The Island Bookshop
Evie’s book club friends are the people in the world she relies on most. But when one of the newer members finds herself confronted with her past, the rest of the club will do what they can to help, endangering the existence of the bookshop without realising it.
When Charmaine’s past comes calling, she reverts to her old way of living — running and hiding. She’s not used to having friends. But on Coral Island, everyone is a friend. And this time Charmaine will find that being part of a close knit community is the one thing that will save her.
Penny and Rowan are newlyweds, but their new lifestyle comes with challenges neither one of them is used to facing. Can their marriage withstand the tension or will it be over before it’s really begun?
Dani brings her boyfriend home to the island to meet her family, but he’s not the sort of son-in-law Beatrice ever imagined she’d have. Will she be able to welcome and accept this stranger into her family, or will she inadvertently push her daughter away?
The Coral Island series is full of family drama, sweet romance, renewal, mystery, and friendship. This is the fifth book in the series and ends on a cliff hanger. Be sure to read books 1-4,before starting this one.
Release date: April 11, 2023
Publisher: Black Lab Press
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The Island Bookshop
The room was dark. Only a vague reddish light to show the images coming to life on the paper held beneath the liquid’s surface. Eveleigh Mair used a pair of small tongues to pick the photography paper up by the edge and lift it from the tray. She held it aloft a few moments as the excess fluid dripped back into the tray, her eyes squinting behind a pair of clear plastic goggles. Then, she raised the image over her head and pegged it to a thin line of rope by one corner.
She must’ve been the only person on Coral Island who still used a film camera. She did it for artistic reasons — loved the way photographs looked using old fashioned film. She’d grown up taking photos with her mother’s SLR and couldn’t shake the habit even though digital photos these days were so much easier to use and had amazing clarity. There was something special about the process of taking photos the old fashioned way and developing them in her own dark room behind the book shop.
Her entire family thought she was crazy. Even her mother had updated to using her phone for every captured memory.
“Why go backwards?” She’d asked, when Evie questioned her about it. Suddenly Evie had felt as though she was the oldest person in the world. Why indeed? But she’d kept it up anyway because she enjoyed it. And these days she didn’t have many hobbies. Most of her time was spent running the business, a quaint old book shop called Eveleigh’s Books. She’d purchased the space with the nest egg she’d saved over many years. Another crazy initiative. Most people asked her why she didn’t just accept that people shopped online these days and read ebook on their phones, and let it go. But she liked holding onto the past. To her, tradition meant something, and she fully intended to hold onto what she loved for as long as she could.
The photographs hanging above her head looked fearsome in the morbid lighting, but they were happy images — beachscapes, birdlife, the dock where ferries came to rest bringing tourists to the shores of Coral Island on a daily basis, and then taking them back to the mainland again after sun filled days in a tropical getaway. Her customers were people like her, they loved to take film photographs and since there were very few studios with a dark room in northern Queensland, they’d mail their film from near and far for her to develop on their behalf. It was a small but thriving niche business and she enjoyed the artistry it sometimes took, especially when developing old film canisters like the one Beatrice had found in her cottage’s kitchen wall cavity. Maintaining the integrity of the images had been something of a challenge and Evie had loved every minute of it.
Finished, she flicked the red glowing safe lights on and the bulb burst to life with a low hum. Then she set about packing everything away. With one last look of appreciation at the images, she picked up a basket full of items to take back to the kitchen with her — dirty coffee mugs and plates, a half eaten bag of chips, an empty wine bottle of the recycling and the latest book she was reading.
As she pushed the darkroom’s door shut with her behind, she heard a pounding on the bookshop’s door. With a frown, she considered ignoring it since her hands were full and she was exhausted after a long day of work, but in the end realised it might well be a delivery. She was waiting on several boxes of the latest releases to put up in a display on the weekend and she couldn’t very well leave them sitting outside on the porch all night long.
The knocking on the door had stopped. Hopefully the delivery man had left the boxes at the door. She hated when they pushed a card into the door and expected her to drive to the post office to pick them up, after only missing them by a few seconds. Determined not to add to her to-do list the following day, she picked up the pace and trotted along the narrow corridor and through the small kitchen, then into the bookshop, puffing lightly.
Just as she pass the register, her foot broke through the floorboards and she went plummeting to the ground with a squeal of fright. Her foot pushed through the rotting timber and she landed on her rear end with one leg dangling down beneath the flooring. The basket she’d been carrying went flying across the room and landed with a disheartening smashing of china against the far wall.
