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Dare To Dream
By Yvonne Whittal
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Yvonne Whittal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe faction leaders eyed one another benevolently, wanting to discuss their terms for peace, yet loath to begin until the murmurings had ceased among their followers. Suddenly there was an eerie silence as the two opposing groups turned to face one another across the crowded square in the township. An errant wind whistled mournfully across the dry earth. It whipped the dry, dusty soil into a miniature whirlwind that sped off between the buildings, and then, for one pregnant moment, nothing moved.
Bulala! The chilling cry rose up from some unknown quarter. Kill them! And the explosive situation among the supporters instantly erupted into a savage mini war.
Shots were exchanged between the two factions; and Jenna, caught in the middle of the angry, riotous mob, crouched low in the back of the van and stared down at the man who was lying cradled in her arms.
Blood was pumping from a chest wound and spreading in a dark red stain across the front of his blue shirt. There was surprise in the dark eyes that looked up into hers, and then there was fear when the realisation that he was going to die dawned on him. His lips formed the words "Help me!" but his eyes glazed over before she could reply.
A scream reverberated around the room, and Jenna Reeves awoke with a jolt. It was the sound of her own strangled cry that bounced back at her, off the pale cream walls of her bedroom. She was sitting up in bed, her body damp with perspiration, and the frightened pounding of her heart making her gasp for breath.
It was an old dream that still returned periodically to haunt her. It was a dream born of reality, and over the years, it had lost none of its terrifying clarity.
She buried her face in her hands for a moment while she fought her way back from the horrors of the past. She wasn't in the tiny flat she had shared with Clive in Sandton, Johannesburg. She was in her light, airy bedroom on the upper floor of her duplex flat against the slope of Tygerberg Hills in Cape Town.
Her heartbeats were slowing down, making it easier to breathe normally, but she couldn't suppress the shiver that raced through her. Her forehead and cheeks felt as cold and clammy as the rest of her body, and she shivered again as she combed a heavy strand of hair away from her face with unsteady fingers.
On the nightstand, the digits of the electric alarm clock glowed a luminous red in the dark.
Jenna's fingers found the switch of the bedside light, and she snapped it on. It was pointless to consider going back to sleep; she was wide-awake now. She pushed aside the duvet and got out of bed to put on her woolly slippers and her warm winter gown.
Her tongue seemed to want to cling to the roof of her mouth, and her throat felt scratchy every time she swallowed. She hoped that these familiar symptoms weren't signalling the start of yet another bout of flu. She brushed this thought aside impatiently and went downstairs instead to make herself something warm to drink.
She switched on the electric kettle in her small modern kitchen and spooned instant coffee into a large mug with a smiley face on one side and a slogan on the other that read, "Have a good day." It usually coaxed a smile out of her, but not this time, as she sugared her coffee and fetched the milk out of the refrigerator. Her mind wasn't on what she was doing; it was elsewhere, locked up in the past with memories that would remain with her forever.
Jenna had dared to dream once. She had dreamed of a long and happy future with the man she had promised to love and cherish for the rest of her life, but that dream had been taken away from her one hot and dusty afternoon, when the world had exploded around her in gunfire. Now the only thing left of that dream was the ring she still wore on the third finger of her left hand.
She lowered herself onto the stool beside the counter in her kitchen and curled her cold, trembling fingers around the mug of hot coffee while she dragged her thoughts back to the present.
This was not a very good way to start the day. She had worked until late the previous evening on one of her assignments for the magazine, and four hours' sleep was not enough to get her safely through the day ahead of her. She would have to draw on all her physical resources to sustain her because she knew that she could expect to start flagging during the early part of the afternoon.
She tired easily these days, but taking time off from work wasn't an option she liked to consider. She had a busy schedule ahead of her, and that was the way she preferred to keep it.
Jenna concluded her business with Larry Corbett. It had been an exceptionally long and tiring day, and she was looking forward to going home to catch up on some of the sleep she had lost the night before. She scooped all her papers together, and she was in the process of rising to her feet when the entire office seemed to tilt and spin around her. Nausea rose like a tidal wave inside her, and she promptly sank back into the chair she had been about to vacate.
Larry frowned at her across the width of his cluttered desk. "Are you all right?"
The room steadied slowly, and the nausea subsided to leave her with a cold, shivery feeling at the pit of her stomach.
"I'm fine," she said quickly, forcing a smile to her lips when she saw the growing concern in those tawny eyes observing her so intently. "Really ... I'm fine."
"You don't look fine to me." His narrowed, discerning glance remained riveted to her face. "You're as white as a sheet."
