Worlds Apart – Prologue & Chapter One

Worlds Apart – Prologue & Chapter One

My first novel is currently on sale for 99 cents at Amazon, B&N, All Romance, Bookstrand and Fictionwise. Here’s a chance to meet Raven and discover why she’s flying from New Zealand to visit Maryland. Hear of her soon-to-be step-father’s matchmaking schemes. Will they come to pass? Read Worlds Apart prologue and chapter one for a taste of what’s to come.


“I can’t do this,” Raven Titirangi gasped,

staring at the airline ticket in her hand.

“Why not?” grinned the man seated at her

hospital bedside. “Didn’t your mother teach you

not to look a gift horse in the mouth?”

Raven frowned. “My mother taught me lots of

things, like always being on the lookout for

lecherous old men—”

Brad Collins threw back his head, his shout

of laughter drawing glances from others in the

hospital ward. Raven felt a swell of affection.

Since meeting Brad during the annual

Rollercoaster Fun Run around Auckland’s North

Shore, life had been so different. The tall

American tourist said he had spied the

advertising for the fun run and joined the

thousands of runners pounding the pavement. By

the time they’d crossed the finish line, Brad and

Raven had established an easy rapport that had

continued to grow, and very soon he’d worked his

way into her family’s hearts.

“Look, honey…” He leaned forward grasping

her clenched fingers. “You work too damned hard.

You need quiet time to recuperate. Listen to what

the doctors said. You need to rest or this surgery

could take a long time to get over. If you stay at

home, you won’t rest.” He pressed on as if aware

of her mounting hesitation. “Joy said you have an

extended leave of absence from school to

recuperate, so there’s no reason why you can’t go.

You know I’d like you to come to America

permanently, so why not take this chance to visit

Ellicott City and see what you think of the place?

I have my own quarters so you won’t need to

bother Greg, unless you feel like being sociable.

Our house actually borders onto a state forest

with hiking trails you could use to build up your

strength again. And if you feel up to doing some

painting, I have a sunroom that would be ideal for

you to use as a studio.”

He’s ticking off everything he knows I’ll find

irresistible, Raven realized.

She looked up from their entwined fingers.

What he suggested sounded very tempting. She

knew she had to slow down and give her body

time to recoup, but how could she accept this

offer? She had her obligations here—still, a

holiday in America, all expenses paid, staying in

Brad’s home, it sounded wonderful, relaxing, and

carefree. Almost what the doctor would order…

No, she must not be tempted. Her mother had

enough on her plate without taking over Raven’s

maternal responsibilities as well.

“All you’re really doing is going over for a

couple of weeks before us. What could be the

harm in that?” he pressed.

“But without the boys?”

Brad continued as if she hadn’t interrupted.

“It will help to put some colour back into your

cheeks. I’ll make all the arrangements, have Greg

or Abby pick you up in Baltimore, and look after

you until we arrive. Perhaps if you feel up to it,

you might want to help with some of the wedding

arrangements, make sure everything would suit

your mother.”

Brad didn’t stop long enough for Raven to

speak. Instead, he slipped in the coup de grâce:

“I’ve talked this over with your mother already

and we have it all sorted out. Between the two of

us we can take care of everything here.”

Finally Brad paused. Raven guessed he was

uncertain what further arguments he could use

to sway her. He knew she would not willingly

expect Joy and him to look after her sons. A small

smile crossed her lips as she realized he’d

probably heard her quote ‘they’re my

responsibility’ on more than one occasion.

“Raven, you must realize that without your

health you’re no good to your boys or yourself.

Take it easy for a while!” He sighed, looking

quickly over his shoulder, before returning his

eyes to her face, entreating, “Please.”

“Your reinforcements are arriving.” Raven

tried to keep the amusement from her voice as

she sighted the familiar woman entering the

ward. Brad’s head swung around and his face lit

up with the sweetest smile.

Raven watched her tall, slim mother

approaching the bed. Joy smiled apologetically at

Brad. Still attractive even as she approached her

sixties, there was now a glow about her that

thrilled Raven. As a child Raven had often

dreamed of her mother remarrying, but it had not

happened—until Raven had taken Brad home

that day on the promise of a ‘home-cooked Kiwi

meal.’ Within a short time she could see that Joy

had found someone she could love. Raven hadn’t

been surprised when they had shared the news

that they intended to marry.