Her eyes squeezed shut as pain shot up her leg. She squeaked in dismay and then used her hands to feel gingerly along her limb as she pulled the leg slowly out of the hole. If it was broken, it would be a complete disaster. She had the busy season coming up — the winter months on Coral Island were when most of the tourists arrived on the island. The delightfully warm weather and brilliant sunshine throughout the colder season was the perfect opportunity for holiday-makers to fly north for the winter and to escape the ice, driving rain and falling snow in the southern states.
Satisfied that she hadn’t broken a bone, she studied the floorboard that had given way.
“What on earth?” It had rotted through. She’d know there was some give in some of the boards, had noted it a few times and had even had some customers give the floor a questioning look every now and then. But it was an old building. Surely older buildings like this one always had a few questionable boards in them? But she’d had no idea that might mean she’d one day fall through and almost end up spread-eagled on the concrete foundations. Just thinking of the hidden nasties that might be below her timber floor sent a shiver up her spine. She could’ve landed feet first in a rat’s nest for all she knew. Although she did her best to make sure there were no rats beneath the bookshop, she supposed you could never be certain. And apparently you couldn’t even be certain that the ground wouldn’t open up beneath you.
There was another knock at the front door. This time a more quiet tapping, rather than the thunking of a fist that’d come before. Surely the delivery man had given up by now. She’d never known him to do more than a cursory thump on the door before skedaddling down the stairs and back into his vehicle in the blink of an eye. He was always in a hurry and she supposed that made sense given how much the postal service had cut back on staff in recent years. But it still frustrated her at times and now she’d rushed to answer the door and fallen through her floorboards.
“Just a minute!” She shouted as she worked her leg out of the hole, grimacing at the pain in her knee.
She’d scraped her leg badly down the shin and her calf as well. As she hobbled towards the door, she studied it as best she could and almost overbalanced. She steamed herself by leaning against the door briefly before pulling it open.
“Hi… sorry, I fell… Oh, you’re not the postie.” A man with brown curly hair and dark brown eyes stood on the landing, both hands pushed deep into his jeans pockets.
“I’m David Ackerman, the new principal at the primary school across the street and I thought I’d come and check out the local book shop. I’m an avid reader and I’m passionate about getting kids into reading. Are you closed? I’m sorry, I’ve probably come at the exact wrong time.” He smiled at her, then his face registered alarm. “Is that blood?”
“I was expecting the postman,” she said.
His eyes narrowed. “Huh? The postman?” He bent to examine her leg. “You’re definitely bleeding. What happened?”
She blinked. “I was trying to get to the door and I fell through the floor. It’s rotten and I’ve been meaning to get the boards fixed but I hadn’t gotten around to it. I should’ve made it more of a priority. But you know how these things go — there are so many urgencies you’re juggling as a small business owner, it’s hard to know which one to give your attention first.”
“Lean on me and let’s get you inside,” the man said, reaching for her arm and looping it around his waist. He was tall and she felt tiny next to his looming frame. She did her best to hobble back into the bookshop but within seconds he’d swept her up into his arms and was carrying her across the shop and past the hole in the floor to the small kitchen where he gently lowered her into a chair.
“Is this okay?”
She nodded silently. He’d picked her up as though she was a twig. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d been carried. She was forty six years old and no one had picked her up since she was a child. It felt nice to be taken care of, but it caught her by surprise. She hoped he wasn’t a serial killer or a robber. Not that she ever kept much in the way of cash inside the shop. She tucked her red curls behind her ears.
“Thanks,” she said.
He pulled a second chair towards her and raised her foot onto it, cradling it with tender hands. “You’re welcome. Let’s take a look and make sure nothing’s broken. This is a pretty nasty cut.”
“I don’t think it’s broken, probably only bruised.”
“Bruising we can deal with, although you may need a tetanus booster.”
She clenched her teeth. “I hate needles.”
He smiled. “Oh come on, it’s not so bad. And we have no idea what kind of nasties are in those floorboards. You might’ve been nicked by a rusty nail as well.”
“You’re probably right. Thank you for your help. I really do appreciate it, although I’m sure you have much better things to do with your time than help a middle-aged woman who is apparently now prone to falling.”
“Middle-aged? I don’t know about that. I’m forty-six myself, and I’m clinging to my youth by ignoring the progression entirely.”
She laughed. “We’re the same age then.”
“How about that?” His eyes twinkled. “I noticed the front door was hanging a little crooked on its hinges.”
She slapped a hand to her forehead. “This whole place is falling apart. It’s in dire need of a facelift. I’m not very good with tools though, I’m afraid.”
He scratched his chin. “I could fix the door but you might need to much more than that. It’s probably a good idea to at least work on the floor. We can’t have you falling through the boards regularly.”
“I know I should do it, but it costs a lot of money and besides, when? I live upstairs and I work here all day every day.”
