Let me show you where the bathroom is.”

Minutes later her knees and hands felt better and Kalinda felt more like her old self again. The sight of her pale face in the bathroom mirror minutes earlier really scared her. It had been a good idea to have a few minutes to herself. She’d repaired her make-up and combed her hair and felt more in control.

As she entered the dining room, Madeline motioned her closer. “Come and sit, Kalinda. You’ll feel better when you’ve eaten.”

Kalinda moved towards a chair but before she could pull it out, a big hand folded over hers. She pulled hers out quickly while Zach held the chair for her.

“Thanks.” As she sat down, Zach pulled out the chair next to hers.

Really? Wasn’t it enough that she was a shivering wreck? Did he have to sit next to her?

“Let’s say grace,” Zacharias said and Madeline put out her hand towards Kalinda.

“We hold hands.” She smiled.

Kalinda closed her eyes just as a big, warm hand folded over her other hand. Immediately her skin heated up and a tingle shivered down her spine. Damn, she’d never reacted in this way to any man before. She wasn’t a pining heroine from a nineteenth-century romance who passed out at the first sight of the hero, for goodness’ sake.

Fortunately, the prayer was very short. As quickly as possible, she retrieved her hand from Zach’s.

“We have some nice leg of lamb; would you like some?” Madeline asked.

“Yes, please, Madeline. I can’t remember when last I had any. Canadian meat tastes differently.”

“Wine?” Luke asked and she nodded.

“So tell us, why are you working and living in Canada?” Luke asked.

“I work for the Anglo Boer War Foundation.”

“In Canada?” Zacharias asked, surprised.

“Yes, I don’t know whether it’s general knowledge, but a group of Canadian soldiers were sent to South Africa to help the British during the Anglo Boer War – the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. The first thousand troops sailed from Quebec in 1899 and, over the next two years, more than seven thousand young soldiers and nurses arrived.”

Luke leaned forward. “We actually know about the nurses although I always thought they were English. Mom, wasn’t it one of them …”

“Kalinda hasn’t finished, Luke,” his mother interrupted. “Sorry my dear, the boys don’t always remember their manners.”

Luke’s dad was mouthing something to his son, but Kalinda couldn’t figure out what he was trying to convey.

“Anyway,” she continued, “there were a thousand troops during the Battle of Paardeberg. On the Sunday of 18 February 1900 …”

“Bloody Sunday.” Zacharias nodded.

“Yes, you will obviously know about it. On that day, the English lost many soldiers and twenty-one Canadian soldiers also died. Descendants of these soldiers feel the Canadian government should do more to preserve the graves of their loved ones and that the Canadian involvement should be more visible in the war museums. That’s why I’m here – to inspect the museum in Paardeberg and to check whether there are any memorial stones and in what condition they are.”

Luke shook his head and grimaced. “Museum? I’m not sure whether the very small building with the red corrugated roof can be called that.”

“I’ve seen photographs and have an idea what it looks like. Part of what I’m here to do is to see what can be done to improve the building and to make sure the fallen soldiers are honoured in some way. The head of the museum in Bloemfontein also emailed us to say that they have sent boxes of old letters and documents to the Paardeberg museum. Apparently, grandchildren of a couple who died around this area recently found these in the attic.”

Zach put his knife down. “So let me see if I understand this correctly – you are a South African but you work in Canada. For the Canadians. And you are here to tell their side of the Boer War?”

Kalinda lifted her chin. “No, I want to make sure that everyone who lost their lives, even the Canadians, will be remembered in some or other way.”

“Come on, Zach, stop pestering Kalinda and let her eat. Don’t mind him, my dear,” she said to Kalinda. “This kid of mine doesn’t really work; he literally plays for a living and gets his kicks out of teasing people.”

Luke slapped Zach on the back. “Shouldn’t you be preparing for your next crazy adventure? I didn’t think we’d see you before the end of the year again.”

Unperturbed, Zach sipped his wine. “I’m preparing for the Baikal Ice Marathon race in Russia that starts middle March but I’m taking a bit of a break and thought I’d spent some time with all of you.”

“What?” his mother asked, clearly upset. “Russia? Zach, sweetheart, when will it be enough?”

He lifted his glass with a mocking smile.

