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The Archer's Diary: The Archer's Diary, #1

The Archer's Diary: The Archer's Diary, #1

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The Archer's Diary: The Archer's Diary, #1

ratings:
3/5 (1 rating)
Length:
612 pages
34 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393508632
Format:
Book

Description

THE LEGEND IS REAL

Since the 14th century, Robin Hood has proven to be one of the most enduring and versatile folk heroes. Medieval historians believed Robin lived during the 12th or 13th century but despite decades of intense research by contemporary scholars, solid evidence has never been found.

Until now.

Logan Daggett, son of Donald Daggett, well known CEO of one of Australia's largest international corporations, has his 21st birthday celebrations disrupted by a family tragedy, the revelation of his mother's decades-old secret—and a birthday gift of a collection of centuries-old family heirlooms. This series of events contrive to change the course of his life forever.

Accompanied by his two closest friends, the young Aussie sets out to uncover the truth behind the accident that irrevocably changed his life, and to research the authenticity of the priceless heirlooms, completely unaware of the adventure and dangers lurking around every corner.

During the course of their journey they uncover irrefutable evidence that causes further turmoil among the family, spark controversy among medieval scholars worldwide, and the potential of sparking upheaval to a country's history and creating conflict between two nations.

Liam Cadoc's stunning debut to historical fiction sweeps readers into a ruthless world where greed and corruption threaten to deprive a nation of historical riches and the world of the truth behind a legendary hero. This is Book 1 of a 2-book set.

Publisher:
Released:
Apr 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393508632
Format:
Book

About the author

Liam Cadoc was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1948 and developed an interest in the medieval period while in high school. He took up the sport of target archery a few years before retiring as a graphic designer. The Archer's Diary is his debut to historical fiction.

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The Archer's Diary - Liam Cadoc

patience

CHAPTER 1

He hit the brakes but nothing happened. The car continued to pick up speed. He stamped down several more times, only to achieve the same outcome. Nothing. He could feel his heart racing, the blood pounding in his ears as he fought to regain control of the runaway vehicle. Donald Daggett, CEO of one of Australia's top three wine producing companies, was losing a fight for the first time in his life. He knew it and his wife, Elizabeth, knew it. He saw the knowledge in her terrified gaze as he glanced sideways at her. She had her arms out, bracing herself against the dash as he fought to keep the car on the road. He swiped madly at the sweat trickling into his eyes, burning them, and causing his vision to blur. Damnit, I can't save us if I can't see, he thought. He reached for the emergency brake, hauling back on it with all his strength. Once again, nothing happened. None of the brakes seemed to be functioning. A leisurely day trip in the bucolic English countryside had become an unexpected hellish nightmare ride through the quiet evening streets of Bourton-on-the-Water.

Daggett sensed an aching pressure building and clutched his chest as the tension suddenly turned painful. Dark blotches swam into his vision, and he tried to shake them away but succeeded only in losing his grip on the wheel. His wife seized her seat belt and turned her face to her window, screaming at the houses flashing past. Moments later the car careened across the road, with a screech of skidding tires, and tore into the solid stone pillar of an ancient bridge before flipping into the turbulent stream below.

Water rushed in through the shattered windows, swirling around their heads as the Daggetts dangled by their safety belts. Donald twisted and fought to free himself as water rose past his head. He reached out frantically for his wife only to encounter her limp body. The pain in his chest exploded and everything went black.

Moments later a dark figure slipped from the nearby shadows. It eased down the embankment towards the wreckage with one intention in mind. And it wasn't to be the Daggetts' salvation.

* * * * * * *

Meanwhile, back home . . .

Logan Daggett was up to his neck in trouble—again. He couldn't risk a backward glance but his heightened senses were keenly aware of the men closing in on him rapidly from behind. His latest predicament was yet another result of his inherent cockiness. He tucked his head down and bolted forward like the hounds of the Baskervilles were snapping at his heels.

The ground shuddered with the sound of a dozen sets of heavy feet giving chase. Two hulking shapes moved to bar his path. Logan didn't hesitate. He tucked his head down and, leading with a solid shoulder, he bored straight into them. He sent one of the human barricades careening backwards.

Logan's momentum faltered. A wave of bodies fell on him before he could move. Beefy arms wrapped themselves around his neck and shoulders, others clawed at his legs. Just as he collapsed under the attack, he caught a glimpse of his Aborigine mate, Gavin Allawa, charging to his aid. With a deft flick of his wrist, Logan released his death-grip on the object in his hand and sent it flying to Gavin's outstretched hands.

He felt pure satisfaction to see his friend making a perfect catch and dashing past before Logan disappeared beneath a writhing mass of sweating, grunting, swearing attackers. He laughed as the breath was crushed out of him.

A tumultuous roar went up. Logan extricated himself from the heap of bodies just in time to witness Gavin's victory dance and bow of appreciation to the thousands of fans enjoying the regional intrastate football game.

