Caitlyn needs to find her estranged father or her mother will be thrown out of the home she
loves, so Caitlyn ventures into the rough, tough world of the Australian opal fields. After
rescuing a teenager from an attempted assault she learns that the girl, Max, is her half-sister.
Their father is missing and suspected of stealing opals – an activity that could place both Max
and Caitlyn in danger. Attempting to locate their father without alerting the police, Caitlyn
enlists the help of Dale, a city lawyer turned lapidary, hiding out in the town to protect his
daughter from death threats. Together they investigate, but progress is slow until Caitlyn
stumbles upon a link between her father and organised crime, and into an investigation by the
After offering herself as the go-between in a ‘sting', Caitlyn realises that she's put Dale's life
at risk and in order to save him, she does the one thing she's sworn never to do. She battles
crippling claustrophobia to descend into the darkness of an underground opal mine where her
father's dead body is lying. With the criminals either arrested or dead, Caitlyn accepts that
she's found more than she went looking for. She's fallen in love with Dale, but there's no
way he'd consider moving back to the city, not when a move would expose his daughter to
danger. He doesn't ask her to stay so she makes a new life for herself and her sister in
Adelaide...until the death of the man threatening his family allows Dale to confess his
feelings for her.
About the Author
Claire Baxter writes contemporary romantic fiction of all lengths. Her short stories have been
published in commercial women's magazines around the world, while her novels have been
translated into 20 languages, and have been nominated for the Romance Writers of Australia's
Romantic Book of the Year Award, the Booksellers' Best Awards, the RT Book Reviews Reviewers'
Choice Awards, and the Cataromance Reviewers' Choice Awards (winner, Best Harlequin Romance).
Before following her passion to write full-time, Claire was an award-winning corporate
communications manager. Earlier, she worked as a translator and a PA.
Claire grew up in Warwickshire, England, but for more than 20 years has called Australia home. She
considers herself lucky to live near one of Adelaide's beautiful metropolitan beaches where she
loves to walk and think up stories.
Read an Excerpt
Down Among the Dead Men
By Claire Baxter, Terese Ramin, Elizabeth Penney
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Claire Baxter
All rights reserved.
600 kilometers (375 miles) north of Adelaide, South Australia
Despite her mother's dire predictions, nothing horrific had befallen Caitlyn on her drive through the South Australian outback, and she arrived at the road into the opal mining town of Minagoona unscathed. But judging by the wisps of steam escaping from the front end of the little hatchback, it had been a close call. As soon as she'd turned off Stuart Highway, the temperature gauge had started to climb. Shoulders rigid with tension, teeth clenched, she drove through a landscape that ranged from dry lake beds and flat, featureless plains to sand hills as red as a slab of raw steak sizzling in the afternoon sun.
Not somewhere she wanted to be stranded.
When the scenery changed from sparse salt bush to conical dust piles dotting the ground like giant anthills, she relaxed a little in the knowledge that the mullock heaps — cones of white soil where miners had been burrowing for gems — meant she'd reached the opal fields.
Caitlyn pulled off the road as soon as she spotted a service station, but peering through the car window, she didn't like her chances of finding a mechanic. No one had come out to greet her, and the small glass-fronted building appeared to be deserted. Another vehicle was parked at the pumps, but its driver was nowhere to be seen. Seemed a strange place to leave it, but then, what did she know about life out here in the desert?
She climbed out of the car, feeling every one of the kinks in her spine after five hours of driving. She stretched her cramped muscles then headed for the door of the building and tried the handle. Locked. Through the dusty glass, she could see a small counter, a desk, a chair, filing cabinets, and piles of paper against the walls, but no sign of life.
She stepped back from the door. It wasn't like any city station she'd ever used. Where were the soft drinks? The ice cream? The chocolate? She sighed. Right now she'd settle for a mechanic to take a look at the overheated engine. Would the car even start again? She eyed her mum's pride and joy as she walked back toward it. And if it didn't, what would she do next?
