An unexpected and unusual inheritance sets a young woman on the road to discover her mother’s deepest secret. A charming and heartfelt rural romance perfect for readers of Rachael Johns and Karly Lane.
When Lou Taylor inherits a quaint country cottage and a mobile library full of books from her birth mother, she heads to the small town of Wagtail Ridge to learn more about the woman she never knew. Curiously, the last piece of the bequest is a handwritten letter, the first of many Luca left scattered along the library’s route in hopes of finally sharing her secrets with the daughter she had to give up.
The townspeople of Wagtail Ridge flock around Lou, wanting to share the stories of Luca’s life, but she knows she must learn about her birth mother in the way Luca intended. Jake Barnes, her new neighbour, offers to help her follow the trail, but weighing on his conscience is a promise he made to Luca – a secret that now stands between him and the woman who’s slowly capturing his heart…
As the kilometres fly by, Lou gradually untangles who her mother was and what lay behind the choices she made. At the same time, she finds herself drawing ever closer to kind, handsome Jake. But will it all be enough to keep her in Wagtail Ridge when she has another happy life waiting for her in the city?
A captivating story of love, family and belonging from award-winning romance author Janet Gover.
Luca’s hand looked incredibly frail as she reached for the door handle. Her fingers wrapped around the frosty metal, but she felt nothing. She gripped as tightly as she was able, twisted and pulled. The newly constructed door opened smoothly and she silently blessed her small town. She hadn’t been able to open the big front doors of her shed for some time now. Her friends had spent an entire day installing this smaller door so she could return to the place that was the whole world to her.
Inside the shed it was quite cold, but Luca was well rugged up. It was dark too, despite the beams of winter sunlight spearing through the cracks and holes in the timber walls. Luca didn’t need much light. She knew every inch of the shed and the vehicle stored in it as well as she knew her own kitchen. Until recent weeks, she had spent far more time here, sorting the contents not only of the truck, but of the boxes stored on the shelves that lined the back wall of the shed. She couldn’t read the labels in the darkness, but she didn’t need to. The lower shelves were all boxes of school textbooks, maths and English and history ready for the next intake of students who needed them. The boxes on the second shelf held musical instruments and sports equipment. Close to the door were a couple of boxes of fabric and yarn. The art materials box was empty, but it always was. Paper and paint and crayons were always in high demand.
She crossed to the truck and laid her fragile hand against its familiar and comforting shape. Her bones were as brittle as birds’ wings. Her skin was almost translucent, exposing a network of blue veins. Luca wasn’t as old as her hands looked, but that was what illness did to a body. There was nothing she could do to stop the tremor in the hands that had once driven this truck through the bush or repaired a delicate book … or held a child.
She gently caressed the letters painted on the side of the truck. They had faded a little and the layer of red dust made them dull, but Luca felt the same passion she had always felt for this wonderland that had given her so much joy. She felt a welcome sense of familiarity, almost like coming home, as she opened the door set in the side of the truck. The stairs were folded safely away and she opened the panels below the door and took hold of the metal frame. Her strength was barely up to it but finally the steps slid into place with a familiar and satisfying click. That sound had always heralded the start of a new and exciting journey, and not just for her.
Luca gripped the rail firmly as she climbed into the interior of the truck. The lights came on at the touch of a switch. She had known they would. One of her friends would have made sure everything was ready for her to make this last visit to the library. She was exhausted by the time she slid into the chair behind the small desk bolted to the wall. Walking from the house to the shed had sapped what little energy she was still able to muster. She would have to rest a few minutes before she could do what she had come to do.
Closing her eyes, Luca took a deep breath. Despite all these weeks left idle in the shed, the mobile library had retained all its magic. That magic came from the books that lined the walls. Even with her eyes closed, she could see each one of them in its proper place on the metal shelves. She loved them all, but some were special.
The rear wall was given over to the children’s collection, from books with colourful numbers and letters to learn, to Dr Seuss and Little Grey Rabbit. Luca could once have recited the words of all her favourites. The books for the older kids resided in the higher shelves. Pride of place in the middle went to the brumbies—white horses roughly sketched against a mountain backdrop. She must have read them all a dozen times over the years, and had always planned to read them again. She probably didn’t have enough time now.
On the left wall of the library, the top three shelves held a well-worn cluster of romance novels. She always smiled when she saw a male reader surreptitiously slide one of those from the shelves when he thought no-one was watching. She always kept the book between two meaty crime novels as she checked it out. She’d often wondered what the slightly embarrassed romance fans would have said if they knew how many other hatted and booted stockmen and farmers had a soft spot for a happy ever after.
The single poetry shelf had attracted fewer visitors, but her bush poets had been eager, and the turnover had always been high.
She could still hear the voices. And see the eager faces. Have you got any more books by this author? Thank you for suggesting this; it was great. I cried as I read the last chapter … Fascinating … Interesting … Wonderful.
