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A stranger in a strange land: guest post by Louise Cusack

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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I’ve been watching the wildly popular new television series Outlander, adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel of the same name. It’s about WW2 army nurse Claire Randall who is visiting Scotland when she’s sent back in time 200 years, leaving her husband behind and needing to marry young and handsome highlander Jamie Fraser for protection. Outlander (the novel) is currently Goodreads #2 top romance of all-time, so this is a popular story that’s still selling strongly 23 years after its original release.

The television series features stunning Scottish landscapes and a regularly bare-chested male lead played by hunky Scot actor Sam Heughan, which might explain its popularity with non-readers as well. But according to blogs and reviews springing up across the Internet, the stranger in a strange land aspect of Claire coping with the primitive day-to-day life of eighteenth century Scotland is one of the most thrilling aspects of the story.

Unlike other historical dramas, this series looks at a time period through the fresh eyes of a twentieth century female character, allowing us to put ourselves in Claire’s shoes as she rebels against their patriarchy, is disgusted by their medical practices, and occasionally delights in the strangeness of it all – exactly as we might.

Of course, this isn’t the first stranger in a strange land story to enchant audiences.

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Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole into Wonderland have thrilled generations of children, and Avatar, where cripple Jake Sully saves the beautiful planet of Pandora, is the highest grossing movie of all time. Not to mention Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero John Carter, transported to Barsoom/Mars – a particular favorite of mine that was made into a Disney movie a few years back. I used to devour Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as though they were Mills & Boon when I was a teen, thrilling to the adventure of a ‘clean limbed fighting man from Virginia’ saving the princess and falling in love. Beyond the romance, I was falling in love with a genre that lets audiences see a new world through the eyes of a stranger.

A Princess of Mars was soon followed on my shelf by Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Frank Herbert’s Dune as firm favorites (along with Outlander). Not to mention that my first big crush was on Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise whose mission was to boldly go where no man had gone before…

I couldn’t get enough of characters going from one world into another, so it was also no surprise that I’d settle on stranger in a strange land stories as the theme I wanted to explore as a writer. Across, fantasy, romance and erotica, that theme is a constant, but my absolute favorite is my Shadow Through Time trilogy that begins with twentieth century Catherine falling through a Sacred Pool into Ennae and discovering that in that world she is Princess Khatrene, with a hunky champion of her own and adventures and romance more thrilling than anything I’d ever read.

So in celebration of all things stranger in a strange land, Momentum is offering the first book of my trilogy, Destiny of the Light, for free so you have your own vicarious adventure in an otherworld. And as one book-blogger said, “If you love your fantasy to be slightly gritty but with plenty of swoony romance, Destiny of the Light is for you!

 Louise Cusack‘s Destiny of the Light is currently FREE!

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Q&A with Sophie Masson

Posted November 10, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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We asked our wonderful author Sophie Masson some questions about her upcoming release Trinity: The Koldun Code.

 

 1. What inspired you to write the Trinity series?

I could say that what inspired me was my lifelong fascination with Russia, and that’s true. I could also say that it was inspired by my long-held desire of writing a big urban fantasy series, one that blends the everyday and the magical worlds, the natural and the supernatural, against a modern setting which makes the whole thing even more striking. That would also be true. And I wanted it to have other elements I love too, such as a good spice of romance and a sharp tingle of mystery. But Trinity might just have stayed as an idea in the back of my mind, if it hadn’t been for a chance glimpse on the Moscow Metro: a young man in modern jeans and leather jacket, but with the timeless, striking face of a prince or a legendary warrior, such as I’d seen that very day in paintings in the Tretiakov Art Gallery.

In that instant, just before the young man got off the train, Trinity really came alive. For there was Alexey Makarov taking shape in my mind, and there was Helen’s voice describing him. And I knew I could not rest until I had told their story.

 

2. Russia is such an evocative setting, how did you come to choose it?

As I mentioned, I’ve been fascinated by Russia since I was a child, when I read Russian fairytales, and later, Russian novels. My father (who comes from France) loves Russian music and art, so we were exposed to a lot of that at home. Much later, I visited Russia (I’ve been there twice now) and loved it—it was just as interesting as I had imagined it, in fact even more so! It’s such a mix of so many different influences—hugely diverse, enormously paradoxical, and extremely addictive.

 

3. Speaking of Russia, magic is such an ingrained part of their culture, how did this influence you?

Heaps! Russia is the absolutely perfect urban fantasy setting—you hardly even have to make anything up! From the Parliament trying to regulate witchcraft to the businesses who employ wizards to the scientists studying DNA for evidence of psychic talents to the ‘energy vampires’ who people firmly believe in, this is a place where the supernatural and paranormal are taken for granted by many, many people. And yet it’s also totally modern, with very high literacy and education levels.

 

4. What was your favourite scene to write, and why?

My favorite scene is the one where Helen and Alexey meet for the first time, in the woods. Everything changes in that moment for Helen, and it is truly magical, in all kinds of ways. Writing it gave me goose bumps!

 

5. What can we expect in the second book The False Prince?

A new threat on the horizon as a figure from the past resurfaces and causes havoc both natural and supernatural at Trinity. Watch this space!

 

 

Trinity: The Koldun Code is released on the 13th of November.

 

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What’s so great about Ginny Weasley?

Posted November 7, 2014 by Achala Upendran

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Ginny Weasley. You could put this down to reading The Half Blood Prince again, where she leaps out of the background of the mill of Hogwarts students and assumes the vaunted title of ‘love interest’ for our hero. You could also pin this down to certain ruminations brought on by events unfolding around me, but that’s quite beside the point.

ginny-s-beauty-ginevra-ginny-weasley-25005935-1874-2500 What’s the deal with Ginny Weasley? She’s smart and pretty and a wonderful Quidditch player, so obviously she’s got all the elements needed to be a popular girl. In the course of two books, she dates three boys, not a staggeringly high number, but certainly more than any other girl in the series (besides, significantly, Cho Chang). She’s capable of attracting a snooty Slytherin, Blaise Zabini, and of impressing the selective Slughorn. Evidently, she’s quite something in the Potterverse.

And yet, for all her awesomeness, Ginny is never made privy to the secret of the Horcruxes, never becomes part of Harry’s inner circle in his mission to destroy Voldemort. Sure, she has a vague idea that he, Ron and Hermione are up to something of crucial importance to the war effort, but she doesn’t know exactly what. Nor does she seem to push too hard to find out what it is. Harry’s reasoning for leaving her out of things is clear: he doesn’t want to endanger her. And Ginny, being perfect, accepts this without question, even going so far as to say ‘I knew you wouldn’t be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.’

Hey, I just realized Ginny uses his name too.

Ginny, for all her awesomeness, is something Harry has to protect, and in order for him to do that, he has to deny himself both her company and any obvious display of attachment (in this case, dating her). But, at the same time, if we are to believe Dumbledore, his ability to be attached to Ginny, to ‘love’, is the power that holds him in his stead against Voldemort. This is underscored when, in the Forest, it is Ginny’s face that bursts into his mind when the Dark Lord levels the Avada Kedavra at him.

Ginny is the centre of what I have rather creatively dubbed the Loving Hero Paradox (TM). This paradox plays out every time the hero of a fantasy or superhero saga resists love/shuts beloved away because he is afraid that she will fall prey to the evils of the foe, but then, ironically, relies (un)consciously on his feelings for her to distinguish himself ideologically from the villain he fights. This happens time and again in novels/movies where there’s a good versus evil fights; consider Rand in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time or even Peter Parker in the Sam Raimi directed Spiderman.

In Harry’s case, the turn away from Ginny is a rather half-hearted move, considering the wizarding world is so small that their association with him makes the Weasleys a well-known and obvious target anyway, even without the addition of romance. Besides, just because he wants her to stay out of it doesn’t mean Ginny actually sits around tamely waiting to be rescued. She’s one of the leaders of the internal resistance in Hogwarts, going so far as to attempt to break into Snape’s office in a misguided attempt to steal the sword of Gryffindor.

Of course, this move begs the question of what on earth the kids hoped to achieve by doing that. How were they planning to get it to Harry? Did they really  know that Harry needed it? I don’t recall Harry ever telling Ginny that Dumbledore had left him the relic. This is one of those random moves that Rowling pulled in Deathly Hallows that requires a deal of explication.

katnissWhat really bugs me about the Loving Hero Paradox is the fact that it’s so very… male. the only female character I’ve seen pull this ‘oh I can’t be in a relationship because I have better things to do’ line is Katniss Everdeen (and hey, it’s completely justified in her case because honestly, I don’t think she really knows what she feels for either Peeta or Gale until far into the books) and Egwene in Wheel of Time. And even Egwene wasn’t averse to a little romance—she just didn’t have time to deal with Gawyn’s drama until she had cemented herself as leader at a crucial juncture in the war against the Shadow.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that not all that many fantasy/superhero novels or movies are centred on a female protagonist, and so we don’t meet all that many heroines who have to choose between being publicly in love and saving the world. When there are more such gems floating around in the market, we might be able to take a more informed call.

So no, I don’t support Harry’s rather lousy move of breaking up with Ginny at the end of Half Blood Prince. Not only did he choose to do it in a public location, in full glare of the media, at a funeral (man, what an ass. He’s worse than Peter Parker in some respects), but he also was stupid enough to believe that Ginny would sit tight and stay safe on his say-so. He really didn’t know her very well, did he?

 

Take that, MCPs.

Take that, MCPs.

I am so glad she proved him wrong.

 

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Cover reveal – Trinity: The Koldun Code by Sophie Masson

Posted October 29, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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 An unexpected encounter with a handsome stranger in a Russian wood changes the life of 22-year-old traveler Helen Clement forever, catapulting her into a high-stakes world of passion, danger, and mystery. Tested in ways she could never have imagined, she must keep her own integrity in a world where dark forces threaten and ruthlessness and betrayal haunt every day.

Set against a rising tide of magic and the paranormal in a modern Russia where the terrifying past continually leaks into the turbulent present, Trinity is a unique and gripping blend of conspiracy thriller, erotically charged romance and elements of the supernatural, laced with a murderous dose of company politics. With its roots deep in the fertile soil of Russian myth, legend, and history, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary, distinctive country and amazingly rich culture.

Trinity comes out on November 13 in all good ebook retailers!

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Podmentum: Scary Books, Game of Thrones and Romance Edition

Posted April 24, 2014 by Mark

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This week we talk about the books that have scared us and what makes them scary. We also discuss the return of Game of Thrones, the under-representation of romance at writers’ festivals and discuss the books we’ve been reading this week.

What we’re reading

Craig

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Joel

SCP Foundation website

Patrick

Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse

Mark

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

 

 

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Out Now: For One Night Only by Phillipa Fioretti

Posted January 22, 2014 by Mark

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In Italy, passion and danger share the same bed.

When Ornella vacations in Sicily, she meets Hugh, an archaeologist working on a dig in the beautiful town of Taormina. Hugh convinces Ornella to join him on a trip to the island of Stromboli, where they hike up a live volcano at dusk.

After a passionate night together Ornella, an actress usually focused on her career, suspects she’s in love. But after breakfast the next morning, Hugh vanishes.

Ornella is left with Hugh’s phone, sunglasses and a sudden end to the love affair she thought she didn’t want. Desperate to know if Hugh ran out on her or if he’s met with disaster, she wants to search for him. But with an important screen test in Rome and her agent impatiently waiting for her, Ornella faces a dilemma.

Little does she know the danger Hugh is in – and that she is the key to his survival.

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer for only $3.99

 

 

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Excerpt: A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Posted December 11, 2013 by Mark

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Q stalked, pressing down the outside of each foot before rolling onto the ball. She was quiet, but not silent. She hoped the background screech of birds would cover her.

She moved uphill toward the cabin, shivering in the chill shade. The sun had already slid past the peak of the mountain and breakfast seemed long ago.

Q slowed when she neared the cabin, then stopped behind a large trunk. There were sounds inside – the steady murmur of a single voice. Was the man talking to himself? Princess Starla had died horribly in the bush. This freak had been nearby. Every time Q saw him, he had a gun, and the last time she saw him, he’d pointed it at her. What if the only dangerous thing out here was the fat man?

She pictured the cabin’s configuration. There were two windows at the front and one door. Another window lay on the west wall and two on the east. She didn’t know about the rear. There might be another door. She would have to make sure he didn’t escape through an unseen exit and double around to surprise her. Q didn’t know if she was here to talk, raid supplies or fight, but she was ready for all three. She’d find out soon enough.

Left foot, right foot, left foot, pause. Drop below the line of the windows. Creep forward. Pause.

She was below the window at the front of the cabin now. The monologue continued but no longer sounded like a man talking to himself – it was a radio. That was good, because it meant he might not be insane, and she might get to listen to the news. It was also bad. If he wasn’t in there talking to himself, he might not be in there at all. He could be anywhere. Hiding in the trees. Lining her up in his sights right now.

The back of Q’s neck itched.

Ignoring it, she crept over to the door and tested the handle. It turned. She slid it open and slipped inside.

*

Q was so overwhelmed by the smell of stale cigarette smoke that at first she couldn’t pick out the details in the dark interior. When her eyes adjusted, she saw a table, a one-burner gas cooker on the floor, a mattress in one corner. A man sat on the only chair, a lit cigarette between two fingers. He wasn’t listening to his radio any more – all his attention was on Q.

It was the first time she had seen him unarmed. Good timing.

They regarded one another. Q registered more details in the room without breaking eye contact. There was almost nothing on the floor. The walls were covered with guns mounted in brackets, mostly bolt-action rifles, but also pistols and shotguns and three semi-automatics. She recognized a .22 target rifle and a .32 pump action, the kind she used sometimes on the range. His armory was better than the one they had at her club.

