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About the author:
She writes about intrepid women entering worlds that are new and strange to them – Strangers in Strange Lands – whether that’s an everyday woman from our world traversing a portal into a sepia kingdom, an amorous mermaid stranded on dry land, or a reclusive oyster farmer who must face the modern world when a geek arrives on her doorstep. Louise also works with computer games companies to develop fantasy and sci fi world-building. As an avid reader, however, her first love will always be books.
What inspired you to write your book?
The characters jumped into my head one night as I was falling asleep and they were still there when I woke up: prickly Tasha giving poor Julian dagger eyes and wanting him gone. I knew they were perfect for each other and I simply had to stop what I was doing and let them have their story.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Julian stepped over the threshold and out of the blinding glare of the midday sun. Salt air grated in his lungs. The inhaler. Which bag had he put it in?
“Nice place,” he said automatically, then did a double-take. Very nice. A wall of glass framed by cedar paneling separated them from the sort of ocean view Julian had only ever seen on postcards. Comfy cane furniture and plush rugs added a homey touch.
Ahead of him, Paul dropped Julian’s box of computer equipment on the breakfast bar. The kitchen beyond was a wash of gleaming white tiles interspersed with harlequin colors. “Thanks. I like it,” he said, and headed back out to the jetty to get the provisions. Passing Julian, he pointed up the stairs. “Two bedrooms up there. Pick one.”
Julian nodded, following his friend’s gaze. “Tell me again that this is a good idea.”
Paul stopped at the door. “This is a good idea.”
Julian was starting to wonder.
“You unpack while I bring in the supplies and check the generator,” Paul said. “Then I’ll give you the deluxe tour.”
Julian nodded again, said nothing.
A moment later Paul was back beside him. “You told me you could work anywhere.” For a moment he sounded like who he was – Head of the Science Department addressing one of his staff.
Julian pulled himself together. “Have laptop, will travel.”
“That’s my boy.” Paul smiled, pointed up the stairs again. “Unpack,” he ordered, before heading back out to the jetty.
“Slave driver.” Julian picked up his cases and did a pack-mule impersonation up the stairs, stopping at the top to catch his breath on a wheeze. He really must find that inhaler. Was it the salt air? He never should have let Paul drag him here.
Solitude was good in principal, but being stranded on a sparsely inhabited island without access to medical assistance wasn’t Julian’s idea of safety. What if he stepped on a blue-ringed-octopus or something? He’d seen ‘Blue Lagoon’. Anything could happen. Well, rolling around a beach with Brooke Shields wasn’t likely to happen, but apart from that…
The roar of the water-taxi’s motor drifted up to him and Julian glanced down in time to see Paul striding back through the door, arms laden with provisions.
“They got an emergency call from another island. Said they’d be back for me in half an hour.”
“Right.” Julian felt his shoulders relax. He did a mental re-boot. They were only forty minutes from Brisbane by boat. That’d be ten in a helicopter if there was a real emergency. And he had a phone.
Paul raised an eyebrow, “Unpacking, remember?” Then he shook his head and continued on to the kitchen. His voice drifted up the stairs. “…I’ll be out the back in the shed firing up the generator. Don’t wander off and get lost.”
“Yes, mother.” Julian walked over to the first door, put down his bags and swung it wide.
A slam from downstairs signaled Paul’s exit from the house but Julian simply stood in the doorway, looking in. Clothes were strewn across the bed, sand-encrusted boots lay on the floor and a menacing looking spear-gun stood propped against the delicate rattan dresser.
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
Paul already had a guest.
At that moment another sound drifted up to Julian. It was the motor of a boat again, but not the deep-throated roar of the launch they’d arrived on. This motor gave off a high pitched note, and it was whining closer. Julian’s gaze slid back to the spear gun.
An uninvited guest?
Something squirmed in his stomach as he stepped around his bags. “You down there, Paul?” he called softly.
He padded down the steps. “Paul…?”
The boat’s motor cut abruptly and in the silence that followed Julian felt hairs prickle on the back of his neck. He sidled up to the living room window and edged his head around in time to see something disappear under the water beside the beach’s solitary jetty. A battered and ancient, empty dingy was now tethered there.
“Sweet Jesus,” he whispered. A squatter. Paul had a squatter living in his holiday house. A squatter with a dirty big spear gun.
Julian closed his eyes for a second and tried to swallow down fear. Where the hell was Paul?
He risked a glance over his shoulder but the house was empty. Was Paul outside? Was he watching and waiting to pounce on this bastard?
Julian sure as hell hoped so.
He turned back to the window and the breath he’d been about to take locked in his lungs.