“What kept you?” Brad asked, concern

marking his face. “I saw some parking spaces

along the road before you dropped me off.”

“Yes, but it’s a one-way street. By the time I

got around the block they’d all gone. It doesn’t

matter. I finally found one lone car park down

Grafton Road.” Raven watched the love soften her

mother’s face as she touched his cheek before

turning to her with a smile.

“Hello, darling.” Joy leaned over and kissed

Raven. “How do you feel today? You still look

awfully pale to me, although it’s such a relief to

see you without those tubes.”

Not for the first time Raven thought of how

frightening her collapse must have been to her

mother. Thank God Brad had been there to help

Mum cope with her grandsons and her fears,

through those long terrifying hours when my life

hung in the balance.

“I’m feeling much better, thanks, Mum. The

doctor said I’d be able to come home within a


“That’s good news. The boys will be so happy.

We’ll bring them in later today. Brad and I wanted

to talk to you alone, so we came a little early.”

Raven tried to glare at the concerned face.

“Yes, I’ve been hearing already, Mother. You two

are ganging up on me, aren’t you?”

Joy didn’t even have the grace to look

ashamed although her lips twitched at the almost

unheard of formal address. “Of course we are,

darling. Maybe two of us can talk some sense into

you. You wouldn’t listen to me before when I said

you were doing too much. No one can continue

burning a candle at both ends. Something had to

give and it was your health.”

“Mother, appendicitis isn’t caused by

overwork, you know.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Joy acknowledged, “but

you must have been ignoring the warnings your

body was trying to give you. I suppose you told

yourself it was a torn muscle or something?” She

sniffed disparagingly, shaking her head. “Anyway,

I don’t want to listen to excuses. I can manage

the boys until we all join you.”

Using her sternest school-teacher voice, eyes

glittering with determination, Joy continued.

“Take that ticket and get on the plane to

Maryland, Raven. Stop arguing. Brad and I are

quite competent, you know.” Her eyebrows arched

defying argument. “We’ll see you in a couple of


As if she could read her daughter’s mind, she

added, “I spoke to the boys last night and

explained you need a holiday.”


Brad cut in guilelessly, “They were really

happy with the idea if it means you getting back

to your old self. Especially when I suggested we

might be able to spend a couple of extra days in

L.A. on the way over.”

Raven couldn’t help it. Laughter bubbled up

even though her stomach hurt and she had to

clutch it firmly. “You old reprobate! Mum, how on

earth could you fall for someone as sneaky and

underhanded as this?”

Joy looked across the bed at Brad, her eyes

twinkling. “Just fate, I guess.”

Brad tore his eyes from Joy’s and back to

Raven. “Go, Rae,” he urged. “I promise everything

will be okay here.”

Tears welled up in Raven’s eyes.

What would life have been like if I’d grown up

with him as a father? Still, soon he will be my

father. Well, stepfather, she corrected herself, but

that was good enough. And seeing the change in

her mother over the last month made her heart

swell with love and gratitude.

She placed her hands on either side of his

face. “Brad Collins, I love you. If you’d been a few

years younger, I’d have given Mum a run for her

money.” Raven missed the glance that flashed

between Brad and Joy as she hugged him tightly.

Just as well. She’d never have consented to go to

Maryland, had she known Brad’s ulterior motive.

Chapter 1

Greg Collins stared at the computer screen in

disbelief. Fingers went up to massage his tired

eyes and he read the message again. The words

were the same. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe.

His chest was tight, as though wrapped in

unexpandable mesh.

Dad, getting married? He shook his head.

There had to be some mistake.

No, the words were not ambiguous in any

way; his father’s email was quite direct. He

intended to marry a New Zealand woman he’d

met while on vacation. The wedding would take

place here, in Ellicott City, and Greg and Abby

were to arrange everything for an April date.

Greg snorted. The old fool. What is he


His knuckles whitened as he waited for the

printer to spit out a copy of the offending

message. Obviously, some woman was trying to

get her hooks into his father, and Greg intended

to make sure she didn’t succeed.

Greg admired his father, depended on him.

He considered him intelligent and very astute.

Greg couldn’t imagine him being taken in by

some sorry story—but even considering such a

major step as another marriage without a word to

his children? It was totally out of character.

Something smelled fishy…

His father never advertised his wealth.

Perhaps this woman had discovered his worth

somehow and saw Brad Collins as a way of

feathering her nest.

Well, we’ll see about that. Grabbing the paper

from the printer, he slammed out of the house.


