March Madness


For a limited period only you can purchase the ebook version of my novel, The House on the Shore, for 99c!

When Anna MacDonald leaves Edinburgh to find peace in the Scottish Highlands, she gets a twofold surprise: a lost sailor teaches her to love again…while a mysterious stranger has plans to kill her.

Passed over for promotion by her boss—and boyfriend, Anna walks off the job in anger. But being reactionary has its price. Now she can no longer afford the rent on her Edinburgh apartment. So she retreats to the only place she has ever felt happy – her grandmother’s croft on the edge of a Highland loch. With no phone or neighbours, and only two border collies for company, Anna sets out to finally achieve her lifelong dream; to write—and sell—the novel that has burned within her for years.

Luke Tallantyre, a renowned Cape Cod artist, has sailed across the Atlantic to escape an artistic dry spell—and come to terms with his dangerous past. When his yacht develops a problem he drops anchor in Loch Hourn. He rows ashore, and knocking on the door of the croft, asks to use the telephone, but the reception he receives is less than welcoming – in fact it’s downright frosty.

Anna resents the cranky American’s intrusion to her seemingly idyllic life. Luke thinks she’s an ill-mannered hermit. But an unseen assassin is after one of them. So they unwillingly join forces and embark on an adventure neither ever imagined…including a chance at true love.

Ring of Lies

Need something to help while away the dark winter nights. Here’s a short excerpt from my latest novel, Ring of Lies.

It was dark when Grace left the solicitor’s office. Numbness had finally set in. She moved without thinking, without emotion as if she were one of the stick figures at a theme park—flagging down a taxi and giving the driver her address.
Flicking on the hall light in her home, the home she and Daniel had shared and loved, the pain returned in a torrent. She dropped her purse on the table, and went straight to the study. Daniel’s study, the one room in the house she never entered, not even to dust.
Grace rested her hand on the door knob, and half expected to hear his deep-timbered voice reminding her not to enter. She’d ignored his warning only once, the ensuing argument had left her reeling. Ever since then she’d respected his wishes. All of them.
But Daniel was no longer here to wish for anything.
She pushed open the door and stepped inside. The air smelt stale. She told herself that the lingering aroma of pipe tobacco was permanently embedded in the furniture, but her feelings told her otherwise—that he was here, alive somehow, yet invisible to her. She fumbled with the catch on the window and threw it open, impervious to the frigid air that flooded the room. An old leather chair, which had once belonged to Daniel’s father, stood next to the soot-stained limestone fireplace where ashes of a half-burned log lay in the grate. A large oak desk, its surface covered with a faint film of dust, filled the bay window. The date on the desk calendar showed the seventeenth of November, the day Daniel had left for the conference. She tore off the pages without bothering to read the proverb printed underneath, and threw them into the wastepaper basket.
Daniel’s face, and that of her own, smiled back at her from a small silver framed photograph on the corner of the desk. She picked it up and wiped the dust from the surface with her fingertips.
“What other secrets have you kept from me?”
Daniel’s brown, unfathomable eyes seemed to stare everywhere but at her. With a heavy heart she replaced the photograph on the desk. She collapsed into the chair and rested her aching head in her hands. Their marriage hadn’t been perfect; they’d had their fair share of ups and downs like every other couple, but she’d never thought of Daniel as being secretive. Yet the last few hours had proved that he was just that.
She leaned back and rubbed her temples. Nothing the solicitor had told her made any sense. They weren’t rich. Their joint checking account, which last time she’d looked, held less than two thousand pounds. When they’d purchased Applegate Cottage four years ago, they’d put down the minimum ten percent deposit and borrowed the rest from the bank. So where had the money come from to purchase a house in America? And more importantly, why hadn’t Daniel told her about it?
The desk held seven drawers; three in each pedestal and one in the centre. Her fingers hovered over the small brass handle of the centre drawer. Feeling like an intruder, she pulled it open. It was empty. One by one she opened the remaining drawers. Apart from an assortment of envelopes, a few credit card receipts, a letter opener shaped like a dagger, and some spare batteries for the hand-held dictating machine Daniel occasionally used, she found nothing connected to the beach house.
Daniel’s briefcase, which the police had found in his car, and the personal items from his office, sat in a box next to the door. She slipped out of the chair, picked it up, and placed it on the desk. Item by item she removed the contents: a desk diary, a box of post-it-notes, a calculator, and a framed photograph of her and Catherine. The desk diary she put to one side, replaced everything else, and then put the box on the floor.
She’d given Daniel the Raffaello briefcase for his thirtieth birthday. It had cost two weeks housekeeping money, but it had been worth it to see the smile on his face when he opened the box. She ran her fingers over the now scuffed and torn calfskin.
Grace pressed the locks to open the case, but nothing happened. She dug the fingertips of her right hand into the frame and tugged at the handle. The catch on one side gave, and she realized that the force of the impact had warped the frame. With great care she eased the blade of the letter opener into the lock on the opposite side and twisted sharply. There was a loud click and the case popped open. Inside lay Daniel’s MacBook and a number of manila folders. One by one, she went through the internal compartments, but found nothing else of interest.
Part of the silk lining had come away from the frame. When Grace ran her fingers along the edge she felt something underneath. She pulled back the fabric and found an envelope taped to the bottom of the case. She tore it free and turned it over in her hand.
Why go to so much trouble to hide something as innocuous as an envelope? She slipped her fingernail under the flap and opened it. A passport and a tiny piece of paper fluttered on to the blotter. A series of numbers, written in Daniel’s unmistakeable scrawl, covered the surface. Perplexed, she counted the digits. Twenty-four. Daniel was fascinated by numbers and frequently designed puzzles as a way of relaxing. Were these something he was working on, or the combination to the safe at the office?
The latter seemed the most likely explanation, yet Daniel had an eidetic memory. There was never a need for him to write anything down.
Grace opened the passport at the photograph on the back page. Daniel’s face stared up at her. Only the name in the passport wasn’t his, but that of Lionel Lattide.
A flicker of apprehension coursed through her. She tried to catch her breath, but couldn’t get air. The more she struggled to control her breathing, the more terrified she became. Beads of perspiration dotted her forehead. She willed herself to relax, just as the doctor had told her to, but it was impossible.
She staggered into the kitchen. Her medication lay on the shelf next to the fridge. Standing on tiptoe, she reached for the bottle, but her hands shook so much it slipped from her grasp, the contents spilling out along the shelf and onto the floor.
She could get through this, she told herself. It was only a panic attack—she wasn’t about to die. It wasn’t real. Crying with frustration, her fingers trailed along the floor until she finally pinched a wayward pill between her thumb and forefinger. She popped it in her mouth, and washed it down with a glass of water from the tap.
Leaning against the sink for support, she forced herself to breathe deeply—in, out, in, out. The pill started to do its work, and the room began to steady itself. As her heartbeat slowly returned to normal, she tried to ignore the questioning voice in her mind, but couldn’t. She pressed her hands over her eyes in an attempt to blot out her fears.
What have you been up to, Daniel, that you needed a second passport?
She took another sip of water. The passport lay on the drainer next to her hand. With trembling fingers, she opened it and turned to the visa section.
It was stamped.
She froze. Her mind and body benumbed.
She peered at the faint impression and could just make out the words ‘Department of Homeland Security’. America! She turned to another page, and found that too, had been stamped. During the last six months alone, Daniel or whoever he was, had travelled to the United States on five occasions.
Why?
She wrenched the calendar off the wall, and compared it to the passport. Every entry visa coincided with a date when Daniel had been away on business.
Waves of panic and nausea overwhelmed her, and she sank to her knees and sobbed. The man to whom she had trusted her heart had lied to her. Not once, not twice, but least four times.
Pain yielded to anger.
Who was her husband?
It seemed that the only way to find out was to fly to Miami and meet with the attorney, Zachary Parous. It sounded so easy when she said it quickly. But the thought of such a journey aroused old fears and anxieties. She wasn’t a traveller—and certainly not alone. What if she had a panic attack mid-Atlantic? Who would help her? And then there was the small problem of getting from Miami to some place called Gasparilla Island and locating the mysterious beach house. How hard would it be to find? Would she be safe?
She’d heard such things about Florida, stories of gangs, drug lords, and even worse. She snatched up the phone before she could change her mind and booked a seat on the nine-thirty flight to Miami the following morning.
Then there was only one call left to make.

