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The Stationmaster’s Cottage
SERIES: River’s End Romance, Book 1
GENRE: Clean/Wholesome/Sweet, Small Town
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After)
WORD COUNT: 75,000 to 99,999 (large book)
HERO’S AGE: 30-39
HEROINE’S AGE: 30-39
HEAT LEVEL: Mostly Sweet (Shut The Door, Honey)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Just a little (No “F” Bombs, but a little other stuff, no explicit sex)
A gripping story of unforgotten love and family secrets as the heartbreaking consequences of one woman’s manipulation spills across three generations.
Who left old love letters in the attic of Christie Ryan’s inherited cottage? She is determined to find out, particularly after her fiancé goes on holiday alone whilst she attends her Gran’s funeral in a town she’s never heard of. There’s also a damaged painting, which she takes to reclusive artist Martin Blake, hoping for some answers. He has reasons to protect the past and despite their immediate mutual attraction, refuses to help.
With her personal life in turmoil, Christie goes home to repair her relationship. But her obsession with uncovering the secrets of the past draws her back into the mystery only she can unravel. As time runs out to undo the damage of the past, will she find happiness, or will the Ryan family heartache be her future?
READ AN EXCERPT
The woman in the graveyard glanced at the sports car as it drove past, distracted by the roar of its motor. She had quite a love of fast cars and seeing a Lotus here in this sleepy town was a bit surprising. Once out of sight, she lost interest and returned to contemplating the headstone in front of her.
Long grass and weeds masked the bottom half of a white headstone. There was a name etched into the stone. Thomas Blake. She silently mouthed the name.
Time had treated Martha Ryan well. Her face was still beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful with the lines of life. Her hair had greyed naturally and was cropped short. Around her neck was the pendant with the letters M and T entwined. No rings or other jewelry. She wore a short-sleeved summer dress and bandage on her left ankle.
“I came back, Tom. I did,” she said to the headstone, “and look at you.”
She turned her back on that grave and hobbled to Dorothy’s. The machinery that filled it in was leaving as she arrived and the ground around the site was still soft. A white tulip lay forgotten on the ground. Martha leaned down to reach it, using her cane to keep balance.
“Until we meet again,” she whispered, placing the tulip on the new earth.
Martha returned to Thomas’ grave and with shaking hands, removed her pendant, holding it up to gaze at one last time before setting it upon the headstone. The sun broke through the clouds and the pendant glinted. As if satisfied, Martha nodded.
Walking with her injured ankle was a struggle and Martha took care on the uneven ground as she approached the edge of the cliff. She gazed at the white beach below, the jetty high above the tide. Then, Martha turned her eyes to the cliff all the way at the other end of the beach. How different things had been in 1966.
Near the rocky edge of a grass-covered clifftop, a blank canvas was on an easel. Thomas Blake sat before it, deep in concentration as he mixed colours. Coming up the hill behind him, Martha as lovely as summer itself in a simple white dress and hat. Her hair flowed over bare shoulders and she had a hint of mischief in her eyes. Realising Thomas was unaware of her presence; she picked a daisy and tickled his neck. Absently, he brushed it away, so she did it again and this time, he reached up and captured her hand.
Martha giggled and gave him a heart-stopping smile. She carelessly threw her hat onto the grass and retrieved her hand to run through her hair, letting the strands fall with sunlight through them.
“I just had to escape Palmerston. Mother is getting the house ready for Father’s birthday party and I simply couldn’t bear listening to her going on and on about the guest list!” Martha walked to the edge of the cliff and glanced at the sea far below.
Replacing his brush, Thomas watched Martha. “Be careful,” he warned.
Martha laughed and stretched her arms out. She lifted herself onto her toes, her fingers wide as if to catch the breeze. Thomas was behind her, his arms whipping around her slim waist. Martha was startled but relaxed against his muscular body.
“That wasn’t a suggestion.”
“You’d always catch me.”
Thomas tightened his grip. “That’s not all I’d do.”
Martha laughed again, so Thomas spun her around to face him, taking a step back from the cliff edge at the same time. With undisguised adoration, Martha gazed at Thomas. Ever so slowly, he lowered his mouth to within an inch of hers and she closed her eyes in anticipation.
“You need someone to curb your wild nature. Someone with a firm hand,” he whispered.
Martha opened her eyes. “You can’t tame the wind. Or the ocean, except in your paintings.” Her expression dared him to disagree.
He released her, going back to the easel. Martha glared at him, hands on her hips. As if nothing happened, Thomas took his seat and returned to mixing colours.
Dismissed, Martha swept her hat off the grass and stalked down the hill dramatically.
Over her shoulder, Martha threw a terse, “Goodbye, Thomas.”
Thomas turned to watch her go, grinning.
Now, some fifty years later, Martha’s lips softened in a small smile at the memory. Coming home had been unplanned and unexpected. Now she was here, the emotions welling up inside her were as strong as they had ever been. Every single last one of them.
The sun disappeared behind the clouds. Soaring on the updraft around the cliff, seagulls cawed and drifted, hopefully watching Martha. She watched them back. How lucky they were to fly where they chose, to have no problems other than where their next meal was. They lost interest in her and flew to the beach.
Martha followed them. Her feet knew the way to the stone steps but her ankle made the descent much harder than she remembered. One painful step at a time, leaning heavily on the cane, she drew closer to that beloved and hated place.
In her mind, she saw herself aged twenty, her eyes alight with love and life, running down these same steps without a care in the world. Thomas waited at the bottom, his hand outstretched for hers. He had been twenty-two on this day in her memories, his birthday only a week past. When Martha took his hand, he folded her into his arms and kissed her hungrily. Laughing, Martha slipped away, Thomas chasing her to the jetty. She danced her way to its end, dangling her sandals from her fingers before sitting with her feet dipping into the warm water.
Their ghostly laughter was almost real as Martha shuffled along creaky old boards. The rain returned as Martha lowered herself onto the end of the jetty. The young couple was gone now. Alone, her tears and the rain mingled into one.
Meet Phillipa Nefri Clark
Phillipa grew up along lonely Australian beaches with wild seas and misty cliffs. From a young age, she wrote stories and dreamed of being a writer. After raising a family and working since the age of fourteen, Phillipa finally returned to her great love – fiction writing.
In February 2017, The Stationmaster’s Cottage was published. Over fifteen years in the making and originally written as a screenplay, Cottage was inspired by a near stationmaster’s cottage and Phillipa’s love of mysteries. Exactly nine months later its sequel made its appearance. Jasmine Sea follows on from the stunning conclusion of Cottage.
Both books have won awards for their stunning covers, as well as Chill with a Book Readers’ Choice Awards. The third and final in the series is due for publishing in the second half of 2018 – The Secrets of Palmerston House.
Living in regional Australia on a small acreage close to a mountain range, Phillipa adores her family of two young adult sons and husband, their Labrador, music, fine wine, and friends.