I sent Deliverance off for formatting and uploading today. If all goes well, it should be available for purchase by the end of next week.
This one has been a long time coming, but I think the final product is worth the time it took. Carl O’Neill is my favourite among my fictional heroes so far, and he certainly has to earn his happy ending. He overcomes physical and emotional torture, as well as a dysfunctional upbringing. I really enjoyed writing his journey from angry young man to the love of Naomi’s life.
I’ve already started on the third and final book in this series, the story of Carl’s sister Georgie. This one takes place in the post-war years. I’ve fallen in love with this time period – the new freedom of women, the clothes, the cars – and the airplanes. Georgie’s hero, Cameron Hatcher, is a flier. But this post belongs to Carl and Naomi.
Readers and my editor tell me this is my best book so far, and I’m excited about it. I’ve worked hard to grow my craft with each of my books, and it’s nice to think it shows. I’ll leave you with an excerpt, and of course I’ll be posting when Deliverance goes live. Enjoy!
The sound of the sick man’s laboured breathing filled the spare room when Naomi stepped back in. She pulled a couple of extra pillows from the closet and eased her arm behind his shoulders. It was all she could do to lift him. He might be thin, but he was all bone and muscle. She tucked the pillows behind him and a couple of towels on either side of him, pulled the desk chair to the side of the bed and slipped the thermometer into his mouth.
A hundred and four.
Her heart started racing. She laid a hand over his ribs and pressed firmly. Bone shifted. One broken rib, possibly two. No doubt he’d been drinking to dull his pain. He must have hidden the bottle well, or he would have been put off the train before this.
The stranger groaned and opened his eyes. As Naomi expected, they were deep Celtic blue, dark and glassy with fever. His gaze met hers and slid past with no sign of awareness. She touched his cheek to get him to focus on her.
“I’m sorry. I had to find out if your ribs were broken.”
A gleam of irony cut through the glaze in his eyes. “Could have told you.”
His voice was hoarse and gritty with pain. Naomi sat in the desk chair and hid her compassion behind a professional mask as she’d learned to do overseas. “You weren’t awake to tell me. What’s your name?”
He seemed to have to make an effort to remember. “Ben. Ben MacNeil.”
“Mine’s Naomi Franklin. Mr. MacNeil, you have pneumonia. You shouldn’t have gotten on the train in your condition.”
He coughed, then winced as the movement jarred his ribs. “You sound like my mother.”
Naomi almost rolled her eyes. A hardhead, like some of her patients overseas. The kind who couldn’t or wouldn’t admit to pain. “Probably. What happened to you?”
“I’m sure. It can wait ’til you’re feeling better. We have to try to get your temperature down.”
She wrung out the cloth Laura had put in the basin and ran it lightly over MacNeil’s bruised chest and ribs while she kept her gaze fixed on his shoulder. He didn’t react to the icy water, but Naomi shivered, repulsed by the feel of his skin, the smell of liquor, male sweat.
Stop. You’ve done this so many times before.
She wet the cloth again and washed MacNeil’s face. It looked as if he’d been punched to the ground and then kicked. A fading ring of yellow and purple circled one of his deep-set eyes, his lower lip had been split and was still a little swollen…and another healing cut ran across his left cheekbone. With those prominent brows and that aggressive slant to his nose, Ben MacNeil looked like a bare-knuckle boxer – a very sick bare-knuckle boxer. His palms showed traces of calluses, as if he’d worked hard in the not-too-distant past, but hadn’t done much for a while. Likely he hadn’t been back from overseas long.
He’d drifted back into a doze. Naomi dropped the washcloth in the basin and laid her fingers against his wrist to check his pulse. Thready and way too fast, but something else, a roughness to his skin, made her look down.
More scars. They looked like burn marks rather than cuts, so faded they were barely visible. She checked his other wrist and found similar marks there as well. It looked as if at some point, not very recently, his wrists had been bound.
“Laura, look at this.”
Laura looked. “Well now. How do you suppose he got those?”
“I don’t know, unless he was taken prisoner overseas. He might have had his hands tied then.” Naomi shrank from the ugly possibilities that came to mind. She’d treated one or two soldiers who’d been prisoners of war, managed to escape and were sent back into battle. They’d told her they hadn’t been mistreated by the enemy. If MacNeil had been a prisoner, he must have had a harsher experience. Naomi pulled his covers up and rose. “A fighter, are you? Well, you’ve got another fight ahead of you now.”