This furry, over-active bundle of cuteness is Penny, my two-year-old Aussie Shepherd.
Penny makes her debut in my latest novel, Pieces of Me. And how she behaves in the story, is exactly how she behaves in real life--a ball of energetic craziness. But in the story, she has a BIG purpose, and one she does very well at achieving, consdering this is her first novel appearance and all. I could have called her Cupid and that name would be just as fitting *hint hint* *winky face*.
Penny is introduced in Pieces of Me in the very first chapter, which I've included below, so you can put a face to the name as you read.
But, don't be fooled by her cute-as-a-button pose, she's a sassy pup.
Change was terrifying, but only until it became the more appealing option. I had learnt that. I guess everyone learns that at some stage in their lives.
I breathed in, filling my lungs, fuelling my blood and bones with this warm air, thick with brine. It reminded me of my youth, when sea salt, carried on the wings of the wind, would lay upon my skin so thick, if I were to press the tip of my tongue to my arm or knee I could taste it.
For me, this air always went hand in hand with burning summer sun, quick bare feet on hot sand, and the scent of sunscreen. Today was no different. I had missed this smell, this town, the way I could always steal glimpses of the wide blue ocean bunted against the hazy horizon no matter where I was. And how I could meander along the wide roads unburdened with traffic, in no rush to get any place.
My chest squeezed tight and eyes blurred from tears. Shame was being downright intrusive today—dissonant to this little town where the sun shone on my flesh and the air kissed me with salty lips. Shame’s mouth was unforgiving and cruel.
I stopped and pressed a palm to my chest. Inclining my face to the warmth above, I breathed through pain, reminding myself that I didn’t need to feel these emotions, I’d simply done what I had to do to get away from him.
Penny pushed against my legs, her furry tail whipping my calves. I bent to pat her chest. ‘All right, all right. Impatient, aren’t you?’ Her tongue darted out of her mouth as she panted and looked up at me with amber eyes. ‘You’re going to have to get used to the slower pace here, Penny. We both are.’
I pulled on her leash and kept on back to the house. It was late afternoon. The blue expanse above was dappled by the branches of palms and, the further away I got from the eggshell sand that stretched forever in both directions, I was shaded by tall eucalypts. Penny had never felt sand beneath her paws before, nor trampled along the ocean’s edge. And it had been much too long for me. I wiggled my toes in my sandals, feeling the gritty remnants of the beach.
The waves were swelling when I left. Too big for a six-month-old Aussie Shepherd to navigate any longer without swallowing snoutfuls of brine. My weather app forecasted rain for this evening. The humidity clinging to my skin and clothes was a tell-tale indicator. Perhaps the growing swell was foreplay too.
A white ute with a surfboard strapped to the roof roared down the road towards the beach. I eyed the frame in the driver’s seat as the ute neared. He was relaxed, his elbow resting on the window ledge half out of the car, the other hand high on the steering wheel. The ute slowed as it neared. I could see him clearly through the windscreen. Couldn’t turn my gaze away from him. He’d lassoed me with his eyes—pale, set against his suntanned skin and dark, loose waves of hair that hung around his neck and ears.
What an impression on my senses this man made. I wondered why—how specifically—a stranger, by appearance alone, could reach inside and steal my wits. What was it about him, seen from a distance through a windscreen that connected with a deeper part of me? A hidden, unknowable biology.
His gaze found mine and he smiled, the cheeky kind with half the mouth. My heart beat with strong instruction to lower my gaze, but rationality was quicker than my bodily reactions and reminded me that I was free to do as I wished. Smile at whom I chose. I had no one to answer to or listen to. Should I smile back? Yes. I damn well should smile back. So I did.
This should not be feeling so awkward. I was twenty-two years old, flirting should come naturally, be totally guilt-free, and not in the least bit frightening.
Penny’s breathing grew heavier and she pounced around my feet, trying to get away from the roar of the engine. The leash followed her, dragging across the front of my legs, and pulled tight. My ankle tapped my calf on my next step. I flung forwards, the gravelly ground hurtling towards me. It was too late, my knees, elbows and palms collided and skidded along the road. Penny presumed it was playtime, jumping around me and pawing at my back, stealing my remaining balance. I landed belly down on the burning bitumen.
Penny licked at my face and panted in my ear. Stinging pain pulsed in all the places scratched from my fall. Penny jumped and ran atop my back from side to side, the leash wrapping around my head. She snuffled at my ear again then proceeded to douse me with warm, wet licks.
‘Stop it!’ I yelled, shoving her away ‘Sit. Please just bloody sit.’
She sat and I untangled the leash and dragged myself off the road before I received third-degree burns on top of bruises and scratches. I slowly straightened up, patted my hair back into place and tried to catch my breath.
Mr Mesmeric had stopped his ute across the road, jumped out and was almost upon me.
First flirting attempt—a complete freakin’ disaster.
His pale eyes were assessing me, slightly crinkled. He was frowning. Heat flamed up my neck and into my cheeks, trying to outdo the burning pain in my palms and my knees.
I scowled at Penny.
Mr Mesmeric gently gripped at my shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’
I looked at his big hand on me, then dared to look into those eyes, trying desperately not to be hypnotised again. I willed the hot blush to please not be so obvious and wanted more than anything to roll in on myself and never look at him—glorious as he was—ever again.
His question had the awful effect of making each scrape throb. ‘Ow,’ I managed. Not quite an answer to his question, but a good enough indication that no I wasn’t okay. Not physically, not emotionally. My god, I’m mortified. And did he have to have two beautiful dimples etched into his cheeks, a strong square jaw, and such height? He was a head, two heads, above me and just as broad. Those shoulders, barely contained within his flimsy white singlet, were sprawling about town. No way to miss them. Even harder to look away …
Penny launched at the man, tugging the leash. I lurched forward two quick paces. He stepped two paces back, so I didn’t collide into him. Penny jumped up and down, her paws pounding at his chest.