Reviews

Reviews for Ring of Lies have started to arrive. It’s always an anxious time for an author. Part of you is desparate to read what the reviewer had to say and the other part of you is scared to look. No author enjoys reading a bad review, after all you’ve spent the best part of a year working on your novel. But, and it’s a big BUT, you have to remember that reviews, like literary agents and publishers rejection letters, are subjective, and it’s not a case of one book suits all. Our taste in reading matter differs, just like our taste in clothes or wine.

So far, Ring of Lies, has been warmly received and here’s what The Romance Studio had to say about it:

Victoria Howard pens a suspenseful tale full of intrigue. Have to admit I guessed wrong about who the culprit was until near the end of the book. The trail gets complicated by Jack’s involvement with the FBI. He’s also in a relationship that gets pretty nasty and emotional when we see that motherhood doesn’t seem to be a part of his girlfriends’ makeup in any way. She’s one of those characters it’s easy to dislike even before we find out how despicable she really is.

This author is excellent in her use descriptive words that bring scenarios alive. Whether it’s a flaming car crash or the wilds of the Florida Everglades a reader can almost feel the flames or the heat and humidity. It’s fun to see Grace change. She starts as a housewife whose love for her spouse helped her deny the verbal and emotional abuse she has gone through. From there, even though panic attacks incapacitate her at times, she thrives and learns to fight her own battles in a good way. Ms. Howard is an author I want to read again.
Overall rating 4 Hearts
Dee Dailey
Reviewer, The Romance Studio
http://www.theromancestudio.com/

Ring of Lies

My latest novel, Ring of Lies, will be released in December in both print and ebook formats.

When English accountant Daniel Elliott dies in a car accident one rainy night, his widow, Grace, is overcome with grief…and panic. Daniel was controlling and their marriage loveless, but he always took care of the sheltered Grace.

Or so she thought.

She soon discovers Daniel kept secrets: an alias, mob ties, a list of numbers, a mysterious beach house in Florida….and a girlfriend who looks like Grace.

Swallowing her fear, she flies to Miami to claim the house Daniel left her. But the price of her curiosity is peril. Underworld figures stalk her. The other woman has left a damning trail of evidence pointing her way. And handsome, troubled FBI agent Jack West has crossed precarious paths with Grace before. He could be her savior or her damnation. All she knows for certain is that she longs to be in his arms.