His mother shook her head. “His problem is,” Madeline said to Kalinda, “that he makes way too much money. With computer games, of all things. Can you believe it? All he does is sits around all day and creates games people are apparently crazy about. And when he’s not doing that, he keeps testing fate and does some or other extreme sport.” Her words were teasing but it was obvious she was very proud of her son.

“What was your most recent event?” she asked him.

“I did a marathon in Antarctica in November.”

“You must like the cold. Antarctica and Russia.”

He smiled. “I like the challenge.”

“So how do you train for a marathon in such cold conditions?”

“When you live in more temperate climates like most of the competitors, you have to find other ways to train. You can run on a beach, or on treadmills in a freezer. What’s important is to wear the full set of gear and practice temperature control, in particular.”

“Why do it?” Kalinda asked. “Isn’t it very dangerous?”

Luke laughed. “That is the whole point, see? He does it because he can. And because it’s dangerous.”

Zach didn’t answer but continued eating.

Kalinda put her fork down. “So, let me see if I understand you correctly – you take part in races in the coldest places on earth, you put yourself in danger, just because?”

His dad laughed. “Game, set, and match, Zach. This woman is way too smart for you.”

“Well, at least there is always a new game or two on the market after one of his races,” Luke said and lifted his glass.

“And there are always causes. Most of the time he tries to draw attention to the devastating effects of climate change,” his mother added.

Kalinda resumed eating. Zach’s eyes remained on her, though. She had to fight down the urge to fidget.

“So, Kalinda,” he asked, “tell us how you ended up on your hands and knees on the road. I’ve asked you before but you’ve never answered me.”

He wasn’t going to let this go; that was clear now.

Taking a deep breath, Kalinda tried to answer as nonchalantly as possible. “I’m not quite sure. I think I nearly fell asleep behind the wheel.”

“That still doesn’t explain how you ended up on the road.”

“Zach, stop it,” his mother said. “Kalinda has just arrived and must be very tired. Do you want anything else to eat, my dear?”

“No thank you, Madeline. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to go to the cottage now.”

Zach jumped up. “I’ll help …”

But his mother got up. “I’ll take her; you’ll only pester her further with all your questions. Come, Kalinda, Zacharias has moved your car and taken your luggage inside already; let’s get you settled in.”

“Interesting woman,” Zach’s dad said after his mother and Kalinda had left the room.

“Great legs. Really great legs.” Luke just about drooled.

Irritated, Zach looked at his brother. “Yeah? And since when do you notice women’s legs again? I thought you swore never to get involved with one again after… what was her name again?”

Luke’s smile disappeared. “Cecile.”

“I remember her,” their dad said. “A beautiful blonde as I recall. I liked her. What happened again? Between the two of you, so many women have shown up here, I’ve lost count.”

Luke pointed towards Zach. “Zach is the one with the many women. You remember his three-dates-and-it’s-over rule? For me, there was only Cecile. And then she left and whatever we had between us was over. That’s what happened.”

Zach felt terrible. He remembered how much Luke had been hurt at the time. “I’m sorry, Luke. I…”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m okay.” His eyes twinkled. “But whatever happened, I can still appreciate a pair of gorgeous legs.”

Zach took a sip of his wine. He was not going to react. He knew exactly how gorgeous her legs were. The fact that his brother also noticed shouldn’t bother him. But it did. And he didn’t know why.

He liked women. Always had. He didn’t always understand the weird and wonderful workings of their minds, but he liked them. A long neck, a gorgeous leg, a slim figure, a rounder figure—it didn’t matter. The female of the species enchanted him. He was fascinated by the way a woman lifted her chin, or casually brushed her fingers through her hair, by the way her lashes fluttered against her cheeks. Women smelled nice, they felt nice and he loved kissing them and, yes, he thoroughly enjoyed making love to them. What red-blooded male could resist a woman?

But he stuck to his “rule” as Luke called it. It wasn’t as if he planned on only having three dates with a woman, but after three dates he was usually ready to move on. The initial excitement was gone and he became bored.

He had decided long ago that the Western idea of having only one soulmate was ridiculous and simply not feasible. Why tie himself to one beautiful woman when there were so many?

