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Julia Gunn had dodged a lot of curve balls in her life. A left or right feint was sometimes a good idea, speeding up was another option, and if all else failed you could turn and run the other way. But this curve ball – a boulder- sized rock – was coming straight at her. There was nowhere to run or hide.

In front of her was an old ute towing a trailer of sheep. A steep and rocky cutting hemmed the road on both sides. Behind her was a bridge with one lane closed due to roadworks. And a massive truck was driving towards her on the other side of the road.

Julia Gunn had dodged a lot of curve balls in her life. A left or right feint was sometimes a good idea, speeding up was another option, and if all else failed you could turn and run the other way. But this curve ball – a boulder- sized rock – was coming straight at her. There was nowhere to run or hide.

In front of her was an old ute towing a trailer of sheep. A steep and rocky cutting hemmed the road on both sides. Behind her was a bridge with one lane closed due to roadworks. And a massive truck was driving towards her on the other side of the road.

SMACK!

The rock smashed into her front grille, pushing the previously pristine duco upwards with the force of impact.

SMACK!

Another, the size of her fist, slammed into the windscreen. A jagged hole appeared and the rock landed in her lap. Shards of glass flew around the cabin, some hitting her in the face and spiking her bare arms and legs. She slammed on the brakes and the car slid sideways on the rain- slick tar, heading towards the oncoming B- double.

She screamed. Frantically spun the wheel the other way, overcorrecting, terrified she was about to meet the same fate as poor Rupert. Would life be that cruel?

Rocks continued to fall from the cliff above, bouncing across the road. All she could see were the glaring lights of the truck through the shattered windscreen.

Focus. Do something! Anything!

The truck driver, seeing her predicament, shunted his big rig to his left. Julia gripped the steering wheel, fighting to urge her car back to her own side of the road. Dirt and foliage from the rockslide rained down on the Peugeot and through the hole in the windscreen, turning what had been a luxurious cocoon into a mobile mud room.

Then as suddenly as the rockslide had started, it stopped. She was through. And what’s more, she was still alive!

With only the driving rain to contend with now, Julia sucked in deep breaths, relief flooding her body. Until she realised the ute and trailer in front were slowing down. Now she was in danger of smashing her car into the sodden derrières of a mob of sheep.

She feathered the brake pedal this time, desperately trying to peer through the shattered windscreen. The rain was pelting down so hard that rivers of water were running off the road, unable to access the drains that were already overflowing. It was insanity to keep driving.

The ute in front pulled off the road. The owner of the sheep had the right idea. Julia wrestled her car onto the left shoulder, pulling up behind it.

In her rear- vision mirror she could see the truck’s brake lights a few hundred metres down the road. The driver had obviously decided to call a halt too. Whether it was due to the rain or his run- in with a crazy woman in a Peugeot, she didn’t know. Hopefully would never know. The last thing she needed right now was a man telling her she was an idiot.

She turned off the engine and took some more deep breaths, trying to channel her Tuesday morning yoga teacher: ‘Now let your breath go in a long and peaceful movement.’ Peaceful wasn’t easy to achieve with rain pounding her car roof like a shower of two- inch ball- bearings.

The moment was interrupted by a rap on her window. Julia snapped her head to the right and wondered if she was seeing things. Maybe she had actually hit the B- double and was dead, because the dark shadowy figure at her window, a staff in one hand, looked very much like the Grim Reaper.

The rapping came again. Julia could see her reflection in the side window. White, wide- eyed, scared.

But hadn’t she decided two nights ago there would be no more ‘scared’? She was going to live her life. No more playing it safe.

She cracked the window open an inch. The rain instantly\ flung itself through the gap.

‘You might want to get out and look at that radiator,’ said a voice from underneath a very dark brown and sodden oilskin.

A female voice.

‘Get out?’ repeated Julia blankly.

‘Only way you’re going to check it,’ said the voice.

‘But it’s raining.’

‘No shit, sunshine. Best bit of rain we’ve had in months. Woohoo! Although I thought that rockslide was going to be the end of my ewes.’

This woman was worried about the sheep?

‘I only just bought them,’ she went on. ‘Not happy, Jan. I see you missed the truck. Slick bit of driving in the wet. Go, you. Betcha your heart was thumping, aye?’

Julia blinked. Her heart had practically stopped.

‘Anyway, that’s one hell of a smashed windscreen you got there and I reckon your radiator’s stuffed. Green coolant’s coming out everywhere. Probably a rock in it. You might want to get a ride with me? Gotta hustle, though – my ewes don’t like this weather much. Thought I’d shovel a bit of the debris from that rock fall off the top of their stock crate. I’d appreciate a hand, if you’re coming?’

Julia blinked again. The woman was holding a shovel not a staff.