‘No, Penny,’ I managed, while trying to find some level footing, attempting to cool the flames in my cheeks.
The man took the leash handle from me. ‘Sit, Penny,’ he said firmly.
And what did Penny do? She sat.
He bent and patted her head. ‘Good girl. You’re a good girl.’ Straightening, he looked at me with those pale eyes, which I noticed were green, and smiled that half-smile. ‘Except when she’s tripping her owner.’
Can my face burn any hotter?
‘I’m considering making her go to bed without dinner tonight.’
He smiled and peered down at Penny. ‘Hear that, Penny? No bones for you tonight.’ And traitor dog sat there staring up at him with her tongue hanging loosely out the side of her mouth. ‘I’m Bear by the way,’ he said, holding out a hand.
I reached out unthinkingly. ‘Hannah.’
He shook my hand. Hard.
My skinned palm ached. ‘Ow,’ I said and flinched away. Could this get any more humiliating?
‘I’m so sorry.’ He took my wrist, held it up to his mouth and blew gently across the graze. My heart actually stopped beating. What kind of delicious creature did that? My attention drifted to those full lips pursed before my palm. His breath eased the sting and made other places in my body, a little further down, sting instead. Mr Mesmeric just got a little more so.
‘Better?’ he asked, after a moment.
I nodded, eyes glazed.
‘What about the rest of you?’
My face burned like the hot sun beating down on me. I gathered my wits and inspected my elbows and knees, all scraped and bleeding in various degrees. ‘I wasn’t too graceful in my fall.’
He shook his head. ‘Didn’t have much choice in that matter.’
‘But I’m okay, I guess.’
‘So where’re you headed?’ he asked.
‘Up to my Grandma’s … my house.’
‘Come on. I’ll give you a lift. You can’t be walking home in this condition.’
Couldn’t be worse than the humiliation I was accumulating the longer this awkward interaction took place. I hesitated.
‘Come on,’ he said again and led Penny across the road to his ute. I shuffled behind him.
Bear lifted Penny onto the ute’s tray, tied her leash to the roll bar and opened his passenger door. I gingerly climbed inside while he jogged around to his side and jumped in.
‘You’re new in town?’ he asked, starting the engine.
I nodded. ‘Got here three days ago. Penny was going stir crazy without her daily walk …’ The memory of what just happened and the mortification buzzed anew through my cells. Did I seriously just fall over on the road because I was perving like a crazy, smiling loon at the first hot guy I saw? I felt sick in my stomach.
‘Where do you live?’
I gave him the address and he turned to look at me with eyebrows arching.
‘Jocelyn’s old place?’
‘Yeah. She is … was my grandmother.’
He peered at me again, gaze flicking over my face, down my body, then back to the road ahead. ‘I thought you looked familiar.’
My brow wrinkled. ‘I’m familiar?’
‘Yeah. You used to come and visit her on holidays.’
Long fingers strummed at the tight bands of guilt buried in my gut.
‘I mowed Jocelyn’s lawns for her,’ he continued.
I peered at him, his strong rounded shoulders, long muscled arms as he held the steering wheel, and the dark stubble on his jaw. The lawnmower guy had grown up. A lot. I had crushed on him so bad when I was thirteen. Grandma knew it. She caught me looking at him from the front window of the house as he pushed the noisy mower along the grass, rocks flicking out here and there with a loud clang. He was tall, sweat sheening over his tanned flesh. And I was completely smitten. Grandma shut the curtains in a flurry and said it was best to stay away from boys like that regardless of how cute they were. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and his tree wasn’t a good one. Every time I saw him after that, I felt a flutter of fear. What was so bad about this boy?
I looked across at him now. ‘I kinda remember you too.’
‘You stopped coming to visit though.’
Twang went those taut strings. ‘It’s a long story.’
He smiled. ‘Usually is.’ He turned the corner and took the first left up into my driveway. ‘I mowed her lawn right up to … until she … I’ve dropped by every now and then and run a mower over it. Just so it didn’t get out of hand. It’s nice to know there’ll be someone living here again. It’s a beautiful old place. Yours now?’
I nodded and cast my eye over the small, timber beach cottage with its flaking beige paint and red rusted tin roof. ‘Yep. All mine.’
Bear cut the engine, climbed out and jogged to my side to help me out. I
waved him away as he opened the door, not wanting any more of a fuss made about my accident than was needed. While he untied Penny from the back of the ute, I stepped out of the car, biting back a gasp as my feet touched the gravel below and my grazes stretched.
His gaze followed the path of blood seeping from my elbows and knees. He winced. ‘Do you need me to help you at all?’
I shook my head and strained a smile, fully aware of the tension around my mouth and eyes as I attempted to hide the pain and unceasing embarrassment. ‘I’ll be okay.’
Bear furrowed his brow as he assessed the wounds again. ‘I feel like I should be doing something here.’
‘I’ll be fine once I take a couple of paracetamol.’
‘Have you got some antiseptic?’
I shook my head.
He hoisted Penny out of the ute and she sat calmly at his feet while he scouted through a first-aid kit in his tray. He pulled out a bottle. ‘Here,’ he said, handing me some antiseptic spray, along with Penny’s leash. ‘Put some of this on once you’re cleaned up.’
I nodded and took them both from him. ‘Thanks again, Bear.’
‘No worries. Mercy Island is a small town, so I’m sure I’ll see you around.’
Pieces of Me is available now for pre-order, and will slide onto your e-reader Tuesday, 8 December 2015. Only 3 days to go!!!
Grab your copy here