Awakening Dreams – a sample

Awakening Dreams, a romance novel by Vanessa Granta sample from Awakening Dreams by Vanessa Grant

Chapter One

For a second, as she came through the door into the unadorned office, she had the impossible thought that the man behind the counter was David. The illusion was fleeting, a product of that first glimpse of the stranger’s dark, luxuriously curling hair.

When he looked up, her heart slowed. Of course it wasn’t David. The stranger’s shoulders were harder, broader, and he would be taller when he stood straight. David had been dark and tall and sleek, competent in city ways, but this man belonged to the strange wild and the outdoors.

“What can I do for you?” He sounded busy, but friendly. The eyes were black, not David’s warm brown, and he was tougher, the lines of his face cut deeper by the easy smile.

He liked women. That was in the smile, in the black eyes as they scrutinized her tailored tan slacks and her tweed jacket. He took in her hazel eyes, her soft auburn curls. She had an uncanny feeling that he knew she went to the salon every month to have the hair carefully trimmed to shoulder length. Did he know she would come just to his shoulder if she stood close beside him?

His inventory paused at her black audit bag. Too big for a briefcase, too small for a suitcase. City girl, the black gaze said, seeming to emphasize that he was a northerner and she wasn’t. She stiffened a little despite his warm interest, although she admitted to herself that if she were staying around in this hick town, and if he asked her out to dinner, she might just accept. There was something about him that made a person want to say yes.

She shrugged that discomfiting thought away and put down her small suitcase. “I’d like to charter a seaplane to the Queen Charlotte Islands.” She shifted the audit bag, saw him notice that she didn’t put it down.

“Not likely this afternoon.” His voice was mildly regretful, pleasant. His pen shifted and he glanced down at a large sheet of paper filled with numbers. As soon as she turned away, he would be working on those numbers again. Not money figures, she knew that. Some kind of inventory records? Behind him, a speaker crackled and a youngish man hurried to pick up a microphone. The man who reminded her of David said, “Where on the Queen Charlottes? We’ve got a scheduled run to Masset tomorrow at ten. If you want, I’ll put you down for tomorrow’s sched.”

“I have to get there today. Queen Charlotte City, not Masset.” He frowned and she felt the day’s frustration mounting. More delays. Things had gone wrong ever since dawn, and she simply must get out to that little village before the sun set—today!

“I’ve got to get there today! I’ve already missed—” She quelled the rising desperation in her voice. It was so unlike her, but today had been a disaster from the beginning. She made herself smile at the man behind the counter and was amazed at how her spirit warmed when he smiled back.

His eyes passed behind her as a door opened. Heavy footsteps crossed the floor while on the other side of the counter a young clerk approached with efficient purpose.

“Jesse?” The clerk’s voice was eager, younger even than his face. Not-David gave a formless sound of acknowledgment and the voice rushed on, “Dalwyn says they can get those parts to us by Friday.”

“Good. Place the order.”

Jesse. She filed his name in her mind, somewhere between the details of tomorrow’s audit procedures and the telephone number for the woman who cleaned her apartment every Wednesday. He belonged there, not with David’s memories. Behind her, a man cleared his throat just as a telephone rang. Interruptions loomed everywhere.

Crystal smiled persuasively at the man named Jesse. “I know you don’t want to hear the story of my frustrating day, but I really have to get to Queen Charlotte City today.”

He shrugged, his eyes going to the man behind her as he said, “You’d be better to wait for the sched tomorrow.”

She took a tighter grip on the audit bag while pushing a frantic hand through her hair. His eyes caught in the auburn richness of her curls, but she didn’t notice. “I don’t—Look, can you just tell me if there’s any way you can get me there today?” Her voice was biting in its frustration. Damn. She hated being inefficient, but the way things were shaping she was never going to get to this audit review. “If you can’t take me, I’ll go check the other seaplane companies. I’m not worried about the cost, I just—”

The door opened again. A quick, slender man burst through. “Express consignment for the Julie II.”

“Good. We’ve been waiting for it.”

The courier pushed a paper across the counter. The dark man gave the parcel a comprehensive glance, then quickly signed the waybill. Through the open doorway a rising noise filled the air and made conversation impossible. Crystal swung around in time to see an amphibious airplane taxiing through the water towards the floats on the other side of the road.

“What about that plane?” Her voice was rising, attempting to organize a situation that seemed to be frustratingly out of her hands. “It’s just coming in, isn’t it?” She swung back. The courier was gone, dashing back out the door and into a small van. Jesse whatever-his-name’s black eyes were hard, as if she were pushing when he did not like being pushed. “Can’t I go to Queen Charlotte City in that plane?”

