Sneak Peeks

Read an exclusive extract: White Sands of Summer by J.H. Fletcher


Read an exclusive extract: White Sands of Summer by J.H. Fletcher

White Sands of Summer

This multi-faceted saga tells the interlinked story of two sisters as they face poverty, loss and betrayal through the changing landscape of Australia in the 40s and 60s.

Will wealth and love be theirs for the taking or will they run like sand through their fingers?

No-one thought barmaid Shannon Harcourt stood a chance with Hal Maitland, heir to the vast Maitland fortune. Yet their unlikely relationship flourishes until, one summer’s day on the white sands of Charles Green Island, they realise their true feelings for each other – feelings that must motivate them to survive the coming war.

Forty years on, Shannon, a successful businesswoman and younger sister Jess, an accomplished chef, have left their days of poverty far behind. Shannon now has her sights set on purchasing the island where her young love began.

But when reclusive businessman, Dermot Black, becomes acquainted with Jess and shows interest in Charles Green, Shannon is wary of his motives. What could Black possibly want with the island, and why is he so interested in the Harcourt sisters?

A story of love and competing ambitions, and a reminder to never underestimate the determination of a woman.

JULY 1983


She had promised her husband she would retire in September, on her sixty-fifth birthday, but in July that changed when a contact in the public service phoned Shannon to say that Charles Green island might be on the market.
He told her the present owners, the Hennessy family, were strapped for cash. It wasn’t surprising; seven years before, the whole clan had been on the island celebrating patriarch Dominic’s seventieth birthday when cyclone Daphne, bringing winds of two hundred kilometres an hour, had scythed through the Whitsundays. By a miracle the family had survived but the resort had been shredded. The old man, always a fool, had previously declared cyclone cover too expensive, so after the storm there’d been no funds for rebuilding. Dominic was seventy-seven now and as stubborn as ever, but even he could deny the arithmetic no longer and her informant told Shannon that, barring a miracle, the family would have to sell.
‘I’ve wanted that island all my life,’ she told Hal. ‘I’m not going to walk away if there’s the slightest chance of getting hold of it now.’
Shannon got her lawyer to contact the Hennessys; after two weeks ducking and diving, they agreed to a meeting.
Before getting together with them, Shannon phoned her half-sister Jess, based in Hong Kong, to put her in the picture, only to find that Jess had news of her own.
Shanghai Street, like the rest of Kowloon, was its normal frenzy of traffic, but in the windowless chamber adjoining the main boardroom the air was still, the silence absolute. The walls were bare, the only furniture a plain wooden desk and two straight-backed chairs, one on either side of the desk. One chair was empty; on the other sat a man in his mid-forties wearing a well-cut tropical suit. He waited and did not move; in this job you waited until told to jump, then you jumped.
The door opened and another man came in. He was perhaps twenty years older than the man at the desk but was still upright in his stance, his chalk-white face giving no hint of his thoughts or feelings. He walked to the desk and sat down; the current of chill air that seemed always to accompany him settled in the silent room.
The younger man cleared his throat. ‘I spoke to the minister personally and there is no doubt about it; the Hennessys are bankrupt, or as close to it as makes no difference.’
‘So the island is on the market?’
‘Not officially. But the minister said the family would definitely be open to offers.’ Again he cleared his throat. ‘The figure of twenty million US dollars was mentioned.’
The older man’s eyes were a brilliant blue, startling in the white face, and as cold as ice. ‘Let me remind you that we do not wish to buy the island, but simply utilise a portion of it.’
‘Which may mean having to buy the island altogether. However, the minister gave me some useful information. There’s a rumour someone else may be interested in the island. An Australian woman called Shannon Harcourt.’
For a fraction of a second the stillness in the air intensified. The change was barely perceptible, but it was the younger man’s job to notice such things.
‘Managing director of the Maitland Group,’ the older man said. ‘People say she’s formidable. Do we know why she wants it?’
‘She’s into hotels and property development. Among other things. I assume she’s planning to build.’
‘In a cyclone area? Isn’t that how the Hennessys lost their money, when their resort was wiped out?’
‘Why else would she want it?’
‘I wonder. What else do we know about her?’
‘About your age. Started with nothing. Now rich and powerful. Tough as old boots, what I hear.’
‘Tough as I am?’ There might have been the shadow of a smile in the pallid face.
‘Nobody is as tough as you are, Mr Black.’
‘Any way of getting to her?’
‘Perhaps through her sister Jess.’
‘I believe they are half-sisters.’
It was like playing chess blindfolded; impossible to guess how much the older man knew. ‘Half-sister, of course.’
‘What about her?’
‘Honours graduate of the Singapore culinary school. Manages the Lotus Flower restaurant in the Golden Phoenix Complex, here in Hong Kong. Has a ten per cent holding in the Maitland Group.’
‘The restaurant’s reputation?’
‘The best Cantonese restaurant in the colony.’
‘There are hundreds of Cantonese restaurants. Why do people say it’s the best?’