With little to go on and danger at every turn, Grace must depend on Jack to help her navigate the criminal world of south Florida, and find the truth behind the Ring of Lies.

Seasonal Offers from Vanilla Heart Publishing

From now until the 16th November 2010 Vanilla Heart are offering 50 of their great titles, including their latest release, Passionate Hearts, at just $4.99 each.

So if you enjoy reading why not download one now and start reading today?

Passionate Hearts Anthology

Vanilla Heart Publishing announces the release of its forthcoming romance anthology, Passionate Hearts. My short story, Her Protector, has been chosen for inclusion in this wonderful book. For more details or to purchase a copy, please click on the link below.

http://www.vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com/Home_Page.html

Three Weeks Last Spring

In need of some summer reading? Here’s an excerpt from my novel, Three Weeks Last Spring.

England April 1999

Skye Dunbar stood by the window, and looked out across the meadow as she waited for the transatlantic phone call to connect. It had been a miserable weekend—dull, wet and cold—cold as the heart that beat inside her breast. She glanced at her watch, and calculated the time difference; early morning in San Francisco—Debbie should be up by now.
After a few rings, a sleepy American voice answered.
“Hello?”
“Debbie? It’s Skye. Did I wake you?”
“Not really, I was lying here thinking about getting up. Talk to me, you sound anxious.”
Skye took a deep breath. “I’ve decided to take a month’s sabbatical. I’ve contacted the airline and have an option on a flight leaving in just over a week’s time. They’re holding it for the next twenty-four hours.”
“Why, that’s great. You need to get away and you know San Francisco loves you.”
“Actually, Debbie, that’s why I’m calling, I’m not coming to San Francisco. I’m going to Seattle and—”
“Skye, you can’t possibly want to spend a month there, not after all that happened last year.”
“I can’t explain why, but I need to go back.” Skye twisted a strand of her hair between her fingers as she waited for Debbie to respond.
“I don’t understand, and if you want my advice, you’ll come here and stay with me. After all that lying bastard put you through, I’m amazed that you can even contemplate being within a thousand miles of Washington State. Please, come here and stay with me. We can visit all our old haunts—Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown. We can go for a drink in the John Barleycorn and listen to that folk singer you liked so much. And if that doesn’t appeal, then we can hire a car and drive along the coast. You haven’t seen the Marin Headlands or Monterey yet. And if you wait until I get to the office on Monday and I’ll see if I can beg for some vacation time. Or we could meet somewhere else, if you prefer. How about Vermont?”
“That’s a lovely thought, Debbie, and I do want to see Vermont, but in the Fall. Please, save your holiday time. This is just something I have to do on my own. I go to bed at night and in my dreams I see this figure on a beach. I know it’s me. It sounds crazy, I know, and I really don’t expect you to understand. Just give me your blessing and tell me that if I need you, you’ll be there for me, okay?”
“I guess you know what’s in your heart, although I really do worry about you, Skye. You have to put what happened behind you and move on. So tell me, just where are you staying?”
“I’ve rented a cabin in the San Juans.”
“You’ve done what? No one goes to the San Juan Islands in the middle of April. It’s too cold for one thing and Friday Harbor will be deserted. What will you do there for a whole month on your own?”
“I thought I would catch up on some reading, go walking and generally enjoy the scenery.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. If you ask me, the last thing you need is to be by yourself. However, now that you’ve made your mind up I don’t suppose there’s much I can say to dissuade you. But promise me, if you become too upset or lonely up there, you’ll get on the first available plane to me, here in San Francisco. Deal?”
“Deal. And Debbie,” Skye hesitated before continuing, “thanks for understanding. You’re the best friend anyone could ask for. As soon as my plans are finalised, I’ll let you know.”
Skye replaced the receiver and turned once more to look out of the window. Was she being stupid wanting to go back to the Pacific Northwest? What would it achieve? Would it even put her mind at rest? They were questions she couldn’t answer, yet in her heart she knew she was doing the right thing.
She’d met Michael while on a visit to Debbie the year before. He’d knocked her to the ground while roller skating in Golden Gate Park. He’d helped her up, apologised, and insisted on buying her a coffee. Coffee had somehow turned into lunch, and before they knew it, they’d spent the whole day together. Skye was due to fly home the following day and Michael had insisted she give him her address. She’d agreed, but hadn’t really expected to hear from him again. Six weeks later, returning home after a particularly fractious day at work, she’d found his letter waiting on her doormat.
That initial letter, like those that followed, had been read and re-read time and time again, the words feeling as if they were almost engraved on her heart. Finally, six months later, Michael had written asking her to visit.
Skye quickly pushed the thought of him out of her mind. She had so much to accomplish in the coming days that daydreaming wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Her flight confirmed, and the cabin booked, she needed to concentrate on clearing her diary. Then all she had to do was pack her suitcase and talk herself into getting on that plane.