As he swung into the driveway of his sister,

Abby’s modest home, the tires of his four-wheel

drive squealed, and protested again noisily as he

braked. Picking up the printed email from the

seat beside him, he jumped out of the truck,

slamming the door behind him. Racing up the

front steps, he kept his finger glued to the

doorbell until the front door swung open.

“Where’s your mother?” he demanded

brusquely as he brushed past his young nephew.

“Greg—” Abby hurried out of the dining room,

her face paling with concern. “—what’s wrong?”

“Have you read your emails today?” he


She clutched his arm. “Oh, no,” she cried.

“Something’s happened to Dad?”

He tossed the paper at her. “You’re right

about that,” he fumed, barely acknowledging

Tony joining them in the foyer and sliding an arm

around his wife. Suddenly, Greg felt contrite as

he watched Tony’s arm tighten to support Abby’s

slumped body. He hadn’t meant to frighten his


“What’s he thinking? He must have lost his

marbles,” Greg railed, after Abby and Tony had

read the email. He missed the questioning look

that passed between them. “What should we do?”

He swung around to Abby.

“I’ll deal with dinner. You look after Greg.”

Tony squeezed Abby’s arm.

Abby grimaced, dragging Greg toward the

privacy of the den.

Greg hung back. “Hey, Tony, Abby, I’m sorry.”

He scrubbed his hand across his face. “I was so

worried about Dad, I never gave a thought to the

time. Abby, finish your meal…”

“My meal can wait.”

“No, this can wait, eat while it’s hot.”

“What are microwaves for? I’ll nuke it later.

Come on.”


“Forget it, will you? This is far more

important. You want to tell me what’s upset you

so much?” Abby asked as she leaned against the

closed door.

Greg swung around and looked at her in

astonishment. “You can’t tell me you approve?

What on earth is he thinking?” he muttered as he

paced across the small room. “He’s sixty years

old, for God’s sake, how can he even consider

marrying again?”

“Maybe he’s thinking of himself, for once in

his life?” Abby suggested calmly.

Greg could only scowl.

“You have to admit, he’s always put family or

the business first before. Remember all the

excuses he had for not taking this vacation in the

first place?” Abby paused thoughtfully. The

silence caused Greg to look at her closely.

“You know,” she continued, “I think it’s nice

that he’s met someone.”

“Met!” He exploded. “We’re not talking met.

He’s talking about marrying the woman! We know

nothing about her and—”

“It’s really got nothing to do with us, Greg.”

He swung around. “Of course it has.” He

stopped. “You already knew!” he accused.

“I did not know,” Abby shot back. “But didn’t

you ever wonder that although he intended to

tour New Zealand and Australia for three months,

he never managed to get past Auckland? As far as

I can judge by his emails and postcards to the

children, he’s never left the city.” She smiled

slightly at Greg. “Even a fool would have to

wonder about that.”

Greg had never wondered. But then, he

hadn’t had much time to think about anything

but work these last busy weeks. The only time

thoughts of his father had entered his mind had

been when he missed Brad’s input or advice

about some problem or other.

Greg dipped his head sheepishly.

“Okay,” he acknowledged, “so I haven’t given

the Old Man much thought lately. But marriage,

hell…” His fingers tugged through his hair. “I bet

she’s only after his money.”

Abby smiled sadly. “Greg, you’re never going

to trust another woman, are you? We’re not all

like Sybil, you know.”

He glared at her.

“Dad’s still a very good-looking guy.”

Greg was speechless. He’d never considered

whether or not his father might be attractive to

the opposite sex.

“He’s just a gullible old man who’s probably

going to be taken to the cleaners if we don’t do


“You know what, Greg?” Abby’s voice had

hardened. “If you were Caleb’s age, I’d say you

were acting like a selfish little brat. Dad’s been a

wonderful father. He must have been so lonely

since Mom passed away, and if he’s found

someone he loves, well I say good luck to him.”

Greg stopped pacing, staring at her in

bewilderment. He’d expected Abby to be as

worried as he was. Can’t she see this might be

disastrous for Dad? “But she’ll be after his


“Come on, Greg. Dad’s no fool. I doubt if

anyone could take him for a ride. And anyway,

big brother, who cares about his money? He can’t

take it with him when he dies. I don’t want it.