Logan staggered toward the sideline. Then he spotted them—a couple of stone-faced cops.

Shit. What now? Logan thought as a bystander pointed him out to the police, and they began walking in his direction.

Gavin watched his buddy from across the far side of the field as the two officers converged on him and a sudden lump of ice formed in the Aborigine's stomach. His head rang with warning bells going off. I thought all that business surrounding the girl's death had been sorted out.

Jostled by his jubilant teammates and supporters, Gavin fought to keep sight of the cops confronting Logan. He strained against the pull of the crowd, twisting and turning. Something was definitely wrong, and he grew more desperate to rush to his friend's side. One of the coppers laid a hand on Logan's arm and the young player's shoulders drooped as he hung his head despondently.

That was the last straw. Gavin tore free of the raucous celebrations and raced across the field as Logan dropped to his knees.

CHAPTER 2

Three weeks later

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The somber voice of the pastor drifted upon the melancholy breeze sweeping the hilltop as the congregation looked on as the two caskets were lowered into the double grave. Logan heard quiet sobbing ripple through the crowd as they dropped from view. After the ceremony he smiled weakly as people shuffled up to him with their sober condolences before slowly drifting off to their waiting vehicles.

A short time later Logan shook his head slightly realizing, except for one other, they were alone. Beside him his best mate, Gavin, stared grimly down at the caskets covered with a smattering of dirt.

Logan was of two minds. On one hand, he felt overcome with despair at the loss of his closest friend and confidant—his mother. Together they had faced life filled with endless trials and tribulations melded with moments of elation and promise, with unflinching positivity. On the other hand, his insides were ratcheted tight with contempt and fiery anger towards his father. As far back as he could remember, the bastard always perverted his position as patriarch. He ruled with an iron-will, as uncompromising as a steel rod. His word was law, final and incontestable. As Logan approached his early teens a noticeable shift took place in the family dynamics. Following the laws of nature, the young man tested the extent and real strength of the patriarchal boundaries. Elizabeth Daggett found her role as wife and mother shift to one of arbiter in the household constantly rocked with clashes between two alpha personalities. Donald Daggett avoided confrontations by simply spending more time at the corporate office than with his family at home.

Why couldn't the bastard have died alone? Why did he have to take Mum down with him? The questions battered Logan's mind like a hurricane as he stared blindly down at his parents' graves.

Gavin laid his hand gently on Logan's shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze, feeling the tension in his mate's muscles. He knew all too well the animosity that surged like a river between Logan and his father.

C'mon mate. Gavin's voice sounded uncommonly husky with emotion. His normally jovial eyes were dull and brimmed with tears.

Logan placed his hand on Gavin's, nodded and turned from the graveside and recognized Stan Beaman standing patiently beside their car. The bloke had always been his mother's personal financial advisor as long as he could remember and as he and Gavin drew closer, Logan could see how distraught he was at his mum's passing.

G'day Stan, Logan said. What can I do you for?

The financier collected himself, reached inside his coat and withdrew an envelope. I didn't want to appear as if we were conducting business at the service, but before leaving for England your mother left this in my possession, insisting I hand it to you as soon as possible should anything untoward happen to her. He passed the item to Logan. The way she spoke sounded like she expected something to occur, but I never thought . . .

Funny you should say that, Logan murmured. Before Mum and Dad left, I noticed something was weighing heavily on her mind, but I never got the chance to ask her what was bugging her. My only regret now is that I never bothered to ask her. Logan fidgeted with the envelope. Did she happen to mention what's in this?

It happens to be the key to your mother's safety deposit box at the bank, Beaman replied.

Oh? I didn't even know she owned one . . . particularly one of her own, Logan said. Did my father know about it?

The financier frowned. I don't think so.

Well, thanks Stan. Logan shook the man's hand. Give me a couple of days to get my bearings and I'll come in to claim Mum's stuff.

I understand perfectly, Logan. Take as much time as you need. Gavin, always a pleasure. Beaman smiled sadly at Logan and Gavin and left for his car parked nearby.

The two men watched for a moment as his mother's friend drove off. Logan turned and approached the group of cemetery laborers standing quietly off to one side. He handed each of them an envelope before quickly rejoining his friend and when the workers inspected their envelopes they were amazed to find them each filled with five crisp one hundred dollar bank notes. They stared in wondrous gratitude as the two young men climbed into their car and drove off.

Well, if that don't beat all, one of them mumbled.

Nothin' like his old man at all, another said. As far back as I can recall, old man Daggett went out of his way to bicker with anyone to save a miserly few pennies.

Logan sighed deeply. He was bone weary and selfishly glad to see the last of his guests depart. It was the longest and saddest day of his young life—having to bury his mother. Today was his 21st birthday, and he vowed he would never celebrate any of his future birthdays in deference to her memory. It looked to him like most, if not all, the townsfolk from Mudgee turned up at the family homestead to pay their condolences. A few, unable to attend the actual funeral service and burial for one reason or another, dropped by afterwards at his home with their soft-spoken words.

