A successful child psychologist, Mallory has no wish to return to the tropical hideaway where she experienced so much pain. But her Uncle Robert is ailing and it’s only right that she be there for the man who came to her rescue when she was a lost, lonely child. At least he is not alone—his protégé, and Mallory’s rival for his affections, is also at his side. Blaine Forrester hasn’t lost his knack for getting under Mallory’s skin, taking her breath away and leaving her unsettled at the same time.
While Robert recuperates, Mallory is shocked to learn that Jason Cartwright is on the payroll of his estate—the very man whose humiliating betrayal led her to leave North Queensland on the eve of her wedding. Confronting him—along with his wife and his manipulative twin sister—is a trial, though she can’t help forming a bond with little Ivy, Jason’s sickly daughter. But as tragedy strikes Moonglade, Mallory and Blaine will discover a darkness hidden within this deceptively beautiful world and their enigmatic circle—one that will either unite them at last, or tear apart the promise of paradise…
“If you’ve never read Margaret Way before, you’re in for a treat!” --New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer
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By Margaret Way
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Margaret Way P/L
All rights reserved.
Mallory knew the route to Forrester Base Hospital as well as she knew the lines on the palms of her hands. She had never had the dubious pleasure of having her palm read, but she had often wondered, was palmistry no more than superstition or was there something to it? Her life line showed a catastrophic break when one had actually occurred. If she read beyond the break, she was set to receive a card from the queen when she turned one hundred. As it was, she was twenty-eight. There was plenty of time to get her life in order and find some happiness. Currently her life was largely devoted to work. She allowed herself precious little free time. It was a deliberate strategy. Keep on the move. Don't sit pondering over what was lodged in the soul.
The driver of the little Mazda ahead was starting to annoy her. He was showing excessive respect for the speed limit, flashing his red lights at every bend in the road. She figured it was time to pass, and was surprised when the driver gave her a loud honk for no discernible reason. She held up her hand, waved. A nice little gesture of camaraderie and goodwill.
She was almost there, thank the Lord. The farther she had travelled from the state capital, Brisbane, the more drag on her emotions. That pesky old drag would never go away. It was a side effect of the baggage she carted around and couldn't unload. It wasn't that she didn't visualize a brave new world. It was just that so far it hadn't happened. Life was neither kind nor reasonable. She knew that better than most. She also knew one had to fight the good fight even when the chances of getting knocked down on a regular basis were high.
It had been six years and more since she had been back to her hometown. She wouldn't be returning now, she acknowledged with a stab of guilt, but for the unexpected heart attack of her uncle Robert. Her uncle, a cultured courtly man, had reared her from age seven. No one else had been offering. Certainly not her absentee father, or her maternal grandparents, who spent their days cruising the world on the Queen Mary 2. True, they did call in to see her whenever they set foot on dry land, bearing loads of expensive gifts. But sadly they were unable to introduce a child into their busy lives. She was the main beneficiary of their will. They had assured her of that; a little something by way of compensation. She was, after all, their only grandchild. It was just at seven, she didn't fit into their lifestyle. Decades later, she still didn't.
Was it any wonder she loved her uncle Robert? He was her superhero. Handsome, charming, well off. A bachelor by choice. Her dead mother, Claudia, had captured his heart long ago when they were young and deeply in love. Her mother had gone to her grave with her uncle's heart still pocketed away. It was an extraordinary thing and in many ways a calamity, because Uncle Robert had never considered snatching his life back. He was a lost cause in the marriage stakes. As was she, for that matter.
To fund what appeared on the surface to be a glamorous lifestyle, Robert James had quit law to become a very popular author of novels of crime and intrigue. The draw card for his legions of fans was his comedic detective, Peter Zero, never as famous as the legendary Hercule Poirot, but much loved by the readership.
Pulp fiction, her father, Nigel James, Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Melbourne University, called it. Her father had always stomped on his older brother's talent. "Fodder for the ignorant masses to be read on the train." Her father never minced words, the crueller the better. To put a name to it, her father was an all-out bastard.
It was Uncle Robert who had spelled love and a safe haven to her. He had taken her to live with him at Moonglade, his tropical hideaway in far North Queensland. In the infamous "black birding" days, when South Sea Islanders had been kidnapped to work the Queensland cane fields, Moonglade had been a thriving sugar plantation. The house had been built by one Captain George Rankin, who had at least fed his workers bananas, mangoes, and the like and paid them a token sum to work like the slaves they were in a sizzling hot sun.
Uncle Robert had not bought the property as a working plantation. Moonglade was his secure retreat from the world. He could not have chosen a more idyllic spot, with two listed World Heritage areas on his doorstep, the magnificent Daintree Rainforest, the oldest living rainforest on the planet, and the glorious Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system.