“You can’t afford it,” he said flatly. His voice had lost the friendliness.

“How would you—”

“Bruce, what’s the charter rate for the Goose to QC City?”

The clerk punched some keys on a calculator and came up with an answer that made Crystal swallow.

His voice softening, Jesse said, “Look, the Goose is too big for a single-passenger charter, and Queen Charlotte is a hundred miles away.” He frowned, then shrugged and said, “Give me some time and I’ll see if we can dig up something for you. You’re sure you can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“I’m positive.”

His eyes dropped to the audit bag, seeming to lump the black mystery of it with her cool certainty. She could see the heavy shoulder muscles bunching under his shirt as he turned away. “Why don’t you go back to your hotel. You’re not a local, are you? Leave a number and I’ll call if I have anything available. It’s kind of late in the day, but you never know.”

“Hey, Jesse!” The voice that boomed out behind her was big and deep. “While you’re at it, could you get me out to Kitkatla tonight?”

She jerked around and found herself facing a massive man dressed in jeans and a checkered shirt.

“No problem, Victor,” said Jesse. “I’ve got a Cessna coming in any minute now.” He picked up the small parcel from the counter. “I’ve got to fly this part down to Butedale for the Julie II. Shouldn’t be any problem to tack on a run to Kitkatla.”

She couldn’t believe her ears. “Kitkatla is okay, but not Queen Charlotte? What does it take to get service around here? I suppose if I had a beard, I’d have no problem?”

The two men’s eyes met in some kind of silent communion. She groaned. Here she was hundreds of miles north of Vancouver, away from the city, and the macho males were closing in against the little woman. She felt her anger grow cold as Jesse said, “Leave your name. I’ll call you.”

Crystal knew that if she left a name and number, if she went to a hotel to wait for his call, she would never get to Queen Charlotte until the scheduled flight tomorrow.

Behind her, Victor said, “What’s MacDougal’s problem? Is he broken down in Butedale?”

Jesse nodded, said over her head, “He called for a new water pump, and we just got it in. If we get it down to him today, he can get out fishing while the salmon opening’s still on.” Then he turned to her and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Why?” She wavered a little under his black gaze, but kept her voice firm and cold. “Why do you need my name? I’m paying cash. And I’m staying here until you’ve got a plane for me. A small plane.”

She was aware of the heavy presence of the man behind her. In front of her, Jesse’s dark eyes flashed beneath unruly dark hair. “Because,” he explained patiently, “in case of a crash, the office needs to know whose name to give the officials.”

Laughter boomed out behind her. She swung around and stared at the burly Victor. For a second she felt uneasy, until she took in his warm eyes and friendly grin.

“Are you going to give me your name?” persisted Jesse. “Or do you want to cancel the request for a charter?”

“Crystal Selwyn.” Her own dark eyes flashed as she said sweetly, “I hope you enjoy having a joke at my expense. Do tell your boss that I think you’ve got a lovely sense of humor.”

Victor said in gruff tones, “Lady, Jesse is the boss.”

Damn. He would be. She didn’t know what perverse devil had made her start this silly scene, but she felt like an idiot between these two men. “Look, can I get a plane or not?”

“Maybe.” Jesse looked suddenly tired as he turned away. “Bruce, what’s on for that Cessna after I deliver the part to MacDougal?”

“Nothing tonight. Tomorrow morning it’s booked for a pickup at Bella Bella.”

“Okay then, Miss Selwyn, the Cessna’s due back in about twenty minutes.” He glanced at his watch. “Another twenty minutes to refuel, then I’ll fly you myself if you don’t mind taking a detour. I’ve got to drop Victor at Kitkatla, then a parcel in Butedale, before I can take you.”

“Thanks, Jesse,” growled Victor at the same time as Crystal said, “It’s Ms Selwyn.”

He smiled at Victor and ignored Crystal, turning away to tell the clerk, “It’ll be dark not long after I land on the Charlottes. I’ll lay over there, do the Bella Bella pickup tomorrow on my way back.”

He wrote something, then snapped the book closed. “Any objections?” He was smiling again and she thought that after the flight he just might ask her out to dinner, if the little town they were heading for had such a thing as a dining room. Crazily, despite her recent irritation, she felt sorry that she would be too busy to accept. This evening would be spent working with her partner, catching up today’s missed hours, getting her working papers in order for tomorrow’s heavy work load.

She said, “I appreciate your rearranging things for me.”

He turned away, and there it was again, that fleeting resemblance to David.

