Rachael Farrington is sitting on a riverbank when young Jason Beauvale wanders into her life. The two become inseparable, but Rachael's mother is suspicious of the boy; he's wealthy and, for reasons of her own, she has no trust for him and his kind.
As the couple become closer, Jason shares a secret: Many years earlier he witnessed his father escape, badly injured, under a hail of bullets. He doesn't know why it happened, or if his father survived, or why his mother then chose a life in hiding, refusing to speak much of him or their past lives again. These are mysteries that haunt the boy and which he aches to resolve.
In an ironic twist, as the young couple battle against those determined to end their passionate relationship, they are confronted by the very forces that lurked in Jason's past.
In the turmoil that follows, loved ones soon face abduction, imprisonment and death, as an unscrupulous organization, known as The Syndicate, seeks to fulfill a long-outstanding resolution to which Jason unwittingly becomes the key.
The fight for justice falls to Rachael, but with high-ranking police corruption working to defeat her, how can she alone bring The Syndicate down?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.62(d)|
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By John D. Moulton
iUniverseCopyright © 2015 John D. Moulton
All rights reserved.
Friday, March 28th, 1969.
There wasn't much to say. The carriage was empty but for them, and no one else would board now. The two were strangers, thrown together with nothing more in common than the sound of a rattling train and the soft morning light of spring.
He was far from shy but no master of casual conversation; it had always seemed so pointless — until now. His eyes were fixed to the pages of a paperback book but strained to steal glimpses of the lovely young girl sitting by the window on the opposite side of the carriage. He lifted his head to look outward, but beautiful as the countryside was, it could not compete with her. And so he dared to shift his eyes in her direction again.
The train rumbled on. He turned another unread page before lifting his head to glance at the sunlight that shone softly on her cheek. Her long blond hair fell beyond her shoulders to cascade down, turning in gentle, tumbling curves to her breast. 'Her eyes must be blue,' he thought; 'they just must be.'
As he pondered her age his heart sank: nineteen, twenty at the most. He heaved a silent sigh and broke the faintest smile; with his thirty-first birthday just weeks away, this was the first time in his life that he had ever felt — too old.
A struggle began within him as pessimism battled with his burning desire to see her turn his way. He had to find something to say, but the words that rolled around in his head sounded so trite. Another minute passed — and then another. Maybe a cup of tea would help him think. And with that, a genuine question came to mind. All he had to do now was ask it before he lost his nerve.
"Excuse me, love. Do you know if there's a restaurant on the train?"
The turn of her head was slow and downcast, almost reluctant; distant but not dismissive. "I don't know. Sorry," she replied with a glance in his direction.
There it was: his wish granted, his yearning fulfilled. 'Yes! Her eyes are blue!' he thought in a flush of boyish excitement that caused his heart to flutter. But as he soaked up the flawless beauty of her face, he saw a tear fall.
"Oh ... I'm sorry," he said, now painfully aware of his intrusion. "I didn't mean to ... I'll go and find out!"
He left the carriage quickly to stand in the narrow confines of the corridor. Guilt overwhelmed him. How could he have been so insensitive, so selfish, not to see? But should he have left? Should he have comforted her? Should he return or leave her be? What right had he to interfere?
A little guilt washed over her too as she watched the smartly dressed young man leave the carriage. His question had shattered her desperate solitude, but as she considered the gentleness of his nervous smile and the speed with which he sought to respect her privacy, it was obvious he hadn't meant to impose at all.
She wiped another tear from her cheek, let the moment go, and was soon back where she had been, immersed in her miserable isolation, oblivious to everything but her plight and the hypnotic sway of the train.
She was barely aware of Derbyshire's beguiling landscape as it passed before her eyes. Her vision clouded to grey as an overwhelming memory surfaced yet again: the image of her loved-one's face, pale against a white silk pillow, his handsome features tormenting her as she wished for his eyes to open and look upon her as only his eyes could. But in his perfect peace, her wish had been denied.
Tears washed down her face once more as she was tortured by thoughts of how it should have been. She remembered the early morning sun challenging the deep blue velvet curtains in the room where he lay. She remembered stooping to pick up her case. But mostly she remembered the pain as she turned to walk away, knowing she couldn't stay.
The train sounded a long, high-pitched whistle and her thoughts were broken. Determined to clear her mind and think no more, she drew a deep breath and looked to the splendour of the view beyond her window.
She lifted her gaze toward the clear blue sky just as the train thrust her into total darkness. The soft, rhythmic clatter intensified as the sound bounced around in the blackness of the tunnel, and then the carriage lights flickered on. As she looked at the window, all she could see now was her own face reflected in the glass, as it had been reflected in the mirror of her dressing table just a few weeks ago. There too, deep thoughts had been suddenly shattered, when her bedroom door had burst open, bouncing hard against the old oak wardrobe as if to orchestrate her mother's dramatic entrance:
'What the hell do you think you're doing? If you think, for one moment, that your father and I are going to let you run off with that no-good waster, you can think again, girl! And if you think you're running off with my best suitcase, you're wrong there too!'
