The Summer Sisters
An instant USA Today bestseller!
Set against the backdrop of the golden sands and crystal clear waters of Cabarita Beach three sisters inherit an inn and discover a mystery about their grandmother's past that changes everything they thought they knew of their family...
Bindi Summer, the hard-working manager at The Waratah Inn is tired, feeling low, and wondering where her life is headed. Then, she is blind-sided by a shock revelation and the sudden arrival of her ex-boyfriend, who shows up at the inn, questioning his decision to leave her almost two years earlier.
When Josh Owens, an old high school crush, shows up out of the blue, all Bindi wants is to hunker down and ride out the storm, but Josh won't be put off so easily.
In the midst of her chaotic life, it's Bindi's turn to read the journals Nan wrote years earlier, discovered by her sister Kate in an old wooden box. The mystery of what happened to Charlie Jackson continues to unravel as his letters to Edie follow his journey from a teenager in love, to a pilot for the RAAF and beyond.
In this dramatic conclusion to the heartwarming saga, the three Summer sisters will finally learn the truth they've longed to uncover about their past, and why Nan kept so many secrets from them all these years.
A heartwarming journey from brokenness to wholeness for fans of Carolyn Brown, Lauren K. Denton, Rhys Bowen and Danielle Steele.
Release date: January 14, 2020
Publisher: Black Lab Press
Print pages: 484
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The Summer Sisters
ABRUZZI APENNINES, ITALY
His toes were cold. The rest of him was warm, although he felt some pain in his ribs. Scratch that, a lot of pain. Something was poking into him, or
had bruised him, he couldn’t tell. All he knew was that his tongue felt as though it was plastered to the dry roof of his mouth.
It was dark.
Maybe his eyes were shut. They seemed to be shut. There wasn’t even a dot of light to be seen. He should try opening them.
With extreme eﬀort, his eyelids lifted, and a dull ache followed in their wake. Had he drunk too much whiskey? Where was he?
With slow deliberation he let his eyes wander around the room, then blinked and tried again. His eyelids seemed to scratch dry trails on his eyeballs. It wasn’t completely dark after all. A dull light emitted from a fireplace on one wall, and from a black potbellied stove in the centre of the room. There was a small, square table against one wall, along with two wooden chairs. A square frame hung above the table, and on the opposite wall, a window, shuttered by a pair of simple, pale curtains.
Another table, this one longer, was pushed up to the wall by the door. It held an array of pots, pans, bowls, a single jug, and several items of food, including a jar of olives, a piece of cheese partially wrapped in a cloth, and a brace of onions that hung above it all.
What was that sme!?
A scent of something delicious, whatever was simmering on the stove, mixed with the faint aroma of animal hide and manure. His nose wrinkled, even as his stomach clenched with hunger.
A woman’s voice made him turn his head, then he grimaced at the pain that shot up one side of his neck. She murmured something in a language he didn’t understand. He focused on her face as best he could, his eyes taking a few moments to find their mark.
She was beautiful. Young too, though he couldn’t say how young. Maybe around his age. How old was that?
His mind searched for the answer, gave up, and turned back to examining the woman.
Deep brown eyes, long, brown hair caught up in a braid of some kind with wisps falling around her tanned face. Her lips were pulled into a warm, if somewhat shy, smile. She wore a white blouse beneath a dark-coloured dress, and an apron tied around both.
“Hi…” he rasped. The sound that emitted from his mouth startled him. He’d lost his voice.
She shushed him then, stroking the side of his face with her fingertips. “Shhh…”
When he was quiet, she asked him a question, but he didn’t know what she was saying, only the inflection of her voice and the way she stopped to watch his response indi- cated she wanted something from him. Some kind of answer.
“Uh…I don’t know what you’re saying,” was what he tried to say, but the words came out as a hiss and growl.
He wriggled his fingers and found they moved well enough. Beneath him was some kind of mat. It wasn’t padded, simply a thin sleeping mat made of some kind of fabric. Under that appeared to be a hard, dirt floor. The room he was in was built from large stones. It was a spacious room, and there was a doorway at either end of it, but both doors were shut.
Was he a prisoner? Or did he know this woman? He couldn’t tell. Though he vaguely recalled seeing her face before, as if through a kind of fog. Perhaps lying on this very mat, he’d interacted with her before. At least, the idea seemed true to him. He remembered another face as well, a man’s. But that man didn’t seem to be in the room now.
The woman was still talking, but he’d lost interest, unable to understand what she was saying. He should get up. Should leave. Though, where he’d go, he couldn’t say.