This Kalinda intrigued him. She was beautiful, gorgeous really. But he didn’t like the odd knot in his tummy when he’d seen her for the first time. And the fist of desire that followed took him by surprise. He wanted to touch her. But when he picked up her hand, a strange thing happened – for the first time in his life, he couldn’t talk. Words that usually came easily to him got stuck in his throat, his mouth was dry and for a minute he was completely thrown.

That had never happened before. For once, he couldn’t remember one of his usual witty remarks.

It was probably the pneumonia he was struggling to recuperate from, that was all. And Kalinda was going to be around for the next few day.

What could happen in such a short time? Chances were, he wouldn’t even see her again.

The cottage was decorated in white and gray and Kalinda felt immediately at home. “I love the colours, Madeline. I’m going to enjoy my stay here.”

“Thanks, my dear. I love beautiful things and enjoy changing the décor every so often. To my husband’s frustration, of course. Is there anything else you need?”

“No, thanks; I think I’ll be sleeping like a log till morning. It’s been a long day.”

Madeline walked towards the door. “You still have to tell me what happened today, but we’ll talk tomorrow. Have a bath and relax. Breakfast is from eight o’clock. If I remember correctly, you will also have your dinners here?”

“Yes, please. I’ll probably be busy during the day but I should be back for dinner. If I’m too late, it doesn’t matter…”

“If that happens, I’ll leave something for you in the cottage. Have a good night.”

“Do you know how intensely you frustrate me!” Neil shouted.

He grabbed her behind her neck and pushed a piece of pizza in her mouth. “Come, eat,” he snarled. “You bought it, so eat it,” he continued shouting before he pushed the piece of pizza deeper into her throat.

Gagging, she tried to swallow but she hated the taste of hot spices and wanted to vomit. Yes, she’d bought the pizza but he always insisted he liked hot spices. She didn’t eat it and he knew it. For once, she’d thought she’d done the right thing.

“You’re so useless, you can’t even buy a damn pizza,” he snarled.

She choked on the piece of pizza and he knocked her off the chair. Before she was able to get up, he grabbed her behind her head again and, swearing and yelling, smeared the pizza all over her face.

Helplessly, she endured his abuse until the tears thickened in her throat and the desperate cry deep within her froze.

With a cry, Kalinda woke up and quickly sat up. Shaking, she switched on the bed light and focused on her breathing. It had been a dream. Neil wasn’t there; he couldn’t hurt her anymore—she’d divorced him two years ago.

She repeated the mantra over and over until she could eventually breathe normally again. This had been the first time in a long time she’d had the nightmare about the terrible two years she’d been married to Neil.

Initially, the nightmares had freaked her out but she didn’t want to see a psychologist. There was no way she could tell anyone, besides her cousin Erica, what had happened to her. With determination, she’d willed herself not to think about the abuse she’d suffered at his hands.

And it had worked. The nightmares had finally stopped and she’d been able to sleep again. The glimpse she’d had of the man in the airport, who’d reminded her of Neil, probably brought back all the memories she’d worked so hard to suppress.

Citrus. She sniffed in the air. Was she imagining it or was there a smell of citrus around her all of a sudden? She rubbed her arms. It had also suddenly turned very cold. She pulled the blanket up to her chin.

And then she saw her. At the window. The same woman who had been in her car earlier. This time the woman’s eyes were full of tears and she was turning the white, lace handkerchief around and around her one finger.

Fear paralysed Kalinda and she sat frozen, unable to move. Her breath, coming out in gasps, formed small white clouds in front of her.

She came out of the momentary stupor and looked around her. She was in the cottage. On the farm. This was real. She pinched herself. And, yep, she was awake, alright—that hurt.

This meant what had happened to her earlier today hadn’t been a dream either.

She closed her eyes and when she opened them minutes later, the woman was gone. For a few moments, Kalinda was unable to move, but then she jumped up and ran towards the window.

A full moon made it possible to search the surrounding grounds. She frantically looked around but she couldn’t detect any movement. It was deathly quiet.

Something cold touched her shoulder and she jerked around. But there was nothing behind her in the room. Rattled and frightened, she hurried back to her bed and pulled the sheet over herself.

Surely she’d imagined the whole thing. She was tired and upset after the nightmare—that was the only logical explanation. It was ten minutes past two. There was still a long way to go before morning; she would try to sleep again but there was no way she was going to switch off the light.

Her eyes closed. Something about the woman… Her dress?

End of Excerpt