The following week passed in a blur. Each day she arrived at the office early and brought all her files up to date for John, her business partner, to takeover in her absence.
They’d had met at university shortly after Skye’s mother’s death, and had been good friends ever since. At thirty-nine, he was five years Skye’s senior. Six feet tall, and of muscular build, with brown eyes, unruly curly hair, he had a smile that could melt the iciest of hearts. John had been a Graduate Teaching Assistant when Skye had started her degree course.
When Skye graduated, they set up business together. Years of long hours and neglected holidays had finally paid off and their services were in demand by major corporations all over the world. But despite the success they experienced, their relationship had never passed beyond friendship.
None of Skye’s closest friends knew what she did for a living, apart from the fact that she was a high-level executive, and whatever it was, she didn’t like to talk about it. In another few months, she and John would be making a presentation to Government officials in the hope of securing an exclusive contract—top secret, and the most demanding of their respective careers.
The day before Skye was due to leave she scheduled a meeting with him.
“Skye, what are you going to do with an entire month’s leave? You’ll be bored by the end of the second week, and you know how busy things can get here. There is still a lot of testing to do.”
“I realise that, but you did say you could handle it. The code is complete, so you really don’t need me.”
“This has to do with what happened between you and that navy guy last year, hasn’t it? I wish you’d tell me what brought you scuttling back to the office two weeks earlier than planned. I told you not to trust a guy in uniform and in particular a sailor, but you didn’t listen. What you need is a real man, not one of these military types who still play with the action man they got as a child.”
“And just who did you have in mind—yourself?”
John ignored her comment. “You’ve been like a scared rabbit ever since you got home. You never go out; you’re slowly becoming a recluse. You spend every waking hour here at the office. Just what did the bastard do to you?”
“I don’t wish to discuss my love life, or lack of one with you. And what if I do spend all my time here—that’s my choice. At least the work gets done and we are ahead of schedule on one or two projects.”
“Look, love, I know something happened and whatever it was, it must have been something major to have affected you this way. But you have to pick up your social life. You can’t continue to bury yourself in your work or it will make you ill. You’ll meet someone else and I promise you if he really loves you he won’t hurt you. Besides if you’re frightened of being left on the shelf you could always marry me.”
“I appreciate your concern, John. But you and I both know that while our business relationship works, a more personal one wouldn’t. You’re not the type to settle down, so just leave it there before one of us says something we’ll regret. Now about the Jones account—”
“Before we get back to business hear me out. Professionally you’re one of the most logical people I know. You’ve an eidetic memory and know instinctively when a project is about to go pear-shaped. You’re a shrewd and ruthless businesswoman when necessary. You’ve even got a temper to go with the colour of your hair, but then nobody’s perfect. But having said all that, you’re just a big softie at heart.” John reached across the table, took her hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “What I can’t understand is why you couldn’t see that this guy was trouble.” Skye’s expression told him he’d over-stepped the mark. “If you must go on this idiotic trip, will you at least let me take you to the airport on Sunday?”
Skye smiled. Only her voice betrayed mild annoyance. “Thank you for that character analysis. Remind me to return the favour one day. I am quite capable of organising a taxi. But if you feel you must take me, then I’ll accept your offer. Check-in is at noon.”
“In that case, I’ll pick you up at nine-thirty.”
Sunday dawned warm and sunny, and although early April the daffodils were already in bloom. As she showered and dressed, Skye couldn’t help wondering if this was the new beginning she was seeking or whether she was just being plain stupid.
She’d chosen her clothes with care—a pair of well cut navy blue trousers and midnight blue shirt, colours that not only gave her confidence but which also matched her sparkling eyes. Her medium length auburn hair had been cut the day before, and it now framed her pale, delicate, feminine face. Her suitcase stood ready in the hallway as she sat at the kitchen table drinking a final cup of coffee waiting for John to arrive.
A short time later, John’s BMW pulled into the drive. Skye took one last look around the house, picked up her purse and opened the door.
“Ready, Sweet Pea?” John asked. “Have you got your tickets, passport and packed everything you need?”
“I think so.”
“It’s not too late to change your mind you know. Even Debbie thinks you’re slightly crazy for wanting to do this,” John said, making one last attempt to get her to stay.
Skye stopped in her tracks. “You’ve been talking to Debbie, behind my back?”
“Actually, she called me. Now, Sweet Pea, don’t be annoyed with her, she’s just concerned about you. Besides, Seattle wasn’t exactly the happiest of places for you, now was it?”
“I wish you two would accept that this is something I need to do, instead of hounding me to change my mind. You’re both good friends and I know you have my interest at heart, but please allow me to do this and don’t tell me I told you so, if I come home in tears.”
John put his arms round her diminutive frame and gave her a hug. “I just don’t want to see you hurt again, that’s all.”
