Friday, March 14, 2014

Tour: A Canter of the Heart Excerpt and Giveaway

A Canter of the Heart (The Equestrian and the Aviator, #1)A beautiful Australian para-equestrian, Eleanor, is rudely awakened the morning after her twentieth birthday to face two pressing problems: the first, though she refuses to accept it, is that she's been told by many acquaintances and relations that she'll never find true love, and the second being, though she doesn't know it yet, that she can't even get up the steps to visit the blasted night-club with her mates! What no one knows is that one random act of chivalry, at the hands of a handsome American naval flight officer, is about to turn her world upside down. The heartfelt and sometimes harrowing journey that follows is as humorous as it is inspirational. 

A Canter of the Heart is the romance of a new millennium, a story that you've never heard before, and one that should take its place amongst the iconic romances of our time. But most importantly, it is a romance that will speak, most unapologetically, to your heart. A Canter of the Heart is the first book in ‘The Equestrian and the Aviator’ trilogy that sets our intrepid heroine on the journey of a lifetime. The first thing that you will no doubt discover is that Eleanor, fickle girl that she is, has already found the love of her life – her inspiring love of horses. 

This trilogy is based on a true story, and is a testament to the therapeutic riding programs offered by the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. It is dedicated to the many remarkable, selfless people who made and continue to make those programs possible. 


A Canter of the Heart

My alarm clocks went off with their usual chirping, squawking and carrying on, for which I was very thankful for a change. Rays of light peeked out from the horizon, building red gum silhouettes in the distance as eerie luminous fingers stretched across the awakening fields. Our small mob of roos were hopping back to their distant paddock past a flock of sheep, unimpressed by their bounding paddock mates, their dusty white wool a sharp contrast to the parched grasses and burnt-red Australian soil. I couldn't help but wonder, watching such an ethereal display, what hidden promise it held in store.

Unfortunately, this morning my feelings were mixed, as I was both excited to see David and, at the same time, devastated that I may never see him again. I'd dreamt of waking up in his arms this morning, but woke up instead in last night's clothes, and laying on top of my crumpled-up linens to add insult to injury, but it was time to stop being slack and get myself ready. David would be here soon, and I really needed a bath before he arrived, so I grabbed my change of clothes, went to the en-suite and set the bathtub filling as I started to undress. I couldn't help but daydream about our time together, the first time we kissed, the way he touched me that made my heart race and my skin flush, how his simple caress made my skin feel charged with electricity and how it continued to radiate tingly warmth for hours...

Realizing that I was mucking about again, I slipped into the bath and washed up. The steaming hot water felt particularly decadent this morning and, while I was tempted to linger, I instead quickly washed and lifted myself out to dry off, get dressed and brush out my hair. Not having a mirror at my height in the en-suite, I thought I would finish dressing in my bedroom.

As I opened the hallway door, I saw that David was already here, sitting in the living room chatting with Mum and Dad. He immediately stood up, narrowly missing having his hand bitten by Toby. He quickly put his hands in his pockets, out of Toby's reach, and walked over towards me. Keeping an eye on Toby, he bent down and gave me a lovely morning kiss that warmed me to my toes, then whispered in my ear as he rubbed my back, “If I had only known, I would have come earlier and joined you.” He winked as I blushed, then he smiled before kissing me again, whispering, “That is such a lovely colour on you.”

I gave him a conciliatory smile then, in an even tone, I replied, “Good morning, I'll be right out,” only hoping that Mum and Dad hadn't heard what he said, understood what he meant or noticed that I was blushing.

I quickly dove into my room, gave my hair a quick brush, had a brief look in the mirror – yes, I was still blushing – finished dressing then grabbed my keys and purse. I felt the urgent need to take someone for a drive. At least I would be a little more in control, or so I thought.
I popped back into the living room. “Bye Mum, bye Dad, we should be back around two. Are you ready to go, sweetheart?”

David smiled, “Right behind you, my love.”

Mum and Dad looked at each other, then looked at me with a degree of amusement, as Mum said, “Would you like a ride when you get back, Mouse?”

“Yes, thank you Mum, that'd be great.”

I quickly made my way down the path to my little red Telstar with my sweetie close behind.
“I thought I'd show you how I get in and out of my car on my own.”

I opened the back door and pulled my Quickie up next to the back seat.

“I'm sorry I teased you back there, I'm just so happy to see you. Do you forgive me?”

I turned back toward him and grabbed him by his jumper, pulling him down toward me. “Come here, you horrid beast.”

