About the Author
Elise K. Ackers is a freelance editor and award winning fiction author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and new adult fiction.
Elise has completed undergraduate studies in Psychology and Communications, and post-graduate studies in Professional Publication and Editing. She's been writing since she could hold a crayon and telling stories all her life. She's a magnet for unusual accidents, a laser tag enthusiast, and an animal adoption advocate. Owing to a broken internal compass, Elise needs to factor getting lost into her travel time.
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Seat reclined, Cal eased his feet out the driver's-side window of his dual cab ute and crossed his legs at the shins. He listened to a Cold Chisel compilation to pass the time, and thought about what needed doing at the pub. Gums lined the car park perimeter, their branches burdened with droning crows and fussing cockatoos. Loosened twigs fell onto the windshield and roof, soft clicks and louder clatters, and the birds' banter pitched over the music.
He checked his watch again. He'd considered waiting on the train platform, but he didn't know what Olivia looked like these days. Too many years had passed and they were as good as strangers now, which was enough to keep him in the car.
A train had come through the country station almost ten minutes ago but he hadn't seen anyone disembark, so he figured she was on the next one, still barrelling towards him. As she'd so often barrelled; down hallways, through town, into his heart.
He reminisced about the adorably brazen things Olivia had said when they'd been kids, and the many, many times she and his sister Samantha had been in trouble for causing mischief. Damned if anyone had been able to determine the ringleader of the pair — most times they'd been as bad as each other.
Olivia Law — nicknamed Lawless by those who lived in Denman — had been a constant source of excitement throughout Cal's youth. He'd had a monster of a crush on her at one stage. He could still remember the sickening roll of hormones and nerves each time she'd crept through his bedroom window to see Sam. And somehow eighteen years had passed. Sam was getting married to one of his best friends, Ethan; Olivia was travelling over from the other side of Australia to help with the planning, and Cal ... Cal was sitting in a car waiting for Liv and wondering where the time had gone.
The last time he'd seen her she'd been eleven years old, freckle-faced and uncharacteristically sombre; she'd been leaving town with her parents, ostracised and condemned because of some trouble she'd caused. But prior to that night there had been many evenings of harmless mischief. She'd made the country exciting.
Would she again?
Perhaps age had softened her.
A startling crash had Cal lurching forward, knocking his knees as he tried to simultaneously sit up and turn. Eyes wide, he looked through the back window of the ute in time to see an enormous suitcase topple into the tray. Standing by the back left wheel was a grinning redhead. Her wicked smile dragged him into the past, and he wondered how he'd ever forgotten that face. She touched two fingers to her forehead in a cheeky salute then approached the passenger door.
Framed in the window, the woman pulled down her oversized sunglasses, and he was struck by the green of her eyes. Faint freckles marked her alabaster skin, and her hair — red as a blush — was cut short. She looked like an impish fairy; all long lines and sharp features, with a smile too big for her little face.
Her lips covered her teeth when her grin became a smirk. One eyebrow lifted.
Cal reached to open the door for her as Cold Chisel bellowed about flame trees. She stepped back as the door swung wide then lifted a long, toned leg onto the running board. Her denim shorts crept high up her thighs as she hoisted herself into the cab. There was no time to welcome her, for she immediately slid close and folded her arms around his neck.
'Hiya, Cal. Thanks for coming to get me. You're a gentleman.' Then she drew back and punched him in the arm. As she retreated to her side of the cab the subtle scent of citrus tickled Cal's nose. He recognised orange, with a faint twist of sherbet.
'How's it going, Liv?'
'Here I was thinking I'd get a platform welcome, maybe a tiny flag with my name on it or something; but I guess a good-looking man does me just fine.' She secured her seatbelt, pushed her sunglasses back in place and slapped her knees. 'Let's get this show on the road!'
Cal grinned, repositioned his seat and turned the key in the ignition. He lowered the music to a murmur and they drove without speaking for a little over a kilometre. He opened his mouth to get the conversation going, but hesitated when he glanced over and saw her checking her mobile phone.
