Emerald Bay, Book 1
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Nothing’s turned out the way I planned.
I gave up on the idea of winning back my cheating husband, swallowed my pride, and returned to the sleepy beachside town of my childhood, Emerald Bay.
I wanted a chance to forget the pain of divorce, and make a fresh start. A chance to find the person I used to be.
I didn’t expect to run into my high school boyfriend. The one that got away — the first big regret of my adult life. I didn’t expect him to look so good, or to be so lost. He was in pain, and I was in no shape to help him.
I wasn’t looking for love. I couldn’t take another heartbreak. I just wanted to find myself, or at the very least some kind of peace. But a love like ours is hard to shake, even after so many years apart.
I never thought I’d get a second chance at happiness. A second chance with Finn. I just wanted to find the way back to the person I once was.
But maybe… just maybe… he was the way back.
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The Way Back
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“beautifully written in a melancholy way”
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Excerpt: The Way Back (Emerald Bay, Book 1)
Every day I woke up and wondered how my life had come to this. First, my eyes flicked open and I ran my hands over the blond hair caught up in a messy bun on top of my head. I loosed the hair band to let it spill out across the pillow and for a moment I didn’t remember.
I forgot what had become of me.
Forgot that my dreams were dead.
Then it would all come rushing back, like a frigid southerly: where I went wrong, what had happened to the fairy tale ending I always assumed would be my destiny.
I remembered the day of our wedding, the guests all crowding around us like our happiness might rub off onto them. As though our love could be transferred by contact, or perhaps by standing in our shadow. We laughed in unison, tipped our heads back together and embraced the world as one, our arms wide open.
We were invincible in our love.
Impossible to tear apart.
No one else had a love like ours
. Until we didn’t.
Until Mack took out my heart and smashed it into a million tiny pieces.
Mack and Rachel. Now that singular oneness belonged to them, that special kind of love everyone envied and wished they could extract in a syringe to use at their disposal.
If only Cupid’s poison could be tamed like that, controlled as though it was some inoculation against heartbreak or loneliness. If only you could tap into the love of two people who don’t see anything in the world around them but each other, draw it out and inject into your own heart. To flood your soul with that ever-present sense of contented smugness, secure in the knowledge that you are loved completely; willing to be wholly devoured by another person.
I knew better now. There was no controlling love, the whimsy of its fickle arrow. It could penetrate your heart when you least expected it, then be pulled from your chest, leaving you to bleed out on the ground, abandoned and alone.
I recognised that love.
I packed the last piece of luggage into the back of the rental truck and slammed the swinging doors closed with a bang. Slogging to the cab, I rubbed my weary eyes with the back of my hand, then swung myself up and in. Three little sets of eyes stared at me. Teary, reddened eyes. Accusing eyes. “All right, guys, I think we’re ready to go.” I forced a smile onto my face. I’d been doing that a lot lately.
I heard a sniffle.
“I know you’re sad about leaving your friends behind, but we get to start over. A clean slate. You’ll make new friends, better friends, I promise. And we’ll be able to see Nanna and Pop every day. Plus the beach, huh? The beach! You love the beach …”
Another sniffle, this time followed by a sob.
“How about some music?” I thumped on the radio, and a high-pitched, nasal voice repeated the same line over and over on top of a rhythmic beat. Shaking my head, I pressed the scan button again and again until the sultry tones of Adele enveloped us all, soothing us in our self-pity. “Much better.”
Only it wasn’t. The song reminded me of Mack.
I didn’t want to remember him. But memories can come flooding in, sparked by something as simple as a song, even when you don’t want them. They carry joy and pain on their backs and they don’t stop to ask leave.
I was twenty-one when I met him. He was in a band and I wanted to be. I was from a sleepy beach town. He lived in Sydney, a bustling metropolis. I was naive. He was worldly.
We came together like oil and vinegar. Different, but complimentary. He said he couldn’t get me out of his head. I soaked it in, relishing the devotion, overcome by the look in his eyes. We were married on a Friday in the beach town where I grew up. All our friends told us we’d last forever.
I told it to my heart as well.
The confidence of youth was all the assurance I needed, and we dove in deep, without looking back. It wasn’t until we’d been married seven years that I realised I didn’t even know him, and by then we had three children and a mortgage. I’d cry myself to sleep at night, trying to figure out where he might be while I lay alone in our bed. When he came home, he was sullen and withdrawn.
I learnt to find my own way in life, to stand on my own tired feet, trying to find some solid ground where I might belong in between diaper changes, loads of laundry and Playgroup. That was when I found the part-time job at a local Marine Rescue centre.
I’d studied marine biology at university, and I’d always had grand plans for my career. But then came Mack, followed quickly by children, and Mack’s career became our priority. His job was in Sydney, where marine bio jobs were few and far between, so my dreams fell to the wayside and I stood behind him – the loving, supportive wife. And anyway, as he constantly told me, the kids needed me more than a bunch of fish did. So when I took the job, he wasn’t happy about it.
But I was. I channelled all my untapped focus, energy and passion into it. I worked harder to save marine life than I could to save my marriage – because a marriage can only be rescued if two people want to save it. And he didn’t – he found Rachel. Then asked me for a divorce.
I dressed myself in grief.
Loneliness was my companion, tears my release.
When did my life come to this? I used to think of myself differently. I used to be the girl that every other girl watched with envy-green eyes. I was the lead singer in the school musicals, the champion surfer, the straight-A student with the gorgeous hunk of a boyfriend. In my hometown, everyone knew who I was and so did I. But who had I become? I’d lost sight of myself in the commotion of my life.