“A horrid beast, am I?” he said with a triumphant smile on his face as he slowly obliged, bending down until he was at my height. I put my hand behind his neck and pulled his face to mine, kissing him hard on the lips, teasing him with my tongue until he reciprocated playfully.
When I stopped to take a breath, I consoled him. “I forgive you, sweetie, you can't help yourself, you’re just bad – it's what I love about you.”

He smiled triumphantly with that roguish, handsome grin.

I turned back around, lifting myself into the car. I folded the Quickie then turned that around. Sliding across the back seat as I pulled the Quickie into the car by the handles, I leaned way over to close the back door then worked my way between the two front seats, pulling my legs over behind me as I slid into the driver’s seat, crossing my legs under the hand controls.
David watched in amazement, then sat down in the passenger seat. “Wow, that's quite a system, that must keep you in shape.”

“If I'm not in shape, I can't slide between the front seats. That's the price of freedom.”
David leaned over giving me another pash kiss. “The more I know about you, the more I love you. I've never met anyone with such stoic resolve – nothing gets in your way that you can't handle, and nothing gets you down.”

He smiled and paused as he looked at me. “So, where are we off to today, my love?”
I started the car and put it into drive. “Wouldn't you like to know, you naughty thing. After this morning, you're lucky I'm taking you anywhere. But I guess I did forgive you, I only hope Mum and Dad didn't see your little jokes.”

“Don't worry, they understood, give them some credit. I'm sure they had a wild courtship themselves, and then moved halfway around the world to build a life together here. That is a couple deeply in love if there ever was one. They want you to be happy, and don't forget...” he continued, leaning toward me, putting his hand on my thigh, rubbing ever so slightly and whispering in my ear, “ really enjoyed it.”

I blushed again, unable to suppress my smile. I threw my arms round him, giving in to my desires. Without forethought I closed my eyes and kissed him deeply, realizing that he was right and knowing how intensely I needed him. It felt like my whole world was spinning out of control as I kissed him with greater and greater passion. Red flags were waving in my head, confusing the moment, making me even more dizzy, then suddenly it all stopped. I opened my eyes, remembering that I'd left the car in drive – David was holding the brake handle, still kissing me.
“Maybe kissing and driving really don't mix,” David said as we both burst into laughter and I shifted back into park.

“I almost forgot, I got you a present.” David jumped out and brought back a bag from his car, handing it to me. “I didn't know if we'd have time for breakfast, so I got you the healthiest thing I could find – chocolate doughnuts and a lemon squash.”

“Thank you, sweetie,” I said as I put the car back into drive. “Maybe you could feed me as we go.”

“I will, my love,” was all he said as he sat back, leaving his hand on my lap as we set out on our last little jaunt together.

We were both quietly content for some time. I was enjoying the scenery and trying to avoid feeling sad that this would be our last drive together.

“You will write to me, won't you?” I said, breaking the silence.

“Of course. I'll give you my FPO address when we get back to your house, and you can give me your address and phone number.”

“Do you know if you'll be back this way?”

“Probably not in this squadron. We're finishing up our West-Pac deployment, and at the most I might do another Pac-Ex which would take us up to the Aleutians, and maybe as far as the Sea of Japan, or even Pusan, Korea. Then my next tour will be ashore. I do have a lot of leave saved up, so I could probably arrange a trip back at some point.”

“That'd be nice, we could see more of Australia together – I haven't seen that much myself.”
“I'd like that, Eleanor, I'm really going to miss you. This has been the most fun I've ever had on shore leave. Thanks for putting up with me.”

As we continued our drive, David fed me little bits of doughnuts, patting me on the head and saying, “Good girl,” each time. The first couple of times I gave him a dirty look, then simply gave up and let him have his fun.

Pulling into Crooked Brook Park, I announced, “Here we are. Are you ready for a short bushwalk to a lovely little billabong?”

“So this is your little secret.”

“Of course, mate. This is as fair dinkum Australian as you get. The only thing more authentic is actually being eaten by a croc, but you'll have to wait until your next visit for that. At least I hope you will... besides, if you haven't camped out with your sweetie beside a billabong, then what are you going to tell your mates down at the pub?” I said, as he warmed to the idea.

“You bring the blanket, and I'll get myself out.” I popped open the boot. “The path is bitumen, so it'll be a nice easy, romantic potter through the bush to a pretty little billabong where we can stretch out for a lovely cuddle. After that… well, after that we'll have to see what we have time for,” I smiled and then made my way to the trail-head, David beside me with the blanket and the rest of our breakfast.

“It's a beautiful park,” he said, giving me a quick kiss.