He shifted his weight on the mat and leaned on one elbow. Pain erupted in his side, shooting down through his leg. He gasped, blinking as his vision swam.
“Shar-lee,” she said.
He inhaled a slow breath.
“Shar-lee,” she said again, nodding.
His eyes narrowed. What was she trying to tell him?
She smiled, pointed one finger to the ground beside him. He stared. There was something silver in the dirt, on top of a pile of folded, stained clothes. He picked it up with a groan of pain and held it close to his eyes. It was hard to see in the dull light.
A dirty string, with what looked like reddish rust colouring it in places, held together two small, silver discs. The discs were engraved with something.
He squinted. Some sort of identification number, involving a combination of letters and numbers. And a name. “Charlie Jackson.” The name had been etched by hand, at least it appeared so. It was crooked and poorly executed, but clear enough to read.
“Charlie?” he said, holding the tags up towards her. She nodded. “Sì, Shar-lee! Ben Fatto.”
The woman seemed very pleased with his eﬀorts. He
wondered what it meant. She pointed to him, her finger pressing into his chest. “Shar-lee.”
Were the tags his? He tested the name in his mind. Charlie Jackson — did he recognise it? The name didn’t sound familiar. Then again, he couldn’t recall in that moment what his name might be. It seemed strange, it was as though his mind was straining, searching every possible synaptic pathway, yet nothing was there. He’d forgotten his own name.
Maybe he was Charlie Jackson.
His throat tightened. “Charlie,” he repeated.
She grinned. Then, removed her finger from on top of his chest and placed it against her own. “Maria.”
He nodded, finding it hard to breath. “Maria.” His voice still sounded as though he’d swallowed a wasp but was returning bit by bit every time he tried using it.
Her head bobbed in approval, then she stood and hurried over to the stove. A pot bubbled on top of it, with a spoon sticking out of the top beneath a lopsided lid. She took oﬀ the lid and stirred the contents of the pot.
In that moment, Charlie didn’t care what his name was, or what he’d forgotten. All he wanted was whatever he could find in that pot. His stomach tightened into a knot and he swallowed hard.
“Hungry…” he whispered. “Thirsty too.”
She looked over her shoulder with a smile. He almost groaned at the look on her face. She didn’t understand a word he’d said that much was clear. Still, she was making food, perhaps it was meant for him, or perhaps he was her prisoner. There was no way for him to know. He lifted a hand and studied it, no ropes or chains. Nothing bound his feet either. He glanced at the door, it was slightly ajar and didn’t seem to be locked. The light in her eyes, the smile on her face — he didn’t appear to be her hostage.
One hand pressed to his stomach, he pulled back a thin blanket that covered him. A pale piece of fabric was wrapped around his torso, stained with dots of blood. His blood. Not recently shed, but old, dark.
He pressed his side and winced. It hurt, but the pain was dull, not like a recent injury. Flashes of memories flitted through his thoughts. He’d woken up here before, his mind in a fog, seeing the woman’s face, feeling water pressed to his lips, drinking. He’d been in this room for some time.
The woman carried a small, round bowl to him, and knelt on the floor beside him. She held up the bowl with a dip of her head, then scooped some of its contents onto a spoon and towards his mouth. It smelled delicious. Some kind of meat, with chunks of potatoes, soft vegetables, in a broth. He opened his mouth and she pushed in the spoon. Flavours exploded across his tongue as his stomach growled with hunger.
While he ate, the woman kept up a steady stream of chatter in her language. He caught a word here or there that made sense. “Charlie”, “ferito”, and “pistola”. Pistola he understood. That was close enough to his own language. The rest of what she’d said sounded like utter gibberish. There’d been a battle, it seemed. She enacted some kind of scene as she spoke, pretended to fire a weapon, grasped at her side.
He’d been shot. Why? And where was he? More importantly, who was he? It seemed his name was Charlie, but the term didn’t spark any recognition within him. Still, he might as well use the name for now, since he couldn’t think of any other name to use.
Maria set the bowl on the ground to fetch a wooden cup with some kind of milk in it. Charlie glanced at the white liquid, then as it filled his mouth and ran down his throat, he recognised it as sheep’s milk. He’d drunk it before. How did he know that? Something of his memory must be returning if he was able to recognise the milk, or maybe the woman had told him somehow during one of his previous bouts of consciousness. He shook his head, confusion making it spin.
Before his bowl of stew was empty, a man strode through the outside door and into the house. He stood framed by a rectangle of dull light that made Charlie blink as it lifted the room out of darkness. Cold air filtered into the structure, Charlie shivered and tugged his blanket up to his neck.