Yes—full of wonder. Those were the words she used when she talked about her little mobile library. A magical place of dreams and wonder for young and old alike. Even after both she and the library were no longer ‘official’ she had kept those dreams alive for herself and for readers in the small towns that had been forgotten or left behind. So many books. So many readers. So many memories. But not one of them as important as what she was about to do.
Luca picked up the tote bag she’d brought from the house. She carefully laid the writing paper, pen and envelopes on the desk. Then she pulled a photograph in a silver frame from the bag and placed it where she could see it. She looked at it for a long time. Her own face was much changed from that of the young woman in the photograph. She barely recognised herself now. The child would be a young woman today, but Luca would still know her. She was the reason Luca had made the effort to come all the way to the library today. She could have done this in the house and saved herself both the physical and emotional journey, but so much of her life had been lived within these walls that she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
The first letter was easy to write, despite the tremor in her hand. The recipient had received detailed instructions months ago. He knew what she wanted and he would do it.
But the second one …
Her hand hovered over the white sheet. She had written this letter in her mind so many times over the past couple of years, and while the words had been different each time, every one of them had said the same thing—words that were so important they might begin a journey of discovery, or lay waste to her best hope. She would never know which.
Luca took a deep breath and looked once more at the photo-graph. She didn’t need the doctors to tell her she had very little time left. She could only hope that when she was gone, her words would be read by that little girl.
She picked up a pen.
My Darling Daughter …
Lou unchained her bike from the stand and wheeled it to the cycle path. A few seconds later she was moving swiftly away from the university, her tiny office and the stack of marked essays ready to go back to their writers. The cycleway curved down towards the Lane Cove River and her heart lifted as she was surrounded by trees. She loved these few minutes without brick walls or fences. She loved the feeling of openness, the towering gums and the air that was a little less polluted by car exhaust and big city smog.
She was sweating in the midsummer heat and moving fast as she dropped down onto Riverside Drive. At this time of day there weren’t many cars and she could almost convince her-self that she was already on holiday. Just two weeks to the end of the term, and then she was taking a well-earned break. No classrooms, no students, no lectures and no walls. Just hiking boots, a tent and the mountains. With a loud whoop, she steered her bike around the next corner, the river glinting through the trees below her. She wasn’t entirely sure what a master’s degree in environmental science was going to do for her job prospects. When she’d chosen the course, it seemed to suggest travel, the possibility of mixing city excitement with her love of the bush. So far, beyond the tutoring work she’d been doing, she hadn’t thought too hard about it. There was still plenty of time for her to make that decision.
Lou loved Sydney. She liked the energy and the excitement. She loved the way the harbour and the Opera House looked at sunrise and the fireworks on the bridge at New Year’s Eve. But still there were times when all she wanted was to get away from the noise and the people. Between school and uni, she’d taken a year off to go fruit picking in Victoria. It was back-breaking work, but she’d never been happier than labouring under the open skies and getting dirt under her fingernails. She was a city girl, born and raised—well, raised at least. She’d never really understood why the bush called to her like it did, but there was something to be said for feeling comfortable in both worlds.
The boathouse came into view ahead of her. She lifted herself off the seat and pushed hard, feeling the bite in her leg muscles as she built up more speed for the sweep around the big curve in the river then up past the picnic area and across Delhi Road. She was in suburbia now, but it was the best suburbia she could imagine. She knew how lucky she was to have been brought up here, where the homes overlooked the river. There were ample trees and while the city was all around them, it didn’t intrude too much.
Lou turned up the sloping driveway of her parents’ home, a big white house half hidden among the trees. She braked and stored the bike in the open garage next to her father’s car. It seemed early for him to be home, but she wasn’t sure. She’d only recently moved from uni accommodation back to her parents’ house, gladly accepting their offer of help. She didn’t make a lot of money from her few hours tutoring and marking essays each week, and was saving for her escape to the bush.
‘I’m home,’ she called as she walked through the front door, wiping the sweat from her face. ‘I’ll just have a quick shower.’ She didn’t wait for an answer as she headed upstairs.
The house was unusually quiet when she came back down ten minutes later, her short blonde hair still damp. According to her watch, it was time for the ABC news. Her parents always watched the news. She put her head through into the living room, but the TV was off and her parents weren’t there. She found them sitting at the oak kitchen table, staring at a white envelope that lay between them. They had been talking softly but stopped as she walked into the room.
Her mother’s brown eyes were troubled. Deep lines surrounded them, and Lou was struck for the first time by the knowledge that her parents were no longer young. They’d never been as young as her schoolfriends’ parents, but now both her mother and her father suddenly looked old.
‘Mum? Dad? What is it?’
‘This came for you today,’ her father said, pushing the envelope towards her.