Ash fell from the man’s cigarette.

Q spoke. “What are you, some kind of American?” She gestured to the weapons on the walls.

The man laughed.

He’d need to take two steps to get to his nearest gun. Q could get to him faster than that. She relaxed a fraction, then saw something even more reassuring. On the table in front of him, beside the radio, was a book. Apocalypse Z.

Q sauntered over. “Thank God,” she said. “I thought you were some kind of weirdo.” She pointed to the radio. “Outbreak?” she said.

“Class Three,” he said.

“Q,” she said, extending her hand.

He shook it. “Dave.”

He stood and offered her the chair. She giggled at the chivalry, but stopped when she saw his expression. It didn’t look as if he entertained much. She thanked him and sat down.

They listened to the broadcast as the last of day’s light disappeared and the room filled with darkness. The reports said that people were bitten, then they stopped eating everything except raw meat. They slept a lot and were very thirsty, then didn’t drink or eat at all. Then they turned into flesh-eating monsters.

“How far has it spread?” Q said.

Dave grunted. “Dunno. Damn reporters. Useless.”

“Sydney?” Q asked.

He grunted in the affirmative.

“Canberra?” she said.

He grunted again. “The pollies turned. It’s bloody mayhem.”

“Who’d have thought Parliament was run by a bunch of brain-dead monsters?” Q guffawed, then stopped. A Class Three outbreak meant anyone in a built-up area was in trouble, and the situation would get worse. The people who tried to help—doctors, cops, leaders of any kind—would be the first to get bitten and turn. Every hour made friends into enemies. Her eyes prickled. Never mind her crew, they could look after themselves. But what were the chances for her dad? Could a tubby alcoholic who couldn’t waddle uphill escape the hordes? Would the kelpie do any better?

“Sorry about the hippy,” Dave said, misinterpreting her expression.

“Thanks,” said Q. “I thought you might have done it at first. But the bullet holes were clean. You shot her after she died.”

Dave nodded and recited a line as comforting as a nursery rhyme. “Two in the head …”

Q finished it for him. “… make sure it’s dead. You got the thing that attacked her?” she said.

“Yeah.” His face drew tight. “I shot it in the head. It wouldn’t fall. I kept shooting till it did.”

Q filed this disturbing news away for later reference. “Thanks for the firewood,” she said, steering him away from a memory that upset him. Apocalypse Z could only prepare you so much.

Dave shifted. “Might scare them off.”

Q swore and leaped to her feet. “I gotta get back. I left them at the campsite.”

“The hippies?” Dave asked.

“Yeah.”

“Alone?”

They ran.

 

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Excerpt – A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by JT Clay

Posted November 13, 2013 by Mark

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The following is an excerpt from A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by JT Clay, a novel about hippies, zombies, friendship and love.

“What are you making?” Q asked.

“It’s an altar to the spirit of the river,” Rabbit said. They had reached the stream and were dangling their feet into the snow-melt water. Q was throwing in sticks. Rabbit was piling up a cairn of smooth stones.

“Really?” she said, embarrassed on his behalf.

“I’m messing with you. It’s a pile of rocks. But it’s funny that people stack rocks when confronted by natural beauty. It might be a ritualistic act that honors nature, buried deep within the collective subconscious.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We vegans frighten you, don’t we?”

“No! Not at all!” said Q. “Okay, yeah, but you and Angela are cool.”

“Thanks. That’s the least awkward thing you’ve said all morning.”

“Thanks.”

Rabbit sniffed. “What’s that smell?”

“It’s my new fragrant spray,” Q said, glad she had made the effort this morning. “It’s called Ocean Flowers.”

“Like algae?”

“Oh,” said Q. “I guess.”

“Cool. I like algae.”

They dangled and they sat. Q, not used to being in the wilderness without a map icon to click on, tried to orient herself. They were a long way west of Sydney, high up in mountain country. The air was cool and rich and full of earthy scent. The ground poured into gullies and choked on shrubs. There were no power lines, no roads, no straight lines from anything man made. They were in someone else’s land.

The quiet of the morning was interrupted by Q’s regular slap! whack! at mosquitoes and ants. After a while, Rabbit intercepted her hand.

Her face burned and her belly flipped. He was holding her hand!

“They’re part of the bush,” he said. He let go of her hand and turned back to the stream. “Let them be.”

Q sighed. It was nothing after all. “Things are biting me,” she said. “Anything less than extreme self-defense would be weird.”

Rabbit grinned and steered away an inch ant with a stick. “She’s all right,” he said. “You have to be— ow!” He sucked his finger and breathed through his nose. Q giggled.

A movement on the bank downstream caught Q’s eye. She couldn’t make sense of the image at first. Something large and brown lurked in the trees, hunched over the edge of the water. Was it drinking?

No. Not drinking. Another color poured from the creature into the stream. Red. The brown shape was the heart of an expanding pool of red.

Q tapped Rabbit on the shoulder, put a finger to her lips and pointed at the shape. He didn’t see it at first.

“What’s there?” he said. Q waited for the image to make sense, then decided she preferred the abstract version.

“It’s creepy old caretaker guy,” she said. “He’s washing something in the river. Something bloody.”

The man stood up and disappeared into the bush. Q waited until he had gone, then walked downstream to the spot where he had been. There were footprints and blood on the river stones, but the creek itself had washed clean. She didn’t like that man. He reminded her of Chapter Seventeen, The Survivor Type and how to avoid being eaten by one. She returned to Rabbit and scribbled in her little black book.

“Are you writing about our walk in your diary?” Rabbit asked.

“No— yes— sort of.” She put the notebook away.

“What do you write about? Your fears and doubts?” Rabbit asked.

“Sometimes. Like, have you ever noticed that the things that scare us the most aren’t just monsters, but monsters that can turn us into one of them?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Rabbit said.

Q grinned. He understood! “Vampires and werewolves and zombies,” she said.

“Lawyers,” Rabbit said, shaking his head. “I’m surrounded by them every day. All I want to do is sing folk and make the world a better place and I’m terrified that one day, I’ll forget all that and start overbilling on my time sheet.” He looked so sad.

“Cheer up,” Q said. “I reckon that fear is more common than you think.”

“Kate does not agree,” Rabbit said. “She says I’m wasting my life. She thinks I’m a failure.”

“You? Nah. Anyway, how do you measure success? Your first job? Your first house? Your first stalker?”

“I don’t need to be the best at anything,” Rabbit said. “I just want to be a better person.”

“Me too,” Q said. “I just want to be a person.”

Rabbit’s fingers drifted to a piece of cord at his throat and he pulled out another wooden snake pendant, almost identical to Pious Kate’s, except that this one had glinting green eyes instead of red.

He’d made them matching necklaces.

“That’s pretty,” she said, kicking water and thinking corrosive thoughts.

Rabbit dropped the snake as if it had bitten him. Maybe he was thinking corrosive thoughts, too.

“Kate came up with the design,” he said, glum. “She gets upset if I don’t wear it.”

“What’s the deal with you two?” Q asked in a careful tone, in case she got an answer she didn’t like.

Rabbit watched the moss-covered rocks beneath the surface of the water. “We’ve been best friends since kindergarten,” he said.

“My best friend’s in kindergarten, too,” Q said.

“We were thrown together. The only two vegans at school.”

“Oh!” said Q, with sudden understanding and relief. “You were the little Cantonese kids!”

“What?” Rabbit’s face crinkled into that expression so familiar to Q because it was what people wore when they were trying to interpret her.

“The two kids who didn’t fit in. You smelled weird. You had weird food. Your parents were weird. Everyone picked on you.”

“Thanks for bringing it all back,” Rabbit said.

“But it’s okay now,” Q said. “No one cares any more. We’ve grown up.” Q thought of her online crew. They would never have found each other as children, but as adults they stood together against the darkness, with Jeremiah BownZ off to one side and downwind – acceptance had its limits.

Should she venture a hand onto his shoulder? Or just throw herself on top of him and pin him to the ground for a kiss? It was a flawless plan, unless he knew Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She was about to make her move when he spoke up.

“We should head back,” he said. He put on his sneakers. “You need to soak the lentils.”

“Huh?”

“You’re rostered on to cook tonight.”

Q guffawed. Rabbit did not join her. “No, seriously?” Q said.

“Sure,” said Rabbit. “We take turns.”

What would these hippies expect? Would she have to do it alone? Would Angela help? “Me and my dad don’t do much fancy cooking at home.”

“Make a dish you’ve made before,” Rabbit said. “What do you usually eat?”

“Takeaways. Microwave dinners. Sometimes Dad makes dyslexia stew, where he accidentally replaces every ingredient in the recipe with the wrong one, then adds bacon. It was good once.”

“Ah.”

She could tell by his tone that she had lost face. What had she said? She dropped her head and concentrated on tying her shoelaces, which were much more difficult to fasten than they had been for the past eighteen years. “It’s not like I don’t know how to cook. Sometimes I grill up a couple of ginormous steaks, two huge piles of beef, and we smother them in barbecue sauce on the grill and cook them rare so they’re all gooey and bleeding inside…” She stopped talking. Rabbit was pale. He looked like he was about retch. She took a step back. “I mean—”

There was a brain-shattering scream from the direction of the camp, followed by four clear gunshots. After a pause there were several more shots in quick succession.

“Thank God,” said Q. She ran toward the sounds.

 

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

 

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Cover reveal: A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by JT Clay

Posted October 24, 2013 by Mark

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It’s the old story. Girl meets boy. Girl loses boy. Zombies attack.

Q, a trainee kindergarten teacher and martial arts expert, wants to woo beautiful vegan, Rabbit, but doesn’t know how. Her luck turns during the zombie outbreak. She teaches Rabbit and his hippie friends how to make war, not love, and does her best to save him from the living dead.

But can she defeat evil ex-girlfriend, Pious Kate? And can love survive the end of the world?

Zombies. Not just another eating disorder. 

A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is the debut novel from JT Clay and won the 2010 Olvar Wood Fellowship Award.

Available November 1 where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

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Excerpt – Holding Out for a Hero by Amy Andrews

Posted October 17, 2013 by Mark

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CHAPTER ONE

It had been two years, eight months and twenty-three days since Ella Lucas had last done the horizontal rumba. And even then it hadn’t been very good.

With the powerful Harley throbbing between her legs, she was acutely aware of every asexual minute. The machine pulsed against her, taunting barren places, reminding Ella of her depressingly sexless existence. Was it possible to orgasm on the seat of a Harley?

Alone?

She revved the engine. Lock up your husbands, Huntley, Rachel’s daughter is back in town.

Her red lips twisted in a bitter smile. Nearly two decades since she’d been in her hometown and it was still driving her nuts. Seventeen years she’d spent in this speck on the map trying to do the right thing, trying to be her mother’s opposite, playing the good girl. Until she’d cracked under the pressure of it all and just walked away. And still they tarred her with the same brush. It had taken them all of forty-eight hours to make her feel like that powerless and frustrated teenager again.

So today she was determined to give them what they’d always wanted. Proof. Real proof. Something sound to gossip about once she’d hightailed it out of this one-horse town. Something to truly damn her. Something for them all to nod sagely over and say, See, we were right, the apple never falls too far from the tree.

And she intended having a damn fine time doing so too.

Ella thundered into Huntley’s main street. Remnants of some teenage sixth sense alerted her to the twitching of curtains as she flashed by. No doubt their owners were staring open-mouthed, their disapproving frowns mirroring their judgmental minds. The sun beat down, heavy on her shoulders, and the black tar of the main street shimmered in her wake. It could have been any of a hundred main streets in outback Australia—wide, with a strip of central parking down the middle. Evenly spaced pepperina trees cast much needed shade over the sweltering vehicles.

A monument to the fallen from the Great War took pride of place in the center of the street. Her great-grandfather’s name was engraved on the white marble. Her mother, who had never known her grandfather, had taken particular pride in that. Ella had been chosen to lay the wreath there the Anzac Day she was in seventh grade and her great-grandfather’s name had jumped out at her as she’d placed the wreath of red poppies at the base. How she had envied Grandpa Lucas his fleeting freedom from mediocrity that day.

Four pubs dominated the corners of the main intersection, their corrugated roofs and wide verandahs complete with fancy wrought-iron lacework unchanged in over a century. The bank, the chemist, the beige austerity of S.J. Levy’s law practice, the drapers and the Huntley café—complete with the same blue-and-white striped awning from her childhood—stood exactly as they’d always been.

It was like entering a time warp. Not even the advent of two-dollar shops had infected the Huntley streetscape.

People stopped dead on the footpath as she passed, their heads turning to track the path of the noisy motorcycle. Business owners stared askance through their shop windows, craning their necks to see if a marauding biker gang had moved into town.

Ella ignored them all. She was on a mission. She was a successful career woman who had long ago cast off the shackles of Huntley. Her blood thrummed through her veins as she parked the bike and dismounted, her reckless mood ratcheting even further.

The townsfolk still hadn’t moved as Ella took off her helmet and hung the sleek black dome on the handle bars. She shook out her untethered hair. It fell in careless disorder around her shoulders, just like in a shampoo commercial, and she smiled to herself. She’d always wanted to do that. Sadly, biker moll was as far removed from her ponytailed school marm persona as was possible—she was as nerdy today as she’d always been.

But Huntley didn’t know that.

She heard the scandalised whispers of two familiar old biddies, who were drinking lemonade on the rickety wooden church pew that had sat outside the Crown for as long as anyone could remember. Ella wondered if the good citizens of Huntley had ever stopped to ponder the irony of religion and sin so intertwined.