The man stared at Charlie, then directed his attention to Maria, speaking quick and low. She nodded, stood, and returned to the stove to dip spoonsful of the soup into another two bowls. The man shut the door behind him, disappeared through the door at the other end of the room, into what seemed to be an adjoining room, then returned without his coat, his shirt sleeves rolled up.
Maria set their bowls on a small, rough-hewn table against one wall. The two of them sat together, eating, talking. They didn’t pay Charlie any more attention, so instead he focused on the silver tags and the folded clothes beneath them. He fingered the edges of the material, a pocket, a seam, the clothing looked like a military issued uniform.
Even the small amount of movement, eating the meal, drinking from a cup, watching, thinking — all of it had tired Charlie so that he seemed to have to gasp for each breath.
His eyes blinked shut, then opened again even as he struggled to focus. His hand fell away from the seam of the clothing he was studying, and onto the floor beside him. He closed his eyes again and drifted into a deep slumber.
The small basement smelled of dry dust and long forgotten things. Bindi Summer sat in front of a large cupboard, both doors flung wide. Her legscrossed, she held a book in her lap, and her brow furrowed as she peered at the page. Piles of papers, notebooks, and boxes lay strewn around her.
She’d had no idea Pop was a stamp collector. She ran a fingertip over the rows of stamps, their edges curling. There were stamps from England, Portugal, Spain, the United States, and Canada. Stamps that commemorated anniver- saries or celebrated the various Olympic Games. She smiled, remembering how much he’d loved to watch the games. He’d sit in his favourite armchair and shout at the television set, fists pumping with glee when his favourite team or athlete won their event.
Her sandy blonde hair was caught up in a messy ponytail on top of her head and the smattering of freckles across her nose stood out against pale skin. She sighed, slapped the stamp book shut, and pushed it onto one of the shelves in the cabinet, sending a cloud of dust into the air around her.
With a cough, she reached for another book. This time she found a collection of coins pressed into small, plastic holders. There was a thud overhead and she glanced up at the bare floorboards of the inn. The storage locker had become a refuge for all of Nan and Pop’s personal collections. She and her sisters found it beneath the kitchen of the Waratah Inn right after they’d inherited the structure, when the contractor they hired to renovate the regal old building did a walk- through with them.
He’d oﬀered to clean it up, make it larger, or turn it into a wine cellar, but they’d decided to keep it the way it was. Though Bindi wished now someone had at least run a mop over the place. She sneezed, shaking her head as her eyes smarted.
The breakfast rush was starting upstairs. The noise of footfalls on the timber floorboards grew with each minute that passed. She sighed. They didn’t need her for the meal service, but she felt as though she should be up there with them. It was the busiest time of day at the inn.
She replaced the coin collection on a shelf and tugged another book free. This time it was a photograph album, standing side by side with several other albums, all covered in a fine layer of dust. The cover fell open and a thin paper page ballooned in the air, then settled against a page of black and white photographs.
Nan and Pop standing in front of a white clapboard farm- house-most likely Nan’s childhood home in Bathurst.
Nan was raised on a sheep farm just outside the country town. She and Pop had left with their son, Bindi’s father, to start a new life farther north, in Cabarita Beach. That was when they’d built the Waratah Inn and embraced the role of inn keeper — something Bindi and her sisters had read about in the journals they’d discovered in an old timber box in Nan’s room after her death.
The next photograph showed Nan wearing a pale top, tied around her waist, and showing oﬀ long, trim legs in a pair of hot pants. She sported large, white-rimmed sunglasses, with blonde hair curled in loops away from her pretty face and a mischievous smile on painted lips. Nan stood with one arm raised, pointing in the direction of a sign that read, “Summer Motors”.
She and Pop had run a car yard in Bathurst for several years, saving enough money to start their lives over, away from the controlling influence of Nan’s family, and from the spectre of memories that must’ve been diﬃcult for Nan to overcome.
When Bindi read the entries in Nan’s diary about her first love, Charlie Jackson, it’d made her heart ache to think of all the pain and grief her grandmother must’ve endured when Charlie didn’t return home after the war to her and their infant son, Keith. Moving to Cabarita Beach must’ve been Nan and Pop’s way of putting that pain behind them as they built a new family foundation of love, joy, and hope. That was the family Bindi remembered from her childhood. Whenever she’d visited her grandparents at the inn, she’d immediately warmed to their wide smiles, mischievous pranks, and ready laughter.