Despite the solemnity of the occasion, Logan was troubled. Putting aside his anger, there was something that didn't sit quite right with him about the circumstances surrounding the death of his parents. He read the official reports sent to him from England at the request of the New South Wales Police Department, thanks to his father's corporate attorneys, but they left him with more questions than answers. Regardless of his animosity towards his father, Logan knew him to be anything but a reckless driver and as soon as he could, Logan was determined to set out for England to carry out his own investigation. The report concluded his father had suffered a possible heart attack at the wheel; something Logan rejected out of hand. He regarded his father as too much of a heartless bastard to leave the planet like that. He must find out for himself if it had actually been an accident as reported or whether, for some unimaginable reason, his father committed suicide and murdered his mother in the process.

The more he thought about the incident, the more things just didn't add up. My gut is telling me it was no accident. Mum always went on about how good her intuition was, so for her to leave that envelope with Beaman must have meant she really did feel something was going to take place on their trip. And despite his mind leaping to the notion of his father committing suicide, Logan now dismissed it. The codger had made enemies of a few locals right here in town because of his obnoxious attitude and his way of doing business, so what if he had made enemies in the corporate world? Maybe one of them had it in for Dad enough to—  

Here ya go, mate. Gavin appeared at Logan's side with a heavy crystal tumbler in each hand. He passed one to his glum friend and raised his own in a toast. I feel bloody guilty bringing it up and you can clout me if it suits you, but for what it's worth . . . Happy birthday. The afternoon sun enhanced the rich inner glow of the Scotch whiskey.

Logan lifted his glass in return. I know how you feel. Weird ain't half of it, but thanks, Gav. For a split-second his dark eyes twinkled with flecks of gold and then returned to the deep green color people always found intriguing, especially the women. His voice was quiet, strong, but to Gavin's discerning ear there was an unmistakable undercurrent of melancholy tinged with anger. Logan's gaze was unfocused, as he savored the mellow liquor.

It was darker now. The sun having slipped behind the distant hills painting them in purple hues against a deepening golden spring sky. The first stars twinkled overhead and the nip in the air forecast a cold night ahead. He and Gavin sat in heavily cushioned wooden chairs handcrafted by Logan's grandfather and stared at the surrounding vista of the rolling country property from the covered veranda.

They could smell the sweet scent of impending rain on the breeze and to the west a line of dark clouds roiled along the horizon. The bush was coming alive with nocturnal sounds of birds settling down for the night while unseen animals such as the Echidna and Eastern Bettong shuffled about foraging in the undergrowth for their evening meal while off in the distance sheep bleated as they hunkered down.

Beyond the spill of light from the house a shape lurked deep in the shadows stealthily observing the two men through military-grade binoculars equipped to take photographs. He adjusted settings on his equipment to allow for the mediocre lighting on the farmhouse veranda and, zooming in on the two men, began snapping photographs. 

CHAPTER 3

Logan was the epitome of the 'bronzed Aussie'—tall, broad-shouldered, deeply tanned, muscular, ruggedly handsome with chiseled features. The V-shaped birthmark on his right temple, considered by some as a blemish, merely enhanced his rugged face. Conversely, Gavin, proud of his Australian Aborigine ancestry, was slim and wiry, ebony skin-toned, eyes deep brown—verging on black, and wore his dark wavy hair buzzed short compared to Logan who preferred the actor Hugh Grant's unruly style. At six feet three, Logan towered over his mate's diminutive five feet seven stature.

Gavin grew up among his tribe not far from Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory. Commonly referred to by Australians as The Top End, the federal territory is slightly more than twice the size of Texas but with only 1% the population of the American state. When he was ten years old and began exhibiting exceptional intelligence, Gavin's parents made the difficult decision to send him away to 'the big smoke' where opportunities for advanced education were more prevalent. So the young boy found himself living with relatives in the country town of Mudgee where he encountered Gavin at school. The two boys bonded instantly and their friendship began. Weeks later, when Logan learned of his new friend's disruptive life at home—Gavin's uncle turned out to be an abusive drunk—he approached his mother for advice. Gavin was immediately accepted into Logan's family as his pseudo brother, albeit with a certain reluctance by Donald Daggett. But despite the love and attention lavished on him by Elizabeth Daggett, who insisted he move into their home pointing out We have plenty of bedrooms to spare, Gavin couldn't help noticing the undertow of hostility that existed between Logan and his father and wondered if Elizabeth's ulterior motive regarded Gavin as a diffusing element, a junior assistant to her role as arbiter.

In all that time Gavin had been reluctant to broach the subject with his mate in the hope Logan might choose to do so of his own volition, but sadly that day had yet to arrive. Eventually, Gavin shrugged off the temptation to interfere in something most likely none of his business, choosing instead to accept Logan's parents at face value—one overly proud and attentive, who loved nothing better than to dote on her son's best friend; the other showing scant emotion that grew more elusive as the years progressed, as the man focused more on the family enterprise.

