Released: Oct. 2006
Prison didn’t break him but life nearly did.
When an innocent man is released from prison he needs to rebuild his life. For Daniel Denham, that’s easier said than done. Until he meets artist Callie Lester in her house by the sea.
After spending two years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Daniel Denham returns to a life he no longer recognises. Haunted by the things he did to survive, he holes up in his basement apartment and keeps the world at bay. Until the day he makes a call that might just change everything.
For portrait artist Callie Lester, life is good. Or so it seems. And then her mother, Daniel’s lawyer, announces she’s invited him to stay. He’s a man with problems, a man accused of rape, but one look at the hope in his eyes and Callie knows she can’t turn him away.
The moment Daniel walks into the house by the sea he knows it’s a place where he can begin to get his life back together. A place where he can heal. But things are never that simple. Rumours to some people are truth and facing the outside world and all its judgements is the hardest thing of all. Daniel comes out of prison a changed man, unsure of who he is, but as he and Callie grow closer, Daniel is surprised to discover he’s not the only one with ghosts from the past that need laying to rest…
A long and in depth character-based novel of 140,000 Words
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Read An Excerpt
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October just couldn’t make up its mind. Cold and wet to start, catching the tail-end of the hurricane season with such ferocity that many of the shops on the beachfront rolled down their shutters and closed early for the year. Then it seemed to take pity and remember that cold was coming and folks needed a little something to see them through. Two weeks of glorious weather brought the shopkeepers scurrying back for a last fling before they packed up for the season and disappeared to Florida for the winter.
And the times were changing. Formerly known only for its antique stores, the sleepy little resort had woken up with a bang this year. Two new bars and an art gallery brought in the young trendies intent on partying the summer away, and, more importantly for Callie Lester, a new wave of people with money to spend.
People looking for something a little different from the junk stuffing the windows of the dusty old antique emporiums.
What started as the brain-child of a late-night drinking session was beginning to turn into quite a profitable business.
She dabbed in a few finishing touches to the painting and stood back to inspect her work. A little more contrast to the skirt, a few highlights to the hair and it was done.
“Hey Mom.” Callie turned to the sound of the door opening. Her mother appeared carrying two drinks. “Just what I needed,” she said taking the frosty glass and rubbing it over her face and neck.
“Thought you’d appreciate it.” Her mother smiled at the familiar gesture. “Finished already?”
“I have and I’m starting another tomorrow. So, what do you think?”
“Amazing sweetheart. I don’t know how you do it so fast.” Anne perched on the edge of a table to study the painting. “You managed to talk someone into the bustle at last?”
“Yes, I thought it would have been more popular, but everyone wants to wear the regency costume. More romantic, I suppose.” Callie put down her tea and moved over to the sink. “Let me get cleaned up, then I’ll come and sit outside with you. No more work for me today.”
Anne glanced at her watch. “I suppose I could spare half an hour, I did need to talk to you.”
Callie hesitated, only now noticing her mother’s business suit. “Something come up at work?”
Anne was looking decidedly sheepish, avoiding eye contact, like someone does when they have unwelcome news. Callie retrieved the iced-tea and followed her mother to the low wall that formed one of the beach-side boundaries to the house. Neither of them spoke for a few moments as they appreciated the light breeze and listened to the soft swishing of the surf licking at the shoreline.
Callie pulled off her headband and shook out her hair, waiting for her mother to tell her what was so important. It must be if she felt the need to interrupt her vacation. That part hadn’t been hard to guess. Her mother’s work was also her passion. But there was something else, and from the look on Anne’s face, it wouldn’t to be good news.
“I had an interesting phone call today.”
“Oh?” Callie prayed it wasn’t dad or boyfriend-related. Her cool, hard-nosed lawyer of a mother turned into a walking disaster when it came to relationships.
“Daniel Denham, do you remember the case?” Her mother spoke quietly, almost apologetically, as if her part in the failure still hurt. Callie turned to her.
“Could hardly forget. Didn’t see you for weeks. You lost that case, didn’t you?”
Anne nodded, for a moment looking so sad that Callie stood up to hug her. “You gave it everything, as you always do. You haven’t…”
“Invited him over? Yes, I have, Callie.”
“Mom, it was rape. Do you think that’s wise?”
“No, Callie, he was innocent. One of the worst cases of injustice I’ve ever seen. It took me two years to find a witness who would tell the truth for him. He needs work. I can’t talk about specifics, but you’d be surprised how often this happens. Girl sleeps with a guy, regrets it, and then cries rape.”
Callie bit her lip. How could she forget her mother’s near-obsession with the case? The tears she’d shed. How she’d moved hell and high water to secure Daniel’s release.
“I said I’d be here for him and he called today, out of the blue, and asked if I could put any work his way. He’s into computers, website design, that sort of thing, so naturally I thought of you.”
Clamping down the irritation, Callie took a deep breath, having learned long ago the futility of arguing with a mother who was also a lawyer. For a moment, she stared out to sea, which never failed to have a message for her. In all its incarnations it called to her. Offering solace and peace when she needed to be calm. Absorbing her anger when it became too much to hold. Exhilarating and uplifting her when spirits were low.
Directly in front of her ran a thin line of dunes half-covered with grass and beyond that a sandy cove curved away to an outcrop of rocks forming the base of a steep cliff. She had planned to take a long bath then grab a book and spend the afternoon lazing on the swing-chair. Now Callie felt the urge to be up there at the top of the cliff, with the wind in her hair.
“Clara can design me one. I’ll give her a call today.”
“Honey, if you’re going to do anything with all these plans of yours you’ll need to go global and get some professional help. What do you know about business plans, promotion and marketing? Daniel’s good. He had the start of a promising career before all this happened.”