He raised both hands as if in surrender. “I’m not going to tell you what to do. But please be more careful or I’ll be forced to come and check on you daily to make sure you’re still alive.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be asking you for input. I don’t even know you.”
She was horribly indecisive at times. It was why she never changed her life— instead she just keep living exactly the same day over and over again. Because she didn’t know how to make a change and there was no one in her life to force her into it.
She’d attempted to sound light hearted but there was a sadness to her words. Was she living perpetually in Groundhog Day? Would she one day reach the end of her life and wonder what might’ve been, or what she could’ve done differently. She wasn’t like Taya. Her friend amazed her with the way she’d seized a hold of life as though it was one big adventure. Taya hadn’t always been like that, she’d been frozen in grief and then in the busyness of motherhood, for a long time. But now, she was blossoming into the woman Evie had always known she could be. But Evie felt stuck, as though she’d been left behind.
There were times when she was happy and confident as a single woman and entrepreneur and at other times she wished she had a life partner — someone to talk to, to help with decisions, to sit and watch a movie with or take a trip for the weekend.
“I don’t mind at all,” David said. “I’m great at input. Sometimes I give far too much, at least my sister tells me so often.”
“The postman left several boxes on the landing, I’ll bring those inside for you.”
She sighed. “Thank you — I really appreciate it.”
“Sit and rest.”
Before long she heard David bringing the boxes in from the front porch. She hobbled to the bench and set the kettle to boil. The least she could do was have a cup of tea waiting for him when he’d finished the work.
One of the things she loved most about Coral Island were the relationships she had with the other residents. Having spent most of her life there, she knew almost everyone. They were salt of the earth folks. People she could rely on in a time of need, and most of them would step up to help if Evie was in trouble. She knew that, and the knowledge warmed her heart. And now a man she’d never met was helping out in her bookshop. He was clearly destined to live on the island, he’d fit right in. The people of Kellyville would love him. She wouldn’t exchange her community for life in the city for any amount of money. It was priceless.
As the kettle finished boiling, she sliced a pineapple upside-down cake and set pieces on two plates. Her phone rang and she fished it out of her pocket as she poured boiling water into a tea pot. With the phone hugged to her ear by one shoulder, she answered without looking at the caller ID.
“Hi honey, it’s Mum. How are you?”
She set the lid on the tea pot then shuffled back to her chair, lowering herself into it with a groan. “I’ve been better.”
“What’s wrong?” Mum asked immediately, concern making her tone abrupt.
“I fell through a rotten floorboard and have grazed my leg pretty badly.”
“That darned building -- I told your father just the other day that it’s going to fall down around your ears soon if you don’t do something about it. Won’t you let us help?”
Evie rubbed a hand over her face. “Thanks, Mum. I appreciate it, really I do. But I can handle this.”
“Will you though? I can’t stand the idea of you living in that place with it coming apart like that. I’ll be worried every moment. I won’t be able to sleep.”
“Don’t worry, Mum. I promise, I’m going to take care of it. Brad’s here right now fixing a few things and I’m going to hire a contractor. My friend Bea has a really great one, I’m sure I’ll be able to get him to come in and make everything brand new again.”
“Well… if you’re sure. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to come and get you.”
“Don’t do that, Mum. I’m fine, really I am.”
“Okay, good. In that case, I have a favour to ask.”
She’d walked directly into that one. Evie inhaled a breath and held it in her lungs waiting.
“Your sister is home.”
She exhaled. It wasn’t a mystery where the conversation was headed now that she knew her sister was staying with her parents. They wouldn’t want her to be there for long, they’d palm her off on Evie, claiming the two of them needed to reconnect.
“She’d love to see you. She misses you so much. She’s your twin after all. Aren’t twins supposed to have some kind of spiritual connection? And yet you act as though you don’t have a sister. She feels very rejected, Evie.”
Evie covered her eyes with a palm and leaned forwards. “Oh Mum, I’m sure she didn’t say anything of the kind. She hasn’t called me or come to see me in years. Why would she suddenly feel the need now?”
“You know how she is, she can’t express her feelings well. But I know it’s how she feels, she doesn’t have to say the words outright.”
Evie shook her head. Of course, Mum was making things up again. It’d be a cold day in hell that her sister would admit to honestly missing her.
“So she wants to visit, is that what you’re saying? More likely, you want her to visit so that she’s out of your hair. She’s no doubt driving you both crazy. Am I right?”
“Of course not,” Mum fussed. “She’s our daughter, we love her unconditionally. But we’d really appreciate it if you’d let her come and stay with you for a while. And now that you’re doing a renovation you’ll have time — maybe she could even lend a hand. See, it’s all working out perfectly. I’m glad I called.”
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