‘Because she’s tried a new approach and it works. Jess Harcourt studied under a French chef at one time. Now she’s introduced the concept of fusion cuisine into what has traditionally been a very conservative market.’
The older man said nothing; no way to know whether he was aware what fusion cooking was.
‘Fusing the cultures of two cookery traditions: in this case a marriage of French and Cantonese dishes. The restaurant’s combination of beef kway teow with a delicate French truffle sauce, for instance, has received top marks from the critics. There is also a fish dish –’
A hand waved away talk of fish. ‘They are still able to provide traditional Chinese food? Without any of this so-called fusion?’
‘Of course. She has the finest Cantonese chefs in the colony working with her and she’s no slouch herself.’
‘How do you know this?’
‘I’ve dined there. Her food is remarkable.’
Silence; probably Mr Black was thinking. Or perhaps plotting: you could never be sure.
‘You want us to sound out the Hennessys?’
‘We’ll wait a while, see what develops.’
‘And if this Shannon Harcourt makes an offer?’
‘She’ll need government approval, whatever she decides to do. Get the minister to drag things out for a month or two. In the meantime…’ Again a few moments’ silence. ‘When are we seeing our Chinese friends?’
‘We have meetings scheduled for this coming Friday and Saturday.’
Black stood and walked to the door. ‘I don’t want you involved at this stage. Tell Weiss to come and see me in my room.’
Jess was in the gleaming kitchen of the Lotus Flower, known locally as the Hua Sing Yun, or Fortunate Flower restaurant, in the Golden Phoenix Complex in Harbour Road. She was listening to the principal chef berating a member of the kitchen staff over a spoilt Szechuan sauce. She had been living in Hong Kong for many years and had become adept at the Cantonese dialect.
‘Fire and spice,’ Chef Chan shouted. ‘Fire and spice. Dung hill! Imbecile! More chili garlic sauce. This Szechuan cooking, not Harbin porridge!’ He turned to Jess. ‘Very foolish man,’ he said in English, which Jess knew the culprit did not speak. ‘But he will learn. I teach!’
A wall phone pealed. Another staff member answered, then came to Jess. He bowed his head deferentially. ‘General Manager Wong requests honour of speaking with you.’
‘Tell him I’ll be up directly.’
General Manager Wong was in charge of the Golden Phoenix Complex and occupied a suite of offices on the fourteenth floor of the central tower. On the walls of his sanctum were reproductions of landscapes by Chu Tuan and Shih-Tao, and the picture windows afforded a fine view of the harbour with the mainland on the far side.
‘Dermot Black,’ he said when Jess came in. ‘What do you know of him?’
‘Only what’s common knowledge. Australian. Mega rich. Reclusive. I’ve heard he maintains a permanent suite in the Peninsula Hotel which he uses as his main base.’
‘You’ve never met him?’
‘Has anyone?’
‘You are right. Very private man. From what I hear, very few outside personal circle have set eyes on him in recent years.’
‘What about him?’
‘His aide phoned half-hour ago. Man called Weiss. Mr Black wishes Lotus Flower restaurant to arrange special banquet for ten people in his suite for Saturday evening.’
Good heavens.
‘Only three days to prepare?’
‘Is sufficient time?’ Mr Wong asked anxiously.
‘It’ll have to be, won’t it? Did his aide give any indication of his preferences for the menu?’
‘Mr Black is happy to leave choice of dishes to us.’
So if his guests don’t like what we give them he can blame us.
‘I had better get together with Chef Chan,’ Jess said. ‘See what we can dream up for the old hermit.’
Wong attempted an invisible smile. ‘Black’s decision reflects great credit on Lotus Flower. On you too, of course.’
‘Let’s hope we can live up to it,’ Jess said.
Jess’s brain was scrambling as she took the lift down to the kitchens. Century egg with pickled ginger; charcoal grilled beef in Szechuan sauce; king prawn with mushroom; the iconic Cantonese roast goose in a brine of mixed spices… Peking duck? Normally yes, but not with the goose.
Should they go for a traditional menu or dare she include some of the modern refinements she’d been trying out? Innovation combined with tradition was always a tricky mix, but one whose importance had been stressed over and over again during her studies at the culinary school. She would have a war on her hands with Chef Chan if she did. Too bad. His culinary heart might yearn for the glory days of the Manchu, but the world had moved on since then.
So much at stake… Who would have thought that the future of her career might depend on a roast goose, with or without spices, or the special flavouring she had devised to accompany century eggs?
If she mucked up Shannon would have her liver.
The lift door opened.
‘Chef Chan,’ she said. ‘A word. If you please.’
Jess went into the little cubicle that served as her office. She wrote a few notes while she waited for Chef Chan to join her. A banquet for one of the world’s richest men… Her mind took her back to her earliest days. How could she have risen to the position she now held after such an unpromising beginning? Two siblings climbing the greasy pole together… Shannon would always have made it to the top; she was not so sure about herself.
The nine years between them might have prevented their being close when they were children, but that had changed one winter’s evening when she was seven years old and returned to an unexpectedly empty house. The whole of her life had changed that day; she would never forget the experience, the most traumatic she had ever known, yet at the same time opening the door to what had become her future. Shannon had been there; not for the last time in Jess’s life, she had lifted her out of the depths. Jess would always owe her for that.