The town was so quiet she could have heard a bee flap its wings in the next state. Good. She had their attention.

She heard the rasp of her denim clad thighs as she turned resolutely toward her target, squared her shoulders and strode past the women on the pew. “Afternoon, Miss Simmons, Miss Aberfoyle,” she said, not bothering to wait for an acknowledgment. She pushed the pub door open and for a second wished it was one of those swinging doors she’d seen in a hundred Wild West movies. She’d ridden into town for a showdown, hadn’t she?

It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust from the bright spring day to the dim interior of Huntley’s oldest liquor establishment. The patrons inside the pub stopped mid-conversation to stare at Ella. The only sound was Smokie crooning about living next door to Alice from the jukebox in the corner.

Ella didn’t bother to look around. She knew he was in town and exactly where he’d be. She’d seen him at the funeral yesterday, standing in the distance under the lilac canopy of a blooming jacaranda. Like his father before him, Jake Prince was behind the bar.

She approached the bar, coming to a halt beside Mrs. Coleman, Huntley’s librarian, decked out in her twin set and pearls and perched primly on a stool sipping a lemon, lime and bitters.

“Jake.”

Jake regarded Ella Lucas for a moment. She’d changed. Matured. He guessed twenty years would do that to you.

God knew these days he felt ancient.

He’d seen her quiet dignity at the funeral yesterday in the face of Huntley’s glaring hypocrisy and admired the hell out of her for it. The townsfolk had been there in full force, their ghoulish delight at Rachel finally being put asunder barely disguised. She had weathered it all with a mellow poise that had called every faux mourner to account.

But time, it seemed, hadn’t erased her troubled blue gaze. Or the way it still clawed at his gut in some form of primal recognition. How often in the years they’d all but silently co-existed had he related to her torment? Understood the caged misery of her gaze?

Her eyes were still telling him the same old story. She wanted out.

Oh, Lady, you’re preaching to the choir.

He picked up a hot glass from the rack and casually dried it off. “Ella.”

A beat or two passed. Neither of them said anything and everyone in the pub inched slightly closer.

“I’m so sorry about your mother’s passing.”

Ella nodded, swallowing a sudden lump in her throat. He’d be about the only one who was—she wasn’t entirely sure she was sorry herself. The harshness of the concession almost sucked her breath away. What kind of a daughter was she? What kind of human being?

Disgust with herself intensified her grief, strengthening her purpose. “You still the bad boy around here, Jake?” She was proud of the way it came out. Her voice was steady. Clear.

“No way, ma’am,” he drawled, channeling his best country yokel. “Model citizen these days.”

So not what she wanted to hear. Her stomach fluttered as her bravado wavered, her gaze flicking to Mrs. Coleman. How the hell was she going to pull this off in front of the elegant octogenarian who had taught her how to use the Dewey Decimal System? Her plan had seemed so simple when she’d come up with it back in her mother’s house, with its memories and a hostile teenage brother goading her.

She took a deep, fortifying breath, determined to show them all. “Your dad still keep rooms in this establishment?”

Jake stopped his ministration with the glasses to look at her carefully. What the fuck? She was in jeans and a cute little gingham shirt that didn’t even show any cleavage but there was a directness in her gaze that left him in no doubt what she wanted. Desire slammed into his groin and he gripped the glass a little harder.

“Sure.”

“What do you say? Wanna give everyone round here something real to talk about?”

Ella ignored the gasp from a rapt Mrs. Coleman. Her heartbeat thundered through her head. She felt thirteen years old again, as awkward beneath his scrutiny now as she’d been the night he’d picked her to slow dance with him at the only school disco she’d ever attended.

She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. His rugged face—still screaming “bad boy” despite his protestations—was completely impassive. Why didn’t he say something?

Jake regarded her for a few more seconds, the desperation in her gaze compelling. He glanced around at his patrons, all waiting with bated breath on his next move. He knew not a single one of them understood the demons that drove her. But he did.

He put the tea towel down and reached behind him to remove a key from the board. “Mind the bar, Kel,” he said to the peroxide blond staring at them.

The irritating noise of the barmaid’s gum chewing was suddenly silenced and Jake knew that Huntley was judging him. Them.

But when hadn’t they?

He turned back to Ella. “Ladies first.” He gestured.

Ella’s legs were shaking as she passed the gobsmacked spectators, ducking through the archway near the jukebox and turning left to head up the stairs. She could feel Jake’s gaze on her ass and Huntley’s reaction vaporized into nothingness. She wished she’d used the flab-buster Rosie had bought her last year for body sculpting instead of alternative art for her office.

Jake overtook her at the top of the stairs, striding down the corridor to room seven. He inserted the key in the lock, pushed the door open and strode inside.

“What’s this about, Ella?” he asked, turning.

Ella kicked the door shut after her and launched herself at the wall of his chest. She heard the intake of his breath at her impact and ignored it. The man was a star footballer—had been for years—he could certainly hold his own with a girl.

“Ella.”

She raised herself on her tippy toes, awkwardly mashing her lips into his, stopping his protest. Her hands dragged his neck down, her fingers moving to the back of his head, delighting in the charcoal spikiness of his buzz cut.

Jake wrestled her hands from his neck and pulled his mouth away with difficulty – mostly because he didn’t want to. Hell, Ella Lucas had certainly graduated with honors in the kissing stakes. She’d come a long way since the sweet innocence of the brief shy press of lips she’d granted him at the end of that particularly memorable dance at the Huntley High disco.

There was nothing sweet about Ella Lucas’s kiss now. It was hot and hungry. Intense. Greedy. He could taste her desperation and a yearning that struck him straight in the solar plexus. He held her at arm’s length, the sound of his breathing falling harshly between them. “Ella, don’t let them get to you. You were always too classy for this town.”

Ella growled in frustration, struggling against his hands, straining to get closer. “Damn it, Jake. I’m not a kid. I know what I want.”

“No, you don’t.”

Jesus Christ! Why did this town always think it knew what was best for her? She pushed against his bonds. “Yes, I bloody do. I’m thirty-four, Jake. I’ve been making up my mind for a lot of years.”

“This isn’t about you and me. And you know it.”

Ella almost laughed in his face. “I want to have sex with you, Jake. Since when did you give a shit about a woman’s motivation?”

Good point. But Ella was different. He didn’t know why. She just was. She always had been. The only girl in his fifteen miserable years in this town that had barely looked at him.

And he wasn’t foolish enough to believe this was about sex either. It was about hate and frustration and grief and they both knew it. He felt her muscles flexing, straining against his hands and her caged lust surged towards him on a waft of pheromones that almost bought him to his knees. But someone had to be mature here.

It was a shock to realize it was going to have to be him. “It’s okay. No one has to know it didn’t happen,” he said in his very best placatory voice. “We’ll just hang here for a bit then go on down.”

Ella could see he was determined to be honorable Jake and couldn’t believe he’d choose to develop a conscience on the one day she needed him to be the screw-anything-that-moved Jake of tabloid fame. She gritted her teeth.

“I don’t want to hang.” His gentle restraint on her arms was way more exciting than it should have been and she was over his whole protesting-too-much bit. Time to step it up. “I want you to fuck me. Quick and hard. And when you’re done with that, I want it long and slow.”

Jake swallowed. Her crude request had a predictable effect. Little Ella Lucas—science geek, math nerd, teacher’s pet—who had barely said boo to him all those years they’d weathered Huntley’s gossip, could speak dirty with the best of them.

“What’s the matter?” she taunted. “Is your injury more extensive than first thought? Can you not perform?”

Ella had heard talk yesterday that Jake was back in Huntley resting up his “groin”. For a man whose groin, according to the tabloids, seemed to rest very little, it must be a frustrating experience. She could help him with that.

Jake shot her a sardonic half smile. “I can perform just fine.”

Ella smiled. “Excellent.”

“You’ll hate yourself for it later,” Jake sighed.

Ella stopped struggling. Of course she would—she just didn’t do casual sex. But this was bigger than her.

“Jake Prince, in the last twenty-four hours, I’ve buried my mother, inherited a teenage brother I never knew existed and discovered that the entire town thinks I ran off with the school principal at the age of seventeen. If I’m going to be damned for my loose ways then you better believe I want to at least reap the benefits.”

Jake, feeling the resistance in her muscles ebb, let her go warily, relieved when she stood placidly, making no attempt to move closer. He’d been long gone when the scandal had rocked Huntley but he’d heard the rumours over the years on his brief sojourns home. “You’re angry.”

“No, Jake—I’m furious.”

He shrugged. “I guess you have a right to be.”

“You guess?” Ella felt her anger surge inside her again, swelling  to tsunami-like proportions. “They knew me, Jake. This town. They knew me better than that.”

She took a step toward him, feeling a very unreasonable urge to pummel her fists against the solid wall of his chest. What did he know about how difficult it had been for her? Jake, who’d been given a get-out-of-jail-free card by a big city football club. Kick a pointy ball around a piece of grass and the world was your oyster; work your butt off at school and people accused you of sleeping with the principal. She lifted her hands and then clenched them, shocked that she’d almost followed the violent impulse. They came to rest against his shirt and she bunched the fabric tight, rage still simmering beneath her skin.

His top button was at her eye level and suddenly her frustration found a more constructive outlet. She fingered the plastic disk. Jake placed a hand against hers and she batted it away.

“I was a valedictorian,” she muttered. A red mist lashed her insides and fogged her vision, making dexterity impossible. All her pent-up hostility was now concentrated on a little piece of plastic.

“I won the academic medal for five years straight,” she growled, feeling like a two-year-old who hadn’t yet learnt the art of undressing. Her badly shaking fingers fumbled with the button. It finally popped and she made a triumphant noise in the back of her throat.

“I tutored kids for free,” she told the next button, having as much trouble as the first.

“Ella.” He placed his hand on hers again.

She shook it off and took a deep, steadying breath, the mist lifting a little. “I volunteered at the old folks’ home.” The button popped. “I sponsored a child in Africa.” Another disk fell victim to her steadier fingers. “I still do.”

She looked him square in the eye. “I was a girl guide.”

Jake watched her, bemused, struggling with his buttons and her emotions. He knew better than anyone how hard it was to grow up in a place that ostracized you for the sins of a parent. How unfair it was. How crazy it could make you.

And he was trying really hard to do the right thing but Ella’s mood was heady with seething sexuality. Her anger and frustration, and no doubt her grief, had morphed into a raw, sexual cocktail. She needed to burn off some heat. And he was her explosive of choice.

After years of avoiding his gaze she was looking right at him.

The last button gave way and she pushed the shirt off his shoulders. She pressed her nose to his sternum and inhaled. It seemed like such an innocent thing to do in the middle of her seduction and it took him back a lot of years.

To the high school dance.

To how he’d lain awake later that night running his tongue over his lips, savouring the taste of her.

“It doesn’t matter what they think,” he said, his resolve to do the right thing weakening by the second.

Ella knew he was right. Jesus! She had three university degrees in right. She wasn’t here for his Dr. Phil advice. She was here for the sex. And from what she heard, Jake had more than a few degrees in that.

His chest was smooth and she touched it tentatively, the beat of his heart pulsing against her hand. He had a tattoo of some kind of demonic superhero, the Phantom meets Wolverine, on his left pec and she traced it with her finger.

“It matters to me.”

“Ella,” he murmured. “It won’t help.”

“Wanna bet?” She put her mouth where her finger had been and licked the length of the tattoo as she reached for the button of his jeans.

“Whoa there.” He shifted, covering her hand with his, holding her away from him. “This is wrong.”

Ella almost screamed in frustration as she dropped her hand from his waistband. She’d come here for one thing and she was damned if she was leaving without it. “We’re two consenting adults, Jake. This has right written all over it.”

“I think doing this the day after you buried your mother is maybe not the wisest way to cope.”

Ella looked at him. Since when had he become so damn smart? “Why don’t you let me decide what’s the healthiest way to cope with my grief?”

Jake was running out of reasons why he shouldn’t just throw caution to the wind like she obviously had. He wasn’t even certain why he was putting up such a fight. “I don’t have any condoms.”

Ella quirked an eyebrow. That she found hard to believe. Not that it mattered.

She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a strip of five, her gaze never leaving his. They concertinaed down like a pack of magic cards. She threw them at him and they bounced off his chest and fell to the floor. “That should do us.”

Jake looked down at the little foil packets of temptation. Five? He swallowed as his gaze returned to hers. “Kel’s off shift in an hour.”

“Then why are you wasting time pretending you don’t want to do this?”

His gaze flicked briefly to the condoms again and he shut his eyes against their lure.

Ella gave a frustrated growl low in her throat at his continued reticence. “You know, Jake, this wasn’t how I pictured it.”

Jake laughed. “How’d you picture it?”

Ella glared at him. She needed a plan B. Thinking quickly, she grasped the knot at her navel where the edges of her checkered shirt had been tied firmly together and undid it. Then she ripped the shirt open, sending buttons flying, and stripped it off, flinging it to the ground at his feet beside the condoms.

“You weren’t talking, for a start.”

Jake felt his laughter die on his lips. A gentleman may not have looked but there wasn’t one person in Huntley who would ever have accused Jake of being a gentleman. So he looked. In fact, he barely stopped himself from licking his lips.

He’d seen a bra like that hanging on the Lucas clothes line when he’d been fifteen. Red lace. D cup. He’d known it was Ella’s—Rachel had never been big on underwear. He felt all his good intentions slowly melt away and he swallowed. There was a point at which resistance becomes futile. And God help him, he’d reached that point. In fact, suddenly, he was way beyond it.

“I can do mute.”

