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Thursday, July 7, 2011

An excerpt from Souvenirs


Found at

Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Phinney
All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Anna LaBonte woke up, slipped her hand between the smooth, cold sheets beside her and found unexpected relief washing over her like high tide washed over the soft beach sand that lay beyond their rented cabin.
Her husband was gone. And she knew, without understanding how, that he was gone for good. She couldn't explain how she knew. It was as if the wind whispered to her during the night, slipping into her mind through her unconsciousness and releasing itself into her waking moments.
And all she could feel was sweet, sweet relief.
But on the heels of that relief flowed out worry. Not for Serge. No, she would never be worried for him. But her callousness, the relief her ordeal with Serge was over, now that worried her. Had he also destroyed her gentle temperament?
Anna flipped back the sheets before padding barefoot out of the cabin's bedroom. Standing in the center of the living room, she stared at the empty couch. The bottle of wine Serge had bought yesterday stood unopened on the table. He would never leave wine alone, not the expensive stuff he insisted on drinking.
She hated alcohol, and all its effects. All the negative effects that turned Serge cruel.
No one saw that part of him. No one except Anna and God. But God had been turning a blind eye to her lately.
Abruptly, indignation pricked at her as she realized he’d denied her even the satisfaction of allowing her to end their relationship. All through the long, cold spring and all through his anger management counseling, she'd battled with herself until she realized she didn't need Serge and his abuse, contrary to what he was always telling her. She was strong enough to stand on her own.
And coming here to the Island had cemented that conclusion.
But Serge was gone. Really gone, her heart whispered. Gone as in dead.
Could he really be dead? Or was it merely wishful thinking? She swallowed. What a horrible thought.
The morning sun warmed her toes and she moved toward the patio door. The cabin they'd rented overlooked Murray Corner beach. To her, it was the loveliest spot in all of New Brunswick, with pristine views of the Confederation Bridge that led to Prince Edward Island. Beyond the sliding glass doors, beyond the sand and gently swaying grass and cloudless sky, the Northumberland Strait beckoned to her. All of Eastern Canada beckoned her.
She opened the door and slipped quietly onto the small deck. That wind that had somehow whispered Serge's fate to her had died overnight, but still it bled through her thin nightgown.
A good day for beachcombing, she thought, leaning over the deck. The stretch of sand was empty, the tide still receding.
Anna gripped the rail, feeling the cool morning air flutter her nightgown. Could Serge be dead? Shouldn’t she call the police? Would they believe her implausible intuition or would they suspect her of being involved?
Could she even believe her own intuition? It hadn't been around much when she'd married Serge. It was totally absent when the abuse started.
Her stomach knotted, she pushed herself from the railing and turned.
Then, she jumped.
On the deck of the all-too-close next cabin sat a man. That same soft breezes that cooled her anxious thoughts ruffled his dark hair. He sat quietly in one of the matching patio chairs, his jacket collar turned up slightly.
He wore sunglasses, but Anna felt his gaze linger on her.
Horrified, Anna ducked back into her cabin and dragged the patio door closed. Sighing, she pressed her hot cheek to the cold glass and waited for her heart to slow to a normal pace. Her breath steamed up the pane.
Pushing aside the embarrassment, she straightened up, and threw back her shoulders. That man was just another tourist, staring at her only out of curiosity. What man wouldn't, if their neighbour had just stepped out on a deck not more than fifteen feet away, dressed in a thin nightgown that barely covered her thighs?
Anna hurried into the bedroom. She'd seen that man yesterday, entering his cabin just as she and Serge were checking into theirs. Today, he wore the same lightweight jacket, zipped to the top, with the collar turned up. She’d watched him with only mild curiosity, wondering where he'd come from to consider the unseasonally warm weather cool enough for a jacket.
None of her business.
She should dress for breakfast. But just as she took a step toward the bedroom, she stopped abruptly. Serge had always insisted she be dressed with her hair and make-up done before breakfast.
No. Not anymore. Pivoting, Anna strode into the kitchen to make coffee. Alive, or even dead as her gut taunted her, Serge’s days of bullying her were over.
She deliberately made a light breakfast of coffee and the sugary cereal she had a secret penchant for, and grabbing both, she turned toward the table.
She stopped when she spied the door.
Would Serge walk in at any moment, alive and well, and insisting on fresh fruit, sweet yogurt and French press coffee?
Would she be forced to tell him their marriage was over?
Her hand started to shake, and Anna jumped when she realized she'd spilled coffee on her nightgown.
If Serge walked in right now...
No. She shut her eyes to stop the hated tears from rolling down her cheeks. Tears Serge had caused all too often.
No! Time to take back her life. And if Serge chose that moment to return from wherever he'd been, she would finally stand up for herself. It had taken ten years, but she knew now that she owed Serge nothing.
She sat down at the table, and ignoring the stain, began to eat her breakfast.
* * *
Major Brent Stirling peeled off his sunglasses and blinked. What the..?
Was that stunning woman the tiny mouse he'd seen yesterday waiting for her husband to check them in? Where was her old man now? Still asleep?