Tony and I are quite happy the way we are. That

only leaves you.” She glared at him, hands on her

hips. “You already have all the money one person

could ever need in a lifetime. Why should you

care about Dad’s?”

“It’s not the money,” he growled, horrified at

the picture his sister was painting of him. His

concerns hadn’t come across as being that

selfish, had they? “It’s the principle of the thing,

Abby. I don’t want him to get hurt.” He turned

earnestly to his sister. “Look, I know how it feels.

A relationship built on material things doesn’t

last, and somebody always gets hurt. I’m not

willing to sit by and see that happen to someone I

care about.” He sucked in a deep breath and

pledged, “If she is after his money…” He left the

threat unsaid.

“Why not just give her the benefit of the

doubt until we meet her?” Abby suggested gently.

“You might be doing all this worrying for nothing.

She’s probably the loveliest lady. If Dad’s fallen

for her, I’m sure she’s very special.”

Greg detected a slight hesitation in her words,

and breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t being

totally paranoid, not if Abby was worried too.

“Let’s just wait and see, shall we? When does

he say she’s coming?”

Greg leaned over, picked up the page from a

side table and skimmed through the lines of his

father’s newsy email. He read aloud. “Raven—” he

scoffed. “Raven. What sort of name is that?” He

continued, “—has been ill, and needs a rest,

which she won’t get here. I have convinced her to

take a vacation before the wedding, and have a

quiet look around. I so hope she likes Ellicott

City. I want her to be happy there. I’ve told her to

settle into my apartment and make use of my


Greg snorted. “I’ll make sure she’s happy, all

right,” he muttered. He continued skimming:

“Friday night. She’s arriving on Friday.” Two days

away. “He’s done this on purpose—giving us no

notice.” His hand raked through his hair again.

“Raven. Bet she’ll be just like a raven, a black

bird of evil.”

“Honestly, Greg. Now you’re being too silly.

How can a person take on the personality of a

bird?” Abby reasoned crossly. “But if you’re

determined to pursue that analogy, perhaps she’s

like the ravens as some of the native tribes of

Alaska see them. I remember helping Caleb with

an assignment this past fall. They look on the

raven as the creator of the world. I believe they’re

held in very high regard for their courage and

shrewdness. Perhaps Dad’s Raven will portray

those characteristics.”

“Shrewdness, for sure; but more likely doom

and disaster.”

“Perhaps she should stay here with us,” Abby

offered. “I doubt if she’ll enjoy the type of

hospitality you sound like you’re going to be


Greg was adamant. “She’s staying at the

house with me.”

“Dad wants her to use his apartment, Greg,

and if she’s been ill—”

“She’ll stay in the main house, where I can

keep an eye on her.” He noticed Abby’s concerned

frown but was not about to change his mind.

“Don’t you go doing anything stupid, Greg.

Dad would never forgive you.”

Greg’s eyes narrowed, his jaw clenched. “Of

course not. I would never do anything to upset

Dad.” He knew exactly what he intended to do.

“Oh, I’ll be the most perfect host you’ve ever



Raven flopped down on the edge of her bed

amidst a suitcase and variety of items she was

trying to decide whether to pack or put back in

her dresser. A week out of hospital and she still

didn’t feel much stronger, she still couldn’t get

through a day without collapsing into bed for a


Today was no exception. She sighed

despondently. For someone used to running up to

ten kilometres each day, plus often having a

squash game or a workout at the gym, the idea of

not being able to even get through a sedentary

morning without carking annoyed her so much

she sometimes felt like screaming. She let her

head fall back onto the pillow and swung her legs

onto the bed. She would just lie here for a

minute, collecting her energy.


Through the drowsiness she heard

whispering. It never ceased to amaze her that

children could make more noise whispering than

grown people made talking normally. She

stretched, enjoying that last moment of semioblivion

before she would be forced to open her


“If I don’t get a kiss soon, I’m not moving.”

Suddenly two pairs of arms were wrapped

around her neck and a set of lips was pressed

against each cheek. She held the wriggling bodies

tightly for a moment before opening her eyes.

“Hi, guys. How was school?”

