A multi-generational contemporary romantic saga set in a cattle ranch in Central Queensland, Australia.
A man loses five years of his life. Two women are desperate for him to remember.
Running away for the second time in her life, twenty-seven-year old Ava believes the cook’s job at a country B&B is perfect, until she meets the owner’s son, John Tate.
The young fifth-generation grazier is a beguiling blend of both man, boy and a terrible flirt. With their connection immediate and intense, they begin a clandestine affair right under the noses of John’s formidable parents.
Thirty years later, Ava returns to Candlebark Creek with her daughter, Nina, who is determined to meet her mother’s lost love for herself. While struggling to find her own place in the world, Nina discovers an urban myth about a love-struck man, a forgotten engagement ring, and a dinner reservation back in the eighties. Now she must decide if revealing the truth will hurt more than it heals…
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Memories and Packages
Ava Marchette was no longer the doyenne of dough and director of an award-winning bakery franchise operation. This morning, with her mother’s hair hanging loose, the usual drive in her eyes replaced with a blend of curiosity and concern, Nina was reminded that the woman who’d always been there for her children, now faced an unwinnable battle with the condition time-stamping her heart.
Lost in the view outside her hospital-room window, and still in her tailored slacks and shirt – no sign of the requisite paper robe and disposable slippers – it was hard to believe anything was wrong.
‘Hey, Mum, the nurse said you were still waiting.’
‘Nina, darling, what are you doing here?’
Her mother’s hand touched both sides of the hair above her ears, but rather than smoothing the bun she ordinarily secured from morning until night with assorted hair clips and bobby pins, Ava’s fingers snagged in the fine silver-grey tendrils falling softly around her tired face. The tangle forced a rare expletive to slip from her mouth, and Nina saw the once feisty businesswoman. Ava did not wait well.
‘And what have you got there, Nina?’ Her gaze shifted to the big red and blue nylon bag.
‘I was hoping you could tell me.’ Nina propped it against the wall before leaning down to peck Ava’s cheek. ‘When I called by your villa, Mrs Hense told me she’d found a package at your door.’
‘Mrs Nosy Neighbour found it at my door? Surprise, surprise! I suppose she had a good look?’
Nina stopped ferreting in her handbag. ‘I certainly did.’
‘You opened a parcel addressed to me?’
‘It’s a brown-paper package with a chook-scratched address. I had to check. Porn is the only thing I know gets wrapped in brown paper.’
‘Sorry, Mum, I didn’t think the contents would be so. . . so personal. The corner was already torn. Not hard to see it was a painting.’
‘Ah, yes!’ Ava forced a smile and tried to steady her voice. ‘The portrait.’
‘So, you can explain it?’ Nina asked.
‘Of course!’ Several explanations came to mind. If only panic hadn’t pricked holes in every thought balloon that popped into Ava’s head. The truth, or some of it, was usually the best option. ‘I sat for it, darling.’
‘Why? You don’t even like having your photo taken.’
Ava slapped at the air. ‘You’re over-thinking, Nina. I read recently a portrait is an old person’s selfie and the portrait painter a dying breed.’
‘What’s with the “old”, Mum? You’re only fifty-eight.’
‘This silly heart of mine makes me feel older and a little fragile some days.’
‘I understand that, but not this portrait idea.’
‘You know the Bark Hut Bakery supports the arts. I don’t see why you might think me sitting for an artist strange.’
‘What about when this is the end result?’
When Nina released the final bit of bubble-wrap, every reasonable explanation Ava might have offered her daughter whooshed out on a single exclamation. ‘Oh!’
‘Not quite as colourful as Miriam’s reaction, Mum.’
‘You showed her?’
‘She was in the car. I dropped her at the office and came straight here. I couldn’t wait. Family trait, I guess,’ Nina quipped.
‘Tell me what you see, Mum.’ Nina stood back to appraise the picture. ‘Even Miriam thinks it looks more like me than you and, well, I wasn’t sure what to say. The note attached didn’t help.’
‘There’s a note?’
‘I’m sorry, but it kind of fell out.’ Nina fished the slip of paper from the side pocket of her trousers. She handed it to her mother. ‘It reads, “When you didn’t come back I had to finish you from memory.”’
‘From memory?’ Ava pressed the note against her chest, tears dampening both eyes. ‘It wasn’t my imagination. There was something. He remembers.’
‘Who, Mum?’ Nina grabbed the box and handed her mother two tissues. ‘Talk to me. Who remembers? What’s upsetting you? Do you need a doctor?’
‘Nina, please, I’m fine.’
‘No, you’re not, you’re crying.’ Nina sounded both surprised and a little accusatory. ‘Why?’
‘Well, this is. . . It’s all. . .’ Ava dabbed her eyes as she repositioned herself in the chair and let the note rest on her lap ‘. . . a little unexpected.’
‘So, Mum, can you explain this to me?’
Could she, enough to satisfy a worried daughter? Did it have to be the truth? Or did she lie to protect the precious connection between mother and child, as Marjorie Tate had done?
Ava relented. ‘All right, Nina. I’ll tell you what I can.’ First, she needed to clear a path in her mind to the past, the one she’d buried in a distant corner and sown over with happier memories to grow in their place. ‘I waited for a miracle once and I. . . ’
‘And what?’ Nina perched on the edge of the visitor’s chair. ‘Mum, what are you thinking? Where are you?’
‘I’m twenty-seven again, darling.’ Ava wished for the second time in as many months that that was possible.
‘The note says he painted you from memory, but how can that be? I mean, look at you.’ Both women turned towards the framed work. ‘Was it meant to be an abstract?’
Ava had no words. In the painting she was both young and old, a skilful fusion of then and now, of wayward red curls and blue eyes. But those eyes seemed dreamy and distracted, not so much focused on the artist but on the space behind him. Maybe Ava had been looking back thirty years. Perhaps the artist had unknowingly done the same, which was why he’d painted her in that way. The way Ava Marchette had looked three decades ago.
After leaving the corporate working world, Jenn J. McLeod decided to travel Australia in a fifth-wheeler caravan and fulfil her lifelong ambition to write. She has since published four novels.
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