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
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.
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
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.
“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
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
“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
“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
“Shrewdness, for sure; but more likely doom
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
And fortunately, they were very sound