She listened attentively as they plied her with

stories of their day, each trying to outdo the

other. At seven, Tane’s sensitivity already showed

as he occasionally allowed five-year-old Scott to

control the conversation. Raven smiled. Three

months since starting school, Scott was still

proudly excited to share his day’s work with his


Raven closed her eyes, lamenting how fast

her babies were growing up. All too soon they

wouldn’t need her any more. Her hold tightened

just a little. She never got over how much

happiness they gave her. While she knew she’d

never stop missing Chris, watching his sons grow

up happy and healthy had dulled much of the


Time heals. She could almost believe that

now. She never ceased to thank God for these two

little boys, and be eternally grateful she and Chris

had decided to start their family almost

immediately after they had married. They’d both

been only children, and had dreamed of filling

their home with the noise and bedlam associated

with large families.

But that wasn’t to be. They’d had just four

years together before a drunk driver took Chris’s

life—such a needless, senseless loss. But Raven

couldn’t maintain her anger against the other

driver, a young family man whose life had also

been devastated by the accident and his own

stupidity. God counselled forgiveness, and

although it had taken some time, she found her

forgiveness had not only helped that driver but

her as well.

Painting and her boys had been her salvation


Stopping an argument between her

boisterous sons, Raven sent them outside for a

few minutes to play before they’d need to begin

their homework.

She headed for the fridge and began to

prepare tea. As she worked, she found her

thoughts wandering to Brad and her mother. She

was so happy her mother had found someone

new to love, although she wished Brad was a

Kiwi. Then he wouldn’t be taking Mum all the way

across the world to live.

Joy had raised Raven alone, and then, with

no thought for herself, had willingly stepped in to

help when Raven’s world had fallen apart. Raven

could never repay the sacrifices her mother had

made for her, and she was thrilled to see the

happiness radiating from Joy since she’d met

Brad. Her mother deserved all the happiness that

he could give her, and more.

Thankfully Joy didn’t seem fazed to leave all

she’d ever known, her family and friends, her

home, her country. Not something Raven would

do. No man could ever tempt her to leave these

shores. But Joy seemed content to know they

would visit often. And Raven had to accept Brad’s

reassurances, no matter how much she’d miss

her mother. It was time for Raven to sacrifice

something—her mother’s company—and she

would never let on how hard that was going to be.

As she arranged the pots on the stove, Raven

pushed her selfish feelings aside. Joy should

never have had to be alone for so long. We weren’t

created to live alone, she mused. Maybe one day


She quickly diverted those thoughts too. She

wasn’t on the lookout for another man. She’d

already experienced the best.

No, she was quite happy with her life the way

it was.

Wasn’t she?


Raven watched Joy and Brad closely,

drinking coffee after their meal. Raven was aware

of her mother’s nervousness.

Nervous? Her mother? Never! Joy Henderson

was the most confident person Raven knew. Years

of dealing with teenage students had probably

helped develop that confidence. She’d never seen

her mother anything but in total control; yet now

she was even fidgeting, twirling a teaspoon

around in her fingers.

Raven’s eyes slid from Joy to Brad. The two of

them kept making furtive eye contact, then

hurriedly looking away. His hair was quite messy,

as if it had suffered numerous finger combings.

Her mother’s coffee cup clanked against its

saucer. “We’ve been organizing ourselves for next

week.” Again the spoon twirled around. “The

weekend, of course, will be no problem.” Raven

was ticketed to depart Friday evening. “We’ve

been thinking that maybe…” The cup went to her

lips and down again. “Maybe it would be easier—”

again the pause, and nervous look at Brad, “—if

Brad just moved in.” The last phrase came out

like a rifle shot.

Raven’s eyes went from one concerned face to

the other. They’re worried about my reaction, she

realised. They were a different generation. While

her mother might seem very modern and ‘with it,’

Raven guessed that Joy was feeling

uncomfortable about living with Brad before

marriage. What can I say that would ease their

concerns without embarrassing them further?

“Actually, I was wondering if I could suggest

that. It would be the most sensible thing to do.”

Raven chewed the inside of her lip to stop the

smile. They were so cute. She suddenly felt years

older, as if she was the parent offering advice, or

even vindication.

“But the boys…” Brad began, clearing his

throat. “We don’t want to be sending the wrong

signals to them.”

Raven smiled, grateful for their concern.

“They’ll be fine. I’ll have a talk with them and


She reached over and clasped her mother’s

hand. “I think it’s the most wonderful idea.” The

relief was apparent on her mother’s face.

“Oh, Mum!” Raven quickly rounded the table

and hugged her mother. “I’m just so happy for

you. It’s been so long since you had someone to

love you like you deserve to be loved. I just wish

you could have met Brad twenty years ago. You

grab every moment of happiness with both hands

and hang on tight, Mum, and don’t let go, ever.”

