How do you select a book in this world drowning in e-books? Reviews help. They at least tell you whether it’s the sort of story you enjoy–or not. Here’s a link to author Robert Mottram’s review of HAWKINS LANE:
Sometimes in spite of one’s best intentions, life can unexpectedly self-destruct. And when it happens to people you care about, such as the likeable young Hawkins family, it’s painful to watch. One minute Ned and Erica Hawkins are living an idyllic, outdoor life with their daughter in Washington’s magnificent Cascade Mountains. A moment later, harsh reality enters their paradise, bringing love’s betrayal, serious – maybe permanent – disablement and . . . even possible murder charges? How can things have gone so incredibly wrong? Can they ever be right again? Trust novelist Judith Kirscht to help us find our way through the twists and turns of this engrossing tale.
This at least give you an idea of how the story struck another reader.
But the recommendation of others is no guarantee you will like a book. The only way to know whether an author will captivate you, is to read a few pages, so here is the first chapter of my latest release.
The Bellingham courtroom fell silent as the jury filed in. Ned Hawkins stared at their faces and shivered, then gripped his older brother’s hand. Billy was staring, too, but his eyes were ablaze, daring them. Chairs scraped, someone dropped a pen. They were seated.
“The defendant will rise.”
Ned’s stomach heaved as the word “defendant” rang out, and beside him Billy jerked.
Their father rose. The tall, narrow man who should have been in a checked wool shirt and boots looked naked in blue prison garb. His neck too long.
Ned couldn’t see around Billy to their mother, but he could see her hand clutching Billy’s arm, as though to restrain him.
“Mr. Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”
The foreman stood. “We have, Your Honor.” He unfolded a slip of paper and one hand fell to the rail. “We find the defendant, Amos Hawkins, guilty of murder in the first degree.”
Ned reached for Billy as he lunged, and together he and his mother held him fast as a murmur of satisfaction rose from the surrounding crowd.
“Time we saw the end of the likes of you!” a man behind them yelled.
Their father didn’t turn. Nor did he look at his family as they led him out.
Ned Hawkins dealt with the last hiker of the day and looked at the clock that hung above the backpacks. Five o’clock. Five minutes later, he called goodnight to Paul Stagg, closed the outfitter’s door behind him, and stepped into McKenzie Crossing’s main street. A pair of teenage girls jumped away and made a wide circle around him.
There was a time he would have tipped his hat to their backs. But he’d given it up, like most everything else.
He headed for the old logging trails above town, his daily escape the chronic mid-week feeling of being trapped in his life. It was early fall, when the air cools and the tourists and campers begin to thin, the time of year that meant the gray months lay ahead. The sparkling of the snow when the sun broke through would only mean that skiers would replace campers at Stagg Outfitters. And he would still spend his days filling the needs of outsiders who flowed through his life with a freedom he couldn’t even imagine, then vanished to be replaced by another batch. The mountain air never eliminated the need to go back to town, but a couple of hours climbing the rocky trails made it more tolerable. And he’d settled for that, long ago.
He’d just cut off the trail toward the creek when he heard the whistle of a fishing line cutting the air. He stopped, then approached the water ahead carefully, expecting to find his brother, who he didn’t particularly want to see.
The figure standing in the water was much too small—a woman, in fact, and alone. Not many women came this far from town alone, much less to fly fish. The line whirred again, and he saw the fly drop into a hole at the far side of the stream. She was good. Who the hell was she? The girls he’d gone to school with had already grown dumpy with childbearing and bake sales. Not a tourist, surely, so far from the pack in strange country. Probably a camper whose husband was off downstream somewhere. He stayed fixed at the edge of the woods watching as she cast again. The fly caught. There was a flash of silver, and she played the trout. Without warning, the fish turned and headed downstream, turning her toward him. She jerked the pole when she saw him and froze. He was looking at a mop of black curls above a pair of very large dark eyes, widened now, in surprise. She was young. Barely out of high school, he’d guess.
“I’m sorry.” He stepped forward. He wanted no part in scaring people; his name did that for him often enough. “Ned Hawkins.” He held out his hand. “Good cast.” He looked at the line now floating limp in the current, then back, expecting the usual closed off withdrawal. But she just kept taking in his face, the condition of his clothes, with an acute assessing gaze. Then she held out her hand. “Erica Romano.”
“You camped near here?”
Her hand stopped, and her eyes narrowed.
“With your husband, I mean. Or your family.” He hastened to correct his mistake. Had he forgotten how to talk to strangers except over a counter?
Her gaze turned quizzical.
“I haven’t seen you before,” he explained, “and I don’t see many women alone this far from town. In fact, I’ve never seen a woman fish like you do.” He grinned, as though her casting was the reason he felt freed from himself. He wanted to stay just where he was, breathing in the intensity of her dark eyes.
She evidently read the admiration in his, for her shoulders relaxed a little. “I fished these streams with my Dad, growing up.” She looked down the gorge. “We spent summers up here.” Her eyes softened for a moment, then caution returned, and she retreated behind her guard again. “You aren’t fishing, and you don’t have a pack. What are you doing up here?”
He was taken aback at her forthrightness, then laughed—a rare event. “Just walking. I do it a lot. It clears the head.”
“You live in McKenzie Crossing?”
“All my life. So you’re summer folk.”
She nodded, clearly trying to decide whether to believe him. “Until this last June. We live up here now.”
He felt yet another grin spread over his face. “You’re not just camping, then?” He knew his voice was tinged with disbelief, but he’d never encountered a girl of this sort. What sort he didn’t know and didn’t need words for. Different. Not one of the floozies his brother picked up in bars or the polished coeds he served at the ski shop. Town girls would know his name; it had been passed down through generations as one to avoid. If they encountered him alone in the woods, they’d probably scream or at least head off as fast as the rocky trails would allow. He’d scared her; he knew he had, but she was over it now—and curious. Her dark eyes wondered, but they didn’t back off.