She locked the screen and dropped the phone onto her lap, a discontent look on her face.
He allowed a minute to pass before asking, 'How was the train trip?'
'I sat opposite a guy with narcolepsy. No kidding, he'd be talking to me, chatting about his business and his family and whatnot, and then his lights would go out. The first time I freaked out.' She rolled down the window and moved her face into the May autumn wind. 'But after he explained it, I just started pulling out my book and reading until he woke up.'
Cal looked at her. 'Are you serious?'
'As a heart attack. I drew on his face the third time it happened. Geez, Cal, I'm kidding. Crack a smile.'
He frowned out the window and rolled his shoulders. 'Was there even a guy?'
'Of course there was a guy. But I didn't have a pen, did I?'
It was all coming back. The speed-talking, the wild stories, the pranks. The boundless enthusiasm. He remembered now how often he'd wanted to shake her. The many times he'd feigned sleep when she'd used his window to sneak into the house, or crossed the street when he'd seen her ahead. He hadn't always had a crush on her — for the most part she'd just been his little sister's best friend. As a kid, Livvy had been addictive yet exhausting. It seemed not a lot had changed.
'How about the flight?' he asked, referring to the early morning plane she'd caught from Perth to Sydney before she'd boarded the train.
'Not as eventful.' She gazed out the window, and he wondered if she was aware that she was tapping her phone. 'How many k's to Denman?'
'One hundred and seven.'
The beat of stunned silence gave him a thrill of satisfaction.
'Well, damn, Caleb.' She turned her body to face him and propped her arm along the back of the seat. 'You just better tell me your life story, then. With as many dramatic pauses as you like.'
And he did tell her. About his and Sam's friend Bree dying last year, and Ethan returning to town; about Cal's other best friend and widower Dean finally learning the truth about his parents, a secret his brother Ethan had kept for years. Sam had told Olivia all about her reignited romance with Ethan over the phone and in emails, and when the women had caught up in Adelaide last year, but Cal enjoyed telling his side of the story.
He spoke the longest about Dean's kids Rowan and Nina; they were always saying and doing the damnedest things, and they'd come such a long way in the year since they'd lost their mother, Bree. He adored them and he knew he was gushing — the corner of Olivia's mouth was curved as she listened — but he didn't care enough to stop.
Over an hour later, Olivia stretched her thin arms over her head the best she could in the small space. She yawned, shifted in her seat until she was comfortable, then pat him on the shoulder. 'Thanks for the bio on your nearest and dearest. But don't think I didn't notice you hardly said a word about yourself.'
He flicked on the indicator and turned at the first intersection in half an hour. What was there to say? He owned and operated a pub. He hadn't had a meaningful relationship since his almost-fiancee, Anna, over a year ago. He lived alone and vicariously through his two best friends, Dean and Ethan. Cal lived a small life.
Rather than bore her with such details, he redirected the spotlight. 'You haven't volunteered much about yourself, either. What've you been doing for almost two decades?'
She shrugged and turned her face to the passenger window. 'Not a hell of a lot. I lived in Sydney for a while, then my family and I followed the mining boom to Perth when I was a teenager.'
He waited. Expansive farms and acreages rolled past, livestock adding interest to the hills and paddocks. He checked his speed and slowed. 'And?'
Cagey, he thought. He narrowed his line of questioning. 'How's work? What do you do again?'
'I'm a freelance copyeditor. Online columns, websites, etcetera. It's good.'
She didn't answer, bringing an unnatural stop to the conversation. He glanced over and saw her staring at her phone again.
'Who're you waiting to hear from, then?' He nodded at the phone that had never left her lap. She wore nothing on her ring finger, so he said, 'Boyfriend?'
Her fingers tightened around the little black device. 'Just some fool. How about you? Someone making you climb the walls these days?'
'Not that she's around to know.'