Jess sounded flabbergasted by Shannon’s news. ‘You’re planning to give three million bucks for some uninhabited island and turn it into a national park?’
‘Not any island. This one.’
‘It must mean a heck of a lot to you.’
‘It does.’
‘You astonish me. I would never have said you were the sentimental type.’
‘Hidden depths,’ Shannon said.
‘You’re not wrong.’
It wasn’t Jess’s decision – she wouldn’t be putting up the money – but she did own ten per cent of the group; Shannon thought of them as partners and liked to keep her informed about what was going on.
‘Charles Green island is important to me, never mind why. I don’t want to see the Hennessys sell it to some developer who’ll slap houses all over it, which is what’ll happen if I don’t stop them.’
‘You’re planning to offer the Hennessys three million? With no prospect of a return? What will the outside shareholders say about that?’
‘It’ll be my own money. Nothing to do with the outside shareholders.’
‘Nothing to do with me either, then.’
‘That’s different. You and I are family. We’re special.’
‘I’m glad to hear it. As it happens, I’ve news for you, too. Yesterday I was asked to lay on a very special banquet, for a very special customer, this coming Saturday. No expense spared. If it goes well I’ve a hunch something more may come of it.’
‘A very special customer? Tell me more.’
‘Not yet. It may not mean anything. But I have a feeling…’
All her life Jess had had feelings but when it came to talking about them she was as secret as a locked safe. Shannon knew there was no point trying to weasel anything out of her now.
‘Let me know how it goes. And I’ll keep you in the picture about my talk with the Hennessys.’
As she had planned, Shannon offered three million, subject to the ministry agreeing to her proposal; Dominic Hennessy, sulky at having to sell at all, said he would consider nothing less than fifteen. They settled on five. Shannon warned that the discussions must be kept confidential; one word in the media, she told him, and the deal would be off. For his part Hennessy said that until matters were finalised he would consider himself free to accept a better offer, should one come along.
The banquet was over and in the Peninsula Hotel Jess was dancing. After the tantrums and hysteria, the evening had been a great success. Proof? None, but she knew. She always did.
She’d seen none of the guests, who’d arrived and left by a private door connecting with a private lift, but Gilbert Weiss, Dermot Black’s aide, said they’d been delighted. And these, judging by the gun-toting guards around the hotel, were important men. From Guangdong? Beijing, even? Rumours flew like migrating birds but no one knew anything for certain.
There was no word from Dermot Black. Jess had expected nothing else but then Gilbert Weiss came to her with a surprising message.
‘Mr Black would like to congratulate you personally. I’ll take you to him. If you’re free.’
A summons from Dermot Black was like a summons from the Almighty; it had clearly not entered the aide’s head that she might not be free.
She followed him through one door and across what looked like an anteroom to another door. Beyond that, a hallway hung with chandeliers led to yet another door, fashioned like the wooden front door of an old-fashioned house, with stained-glass panels set in its frame. From Gilbert’s demeanour they might have been about to enter the inner sanctum of God. Or, at least, of a god.
He knocked.
‘Come!’ A voice as rusty as an old nail.
Gilbert opened the door and stood back to let Jess precede him. The door closed behind her; only then did she realise that Gilbert had not come in with her.
The room was small and sparsely furnished with old-fashioned, drab-looking furniture. It had no apparent windows and was illuminated by a single ceiling light.
‘People are surprised when I tell them this is my favourite room in the suite. I have an identical one in every suite I own across the globe. I spend most of my life in this room, or in other rooms exactly like it. I even sleep here.’
The voice came from a shadowed corner of the room. Only then did Jess see its source. The man, thin and as rusty-seeming as his voice, face chalk-white, was sitting in a tapestry-backed chair that might have been picked up in a junk shop.
His voice withered in the room’s quiet air. Silence. Jess saw he was waiting for her to ask why a man with such power and wealth should choose to live in a room like this. She would not oblige him.
Recklessly, yet confident she was right, she said: ‘To remind you of your origins?’
‘Bravo,’ Black said. ‘You are the first person in a long time who’s dared say such a thing to me.’
‘But I am right,’ Jess said.
‘Absolutely right. But that’s not why I sent for you. I wanted to congratulate you on the quality of the meal. I am a connoisseur of Cantonese cooking and this was one of the finest meals I’ve eaten. My guests were unanimous in their approval.’
‘I am glad.’
‘I would like to see you again,’ Dermot Black said. ‘Give Gilbert a call and we shall arrange a time.’
‘I would like that,’ Jess said.
But when she phoned three days later Gilbert Weiss said Mr Black was unavailable. Over the following ten days she tried twice more with the same result so decided he must have changed his mind. She was glad she’d not given Shannon any more details about the banquet or the hopes she’d had that it might lead to more business down the track.