Joy looked closely at Raven. “You’re right, if

only I had met him twenty years ago,” she agreed

fervently, “when I was like you, a young widow

with a young family, lonely and afraid to love


Raven withdrew sharply. “Mum, I’m not

afraid.” She took a deep breath, collecting her

wits, dismayed at how her mother had turned the

conversation around. “Don’t start on me. Just

because you’re in love, don’t think everyone else

should be, too.” She spoke lightly, taking any

heat out of the words.

“Oh, Rae, don’t give up on love like I did. I

loved your father dearly, but he never wanted me

to spend my life as I have. All the months he

fought the cancer, he worried what we’d do, how

we’d cope without him.” Her intensity stilled

Raven’s attempt to move away. “How I would cope

without him. He wanted me to find another mate

and enjoy life to its fullest. He made me promise I

wouldn’t reject the possibility.” She caught at

Raven’s arm. “If Chris had had the opportunity—

he wouldn’t have approved of the way you’re

shutting love out of your life either.”

Raven turned from the table. Staring out the

kitchen window, her voice took on a defensive

tone. “I am not shutting love out. I have the boys

to love, and you—”

“Don’t be obtuse, Raven,” Joy cut in sternly.

“You know what I mean. You can’t go on grieving

for Chris all your life. He’d have been appalled

that you’re burying yourself in the boys. You can’t

take the place of a father in their lives, you know,

even if you are being Super Mother.”

Her tone softened. “You need to make a life

for yourself. The boys will be grown all too soon,

and you’ll be left a hollow shell. Relax your guard,

darling.” Joy moved behind Raven and gently

touched one of the hands clenching the edge of

the bench. She glanced past Raven to where Brad

sat. “I still can’t believe I’ve fallen in love again.

You will too, darling, if you’ll take the chance.

Just don’t lock up your heart. You have to start

living again—not just going through the motions.”

Raven saw tears in her mother’s eyes. She

had long known how her mother felt, but Joy had

never put it so plainly before. Raven would never

doubt her mother’s good intentions or the wisdom

of her words. Occasionally—very occasionally—

Raven had begun to wonder if there wasn’t more

to life than what she was experiencing.

She turned and hugged Joy for a long

moment. “Don’t fuss over me so much, Mum.

You’re starting out on a whole new life. Don’t

clutter up your happiness worrying about me. I’m


Joy looked at her, a sceptical expression on

her face.

“I am fine, really. I’ve long passed the grieving

stage. I’ll never stop missing Chris, or wanting to

share things with him, but I know I have to get on

with life.” She paused, suddenly realising that she

actually believed there could be someone else out

there for her. That while she may have lost one

soul mate, there might be another. She’d never

really considered the possibility before. Had her

recent brush with death caused her to realise

that life was all too short as well?

“I know, Mum. I do understand.” She paused,

suddenly uncomfortable with the charged

atmosphere, and sought to lighten it. “It’s just

that I’ve never even seen another man who

twitches the old heart strings.”

Still trying to ease the tension filling the

kitchen, and reassure her mother, Raven grinned

as she hugged Joy’s shoulders. “You stole the one

I had my eye on,” she teased. “Okay, okay, if it’ll

make you feel any better, I hereby pledge to you

that if I ever meet someone who looks as good as

Brad, I’ll think seriously about him.”

Brad moved to join them, his arms encircling

mother and daughter in a tight hug. Raven felt

her heart swell as the emotion threatened to

overflow. She blinked rapidly, secure in their love.

Trying to cover up her heightened emotional

state, Raven again resorted to humour. “Now, to

return to our previous conversation—” She

slipped away from them toward the door,

throwing over her shoulder at Brad, “Has Mum

assured you that the boys are really heavy

sleepers?” She waited just long enough to see

Brad grasp the significance of her statement and

watch the colour sweep up into her mother’s face

before skipping out of the room.


Raven couldn’t help feeling excited. She’d

never really travelled overseas, just a five-day

honeymoon in Australia. She’d dreamed of taking

her boys to Disneyland one day, but money

wasn’t that plentiful.

Her mother and Brad had taken the boys to

the airport playground while Raven joined the

check-in queue at Mangere International Airport.

Finally it was her turn. The handsome clerk

in the crisp uniform of the national airline wore a

huge smile, teeth flashing against his brown skin.

“Good evening. Welcome to Air New Zealand.