"I felt a little dizzy for an instant," she explained away the incident. "I guess it's because I missed lunch today, but I'm all right now."
Larry held her gaze, and Jenna realised that they had been friends for too many years for Larry to be fooled by her evasive remark. It was Larry who had introduced her eight years ago to his best friend, Clive Reeves. He had been best man at their wedding some months later, and during the years since Clive's untimely death, he had been a pillar of strength to Jenna. Larry shared her sorrow, and he, more than anyone else, understood the difficulty she had experienced in overcoming her loss. He was, at present, assistant editor of The Executive, a monthly magazine of particular interest to men and women in business and the public in general. He was also her immediate boss.
"You need a break, Jenna." His spiky red hair and freckles made him look younger than his thirty-five years when he stepped around his desk and perched his lean, wiry frame on the corner nearest to her.
Jenna didn't answer him, and he studied her unnaturally pale features for a moment longer before he added authoritatively, "You haven't had a decent holiday in five years, and quite frankly, it's beginning to show in your work."
Indignation rose sharply within her, but there was also a hint of wariness in the wide blue eyes she raised to his. "Didn't you like the article I did on Cape Town's homeless children?"
"It was well researched and skilfully written, but it lacked your usual spark."
"I could do a rewrite," she offered even while she secretly dreaded the prospect, but Larry shook his head.
"It's going into print as it is," he said resolutely, returning to his chair behind the desk.
Jenna was inordinately relieved. She enjoyed her work as a journalist. It was all she had ever wanted to do, but in recent months, she had found herself approaching every assignment with a peculiar lack of her usual enthusiasm.
"Here's a leave application." Larry took a printed form out of his desk drawer, and he passed it to Jenna as he spoke. "Fill in the details, and I'll do the rest."
"I've already taken my normal quota of leave."
"Don't force me to pull your file and prove you a liar, Jenna," he challenged, and she looked away guiltily.
"I can't take leave now," she protested, selecting a different avenue from which to argue away his suggestion. "I have several important interviews lined up for the next two months."
"Postpone the interviews, or arrange for someone else to take your place."
"Everyone's up to their eyeballs in work, Larry, and it would be unfair of me to—"
"Listen to me, Jenna Reeves!" he cut in firmly. "I love you dearly, and you know that I trust your judgement in most cases, but in this instance, I believe that I know what's going to be best for you."
"But I can't just leave everything and—"
"Stop arguing!" Larry silenced her with an unfamiliar sharpness in his gravelly voice. "What you need right now is to get away from the city and out into the peace and quiet of the country. And that, my girl, is an order!"
Jenna looked at the man seated across the desk from her, and a sigh of resignation finally escaped her. Larry was, by nature, a gentle man with a heart as soft as marshmallow, but she was also well aware of the fact that nothing could shake him once he had made up his mind about something.
"Take four weeks, Jenna, and go home to your family," he said persuasively into the silence between them.
"My family would think it odd if I told them I wanted to spend a couple of weeks on the farm," she pointed out with an amused smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "It's the middle of winter, and while the days in the Karoo might be reasonably warm, the nights can be freezing."
"If it's warm weather you're looking for, then you should take a trip up along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, where you can laze around on a beach and collect yourself a winter tan." The warm, tropical climate along the eastern coast of South Africa drew hoards of holidaymakers from May through August each year, but Jenna shrank from the idea when the memory of her nightmare flashed through her mind.
"I don't like crowded places."
Larry's gaze traced the delicate contours of her face and dwelled for an instant on the attractive slant of her wide-set eyes, her small straight nose, and the generous curve of her mouth. Her features were striking rather than beautiful. There was also a mysterious quality about her, a fascinating blend of innocence and sensuality that few men failed to notice, and part of Jenna's charm was the fact that she was completely oblivious of the attention she received.
"It's been five years, Jenna," he pointed out in a resolute but compassionate voice. "You've got to put the past behind you."
"I have," she insisted quietly, unaware that she had been twisting her wedding ring back and forth around her finger. "But some things just aren't that easy to forget."
"What about contacting your aunt in the Berg River Valley?" He firmly steered the conversation back on track. "I happen to know that she has invited you several times to spend a weekend with her at her cottage out on the estate, but you have always found some excuse not to go."
Jenna's aunt was a widow with a married daughter living in Canada. Alice Mercer was also a retired nursing sister, but retirement had lost its appeal for her when boredom had set in. And four years ago, she had been fortunate enough to find herself a cushy job on a wine estate near Paarl.