“I know. Now, are we going to stand here all day or are you going to put that suitcase in the car?”
They hardly spoke during the journey to the airport, John sensing that Skye needed to be alone with her thoughts. He repeatedly glanced across at her. She seemed so small, so vulnerable and yet beneath that very feminine exterior he knew there was a strength and stamina that defied her appearance. But she had taken such an emotional beating over the last year that he couldn’t help the feeling of wanting to protect her from more hurt.
Forty minutes later he pulled the BMW to a halt in front of Terminal four at Heathrow Airport. He collected Skye’s luggage from the boot, then walked round to the passenger side of the car and opened the door.
Once inside the terminal building, he waited patiently while Skye completed the checking-in formalities for her flight, then accompanied her as far as the security check-point.
He gave her a hug, and kissed the top of her head. “Have a good flight, Sweet Pea. Get some rest and lay that ghost. Then come home and be prepared to do some work.”
Skye wiped away a stray tear at his use of her nickname, and tried hard to smile. “I’ll do my best.” Without a backward glance, she turned and walked quickly through security into the departure lounge.
She found a seat close to the gate, and took out her book. But she couldn’t concentrate on the words. Instead, she amused herself by watching the people in the terminal, wondering where they were all going to and the reasons for their journey.
Time passed quickly, and soon her flight was called. She settled into her seat in business class, and fervently hoped that the one beside her would remain unoccupied. The last thing she wanted was to spend twelve hours next to someone who wished to talk all the way to Seattle. Luckily, her wish was granted, for within fifteen minutes of boarding, the flight attendant closed the doors and the aircraft pushed back from the ramp.
As the plane taxied towards the runway, Skye suffered one last moment of self-doubt, but knew it was too late to turn back. Seconds later, she felt the increased tempo of the Boeing 747’s engines as it thundered down the runway. After what seemed like an eternity the huge plane lifted gracefully into the air.
During the flight Skye read a little, then slept. Her mind reeled from all her thoughts and dreams. She was startled awake when the landing gear hit the runway, and shook her head to regain her focus and get her bearings. She looked out of the window—the terminal buildings looked as grey and uninspiring as they had a year ago.
Once inside the terminal, the Immigration formalities were completed with a minimum of fuss, and the delay at Customs was only mildly annoying. The usual questions and then ‘have a nice day.’
Skye then made her way to the rental car desk where she collected the keys to the car she had organised. Within minutes, she was manoeuvring the vehicle out of the parking lot and down the ramp on to Interstate 5. Fortunately, she did not have far to travel to her hotel and soon found herself being shown to her room on the third floor.
After breakfast the following morning, she took out her road map and traced her route north. The hotel receptionist told her that it would take about two hours, depending on traffic, to drive the seventy or so miles to Anacortes.
As she wasn’t due to check into the hotel in Anacortes until early evening, she decided to do a little sight-seeing. She found a place to park on Alaskan Way, locked the car, and then climbed the Harbor steps to admire the fountain, before continuing along First Avenue to Pike Place Market.
At the Westlake Centre she caught the monorail to the Space Needle. The panoramas from the observation deck were stunning—well worth the white-knuckle ride in the express elevator. For once the weather was kind to her, unlike her previous visit, when the sky had clouded over. Today there was hardly a cloud visible, although it was a little on the cool side. Far below she could see a State ferry sailing to one of the islands in Puget Sound. A few small sailing boats were out in Elliot Bay, no doubt, like her, taking advantage of the fine weather.
Skye leant against the safety rail and looked out across the bay, and remembered the postcard she’d received from Michael. Lost in her thoughts, it was only when she glanced at her watch that she realised she’d been standing daydreaming for nearly an hour. Annoyed for having allowed Michael into her thoughts yet again, she rode the elevator back down to ground level. She quickened her pace as she walked down Broad Street and on to Alaskan Way, past the Aquarium and Omnidome until she reached Ivar’s restaurant. There she found a table overlooking the bay, and ordered a bowl of clam chowder and a pot of coffee. After her meal she returned to her car, and headed north towards Anacortes.
According to her guidebook the bustling port of Anacortes was founded in 1877. Shipyards, seafood processing facilities, and tourism all contributed to the local economy. Spectacular panoramas, combined with exclusive real estate, yacht charters and marina facilities brought residents and visitors alike to the area.
The ferry to Friday Harbor left at eight the following morning, and the travel agent had recommended that Skye stay at the inn close to the terminal. Tired from her drive, she ate a solitary dinner in the hotel restaurant then retired for the night.
A short time later, she slipped between the cool white sheets of the double bed and settled against the comforters. Sighing deeply, she wiped a surreptitious tear from her eye. Where did we go wrong, Michael? Why couldn’t you talk to me? Why did you have to hurt me the way you did?