Could I see your ticket and passport, please?”

Raven flicked through the handful of

documentation and handed over the required

paperwork. How sick he must get of repeating the

same old phrases to hundreds of travellers a day,

and yet his ready smile and welcome seemed for

Raven alone. Raven heaved her suitcase onto the

scales and waited while the clerk fed her

information into the computer.

“I have a nice surprise for you, Mrs. Titirangi.

You’ve been upgraded.” White teeth flashed at

Raven’s gasp. “You’ll have a much more pleasant

flight, with a little more leg room,” he said,

winking conspiratorially. He stapled the luggage

receipt to Raven’s ticket and handed her the

packet. “You have a six-hour layover in Los

Angeles before your plane to Baltimore. Your

baggage has to be collected and taken through

customs by you.” He went on to explain the

whereabouts of the terminal she’d need for her

domestic flight, assuring her that she was a

confirmed passenger for the onward journey.

“Your boarding call will be at eight-thirty. Make

sure you’re at gate eleven at least ten minutes

before then, please, and have a wonderful flight.”

Again the smile flashed before he dismissed her

in favor of the next person in line.

Raven moved toward the escalator, bemused.

She’d heard of people being upgraded to better

seats when travelling, but had never dreamed it

might happen to her.

It’s a sign, she thought. This flight might just

be fun. The holiday might be fun. She was going

to enjoy herself from now, and not worry. The

boys would be fine. They hadn’t seemed the least

bit upset about her leaving before them. Of

course Brad would spoil them, so they were

probably counting on having quite a fun time

without her. Besides, what could happen in a

couple of weeks?

She placed her papers into the zipped sidesection

of her travel bag and, throwing it onto her

shoulder, headed for the children’s playground

with a lighter frame of mind.

Dumping the small backpack down beside

the table where Brad and her mother sat, she slid

onto a seat. “You’ll never believe what happened. I

got upgraded!”

Her eyes quickly searched the playground

until she spotted her sons, and then swung back

as her mother spoke, her voice edged with

concern. “I hope it means you’ll be able to get

some sleep. I still wonder if this is too soon.

Maybe you’re not well enough yet to be rushing

off to the other side of the world.”

Brad reached out and covered Joy’s hand. “I

thought you were happy with Raven going.”

“Oh, of course I am. It’s just—I thought she’d

be stronger by now.”

“Don’t be such an old worry wart, Mum. I’m

as strong as a horse.” She smiled across at Joy.

“Look, it’s after seven and I’m still awake. You

know that’s an improvement.” Raven dropped the

humorous tone as she realized how concerned

her mother was about the upcoming flight.

“Seriously, Mum. I feel so much better each day. I

don’t have any pain, and I’ve managed to knock

my midday sleeps on the head. Well, for the last

two days anyway,” she appended honestly. “I can

feel my muscles screaming to get back to normal.

Within a few days I’m going to check out that

circuit through the bush Brad mentioned.”

“For Heaven’s sake, don’t start running

through the bush!” Joy was aghast. “You would

have no one to help you if you felt faint.”

“It’s called a forest,” Brad inserted carefully.

“I don’t care what it’s called,” Joy snapped

playfully at Brad, and turning back to Raven. “I

want you to promise me you won’t go running in

the bu—in the forest.”

“I promise. But I am starting to feel like I

could do something extra…not too much, though.

I’ll be fine, Mum, really, don’t worry.”

Brad consulted his watch. “What time is your

boarding call, Rae?”

“Eight-thirty.” Raven waved for the boys to

join them.

“You’ll want to have a little time after you go

through Immigration to look around the duty-free

shops and get to your departure gate. Shall we go

and get the boys something to eat now? Then it’ll

just about be time for you to head through.”

“McDonalds, McDonalds, McDonalds!”

chanted the boys, jumping up and down beside


“Pardon. What did I hear?” Raven warned,

looking sternly at the excited children.

She was not taken in by their attempt to look

angelic; keeping a straight face was difficult as

they stood straight and tall in front of their new


“Yes, please, Brad.” Scott’s normal impish

grin was firmly under control.

“Thank you, Brad,” Tane added.

“You don’t have to pretend to be angels, he

already knows you’re not.” Raven stood. “But

never forget your manners.” She opened her

mouth to continue as the boys joined in to recite

the often-heard adage: “Manners maketh the


“Why, you two little ratbags…” Raven’s fingers

reached out to tickle them both. “Now let’s go.”