A knock at the door startled her, and she inhaled a quick breath before spinning to see her sister leaning on the door frame, arms crossed over her chest. Kate wore a chef ’s hat on her head, a white jacket buttoned down one side and black and white checked pants. Her green eyes sparkled.
“Good morning Bindi,” she said.
Bindi stood up, dusting the back of her pants with one hand. “Morning. How’s breakfast going?”
Kate shrugged. “Nothing to complain about. There’s someone on the phone for you. A doctor… Ash or something. I couldn’t quite hear, it’s pretty noisy upstairs. Anything you want to tell me?”
Bindi pressed a smile to her face, her heart thudding. “No, everything’s fine. He’s probably calling to talk about my check up.”
“You’ll tell me…?” began Kate.
“Of course, if there’s anything to tell, I’ll let you know.”
Kate left, and Bindi sagged. If the doctor was on the phone, that meant her tests had come back and he had news for her about the results. She preferred to remain downstairs, sorting through old scrap books, collections, and photographs. If she didn’t know the test results, she could ignore what was going on with her health for a little longer.
She pressed fingertips to the glands beneath her throat. Still sensitive to the touch. With a sigh she glanced down at her waistline. It’d shrunk so that her shorts sagged a little and she’d had to tug them up into place more than once on the walk downstairs to the basement earlier.
With a shake of her head she climbed the narrow stair- case, emerging beside the oﬃce. She shut the door behind her and sat at her desk. The phone earpiece lay on the desk. She picked it up, her stomach twisting into a knot.
“Hello, this is Bindi Summer.”
“Bindi, it’s Doctor Ash. How are you?” “Fine thank you.” Her stomach clenched.
“I’ve got the results of your tests here. I’d like to see you as soon as possible.”
Her heart fell.
* * *
The wind had a nip to it that raised goosebumps up
Bindi’s arms and over her back. She tugged the tan cardigan tighter around her thin frame and hunched over bent knees. The rocky ground beneath her pressed into her rear end and she shuﬄed in place to find a more comfortable position.
A gull cawed nearby, higher up a hawk sailed on the updraft, wings extended, still. She watched it for a few moments, eyes squinted against the glare of the midday sun. Even through the cool wind she could feel the sun’s burning rays freckling her cheeks and forehead.
Tenting a hand over her eyes she scanned the length of the beach below. She was seated on a high headland that jutted out at the end of two long, golden beaches. The grassy outcropping rose majestic above the ocean, with a sharp cliﬀ- face tumbling to a narrow and rock-strewn shore below. A surfer duck-dived beneath a wave, and a couple strolled hand in hand along the shoreline. Otherwise, there wasn’t a soul in sight in either direction.
Bindi sat, arms looped around her bent legs, chin resting on her knees, staring out into the blue expanse of water where it met the sun-bleached sky.
She’d sought out this place. Needed to be alone after her appointment with Dr Ash. It’d been bad news, as she’d thought it would be.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he’d said, hands steepled together over his desk. She’d tried to pay attention while he explained the illness, what the treatment would involve. But after the word cancer, her head had buzzed and breathing became more diﬃcult as her thoughts spun out of control.
She had cancer. Cancer.
He said they’d caught it early, it was treatable, that in all likelihood she’d be fine.
But it was cancer. People died from cancer. The thought kept running through her head — she could die.
She sucked in a deep breath and pressed her hands to her forehead then scrubbed them down over her face. Treat- ments. She didn’t like the sound of that. She was only twenty- eight years old; she shouldn’t have cancer. She was the manager at the Waratah Inn and didn’t have time for treat- ments. She felt okay. Not wonderful, but well enough to work. No one else had suspected she was unwell, yet.
How long had she been sick? That was one of the ques- tions she’d asked Dr Ash when finally she unstuck her dry tongue from the roof of her mouth.
“Possibly as long as six to twelve months,” he’d said. She had a fever. Might’ve had one for that entire time. She couldn’t believe she’d missed that. How had she overlooked a year-long fever? She supposed she’d gotten used to it. Low grade, still, it surprised her how out of touch with her own body she must’ve been not to notice a thing like that.
A wind gust pummelled her, it howled around the head- land, blowing her hair in every direction, pulling strands free from her ponytail. She smoothed it back out of her eyes, finding her cheeks were moist. Tears pooled in her eyes and were whipped away by the cruel wind.
She stood with a groan. Dizziness swamped her head, and she staggered away from the cliﬀ face, looking for the wind- ing, narrow sandy trail that would take her back to the parking lot. She found it and navigated between two rocks, then down a steep embankment. Her head spun and thoughts swam.
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