Chapter Two

The following morning dawned cold and grey, the cloud level so low, that the majestic mountains were completely hidden from view. There were only a few cars waiting for the ferry to Friday Harbor, and most of those appeared to be locals and business people. The tourists would come later, making it essential to book passage and spoiling the tranquillity of the journey.
Once on board, Skye left the car and climbed the stairs up to the main deck. The aroma of coffee drew her towards the small café where she purchased a beaker of Seattle’s Finest. Carrying her cup, she wandered out onto the observation deck.
As the ferry steamed towards the islands, the cloud base gradually lifted, allowing the sun to filter through here and there. The panorama unfolding before her eyes was amazing, and she wondered why anyone would want to lie on a sun-drenched beach all day, when they could have this.
San Juan Island was the second largest in the archipelago, and it wasn’t long before Friday Harbor came into view. It was much smaller than Skye had imagined, and she wasn’t prepared for the numerous sailboats with their impossibly tall masts, which filled every berth in the marina. The Islands were a Mecca for tourists, whether they arrived off the ferries from Anacortes or Canada, or sailed their own yachts into the tiny and picturesque harbours that dotted the islands.
After disembarking, Skye drove the short distance into town. The realtor’s office was situated in a small side street, just up the road from the terminal. The formalities completed, and with the key in her pocket and a detailed map in her hand, she once more set out.
The roads were deserted, and the only traffic she encountered were trucks carrying fish from the north of the island to the ferry terminal. Skye found driving in this backwater much easier than in Seattle or on the Interstate. Before long her exit came into view; she moved across the highway, and signalled her turn into the private track.
The cabin was all she had hoped for and more. Constructed purely of timber, it stood some five hundred yards back from the shoreline and a mile or so off the highway. A path led down from the cabin to a small wooden dock. Eager to explore, Skye made a quick cup of coffee. She wanted nothing more than to breathe the clean fresh air and savour the view, before unpacking and settling into what would be her home for the next month.
She left her jacket over the back of a kitchen chair, and then carried her steaming cup down to the dock. She sat down by the water’s edge and took off her shoes. She was just about to dip her toes into the deep blue water, when a very masculine voice called out.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. The water is pretty darned cold at this time of year.”
The voice seemed to emanate from the very depths of the pinewood. Skye squinted into the early afternoon sunlight, and watched as a figure emerged from the trees. He was tall, well over six feet, with raven black hair and the slight shadow of a beard. She couldn’t really see his eyes, but had a feeling they would be ice blue and would have that ‘damn you to hell’ expression.
A chill ran down her spine.
The cabin was isolated, and even if there was another house within screaming distance, no one would be at home at this time of day. Skye considered her options as the tall figure strode towards her. If he were to prove difficult she could always push in him the sea, and run back to the safety of the cabin.
The stranger halted a mere foot from her, forcing her to look up.
He grinned. “Sorry to startle you, ma’am, but I wasn’t sure if you were planning on taking anything else off besides your shoes.”
Skye’s mouth opened but she couldn’t utter a word.
“Because if you were,” he continued, “you’d only last about thirty minutes before hypothermia set in, and being the gentleman that I am, I would feel duty bound to come right in after you. That would be a shame, because I’d planned on going home and cooking this fish for lunch.”
Coughing and spluttering, Skye choked on her coffee. So a fish was more important than saving someone from freezing to death. She inclined her head to examine him more closely and saw that she’d been right about his eyes. Here was a man who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Well, Mr Damn Your Eyes could just go back where he came from and take his fishy friend with him.
“You’ll be relieved to know, that I have no intention of taking anything other than my shoes off. The thought of going for a swim hadn’t entered my head. But now you’ve mentioned it, it’s not a bad idea. As for you coming in after me, I’ll take a rain check if you don’t mind! Not, I might add, that what I do is any business of yours. I was assured that this was private land. May I ask just what you think you are doing prowling around scaring the hell out of people?”
“My, my, we’re mighty touchy. What happened, someone wake you up too early?” The ice blue eyes flashed. There was a trace of laughter in his voice that was totally lost on Skye, who felt more than a little intimidated by the stranger’s height. She stood up in one fluid movement. Not one inch of her five foot five frame gave her any more confidence. She barely came up to the man’s chest—a chest that any woman would feel comfortable snuggled up against. Now where in the world did that thought come from?
Feeling at a disadvantage, Skye took a long look. Close up he didn’t appear quite so intimidating—‘impressive’ was a better adjective. In fact, she could think of a number of suitable adjectives to describe Mr Damn Your Eyes, including handsome, rugged, not to mention offensive and arrogant. This guy would stop traffic in London, but there he would be completely out of place. Here in the rugged mountains of the Pacific Northwest he was totally at ease.
Skye revised her estimate of his height. He was at least six feet four, possibly more. His eyes were deep set and she’d been right about the colour. He had a scar over one eyebrow and smaller one on his chin. She wondered how he’d acquired them, but something about his demeanour told her not to ask.
He was dressed in black jeans, which fit his muscular body to perfection and a navy blue check work shirt which he wore open at the neck, revealing a tangle of dark hair on his chest. He held a fishing rod in one hand, and a fish in the other, and looked for the entire world, as if he had stepped right out of the pages of her guidebook.
“Look, Mr…? I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name, and at this particular moment, I don’t even care to know what it is. I’ve had a long journey and I’m tired. As far as I’m concerned you’re trespassing. I’d very much appreciate it, if you would leave by whatever means you arrived and allow me to finish my coffee before it goes cold.”
“My, my. The lady obviously has a temper to match the colour of her hair. Now why don’t you take a deep breath, calm down and enjoy the day? You’re obviously not from around here otherwise you wouldn’t jump down a perfectly innocent person’s throat, especially one who’s trying to give you some friendly advice. But I won’t disturb you any longer. I’ll be on my way. And for future reference, the name is Walker, Jedediah Walker, but everyone just calls me Walker.” Abruptly he turned and strode quickly along the dock. He continued along the pebble beach, in the opposite direction from which he’d come.
What did he mean, “Future reference…?” Hell could freeze over before she would choose to cross his path again. Her first thought was to call the real estate broker and complain. They had, after all, promised her complete privacy. She’d been most insistent on that when booking the cabin. She didn’t want noisy neighbours destroying the peace and tranquillity of this wonderful place. No campers, boaters and especially no screaming children, just her own space in which to do as she pleased for the next month.
But logic kicked in.
The San Juan Islands were well known for attracting fishermen and women. The guy had probably moored his boat somewhere along the coast, and walked along the shoreline to find a suitable place from which to fish. No big deal. But now that the cabin was occupied, Skye hoped that he’d respect her privacy. Other than the mailman, with the occasional letter from Debbie or John, she didn’t wish to see anyone during her stay.
