ExCLUSIVE PREVIEW

For my Scipio

WHERE THE HELL IS…

 

The story you’re about to read will take you on a journey that

spans three continents. There may be places you may not have heard before, so the following maps will help you visualise the locations covered in this book.

Disclaimer: this is not a geography lesson.

A fighter

 

Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Joseph Russo woke up with an almighty pain in his neck. He remembered arriving at the hospital with nurses gripping him under his armpits, then he’d fallen. Before everything had gone black, he’d heard ‘cardiac arrest’.

The call hadn’t been about him.

 

He sat up straight. ‘Summer!’

 

‘Russo, mate, no,’ Caine Lawlor said and tried to get Joseph to lie back down.

 

‘Summer?’ Joseph asked his best friend. A pain stabbed his left hand and only then did he realise it was wrapped in a plaster cast.

 

‘She’s in the other room.’

 

‘Caine! Is she okay?’

 

‘She’s still unconscious. Lie back down, Russo.’

 

‘I need to see her!’ Scipio said, and got out of bed.

Swaying left and right, he forced himself to walk. ‘Where is she?’

 

Caine stood in his way. ‘You can’t—’

 

‘Take me to her!’

 

Nurses gathered around Joseph, along with a doctor who said, ‘Mr Russo! You have to go back to your room.’

 

‘I want to see my wife!’

 

The doctor looked at Caine.

 

‘Summer, my fiancée,’ Joseph said softly. In his heart she was already his wife. ‘Please…’

 

‘All right, have a seat, Mr Russo,’ the doctor said, and presented him with a wheelchair. ‘I’m Dr Carver.’

 

Reluctantly Scipio obeyed. It took them a few turns to get to Summer’s room. How dare they put him so far away from her!

 

‘Summer… I’m here,’ he whispered when he arrived at her side.

 

Where could he hold her? Her right hand was heavily bandaged and her left was pierced with an IV drip. He didn’t dare touch any other parts of her, afraid of disturbing a tender spot or breaking her even more.

 

‘Tell me the truth, Doctor.’

 

‘Your fiancée will be okay. She sustained a lot of injuries to her left leg, right hand and her neck. But they will heal. She will need a lot of physiotherapy, especially with her right hand.’

It hurt him just hearing the doctor’s explanation. He wished Summer could tell him herself; she would’ve put her hand on his chest and said: I’ll be okay.

‘Her grip might not be as strong as it used to be, but her hand will still function as normal,’ Dr Carver continued – but Joseph had almost blocked the doctor’s voice. ‘I’ll give you a moment with your fiancée.’

He studied Summer’s face. There were cuts on her lips but her complexion didn’t seem bruised. Despite the breathing tube, she looked restful. After giving everything she had to protect Joseph and his daughter from Bobby Swinburne, Joseph was glad Summer was asleep now.

Slowly Summer lifted her left hand. Her fingers fluttered as if looking for something to reach. Had he disturbed her? Her sleeping face leaned slightly towards him. Then she moaned softly, ‘Scipio…’

She might be weak, and perhaps still unconscious, but as always she said his name so ardently. Scipio. She’d called him that since they’d first met.

‘I’m here,’ he said. As her hand went limp, Joseph’s palm met hers before it fell to the edge of the bed. He cradled her hand towards him just slightly to gauge if it hurt her. No resistance, no grimace on her face. He leaned forward and carefully guided her hand to his heart. Holding on to her wrist, he made sure her hand stayed there; he’d done this on so many nights when she’d struggled to sleep. She’d said it soothed her.

‘I’m tired.’ Her voice was barely audible.

‘Go back to sleep, Summer,’ he said and kissed her fingertips.

Moments later he felt a touch on his shoulder and heard a whisper, ‘Dad…’

He turned slightly, glad to see his daughter, Cornelia, smiling at him. ‘Hey…’

He replied to Cornelia’s hug by pressing his cheek against her arm. Having only one hand functioning right now, he didn’t want to let go of Summer just yet. ‘You okay?’

‘Yes,’ Cornelia said and gazed at Summer. ‘She fought so hard. I’ve never known, or seen, anyone like her. That night at the Beam House, when I saw her the first time. I guess she hit you. But it was nothing. Yesterday with Bobby, her kicks and punches were mean. Even that psycho was rattled.’

Cornelia paused as if reliving the event, then she added, ‘Hell with mothers who bake cakes. I’d rather have Summer any time. Who wouldn’t want a mother who protects her family?’

‘I’m glad we’re on the same page. But I must remind you she’s only nine years older than you,’ he told his nineteen-year-old daughter.