So although the heartache and sadness that had descended upon Logan ran just as deep and painful in Gavin that evening, he knew something had to be done to ease his friend's pain. He also knew there was nothing he could do about changing how Logan felt towards his father. That's something for Logan to make his peace with for himself. So the Aborigine took another tactic.

Beaman was pretty shaken up, Gavin observed. He and Mum were close friends. He sipped his Scotch. Strange thing, that business about her having a safe deposit box. What do you suppose she kept in it?

Your guess is as good as mine, Logan said. What I find more interesting is the fact she managed to keep it a secret from Dad—so Beaman says. He tossed back the remainder of his drink.

Gavin stared intently into the darkness. You know, he said warily. The day the coppers came to the game to break the news about Mum and Dad, for a second I thought it might have had something to do with you-know-who.

Raquel?

Yeah . . . her. Gavin could hear the sourness in his friend's voice; feel his eyes practically boring into him. The fact Logan had responded so quickly only meant that the thought had crossed his mind as well.

It's all behind us, mate—over and done with. Her death was ruled as a suicide.

Gavin glanced sideways at his friend. Even so—

I'm bushed, Gav. If it's okay with you, I'm turning in. Logan stood and for a moment, gazed out into the growing darkness. The abrupt end to their conversation by his friend was not lost on Gavin. If I feel up to it in the morning, we'll drive into town and see for ourselves what's in the safe deposit box. 'Night.

G'night, mate. Gavin should have known better than broaching the topic. You stupid drongo. He berated himself as he watched Logan trudge indoors.

Since word of the accident had arrived, and all through the service, Logan hadn't shed a tear but Gavin knew his friend better than anyone and how much he was like his father . . . if only in one aspect. Both men considered it unmanly to cry, especially in public. Logan displayed a tough outer shell to the world, but inside, Gavin knew he was a softy. It particularly showed when Logan was around animals of any kind. He was overly compassionate when it came to hurt or abused animals, always bringing them home to care for and then ultimately keeping them. Puppies and kittens in particular could find the chink in his mate's armor every time. The image made Gavin smile. He finished his drink, collected his friend's empty glass and turned to go. A sound came to him from the dark, and he paused to scan the terrain around the house to locate its source.

Nothing.

He shrugged and left the veranda to deposit the glasses in the kitchen and head off to bed.

A short distance away the camera-equipped binoculars continued to snap photos.

* * * * * * *

The next day brought news of another impending storm rolling in from the west. The air was heavy with humidity and preceded the weather front. Gavin awoke surprised to find Logan eager to head out and, with plans already made to grab breakfast after visiting the bank, they dressed quickly and clambered into their Land Rover for the forty-five-mile drive into Mudgee.

Their intentions of a fairly speedy return home quickly dissipated as townsfolk waylaid them with more condolences and offers from women to provide the two young men with cooked meals for as long as they needed. Evening shrouded the countryside as the Land Rover's headlights illuminated the dirt track serving as the two-mile-long driveway up to the Daggett homestead.

It took a while as they fussed with lighting the fire in the living room, prepared dinner, ate, and washed up afterwards, before the two men felt they could finally relax and turn their attention to the object of the day's venture—the contents taken from the safe deposit box. Despite his eagerness of the morning, Logan appeared hesitant to delve into his mother's secrets, opting to prolong the inevitable by taking his Scotch out to the veranda and sinking into his favorite chair.

Gavin followed but it didn't take long before his curiosity won over. Well? he asked, reluctant to encroach upon his friend's thoughts.

Hmm? Logan answered absently.

You can't put it off forever, mate, so why not get it over with? Gavin tilted his head at the living room behind them.

What? Oh, yeah. You're right . . . I suppose, Logan fell silent once more.

The quiet stretched painfully long before either man moved. Logan chucked back the last of his drink and stared into the growing darkness for a few seconds more. With a deep sigh he hauled himself from the comfort of his chair, left the veranda and entered the stone and wood living room, which was alive with the crackle and snap from the large open fireplace. Gavin followed quietly, like Logan's second shadow.

Bypassing the rich leather lounge facing the fire, Logan crossed to the well-stocked bar. He hefted the heavy decanter and poured another drink. He looked to Gavin but the Aborigine shook his head. Elbows resting on the counter top, glass poised at his lips, Logan struck a somber pose as his dark green eyes fixed on the writhing flames.

The fire, the only source of light in the downstairs room, filled it with gyrating shadows dancing to a silent tune. The rich, honey-colored wood chosen for the bar top fairly glowed in the firelight. Flecks of rich gold swirled in Logan's eyes.

Which do you want to open first . . . Mum's package from the bank or the overseas packet? Gavin chucked his chin at the items on the coffee table. It's postmarked United States. I've been around your family an awful long time and never heard any of you mention knowing someone across the pond. Whoever it is knows you because it's addressed to you specifically. Doesn't it strike you as being the least bit strange?"