She picked up her cup, and shuddered in disgust as the cold liquid hit the back of her throat. She made her way up the dock to her car, retrieved her suitcase from the trunk, and carried it into the cabin.
The cabin was well equipped with cable TV, VCR, and an impressive stereo system. While she could live without a television, t music was a different matter and she was glad she’ brought a selection of her favourite CDs with her.
The centrepiece of the main room was a stone fireplace which stretched across a one wall. The floors were polished and scattered with native Indian rugs. A large leather sofa sat invitingly in front of the fireplace. Full-length windows opened on to the deck, where the owner had left wicker chairs in which visitors could sit and admire the wonderful scenery.
Skye dragged her suitcase into the bedroom and started to unpack. Not only was there a king size bed, and an open fireplace, but the room also had full-length windows which opened out on to the deck. A hand stitched quilt with matching comforters covered the bed. Skye ran her fingertips over it and marvelled at the hours of work involved to complete it.
Her unpacking completed, she decided to call Debbie later to let her know she’d survived the journey. By then it would be close to midnight in London, and a perfect time to call John. At least he wouldn’t be able to trace her call. That was the disadvantage of working at the cutting edge of technology and having a business partner who was her self-appointed ‘big brother.’ Without wasting any more time, she set off to explore the cove and surrounding woods.
***
After terminating his conversation with the woman, Walker made his way through the trees back to the lodge. He’d purchased the lodge and twenty-five acres of prime waterfront land just over five years ago. It was a place where he could return to re-charge his batteries after investigating some of man’s worst atrocities against nature.
The lodge was far too big for him, and normally he stayed at the cabin. But this year he’d decided to undertake some renovations, and had let the cabin instead. He hadn’t expected it to be occupied so soon, and had been taken completely by surprise when he saw the small, solitary figure walk to the end of the dock. He vaguely remembered receiving a letter from the realtor advising him that it had been let for a month. For some reason he had it in mind that the tenant was a man. If he’d known it was a woman, he would have told the realtor to cancel the booking.
The aroma of coffee had alerted him to someone’s presence, reminding him just how long it was since he’d had breakfast. He’d watched from the tree line as the figure walked out of the cabin and down to the dock. He guessed she was no more than five foot six, and was dressed in a pair of black slacks with a baggy red sweater. He had the feeling the sweater hid a soft and curvaceous body, the sort of body a man could bury himself in, until he forgot who he was.
The gentle breeze had lifted her thick, shoulder length auburn hair, reminding him of the colour of leaves in fall. He imagined it would be soft and silky to the touch, and just long enough for a man to tangle his fingers in. Unable to tear his gaze away he’d continued to watch as she sat down at the end of the dock and took off her shoes. She looked so sad, and for one agonising moment he feared that she might do more than just dangle her pretty toes in the ice-cold water.
Damn it, he didn’t need this sort of distraction now. He knew someone had been using the coves at night, and now it would be even more difficult to prove it. He just hoped that he hadn’t placed this unwitting stranger in any danger. It was one more thing on his list to worry about. His first priority was to find out who was poisoning the fish around the island. The second was to find out who was hacking into his computer files. He rested his fishing rod against the wall of the lodge, and unlocked the door.
He went straight to the laboratory he’d set up in the small bedroom and proceeded to expertly dissect the fish. Walker was meticulous in his sampling, and in the preparation of the slides for the microscope. Only when he was satisfied he had everything he needed, did he discard the carcass—it would have to be burnt like the rest. Pity, it was a magnificent salmon, but if he didn’t find out what was causing fish to wash up dead along the shoreline, it might not just be the salmon lying on a cold slab.
Four hours later, his suspicions were confirmed. The fish contained a mixture of toxic chemicals and, had it been eaten, would have put someone in hospital. He strode into his study, picked up the phone, and called his friend at the Department of Fish and Wildlife on his direct number.
“McCabe.”
“It’s Walker.”
“I can tell from your voice, that I’m not going to like this—”
“Five gets you ten on this one. The latest batch of samples show that the fish are contaminated with lead, mercury, cyanide and some other substances I’ve been unable to identify. I’ll have to send the samples into the main lab in Seattle to get a more detailed analysis. The results should be back in three or four days, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they showed large quantities of PCBs.”
The voice at the other end of the line let out a stream of expletives. “For once, can’t you give me some good news?”
“Joe, it gets worse. Fish have started washing up along the cove in front of the lodge. This has gotten personal. I want to nail whoever’s dumping this stuff. Sooner or later someone is going to get sick, real sick. What’s new your end? Have the police come up with any leads yet? Someone somewhere must know where this stuff is coming from.”
“Realistically, it could be any of five plants in the State. But, and this is unconfirmed, it may be coming from the plant belonging to the waste management consortium that applied to build a new facility at Anacortes a while back.”
Walker frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “But they were refused consent. I know—I sat in on the committee. In fact, I made the recommendation that their application be refused.”
“I realise that. But from what we’ve heard, the present facility is unable to cope with demand. The police approached some of the employees, but no one would talk. I’m just as concerned and frustrated as you are. But we need concrete evidence before we can move on this, and so far no one has found any.”
“So what do you suggest we do? Wait until someone ends up in hospital or worse, on the cold slab in the morgue? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“I’m as annoyed about this as you, Walker. But I have to do things by the book, you know that.”
“I guess so, but it doesn’t make it any easier.” Walker slammed the phone down.
After graduating from university as a marine biologist and biochemist, he’d taken a job with the State Government Department. His main area of expertise was the environment, and the effects mankind was having on the diminishing fish stocks. After years dividing his time sitting behind a desk and collecting the water samples, he finally decided it was time to go it alone. He set up his own company, Walker Environmental Research. Now after ten years of hard work, his company was well respected throughout the world. There was hardly a government he hadn’t given advice to, or major ecological disaster he hadn’t helped investigate.
Several months earlier, his old university friend, Joe McCabe, had called him. Joe worked for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was concerned about the increasing reports of dead salmon being washed up around the coast of Puget Sound, and in particular the San Juan Islands, and had hired Walker’s company to investigate.
At first, they thought the problem had been caused by the large oil tankers plying their way between Alaska, Canada and the rest of the USA. Many of the ships’ Captains were not above flushing their tanks before heading out into open waters. But a detailed analysis of the dead fish had shown they were contaminated with a lethal cocktail of chemicals, and not crude oil. But, there was no consistency. Fish would wash up one week on the north coast of one island, and the next they’d wash up on the west coast of another. The changing tides couldn’t account for such discrepancies, which meant only one thing—someone was deliberately dumping toxic waste. Two weeks ago fish had started washing up on Walker’s land, and last week his computer files had been hacked into for the first time. Suddenly, the fight had become personal.