For weeks the ministry had been dragging its feet. Nothing unusual in that, but even by their standards this delay seemed extraordinary. Then, on Thursday 1 September, two things happened.
The office of a department head called Lucas Horne phoned from Brisbane to say that Mr Horne would be visiting the Whitsunday region on Tuesday of the following week and would welcome the chance to inspect Charles Green island with Ms Harcourt. That had been the good news.
The bad news was seriously bad. The caller, Horne’s personal assistant, told her that, even if the state government agreed to declare Charles Green island a nature reserve, there would be no question of its funding either the establishment costs of the reserve or its ongoing maintenance: these would remain the responsibility of the donor.
‘You’re telling me that, if I donate the island to the state, I still have to pay for its upkeep?’
‘Because there is no provision in the state budget for expenditure of this nature. Although the minister has indicated he’ll be happy to acknowledge the generosity of the donation you are proposing. Acknowledge it publicly. If it goes ahead.’
‘I shall speak to Mr Horne about it,’ Shannon said.
‘As you please.’
His indifference made Shannon seethe but blasting the official would be counter-productive so she said nothing. It was a problem she hadn’t anticipated, though, and a serious one. The running costs would be huge; in a week she’d be sixty-five and for the first time she had to acknowledge that could be important.
She thought about it as she made ready for bed. Did she have the right to saddle future generations with such a burden? Would she not be wiser to forget Charles Green island and the magic that had pierced her soul all those years back? If the Hennessys sold out to some developer who proceeded to desecrate the island’s pristine magnificence with a country club, golf course and housing estate, with roads, a television tower and all the paraphernalia of modern living, what difference would it really make to the family’s future?
It would make no difference at all. She had no doubt what her daughter Lydia would choose, if asked; the rest of the family might agree with her, too, although she hoped not. She could always ask Hal what he thought – after all, it was Hal who had taken her to Charles Green in the first place – yet she didn’t want to do that. Her instinctive belief that the island had been the talisman of her good fortune, the beginning of everything she had achieved in her life, was a secret she had been unable to share with anyone, even the husband she loved. No, in this she was alone. She’d never turned her back on a decision in her life yet now she hesitated; was it selfish to want to keep on, despite the difficulties? Or was it a debt she must pay, a debt of happiness to the past?
She still hadn’t made up her mind when she got into bed and closed her eyes. A problem for the morning.
Within minutes she was asleep.
She woke to the sound of a gale battering the walls of the old house.
It was five o’clock in the morning, her usual time for getting up. It wouldn’t be light for another hour but she never woke by inches and at once remembered that today, Tuesday 6 September, was not only her sixty-fifth birthday but the day, nearly half a century after her previous visit, when she would be returning to the island.
A pilgrimage to re-discover her youth, she thought. Among other things. Well, there were worse reasons for making the trip.
She hopped out of bed and headed for the shower. Sixty-five or not, Shannon always slept naked and it was only seconds before needle jets of water, scalding at first and then tepid – the closest to cold you could hope for in the tropics – were sluicing away the last vestiges of sleep. As they did so she listened to the storm prowling around the outside of the house. It was strong enough to rule out using the company’s chopper to reach the island but Shannon had experienced a thousand storms in Queensland’s north and knew this one had no real weight and would certainly not prevent the sea crossing that had always been her preference.
Given the choice she would already have been on her way to the island in Termagant, the thirty-foot sloop she had given herself four years before as a reward for the astonishing success of the company’s first venture into Asia. Shannon had been in the hotel and resort business most of her adult life yet the public’s response to the launch of Golden Phoenix, the company’s hotel complex in Hong Kong, had stunned her, to say nothing of the equally amazing success of Lotus Flower, run by half-sister Jess, which the critics agreed was the finest Cantonese restaurant in the colony.
As she patted herself dry she found herself imagining what it would have been like had she been able to make the crossing under sail.
What had happened on the island forty-seven years earlier had changed her life. To go back there after so many years created a sense of occasion verging on the magical and demanded – surely? – a suitable response. Sailing across a moon-bright sea would have been the perfect way to provide it – there was magic in sailing by night, the only sound the whisper of the waves along the hull, the only lights the blink of beacons warning of reefs and shoals, the wash of moonshine on the water and on the taut-bellied sails soaring overhead – but she’d known from the first that wasn’t going to happen because going with her would be Lucas Horne, the po-faced government official from Brisbane, and she’d known as soon as she’d set eyes on him that he was not the type to enjoy crossing the Whitsunday Passage in a sailing boat.