Logan refocused, and shifted his gaze from the hypnotic flames to the coffee table flanked by the semicircular lounge. The padded envelope was among the items they collected from the post office earlier in the day after visiting the bank, now it lay in the center of the table where Logan dropped it when they walked in. He took a bracing draught from his drink. His eyes shifted between the overseas mail and his mother's plain brown paper wrapped package, heavily taped and tied with string.

I'm as curious as you to find out what's inside Mum's parcel, so I can't say I blame you if you haven't given any thought to who posted the envelope. Just bloody queer, if you ask me—coming all the way from the States, Gavin said.

Nope. I can't say I have, Gav. I'm as much in the dark about that as you are, Logan said. He shrugged and approached the table, flicking ceiling lights on along the way. Both men dropped into the deep leather furniture and Logan reached for the mysterious overseas mail. Logan recalled being surprised by its unexpected weight.

A cloudy smudge marked where the sender's details should be. He studied the postmark showing the envelope originated from Boston, Massachusetts. He didn't know anyone at all from America. Frowning, he slit it open with his pocketknife and pulled out several sheets of neatly folded notepaper. As he did so, a big ring slipped out, landing on the table with a dull thunk.

"Bugger me. Will you take a gander at that," Gavin gasped.

The ring, comprised of heavy gold displayed a rich luster with the earmarks of being positively old. But it was the huge blood ruby stone that captured their attention. It glowed with an internal light as if the firelight reached deep into the stone.

Gavin uttered a soft whistle. He had never set eyes on such a magnificent precious gem before. No doubt, somewhere in the world there could exist a larger ruby, but this was the largest he'd personally seen. And to him it appeared genuine enough rather than a cheap knock-off.

Logan, somewhat of a history buff, considered the ring to be at least a couple hundred years old. Also, its owner was more likely male and, judging by the size of the setting, of some importance, possibly even royalty.

This must be worth a king's ransom. As Gavin picked the curio up to examine it Logan turned his attention to the notepaper in his hand.

The import of it being a handwritten letter, not printed off some computer, struck him immediately. He didn't recognize the handwriting but sensed someone considered the content important enough to take the time to sit down and write it. He began to read to himself.

Dear Logan,

First of all, let me wish you happy birthday, though it's most likely the furthest thing from your mind considering the circumstances. Turning twenty-one will be a milestone in your life you will remember forever, especially given recent events.

We've never met, yet I have known you for the better part of my life. I have our mother to thank for that. Yes, I mean it when I say 'our' mother and this letter is not the right place for me to go into lengthy detail on that particular matter, that's best done face-to-face. Suffice to say Mum had her reasons for concealing the fact you have a sister.

I have lived here in America virtually all my life and if I know you as well as I say I do, please don't waste time trying to trace this letter. The Boston postmark is legit, but I don't live anywhere near the city. Besides, my surname isn't listed as Daggett.

One more thing before I sign off.

You might be thinking Mum and Dad's supposed car crash suspicious. Well, you should because it was NO accident. We can go into that in more detail too when I get there.

As soon as I finalize matters on this end I'll send you information about my flight details to Sydney. I'll be bringing various items in order to identify myself and explain the reason for the ring being included with this letter.

Until we meet, Logan, take care of yourself and promise me that you will watch your back.

Your loving sis,

Erin Collier

Stunned, Logan let the note flutter to the table. He sat back and stared at it for a long moment, trying to comprehend the information that was revealed on a simple sheet of paper.

Damn. You could knock him down with a feather. He had a sibling . . . a sister no less!

As if today wasn't already the weirdest day ever, this latest news sent it over the top. His mind was a maelstrom of emotions. A person's twenty-first birthday was meant to be joyous, a celebration of coming of age; not a day of mourning, and certainly not a day for a son to be burying his parents and the same day hear from a sibling he never knew existed before that day. Her comment about the car accident and the warning to watch his back was almost more than his mind could handle. What the hell is going on?

A trifle befuddled he sipped his whiskey, his gaze drifting to the large family photo portrait hanging above the fireplace. He paused to examine each face for a moment intensely aware now that, although the sitting had included Gavin at the time, there was a family member missing who should have been there—his sister. He sensed Gavin regarding him closely but, as keen as his mate was to learn what was in the note, Gavin knew to give Logan this time to himself.

It never occurred to Logan to look into his family's background. And there had never been a reason to do so, up until now, that is. Neither parent, his mum in particular, ever brought genealogy up in conversation. The thought caused a strange emotion to surface—resentment. Anger towards both of his parents for never having mentioned his sister before flooded his veins, but he was angry with his mother specifically for keeping the secret—regardless of the reason. He always looked to her as his best friend and confidant. The discovery of this secret now brought all that into question. His mental image of her was now tainted . . . possibly forever.

No one could ever fault Logan's respect for his parents, though for his father it was sorely tempered, but the bond between his mother and himself was assuredly the stronger of the two. Much of the friction between father and son was to do with the patriarch's assumption Logan would enter the family business after graduating from university.