Reviews

I thought I would take some time out from working on my current novel to share some reviews for The House on the Shore.

The first comes from Front Street Reviews. www.frontstreetreviews.com

The House on the Shore
Victoria Howard

Reviewed by Ashley Merrill

Victoria Howard has painted her readers a beautiful picture of Scotland with her words and descriptions. Set in modern times, she tells a wonderful love story that is riddled with suspense.

Anna MacDonald moves to the Scottish Highlands to make a fresh start. After ending a bad relationship and leaving her job, Anna moves into a croft that was left to her by her grandmother. She is tired of the city and wants some peace and quiet so she can spend her summer writing a book and also reconnect with her childhood friends.

The last thing on Anna’s mind is meeting a man. Not only does she meet a very good looking American man whose boat breaks down near her croft, but she instantly feels an emotional and physical connection with him. Trying her best to ignore these feelings, Anna finds herself in a heap of trouble. She gets a letter offering a hefty sum of money to sell her croft, which she quickly declines. Soon after, she appears to become a target to someone. This someone is pretty adamant that he wants her dead. She gets shot at, her home gets broken into, and her car is tampered with, among other things. Fearing for her safety, Anna’s friend convinces her to allow Luke, the dreamy American with a heart melting smile, to stay with her until she can find out who wants to hurt her.

As the days go on, Anna and Luke form a special bond and cling to each other. At the same time, Anna’s stalker is upping the ante and Luke will stop at nothing to find the man so that Anna will be safe.

Victoria Howard does a wonderful job with her character creations. In fact, I found myself falling for Luke! She allows you to see inside their world and form a bond with them. I also liked the description of the landscape. Victoria Howard gives just enough description without going overboard.

The suspense of the story was what really captured my interest. I adore a good love story, so with the added suspense Victoria Howard has created an amazing story that will captivate her readers until the very end. I would recommend this story to any romance and suspense lovers. The romance is not too over the stop, so it will not spoil the story for all of the suspense lovers out there!

The second is from Armchair Interviews. http://reviews.armchairinterviews.com/reviews/the-house-on-the-shore

Reviewed by Jenny Saylers

Anna MacDonald has been betrayed! The coveted teaching position she has been waiting to get has been given to the other woman that her boss, and boyfriend, has been sleeping with. In anger, Anna quits her job, gives up her flat in Edinburgh, and takes off for the only place that she has ever felt truly happy–Anna’s late grandmother’s croft, located on the shores of Loch Hourn, in the Scottish Highlands.

The croft is isolated. Anna has no phone, no close neighbors, and only her two border collies for company. Her plan for the summer is to nurse her broken heart and pride back to normal while working on the novel she has been yearning to write for years. She doesn’t plan for company during this time. Especially not the unexpectedly handsome company offered in the form of the slightly rude American who knocks at her door one morning.

Luke Tallantyre is a well-known artist from Cape Cod Massachusetts. Faced with an artistic dry spell, he has set sail for the unknown wilds of Scotland. He has braved the Atlantic Ocean alone, and has come to Loch Hourn. When his yacht develops a navigational problem, he ends up knocking on Anna’s door for help.

Anna is more than a little resentful of Luke’s intrusion. Faced with an attraction she doesn’t know how to handle after her last rejection, she finds him an unwelcome distraction into her hermetic life. However, when an unknown assassin tries several times to kill both Anna and Luke, they find themselves thrown together in an attempt to find out why.

Will Anna and Luke find out who is trying to kill them and why? Will either of them realize the opportunity for true love that arises during the time they spend together?

I really enjoyed this book. The story drew me in quickly. I found myself having to pace my reading in order not to rush through the book. I enjoyed Victoria Howard’s descriptions of the Scottish Highlands, and Loch Hourn.

Watch for the re-release of Three Weeks Last Spring, due out in June 2009.

Armchair Interviews says: Victoria Howard writes a very compelling story.

Author’s Web site: http://www.VictoriaHoward.co.uk

From our armchair to yours…