It was Ella’s turn to laugh, knowing she had him as she reached behind and unclipped the bra, throwing it on the ground too.

“I can do deaf and blind also.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” she demanded as she tugged on the waistband of his jeans and dragged him forward.

 

Holding Out for a Hero by Amy Andrews is available now

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Out Today – Holding Out for a Hero by Amy Andrews

Posted October 15, 2013 by Mark

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We’re very excited to announce that Holding Out for a Hero by Amy Andrews is out now! The pre-release buzz has been awesome and we’re looking forward to many readers discovering and loving Amy’s new book, which is the first official release from Momentum Moonlight.

Holding Out For A Hero is a fun sexy contemporary with an Australian flavour…” - Kaetrin’s Musings

“A funny, smexy contemporary romance with absolutely unique characters that are easy to love.” - Harlequin Junkie

“A heartwarming and inspiring story of never giving up, friendship, family and letting go.” - Beauty and Lace

“Intriguing, passionate, emotional and fun…” - Contemporary Romance Reviews

“Andrews’ ability to capture the ups and downs of familial relationships has never been in doubt, but here it adds a depth to what is essentially a love story.” - Exploits of a Chick Lit Aficionado 

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When sensible schoolteacher Ella Lucas rides into her home town on a Harley and seduces the resident football hero, Jake Prince, she figures she can be forgiven and move on. After all, she’s just buried her mother.

Two years later, back in the city, their paths cross again but this time Jake is in the process of destroying her favourite dive bar. With her home facing a wrecker’s ball, her school being closed down and her 15-year-old brother hell bent on self-destruction, it’s the last straw. Throw in a dominatrix best friend who is dating a blue ribbon guy so straight he still lives at home with his mother, it’s no wonder the sanest person in Ella’s life is a dog.

With all this to contend with, the last thing Ella needs is Jake back in her life. But, as fate would have it, Jake is the only chance she has to save her school.

As the school football season heats up, old secrets threaten to surface and Ella takes on greedy developers, school boards and national tabloids. But can she save not just her home, her school and her brother, but also the reputation of the man she’s never been able to forget? And, more importantly, does she want to?

Holding Out for a Hero is a quirky, heartwarming tale of unlikely romance, friendship and family.

You can buy Holding Out for a Hero here

You can read the first chapter for free here

You can read Amy Andrews’ opinions about wangs here!

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Excerpt – Claudette in the Shadows by M.J. Hearle

Posted October 9, 2013 by Mark

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Chapter One

The Girl Who Didn’t Dream

Claudette lay awake in the dark listening to her brother’s nightmares. Blake’s anguished moans and mumbled protests were so clear through the thin wall separating their rooms that he might well have been lying next to her. For three months now, Blake’s cries had consistently rung through their terrace and disrupted everyone’s sleep, save for Claudette, who rarely slept. What horrors chased him in his sleep? And why did they return night after night?

While listening, she tried to imagine something terrible and frightening – something that might make her cry out in her sleep – but couldn’t. She and Blake were twins, yet shared little more than the same green eyes. Blake had nightmares; Claudette couldn’t remember the last time she’d dreamt. Her brother had imagination. She had none, and did not miss it.

Something small and hard bounced off her bedroom window – a stone. Claudette’s heart quickened as she stole out of bed and stepped lightly across the cold floorboards. Outside, the amber gaslights shone dully over the snow-covered street. Standing beneath one of the gaslights was a young man. Seeing her at the window, he took off his hat and raised his hand in greeting. Simon Fontellier’s dimpled smile was wide; his blonde curls gleamed coppery in the light. He was beautiful and he was there for her.

Grinning back at him, Claudette motioned for Simon to wait and quickly slipped on the dress and gloves she’d laid out before bed. She didn’t dare turn on the lamp for fear of alerting Mrs Aldenkamp, the housekeeper, who was known to sit up late reading. Luckily, Claudette’s vision was sharper than most and there was enough light spilling in through the window to check her reflection in the vanity.

The dress fitted well. It was violet with black embroidery running along the hem and sleeves. Now all she needed was her hat. She balanced it delicately upon her dark tresses and gathered her boots – deciding stockinged feet was the stealthy option for tiptoeing out of the house. As she reached the threshold of her room she heard Blake cry out loudly again. She paused, holding her breath. Sometimes his night terrors drew Mother. When no footsteps came, Claudette exhaled and slipped into the hallway. Evidently, her mother had grown as inured to Blake’s nightmares as Claudette had.

The silence of the house weighed heavily upon her and was broken only by the steady ticking of the grandfather clock down the hall. While moving towards the parlour, Claudette was conscious of every creaking floorboard and the seemingly deafening whisper of her dress. At any moment she expected to hear her parents’ bedroom door thrown open, followed by her mother’s angry voice demanding to know what Claudette was doing.

What was she doing?

Three weeks ago, Simon had accosted her in the street while she and Blake were on their way to their tutorial with Professor Klamer. Seemingly unconcerned about risking impropriety, Simon had loudly declared her to be one of the most elegant young ladies in all of Amsterdam. Blake, always the protective brother, had sent him on his way, but not before Simon had coaxed her name – or, rather, the name her family was using in this city. Pascal. This was all Simon had needed to begin sending her letters, letters which she’d had to quickly retrieve and hide from Mrs Aldenkamp, who would surely have told Mother. Claudette was not allowed to have friends. That was one of the rules.

Nevertheless, she and Simon had begun a secret correspondence. Each of his letters had grown more passionate, culminating in his invitation tonight. He was going to take her to the dance halls near Leidseplein, a part of the city renowned for its exciting nightlife. A life that had heretofore been kept from Claudette. The only dancing she’d ever done was by herself in her room. The prospect of being able to dance with others, let alone a man such as Simon Fontellier, was almost deliriously attractive. She felt flushed just thinking about it.

A low fire was crackling in the hearth as Claudette crept into the parlour. Mrs Aldenkamp would normally have extinguished it by this late hour, so perhaps she was still awake somewhere in the house. Quickening her step, Claudette reached for the front door.

‘My dear, you have chosen poorly. I believe orange and teal are the fashionable colours of the season.’

With a gasp, Claudette whirled around. Sitting in the armchair by the fire, a pipe in hand, was her father, Ariman. She had somehow failed to notice him in her haste to be gone. The tiny glowing ember of his pipe flared brilliantly as her father inhaled, splashing light across his features. He did not look pleased.

‘Father! I thought you were travelling?’

‘Clearly. I cannot imagine you would have disregarded my authority otherwise.’

‘I wasn’t. I was …’ Claudette swallowed desperately, trying to form a plausible excuse.

‘Taking the night air? Alone, I suppose?’

‘No. Yes.’ She sighed, defeated.

‘I’m afraid you will have to disappoint Master Fontellier.’

Claudette felt colour rise to her cheeks. ‘How – have you been spying on me?’

‘Yes,’ he answered simply. ‘With good cause, it seems, as you clearly lack the intelligence to govern yourself.’

‘If I have acted irresponsibly, Father, it was only out of desperation. I was only going to be gone for an hour. Two hours at most.’

‘You know why you are not allowed to leave the house unattended.’

‘Unattended? I would be with Simon. Besides, we have heard nothing of Victor or the Bane for months!’

Victor Bonnaire. The name held almost biblical power for Claudette. For as long as she could remember, her family had been fleeing from Victor and the shadowy group of men who represented him, The Devil’s Bane. Claudette had lost count of the number of times she’d been woken by one of her parents in the middle of the night and told to ready herself for a hasty departure. It had happened so often that those occasions had become more irritating than terrifying. All it would take was a rumour of the Bane from one of Father’s contacts and her family would be forced to flee to a new destination. What made matters worse was that Claudette had never seen evidence of their pursuers. Being told to run from an invisible terror seemed not only counterintuitive, but also foolish. She would question the Bane’s very existence, were it not for the frightened look that came into her mother’s eyes on the rare occasions when Victor’s name was mentioned.

Her father took another toke of his pipe, his voice retaining that maddening calm which made Claudette feel even angrier. ‘I understand your frustration, Claudette. Truly I do. But the nights are not safe for you. Not yet. And that Fontellier boy, well … there will be other suitors more deserving of your attention.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘The boy has a reputation for gambling. He has debts. Legendary debts. A scoundrel by all reports.’

‘How dare you speak about Simon like that! You choose to believe bar-room gossip over your daughter? Simon’s family is highly respected. They live in one of the finest houses –’

‘Fine houses, dear daughter, do not necessarily fine gentlemen make.’

Now the angry words sprang forth from her. ‘You sit there in judgement of a man you’ve never met like some paragon of morality. If you are so fine a man, Father, then why do you live this fugitive life? What sins darken your past? Answer me that!’

Claudette couldn’t be sure, but she suspected her father sighed deeply in the shadows before answering.

‘When the time comes –’

‘Spare me, Father. This “inevitability” you speak of is an illusion. I’m doomed to spend my life running and not know why?’

Claudette glared at him silently, wishing she had the courage to walk right through the front door, his rules be damned! In the end, she simply turned brusquely on her heel. Only when she had returned to the dark of her room and saw that Simon had gone did she allow the tears to come.

 

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Podmentum: Vote 1 Podmentum

Posted September 6, 2013 by Mark

In this episode, we talk to erotic romance author S.A. Gordon about sex, politics, power, romance, and her new novel Hung Parliament. We also make predictions for the upcoming Australian Federal Election, that will probably be out of date by the time you listen to this.

LINKS

Momentum Moonlight

Hung Parliament

Return to Me

S.A. Gordon’s Tumblr, The Poll Vault

RECOMMENDATIONS

S.A. Gordon

9781921901560

Currawong Creek by Jennifer Scoullar

 

Joel

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Empire State by Adam Christopher

 

Tara

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The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

Mark

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Railsea by China Miéville

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Momentum Moonlight is here!

Posted by Mark

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Media Release

Momentum, the digital-first imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, is announcing the launch of Momentum Moonlight, a romance community and publishing imprint, aimed at publishing new romance, erotica and new adult titles in addition to building a community of romance readers.

Momentum publisher, Joel Naoum, said, “Genre is a major part of digital publishing, and Moonlight reflects Momentum’s dedication to the romance genre in particular. The romance reading community are voracious, passionate and increasingly form their communities online. We want to make sure we are in the same space as our readers.”

Momentum will publish two romance titles per month in 2014 under the Moonlight imprint, from a range of new and established authors. A new website and blog have been launched to complement Momentum’s already strong online presence and can be found at www.momentummoonlight.com. Website visitors will also have the opportunity to contribute their opinions and posts to the blog.

Among the romance authors that Momentum has already published are Kylie Scott, Caitlyn Nicholas, Jane Tara, Erica Hayes, Rhian Cahill, Lexxi Couper, Tracey O’Hara and SE Gilchrist, with several authors forthcoming in 2013, including Amy Andrews and Mae Archer.

“Many romance readers and writers have a fantastic sense of community about them. We’re all passionate about emotionally satisfying, well written stories. It’s not just about recommending the next great read, but also about encouraging and helping each other succeed in getting that story down on the page and published,” said Kylie Scott, author of USA Today and Amazon Top 20 bestseller, Lick, published by Momentum in July 2013.

“The success of authors like Kylie Scott reflects the way that romance readers and writers come together to support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. We hope the Moonlight community will help enhance these relationships for our readers and authors,” said Naoum.

www.momentummoonlight.com

www.facebook.com/momentummoonlight

Twitter: @moonlightmoment

For any further information about Moonlight, Momentum, or any of our authors, please contact Mark Harding, Digital Marketing Executive – Momentum: mark.harding@momentumbooks.com.au

 

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Extract – Return to Me by Mae Archer

Posted September 2, 2013 by Mark

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Chapter 1

Lana woke, gasping, her heart galloping in her chest as she looked around wildly. She was alone in the hospital bed. She took a shuddering breath and counted to ten, her hands clutching the sheet.

“It’s just a dream,” she murmured, the sound of her voice soothing her. Forcing her hands to unclench, she sat up slowly, her ribs aching faintly with each movement. She pushed her hair away from her face. She’d had the dream every night since she’d been in hospital and each time it lasted longer; last night she’d woken while floating above the street.

The door opened and Bess, her nurse, walked in. “Are you ready, Mrs Walker?”

Lana nodded hesitantly. Even after a week of being told she was Alannah Walker, she was shocked each time she was called by that name.

“Why don’t you change in the bathroom?” Bess handed her a lemon and white plaid wool suit.

Lana closed the bathroom door behind her and leaned on the basin. Looking down, she touched her bare ring finger. A light flashed across her eyes and her vision swam then cleared to reveal a rose-shaped ring on her finger. She blinked, and her hand was bare again.

Goose pimples broke out on her skin. Her hands tightened on the basin as her legs shook. Breathing shallowly, she waited for her strength to return. She turned on the tap and washed her face.  She looked at herself in the mirror and saw a stranger with the same pale blond hair and blue eyes, but where her own face was round and rosy-cheeked, making her look younger than her twenty-five years, this face was angular and had a sickly pallor. She ran her palms over the sharp planes of her cheeks. Her skin felt papery and blue veins could clearly be seen the surface. What had happened to her?

She pushed away from the basin and stripped. As she pulled on the skirt, she became aware of the tenderness of her bruises. The suit was closely fitted and the waistband cut into her, pulling on her skin and making her ribs hurt. Thankfully the piercing pain she’d felt upon first waking in the emergency room had settled into a dull ache over the past few weeks. She looked down as she slipped her feet into white shoes and saw her smooth, bare calves. It all felt so … wrong.

She smoothed her damp palms on the skirt, a nervous flutter beginning in her stomach, before she turned the doorknob.