After hearing the weather forecast the previous evening, she had even suggested postponing the trip altogether, but Lucas had said that was out of the question.
‘I must get back to Brisbane as soon as I can. Pressing reasons, you understand. Affairs of state. Tomorrow will be my last chance – for a month or two at least – to give this island of yours the personal inspection you no doubt believe your proposal deserves.’
Concerned about possible competition, Shannon had certainly not been willing to wait a month or two, so go they must. There was another reason, too; she’d arranged a meeting on the island with Peter Hatch, the man who headed the leisure division of the International Prestige Group whose involvement Shannon both needed and feared.
Outside investment was essential if she were to achieve her objective yet, given its predatory reputation, there was a danger that Prestige might try to take over the project altogether. That was the last thing Shannon wanted. If it came to a bidding war Prestige had the resources to beat her hands down, yet Jess had struck up an unlikely relationship with the Hong Kong-based Dermot Black, a reclusive billionaire and Prestige Group’s majority shareholder, and swore blind he had no intention of doing that.
Jess’s private life had always been tempestuous but how she’d got on such close terms with the Prestige boss was a mystery. No surprises there; over the years Shannon had found that Jess’s life held many secrets she was unwilling to share. Witness the previous night when she’d phoned to say she was in Brisbane and would be accompanying Peter Hatch on his visit to Charles Green island. In Brisbane, when she was supposed to be running Lotus Flower in Hong Kong?
Shannon had always given Jess a free hand but to walk away from the restaurant without even telling her was unacceptable and she’d been furious.
‘What on earth are you doing in Brisbane?’
‘I’ll explain when I see you.’
Not good enough. ‘Who’s minding the shop while you’re swanning around over here?’
But she was talking to silence. Jess had hung up. Shannon could have flung the phone across the room. Thank you, Jess. Thank you very much.
Exasperation didn’t help; it never did. Jess had always been a law unto herself; for whatever reason, she was here and Shannon would have to put up with it. The meeting would take place as scheduled. With Termagant out of the running, they would make the twelve-mile journey to the island aboard the company’s motor yacht. Ariadne was Hong Kong built, a fifty-footer with twin Volvo diesels, two staterooms with gold taps in the heads and a plush saloon complete with Italian leather upholstery and furniture designed by Gustav Enquist of Stockholm – Shannon had always believed that when you planned to impress you went at it full bore. She’d done that when they opened Golden Phoenix five years earlier; they’d spent the best part of a million bucks on fireworks alone and the way things turned out it had been worth every cent.
Shannon suspected that Ariadne would be right up Lucas Horne’s street, yet she remained apprehensive. Bad weather in the Whitsunday Passage might sour his mood as well as his stomach and that she didn’t need.
She’d arranged to pick him up from his hotel at nine-thirty in the morning. It was an hour later than she would have preferred, but now she thought that might be a blessing. The wind often eased at first light and the delay might give any rough seas in the passage time to quieten down a little. She certainly hoped so; fine weather or foul, they were committed to going that morning. When she met up with Jess she’d find out exactly what was going on. While she was about it, she might also try to discover what that business of the banquet back in July had been all about.
Shannon stood at the bedroom window, staring out at the expanse of sugar cane extending like an emerald sea to a horizon blurred by haze, and remembering her seventh birthday when Mum had told her, for a treat, how she and Dad had first met.
Dad had owned a hundred acres of cane he’d inherited from his father; Bridget Boyle had worked as a maid at the priest’s house in the Proserpine main street. She said Dad had been riding past on his old mare when he’d spotted Bridget standing, duster in hand, at the bay window of the priest’s house and waved to her. In those days a man was not supposed to do that to a woman he didn’t know, but Travis Harcourt had never obeyed any rules but his own.
That night Bridget had watched from the same window as he’d ridden his horse up the pub steps and into the bar. The laughter and applause from the drinkers had rocked the building and Mum had told Shannon it was then she decided Travis Harcourt was the man for her, even though she’d never spoken to him.
Shannon’s grandmother, whose father had come from Cork, had shaken her head. Travis had a name as a wild man, a fighter when he had the drink in him. And him not even a Catholic. Best steer clear of him, Grandma had said. Bridget had never been a disobedient child but something about the outrageous man had stirred her like soup.
‘I shall marry him,’ she told her mother, and three months later she did, standing in front of the priest in her best bib and tucker and Travis beside her, as awkward as a one-legged kangaroo. A blazing summer day it had been and her with the sweat trickling in places not to be mentioned, and Grandma Boyle clucking like a bad-tempered chook.
Mum had never lived to regret it. It would not have occurred to her to say so, but Shannon knew it was true because the love light had shone out of her mother until the day the runaway horse had destroyed her.