She took one of the uncomfortable seats for waiting passengers. Her hand went to her audit bag, then fell away as she remembered. In keeping with every other event on this hopeless day, her laptop computer had somehow not taken a full charge when she plugged it in last night. On the plane from Vancouver she had taken it out and settled down to work her way through the hour-long flight, only to find the low-battery indicator flashing at her. She had turned then to preparing new working papers, but found her automatic pencil was out of leads and the spare leads were mysteriously absent.

If she knew how long it would be until her flight, she could take a taxi to an office supplies store, if this town had and office supplies store.

On the other hand, if she left, the man named Jesse might just fly away and leave her trying to reschedule a week’s work because of one missed plane.

So she sat still, listening to the sounds of a charter seaplane business and hiding her impatience. She could hear static from a radio somewhere behind the counter, bits of conversations only partly sensible. Pilots checking in with the base … the young clerk seemed to do most of the radio work …

Jesse’s last name was Campbell. Jesse Campbell. He had a confident voice, the friendly ease of his tones concealed efficiency. Bruce, the clerk, relayed a pilot’s message about a mechanical failure. Jesse Campbell had the situation organized instantly, a spare part put on another flight, a phone call placed to the pilot’s wife to let her know her husband was safely stranded in some unpronounceable bay for the night, but was warm and comfortable in the fishing camp bunkhouse.

Someone came in through a back door. From the conversation she overheard she assumed it was the pilot of the Goose she had seen landing. He was finished for the day and heading home. Like everyone, he seemed on friendly terms with his boss.

A waste of time, sitting here listening to the chatter. She twisted, looking for a receptacle to plug her computer in, but there was nothing. The man who looked too much like David was talking on the telephone now.

“Lucy?” His voice warmed, dropping so that Crystal could barely hear it. “Listen, I’m going to be away tonight—No, Queen Charlotte.” He laughed, said huskily. “I won’t, I promise. I imagine I’ll stay at the Sea Raven overnight. Look after the girls for me, will you? And I’m sorry about dinner.”

Crystal got up quickly and left the building. Behind her, the wind caught the door and it banged loudly. She was uncomfortably aware that her face was flushed. Thankfully no one knew how intensely she had been listening in on Jesse’s private conversation.

It might have been a girlfriend, but it was probably his wife who was to look after the girls for him. Crystal would remember that, and if he did ask her out to dinner, she would freeze him dead.

The cold wind hit her with a shock. It had been warm in the waiting room, but outside was an icy fall day. She was crazy to feel so angry at a man who had smiled as if he were attracted. He probably smiled at all the women like that. With his deep black eyes and the lush curly hair, smiles could only be good for business.

It made no difference to her if he was married. She was passing through, and men were a poor second to her career. For Crystal, the warmth and the love were in the past.

She crossed the street and walked down to the floating docks where the planes were tied. Victor was there ahead of her.

“Friends in Queen Charlotte?” he asked, towering over her with both height and bulk.

“No.” The monosyllable seemed terribly abrupt here in the open air, with the bustle of seaplanes and people all around, the cool blue autumn sky overhead. “I’m going over there on business.” She never liked explaining her job. People tended to become nervous of her, or to ask uncomfortable questions.

This man didn’t ask, but simply said, “You’ll like the trip. Pretty country.”

Except for the seaplanes and a few buildings, all she could see were untouched mountains. She thought of flying alone with the pilot through all the wilderness to a remote village somewhere between Prince Rupert and Japan, and felt uneasy.

“There’s the Cessna,” said Victor, shielding his eyes against the sun.

She turned to follow the direction of his gaze and spotted a tiny plane on floats. She swallowed nervously, wondering if it was big enough for the three of them.

“Ever been on a seaplane before?”

She shivered and said tightly, “No. Just jets.”

“Jesse’s a good pilot. The best. You’ll be fine.”

She had better be. She turned away, concentrating on the larger twin-engine planes that were big enough to take a couple of dozen passengers. Unfortunately, it would cost a fortune to charter one for the trip, and she didn’t have a fortune. She simply had to get to work before tomorrow morning, and there was no other way. No roads. No jets except the one she had missed from Vancouver this morning. A ferry a couple of times a week, but not today. It had to be the seaplane.

She watched the pilot tie the Cessna’s pontoon to the wharf. A lanky, blonde man started to put fuel into a tank in one of the wings. She had never been on such a small plane, but she tried to tell herself that her stomach felt queasy only from hunger.