His heart attack had come right out of the blue. Her uncle had always kept himself fit. He went for long walks along the white sandy beach, the sound of seagulls in his ears. He swam daily in a brilliantly blue sea, smooth as glass. To no avail. The truth was no one knew what might happen next. The only certainty in life was death. Life was a circus; fate the ringmaster. Her uncle's illness demanded her presence. It was her turn to demonstrate her love.
Up ahead was another challenge. A procession of undertakers? A line of vehicles was crawling along as though they had all day to get to their destination. Where the heck was that? There were no shops or supermarkets nearby, only the unending rich red ochre fields lying fallow in vivid contrast with the striking green of the eternal cane. The North was sugar, an area of vibrant colour and great natural beauty. It occurred to her the procession might be heading to the cemetery via the South Pole.
Some five minutes later she arrived at the entrance to the hospital grounds. There was nothing to worry about, she kept telling herself. She had been assured of that by none other than Blaine Forrester, who had rung her with the news. She had known Blaine since her childhood. Her uncle thought the world of him. Fair to say Blaine was the son he never had. She knew she came first with her uncle, but his affection for Blaine, five years her senior, had always ruffled her feathers. She was more than Blaine, she had frequently reminded herself, the only son of good friends and neighbours. She was blood.
Blaine's assurances, his review of the whole situation, hadn't prevented her from feeling anxious. In the end Uncle Robert was all the family she had. Without him she would be alone.
The main gates were open, the entry made splendid by a pair of poincianas in sumptuous scarlet bloom. The branches of the great shade trees had been dragged down into their perfect umbrella shape by the sheer weight of the annual blossoming. For as far back as she could remember, the whole town of Forrester had waited for the summer flowering, as another town might wait for an annual folk festival. The Royal Poinciana, a native of Madagascar, had to be the most glorious ornamental tree grown in all sub-tropical and tropical parts of the world.
"Pure magic!" she said, aloud.
It was her spontaneous response to the breathtaking display. Nothing could beat Nature for visual therapy. As she watched, the breeze gusted clouds of spent blossom to the ground, forming a deep crimson carpet.
She parked, as waves of uncomplicated delight rolled over her. She loved this place. North of Capricorn was another world, an artist's dream. There had always been an artist's colony. Some of the country's finest artists had lived and painted here, turning out their glorious land- and seascapes, scenes of island life. Uncle Robert had a fine body of their work at the house, including a beautiful painting of the district's famous Poinciana Road that led directly to Moonglade Estate. From childhood, poincianas had great significance for her. Psychic balm to a child's wounded heart and spirit, she supposed.
Vivid memories clung to this part of the world. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. Memories were like ghosts that appeared in the night and didn't disappear at sunrise as they should. She knew the distance between memory and what really happened could be vast. Lesser memories were susceptible to reconstruction over the years. It was the worst memories one remembered best. The worst became deeply embedded.
Her memories were perfectly clear. They set her on edge the rare times she allowed them to flare up. Over the years she had developed many strategies to maintain her equilibrium. Self-control was her striking success. It was a marvellous disguise. One she wore well.
A light, inoffensive beep of a car horn this time brought her out of her reverie. She glanced in the rear vision mirror, lifting an apologetic hand to the woman driver in the car behind her. She moved off to the parking bays on either side of the main entrance. Her eyes as a matter of course took in the variety of tropical shrubs, frangipani, spectacular Hawaiian hibiscus, and the heavenly perfumed oleanders that had been planted the entire length of the perimeter and in front of the bays. Like the poincianas, their hectic blooming was unaffected by the powerful heat. Indeed the heat only served to produce more ravishing displays. The mingled scents permeated the heated air like incense, catching at the nose and throat.
Tropical blooming had hung over her childhood; hung over her heart. High summer: hibiscus, heartbreak. She kept all that buried. A glance at the dash told her it was two o'clock. She had made good time. Her choice of clothing, her usual classic gear, would have been just right in the city. Not here. For the tropics she should have been wearing simple clothes, loose, light cotton. She was plainly overdressed. No matter. Her dress sense, her acknowledged stylishness, was a form of protection. To her mind it was like drawing a velvet glove over shattered glass.
Auxiliary buildings lay to either side of the main structure. There was a large designated area for ambulances only. She pulled into the doctors' parking lot. She shouldn't have parked there, but she excused herself on the grounds there were several other vacant spots. The car that had been behind her had parked in the visitors' zone. The occupant was already out of her vehicle, heading towards the front doors at a run.
"Better get my skates on," she called with a friendly wave to Mallory as she passed. Obviously she was late and by the look of it expecting to be hauled over the coals.
There were good patients. And terrible patients. Mallory had seen demonstrations of both. Swiftly she checked her face in the rear-view mirror. Gold filigrees of hair were stuck to her cheeks. Deftly she brushed them back. She had good thick hair that was carefully controlled. No casual ponytail but an updated knot as primly elegant as an Edwardian chignon. She didn't bother to lock the doors, but made her way directly into the modern two-storied building.