“Camping? No,” she said. “I may be foolhardy—they tell me I am—but I’m not an idiot. I don’t camp alone up here.”
“Glad to hear it.” He looked over at her gear, stashed on the bank, then at the sky. The sun had sunk behind the far peaks. “You fishing a lot longer? I’d be happy to walk you back to town.”
She looked at the stream; the sun no longer danced on the water. “You owe me a trout, you know. A good sized one, too.”
“I do,” he acknowledged. “I’ll come up and snare you one tomorrow. Promise.”
She laughed. “Now what’s the fun of that?”
“Well, you could come too,” he suggested, confounded by a boldness that was no more his than the rushing stream beside them.
She looked up as though she heard the surprise in his voice. “Maybe,” she said cautiously, then looked around at the enclosing woods, clearly assessing the hazards of her situation. “Anyway, you’re right.” Her voice cleared, as though coming to a major decision. “It’s time to pack up and go.”
“What brings you to McKenzie Crossing?” He picked up her tackle box as she took apart her rod. “For good, I mean.”
“My Dad died.” She stated it as though this answered the question, then turned and headed down the rocky path. They ducked under a low hanging limb in silence. “In January. Had a heart attack and that was it. He was gone.” The words fell from her lips as though she hadn’t intended to say them, and she stopped abruptly, cutting off the bewildered abandonment in her voice. Suddenly she looked very young and vulnerable, a little girl almost, except that her body continued to navigate the narrow way without stumbling.
“That’s rough,” he said, though in truth he didn’t think he’d feel that way if his own father dropped dead. In fact, the idea filled him with a blasphemous relief. Even locked behind bars a hundred miles away, the man was a presence at their table. They never saw him, never visited. His mother refused to have anything to do with him. But he was a ghost that tainted every move they made.
Erica slipped and grabbed a branch to recover. “So my mother decided to pack it up and open a practice up here.” Her voice was firm now. “She’s a doctor.” She grabbed an overhanging branch and swung herself under it. “My grandmother lives here, and she’s not in good health. Enid McDonald. Maybe you know her.”
He stopped half way over a log. Enid McDonald was the widow of the McDonald Mill owner, a world his family would never touch. And her mother was a doctor. He’d heard about a new woman doctor in town. His only contact with Erica Romano’s sort was across the counter at the store.
“What’s wrong?” She was way down the path, looking up at him.
He shook his head. “Nothing. Caught my shirt.”
She waited for him to catch up, then looked into his eyes again. “What did I say? You know my grandmother?”
He shook his head. “No ma’am. Know who she is, of course. Most everyone in McKenzie Crossing has worked at the mill, one time or another. Not my side of the tracks, I’m afraid.”
“Oh.” Her single word carried total understanding. “Well,” she said, threading her way around boulders and dead limbs, “don’t worry about it. She’s not exactly my cup of tea, either.” She stopped and turned. “And don’t call me ma’am, please.”
He smiled, a little mollified, though she was very naive if she thought not liking someone was the same as not belonging in their world. In five minutes, they would part ways—she toward the hilltop homes of the owners of McKenzie Crossing, he to the row of bungalows along the railroad. And that would be the end of it. How dumb to have invited her fishing.
They reached the edge of the woods and looked down the slope to the village, in shadow now, against the alpen-glow on the far peaks. She stopped and sighed. “Thank God for the mountains and the woods.”
“Amen.” He laughed, absurdly cheered by her words. He didn’t know what she was escaping from, but she expressed his daily prayer. He quelled the hope that rose with his breast. Cut it out Ned Hawkins; she’s not for you.
“Who are you?” she asked, rocking him back on his heels. “I mean …” She flung her hands up. “I’d really like to go fishing with you, but my good sense—which they say I rarely use—tells me you’re a stranger.” She gazed at his face. “You know?”
He smiled sadly. He knew. When she asked Enid McDonald who he was, that would end it for sure. “The Hawkins live down there.” He pointed to the lowland roofs. “Where you see all of those pickups and campers. My father worked in the mill when he was sober.” He stopped, then decided to let her think the man was dead. She’d find out differently soon enough, but it would give him a few more moments to fill his chest with air.
She was waiting for him to go on.
“I have a brother who mostly gets into fights, and a mother who puts up with us all.” He didn’t know whether he was trying to shut down his own hopes or warn her against him.
“And you?” She seemed unperturbed.
“I keep my mother company and try to keep my brother out of trouble.”
She waited, saying nothing. She was hard to put off.
“I also work at Stagg’s Outfitters, selling gear to skiers, rich tourists, and campers who want to get lost in these hills.”
She smiled. “Let’s go fishing.”
Christ, he couldn’t even insult her. He tried shaking his head but couldn’t stop the grin on his face, which she took to be a yes, which it was, of course. Ned Hawkins, you’re a fool, he told himself. “What time?”
“I have to get my grandmother settled for the day first,” she sighed, reaching for her tackle box. “She has emphysema—has one of those oxygen caddy things. She’d got no business living up here, but …” She broke off with a shrug. “It’s impossible to argue with a queen. Not until ten, I’m afraid. But don’t you have to work?”
“It’s my day off. Ten o’clock it is. Meet here?”
She smiled. “I think I’m very glad I met you, Ned Hawkins.” She waved and headed down the grassy slope.
He could only stand and watch, dumfounded at the girl’s ability to overwhelm all his defenses. Halfway down the slope, she stopped and turned back.
“Do you ride?” she called.
He blinked, then realized she was passing Carlson’s stables. “Sure!” he answered. She waved again, then went on down the hill.
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