She had skipped lunch on the jet from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, too tense from the nonsense of missing her scheduled flight to the Queen Charlottes. She had spent most of the morning trying to find some other way to fly to the place she had to go and being frustrated at every turn. Then some bright travel agent had come up with the idea of flying to Prince Rupert and chartering a seaplane. An insane notion, obviously.

When she got back home to Vancouver, she was going to buy two alarm clocks, and set both of them every night.

She watched the refueling operation absently, her auditor’s training noticing that it would not be hard for someone to steal fuel without it being traced.

“If you want to come up to the office, Ms Selwyn, we’ll get the paperwork out of the way.” It was Bruce, a pencil stuck behind his ear and a denim jacket zipped against the cool afternoon.

She followed him to the office, paid, and got a receipt for her expense claim. With professional interest, she watched the paperwork Bruce processed. Whoever had set up the control system in the office had done a good job of it, better than outside.

All in all, she thought that this charter company was an efficient operation, although she could give the owner a few tips that would—She shrugged the thought away, wondering if Murray wasn’t right after all. She was so involved with her work that she had lost touch with herself, with Crystal the woman. Murray insisted that her love life was non-existent, that the men in her life were meaningless to her, cast off whenever they threatened to touch her real, vulnerable self.

She shrugged her absent friend’s words away and went back outside. By the time she got down to the docks, Jesse Campbell was there, the door to the seaplane cabin open and Victor climbing in.

“Want the front seat?” Victor seemed to assume that she did, because he climbed into the back.

Jesse took a firm grim on her arm and steadied her as she climbed up into the cabin of the plane. She was thankful to be wearing slacks rather than a skirt. Small. God it was small. She fumbled, finding the seat belt and fastening it with shaking hands. When she heard it click, she looked up and saw Jesse’s eyes on her hands. She clenched her fingers together to stop the shaking, hoping he would not say anything.

He sat in the pilot’s seat, his arm brushing hers as he settled into position. He wore a heavy jacket over a soft flannel shirt, blue jeans on his legs, sturdy boots on his feet. He smelled of the outdoors. She concentrated on the feel of his presence, the fresh, clean smell of his maleness, anything rather than think that this tiny tin enclosure was going to take her up into the sky. His hands and eyes traveled over the instruments. She followed his motions, not knowing their meaning.

He said, “Breathe slowly and deeply,” his voice casual in the cockpit. “You’ll find the flight quite noisy, but that’s normal. Nothing to worry about.” He grinned, his eyes glancing off her and back to the instruments. He had a very nice smile.

She forced herself to relax a little. “Don’t worry, Mr. Campbell. I’m not going to faint, or scream. I’m not the type.”

His eyes dropped to the audit bag tucked behind her feet. It was a little large for the place she had put it, but she had refused when he offered to put it in the luggage compartment with her suitcase. Remembering, she tightened her lips and saw him shrug. He smiled slightly, as if he also felt they were carrying on an inaudible conversation behind the real one. He reached for a radio headset, pulled it down across his dark hair before he closed the door to the Cessna. She had an odd urge to reach out and smooth the curl that stuck out from the pressure of his headphone band.

“You’re not the screaming type,” he agreed, “but there’s no need for you to be frightened either.”

He moved his hands and the engine fired into life, a noisy intrusion. Strangely, she felt more relaxed as Jesse maneuvered the Cessna away from the dock and out into the open channel where he could taxi.

His low voice explained confidently, “First we’ll be flying to Kitkatla, a village on an island a little south-west of us. I’ll be giving you some spectacular scenery for your money. After that, we’ll follow the channels south to Butedale. That’ll be a quick stop; the fisherman who’s expecting this parcel will be waiting for us in his dinghy. We’ll be off again at once, then fly west to the Queen Charlottes. We’ll arrive shortly before dark.”

He opened the throttle. The engine roared and the small seaplane powered through the water, accelerating, lifting. The takeoff was so smooth that she didn’t know they were flying until the plane banked slightly.

Jesse made adjustments to the controls. She could see the dark hair on the back of his hand as he reached overhead. How did he get so tanned up here in Prince Rupert, the town they called the City of Rainbows?

She wanted to ask what he was doing to the controls, but then she looked down, straight down along the underside of the wing, and saw the water twisting, angling away.

Breathe slowly. Slow and steady.

She did, and after a moment they flattened out and she realized that her fingernails were digging into the palm of her right hand. She made her fist relax. How long? She glanced at her watch. Four o’clock. They hadn’t been in the air more than five minutes. Queen Charlotte City before dark. Late September. It got dark earlier in the north in winter, didn’t it?

How long? Two hours?