Bess greeted her with a smile. “Your husband just left.”

Lana exhaled at the reprieve. She knew she was being a child because she’d have to see him eventually, but not yet. She needed more time.

“I’ll go tell Dr Chaine you’re ready.”

Lana nodded and sat down, her body protesting with each motion. Shifting in the seat, she tried to find a comfortable position. Her toes were squashed in the pointy shoes and she couldn’t wiggle them. She hated pointy shoes. Closing her eyes, she tried to force a concrete memory of her own shoes, but it danced away. She lifted her hands to her face and rubbed at her temple. Why couldn’t she remember?

Hearing footsteps, she turned as Dr Jeremy Chaine arrived by her bed.

“So how are you this morning?”

Lana forced a smile to her lips. “Fine.”

He wrote a notation on the chart and looked at her. “Have you remembered anything further?”

She shook her head.

He must have seen the apprehension in her eyes, because he continued. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I have every confidence that your memory will return once you’re in familiar surroundings.”

At this point, the Jeremy she’d known would have reached out and touched her gently on the arm, giving her the comfort of a physical touch. But this Jeremy turned to speak to Bess as if Lana wasn’t in the room.

Lana kept her gaze on the doctor’s bare left hand. She was finally starting to believe that he really didn’t know her.

Her memory was like Swiss cheese, tangible certainty filled with bubbles of blankness. When she’d seen Jeremy for the first time, she’d instantly had a flashback of her friend Vanessa. Seeing his left hand unadorned, and Bess’s possessive looks when Lana had tried to convince Jeremy he was married to her best friend, she’d thought she was in the midst of a nightmare. It was only when she’d felt the sharp pinprick of a needle in her arm, and that Jeremy clearly didn’t recognize her, that she’d realized something was terribly wrong.

“Any questions?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bess tensing. After a week of testing him by describing his and Vanessa’s wedding ceremony and reception, and tossing out the stray bits of information she’d known about him, Lana was ready to give up the quest.

She shook her head. She was beginning to believe that either she was crazy, or the car accident they told her she was in had damaged her memory. How else could she explain the flashes of recall that were totally at odds to what they told her was her life. “I’ll show Tristan in.” Jeremy looked at her, waiting for her reaction.

Lana returned his gaze impassively. He turned away and ushered in the man they said was her husband. She held her breath as the black wavy hair came into view and she had a faint sense of recognition, but when she saw the stranger’s thick eyebrows and taut face the sensation faded. As he approached her, she clenched her hands in her lap and held her panic at bay. His sharp eyes were intent on her face and she knew he was watching for signs that she would lash out at him again.

He bent to kiss her. She kept still, aware of Bess’s and Jeremy’s suspicious eyes on her. The man must have sensed her reluctance because he hesitated, his lips hovering just above her cheek. She put her hand on his arm and pulled him toward her. His kiss was perfunctory, and when it was over he placed his arm around her shoulders and turned to face Jeremy.

“Bess and I will give you some time alone.” Jeremy held the door for the nurse.

As soon as the door closed, Tristan removed his arm and moved away. “Are you ready?” He lifted her suitcase.

She nodded, looking at the floor. He started walking to the door, but she tugged at his arm, stopping him. She felt his muscles tense under her fingers and quickly removed her hand.

“I wanted to apologize,” she said to his back.

He turned to look at her.

“For the way I reacted.” Her throat dried and she swallowed rapidly. “I was confused after waking —”

“No explanation is necessary, Alannah.” He placed a hand under her elbow and helped her up effortlessly. His strength made her shrink within herself. But she didn’t resist as he pulled her to him and led her out the door.

She realized that Tristan was matching his long strides to her short, tottering steps – she was walking as if she’d never worn heels. His arm tightened around her shoulders and she felt his patience, smoothing her awkwardness until her steps lengthened and she walked with assurance.

The smell of sweat and wood rose from his skin. His skin was tanned, as though he worked in the sun. The first time she’d seen him, she’d been struck by a sense of déjà vu. She’d seen the shimmer of another face with paler skin and gentler features. She winced to herself as she remembered her hysterical shouts of denial when he’d told her he was her husband.

Tristan walked to a red Ford truck in the hospital’s parking lot and placed her bag in the back before opening the passenger door.

“Sorry, I just came from work and didn’t get a chance to go through the carwash this morning.”

She frowned. Why would she care if the car was dirty? She’d started shivering when they walked outside, her stockinged legs exposed to the crispness of spring. He looked at her as she rubbed at her arms and reached into the front seat to retrieve a coat then bundled her into it.

She glanced at the step to the cab, and he bent and placed his hands behind her knees, lifting her in his arms. Panic seized her and she tensed.

He carefully placed her on the passenger seat. “I won’t hurt you, ever.”

She saw his frustration in his eyes and lifted her hand, wanting to place it against his cheek and comfort him.

He stilled, waiting for her touch, the look in his eyes softening.

Her hand hovered, but in the end she couldn’t. She made a fist and lowered her arm, flinching when he closed the passenger door with a slam.

The wind billowed his Celtics T-shirt against his broad chest as he circled the car to the driver’s door. There were smudges of dirt on his jeans. He wasn’t the kind of man she was usually attracted to – she liked men who were less visibly masculine; a man who didn’t make her aware of her vulnerability with every breath. Someone who was tender, someone more like Fra —

Pain cut through her temple. She cut a quick look at Tristan. He was looking out for oncoming traffic. By the time he’d turned into the street and was staring through the windshield, she was sitting with her hands on her lap, gritting her teeth until the pain eased slightly.

As they wound through the streets to what was supposed to be her home, her already tense muscles clenched tighter. Unclenching her hands and stamping her feet did little to ease the tension. As Tristan turned the truck into the driveway of an apartment block, dread settled in her stomach.

 

Return to Me is available now. Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

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The Poll Vault: because this is the kind of election where all you can do is laugh

Posted August 29, 2013 by Mark

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S.A. Gordon, author of political erotic romance novel Hung Parliament, has launched a new tumblr making fun of the 2013 federal election campaign. Click on any of the images below to visit The Poll Vault, and don’t forget to buy a copy of Hung Parliament!

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Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott resists the impulse to nuzzle this unsuspecting voter’s hair – but only just. 

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For an uncomfortable moment, Kev remembers how Han Solo ended up spending an unscheduled amount of time in Jabba the Hutt’s lair. Almost simultaneously he realises that Albo is no Luke Skywalker. 

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Although they’ve lost Kurt, Marta and Gretl somewhere on the mountainside, Freidrich suggests to Liesl that the remaining von Trapp children start their vocal exercises ahead of a performance of ‘The Lonely Goatherd’. 

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‘Why on earth would he be taking a selfie in here? And can’t he tell that his focus is off?’ Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband Malcolm Turnbull fails to rationalise the behaviour of Manager of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne.

 

 

9781743342916_Hung Parliament_coverThe election isn’t the only thing that’s coming…

In the dark heart of winter, an election is called. Two parties will vie for supremacy. Two leaders, Grace Hammond and David Bartley, will do battle to take charge of the land. It would all be so straightforward if they weren’t already having an affair.

Amidst accusations of corruption, treachery and murky deals done with large corporations, network news correspondent Chopper (not his real name) knows whose fingerprints are on what and who is about to stab who in the back. That doesn’t mean he’ll run the story, though, even when it’s a story that could take down both leaders and create the biggest scandal ever seen in the nation’s politics.

The web of relationships and the network of secrets on which the national capital runs mean that Chopper’s decisions are never straightforward. He has people to protect, and people to expose – but the real test comes when they turn out to be one and the same.

Click here to purchase Hung Parliament for only $3.99 from your preferred ebook retailer

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The Many Shades of Love Stories

Posted August 23, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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I like to think that love stories exist on a spectrum. A kaleidoscopic spectrum. From the unfulfilled unrequited yearnings of immature obsession, to the all-consuming explosive tragedies of love that exceeded its capabilities. And then dotted in between are all the happy (and not so happy) stories of desire, adoration and weird attraction.

 

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Romantic Love

Traditionally, this is the most recognisable form of a love story. It carries with it the loss of reason and logic in the face of overwhelming emotion, and at its heart contains the idea that romantic love is all about desire: a desire of a person’s whole being to be united to something or someone. Romantic love desires completion, but the romance is in the yearning and searching for it, rarely in the attaining. Most unrequited love stories and tragic love stories fall into this end of the spectrum, as Anne recently described.

 

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Love and Loss

Another way of measuring the worth of love in a story is by the melancholic haze of a character experiencing the loss of their greatest love. The loss of love in a story generates a loss of the character’s interest in their world, a loss of inhibitions, a loss of self respect, and generally an enormous increase in alcohol, cigarettes, more alcohol, and walking in the rain. The story here isn’t in the love, it’s in the ability to return to a state where one can love.

 

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Adulterous Love

For some reason, adultery is a rather common thing in love stories. It must be because of the breaking-the-rules aspect stories about adultery contain. If the value of love stories is in the strength of the love depicted, then a love that smashes doors down and breaks vows is seen as a magnificent specimen of the genre. The problem is, adulterous love smashes everything, and leaves nothing but the love at the end.

The key here is also to not merely think of adultery as ‘adultery’. But rather, as any form of love that needs to break barriers in order to exist, be it legal, cultural, racial, and so on.

 

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Narcissistic Love

An odd but important shade on the love spectrum. Stories of narcissistic love often masquerade as traditional romantic love stories, but then disintegrate into something strange and weird. The object of desire is changed, or manipulated, or often removed from the equation entirely, as the lover realises that what they want most, in fact, is themselves. Usually a new and improved version, though.

(It’s quite interesting to read Fight Club in this vein, as a side note.)

 

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Bestial Love

Stranger and weirder. Not exactly as it sounds, but more in the psychosexual Freudian version of bestial love, these stories generate interesting explorations of the lover’s own psyche, in the roots of attraction and the mechanisms of nature and society that either enhance or diminish our bestial natures. The love can be platonic, and often as a path to finding romantic love elsewhere (think King Kong), though often bestial love stories are presented more as a conflict between rivals for the lover’s affection (man versus nature, instinct versus reason). Francis Ford Coppola’s film version of Dracula is peak bestial love story.

Think metaphorically with this one, okay?

 

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Post-modern Love

Not as Cultural Theory 101 as it might sound, this is more about the idea that a love story can be a love story even if love is not the eventual goal of the plot. Very good romantic comedies move into this territory, where it’s really about the central lover realising that their current love may just be a step towards something else. It carries the idea that love is merely love – it’s not world-ending, or defining, or anything really, other than just love. A love.

 

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Timeless Love

The love that never ends. For all its struggles against convention, circumstance, gender expectations, and frankly any old conflict that seeks to get in the way, its the love that aims to rise beyond the means and expectations of its own story and exist perpetually. Usually in oblivion, but still, forever. Generally these are the love stories that would be utterly conventional and dull if it weren’t for the conflict that stands between the two lovers and living happily ever after, and that conflict forces them to find an alternate path to a life together.

Look, they usually die in the end okay? But, you know, romantically.

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Posts with Momentum

Posted August 16, 2013 by Mark

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Here are the five most popular blog posts this week on Momentum

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Boys don’t read

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Going negative on ebooks

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10 reasons why you should drop whatever it is you’re doing and see Elysium this week

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Opening lines and the end of Anne

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Extract – Hung Parliament by S.A. Gordon

 

 

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The eleven point plan to reading political erotica

Posted by Mark

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We’re mainly talking about Hung Parliament here…

1. Snigger at the title

2. Acknowledge the genius of the title

3. Open it up and start reading, admire the writing style

4. Get aroused

5. Stop it, you’re at work and it’s the middle of the day

6. Picture real politicians in the roles

7. Vomit on your desk, shoes, colleagues

8. Forget all about real politicians and use your imagination instead

9. Keep reading

10. Get aroused

11. Go home early

Hung Parliament is available now for only $3.99

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Extract – Hung Parliament by S.A. Gordon

Posted August 15, 2013 by Mark

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CHAPTER ONE

‘Order! Order!’

The Leader of the Opposition looked up at the Speaker from underneath her sweeping fringe and let one side of her mouth curl.

‘Mr Speaker, I —’

‘The Member for Cobbittee is warned,’ the Speaker thundered, glowering at the slender, well-dressed woman whose flowing, blow-dried blonde locks often made her the focus of jibes from her colleagues, the press and the public. Apparently it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to be powerful and well-groomed – but she didn’t care about what other people thought was appropriate.

‘I understand, Mr Speaker,’ the Leader of the Opposition said calmly. ‘I shall confine my remarks to the business at hand.’

The Speaker nodded once, his face still dark, as the opposition leader turned away from him to face the Prime Minister, who was sitting across from her, smirking slightly.

The opposition leader smiled primly and ran her hands down the sides of her skirt, noticing out of the corner of her eye that the Prime Minister’s gaze followed her hands before darting back to his lap.

Placing those hands on the massive table in front of her, her red, single-breasted jacket only barely containing her breasts, the Leader of the Opposition trained her bright blue eyes on the PM and set her face to stone.

‘The business at hand, Mr Speaker, is that the Prime Minister has lied to this parliament about his relationship with the men who run the three largest mining companies in this country —’

‘Order!’

‘Men who are mysteriously unaccountable to their own boards, let alone the people of Australia —’

‘ORDER!’

‘And he is allowed to get away with it because he is so deeply in the pocket of the woman who runs the largest media empire in this country that nary a word is written about this relationship, their activities and the potential consequences for the people of his electorate, Mr Speaker – or mine, for that matter.’

‘THE MEMBER FOR COBBITTEE MUST LEAVE THE CHAMBER!’