Reexamining all this under the harsh light of his parents' untimely death it became more apparent that Logan's reluctance to be coerced into following in his father's footsteps was the cause of the rift between father and son. No consideration was ever given to the thought he might have dreams for his own future, and any objections raised by him on the subject were waved aside dismissively. The fact there weren't any such plans at the time was completely irrelevant.

Mildly surprised that he had unconsciously finished his drink, Logan blinked several times to refocus his thoughts.

Stillness descended upon the room and the crackling of the fire itself sounded muffled. Outside, beyond the warmth of wood and stone, a distant rumble could be heard. The storm front was descending on the silent hilltop homestead.

The second storm also captured the attention of the stranger still lurking in the darkness. Already soaked to the skin by the previous night's rain, he shifted uneasily and peered over his shoulder and cursed himself for not having the presence of mind to pack any wet weather gear.

CHAPTER 4

Gavin tilted his head at the coffee table. Okay mate, the suspense is killing me.

Hmm? Sorry, what? Logan mumbled.

The letter. Who sent it? Anyone you know? And what did whoever wrote it say about the bloody huge ring? Mindful of the recent events, Gavin cringed at the thought that his questions might sound somewhat insensitive. He need not worry.

Logan didn't appear put out at all. He simply plucked the letter from the table and handed it silently over to his mate. While Gavin read and re-read the note, Logan rested back in the lounge and let his eyes and thoughts drift to the veranda doors and the night beyond. His reverie was broken by his friend's exclamation.

"Bugger me! A sister? You have a bloody sister?"

Yeah, reads that way, doesn't it? Logan replied.

And this is the first you've known about it?

Yep.

Gavin grasped the letter in one hand and scrubbed his head with the other. "Huh . . . I find that hard to take in, mate. Crikey, all these years and this is the first time there's been any mention of a sibling. Why all the bloody secrecy? This Erin hints as much but doesn't—or rather won't—give any details."

She says the letter isn't the way she wants to lay all it out—not in so many words, but it's what she means.

Well? Gavin held out the sheet of paper.

Well what? Logan snapped.

Well, what are you—we—going to do about this? Gavin sounded exasperated by his friend's calmness. This Erin claims Mum and Dad's accident was anything but. And what's this bit about watching your back? What the hell does she mean, for chrissake?

Your guess is as good as mine. There isn't much we can do about it until we hear from this woman again. As for claiming to be my long-lost sister . . . the jury's still out on that. Logan glanced back at his mate and saw the deep frown he wore, as if accusing Logan of taking the correspondence too light heartedly. Logan held his hands out, palms up.

What in the hell else can I—we—do, Gav? Logan asked angrily. He pointed at the letter. "You know as much about this bloody woman, my alleged sister, as I do. Until she arrives, and we can sit down with her and talk face-to-bloody face, all we can do is wait."

Or . . .

Or what?

Or we can ask around, see if anyone here knows anything about this Erin sheila—perhaps has something they've been holding onto all this time, maybe even having been sworn to secrecy.

I find it hard to believe. Secrets? Mum and Dad? He followed Gavin's eyes as they shifted to the contents from the safe deposit box. Yeah well, there is that. Point made.

There's no harm in checking things out, is there? Besides, right now there's not much else to do, now the funeral . . . and all else has been seen to. Well, er . . . you know what I mean.

Logan let out a defeated sigh and slumped deeper into the lounge. Yeah, you're right.

Gavin picked up his friend's empty glass and refilled it and his own at the bar and returned to the sofa. He handed the drink to the sullen-looking Logan and wandered over to the fireplace where he stood for a long moment staring into the flames and sipped his whiskey. The startling news from America had, for the moment, displaced the men's curiosity of their mother's package.

The light from the flames refracted in broken shards as Logan twisted the heavy crystal glass in his hand. He studied the rich amber liquor quietly for a spell before finally tossing it back, wiping his lips on the back of his sleeve. He rose and headed to the bar again only this time he placed the empty tumbler in the sink.

Time for coffee, Gav. If we plan on digging into the family's history for anything to do with this so-called sister of mine we need clear minds, so we may as well start now. You up for a cuppa? His voice carried a tone of decisiveness about it, as if he'd suddenly come to terms with everything and determined a course of action. He moved to the Keurig machine and began brewing them both large mugs of coffee—strong enough to wake the dead.

Gavin broke off studying the fire and turned. Yeah. I'm with you, mate.

Here you go. Logan handed Gavin a mug of steaming coffee.

A welcome scent drifted on the rising breeze. Gavin placed his unfinished whiskey on the mantle and both men moved out onto the veranda, mugs in hand.

The world outside loomed like a brooding darkness. Like far off artillery fire, lightning rippled along the horizon. The soft glow spilling from the mountain retreat illuminated shrubs and vegetation hugging the building's perimeter with a pastel yellow. As they watched in silence, plants began swaying as the storm was preceded by gusty winds. Moments later, small branch tips swept into the light, fluttered their leafy fingers at the men before swirling off into the dark, hastened along by the increasing wind.