The trail was slightly overgrown. It didn't look well-travelled and wasn't as improved as I'd hoped, but we managed it all the same. In fact, we hadn't bumped into anyone along the way and assumed that we pretty much had the park to ourselves. It was a short hike, with a couple of good-sized hills to traverse and by the time we reached the billabong I had a good glow and had stripped down to my camisole. David had his jumper tied round his waist, enjoying the sun, but swatting the usual array of bities and mossies.

“I see you've already learned the Aussie salute – how true blue. Be thankful it's winter, because in spring or summer there'd be masses of bities.”

“I am thankful, but while there may not be masses, they are persistent little beggars. And they do have quite a bite.”

“It's not much further, only round another bend and we'll be at the billabong.”

“Not a bad hike, but I think you got the better workout,” David said as he took in the view.
“Maybe, but now I have the easy part – it’s all downhill on the way back.”

David smiled. “Shall I set up over here?” he asked as he opened the blanket and spread it out over the jagged lawn next to the grassy knoll that surrounded the billabong.
“That's great,” I said as I came up behind him and parked on the edge of the blanket, setting my brakes and lifting my footrests out of the way. “Now we can finish our breakfast.” I lowered myself onto the blanket, kneeling as I held onto my Quickie for support. “Come over here, I want to see how tall I am next to you.”

David obliged, standing next to me.

“No, kneel down so I can see what it would be like if we were dancing.”

As he knelt in front of me, I put my arms round him, pulling myself up as high as I could, but was still looking up at his chin.

“I guess I am short,” I said, a little disheartened.

David put his arms around my lower back and pulled me toward him, lifting me up a few inches.
“I don't know, I like it like this,” he said as he looked down smiling, tilting his head down and to the side, then he began to kiss me as I tilted my head up to match his, our lips meeting in the middle. I was instantly in heaven as our tongues danced and played and we enjoyed our own private little paradise of sorts. We continued for so long that I think every blowie in the billabong had a go at us, and when we weren't embracing and caressing each other, we were brushing away the beastly little things – that is until I became suitably irate and smacked one right on David's cheek, at which point we both fell onto the blanket laughing with childlike abandon. I rolled over onto David's chest to apologize, but as I looked into David's eyes I could see that we were already past that, and instead began to explore each other as we continued to kiss with runaway passion. I'd just accidentally unzipped his jeans when he sat bolt upright.

“Hold on, I think I heard something,” David said as I begrudgingly removed my hand from its surreptitious delve.

“I think I heard it too, someone is coming up the path behind us,” I agreed, hearing another twig snap as I made sure that all my clothes were in place and David buttoned and zipped up his jeans.

I sat up, kissing David, passion still in our eyes. David sat behind me, and I leaned back against his comfortable chest as he enveloped me in his arms.

“This is nice too,” he said sincerely.

“Come on ladies, it's right around this bend,” I heard in the distance, seconds before I could see them through the bush. It was a small group of women out for a hike coming around the bend into the opening.

“You’re wrong, they're cumulus clouds, and we are going to get rain,” said the shorter lady in jeans and hiking boots.

“No, I think you’re wrong, they're not tall enough. I think they're nimbostratus, and we won’t get rain until later,” said the taller woman wearing her posh Sunday church attire with tennis shoes.
“Oh, hello, I thought we might find someone up here. We saw your car in the parking lot on our way up. I trust we're not interrupting. Isn't it a beautiful hike?” said an older woman wearing shorts, a violet floral T-shirt and an outback sun hat.

“They could be stratocumulus, but I'm sure they are not nimbostratus,” said the shorter lady.
“Oh, pay no attention to them, they aren't happy unless they're arguing about something,” smiled the older woman in shorts.

“Actually, ladies, I think you have an altocumulus system that may be thinking about rain, and if it does rain, it'll probably become a nimbostratus a little later, but you'll only get light rain to begin with,” David interjected.

The two ladies stopped arguing, looked at David distrustfully as the shorter one, in an accusatory tone, said, “Are you by any chance a weatherman?”

David smiled and answered, “No ma'am, I'm a pilot.”

The two ladies stopped arguing and looked at each other as if calling it a draw, for the time being.

Three more women came into view, and the heavier-set of the three, also dressed in church attire with walking shoes, rushed toward us. Her face lit up.

“Eleanor, Sally said you might be coming this way. It's been yonks since we've seen you at services, how are ya goin, luv?”

“It's good to see you again, Mrs Churchill, I'm well, thank you,” I replied, feeling completely ambushed and knowing that, if possible, my face would have been beet red – but it was probably bad enough as it was.