At the sound of angry voices, she froze. Both male and female voices. She swung around, her gaze zooming in on one of the corrugated iron sheds that stood further back on the dusty block of land. That had to be where the voices were coming from. When she heard a slap, she flinched. The high-pitched squeal of pain that followed it made her want to march in there and tell the jerk what she thought of wife-battering wimps, but she wasn't used to breaking up fights. The most violent thing she'd ever done was beat an egg.
More shouting. She picked out two male voices, and one female. Maybe not a domestic dispute then, but the knowledge didn't solve her dilemma. She couldn't pretend she hadn't heard, and she had to at least try to help the lone female or forever feel bad about it.
She jogged to the shed. One of the large sliding doors stood partially open, and flattening herself against it, she peered around the edge. At the far end of the workshop two young men held a third by the arms.
No, not a young man, but a skinny teenage girl in oil-stained overalls. The girl struggled, flinging out her legs in wide arcs. When one of her attackers twisted her arm behind her, she let out a scream followed by a string of swear words. The other guy kicked the girl's legs out from under her and she fell to the ground.
Shit, shit, shit.
A rusty exhaust pipe, complete with muffler, lay against the wall, just inside the workshop. Caitlyn darted across, picked up the pipe and ran toward the trio. With a ferocious swing, she caught the first guy smack on the side of the head. He fell back and gaped at her. She swiveled on her toes and swung the pipe at his mate, but he sidestepped and grabbed the end of the pipe, jerking it from her hands.
She held her breath, her eyes on the pipe in his grip as he lifted it at her like a baseball bat.
"Kyle, no!" On her feet now, the girl swung a wrench at his head.
The brute dodged the blow, and the wrench missed, landing on his shoulder instead. He bellowed in pain. Caitlyn caught the exhaust pipe as it fell from his hands and poked him hard in the stomach with it. When he doubled over she said, "Get out!"
He staggered from the workshop, clutching his stomach.
The girl held the wrench above her head, glowering at the guy on the ground. "Piss off, Terry."
He half-crawled, half-slithered out of her reach, then scrambled to his feet and followed his mate.
When the roar of a revving engine faded to a murmur, Caitlyn looked at the girl, frowning at her torn overalls. "Are you okay?"
The girl's chin wobbled and her hands shook as she flattened the torn edges of the fabric against her skin. She nodded before looking up at Caitlyn. "Thanks."
"No worries." Caitlyn pointed at the dent in the muffler. "I hope no one intended to use this."
The girl grinned. "Was bloody good the way you whacked Terry with it. Don't know what would have happened if you hadn't."
Caitlyn grimaced. "I can hazard a guess."
The grin vanished. "Yeah, well, so can I. Shitheads."
"We should call the police before those two get much further away."
The girl shook her head. "Nah, I'm all right. It's not worth it."
Caitlyn frowned. "Are you going to let those morons off? It's a crime, you know."
The girl lifted her chin. "Hey, I have to live around here. Anyway, who are you? Where did you come from?"
"I'm Caitlyn. I live in Sydney, but I've driven up from Adelaide today."
The girl tilted her head. "On purpose?"
"Well, it's not like I took a wrong turn and ended up here. I would have spotted my mistake after, say, four hours on the highway."
"But you actually meant to come here? For real?"
"Yes. And now there's a problem with the car, so I was hoping there'd be a mechanic here."
"Good. Will he be back soon?"
The girl walked to the door and looked out, narrowing her eyes at the hatchback. She looked over her shoulder. "I'm the mechanic."
"What? Because I'm a girl?"
"No, because you don't look old enough to be qualified."
Shrugging, the girl said, "I'm seventeen. I'm not certified, but I know what I'm doing. The only people round here are opal miners, and they don't care about bits of paper as long as you know what you're doing." She pushed the partially open door all the way back on its track. "I used to hang around in here with a real mechanic, until he took off back to Darwin."
"Was that your dad?"
"No, he's not a mechanic. He just owns the business." The girl reached for the other door. "You going to bring the car in or not?"
Caitlyn weighed up her limited options, then retrieved the keys from the pocket of her jeans.
Minutes later, the girl diagnosed the problem: a hole in the radiator.
"Great." Caitlyn sighed. "I wasn't planning to stay around."