The opposition leader cleared her throat, stood up straight and nodded curtly at no one in particular. She could see that the Prime Minister was still smirking at her and as she turned to go she quickly glanced at his crotch – just visible if she peered a little bit further over the table. She knew she would see the outline of his erection pressing against his expensive woollen suit pants. As she looked back up at his face, she knew, too, that he knew she had noticed. She didn’t care to check if the MPs on his side of the chamber had noticed. It suited her if they had.

The PM’s smirk disappeared, replaced by something the opposition leader couldn’t read, but that didn’t stop her smiling to herself all the way out into the corridor, the chamber in uproar behind her.

*

‘Nice work, Grace,’ said one of the opposition leader’s senior staff as she entered her office. ‘It’ll be hard for the rest of the media to ignore that.’

Grace Hammond waved her hand towards the staffer, not so much to dismiss his remark as to suggest what she had done wasn’t important. But she knew it was. Exposing the Government’s dirty dealings with certain mining and media magnates had become the raison d’être of most of the Shadow Cabinet, and with an election about to be called, the Opposition knew they needed to get the Government on the ropes.

That must be why her heart was pounding so hard. But it didn’t explain the heat between her legs and the way her mouth had turned dry.

Grace stopped as she reached her desk, and took a few shallow breaths. She pictured the Prime Minister’s handsome, smirking face and the heat between her legs grew. It wasn’t the response she was meant to have; she was meant to want to slap him, or at the very least yell at him. Instead she focused on the details she knew so well: the thick chocolate-coloured hair, lightly flecked with gold; the eyes of the same colour; the broad shoulders inside his finely made suits, the muscular buttocks – honed by his dedication to the gym – that sat atop long legs that made him clearly the tallest man in parliament.

Her breathing was still shallow when a knock on her office door startled her.

‘Your husband’s here,’ said one of the anonymous young women who rotated through her office on what seemed to be a daily basis.

‘Thank you,’ Grace said with a tight smile, not even bothering to attempt a name.

The woman withdrew and Grace could hear her murmuring something.

‘Darling,’ her husband, Neil, said as he appeared in the doorway, his brushed red hair and small, compact frame not at all what she wanted to see right now. But she smiled broadly and approached him.

‘My darling,’ he repeated, his eyes shining as he wrapped his arms around her. ‘Fantastic show,’ he said into her ear.

‘I hope you didn’t let the children watch,’ she said, holding him tightly.

‘They were too busy running up and down the corridor,’ he said.

She nodded against his neck. ‘Good.’

‘But I was certainly watching,’ he said, drawing back and looking at her, hard.

She gazed up at him, her face passive, as he lowered his mouth to hers. He kissed her, his moist lips feeling like slugs, until she closed her eyes and imagined they belonged to a man with chocolate-coloured hair and an erection that suggested he deserved to be the most powerful man in the land. As Neil’s erection pressed into her leg, Grace dug her fingernails into his back and sucked his lips between hers.

Neil moaned and moved his hands to the base of her skull, pulling equally hard with his lips so that it felt to Grace like they were devouring each other. But as his hands started to slide through her hair, she pulled back sharply.

‘Sorry, darling,’ she said, smiling sweetly and running a hand over her head. ‘Press conference coming up and no hairdresser around.’

He blinked once, then again. ‘Oh.’ He swallowed. ‘Sure.’

Still smiling, Grace put one hand on his crotch and nuzzled her nose into his throat. ‘Make it up to you later,’ she cooed.

Neil kissed her forehead. ‘Sure,’ he said again, giving one of her breasts a squeeze. ‘I know where to find you.’

Grace forced a giggle as she heard their children coming into the outer office.

‘Sweeties!’ she called as three red-haired girls and a brown-haired boy came running in.

‘Mama!’ they cried as she opened her arms to them, just as the nameless girl poked her head around the door again.

‘Mrs Hammond,’ she said.

‘Yes?’ Grace said, barely looking up.

‘The PM’s office is on the phone.’

Grace stood up and once more ran her hands down her skirt.

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Neil, would you …?’

‘Yep,’ her husband said crisply, turning to go.

‘Bye, sweeties!’ called Grace as she walked back to her desk, her children already out of her mind as she reached for the phone.

‘How the fuck could you do that to me?’ the Prime Minister roared down the phone.

‘David, please,’ Grace whispered.

‘Grace, don’t you dare try to shut me up. I told you we’d been talking to those fucking miners in confidence. While we were fucking naked. Is this your version of spousal privilege? We both have spouses so whatever we say to each other isn’t privileged?’

The Leader of the Opposition clenched her teeth then exhaled sharply. ‘We both know, David, that fundamentally we’re opponents. You would do the same to me.’

‘Except you wouldn’t tell me something like that in the first place. For all I know you’re screwing half of Queensland just to get on the right side of the property developers who are all making such a fucking killing after those fucking floods freed up all that nice Sunshine Coast land, and then turning around and telling them you’re going to fix all the legals for them – no worries, gents – because you know where the Government’s bodies are buried. And here I was thinking I’d give you something you could use to swing a bit of business Queensland’s way. At the rate you’re going they’ll take their fucking drills out of the fucking Pilbara and there’ll be nothing left for anyone – especially fucking Western Australia.’

Grace held the phone to her ear and said nothing.

‘Grace?’ he said, his voice slightly weaker.

‘Have you finished?’ the Leader of the Opposition said tersely.

She heard him let a long breath out. ‘Yes,’ he said meekly.

‘You know, you should watch your language,’ she said, sounding like a schoolteacher. ‘Anyone could hear you. You don’t want to get a reputation as a foul-mouth. As much as you’re cosy with Madame Glastonhill, her editors won’t necessarily keep that out of their papers and we can’t have the voters thinking their Prime Minister is limited to a four-letter-word vocabulary.’

The PM laughed softly. ‘Fuck, Grace, whose side are you on?’

‘You’ll find out, David, as soon as you call the election.’

‘Oh. Right.’

‘For now, though, I don’t want to fuck a man who keeps screaming the word in my ear all the time. It’s uncouth.’ Grace examined her fingernails and frowned as she found a nick in the polish on one.

‘I’ll find another word, then,’ the PM said evenly.

‘Just lose it altogether,’ the opposition leader said primly. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, my children are here.’

‘Sure,’ said the deep voice down the line. ‘Later, then?’

‘Maybe,’ said Grace. Then she hung up, smiling to herself.

Hung Parliament is available on Friday 16 August where all good ebooks are sold

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The romance of unrequited love

Posted by Anne

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On the Momentum podcast the other day we were talking about the New Adult genre, and sharing some of the texts that shaped our young lives. I read a lot of romance novels based around the theme of unrequited love, spurred from an early obsession with Gone with the Wind. That story did feature unrequited love as one of the central narratives – spoiler ahead, for anyone who may get upset with me for ruining the plot of a book published in 1936 – with Scarlett O’Hara’s enduring adoration of Ashley Wilkes, and Rhett Butler’s indulgent but ultimately exasperated love for Scarlett.

But one could also argue that the central love story of Gone with the Wind is a case of star-crossed lovers rather than unrequited love. Scarlett does love Rhett, she’s just so blinded by a childhood infatuation that she can’t see it. Or, as I am beginning to suspect upon re-examination, she is merely a petulant woman-child who only wants what she can’t have. But that is beside the point. I’m trying to find a clear distinction between the themes of unrequited love and star-crossed lovers in romance, and I’m not sure that there can ever be one. A romance novel featuring unrequited love is almost always a case of mistaken intentions – otherwise where is the tension and ultimately the resolution, the happily ever after that romance readers crave? Which brings us to star-crossed lovers.

I’m not a typical romance reader, in that I’d always prefer my romantic narratives to end in tragedy, as opposed to the ‘HEA’ or ‘Happily Ever After’ that a lot of readers strictly require in order to enjoy the story. I’d much prefer the love story to end in death or at the very least, disharmony, with one or both lovers pining for a lost or impossible love. So if you can recommend any books featuring this type of love story, please let me know in the comments.

Here’s some inspiration in the meantime – some of my favourite unrequited and/or star-crossed love stories from fiction.

Romeo and Juliet

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This pair of star-crossed lovers are probably the best known example of the trope, and the origin of the phrase “star-crossed lovers”. “My only love sprung from my only hate”, their love begins with the hurdle of their warring families and ends in a series of miscommunications that leave them only able to be together in death.

Guinevere and Lancelot

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Guinevere is married to Arthur, the King. Lancelot is the King’s Champion, and chief knight (ie best mate). Lancelot falls in love with Guinevere. Initially Guinevere ignores his attentions, but eventually succumbs and they begin an adulterous love affair. Their betrayal is ultimately discovered and Arthur condemns Guinevere to burn for her sins, and Lancelot is banished. Their story ends with Guinevere given a reprieve to live out her life in a nunnery, and Lancelot lives out his as a hermit – one imagines them pining for each other for the rest of their days.

Scarlett and Rhett, Gone with the Wind 

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Rhett is enamoured with Scarlett from the first moment he encounters her, at a barbecue at Ashley Wilkes’ plantation Twelve Oaks, during a private moment between Scarlett and Ashley. Scarlett has just discovered that Ashley is going to marry someone else, and professes her love to him, and he gently dissuades her. Rhett witnesses this exchange, and the spectre of Scarlett’s infatuation with Ashley goes on to haunt them throughout the book.

Motoko and Batou, Ghost in the Shell 

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Motoko is the main character in the Ghost in the Shell series, a cyborg employed by Section 9, a special-operations task-force involved in counter-terrorism and political intrigue. Batou is her second in command, and while the bond between them is clearly affectionate, he primarily operates as her protector (entirely unnecessarily, I might add, as she is stronger than him in many ways). The tragedy and the strength of their cyborg existence is the absence of connection and love.

Ennis and Jack, Brokeback Mountain 

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Forbidden love between cowboys, and the trauma that their star-crossed love inflicts not just on them but those around them is at once tragic and beautiful. The frustration they feel is palpable, and is played out not just through the tenderness of love scenes but also visceral physical fights that demonstrate the breadth of their feelings.

Maybe I’m so enamoured with unrequited love because, as Proust posited, it is the only sustainable form of love. It remains unsullied by age and time and circumstance, because it can be crystallised in memory and longing. Much like fiction.

I’ve only touched on the very tip of the unrequited/star-crossed love story iceberg, so let me know your favourites in the comments.

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Posts With Momentum

Posted August 9, 2013 by Mark

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Here are the five most popular blog posts this week on Momentum.

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Great opening lines from science fiction novels

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What is new adult?

Frankenstein (1)

A guide to writing modern horror

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Rise of the audiobooks

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Reasons to be excited for Interstellar

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What is New Adult?

Posted August 5, 2013 by Alex

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There’s a new hot topic in publishing. It’s not ebooks, DRM or digital workflow; it’s the genre called ‘New Adult’ fiction. Reading groups, blogs, even inside the inner sanctums of the Major Publishing Fortresses, all are talking about New Adult. But what is it exactly?

The title of Juju Chang’s article ‘Emerging ‘New Adult’ Book Genre Puts Smut Fiction on Bestseller Lists’ suggests one line of thought. A crossover of Young Adult with Erotic Fiction is definitely one branch of this emerging genre, but is that all?

John Walsh said in a recent article that ‘NA’ novels cover the 18-25-year-old age bracket, ‘charting the lives of post-school, university-age friends’ and the myriad of experiences young people go through during that transitional point in life. I took a screenshot of what came up when searching for New Adult in Goodreads:

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New Adult appears to be an umbrella term that can encompass grown up YA, erotic romance or anything in between. The 18-25-year-old age bracket is definitely the cornerstone of this genre. You know it’s official when Wikipedia agrees.

Deirdre Donahue introduces New Adult as:

‘Mix the high-octane emotions of youth with the freedom of leaving home and you’ve brewed up a potent new book category called “New Adult.”

Navigating the exhilarating, sometimes dangerous chasm between adolescence and adulthood, these novels — aimed at readers out of high school — are roaring up the best-seller list.’

Looking through the New Adult hits online, a lot of books in the genre are about relationships or character journeys. This makes sense given the age of the characters; a time of transition and first-time adult experiences.

While you’re unlikely, for the moment, to find a New Adult shelf in a bookstore, it’s a genre that’s gaining traction. The iron is hot for writers with content that bridges the gap between Young Adult and general Adult fiction. You don’t have to look far to find examples.

Have you read any New Adult books recently? Were they tagged as New Adult or another applicable genre, like Romance? What do you think of this new genre? Have your say in the comments below.

Alex Lloyd is an editorial assistant at Pan Macmillan Australia. He interned briefly at Momentum before Pan snapped him up for full time employment. You can follow Alex on twitter at @AlexDNLloyd

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Keepers of the House – Chapter 1

Posted by Anne

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Annaliese and Anna are two women divided by time but united by a common destiny and the heritage whose dramatic history exerts so powerful an influence upon their lives.

Anna Riordan, a very successful businesswoman who also dabbles in politics, is at a crossroads in her life. Her husband has just walked out on her, she is trying to decide whether to seriously pursue a political career, and then there is the matter of Mark, an old flame, and her ties to South Africa. Anna’s great-grandmother, Annaliese, fled South Africa not long after the Boer War.

But she remembers the farm and the land, and impresses on young Anna that she must buy back that land nothing else matters. Anna is sent on an unofficial government mission to test the winds of change in South Africa she makes contact with one of the black African leaders whilst there; a meeting that will, in the future, change her life.

Before she can move on with her life, Anna must come to terms with her heritage, with the ghost of Annaliese that haunts her, and decide whether she really wants her husband back.