‘Don’t say much, do you, or are you in shock? Shit, maybe I should’ve done that first- aid course at the footy ground last week. I have to warn you, if it’s shock, I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do. I’ll have to ring the ambo. Hope you’ve got cover? You haven’t, huh? I could’ve saved you a fortune if I’d done that course. Then again, how was I to know I’d be meeting my first patient with no ambo cover a week later in a fancy Frog car?’

‘I’ll get out and look at the radiator,’ stated Julia in a clear voice.

It was the ‘Frog car’ jibe that did it. This was Rupert’s precious Peugeot, his pride and joy. Or it had been until the accident that had killed him. He’d been driving his little ute at the time and it had been squashed like a flatpack from IKEA.

‘Better grab a jacket and hat, lovey, or you’ll get drowned,’ came the response.

Julia could see that the woman’s broad- brimmed hat was acting like an umbrella, water pouring off it. Julia didn’t have a hat. Or a waterproof jacket. She didn’t even have an umbrella. The weather forecast for Lakes Entrance this weekend, the first week of spring, had been ‘fine and sunny’ so she hadn’t packed waterproof clothes. Which was ridiculous really, given Melbourne was known for running through all four seasons in a day. When had she forgotten that?

When you decided on this wild, crazy idea to move back to the country.

Julia turned on the interior light and frantically looked around the car. There was her handbag on the floor, diary and notebook on the passenger seat, and in the back a soft- as- butter cashmere black jacket. Rupert’s. Left there because she couldn’t bear to remove every trace of him.

Grabbing the jacket, she realised it wasn’t in the least bit waterproof. She opened the door and got out. Cold water rained on her, running down her neck and soaking into her bra. It was like a refreshing bath really. A small part of her brain likened it to being baptised – washing away all her sins.

She tossed the jacket back into the car. No use worrying about that now.

The oilskin- clad woman was peering at Julia’s radiator. ‘Looks like you’ve buggered it.’

Julia still had no idea who she was, but she didn’t sound like an axe murderer. Her voice was young. She moved quickly to the woman’s side and gazed at the mess that had once been the grille of her car. Green coolant was pouring out, happily mixing with the rain. Damn it.

Her helper had moved to the stock crate and was scaling its side. Julia watched with her heart in her mouth as the woman climbed the evenly spaced rails to the top.

‘Hand the shovel up, will you?’ she called to Julia.

Julia hastened to do as she was asked. Her ‘fancy Frog car’ wasn’t going anywhere so she was going to need a lift. It would pay to be helpful.

While the other woman ably shovelled huge clumps of dirt and grass off the top of the stock crate, the rain eased to a slow patter.

When the top was clear, she jumped down and threw the shovel in the back of the ute. ‘That’s better. Those poor critters don’t need any more debris in that pen with them.’

Julia gazed at the sheep. They had their very own muddy hills in the trailer, and they were not alive with the sound of music. The sheep were clustered in one corner and looking downright miserable. A bit like Julia. So much for a lovely, relaxing weekend by the seaside.

‘Um . . . I would appreciate a ride, if you don’t mind? I’m

Julia. Julia Gunn. And you are . . . ?’

She hoped the woman would introduce herself, and perhaps even unwind her scarf a little so Julia could be absolutely sure she didn’t look like a serial killer. But then what would a serial killer look like? Julia’s old job at the law firm had shown her that the most baby- faced innocent- looking people were sometimes the worst criminals.

‘Oh, sorry. How rude of me. I’m Montana Read. Pleased to meet you.’

The girl unwound a few inches of her scarf to reveal ruddy high cheekbones, smooth skin and a slash of what must have once been scarlet lipstick. Julia’s anxiety eased somewhat. Surely a serial killer wouldn’t wear lipstick and be carting sheep?

‘I’m really, really grateful my ewes didn’t get killed by that rockslide,’ she added. ‘My brother hates sheep, and I’m on thin ice getting these ones, let alone having to go back for more. Anyhow, we’d better start travelling. I need to get these animals home and hunkered down out of the rain. Might put them in the old stables tonight – a little luxury after all this shit weather. You bringing anything with you? Might pay to lock your car, although I’m not sure who’d be around to steal it in this weather. I’ll drop you at the pub. Bluey will sort you out. If he doesn’t, Jean will.’

‘Where is this pub exactly?’ asked Julia, shuddering as she pictured a dirty unpleasant place smelling of stale beer and fried food. She’d been heading for the luxurious Esplanade Resort at Lakes Entrance, a decadent four- and- a- half- star hotel with a day spa, restaurant, bar and cafe.

‘Lake Grace,’ said Montana.

Thankfully, she didn’t hear Julia’s sharp intake of breath.

Memories were coming at her faster than the rocks that had wiped out her car.

Two Lakes to choose from, and fate was depositing her at the wrong one.

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9780857986443

    May 1, 2017

    Bantam Australia

    320 pages

    RRP $32.99

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  • EBook

    9780857986467

    May 1, 2017

    Random House Australia

    320 pages

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