Fifty-seven years ago, Shannon thought, yet still alive – as though she’d only stepped out the door for a minute. She sighed. She would always miss her but life – and work – went on. Thankfully there was always plenty to keep her busy.
She tightened the sash of her robe and went into the study adjoining her bedroom. She sat at her desk. Maybe she was supposed to be retiring today but she hadn’t done so yet, and she began to go through the reports and accounts awaiting her attention. She had always liked to keep her eye on things; as she’d grown older she’d become more of a micro-manager than ever. Some in the organisation resented that but she didn’t care; over the years she’d found that getting into the nitty gritty paid dividends.
She worked with total concentration for two hours before she looked at her watch, went into her dressing room and stepped into the overalls she intended to wear for the journey. She picked up the valise Abby, her housekeeper, had packed for her the previous evening – toiletries, fresh underwear, a change of shirt – and went out to the car where her driver was waiting for her.
‘I want to stop at the office on the way,’ she said.
Her confidential assistant was always early, by normal standards, but by the time Shannon arrived Amy was just sitting down at her desk. Amy was little and bright and enthusiastic and Shannon valued and trusted her. She handed her a bulging briefcase containing the paperwork she’d completed that morning.
‘I’ve written notes on some of the letters suggesting how we should answer them. The other stuff can wait until I’m back. Anything urgent, you can get Jonathan to radio through to Ariadne. I’m on my way to pick up Lucas Horne at the hotel.’
Amy glanced up at the wall clock. ‘Will he be ready?’
‘I doubt it. I’ll grab some breakfast while I’m waiting for him.’
It was nearly ten by the time she managed to prise Lucas out of the hotel and down to the Shute Harbour waterfront. While they waited for the tender to take them out to Ariadne, Shannon chatted with Tom Wallace, an Aboriginal fisherman who’d worked these waters for the past fifty years and knew all there was to know about the wind and weather along this coast.
‘It’s a bad sea out there,’ he said. ‘Woman your age, I’d have thought you’d have the smarts to stay home a day like this.’
‘No choice,’ Shannon said.
It was bad news, all the same; where heavy seas were concerned Shannon had a stomach like boiler plate, but how Lucas Horne’s inner-city innards would behave she had no way to know, any more than she knew what his recommendations about her proposal were likely to be. He’d had the papers for weeks but hadn’t let on what he thought about things, or even if he’d read them. After a lifetime in business she was familiar with the ways of planners, but this latest idea was something out of the box, as her husband had put it, and in Shannon’s experience public servants tended to be wary of ideas out of the box or of anything that did not match their tidy notions of how the world should be. Rough seas and a possibly upset stomach might make things tricky but it was something of a triumph that she’d got Lucas to visit the island at all and she wasn’t going to let him escape, rough seas or not.
‘Any luck, the weather should have cleared by the time we get to the island,’ she told Tom Wallace. ‘It can do that. You’ve told me so yourself.’
‘Once you’re there she’ll be right,’ Tom said. ‘The other islands create a kinda shadow when the wind’s from the northwest, like it is today. But it’ll be rough in the passage.’ He grinned: a scattering of teeth as big as shovels in his unshaven jaw. ‘Weather like it is, you could drown before you get there.’
Always good for a laugh, Tom Wallace.
Joe Broad, Ariadne’s skipper, was the man responsible for getting them to Charles Green in one piece, so as soon as she was aboard Shannon had a word with him in his cabin adjoining the wheelhouse.
‘Reckon she’ll be right?’
Joe stepped on to the deck, squinted up at the clouds and rubbed his close-cropped head. ‘No sweat,’ he said. ‘It’ll be wet but there should be no dramas.’
‘Let’s get moving, then.’
To begin with the wind was light, the seas relatively harmless, but once they came out from the shelter of Whitsunday Island it was a different story.
Dolled up in her foul-weather gear, Shannon stood in the bows with her hands anchored to the pulpit rail, eyes straining for a first glimpse of the island. Every time Ariadne’s forefoot struck the sea it sent spray arching high into the air and she wondered how Lucas Horne was making out in the saloon: Italian leather and gold taps were all very well but no help when it came to hanging on to your breakfast in a rough sea, and Lucas hadn’t been looking too happy when she’d come up on deck.
Suddenly there was a change. Between one moment and the next the wind dropped as they entered the wind shadow Tom Wallace had mentioned. The god of the storm raised his staff, the visibility improved at once, and there, miraculously, it was.
Heart smashing against her ribs, Shannon stared at Charles Green island, less than a mile ahead. Sea boots and all, she felt like dancing. She’d dreamt of this moment for so long. Twice in the years since her first visit she had set out to get back here but each time, at the last moment, she’d changed her mind. Down in the saloon, hopefully not too traumatised by the rough crossing, Lucas Horne had the power to turn her dream into reality or frustrate it forever, but at that euphoric moment Shannon was not prepared to contemplate such a calamity.