Mack had told me so many times that I was nothing. Maybe he was right. Maybe the person I was had gone, disappeared. Maybe she’d faded away when I walked down the aisle. I can’t remember the last time I saw her, but I think it was that day. The day I lost myself and became part of a bigger whole.
The day two became one.
The problem was that Mack was so much bigger and stronger than me, my half had nowhere to stand. No room to breathe. I didn’t fit in my own marriage, in my own life. And now I didn’t fit anywhere.
So I was going home. Back to where I’d last seen that girl, the one with the smiling face. Maybe I’d be able to find her. Maybe she was waiting there for me.
I looked in the rear-vision mirror as the truck pulled away from the curb. The slope of the driveway where the kids learnt to ride their tricycles and scraped their knees for the first time. The ivy-covered wall beside the oak door with the round brass knocker where Mack had carried me smiling over the threshold. The chipped paint on the veranda railing where the cricket ball from a neighbourhood game had landed with a thud in the midst of peals of happy laughter. My eyes filled with tears as I said a silent goodbye. It was time for a new set of memories, memories that didn’t fill me with regret and pain.
Time for my second chance at life.
* * *
“Are we there yet?”
“Will Daddy know how to find us?”
“Why does it take so long?”
“When will Daddy call?”
“Can we eat, I’m starving?”
“What will our new house be like?”
“Can we get a dog?”
I rubbed my hand across my eyes and loudly sighed. The rumble of the engine filled the cab of the truck and I gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands. “No, we’re not there yet, but almost. Daddy knows where we’re going, so he can find us no problem. I don’t know when he’ll call. If you’re hungry, there are sandwiches in the cooler on the floor in front of you … what was the last question?”
“Woof!” said Pattie, her tongue hanging out. She panted loudly and grinned around her tongue.
“Oh, a dog? Not today. Let’s just conquer one major life change at a time, shall we?” I winked at her.
We had a dog, but he went with Mack. Mack said it was only fair since I got to keep the kids. I didn’t argue the point, I was just so relieved he wasn’t going to fight me for full custody. Apparently Rachel wanted to start afresh with a new family of their own. That’s what he’d said to me one Sunday afternoon when he was dropping the kids back at my place.
Start afresh. A new family. Hearing that sent another dagger through my already-wounded heart. He was leaving us behind and not looking back.
So I decided it was time to let him go, time for us to move on. That’s when the idea of leaving Sydney first came to mind. It was just an idea at first, floating around in the back of my head. It didn’t have legs, only transparent wings. But when he called to tell me he and Rachel were engaged, the idea darted to the front of my mind and became a solid resolution. I was going home.
My parents lived in a small seaside town called Emerald Bay. It was sleepy hamlet perched on a solitary hill on the northernmost point of the New South Wales coastline. A curving, white beach, a few stores and restaurants, and everyone as familiar to me as the freckles scattered across my nose. I’d grown up there, and even though the idea of going home filled me with a beckoning nostalgia, my heart shivered with nerves at the thought of seeing everyone again.
As a divorcee.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
My stomach tightened into a knot, and I tapped the steering wheel with my fingertips, breathing steadily to shove down the panic that was rising up through my chest. Just keep driving. One thing at a time. One day at a time. One moment at a time.
It helped to look at everything as a series of individual steps. Items on a list that I could check off:
1. Sell the house.
2. Leave my job.
3. Find a new job.
4. Pack everything into a truck and leave.
5. Face people again without succumbing to panic attacks.
One thing at a time. Any more than that and I couldn’t cope.
I looked beside me across the wide, vinyl seat. Stella, Jack and Pattie sat high on the bench, their seat belts strapped tightly across thin chests. Stella was absorbed in a book, Jack was munching on a box of crackers, and Pattie was singing a song to herself as she danced a doll across her lap. I relaxed and smiled. They were my rock, my solid foundation. I could breathe when I looked at them. I could keep moving. I could take the next step.
“Do you think Baby will like Emerald Bay?” asked Pattie, lifting her doll up to face level, her eyes filled with uncertainty.
“She’s going to love it!” I said brightly. “There’s a beautiful beach and a river where she can swim and play. Sand to scrunch between her toes – does she have toes?” I reached out and felt Baby’s tiny plastic feet, working to keep my eyes on the road. “Yes, she does. She can dig those suckers into the warm sand. She’ll have the time of her life.” I grinned at Pattie, and she smiled with relief.
Stella sighed and laid the book down on her lap to stare dreamily out the passenger window. “I still don’t see why we had to move, Mum.” Her voice was low.
“I know, darling, but one day you’ll thank me. Trust me, Sydney is great, but it’s such a big city – you can get lost there. Emerald Bay is …”
“No, not dead. Relaxed.”
“It’s dead.” She was adamant.
I rolled my eyes. Stella was artfully skilled in the dramatic. “You’ll see. In no time at all you’ll fit right in. Maybe you’ll even learn to surf, like I used to do.”
“That does sound fun.” She looked at me then, seeming more hopeful than she had in days.
“I bet Nanna and Pop still have my old surfboards in their shed. We’ll fish them out first thing tomorrow if you like and take them down to the beach for a spin. Does that sound okay?”
“Great.” If only everything was resolved as easily. If only my heart could be mended by a promise. If only I could grasp onto such a simple hope.
I shook my head and shifted my thoughts to my new job. It started a week from Monday, which only gave me twelve days to get us established in our new home before I’d have to drive all the way up the coast to Sea World. Craig Stanton had been one of the marine rescuers I’d worked with in Sydney. A year ago he’d moved to the Gold Coast to head up the Sea World dolphin training program. A few weeks ago he’d called and offered me a spot on his team. It was my dream job and I’d jumped at the chance, since it also meant we could do what I’d been wanting to – move back home.
But if home was what I wanted, why did my unease only grow the closer we got to it?