“Don't mind us,” Mrs Churchill said to me, “this is our weekly garden hike and tea party – we do this every week after services.” Then she turned to the group. “Let's set up the blanket here, next to our two lovebirds.” Turning back she continued, “So you're David are you? Sally told me that you're a sailor visiting from America. You two certainly look cute together. You must join us for tea and bikkies...”

David gave me an accepting smile, as we admitted defeat and gave in, but I did thoroughly enjoy reclining against David's chest as we sat there answering the occasional pointed question, which were surprisingly few. This went on for a good half an hour before we were able to make excuses and start back on the trail down to the car.

On the way back, when we were sure we were out of range, David said, “This is a day that I will never forget,” and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.

Back in the car, we kissed for a few minutes, then drove on to Bunbury back beach, stopping off for takeaway chicken on the way. We were both famished, having had nothing but doughnuts, biscuits and lemon squash to sustain us the whole morning. We spread our blanket and sat out on the lawn overlooking the waters of the Indian Ocean, feeding each other bits of chicken – kissing between bites – as we watched the waves crash against the pristine white sands and the bright sun glistening off the rippled, sky-blue waters. It was truly heaven, and I couldn't bear to think it had to end so soon.

“So, how long until you get back to San Diego?”

“I can't really say... a couple of months, I guess. I'm sorry, it's not that I'm totally clueless, but the port schedule is classified and I can't really say anything specific. I can call you from our next port, but until we're back in the States, I won't be able to give you much in the way of details. I'll write you, as much as time allows, although I've never been much for correspondence, so you might have to bear with me. When I'm back Stateside we can talk about things more concretely.”

“I understand. I'll write to you and I'll be looking forward to hearing from you soon.” Leaning forward for a kiss, I added almost at a whisper, “I would also like to finish what we started by the billabong.”

Placing his hand over mine, he said, “Yes my love, unfortunately we need to head back to your farm so I can get ready to go, and we should still have time for one more ride. But before we go, come here and give me another hug.”

We held each other tightly, kissing and caressing each other until we absolutely had to go.
The drive back to the farm seemed to go by in a flash as our conversation wandered aimlessly from one topic to the next.

“You really haven't told me much about yourself... What do you enjoy the most about being a flight officer?” I asked, thinking how little I really knew about him.

“I don't think we have the time to go through all that, besides, I was really enjoying hearing more about you.”

“Please?” I smiled encouragingly. “I'd like to know more about you as well.”

“Okay, but only until you start to snore... I guess my first love was really aviation. I love to fly, and I always did well in physics, aerodynamics, navigation, meteorology and so on. I already had all of my ratings before I was commissioned into the navy, and originally intended to serve as a pilot, but one of my eyes wasn't quite perfect, so one of my options was to serve as a flight officer. The more I read about it the more I liked the idea. You see, as a flight officer, I'm in charge of the mission, and on the Viking, our mission is very complex – we do everything from anti-submarine warfare to surface search and counter-measure to in-flight aerial refuelling and that's only scratching the surface, especially with the new ISAR radar and the AGM 84 Harpoon missile system. So, are you sorry you asked yet, or should I go on?”

“I'm not sorry, I really want to know.”

“Okay, but I don't want you to fall asleep while you’re driving.”

“Just tell me, already.”

“All right, all right. I guess I chose the Viking because it was the only carrier-based aircraft that has two full sets of flight controls where the flight officer spends half his time flying as co-pilot and the rest of his time running the mission. To me, that gave me the best of everything. I love flying the Viking, especially in tight formation with other S-3s, or rolling in on a surface search contact at 300 feet, or simply playing in the clouds. I also love running the radar, the FLIR, working a sonobuoy pattern, searching for submarines or running surface search and countermeasure. I would have missed most of that if I was only a pilot. I even enjoy flying Texaco, which is the nickname for aerial refuelling missions where we pass gas to the F-18s or F-14s. That’s actually a new mission for us, adding to an already long list.”

“You must love flying about as much as I love riding. I don't know why you thought it would be boring to me – I love knowing what makes you happy.”

Turning onto the dirt access road, I felt a pang of sorrow, knowing that in an hour David would be gone.

“Is it dangerous, flying the S-3?”

“It's not like we're at war with anyone. It's only peace time training and we've been mishap-free for twenty years, so it's probably no more dangerous than you riding horses, or living here in Australia. But, yes, there are inherent risks in what we do so I guess that's why they give us flight pay. We have a pretty good group of guys, and when it comes to safety, that makes all the difference.”

We pulled up to the shed with barely enough time for another ride on Snowy – which, thankfully, Mum had already set up. This time I kept Snowy at a fast walk on the way out to visit our friendly mob and then gave David a good run on the way back. I was surprised to see him keep up nearly the whole way. I think he let me win in the end, but I was only at a trot.