The job advertised had been for someone to take charge of a medical clinic that would serve the large community of people who lived and worked on the estate. The post had risen from a desperate need for someone to deal with the minor injuries incurred by the staff and their families. It had also been important that the applicant should have the necessary qualifications to act as an intermediary between the doctors and the patients. Aunt Alice, with her many years of hospital experience, had been the perfect candidate. And with the job had come the added perk of free housing on the estate.
Jenna tucked a stray strand of golden-brown hair behind her ear and fingered the combs that held the rest of her hair in place while she gave Larry's suggestion some thought, but then she shook her head again. "A four-day visit with my aunt might still be acceptable, but to have me as a guest in her home for four weeks would be demanding too much of her hospitality."
Larry picked up the telephone on his desk and placed it in front of Jenna. "Why don't you give her a call and find out?"
"I'll phone her from home this evening," she tried to dodge the issue, but Larry was wise to the reason behind her delaying tactics.
"When you're at home this evening, you will conveniently forget about it." He lifted the receiver and held it out to her. "Phone now," he instructed.
"I don't know her number," she tried again.
"Ask the switchboard to look it up for you."
She gave him a haughty look as she snatched the receiver out of his hand to dial the switchboard. "It never occurred to me before that you're a bully, Larry Corbett," she accused, but her anger was feigned and Larry knew it.
"It's time someone cracked the whip where this matter is concerned," he retaliated without hesitation. "Now make that call."
Jenna did not have time to conjure up a clever response before the girl on the switchboard answered the call. She asked her for an outside line and smiled impishly at Larry while she waited.
"Liar!" he growled at her accusingly. "You knew the number all this time."
Her smile deepened while she punched out the number she had long ago committed to memory, and moments later, she was speaking to her father's only sister.
"I'm leaving this coming Friday to spend six weeks in Canada with Sandra and my grandchildren," Alice Mercer was saying in answer to Jenna's tentative request. "It's such a pity, my dear, that I shan't be here to visit with you, but my cottage is at your disposal for as long as you wish to stay," she added warmly.
"It's kind of you to say so, Aunt Alice, but I'll make some other arrangements."
"Now don't be silly, child," the older woman brushed aside Jenna's polite and slightly embarrassed rejection of her offer. "You know you are always more than welcome to come and stay whenever you wish. For heaven's sake, haven't I invited you often enough?"
"I would feel like an intruder," argued Jenna.
"What nonsense!" laughed her aunt. "I know for a fact that the professor will be only too relieved to know that the cottage won't be standing vacant while I'm away, and I can assure you that you will have all the privacy you could possibly want here on the estate."
The professor. Jenna knew the owner of the estate by no other name. Her aunt had never called him anything else, and it had long ago become obvious to Jenna that her aunt had great respect for this man who, for some reason, preferred to spend most of his time in Cape Town lecturing in science at the university.
"Well?" Larry queried when Jenna finally dropped the telephone receiver back onto its cradle.
"My aunt is leaving at the end of this week to spend some time with my cousin and her children in Canada, but she insists that I stay at her cottage for as long as I wish." She was still not sure that she was doing the right thing when she added, "The owner of the estate has arranged for my aunt to be driven to the airport, and I will be meeting her there this Friday afternoon to collect the keys to the cottage before she departs."
A satisfied smile played about Larry's wide mouth, but there was a stern look in the eyes that met hers. "Now fill in that leave application and have it on my desk before you go home this evening."
"Yes, sir," she said, saluting him playfully as she got up this time without mishap and left his office.
Ten days later, on a cold Friday evening, Jenna was driving along the busy N1 to Paarl. The rain was coming down as if the sluice gates of heaven had been opened to its fullest. The sky was an ominous black, and Jenna wished, too late, that she'd had the good sense to wait out the storm in her cosy duplex that, on a good day, gave her an uninterrupted view of Table Mountain as it rose out majestically above the sprawling city that nestled against its lower slopes.
Last-minute problems at the office had prevented her from leaving at four thirty, as she had intended. She had packed her bags the night before, and all she had needed to do was to go home to collect them, but the five thirty traffic leaving the city centre had gone from its usual snail's pace to an infuriating halt caused by an accident at one of the city's busiest intersections.
The gusty gale-force winds that had accompanied the pelting rain had simply aggravated the situation, and as a result, the light had long ago faded when Jenna left her duplex shortly after six thirty that evening to make her way back onto the main northbound road.
Excerpted from Dare To Dream by Yvonne Whittal Copyright © 2012 by Yvonne Whittal. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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