Cornelia smirked. ‘Eight years two months.’

‘True.’ Summer was born in November and Cornelia in January.

‘Doesn’t bother me. As long as she’s right for you.’

At that, Joseph broke down. His world lit up when Summer smiled, but at times she scared him. Life had scarred her heart, but she’d let him in.

‘I can’t lose her.’

Cornelia rested her hand on top of his own on Summer’s.

‘She’s one hell of a fighter, Dad. She’ll pull through.’

Joseph hoped his daughter was right. As soon as Summer was well, he would take her back to Penguin, his hometown that had brought them together, and then marry her. He would never let her go.

Never.

Copyright ©2020 A Kelly

Courage and love

 

Washington DC, USA

Fourteen-year-old Summer Rideau snuck up to her twin brother Jake. He was busy adjusting his school backpack that was hanging down to his thigh as if weighed down by a dozen bricks. It didn’t help that he was wearing a puffer jacket; the straps kept sliding off his shoulders as he walked like the marshmallow man.

‘Boo!!’ She jumped at him.

‘Geesh!’

‘Why didn’t you wait for me?’

He shrugged and looked around the school grounds.

‘Everyone knows I’m not your girlfriend.’

One of Jake’s classmates ran past them then waved at him.

‘Hey Em!’ Jake said with a big smile.

Emma turned to walk backwards so she could face him as she asked: ‘Would you help me with the paint-like-Monnett stuff?’

‘Monet,’ Jake corrected.

‘Yeah, whatever. And I can help you with fractions and decimals. Dinner at my place?’

‘Can’t, sorry. Next week?’

A few other girls went past and asked similar things, Jake responding to each with the same answer and a similar smile.

‘Mr Popular!’ Summer elbowed her brother’s side.

‘A reward for being friendly,’ Jake said. ‘You need to smile more and boys will come to you.’

‘Meh!’

Today the twins had to take the bus home as their mum had flown to Australia to visit her sick sister. ‘Hate buses!’ grumbler Jake. ‘They’re stinky!’

‘They stink because of boys like you!’ said Summer.

‘Why can’t Dad pick us up?’

‘He’s got work. Look around!’ said Summer, spinning and pointing 360 degrees around the school grounds. ‘No dads pick up their kids.’

‘We should’ve gone with Mum. DC sucks! I miss the Hunter Valley.’

Their Hunter Valley house in Australia was surrounded by parks and vineyards, with lots of birds, wallabies and occasionally deer visiting their backyard. Although the twins were born in New York (at the time their dad was working at the United Nations), the Hunter Valley was where they’d grown up and was their base when their dad was in between missions. They’d been to all kinds of places, from Sydney, the closest metropolitan to the Hunter Valley; followed by Paris; Noumea; and now Washington DC.

‘We should ask Dad if we can have Christmas there this year.’

Jake jeered at his sister’s statement. Summer knew nothing was certain – not even Christmas.

Just outside the school gate, a boy waved at Jake.

‘Who’s that?’

‘New boy. Randall.’

‘Such a show pony!’ Summer said as she surveyed the boy showing off his chunky black watch to other kids. Behind Randall she noticed a girl stepping into a black BMW.

Summer nudged Jake. ‘Look, Sofia.’

Sofia waved at Jake as the BMW drove past and he threw her the biggest smile of the day.

‘Her dad knows Dad. She’s from Sydney, isn’t she?’ said Summer.

‘Yeah.’

‘He works at the embassy too. Immigration, I think. Rich enough to afford a driver for his daughter.’

‘She’s really sweet. She always brings snacks to share around. She even shared her faux champagne jelly bites. You know how expensive they are? Oh, and the other day, Emma forgot to bring her wallet, Sofia gave her money.’

Summer nodded.

‘I’m working on it.’

‘On what?’

‘She’s gonna be my girlfriend!’ he said.

Summer rolled her eyes.

‘She is!’

She started rolling her eyes again but the presence of a stranger on the other side of the road made her squint instead. She’d never cared about boys, girls, teachers, or anyone – but this man was tall, sturdy, and, when he came closer and took off his sunglasses, it confirmed her suspicion that he was unbelievably handsome. And he was heading straight towards the show pony.

‘Is that his dad?’ Summer nudged Jake.

‘Guess so. See! Dads do pick up their kids!’

Summer scowled. ‘’Cause he’s got nothing to do!’

‘They live near us. His dad is a marine––’

Tall, sturdy, handsome, and a soldier. And look at him! He hugged his son, he shook every boy’s and girl’s hand around him.