'She left you?'
'She left everything about me.'
He had to laugh. Clearly no sympathy was coming his way, so he moved on. 'Well, anyway, you tell that fool of yours to call me if you want him sorted out.'
She grinned and pushed his shoulder. 'Still a white knight. Always jumping in front of people, always drawing your sword.'
'I am not.'
She pushed air through her lips. 'Please.'
He could tell she recognised her surrounds when her attention lingered on certain trees and rocky outcrops. Denman was moving ever closer, and the gorgeous sunshine and brush-stroke clouds seemed to be welcoming her home.
She said to the sky, 'So Sam-I-Am's getting married.' A beat. 'When did we get old, Caleb?'
'Speak for yourself.'
She smiled wickedly. 'Right. I'm old. You're a geriatric.'
'I've only got a year on you, Grandma.'
'And I intend to make each day of it count. That's why I'm getting out of Dodge.' Without explaining that comment, she continued. 'Has she picked out her dress yet? Has she got a colour scheme? Or a photography package?'
They passed a weathered sign on the left side of the road, welcoming them to Denman, population 416. Cal said, 'I doubt it. Honestly, I'm surprised you came so early.'
'I came to make Sam set a date. We'll get to all the rest of that stuff in time, but she needs to commit to a square on a calendar before I go home next week.'
'You're optimistic.' He drove over hundreds of yellow, red and orange leaves littering the road. 'Our mother's been demanding a date for months and Ethan's been dropping hints. In fact, everyone's coming at her from all sides.'
'Well then, you're all lucky I'm here to get the job done.'
Amused, Cal said, 'Oh yeah? What's your strategy?'
'Good old fashioned peer pressure. I work well under deadlines.'
He laughed. 'Right.'
'Don't get me wrong, I wish you the best of luck. But Sam makes herself scarce when people talk about the wedding too much — you'll be hard-pressed cornering her.'
Liv grinned. 'She's probably just hating all the fuss. She's low-key. There are bridezillas, regular brides, laid-back brides, and then there's Samantha. She gets her own category.'
'True.' He turned into the road that would lead them to Sam and Ethan's place, and felt a little sorry that the time had passed so quickly.
'Sam told me Ethan asked Nina to be a flower girl. That's cute.'
'She's going to show you up, you know.'
Liv's smile was a knowing one. 'Sam raves about Nina. If I'm to believe the things I hear, that kid's going to show us all up.'
Cal agreed. He'd never met a child more endearing, more spectacular, than Dean's Nina. No one stood a chance against her charm — earning a smile from that girl was like Christmas morning.
The car rolled to a stop in front of a charming farmhouse. Potted colour hung from baskets around the verandah and the red brick pathway had been recently weeded and swept. Two wooden ducks wearing boots stood in the corner of the single verandah step and soft tinkling carried on the breeze from the chimes Ethan had made for Sam. The picture of domestic bliss was complete.
Liv whistled. 'Gorgeous.'
'Yeah.' Leaning over the steering wheel, Cal scanned the grass surrounding the house.
She followed his gaze. 'What?'
He leaned back. 'Okay. Get ready, we're going to run.'
'I'll come back for your bag. We're going to get out of the ute real quiet, then I'm going to push the horn, all right? Go straight inside — Sam will open the door, just run in.'
'What on earth —'
'They've got a kind of guard dog.' He turned off the ignition and reached for the door. 'I mean it — move fast. This white knight won't come back for you.'
'Nice.' But she opened and closed the passenger door with as little noise as possible. She was rounding the hood of the ute when their party of two became three.
An enormous white goose stepped out from behind a shrub, inordinately big and very unhappy to see them. It shook its wings and lowered its long neck.
Its wings went up, its torso stretched, and the little monster began to charge. The sound it made was part trumpet, part shriek, and it bled into the marrow of Cal's bones. Through the open car window he banged his fist on the horn — once, twice, three times — then ran.
Behind him, Liv screamed.