The girl straightened. "What did you come here for, then?"
"I'm hoping to find my father. Last we heard he was up here."
"When was that?"
Caitlyn held her breath, then expelled it through pursed lips. "Must be twenty years ago."
"Jeez. What makes you think he's still here?"
Caitlyn shrugged. "Minagoona is the last place he was known to be, so it's the logical place to start." She really hoped he was. She wanted a chance to convince him not to force her mother out of the only home she'd known as an adult. He'd left her mum when Caitlyn was eight years old. He'd told her he would send child support, but he never did, and the family court couldn't find him. Her mum had made all the mortgage payments, as well as paying for Caitlyn's upbringing. If he needed money, surely he could raise it some way other than selling the place and leave her mother in peace. He owed her that. "I'm hoping that if he's moved on, someone will know where he went, and I can follow his trail."
"Hmm. Well, good luck with that," the girl said. "So, what do you want to do about the radiator?"
She didn't have a choice, did she? "Can you order a new one?"
"Sure. We've got all the supplier details in the office, but we'll have to do it tomorrow. Too late in the day now to phone them, and the satellite connection's down again." At Caitlyn's blank look she said, "Which means no internet."
"Right. I see." She took wifi for granted at home. She had to remember that it was a different world here in the outback. "Thanks. I have to find somewhere to stay. How much further is the town? Will I be able to walk there?"
"I walk it all the time. It's about a kilometer, I guess."
"Will it be all right to leave the car here?"
"Yep. I'll lock it in."
"I still think we should ring the police about Terry and Kyle."
"No." The girl's voice faltered as she grabbed a rag and wiped her hands. "I'll be ready for them if they come back."
Caitlyn suspected she wasn't as tough as she was trying to sound.
The girl sniffed, dragging her sleeve across her face where it left gray streaks. "I'm not crying. I never cry."
"I do." She could cry right now.
It had been one thing after another lately, First, the breakup with her ex that had put her off men for good, then the call from her mother, distraught over the lawyer's letter and begging for help, the row with her boss about her wanting time off that led to her quitting her highly paid job, and now a broken-down car. What else could possibly go wrong?
Scratch that, she thought. She did not want to know. "What's your name, by the way?"
The girl tossed the rag onto the workbench. "Max."
Caitlyn pushed a hand through her short hair. "Well, I'll die if I don't get a coffee soon, Max. Would your mum mind if we went inside for one?"
"My mum's dead."
Caitlyn gave herself a mental kick. "I'm sorry."
Taking a key from a pocket in her overalls, Max walked out of the workshop. "You coming for that cuppa or what?"
Caitlyn grabbed her bag from the car and joined Max outside, waited while she closed and locked the sliding doors, then followed her to the house. The front door led to what must have been a lounge room once. Boxes of car parts occupied most of the space, stacked between chairs and in corners. The small sofa and two wooden-framed armchairs looked like an afterthought.
In the kitchen, Caitlyn bit back an expletive at the sink full of dirty dishes, the surfaces covered in empty containers and food debris, and fixed her eyes on Max's back as she went through another door.
A glance told her the bathroom was no cleaner than the kitchen. They were surrounded by a vast open space, yet these rooms were smaller than any she'd seen in crowded Sydney. She sat on one of the vinyl-covered kitchen chairs while Max filled the kettle at the tap, holding it with oily hands.
As a professional chef, Caitlyn's stomach churned at the sight.
Max made two black coffees, then cleared a space on the table with her forearm and put down the mugs. She pulled out the other chair and plonked herself down.
Maybe coffee wasn't the best idea in the kitchen's stifling heat, but Caitlyn wanted the caffeine hit. Needed it. She took a tentative sip. It was awful. She watched Max drum her fingers on the tabletop. "When do you think your dad will be back?"
"Dunno." Then, her voice wobbling, she said, "I think something might have happened to him. He's been gone for three weeks. He should have been back by now."
"Oh, Max. Have you've told the police?"
"No." She scraped back the chair and slouched lower, jamming her hands into her pockets. "Because if they find him they'll put him in jail."