The neatly packed suitcase had lain open on the bed, but its contents had soon scattered across the floor in the short-lived tussle that had followed. Despite her mother's petite frame, she was a deceptively feisty character, and it would not have been wise to test the lady's resolve too far. So mother had won, and the victor had tossed a crumpled sheet of paper to the floor before storming out of the room with her reclaimed luggage. The dishevelled letter had been an attempted goodbye note — a draft, rejected as totally inadequate. She had no idea where her mother had found it and had cursed in that moment at just how easily that little white informer had betrayed her. Yet now, strange though it seemed, none of the reasons that had compelled her to leave that day mattered any more. Her reasons were now far graver — driven by desperation, bound in absolute despair.
Her flight this morning had been unhindered, and a brief look at her watch confirmed that soon another note would be resting in her mother's hands. But today there would be no victors; no one had wanted it this way at all.
She stared into the reflection of her eyes, feeling lost in this noisy darkness. Intense loneliness imprisoned her. It seemed the more she tried to empty her mind of the turmoil, the worse it all became.
Blinding sunlight hit her face as the train sped out of the tunnel. She screwed her eyes up tight, and as she opened them again the sparkle of a lake came into view. Its surface glistened like a million jewels, there for the taking and yet not there at all. She huffed; now even a lake reminded her of him. Desperate to avoid the memories, she looked beyond the water to the mist that cloaked the distant hills, to the tall trees that stood majestically against the horizon, and then down to the lush grasses that sped by at the trackside. But still the lake called to her, and still it reminded her of him and of the day they first met. That had been two years and a lifetime ago ...
* * *
She was sitting on the river bank at a local park, replaying the words of a petty argument she'd just lost to her mother. Calmer now, she was watching the sunlight dance on the rippling water as it passed her by. A voice called to her. Bold, warm, and confident the words came, dressed in the faintest Scottish accent.
"Hi, how y'doin'?"
She looked around to see a young stranger walking toward her. His smile was broad across a face framed by long dark hair that waved casually down to touch his shoulders.
"OK," she responded shyly. He looked so relaxed, so handsome and so self-assured. She wondered how come she had never seen him before; the town was small and he couldn't be more than a couple of years older than she was. Where had he come from? And why had he spoken at all? She dragged her eyes away, thinking how infectious his smile was and how, all at once, she wanted him to go away and to stay.
"I'm new in town. Thought it was about time I got out and met a few people. Do you spend a lot of time down here by the river, or did I just get lucky?"
"Lucky?" she replied.
"I think so!" That charming smile was all over his face again.
She felt her cheeks flush a little and didn't know quite what to do or say.
"I'm sorry; I've embarrassed you ... I didn't mean to," he said, raising his arms a little. "I'm not very good around girls; maybe I should let you be." His shoulders slumped slightly as he raised the palm of his hand in apology and began to walk on.
"No! It's OK. Don't go," she insisted. "It's OK. Honestly." A tingle of delight rippled down her spine as she watched him turn back toward her, and with it came pangs of nervousness for encouraging him to stay.
He sat down beside her and plucked a long stem of grass from the bank. He used it to point at his motorbike some distance behind them. "I'm getting a new bike soon. It'll be a beauty! Nothing like my practice bike at all."
She glanced behind her to the little red motorcycle just outside the park gates. It seemed brand new. Looking back his way, she wasn't quite sure what to make of such a boastful claim. She'd often heard boys bragging about this and that around school, but rarely did the words hold any substance. Maybe it was time to knock this young man down a peg or two — just for fun.
She looked straight into his magnificent blue eyes for the first time, and there she caught an infectious excitement that couldn't be denied. The moment left her a little stunned, but she determined to follow through. "Oh yes, and who's paying for this new bike, then?" She smiled, quite sure she was about to hear a list of rambling maybes and half-baked excuses.
"Easy; Mum will — we're loaded!" No sooner had the words passed his lips than she saw a twinge of regret flitter across his face. Half his smile disappeared and an air of reticence replaced it.
"Lucky you," she replied, unable to resist the temptation to keep him grounded. "Most people work for years to afford such luxuries, but I suppose Santa will just ride up and park it by your Christmas tree!" She giggled at the thought.
But her smile was barely returned. The look on his face said it all: he was obviously feeling bad for the cockiness of his impulsive response, and it seemed he had no idea how he was going to get past it.
So now it was her turn for regret. "I'm sorry, that was rude. I didn't mean to —"
"No, no! It's OK," he said with a little of the joy returning to his face,
"I probably deserved it ... What's your name, anyway?"
"Rachael," she answered. "What's yours?"
"Jason Beauvale. Jay for short," he added quickly. "We've just moved into The Manor, down the road. How do you do!"
He held out his hand enthusiastically. For a moment Rachael just looked down at it, a little taken aback by the formality, and in that moment she saw his smile diminish again. He was actually beginning to look quite nervous, and she quickly realised her hesitation wasn't helping. With that she smiled, wondering how anyone so bold and so good-looking could possibly be nervous in her company. She took his hand and her fingers tingled at the touch. This was no ordinary hand. She tried to stretch the moment in her mind. 'Oh, my God, he's gorgeous!' she thought.