“Okay, book a professional web designer, I know I need one. Why would Daniel even have to be here? How do we know we can trust him?”
“Don’t insult me. Do you think I’d have invited him if I didn’t think he was safe to be around?”
“Of course I don’t, mom. Gran left the house to me and I just prefer that you’d ask. Tell him I’ve changed my mind and we’ll get someone else. I would like the website up and running. I’ll check out a few companies on the internet later.”
“I can’t, I’ve already invited him. I’m picking him up while I’m in town and bringing him back for a few days. Talk to him, Callie. See if you can work with him.” Then she added in a hopeful tone. “I think you’ll like him, he’s a nice guy.”
“What is this, a dating service? I’m twenty three. You really must stop trying to run my life.”
“Okay, fine.” Anne collected up the empty glasses and turned for the house. “I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ve a couple of clients to check up on.”
Callie followed her. “I’ll be okay. Think I’ll invite Janine over for a girl’s night in, if she’s free. Wait up. I’m sorry about Daniel.”
“No problem.” Anne kept walking, muttering that the car needed servicing and she’d do it while in town.
Inside the house Callie pulled off her old painting shirt and thought with longing of the bath she’d planned. And about the way her mother had given up so easily. It was so unlike Anne that Callie followed her into the kitchen instead of going upstairs. She found Anne stacking the dishwasher.
“Look Mom, I appreciate you trying to help, really I do.”
“I know, dear.” Her mother closed the dishwasher door and reached over for the telephone. “Call Daniel and tell him you won’t be requiring his services. His number’s on the pad over there.”
“You want me to do what?”
“Call him and tell him you don’t want him to come because I’m sure as hell not doing it.”
“You invited him, why should I do it?”
“Because, I want you to hear his reaction when you tell him.”
A low blow. So like her mother. “That’s emotional blackmail.”
“I know,” Anne looked entirely unapologetic. “Only marginally worse than you treating him with the same prejudice most people will. Dismissing him out of hand without even having met him. Go ahead, make the call.”
Callie dialled half the number before punching the off button and throwing the phone across the kitchen counter. She could believe how hard it was to rebuild a life shattered by his ordeal. She didn’t question Anne’s judgement, only the way she took monumental decisions without asking.
Anne liked to win, that was for sure, but Callie was learning fast. She stiffened her spine and replied. “You’re right, telling him this way isn’t very kind.” Her mother nodded, patting her arm in understanding. Callie smiled and continued. “Bring him over. I’ll tell him face to face.”
Anne’s smile wavered slightly. She recovered remarkably well. She was, after all, the expert in this game of verbal one-upmanship.
“I’ll do that, Callie.” She retrieved her keys and purse, checked the to-do list on the fridge, and leaned over to give Callie a peck on the cheek.
“I defy you not to want to help him once you meet him.”
Callie folded her mother in a brief hug and stepped back.
“It’ll be my decision.”
“I know, honey, goodness, must be going or I’ll miss my meeting. I’ll be back tomorrow about eleven am. I know you’ll do the right thing by Daniel. You know I’m right, don’t you?”
We’ll see about that. Callie waved her off and then climbed the steps back into the house, rolling the stiffness of the long painting session from her shoulders. On the way upstairs, she shed her clothes, loving the freedom of being in the house alone for the first time since she’d inherited. On her way to the bathroom she stopped to adjust the portrait of her grandmother as a young woman.
“I’ll look after it all,” she told the smiling image. “Keep it exactly how you wanted it, you’ll see.”
In the silence, she could almost hear her grandmother laughing and saying the responsibility was hers now. Pass it on to your children in turn, she’d whispered, just before she died. I can trust you to do that, can’t I Callie?
Callie closed her eyes and listened, wishing she could have her gran back. The hypnotic ticking of the old grandfather clock in the hall drifted up the stairs, and the ever-present music of the sea played in the background. Sounds so familiar, that when it was still and quiet like this she could almost imagine herself a child again, rushing eagerly through the front door to spend another summer in this beautiful old house, with people she loved.
Back then she couldn’t ever imagine growing up, yet here she was, a woman with a new career. She couldn’t imagine having to make decisions that might literally change someone’s life, yet here she was about to crush Daniel’s hopes underfoot. He was trying to do something, get his life back together, but he was a man with problems.
Damn, she muttered. Just what I didn’t need right now. I’ll be polite, but firm. He’ll understand. He’ll have to.
Instead of a bath, she took a quick shower and decided on a walk to work off the tension of dealing with her mother. Perhaps swing into town and visit Clara and Elsa, two friends who made the fabulous costumes her clients wore in the portraits. Then again, maybe not. They both had an uncanny knack of reading people and Callie didn’t want any searching questions thrown at her right now. Not with her mind in such turmoil.
After locking up, she set off, intent on the cliff-path. Passing by her studio, she felt a sudden urge to look at something she’d kept hidden for over two years. A folder full of favourite sketches and one she’d almost forgotten about. A simple pen and wash drawing on a piece of scrap paper of someone she’d never met, but who she felt she knew intimately.
All she really knew about him was that he had natural curls and wore reading glasses. And that he’d been inside for something he didn’t do. She remembered Anne crying and talking about how awful it had been and had grabbed the nearest paper and pen and distilled all that emotion into this drawing with no idea whether it looked anything like him or not. She’d been trying to capture feelings, the anguish and despair, and there it was, staring back at her.
Callie stuffed the picture back into the folder and slipped into her old shoes. Not my problem, not my problem. Perhaps if she repeated it often enough she’d believe it? The last thing she wanted was a certifiable basket case on her hands. Not when things were going so well.
Let him come. I’ll listen politely to anything he has to say, and then just as politely tell him to go. Easy, right? They were only words, after all. He’d deal.
End of Excerpt…
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