Hands on his hips, catching his breath, David asked, “Do you mind if I take a shower and change before I head out? It'll save me a bit of time, and I'll be on watch as soon as I get back.”
“Not at all. I'll ask Mum to get a towel for you. There is one thing I need to ask before she gets here.”

“Of course, my love, anything.”

“Can I join you?”

David smiled from ear to ear, walked over to Snowy, put his arm around my back and his other arm under my leg as I pulled the other one over the saddle and slid into his arms and said, “Anything your little heart desires, my love, anything your little heart desires.”

And he kissed me so passionately that I felt I'd melt in his arms. Then Snowy, who we'd forgotten to secure, walked over, put her head in my lap and bit me.

“Ow, you cheeky little...”

David broke into laughter and was laughing so hard that he had to put me down on my Quickie, and I followed suit, laughing despite the pain. Mum returned with Snowy's carrots which I proceeded to feed to the greedy animal as David went off to shower and change. I still gave her a hug and thanked her for the ride.

“I heard all about your tea party this morning,” Mum said, having a go at me. “Perhaps you should go to church more often.”

If I didn't know any better, I'd say she was going to break out in laughter herself. I swear she nearly did.

David came out of the en-suite wearing his white uniform with his hat tucked under his arm and a small green valise in his hand that he called his helmet bag. I thought he was very handsome, perhaps on the verge of drop-dead handsome, but I wasn't about to tell him that.
“Well, that is a bit of a change. You look very presentable.”

“Thank you. Personally I find it a major challenge trying to keep a white uniform clean – I don't know why anyone would have picked this uniform, especially for shore leave.”
“I can see your point, still, I think it suits you, and I like your hat.”

“They call it a cover in the navy.”

“In that case, I like your cover. Oh, I forgot to ask you, what's your rank?”

“I'm a lieutenant junior grade, an O-2,” David looked at his watch, “and I'm very late. I really need to go. I promised I'd say goodbye to your mom and dad.”

“They're out on the veranda having tea. Follow me, but mind Toby, he's a naughty little man, and he'll have your finger if he can.”

Toby tried to bite David's hand twice, but didn't succeed, so he settled down.

“Goodbye Mr West. I'm afraid I'm very late, so I won't have time to chat with you as I'd hoped, but I'll do my best to come back this way. I'll come to visit again if I do.”

Shaking David's hand, Dad replied, “Aye 'ope you've 'ad a good visit, and I trust me daughter's shown you a bit o' West Australia. Mind the roos on your way back, especially round sunset, an 'ave a safe trip.”

“Thank you sir, take care of that foot and next time you can show me that beach and we’ll have a swim. Goodbye ma'am,” David continued, shaking Mum's hand. “Thanks for everything, I really enjoyed seeing your farm and had a lot of fun on Eleanor's rides. I hope I see you again.”
“It was good to meet you. Have a safe trip,” Mum replied.

I went with David to his car. He opened the door and threw his green helmet bag and his cover onto the rear seat. Seeing that he was on the wrong side of the car again, he smiled and turned toward me.

“I only have to get back to Fremantle in time for duty,” he said, looking at his watch, then he embraced me tightly in his arms and we kissed goodbye.

“I'll write,” I interjected between kisses, and then added, “ring me if you can,” to which he responded with one last kiss.

“I'm sorry my love, I really need to get going. I'll miss you...” he said as he closed the passenger door, walked round to the driver's side and got in. “I will write, and I'll try to call you from our next port.”

He closed the door, started the car and drove off down the access road, waving as he reached the end. He was on the wrong side the whole way. As the dust settled, I sat watching the empty road and had a good cry. I knew in my heart that I'd never see him again.

About the Author: 

I've been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for the better part of two decades, and blithely accept life in the shadows of the nesting grounds of bald eagles while ensconced amidst the company of wild, damp and understandably nervous bunnies. I prefer to write at the dining room table, where the light is better and I can work next to Simon, the sweetest one hundred and twenty pound Rottweiler that you're ever likely to meet -- except when he's in the mood to editorialize, which he is only on rare occasions. I much prefer to write love stories that take place in warm, sunny and exotic locales as I admire and rate the latest downpour direct from the Pacific Northwest's over-active convergence zone, but in my heart I will forever be drawn back to the lucky country... Australia... and maybe one more lovely canter along an endless beach.

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1 comment:

  1. I love finding great books set in Australia. I have heard of the Riding for the Disabled Association, but mostly in relation to children.