The interior was brightly lit, with a smell like fresh laundry and none of the depressing clinical smells and the long, echoing hallways of the vast impersonal city hospitals. The walls of the long corridor were off-white and hung with paintings she guessed were by local artists. A couple of patients in dressing gowns were wandering down the corridor to her left, chatting away brightly as if they were off to attend an in-hospital concert. To her right a young male doctor, white coat flying, clipboard in hand zipped into a room as though he didn't have a second to lose.
There was a pretty, part aboriginal young nurse stationed at Reception. At one end of the counter was a large oriental vase filled with beautiful white, pink-speckled Asian lilies. Mallory dipped her head to catch their sweet spicy scent.
"I'm here to see a patient, Robert James," she said smiling, as she looked up.
"Certainly, Dr. James." Bright, cheerful, accommodating.
She was known. How?
An older woman with a brisk no-nonsense air of authority hurried towards Reception. She too appeared pleased to see Mallory. Palm extended, she pointed off along the corridor. "Dr. Moorehouse is with Mr. James. You should be able to see him shortly, Dr. James. Would you like a cup of tea?"
Swiftly Mallory took note of the name tag. "A cup of tea would go down very nicely, Sister Arnold."
"I'll arrange it," said Sister. Their patient had a photograph of this young woman beside his bed. He invited everyone to take a look. "My beautiful niece, Mallory. Dr. Mallory James!"
* * *
Several minutes later when she hadn't even sat down, Mallory saw one splendid looking man stride up to Reception. Six feet and over. Thoroughbred build. Early thirties. Thick head of crow black hair. Clearly not one of the bit players in life.
The mere sight of him put her on high alert. Though it made perfect sense for him to be there, she felt her emotions start to bob up and down like a cork in a water barrel. For all her strategies, she had never mastered the knack of keeping focused with Blaine around. He knew her too well. That was the problem. He knew the number of times she had made a complete fool of herself. He knew all about her disastrous engagement. Her abysmal choice of a life partner. He had always judged her and found her wanting. Okay, they were friends, having known one another forever, but there were many downsides to their crotchety, often stormy relationship. She might as well admit it. It was mostly her fault. So many times over the years she had been as difficult as she could be. It was a form of retaliation and a deep-seated grudge.
Blaine knew all about the years she had been under the care of Dr. Sarah Matthews, child psychologist and a leader in her field. The highly emotional unstable years. He knew all about her dangerous habit of sleepwalking. Blaine knew far too much. Anyone would resent it. He wasn't a doctor yet he knew her entire case history. For all that, Blaine was a man of considerable charisma. What was charisma anyway, she had often asked herself. Was one born with it or was it acquired over time? Did charismatic people provoke a sensual experience in everyone they met? She thought if they were like Blaine, the answer had to be yes. One of Blaine's most attractive qualities was his blazing energy. It inspired confidence. Here was a man who could and did get things done.
Blaine was a big supporter of the hospital. He had property in all the key places. The Forrester family had made a fortune over the generations. They were descendants of George Herbert Forrester, an Englishman, already on his way to being rich before he left the colony of New South Wales to venture into the vast unknown territory which was to become the State of Queensland in 1859. For decades on end, the Forresters pretty well owned and ran the town. Their saving grace was as employers they were very good to their workers to the extent everyone, right up to the present day, considered themselves part of one big happy family and responded accordingly.
She heard him speak to the nurse at Reception. He had a compelling voice. It had a special quality to it. It exactly matched the man. She saw his aura. Her secret: She was able to see auras. Not of everyone. That would have been beyond anyone's ability to cope with. But certain people. Good and bad. She saw Blaine's now. The energy field that surrounded him was the familiar cobalt blue. She knew these auras were invisible to most people. She had no idea why she should see them, feel them, as heat waves. The gift, if it was one, hadn't been developed over the years. It had just always been there.
Once, to her everlasting inner cringe, she had confided her secret to Blaine. She was around fourteen at the time. There he was, so handsome, already making his mark, home from university. She remembered exactly where they were, lazing in the sun, down by Moonglade's lake. The moment she had stopped talking, he had propped himself up on his elbow, looking down at her with his extraordinary silver eyes.
"You're having me on!"
"No, I swear."
He had burst out laughing. "Listen, kid. I'm cool with all your tall tales and celestial travels, but we both know auras don't exist."
"They do. They do exist."
Her rage and disappointment in him had known no bounds. She had entrusted him with her precious secret and he, her childhood idol, had laughed her to scorn. No wonder she had gone off like a firecracker.
"Don't you dare call me a liar, Blaine Forrester. I see auras. I've seen your aura lots of times. Just because you can't see them doesn't mean they're not there. You're nothing but an insensitive, arrogant pig!"
Excerpted from Poinciana Road by Margaret Way. Copyright © 2016 Margaret Way P/L. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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