You smell that? Gavin's grin was dazzling.

Rain, Logan nodded, his answer almost whispered.

"Let's pray for long steady rain this time—a real drought breaker," Logan said. The nation was still recovering from the merciless Millennium Drought that ran from late 1996 to mid-2010, and subsequent 'dry spells.'

The Aborigine looked up at the storm front. My old man called me a couple of nights ago from the Top End. He phoned to tell me they were copping the big wet. I reckon this could be part of it, mate.

A dazzling shaft of lightning struck a hilltop about a quarter mile away setting a lone gum tree afire. Seconds later a clap of thunder boomed overhead, followed by a rush of wind and the slow drumbeat of heavy singular drops of water on the homestead's metal roof. Like so many artillery shells raining down in a rolling barrage, huge globs of silvery rain fell from the darkness sending up puffs of fine dust where they plowed into the dry waiting earth.

As Logan and Gavin stood beneath the covered veranda, the pounding on the metal overhang grew louder. The air filled with a mixture of metallic humidity and ozone, and the temperature dropped noticeably.

As his dark green eyes sparkled with flecks of light, a wide grin appeared on Logan's face, and he stepped out into the rain—now a steady downpour. He turned his face heavenward and yelled a mighty whoop of joy at the top of his lungs.

"Yippee! Rain you bastard—RAIN!"

For a moment, at least, both men forgot the mysterious strongbox package and the foreboding letter lying on the coffee table inside, and just reveled in nature's light show.

The stranger was far from impressed with Mother Nature and cursed her vehemently as he hunched his shoulders against the driving downpour and the sudden blast of coolness. What's so damn important about these two country hicks anyway? A burst of lightning sizzled close overhead making him hug the sopping ground for protection. If I get out of this assignment alive, I'm damn sure going to demand more money.

CHAPTER 5

Soaked to the skin, Logan stepped back inside the warmth of the homestead. The welcome rain still drummed on the roof, a rhythmic beat keeping a smile on his lips and temporarily leeching the melancholy and anger from his soul. He was quietly amused to hear himself humming as he ambled to the downstairs bathroom. There he stripped off his dripping clothes and donned a bathrobe before returning to the living room.

Feeling better, mate? Gavin handed his friend a fresh mug of Kahlua-laced coffee.

Much. Thanks. Logan sipped the hot brew. If he listened hard enough he could imagine hearing the joyous hollering of the drought-stricken local farmers. His smile broadened.

Yeah, it's bloody great, isn't it? The rain. Gavin glanced up at the ceiling. He stepped to the fire, stoked it, sending a rush of sparks up the stone chimney.

Outside, the stranger rose from the mire and moved deliberately to the side of the house where the broad wraparound veranda gave ample shelter from the downpour. A window provided an unobtrusive view of the front room with its oversized fireplace and the two men standing before it. The figure withdrew a small object from his jacket and stuck it to the glass. Pulling out a device the size of a deck of cards from another pocket, he connected the ear bud by a length of fine cable. He pressed a button and smiled when a tiny green LED light glowed from the object stuck to the pane. Once the voices of Logan and Gavin sounded clearly in his earpiece the stranger eased back into the deep shadows further along the veranda.

Logan took a swig of his doctored coffee and let the liquid trickle down his throat. It trailed a soft fiery path all the way to his stomach and radiated glowing warmth throughout his body. He took another drink and settled into the lounge opposite the fire.

First thing tomorrow, as soon as the place opens, we can check with the Registry Office, he said. They hold all the info for births, deaths and marriages for the district. So if anyone has details of my sister's birth they should.

We can also try the local hospital records, as well, Gavin added. No harm in checking every possibility. He dropped into another of the leather lounge chairs.

Good idea, Gav. Logan finished his coffee and set the empty mug on the table beside the mysterious birthday message. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. And while we're at it we may as well drop in to see Stan Beaman. He could prove a terrific resource for more details than those official records might show.

Good thinking mate. Gavin flashed a huge smile and his teeth beamed like a row of brilliant white pearls. He stared into the twitching flames for a moment. I wonder what your sister, this Erin, looks like? he mused.

You're asking me? Logan replied. I haven't the foggiest—

Nah, just thinking out loud mate. Gavin tilted his head and winked at his friend. Just wondering if growing up and living all her life among Americans if she, you know, comes across like claiming rights to every bloody thing in life. The comment was more of a statement than a question.

Oh, ease up there, Gav. Aren't you laying it on a bit thick?

The Aborigine scrutinized the ceiling for a moment then glanced back at Logan. "Nope. I don't think so. I mean, here you have a crowd holding the so-called World Series in baseball when America is the only damn country competing.