‘–– and he’ll teach our class self-defence,’ said Jake.

‘Is that what that boy said?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Don’t believe him! The school won’t teach us how to fight. You have to go to a self-defence school.’

Jake shrugged. ‘I think the school is scared of another Julia.’

Julia MacDonald, the ten-year-old who had been kidnapped for a $200,000 ransom two neighbourhoods away from the school.

‘That creep was caught,’ said Summer lightly.

‘And you think he’s the only one?’

‘Washington DC is relatively safe, Jake. As long as you don’t do something stupid. Come on, walk faster!’

Jake grumblingly caught up with his sister.

‘Jake! Wait up!’ Randall said.

Summer felt unfamiliar warmth snaking inside the back of her neck. No, it wasn’t the show-pony blond boy, it was the man walking behind him.

‘Dad, this is Jake. We’re in the same class. And we’re neighbours,’ said Randall.

‘Hey,’ Jake shook the man’s hand.

‘Tim.’

‘Are you gonna introduce your girlfriend?’ Randall winked at Jake.

‘She’s my sister.’

‘I’m Randall. Nice to meet you.’

Summer barely touched the boy’s hand.

Then the man extended his hand to her with a big smile. ‘I’m Tim. Good to meet you.’

Summer held her breath. His arm was muscly, veiny, and the hair shone under the sun. ‘I’m Summer.’ His palm swallowed her hand. He was warm but he had turned her fingers into popsicles.

‘Come on, I’ll give you guys a lift,’ Tim said.

‘Ace! Thanks Tim!’ said Jake.

Summer walked two steps back.

‘You coming?’ Jake stared at her.

Summer prayed it wasn’t puberty raging inside her right now. Regardless of what it was, she had to get away. ‘Umm… no, I’ve got… baseball.’

She turned around and ran towards the library.

*

Summer caught a later bus after hiding her face behind The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the library, thinking and unthinking about Tim. If she’d been in the car with him, she could’ve done something stupid like asking where his wife was, or, maybe staring at his arms. Despite having to endure a long, stinky ride home, she had saved herself from that embarrassment.

The Rideau family were living in a rental house just outside the school district while their dad was on contract with the Australian Embassy in DC. After a couple of false starts they were finally in a house with a decent garden, perfectly located near a park and the zoo (how could they not take advantage of the Smithsonian zoo’s free entry!). Their dad, who now had to endure a longer commute on top of his 15 hour-day, six days a week, had initially dreaded the move. But their mum assured him it was perfect for the family. ‘Happy wife happy life, Joseph,’ she’d said and reminded her husband how reluctant she’d been to leave their Hunter Valley home (again) after their rather disastrous stint in Paris when he’d been appointed the Delegate of Australia to UNESCO.

An hour later Summer arrived home. Inside she found her dad smoking in the kitchen.

‘Dad? You’re not working?’

Joseph Pierre Rideau turned around and extinguished his cigarette. He hugged her. ‘Chaton. You’re early.’

She should’ve finished at 2pm, but in the end she’d left school at 3.15pm. Early?

‘Where’s Jake?’ asked Summer.

‘Isn’t he with you?’

‘No. His new mate’s dad drove him home. They live nearby apparently.’

Her father gulped. ‘No I haven’t seen him.’

Summer looked around the living room – his bag and school shoes were there.

‘Dad… you didn’t know Jake was home?’

‘Aah… umm…’

Her dad had never been speechless.

She looked around the house and went into Jake’s room but her brother was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t usually go out at this time of day and their dad looked a bit off. Had the two had another argument? But their dad had said he hadn’t seen him. Had Jake simply wanted to get away from their dad? She noticed Jake hadn’t taken his torchlight. It was early spring and the sun had barely started to set, but in the park, which Summer suspected Jake had run to, the shadows from the trees would’ve made the surrounding a lot dimmer.

‘We have to go look for him!’ Summer said, thinking about the possibility of his brother being kidnapped and becoming another Julia MacDonald. ‘Where’s Glenda?’

Joseph looked as if he’d forgotten Glenda was their housekeeper. ‘Umm... she was sick so she went home.’

‘Come on!’ Summer confirmed her brother’s escape to the park when she saw Jake’s hiking boots were gone from the shoe rack. She rushed out the house, her dad trying to keep up. She scowled when he took the car keys. ‘We don’t need the car, Dad! I know where he is.’

‘Summer, wait!’ her dad puffed, trying to keep up.

END OF PREVIEW

Copyright ©2020 A Kelly