Brent shook his head, trying to dispel the image of long legs and horrified embarrassment. Poor thing, she'd nearly fainted when she caught sight of him, sitting out here. She must have thought she'd be the only person up this early.
Brent shoved his glasses back on his face and pulled his collar up further, all the while slouching deeper into the patio chair. Well, she was wrong. Not everyone wanted to lie in bed with his or her dreams.
Not when all of your dreams were the same nightmare, over and over again. Officially, the government in Ottawa did not place soldiers on the ground in North Africa. Unofficially, a half dozen men had been sent in to complete on very dangerous mission.
Brent craned his neck to one side, feeling the fresh scars tightened as he relived that last day in the desert.
Young Lieutenant Kenny had taken him aside that last morning, asking for leave. His wife needed him.
Brent had shaken his head. Leave was impossible. They'd been all through this at the first mission briefing. Kenny had said he was good to go. But that last day, the young guy had sputtered, calling him cold, heartless.
With political tensions high and an assignment that required such exactness, that one man could not be spared; Brent had lost his temper and ordered the young upstart to smarten up. They were needed to do this one mission. No one was leaving.
Two hours later, they were hit.
Kenny had been killed instantly, his own inattentiveness drawing his focus from his task as point man. And worse, Brent's own stubbornness pushing the distracted man to do a job for which he was unfit.
The next thing Brent knew, he was waking up in an Italian military hospital, bandaged and sutured all along his right side. Kenny and the two others hadn’t survived. The only reason he had, was that several NATO soldiers on another covert mission found him before the Libyan government forces got there.
Brent swiped his hand over the scarred ridges on his neck.
Lieutenant Kenny had been right. He was cold and heartless to force a man to do a job when his mind was on family back home.
Deciding he'd had enough of the wind and surf, Brent climbed out of his chair. The row of cedar shake cabins angled down a stretch of ruddy soil and lush grass, offset in such a way that the farthest edge of his back deck almost reached the back corner of his pretty neighbour’s cabin.
He slid open the patio door and stepped over the threshold. Neat, modern and touristy, the inside of Brent's cabin welcomed him with unbiased blandness. The few knickknacks about didn't give a hoot about him.
Unzipping his jacket just enough stop to the chafing, Brent walked into the kitchen to pour another coffee. With his windows open, he could hear the rhythmic surf pound the beach, white, sea foam breaking beyond the sandbars that appeared with low tide. He should take a walk out there this morning.
Maybe it would help him to forget Kenny.
His hand shook. The coffee sloshed in the carafe he held. And slowly, before his mind's eye, he could see the attack again. The barrage of gunfire as they exited the vehicle, the explosion of that one grenade that landed too close, the flash of blinding light against which Kenny was silhouetted the second before the blast tore his insides out...
Brent slammed the mug down on the counter, drawing in a deep breath to calm himself. He went slowly through the exercises the counselor had given him.
Yeah, maybe that walk on the beach he'd been avoiding was in order.
He should, however, wait until after supper when the families were gone and the oblique sun muted the side of his neck.
By then, too, he wouldn't be risking a meeting with that lovely thing who had fled from her deck at the mere horrible sight of him.
Brent's jaw tightened as he tried again to pour coffee into his mug. It did crap for his ego to know he frightened away beautiful women.
What do you care, Stirling? It's not like you're ever going to get one, again.
When his ex-wife had shown up one day at that London hospital, he'd been surprised she could look at him at all. But Mag had always been tough. She didn't get as far as she had in her own army career from shying away from anything. She hadn't even shied away from walking out on him all those years ago.
After declining her offer to recuperate at her new house, Brent had asked her to leave. He promised to call her when he got back to Canada.
He hadn't yet, still unsure what he’d do with the rest of his career. And he knew Mag would ask that question.
Yeah, Mag was a whole lot different than that bit of a thing next door. That dark-haired beauty was probably shivering in her old man's arms right now, but that long, thin guy he'd seen signing for the cabin didn't strike Brent as the sympathetic type.
His first sip of coffee soured on his tongue. Brent threw it into the sink, deciding against breakfast until he remembered his meds needed to sit on a full stomach.
Be thankful, Major Stirling, the army doctor had advised. You might have been one of the three soldiers who didn't come back that day.
The mug slipped from his fingers, falling the few inches into the sink. Three men under his command had died and the doctor told him to be thankful? His knuckles whitened where he gripped the edge of the stainless steel sink. Thankful for what? For not listening to Kenny when was asking for help? For ignoring the fact that one soldier had not been mentally prepared to complete that covert operation?
Be thankful for surviving a horrible accident that had been his fault?
The muscles in his neck tightened enough to snap and Brent forcibly relaxed them, before shoving himself from the sink to look for something for breakfast.

You can find the rest of the book, as well as more of this excerpt at

(I apologize for the link not working today. I can't explain it, but if you cut and past you'll be able to reach the site easily enough. Thanks for your patience!)

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