Two days after Jess had given up on Dermot Black, Gilbert Weiss appeared at the door of her office at half-past eleven in the morning and told her his boss wanted to see her. A chauffeured limousine was waiting.
‘He’ll have to go on waiting for a bit,’ Jess said.
Gilbert looked as though the sky might fall.
‘I’ve a big luncheon party to supervise,’ she said. ‘But I can be at the Peninsula Hotel at two, if that will suit him.’
Gilbert was clearly in uncharted territory; those summoned by Mr Black were not supposed to react in such a way. ‘I’ll let you know.’
‘No need to trouble the chauffeur,’ Jess said. ‘I’ll catch a taxi.’
‘I’ll let you know,’ said Gilbert again. And fled.
Half an hour later he was on the line. ‘The chauffeur will be waiting for you at ten past two.’
If that was how Black wanted it… At least it would save her the taxi fare.
‘I’ll be there,’ Jess said.
‘I admire a woman of spirit,’ Dermot Black said.
He was sitting in the same chair; he might not have moved since she’d seen him last.
‘I’m glad,’ Jess said.
It was more than a trite phrase; she meant it. Black was a strange man, even weird, but he had a charisma she could feel drawing her to him.
‘Come and sit where I can see you,’ he said.
She did so cautiously, still with no idea why she was here.
He did not enlighten her but questioned her – endlessly, it seemed – about her life, how she’d got to the position she now held as manager and chef extraordinaire in one of the finest restaurants in Hong Kong.
‘A Chinese restaurant in a Chinese city with a European woman running it,’ Black said. ‘Truly remarkable. And where do you plan to go from here?’
Jess found herself willing to tell him what she had until now told no one, not even herself. ‘To make it the finest in Asia.’
‘And how will you do that?’
‘For a start, by recruiting the best chefs I can from China.’
‘That may not be easy. Under Mao China was a closed state. Things are easier now but the government still controls everything. It certainly won’t want its finest chefs disappearing into a British colony. You will also have competition from Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai. Government funding will be provided for your competitors. It will be a question of national pride, you see.’
‘Nevertheless that must be the objective.’
‘The finest in Asia,’ Black repeated. ‘And who will be the judge of that?’
‘I will,’ Jess said.
He watched her with eyes that she saw were a striking blue in the chalk-white face. ‘And if I were to tell you that is nonsense, an impossible dream?’
‘It would be my job to prove you wrong.’
He studied her a moment longer, eyes unblinking, then looked at his watch. ‘Thank you for your time. I would like to continue our conversation. Shall we say at the same time, the day after tomorrow?’ A malicious smile. ‘Or will you once again have a luncheon party to supervise?’
‘The day after tomorrow will be fine,’ Jess said.
‘The car will be waiting.’
Dermot Black came and went mysteriously, but three times in the next few months Gilbert Weiss phoned, the chauffeur would drop Jess off at the private lift that carried her up to the penthouse floor and the shabbily furnished room where Dermot Black would be waiting in the same chair as always.
They talked for precisely one half-hour about Jess’s life – her early days and how she had become a chef – and she told him what she was happy for him to know. His own life and affairs were never mentioned; she had not breached that final wall of his privacy or wished to. Neither did she know why this most private of men had decided to meet her so regularly when Gilbert Weiss assured her that, himself apart, there were many days when Dermot saw no one at all.
Jess thought, but never said, that the mega-rich, mega-powerful Dermot Black might be lonely, although why he should have chosen her to cheer him up – if that was what she was doing – she didn’t know. If she’d been in her twenties she might have hazarded a guess, but Jess was not in her twenties. Jess was fifty-six: not bad-looking for her years, perhaps, but a long way short of the glamour queen she would have expected a man like Dermot to favour. They were friendly but she had no illusions; the relationship was on his terms and he might terminate it whenever he chose. She was sure that one day he would, and every time she said goodbye to him she knew she might never set eyes on him again. So far that hadn’t happened, but one day in September, responding to his usual summons, there was a change. Instead of going to Dermot Black’s private quarters, Gilbert escorted her to an office furnished with a preponderance of chromium and glass. There they were joined by a man in his mid-forties who said his name was Peter Hatch. He told Jess he headed up the Prestige Group’s leisure division, with responsibility for resorts, adventure safaris and tented camps in suitable locations around the globe.