And how many yanks know that, after losing the War of Independence, the British decided to use Australia as a dumping ground for their criminals. Soon after 1788, Australia became the world's largest penal colony. These days while Americans like to trace their highborn descent from the pilgrims, or the Revolutionary War heroes, Australians, for the most part, have the British to thank for their descendants who were mainly underclass sent here for stealing loaves of bread or underwear. That, mate, in a bloody nutshell, describes the essential difference between the two countries. He threw his hands up. Oh, and let's not forget the yanks we've met who didn't even know us Aussies fought in Vietnam as well."

Logan fell back into his chair laughing aloud, the sound competing with the storm overhead. Finally, he caught his breath. "Why don't you tell me how you really feel about Americans, mate?"

"You know me, I could go on and on, Gavin said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. But I have to mention one last thing though. When some—not all—Americans travel abroad, they expect the world to put them up on some damn pedestal; like beacons of truth, justice, and the American way. When they don't get the recognition they feel entitled to they regard it as anti-Americanism based on wanton hate or envy."

Logan held up his hands signaling his friend to stop. Okay, he chuckled. "I acknowledge some of what you say might be considered by others to be true, but I know you all too well and can recognize when you're sloshing that tar brush of yours around a bit too wild."

Gavin regarded him with an admonished expression. Yeah, I guess I get a dose of verbal diarrhea every now and again.

Just so long as you keep your shit together when we meet up with Erin.

A few seconds elapsed before the pun landed. Both men totally lost it and laughed until their sides hurt. Gradually they settled down enough to realize they had forgotten all about the unopened package still clamoring for their attention. It was the size of a small loaf of bread sliced in half lengthwise, and was wrapped in plain brown paper, heavily taped and tied with string.

Bit anti-climatic, if you ask me. Gavin said. I'm not sure what I expected but I certainly didn't think of something as unimpressive as this.

Well, it's not heavy enough to be a gold bar, I can tell you that much, Logan added. Frowning, he used his pocketknife to cut through the string and paper. He crumbled them into a rough ball and lobbed it into the fireplace where it flared up for a few seconds and was gone.

Both men edged forward on their seats and focused their attention on the plain cardboard box left sitting unobtrusively on the coffee table. They glanced at each other with raised eyebrows and Logan shrugged.

Curiouser and curiouser, Gavin mumbled.

Logan reached out and slowly lifted the lid off and put it aside. The container was filled with crumpled paper. Piece by piece he removed what turned out to be the top layer because sandwiched between it and the remaining tissue laid a jeweler's velvet bag.

Ditto, Logan said simply as he took it out and hefted it. After untying the drawstring, he upended the bag and caught the contents as they slipped out—a slip of paper and an old key.

Leave it to Mum to be full of surprises, Gavin quipped. Does the note explain what the hell that is all about?

Hardly. Logan peered at the note and recognized his mum's handwriting. It reads . . . This belongs with the collection your sister is bringing.

Rather cryptic, even for Mum, wouldn't you say? Gavin remarked. It also confirms the fact that you really do have a sister. And I don't know about you, mate, but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that revelation.

Logan glanced at the note again and turned his attention to the key. The dark gray metal showed a dull patina produced by age and handling. It resembled some old jail keys, or the type used to open ancient trunks or boxes, like he had seen in movies.

I've always hated riddles. Gavin grumped as he dropped the slip of paper on the table.

Logan picked up his sister's letter and his mum's note. He glanced from one to other and after a moment held them up to his friend. Okay. We've both read these . . . anything strike you as strange about them?

Lemme see. Gavin looked the papers over again. He handed them back to Logan. Nope.

Really, mate? Logan put the paperwork down and stabbed them with his finger. Well, for one thing, my sister knew Mum was heading into possible danger. She says as much in her letter by stating it was no accident that killed our parents. Don't forget Beaman said she hinted there might be trouble during the trip. Remember how she always carried on about that intuition of hers? Mind you, it was so spot on at times her ability sent shivers up my spine.

Yeah, I know what you mean, Gavin said. It gave me the creeps too at times.

"The other point is it's obvious Mum knew before she and Dad flew off to England that Erin was going to travel here. It almost sounds as if the two of them planned this whole thing . . . the news about my having a sister coinciding with something bad possibly happening."

Well, I'm not so sure about your take on it all. Gavin sounded dubious. "For all we know, your sister's visit to meet you could have been planned months ago and the trip just happened to pop up at the same time. If I remember right, it seemed to be a last

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  • (3/5)
    I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with this book. I enjoy historical fiction in the vein of James Rollins and Dan Brown and I've always loved the Robin Hood mythos, so I gave it a try. The book started off fairly quickly, but slowed down for a number of chapters. Think Tom Clancy, but with historical figures rather than military weaponry and machinery. Some of the dialogue is a bit flowery, because I don't feel that people really speak the way they did in the book. I do have to say, however, that the last third of the book is pretty rewarding for action/intrigue fans. All in all, it was well-written, if a bit long-winded. I'd give it 3.5 out of 5

    I was kindly given this ebook ARC by Liam Cadoc for my honest opinion. Thank you!