She was close on his heels when he thundered across the verandah. The front door opened and Sam leapt to one side as the pair barrelled past. She slammed the door so closely behind them that she almost clipped Liv's shoulder.
Seconds later, the two women became one shrieking, bouncing tangle of limbs. Arms around each other, their high-pitched voices were barely intelligible. Cal knew it had been ten months since the pair had seen each other, but they were acting like it had been years.
Looking at them rocking and laughing, he thought about how he'd greeted Liv and wondered if he shouldn't have been more effusive. He probably should have got out of the car, at the very least.
The women broke apart, then Liv seized Sam's wrist. 'That bit of poultry out there tried to kill us!'
Sam was beaming. She waved her free hand through the air. 'Boo? Nah, he's all right. You'll be fine as long as you stay on your feet. He's great at keeping my mum away, let me tell you.'
Cal said, 'I didn't hear that.'
'Hear what? Anyway, I'm so glad you're here. When Boo wanders off we'll get your bag and get you settled. How about some coffee?'
'Coffee? I've just been on a plane for four hours and a train for two. I've been stuck in a car with your brother for over an hour, and I just lost a year of my life thinking a goose was going to latch onto my neck. Bugger the coffee, I want wine.'
Cal put his hand up. 'I'll have beer if you're offering. Being stuck in the car with her was no picnic.'
Sam turned towards the kitchen. She called over her shoulder, 'Neither of you fool me. I can tell you had a great time.'
'It's the adrenaline,' Olivia said. 'It's made our eyes all bright.'
Cal looked at Liv's bare feet. 'Where are your shoes?'
'On the verandah.'
Cal narrowed one eye. 'Not any more they're not. Everything's got to be brought inside. They're Boo's now.'
'What?' Liv's laugh was short. She crossed to the narrow window beside the door and peered out. Her back straightened. 'What the hell? That bird's going for my suitcase!' She dove for the door handle and wrenched the door open. Sunshine poured in and rich country air flowed past her tiny body. 'Hey!'
Cal covered his smiling mouth with his hand as Boo looked up from the tray of the ute. Standing atop Liv's red suitcase, the goose shuffled his feet and flexed his wings. Then he began his approach. In a blur of feathers, he toppled from the car and charged along the path, up the verandah step, right towards Liv's bare feet.
Olivia yelped and slammed the door.
Cal scratched the back of his neck. 'Did you see your shoes?'
Very slowly, she turned. But her response was interrupted by Sam's voice from the kitchen.
'I've only got vodka and orange!'
* * *
'Where's your husband-to-be?' Liv asked, rolling the ice around in her glass. The three of them were sitting at the small breakfast table in the far corner of the kitchen. It was cosy; potted herbs cluttered the nearby windowsill and an enormous wooden chopping board dominated the benchtop. It looked handmade, no doubt by the resident carpenter. Liv wondered how many other handmade items she would find in the house. A faded old rug in the middle of the room broke up the old linoleum with a rectangle of colour. Dozens of cupboards claimed two of the walls and a corkboard hung beside the refrigerator. It was full of children's drawings, design sketches, bills and photographs. Many more photographs cluttered the fridge and freezer doors, as well as a magnetic Scrabble game being played out of reach of tiny hands.
Excerpted from "Autumn Vows"
Copyright © 2018 Elise K. Ackers.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.75stars A cute lovely story about Olivia and her best friend Brother Caleb. Olivia comes in her old hometown after almost 20 years to help plan wedding for her best friends. But what she didn't count was Cal and that she will fall in love with him. Both Cal and Olivia are lovely developed characters. I liked that Olivia is deep inside of her different as she shows to the world. Cal is the one who really sees her and she really opens to him. Cal was already through a lot and it isn't easy for him to show the deepest secret to Olivia. When she does she see all the good that is in him. The only problem is Sam and all the Kilometres that separate them .Will love be enough? I volunteered to review an ARC of this book for Netgelly