Time whizzed by, and all too soon Brad

suggested it was time for Raven to leave.

She clung to her two boys. “I’m going to miss

you guys so much!”

They hugged her tightly for a moment, then

began to squirm.

“You be really good for Nana and Brad, won’t


“We’re going to call him Granddad,” Tane

whispered close to her ear. “Do you think he’ll

like that?” Raven glanced up at Brad, who stood

behind the boys with an arm around Joy.

“I think he just might,” she said, smiling. She

stood up to enfold her mother and Brad in a big

hug. “Thank you so much. You’ve both been

wonderful these past few weeks. I would never

have managed without you.”

“Of course you would,” Joy scoffed, blinking

to fend off tears. “Now off you go, and have a good

time. No worrying about the boys.” She glanced

down at their shining faces. “We’re going to be

fine, aren’t we, guys?”

“We sure are, Nana. Mum, do you know it’s

only fifteen more sleeps and we’re going to

America?” piped up Scott.

“Yes, I know. And I bet you can hardly wait.”

“It’s going to be so cool! Brad’s going to take

us to a fun park that’s much bigger than

Rainbow’s End.”

“I’m going on all the fast rides again and

again, even if I get sick,” added Tane.

“Not if I’m sitting beside you, you’re not,”

Brad cut in.

Raven grimaced at the image. She shook her

head, pretending to rebuke Tane, but her look

caressed him and Scott before she bent to give

them one last hug.

“I love you. See you in eighteen sleeps.”

She rushed through the entrance to the

Immigration area, not turning to wave until she

was almost out of their sight. She didn’t want the

boys to see her tears, not when they were so

excited and saw her trip as a forerunner to their

own. She caught her breath in a sob. This was

the first time she’d ever willingly left them and

she’d miss them so much!


Joy watched her daughter disappear behind

the large gray partition, knowing how she was

feeling, understanding because she was feeling

the same. She sighed, realising that she was

probably being silly. Raven would be fine. This

break was what she needed to get back on her

feet. Still, she said, “Do you think she’ll be all


Brad’s arm squeezed her shoulders. “She’ll be

fine. Don’t worry about her.”

“That was wonderful of you, arranging the

upgrade.” She looked at him closely. “You did

arrange it, didn’t you?”

“I knew she wouldn’t accept anything but the

cheapest fare. You know she wanted to pay for

her and the boys. It was only my insisting that

getting married at home had been my idea, so it

was my responsibility to make sure your family

was able to attend the service. Otherwise she’d

have insisted on using all her savings to pay for

the damned tickets.” He hugged her tight against

him. “This way she thinks she’s had a lucky

break, and we’ll know she is getting a bit of extra

attention and a lot more comfort during the


“Thank you.” Joy laid a gentle hand on his

arm. “You’re a very kind and thoughtful man,

Brad Collins.” She smiled up at him. “What have

you told your children about her arrival?”

“Just that she’s been ill and needs rest. Greg

will take good care of her. Don’t worry. He’s had a

few hard knocks, but he’s a good boy. He and

Raven will hit it off, I’m sure,” he said, shrugging

conspiratorially as they followed the boys up the

escalator. “You know what she said: If she ever

saw anyone who looked like me, she’d give it

some thought.” He grinned. “You’ve seen the

photo of Greg, but Raven hasn’t.”

Joy couldn’t help laughing. “You old

matchmaker.” Then her motherly instinct came to

the fore. “Raven’s not going to get hurt, is she?”

“I don’t see why. They’re exactly right for each

other. All we have to do is hope they can see

that.” Brad’s voice firmed in a mock threat.

“They’d better! I don’t want to take you away from

your family.”

Joy looked up at him. What a wonderful man,

so gentle and considerate. “I’ve made my decision,

Brad. It has no conditions attached.” Momentarily

she forgot Raven as she studied his handsome

face. How was she supposed to continue to act

normally when the anticipation of tonight was

awakening all her senses?

Brad’s face tightened as he read the message

in her eyes. His arm squeezed her close against

his side and he murmured, “Not long now,


They called the boys and headed towards the

observation deck so they could see Raven’s plane

depart Aotearoa. They both knew they must

spend this next little while with the boys, making

sure they were content without their mother. It

was already well past their bedtime and they’d be

asleep long before the car pulled into the garage

in Devonport.

And fortunately, they were very sound


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