Read on for the first chapter of JH Fletcher’s Keepers of the House

The first thing that Anna saw when she came into the house was the envelope propped foursquare against the crystal vase on the table in the entrance lobby. She turned it in her fingers, frowning. Mostyn’s handwriting. Her heart went pit-pat. Her thumbnail broke the seal. She took out the single sheet. Read it. Pain sliced.

Dear God.

The envelope slipped unnoticed to the floor. On numb legs, letter still clasped in her hand, she walked through the lounge to the terrace that ran across the rear of the house. She rested her hands on the stone capping of the wall and looked out at the manicured lawn, the flowerbeds that now, in the second week of December, were bright with petunias and antirrhinums, the scented heads of roses. Beyond the garden, the blue water of the harbour. The Manly ferry, toy-sized, trailed its wake as it tossed through the chop towards the city. The water was white-flecked, the air crackled with salt. The house unfolded its wings behind her.

Home.

It was here she had planned so many of her triumphs in recent years. To it she had returned to lick her occasional wounds; who, in the savage world of business, had not known a few of those? It had comforted her, cosseted her, protected her. Her safe stronghold. No longer. Now, with Mostyn’s note, the walls had been breached.

In the house the telephone started ringing. Anna did not move. It was probably Hilary with the latest production figures from the new factory in Geelong. They could wait. For the moment she was not up to Hilary’s obsessive pedantry, her accountant’s voice scratching dust over all Anna’s bright visions.

The phone stopped as the answering machine cut in. Released by silence, Anna walked down the steps to the grass. The turf yielded beneath her boardroom shoes. She had an urge to chuck away not only the shoes but everything they represented: the structure of deals and treasons, lies and promises, minutes and financial statements that for so many years had constituted her life.

All that, she thought, so that one day — today — I can come home to an empty house and find that my husband of thirteen years has walked out on me.

She was still holding Mostyn’s letter. She looked at it again. Behind the written words she could hear his voice, hot and spiteful, listing all the faults he claimed to have found in her in recent years. Yet the letter contained nothing of that; he had never been one to commit himself in writing if he could avoid it.

I’ve had enough. I’ll send for my things.

Just that. Not much to end a life with its attendant pains and joys, its hopes and plans and companionship.

Its love.

Because there had been love, surely? To count no triumph complete without sharing it. To feel warmth at the sound of his voice. To know contentment and peace in his presence. What were these if not love?

They had found this house together; like excited kids had run through its rooms, sharing their vision of its potential, its place in their future. They had eaten Sunday morning breakfasts on that terrace, crumbs and newspapers and the hot, strong smell of coffee. They had laughed together, wept together, clung together. Silly, trivial things.

Of course, there were other, less delightful memories. Of rows and more rows, particularly lately. And now this.

I’ve had enough.

The crash of her collapsing world reverberating in her head and heart, Anna Riordan climbed the steps to the terrace and went back indoors.

She looked in the kitchen. Mrs Casey had left a cold meal in the fridge. Mrs Casey was no doubt the reason Mostyn had taken care to seal his note. Meats, salad, cold potatoes, the remains of a fruit flan.

You will not think, Anna said, as adept at giving orders to herself as to others. You will eat and then you will have a bath. Only then will you decide what has to be done.

Half an hour later, wreathed in steam, she lay in the hot scented water and, for the first time, brought her mind to bear on her situation.

She supposed she should have known a break was on the cards. The good times, the shared delight in each other, the enmeshing of minds and bodies had all ended years ago. For a long time they had not even made love, had been no more than two strangers sharing the same accommodation. Yet, in truth, she had not expected it. It was what happened to their friends; never once had she thought it might happen to her.

Now this.

She stirred restlessly in the bath, running her hands over a body that at forty-one was still taut and firm.

We had something precious but were so tied up in our piffling careers that we never bothered to take care of it. Never even realised that care was necessary. Now it is dead, from indifference and neglect. And we are supposed to be so smart.

Damn, damn, damn.

One question remained. What had happened to cause Mostyn to make the break?

Another woman?

She supposed that, in this situation, it was the first thing all women wondered. It was certainly possible. Mostyn’s eye had wandered often but she had always been careful to ask no questions, had not permitted herself to care too deeply; always, the moments had passed. She thought she would have known had Mostyn involved himself seriously with someone.

No, not that. What, then?

Only one thing seemed possible. Over the last few years Anna had had the Midas touch; all her ventures had turned to gold. Because of her flair she had been invited to join the boards of some of the largest companies in the land; political connections had caused her to be offered — and accept — a seat on the prestigious State Economic Strategies Committee.

By contrast Mostyn’s own career had topped out. No one could call him unsuccessful. He was executive director of a merchant bank, had a hatful of other directorships and enough cash to indulge his whim of investing in premium vineyards, both in Australia and overseas. It would have been more than enough for most men. Yet, somehow, his career had lacked the sparkle of her own.

He had known it and resented it. Small signs that, in retrospect, had been significant: a determination, ever more frequently expressed, that Anna’s career should be subordinate to his own; unreasoning anger when their schedules clashed and she was unable — or unwilling — to put off her arrangements to suit his.

Recently had come what might have been the final step in bringing him to the break. Some weeks earlier, Anna had been invited to lunch at an unfashionable restaurant by one of the main power brokers in the party. He had spoken ambiguously, yet to someone like Anna, who understood the language, his words had been unmistakable. People had been wondering, he said, whether she might be interested in a place, a very senior place, in government. If one happened to become available. If she should by chance be interested in a political career. No need for a decision right away, he had told her. Think about it.

She had gone home ten feet off the ground, bursting to share the news with her husband, who knew well that politics had been a source of unending fascination to her ever since the early eighties when she had spent two years as aide to Jack Goodie, at that time shadow Trade Minister.

Mostyn had been unable to handle it.

‘I’d as soon mix with the Mafia as that riffraff. At least you know where you are with the Mafia.’

‘Just a chat. They’re not committed. Neither am I.’

‘No such thing as just a chat with those blokes.’

He was probably right. She had not committed herself but knew she probably would, had felt the tingle of excitement that for her always signalled the lure of a new adventure.

‘Isn’t business enough for you?’ The genuine astonishment of a man to whom the acquisition of money was the world.

‘Probably not.’

For some time she had felt restless at the prospect of spending the rest of her life making nothing but money. Such a limited ambition … Whereas politics would give her the opportunity to stretch herself, perhaps even do some good in the world.

For some time she had become involved in a number of issues, women’s rights and third world matters among them, telling herself they were no more than sidelines.

Perhaps, with the cautiously worded invitation, it was time for them to move centre stage.

Had that caused the final rift? Probably. Since that conversation, if you could call it that, Mostyn had never stopped bitching about how her career was taking over both their lives, had made it clear that if she wanted him to play second fiddle she was in for a disappointment.

‘You needn’t expect me to trot along behind you …’

And then, two days ago, the Premier himself had phoned. An election was due next year; it would be helpful if he had an idea of her plans.

Even then she had not committed herself. She had not said no, either, as she had admitted when Mostyn questioned her. Some husbands would have been proud; he had been furious, had told her that she thought only of herself, that his career meant nothing to her.

It was nonsense and she had said so, angrily. It had ended in a terrible row, recriminations flying like bullets, and the spoiled brat she had married thirteen years earlier had stormed out in what she now saw had been a rehearsal for today’s main event.

Envy, she told herself. A petty, petulant reaction from a petty, petulant man. The thought made her feel better, if not much.

She stood up, body glowing from the hot water, mind clear. She reached for a towel and began to rub herself dry. Envy, pure and simple. Except that envy was never pure and seldom simple.

She knew Mostyn so well. He had always been a hatchet man, even had the nickname to go with it. Hatchet Harcourt, they called him in the city. If he fell out with you, people said, look out. Anna had never thought she would have to worry about that — her husband, for heaven’s sake — but now was not so sure.

She tossed the towel into the laundry basket and walked naked into the bedroom. Theirs, it seemed, no longer.

She would have to watch her back.

She put on a deceptively simple linen dress in a tone of dusty pink that suited her colouring. She had bought it in Genoa the last time she had been in Europe; it was one of her favourites for a summer evening when she didn’t want to get too tarted up. She brushed her dark hair — no grey so far, although after this episode who knew what she might find in the morning? — and put on the dab of lipstick that tonight was her sole concession to the conventions of make-up.

As she did so, she thought deliberately about what she had to do. Speak to Maurice Steyn, first of all, if she could get hold of him. He was her lawyer and would have to be told, much as she hated the idea. She would check the answering machine for messages, return Hilary’s call, if that was who it had been. She might phone Monica; it was what friends were for, wasn’t it, to lean on in times of trouble? The idea of leaning on anyone was so bizarre that she found herself smiling at her reflection in the dressing-table mirror.

Perhaps the shock of all this will make me cuddly, she thought. But doubted it. Loving, yes, that might still be possible. But cuddly? Never.

Apart from sitting on the phone for an hour, she had no plans for the evening. Tidy up the bits and pieces, eat her supper on the terrace, have a glass of wine and watch the lights come up in the city on the far side of the harbour … She could have done all that in a dressing-gown. In nothing at all, come to that. The idea of sitting in the nude, clutching the phone and discussing her marital problems with the dignified Maurice Steyn brought the smile back to her lips. How the idea would have horrified him!

So why go to the trouble of dolling herself up in her favourite Italian dress to make a few phone calls?

Because I must, she told herself. Suddenly she felt like tears. Resolutely she fought them down. I have to prove to myself that the show will go on. My show. However much I want to lie down and scream my heart out, I shall not do it. I shall not allow him to destroy me.

Purposefully, as presentable as she could make herself, Anna walked down the stairs to her study.

Let’s get on with it.

Two hours later Anna, plans for a quiet evening blown out of the water, sat with her friend Monica Talbot eating Chinese food at a harbourside restaurant in the Rocks.

Monica had been less surprised by the news than Anna had expected, and had at once suggested that they should go out and eat together.

Cheong Wahs,’ Monica had said. ‘Eight o’clock.’

It was nice to be bossed for a change.

Monica was bowstring-taut, angry-eyed and neurotic. She’d been through two husbands and now blamed the world — or at least the male part of it — for them both. One had been wealthy, pleasant. After five years she had caught him making up to a woman she had regarded as a friend. The second had been a dealer on the stock exchange who relieved stress by drinking. When he drank, he used his fists. The first time, Monica had warned him; the second, she had packed an overnight case and walked out. Anna had sheltered her on that occasion; now she was returning the compliment.

Not that Anna needed it. She could look after herself and said so.

‘Don’t you believe it. Your husband’s no different from the rest of them. They’re all bastards.’

‘Mostyn’s not the bash ’em and mash ’em type.’

To Monica, Mostyn was male, the enemy. ‘I wouldn’t put it past him.’

‘He’s probably home already,’ Anna hoped. Or did she? She couldn’t be sure.

‘Reckon there’s someone else?’ Monica asked.

‘Thought you might be able to tell me that. They say the wife is always the last to hear.’

Above their heads the bridge’s familiar girders loomed against a rash of stars, but here, on the cobbled waterfront, her new situation had made all things strange. It was like finding herself in a new, incomprehensible world where the signs were back to front. I don’t understand this new place, Anna thought. I don’t want to understand it. Bruised ego or not, she wished with desperate fervour that everything could go back to how it had been three hours ago. Futile, no doubt, but knowing it did not stifle the wish.

Monica was not into wishes where husbands were concerned. ‘It stuck out a mile. You were bad for his ego. A wife more successful than he was? No way he would put up with that.’

Her own thoughts; yet she disliked hearing them from anyone else. Absurdly, she found herself defending the indefensible. ‘He’s not that bad —’

‘If he’s so marvellous, why aren’t you home with him instead of sitting here with me?’

Monica was right, of course. His place was here, with her. They’d dined out a lot together, once. Had fun together. Once.

‘He certainly chose his moment. The first free weekend I’ve had in yonks and he messes it up.’

‘Only if you let him.’

That was true, too. For the first time in thirteen years she could do what she liked without thinking about anyone else. She could walk the beach, stay in bed, get on a plane. She could do anything she wanted. If she wanted anything.

Oh Moss, she thought, how could you?

If he’d turned up that minute she would have thrown herself at him. Open arms; open legs, too, no doubt. You make me sick, she told herself.

Belatedly, something that Monica had said a few minutes earlier struck her.

‘I would hardly say I was that successful,’ she said.

Monica laughed in disbelief. ‘Australian Businesswoman of the Year?’

‘Doesn’t mean much.’ Though she’d been delighted at the time. ‘What’s the point of it? I’ve worked my butt off all my life. For what?’ To be like you, filling lonely evenings with food and bitterness? Somehow, she managed not to say it.

‘You started with nothing. Now look at you. How can you say you’re not successful?’

It was true, she supposed. She’d picked the tree she’d wanted, had climbed damn near to the top. It was a bit late to start wondering if it had been the right tree.

She was in shock, she told herself. That was why she was thinking like this. It would have been remarkable if she’d felt nothing, after all.

Out in the harbour, islanded in darkness, a brightly-lit ferry headed somewhere unknowable, like a metaphor of her life.

‘Love is a mistake, isn’t it?’ Anna said. ‘It makes you vulnerable.’

Vulnerability was a new experience, yet now it had arrived it seemed in no hurry to abandon her. Later, at the house that no longer felt like home, it tightened like a clamp about her heart. Lying alone on the tossed sheets in a bedroom that was suddenly far too big, far too small, every creak of the house jerked her out of the doze that was the nearest she could get to sleep. Afraid Mostyn would come home after all; afraid he would not.