This time Max didn't wipe away her tears. "And then they'll take the house and the business away. I won't be able to fix cars any more, and ... And I'll have nowhere to live."
There was no other family, then. What a bleak prospect for a teenager. "But why will the police arrest him? What has he done?"
"I don't know for sure, but I think he might have been ..." Max's voice dropped to a mumble. "Stealing opals."
Now Caitlyn understood. If her father was involved in illegal activity, Max had good reason to fear being left alone once the police found out. But by all accounts, opal mining was a harsh way of life and the miners a rough bunch. She doubted they'd react well to someone ripping them off, so maybe Max was right and something had happened to him.
Caitlyn sighed. Max needed help, but Caitlyn didn't know what she could do. She couldn't leave now, though. She'd worry about Terry and Kyle coming back in the middle of the night. "Can I stay here? I'll sleep on the couch or something."
"If you want. You can use my dad's room. And tomorrow I'll order the radiator, and then I'll help you try to find your dad. What's his name?"
"Bracken. Wally Bracken."
Max's face froze.
"What is it? Have you heard of him?"
She gave a small nod.
"Does he still live around here?"
Max sucked in a breath then blew it out again. "He's my dad."
Caitlyn stared, her heart pounding. "Are you serious?"
"You're not having me on? Wally Bracken is really your father?"
Max shook her head. "I'm not. He really is."
Caitlyn eyed Max's red hair. Her father, she remembered, had red hair, too. His had been mixed with gray when she knew him, but it had probably been as red as Max's in his youth. This changed everything. She'd come here to find her father for her mother's sake, hoping to reason with him, but discovered she had a half sister in the exact same situation. And, other than to help out Max, if Wally was potentially a criminal, did she even want to find him? Maybe she should forget about seeing him.
But if something bad had happened to him, she needed to know because he couldn't sell her mother's house if he was dead, could he? Her eyes wide, she said, "Were your parents married?"
"Officially, with a certificate and everything?"
Frowning, Max said, "Yeah. Why?"
"Oh, blimey, Max. My parents were never divorced."
Max gaped. "Then, what does that make me?"
Shrugging, Caitlyn said, "My sister."CHAPTER 2
The next morning, Caitlyn rolled over in the strange bed and studied her surroundings. The flimsy curtains did a poor job of blocking the morning sun and the room was already stifling. Did the lopsided wardrobe or the chest of drawers hold any clues to Wally's whereabouts? She wouldn't, as a rule, poke about in someone else's belongings but she'd never been in a situation like this before. A man was missing. Not just any man, but her father. And she had a sister. Holy cow.
She opened the wardrobe doors without getting out of bed. The room was so small she'd have to go outside to change her mind. A jacket, two pairs of trousers, and three shirts. That was all. Except — she leaned back to see the floor of the wardrobe — a pair of old work boots. Which explained the smell. Either this was the pathetic extent of his wardrobe or her father had packed the good stuff and left the rubbish behind.
She dressed in the shorts and T-shirt she'd worn the day before and went looking for Max. Her sister was in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil.
"Do you want toast?"
Caitlyn flattened a hand on her stomach. When had she last eaten? "Yes, please. I'm starving. I'll make it, shall I?"
"Go for it," Max said.
While she dropped bread into the ancient toaster and Max spooned coffee into the mugs, Caitlyn said, "Do you know where your father — I mean, our father — was going when he left?"
"No," Max answered too quickly.
"Are you sure?"
"I wasn't listening."
Caitlyn sighed. It was as though lying was the girl's default mode. She'd hoped they'd gotten past that with the discovery that they were sisters. "You said you'd help me find him, but it's no help if you won't talk to me. If you know where he was going, please tell me."
Max took butter from the fridge and handed it to her. "There's this man. He comes here every now and then. Whenever he comes, Dad goes out with him."
"Did he go out with him this time?"
"Do you know his name?"
"I've heard Dad call him Chet."
"Chet? Okay. That's not much to go on, but it's a start. What does he look like?"
Excerpted from Down Among the Dead Men by Claire Baxter, Terese Ramin, Elizabeth Penney. Copyright © 2014 Claire Baxter. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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