Lou sat down and picked it up. In the top corner, the return address was a lawyer’s office in the city. Lou had no idea what it might be, but her parents’ faces told her they knew only too well.
‘What is it?’
‘That law office,’ her father said with a voice devoid of all expression. ‘It’s the one that handled your adoption.’
‘Oh.’ Lou dropped the envelope back onto the table as if it was burning her fingers. She’d always known she was adopted. Her parents, for that’s what they were regardless of biology, had told her as soon as she was old enough to understand. She’d never really thought much about it. She had parents who loved her.
Wasn’t that what family was supposed to be? And if kids at school had been mean and teased her when she was younger—well, kids could be cruel. It didn’t matter to her.
‘What could they be writing to me about?’
‘Maybe …’ Her mother’s lips trembled. ‘Maybe it’s your birth parents trying to find you.’
‘No. It was a closed adoption. That can’t happen. Can it?’ She looked to her father for reassurance.
‘It could. We always made it clear we were happy to have your birth parents in your life. It was their decision to remain anony-mous.’ His voice was odd. Not exactly angry. He sounded almost afraid. That wasn’t right. Her father was the strongest man she knew. He had protected her smaller self from spiders and bullies and dark nights. Also dragons, ghosts and boogie men hiding under her bed. He was fearless about such matters. But this … this was obviously different.
‘You know that whatever is in that envelope, it’s not going to change anything. You are my mum and my dad and I love you. Whoever it was that gave birth to me and gave me away, they are not my parents and they never will be.’
Lou was a little afraid she was protesting too much. But it was true. She really didn’t care about her biological parents. Why should she? She didn’t know them. And she probably didn’t want to; especially if they were going to disturb her comfortable and happy life and upset the parents she loved. She picked up the envelope. Part of her was tempted to just throw it in the bin. She didn’t have to read it. But if she threw it away, there’d probably be another one next week. Whatever it contained, she had to deal with it. She wasn’t a kid any more. Her father couldn’t scare this monster away.
She turned the envelope over and opened it.
The letter was only a few paragraphs. She read it, then read it again. Ought she feel something? Because she didn’t.
‘Your birth mother?’ Her father’s voice was gentle.
‘Oh, Lou, I’m sorry.’ A familiar comforting hand was laid over hers.
‘Why, Mum? I never knew her. Why should you be sorry? I’m not.’
‘But you did know her. You lived with her for more than two years. You were nearly three when you came to us.’
‘But I don’t remember her. Nothing at all. I can’t picture her face or the sound of her voice. This letter is about someone I don’t know.’
Her father, as always, was the practical one. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘The letter asks me to go and meet the lawyers. Apparently there’s some sort of legacy for me.’
‘They don’t say. I guess I’ll go. If there’s a bit of money, it can go towards my holiday. Or help me get set up when I find a job. I may as well take it. She’s never done anything else for me.’
‘She gave birth to you.’ The sadness in her mum’s voice was heartbreaking.
Lou stood up and walked around the table to hug the woman who had raised her. ‘Maybe, but the best thing she ever did for me was to give me to you.’
The office of Curtis and Moore Lawyers was on the seventh floor of a glass office tower a few minutes’ walk from Chatswood station. Lou told herself that the unease she felt as she rode the lift was simply because she didn’t like the busy shopping district or tall buildings. Or lifts. Or lawyers. It had nothing to do with the con-tents of the letter that lay in the bottom of her bag.
Mr Ashley Curtis, the man who had signed the letter, rose to greet her as the receptionist showed her into his office.
‘Please sit down, Miss Taylor. Would you like some coffee?’
‘No.’ She hadn’t meant that to sound as abrupt as it had, but she was holding on to her composure pretty tightly and didn’t have the emotional strength for pleasantries. She shouldn’t feel like this. The death of a woman she didn’t know should mean nothing to her, but it did. She’d stayed awake late into the night, trying hard to remember something, anything, of the first three years of her life. Before the Taylors adopted her. There were no memories to haunt her, but this was still proving a lot harder than she had thought.
‘Of course. Shall I get straight to business?’
‘Did you know my—my biological mother?’
‘No. We never met. This firm acted on her behalf during your adoption. That was before my time, of course. The firm has held her instructions for some years. We received news of her death several months ago and opened those instructions.’
‘Months ago …’
‘Her instructions were to have the will clear probate before we contacted you. This we have done. Her estate is now yours. It includes a cottage in a town called Wagtail Ridge in the Upper Hunter Valley, household fittings, a vehicle and personal possessions. There is a small amount of money in the bank.’
Lou held a hand up, shaking her head. ‘Stop. I don’t want to know about … this … person. She deserted me when I was a child. I have no memories of her. I want nothing from her.’
‘Be that as it may, you are her beneficiary and you are now the owner of her property.’
Release date: 2022-11-30