He wouldn’t; she knew him too well to believe anything else. The ego that had driven him away would make it impossible for him to return so quickly. She hoped, all the same. Unavailingly.

At last, after a dozen lifetimes, the dawn. The harbour as serene as on the first day.

I can’t stay here all weekend, Anna thought. I’ll go ape.

She showered, wishing she could scrub her mind as clean as her body. She arranged a few clothes tidily in a case — not even a broken marriage, which was what she supposed it was, could break her addiction to order — spread a croissant with jam, drank one cup of black coffee. She went out to the garage, stowed the case in the Porsche, and headed north.

Past Broken Bay she found a beach with a pub at the far end, a lake behind a scattering of houses. Miraculously, being a fine Saturday, it had a room. So small the bed almost filled it, a rickety, dark-stained wardrobe jammed against one wall. At the end of a bare corridor, the shower and lavatory were as drab as a public toilet. It was a long time since Anna had stayed anywhere like it but the very discomfort eased her. Here everything was different. She had a name for resilience, for permitting nothing to faze her. Very well. Now was her chance to prove it. Here she would start to forget.

She gave it her best shot. She walked the beach; when she was sick of the sea she crossed the dunes and followed a sandy track shaded by trees until she reached the lake. Watched a man with a dog, a father and mother surrounded by a joyous scream of children.

I should have been like that, she thought, knowing it was nonsense. She had never been cut out for a housewife. A week of it and she’d have been climbing the walls. She imagined packing hubby off to work, the kids off to school. Cleaning the house, doing the shopping, building her own little kingdom in her own little home. Nothing wrong with any of it. Admirable, even, but not — most emphatically not — for her. If everyone were like I am, she thought, the human race would have died out long ago.

Which at the moment did not seem such a bad idea.

It grew hot. She returned to the beach. Luckily, she had thought to slip on some bathers beneath her clothes. She peeled off shorts and top, baring white city skin to the cancerous eye of the yellow sun. Much she cared about that. She rubbed on sunscreen, lay on the stinging sand, plunged periodically into the tepid Pacific as it lapped along the shore. Later, when she’d had enough sun, she found a scrap of tattered shade, sat and stared at the water.

She wasn’t used to doing nothing. It was an art, like everything else, and she had never thought to acquire it. All her life had passed in a rush. She wondered what was the point of it.

Don’t start that again.

But there had to be a point. Simply to function mindlessly, with no object in view — that was scary.

Surely there was merit in the generation of wealth, not simply for herself but for tens of thousands of others? People better off than they’d have been without her? Of course there was. Then why didn’t it seem enough?

Damn you, Mostyn. I never had doubts before.

Except that she had, which was why the political option had seemed so attractive. Now she found herself wondering even about that.

She wasn’t going to walk out on her present life, make any rash decisions. She had to give herself time. It was less than twenty-four hours since she’d got the letter. Besides, what else could she do? She wasn’t the sort to sit on her bum and do nothing. She was used to seizing problems by the throat and shaking them to death. Not being able to do so now made her uncomfortable. Like the drying, powdery sand, frustration itched her skin.

Give it time and it will pass, she told herself. I only wish it would.

She wondered if Mostyn had been trying to contact her. It pleased her to think of the phone ringing in the empty house, him listening to her metallic voice on the answering machine. She liked to imagine his indignation at discovering that she was not available just because he wanted her to be. Of course, the chances were he had not tried to get in touch with her at all.

Once again she thought back over their relationship, seeking the defining moment when the balance between Mostyn’s options — to stay or go — had finally shifted. She remembered one of their more recent rows. At the time, she had barely noticed it. It had been simply another in what now she realised had been a crescendo of rows.

If only I’d taken more notice, she thought. If only I’d listened. If only …

But she hadn’t.

Now she saw that it had been remarkable only because Mostyn had come closer than ever before to expressing his real feelings, the core of his resentment of her and their life together.

Mostyn’s voice, battering the living room walls. ‘You’ve always wanted to keep up with me but you couldn’t hack it. Envy — that’s your problem. It’s become a kind of mad game, hasn’t it? How many directorships, how many TV appearances?’

‘I don’t see anything wrong with being well-known.’

It was true that most businessmen favoured a low profile, but Anna had always enjoyed the limelight. She knew how to manipulate the media, with its politically correct cringe towards any woman who achieved prominence or notoriety.

Mostyn topped up his Scotch without offering her one, took a ferocious belt. Given half a chance he would have devoured her too, and her independent ways.

‘All this palaver about human rights … In the old days it was South Africa. Now it’s Northern Ireland, the United States. Australia too, of course. Why do people like you always pick on their own side? Softer target, I suppose. As for this feminist garbage …’

On and on.

Anna, maliciously, said nothing, knowing that it would make him madder than ever. Which it did.

‘Bumped into Donald Jeffreys last week, at the SCG. Know what he said?’

No, Mostyn, I do not know what Donald Jeffreys said. No doubt you are about to tell me, though.

‘Asked if I’d burned any bras lately.’

And down, yet again, went the Scotch.

‘Good work if you can get it,’ Anna said, contempt hot as flame. ‘Right up Donald Jeffreys’ street, I’d have thought.’

Mostyn had already told her about Andy McKillop and his chuckles over Hatchet Harcourt’s feminist army. Better not call ’em women. They don’t like that.

‘Don’t you see how embarrassing it is when my friends start talking like that? Doesn’t do my image much good.’

‘You’ve no idea how I despise your friends,’ she said.

Mostyn glared savagely. ‘They put bread on your table, though, don’t they?’

Which was true, too, if irrelevant.

None of which had anything to do with the real problem, what Mostyn called buttering up the pollies.

‘You don’t get the nod in the boardrooms of this city by playing footsy with the ALP.’

Had that been the moment when the balance — to go, to stay — had finally shifted? Probably not; from what Anna had seen of other people’s bust-ups, one isolated episode seldom made the difference; it usually took a series of events to cause the break.

None of it mattered, now.

She meandered back to the hotel, forcing herself to take her time. She had a shower, washed her hair, determined to make herself as sparkly as possible. Not to attract anyone — heaven forbid! — but for her own sake.

If I have to make a new life, let me get on with it.

That night, iron bedstead and lumpy mattress notwithstanding, she slept. Woke, romantically, to the first rays of sunlight shafting through the smeared window. Discovered that in the night she had come to a decision.

I shall do nothing until after the New Year, she thought. Give myself time to work things out. She had two board meetings that week. The Christmas break meant there would be nothing after that until mid-January. In past years she had worked through the holiday but this year Hilary could handle it. She had not had a real break in years; now she would.

She spent the day in the hills, had a bite at a fancy-pantsy restaurant, felt herself beginning to come back to life. Driving back to Sydney that evening, she wondered how her great-grandmother would have reacted to the situation.

She laughed, ruefully. Anneliese had been dead for twenty-six years yet, in a sense, had never died at all. Her strength and willpower had been a role model to Anna all her life. She could feel her right now, beside her in the car.

The ferocious old lady would probably have gone for Mostyn with a shotgun, Anna thought. How she had been influenced by her! — even to the extent of changing her name from the Tamsin Fitzgerald she’d despised to an Anglicised imitation of her great-grandmother’s name.

What would I have been like without her genes in me?

She tried to imagine herself as placid and easy-going, a cow chewing the cud in her own particular paddock. A preposterous idea; she laughed and felt better.

Anneliese Riordan had died in 1970 at the age of ninety-five, when Anna herself had been fifteen. Her will had been diamond-bright until the end, eyes focused resolutely upon the twin objectives of her life: never to relinquish her heritage; never to forgive the past. She had lived sixty-seven years in Australia yet never for a moment had she allowed her hatred to grow dim.

As long as Anna could remember, Ouma Riordan, as she had liked to be called — Granny Riordan — had told her tales of her life in the years before she had been forced to leave Africa.

Such tales. Of her first husband and the two children they had made together. What had happened when, after nearly three years of war, her own home burned, she had returned to Oudekraal, the farm that had been the centre and focus of her childhood.

Anneliese’s guttural voice had drawn pictures in the air: Oudekraal, with its steeply-pitched roofs, its white walls gleaming in the moonlight, the central gable rising over the front doorway; the stoep along the length of the building, the oak trees to shade it from the fierce suns of summer.

Tamsin, as she had then been, had seen it so clearly, had felt herself as much a part of the great house thousands of kilometres away as if she had been born in it herself.

‘My brother Deneys came to terms with the English,’ Anneliese had told her, spitting hatred. ‘Something I would never do. Yet without him they’d have had me, sure enough.’

For a moment she was silent, her eyes seeing every grain of soil, the terraces of vines climbing the hill behind the house, the valley enclosing it. Tamsin saw it, too; had heard about it so often that it was hard to believe she had never been there herself.

‘I wrote once to an attorney in Stellenbosch,’ Anneliese said. ‘He told me my great-nephew has it now. Pieter Wolmarans. By rights it should have been mine.’

Anna’s memories faded but later, back in the house overlooking the harbour — no messages from Mostyn on the answering machine — they returned. She remembered the last time she had spoken to the old woman.

In the bedroom Anneliese was fighting her final battle. Echoing voices, a confusion of memories, death with its hand already upon her. Her voice rose and fell, gasping, barely coherent.

‘I was twenty-eight when I came to this country. Already I’d had children of my own. Ja, and buried them. My first husband dead. No, I was no longer a child.’ She cackled. ‘Surprising your great-grandfather would have me. But he was a wild one, too.’ Her eyes were lost in distance as she remembered. ‘Dominic,’ she said. ‘And fire, the curse and cleansing gift of God.’

And for a time was silent. Eventually she came back. Outstretched fingers clutched at the past. ‘Two hundred years,’ she muttered. ‘Two hundred years since the first of the Wolmarans carved his farm from nothing. Oudekraal. A garden where before had been only a wilderness of stone.’ The wandering eyes focused again on Tamsin. ‘My land was stolen from me. You know that?’ Spit rattled urgently in the ancient voice. ‘My life has been a life of blood. Some from my heart, some on my hands. There are times when I can hear the screams …’ Again she drifted, again returned. This time the old note of purpose was back in her voice. She stared up at Tamsin, leaning forward over the bed. ‘Oudekraal is mine. You will recover it. Never forget. You will reclaim my house. Our past. It is your destiny. I can see it in your face.’ She tried to sit up a little but could not, and lay back again, panting. ‘The book on the table beside the bed … Is it there?’

‘Yes.’

‘You know what it is?’

‘It’s a Bible.’

‘Take it in your hands.’

She waited until Tamsin had done so.

‘It is not like the one we had when I was your age, with brass hinges and the names of all the family from the beginning written inside the cover, but the word of God, all the same. There is something in it that I want you to remember. For me and for yourself.’ The claw fingers tightened on Tamsin’s wrist. ‘Oudekraal is mine. I want you to swear to get it back for me. The Bible says it. In the days when the keepers of the house shall tremble …’ The dark eyes probed, as fierce as a hawk. ‘Keep my commandments,’ Anneliese said.

On Monday morning Anna sat in her office on the twentieth floor of the building overlooking Darling Harbour. She thought long and carefully before at last picking up her private phone to dial a number in the city.

Reporter.’

‘Mark Forrest, please.’

‘Please hold.’

‘Mark Forrest’s office.’

People who called her had to fight through a similar ring of defences.

‘This is Anna Riordan. May I speak to him, please?’

‘Mr Forrest is not available. So sorry.’ She didn’t sound sorry at all.

‘You mean he’s out or in a meeting?’

Ice chinked at the end of the line. ‘I mean he’s not available.’

‘Do yourself a favour. Tell him who’s calling, right?’

What a bully! Anna thought, not worrying about it. She had grown used to bullying. At times, as now, enjoyed it.

Silence as again she was put on hold.

‘Anna?’ Laughter as well as astonishment in his voice.

Even after so long there was no mistaking him.

‘Hi.’

‘What did you say to my secretary?’

‘I asked her to put me through to you.’

‘Was that all?’

‘More or less.’ She shared his laughter. ‘Why?’

‘You seem to have got up her nose.’

‘Oh dear.’ Not in the least repentant.

‘What can I do for you? After all these years?’

‘I want you to have lunch with me.’

‘Today?’ He sounded doubtful.

‘If you can.’

‘Let me grab my diary …’ A pause as he considered. ‘I could maybe re-schedule a couple of things … What time?’

‘Twelve-thirty?’

‘Where?’

‘There’s a place in Darling Harbour called Hugo’s. I’ve heard good reports about it.’

‘I don’t know it.’

‘Neither do I.’

She had thought to suggest Ristorante Venezia, where they’d shared their last meal all those years ago. She had been there again in recent times and found it as good as ever but, for this meeting, somewhere without echoes would be a wiser choice.

‘Look forward to it.’

She cradled the phone. He had not asked if her business were important. She liked that. It was like saying that anything involving her was bound to be important. The implied compliment gave her a warm feeling, as his voice had given her a warm feeling.

She indulged the luxury of thinking back, something that her own inclination and monstrously busy schedule rarely permitted. Her brain juggled dates. Fifteen years since they’d first met. Good heavens. That meeting, startling as it had been, had at first been a good deal less than friendly, although almost at once the atmosphere between them had changed. Then, later, it had changed back again. How it had changed! At that time it would have seemed ridiculous to imagine that they would ever choose to meet again. Yet here they were, fifteen years down the track, going to have lunch together. At her invitation. The wheel turning in a world where it seemed nothing was ever definite, nothing final.

Despite everything that had happened since Friday, she found herself looking forward to the lunch with more than warmth, even with a touch of gathering excitement.

Re-visiting old times …

 

You can buy Keepers of the House now for $4.99. Visit the book page for more info. 

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