A hundred yards away, rising out of the sea with the sun sparkling jewels on the water cascading down her tall, gorgeous body, was what could only be described in Julian’s limited vocabulary as a Goddess. Black one-piece swimsuit – stretched in all the right places, long black hair, long legs, and an expression he hesitated to describe as mean because she was so damned beautiful. Except it did look mean, as though she was really mad at someone and was looking forward to kicking their butt.
“O M G,” he whispered. She was striding straight for the front door, a fact he should have registered sooner, this being the only house on the beach. But other parts of his anatomy seemed to be over-riding brain function and it wasn’t until she was loping up the front stairs that he noticed the short knife strapped to her thigh and the fear returned.
Back to the wall, Julian waited for her to open the door – not sure what he should do when she did. Paul had to be nearby. Perhaps even now he was sneaking up behind her while Julian waited.
The sound of heavy footsteps on the verandah was punctuated by a string of curses that would have curled Julian’s hair, had it not already been a tangle of black goat-curls. But whatever action Julian might have planned was curtailed by the front door being slammed, perhaps even kicked, open. Julian gawked, bug-eyed, as she marched across the living area, a trail of dripping water and caked sand in her wake.
He held his breath – well, he couldn’t breathe anyway – but some survival-instinct told him that if he was as quiet as the mouse he was always being compared to, he might just manage to evade her scrutiny.
She was headed for the kitchen, and he only needed her to take another couple of steps before he could start edging across the wall towards the front door and –
She stopped dead.
Julian’s desperate gaze flew past her. The equipment box on the breakfast bar!
He wanted to close his eyes, but instead he gulped. Loudly. The sound echoed in his ears like the tolling of a death knell.
She swiveled to face him and then dropped, into an attack position Julian surmised. He could only stare. There was no life-flashing-before-his-eyes, no regrets or last minute longings. He simply felt numb.
Her hand covered the knife at her thigh, and as he watched she unclipped the sheath and withdrew its blunt, menacing blade. Narrowed eyes locked onto his, she advanced towards him.
I’m going to die, he thought, and his stupid mind added but what a way to go. His gaze was trapped in a cycle that ran from her ‘say your prayers’ eyes down to her breasts and her legs and then back up again. It was mesmerizing, and helped distract him from the thought that he was about to feel pain. Julian didn’t kid himself he could fend her off. She had muscles that rippled. Computer viruses he could eliminate. Not armed attackers.
She advanced with agonizing patience, the crunch of her black joggers the only sound in the room. Julian swallowed again. It was crazy but he couldn’t tell if his heart was pounding out of fear, lust or a combination of the two.
It seemed incredible that such a beautiful creature would be a killer. Well, outside of Hollywood. Yet here she was, about to kill him he was sure, and there was nothing he could do.
A movement behind her caught his eye and he flicked a glance over her shoulder. Paul was strolling in the back door behind her but before Julian could call out she sprang, twisting Julian around so his back slammed into her slippery, wet front. One arm snaked around his chest, pinning his arms, while the other pressed the blade of her knife to his throat.
“Don’t move, worm,” she growled, and at the sound of her voice, low and menacing, Julian felt something inside himself liquefy. Fear – it was fear for sure – but he couldn’t help thinking his mind would be clearer if there was a male chest pressed against his back, rather than the firm breasts he could feel squashed against him.
“Natasha?” Paul said, and the Goddess tightened her grip, dragging Julian around to face this new threat.
“Paul, I think…” Julian croaked, before the knife dug into his neck.
Paul wasn’t listening. He was smiling. Julian’s head began to swim.
“Cousin, that’s my guest you’re attacking,” he said.
Julian’s eyes couldn’t go any wider. Cousin?
He was trying to assimilate that, daring to assume he wasn’t about to die, when the Goddess flung him aside like an old toy, snapped her knife back into its sheath and launched herself into Paul’s brawnier arms.
From his position against the stairs, Julian could only watch with envy as his friend held the Goddess against his chest, stroking her damp hair and laughing at what had just occurred. Julian found he desperately wanted to laugh too, not to mention stroke that glossy black hair and hold that unbelievable body. But he could think of no witty comment, no escape from the fact that he’d just been completely and utterly humiliated.
Paul pushed her away for an inspection, then whistled. “Little cousin, you grow more each time I see you.”
The Goddess laughed and shoved at his chest. “Flatterer. Did you bring any food?”
“You living here now?”
She nodded and Julian felt a lurch in his stomach. She was living here, no doubt in the bedroom Paul had directed him to. Julian had to live here too. And Paul was leaving. That meant he and the Goddess would be alone. Together.
He swallowed hard.