‘We have operations in some of the most inaccessible places on earth. Mr Black believes that people, especially the young, respond to challenge because they know, as he does, that challenge enriches our lives. This concept has been so well received that he has decided to expand it to attract an older demographic, people who require a greater level of luxury but still wish to experience a remote environment. We’ve been examining various possibilities and have come up with what we believe is the ideal location.’ His chin challenged Jess across the desk. ‘Mr Black understands your sister is considering making an offer for Charles Green island. He feels she should be aware that we are also interested in that property.’
‘He said what?’ Shannon’s outrage might have melted the telephone.
Jess repeated the message.
‘What have you been telling him?’
‘Nothing. I never set eyes on him until today.’
‘To your friend Dermot Black, then. You must have said something, Jess. How else could he have found out?’
‘I’ve never said a word. Not to Dermot or anyone.’
‘Then how does he know about it?’
‘Dermot told me once that if you have money you can find out anything. People like to talk, he said. Especially if they think there might be something in it for them.’
‘Informers,’ Shannon said scornfully.
‘You use them too. If someone hadn’t tipped you off you’d never have known the island might be on the market.’
Shannon had no intention of going down that route. ‘Just tell me what he said.’
‘He said they have a proposal they’d like to put to you,’ Jess said. ‘But they’re looking for co-operation, not confrontation.’
‘Meaning what?’
‘I don’t know. He wants you to phone him. No doubt he’ll explain then.’
‘Is he straight?’
‘He’s Dermot Black’s man. He’ll be as straight as Dermot wants. Or as crooked.’
‘You’re telling me that unless we know Black’s thinking we know nothing.’
‘You’re close to Black. What do you think he wants?’
‘I have no idea. I’ve met him lots of times but I wouldn’t say I’m close to him. I doubt anyone is. He’s a very strange man.’
‘Hermit and tycoon in one?’
‘There’s more to it than that. Why would he want to talk to me at all?’
‘Because of the island.’
‘I don’t think so. I never mentioned it but from what Peter Hatch said it’s clear he knew anyway. And the questions he asks… Always personal questions. That’s odd, too, isn’t it?’
‘What sort of questions?’
‘About my childhood. About my mother. Things like that. I mean, why should he care?’
‘Maybe he fancies you?’
‘A nice thought. If I’d been a teenager, maybe, but at my age?’
‘It must be the island, then.’
‘If he wanted the island he’d deal with the Hennessys direct. I think Peter Hatch is telling the truth, that they want to co-operate with us.’
‘Co-operate how?’
‘Speak to Hatch, maybe you’ll find out.’
Shannon thought about it. ‘All right. Ask him to phone me first thing tomorrow. Seven o’clock my time.’
‘That’s only five o’clock in the morning here.’
Shannon did not answer. If Peter Hatch were serious, he’d phone.
He did, too, on the button, and what he had to say was interesting, indeed.
The island was close now. Back in the wheelhouse Joe Broad steered the launch around the headland and towards what remained of the little harbour.
The wind was light, the sea calm – barely recognisable after the tumultuous conditions in the passage – and Shannon hoped what she called the oasis effect would help Lucas Horne get over any trauma he might have suffered during the crossing.
The sound of the engines died to little more than a murmur as Ariadne coasted peacefully into the quiet waters beyond the tumbled stones of the harbour wall, and Shannon’s heart was beating fast as she remembered not only the things that had happened – and not happened – when she’d first set foot on the island but everything that had led, step by step, to her ever being there at all.

White Sands of Summer

The White Sands of Summer by J.H Fletcher will be available in-stores and online from May 20th 2019

Find out more 

Must reads