A strange sense of excitement, faintness, shyness, and dumbness overcame her. It seemed her heart was in her throat and her head was spinning. 'All this over a hand!' she thought. She found herself staring deep into his eyes, and that surprised her too. She swallowed hard, but her heart was going nowhere; worse, she could hear it pounding through her chest and wouldn't have been surprised if the whole of Ravensdale town could hear it too. She felt his hand slip away, but the two remained locked in each other's gaze for one full second and eternity. His hand was gone, and the going intensified the moment. Would she ever touch him again? She could only hope.
Now it was his turn to clear his throat, and the words that followed came in an uneasy croak. "Will you come for a ride on my bike when I pass my test?" he asked. "You can show me around," he added, the words continuing to stumble past his tongue.
His question did nothing to calm her as it conjured dreamy images of the pair riding high up there on cloud nine. And the playful response she offered surprised even her.
"Maybe ..." she said, mischievously, "... If you get lucky that is! And anyway — I thought you were no good at chatting up girls."
* * *
The countryside rolled on; still the wheels clattered as the carriage swayed, and still she tried to stop herself thinking.
The lake gave way to the hillside that embraced it, and as the train journeyed on, so the last of the water's enchantment was gone. Her eyes were dry again now as bittersweet memories soothed her. But she knew how dangerous the thinking could be and how quickly a fleeting smile could give way to her tears. She knew she must clear her mind.
She watched the trees and bushes swaying in the breeze, and the sheep and cattle as they grazed carelessly in the tumbling fields. A foal, not yet sure of its long, shaky legs, amused her as it struggled to stay close to its mother in those wide-open spaces.
The countryside had won her for the moment: peace and perfection at one.
There she stayed in uneasy submission until the carriage door opened. She glanced over. Two white plastic cups and a pinstriped suit were first to catch her eye.
"There is a restaurant," the young man began, with a friendly smile and a look of mild trepidation. "I hope you don't mind: I took the liberty of bringing you a drink. Tea or coffee? I can drink either — or both!"
Rachael was quite shocked by the unexpected gesture. Nothing had passed her lips in over twelve hours and refusing would be both pointless and rude. "That was kind of you ... Tea ... thank you," she said, with a tiny smile. She took the cup, which was handed over with a warm sigh.
"Thank goodness for that," he quipped humbly as he took the seat beside her. "It's coffee for me every time!"
Rachael wondered whether he meant it or if he was just being kind. It didn't really matter. His friendly, relaxed manner was a welcome distraction from the memories that constantly threatened to besiege her.
"I'm sorry about before," he began. "I didn't realise —"
Rachael interrupted. "You weren't to know. I've got a lot on my mind.
I'm sorry for being so short."
"Please! An end to all that — I'm Richard Bowman. Glad to meet you."
"Rachael," she replied as he offered his hand. A memory flashed through her mind; it hurt, and it didn't go unnoticed.
"I'm sorry. Perhaps I should leave you in peace."
"No! It's OK ..." The words choked her a little and she longed to move on. "Are you travelling far?" she asked.
"All the way, I'm afraid. Got to. The train doesn't stop!"
Rachael strained another smile. "After the train stops — where are you off to?"
"The city. A weekend business conference and then on to the office — boring, boring."
"What do you do?" she asked politely and then wondered if she should have asked at all.
"General management. That's boring too — managing generals!"
Rachael tried hard to smile again, but the result felt far from convincing. More from courtesy than curiosity, she cast her eyes upon him properly for the first time. His immaculate, dark brown hair was cut a good bit longer than most of his pinstriped colleagues would wear it. He looked every bit the modern young businessman about town.
"Thanks again for the tea," she said. "It's lovely."
"That'll be a first for British Rail, then!" he joked. "Are you going far, Rachael?"
"I'm London too." She said no more and hoped the vague response wouldn't be seen as curt. The fact was she had little notion of where she was going — or what she was doing, for that matter. The moment plunged her into silent thought again, and with it came the gentle voice of her father: 'You really must decide where you're going, love — life's too short.'
The memory was too much; emotions overcame her again and she began to cry quietly. As she fumbled in her bag for a tissue, Richard's voice conveyed a quiet, unassuming compassion:
"Hey ... come on," he whispered. "Here, use this." He offered her the red silk handkerchief from the top pocket of his flawless, navy blue suit.
"I can't use that," she spluttered.
"Why not? Nobody else has ..." His gentle wit lightened the moment just enough to save Rachael from plunging deeper into her misery.
Excerpted from White Ashes by John D. Moulton. Copyright © 2015 John D. Moulton. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART 1: The Runaway, 1,
PART 2: Jason's Story, 63,
PART 3: Plots Thicken, 117,
PART 4: The Turmoil Within, 155,
PART 5: The Gathering Storm, 363,
PART 6: Coming Home to Roost, 501,
PART 7: The Long Road, 707,
Author's Notes, 725,
About the Author, 727,