Could she stand it for two hours? Sitting still, looking down, feeling the sides of the plane close around her, as if she were flying high in a little bubble. The plane started to bump and toss, shuddering and destroying her semi-calmness. What if they crashed? What if…

She jerked as Jesse’s hand covered hers.

He pointed ahead. Above the Cessna’s engine, she could just hear him saying, “There’s Kitkatla. We’re circling once before we land.”

Below, land and water spread out in an intricate pattern. Where he had pointed, a large, complex inlet cut into an even larger island, small squares that must be houses dotting one side of the inlet just inside the entrance. A wilderness of trees and black water down there, with only a few houses hinting at civilization. What if they crashed on landing?

She twisted around in her seat, pulling the seat belt tight. Behind her, she spotted Victor turned towards his window, looking out at his home village. He looked as casual as a man riding in the back of a car. She thought of the ride she took each day in Vancouver, the car pool from her apartment to the office on Pender Street. It seemed a million miles from this wilderness, but Jesse’s plane was hardly bigger than the cars she rode in.

The wing tip dipped and pointed to the ground as the plane banked steeply in a turn that left her dizzy and terrified. It seemed that they would slip down along that pointing wing tip to a crashing landing … the end.

Everything went silent.

The world leveled again, but the ground was coming up fast. She saw water ahead, and houses, rushing closer. And silence.

Had the engine quit? What was wrong?

Jesse’s face was intent as his eyes searched ahead, taking everything in. His body was relaxed, molding to his seat, his fingers flexed on the stick. She had the illusion that the man and the airplane were one, united, working together. Then her ears picked out the sound of the engine again, muted, but still ticking. Then louder as he touched a control with his hand. It seemed everything was as it should be. She held her breath, watched the water rush closer, knowing it would be over in a minute.

At first she did not feel the pontoons touch, then abruptly the ocean clung, dragging back on the seaplane and making it bounce in the water.

They were down. Safe.

If only her computer were working. If only she had pencil leads. Then she could work her way through the next takeoff, work as they flew on. Anything to pretend she was somewhere else, not hundreds of feet up in a little crate that felt like a toy. She tried to concentrate on the way Jesse maneuvered the seaplane on the water, roaring across the inlet and up to the floats where Victor could disembark. It was hard to think about those details when her mind trembled at the thought that they’d soon take off again, fly this tin can into the sky.

Jesse flew every day. His face looked calm, his legs parted, relaxed, feet touching controls she did not understand. And, damn it, he knew she was afraid. She could feel his unobtrusive scrutiny, could hear careful patience in his voice when he spoke to her.

“All right?” he asked as he climbed back into his seat after paddling the seaplane away from the dock.

“I’ll get by.”

“Of course you will.” His voice sounded casual, his hand reassuring as it unexpectedly touched hers. “Think of it as a long commuter run. You’re just going to work.”

“It’s true. I am going to work.” She shrugged, uncomfortable with his invasion of her fear. She would have preferred to conceal her emotions, keep them private. “Don’t worry about me. I’m tough.”

That seemed to amuse him. He fastened his seat belt, looked down at her lap and saw that her belt was still tightly secured. Then, when he turned to look out his window, for a second she saw—again—the back of David’s head.

This time she knew what to expect, and the takeoff did not panic her so much. She concentrated on the dials in front of Jesse when they left the water. On one dial she could see a small replica of an airplane turned as if banking. She stared at it until it was level, then watched the instruments for a few more seconds, not looking through the window until she was sure they had finished banking and turning, and were flying straight and level. It wasn’t too bad so long as he kept the thing level. It was this business of wing tips pointing at the ground that frightened her.

They rose gradually, leaving the island behind, flying at hilltop level until they entered a long, narrow channel.

“Grenville Channel,” he told her, as if he could hear her thoughts.

The channel stretched ahead forever, narrowing as they flew south. They passed over tiny toy boats, far below on the water. Crystal felt as if she were above the world and had a special view, as if she were distant from it all, remote even from herself. This sensation was new to her. In jets she usually worked or read a book. She seldom thought about the flying.

Looking down on the lush green shores of the long channel, she felt the barrenness of her own life, as if her career was nothing and the thing that mattered was the lonely nights, the breakfasts alone. She blinked away the tears, the memory of her baby Johnny.

“Where are we?” she asked suddenly.

He didn’t hear, so she shouted the words.

“That’s Wright Sound,” he said. He pointed ahead and she nodded. She didn’t care, but she tried to pay attention when he said, “We’ll be crossing the sound, then flying down Princess Royal Channel—another long, narrow one, but it’s only about forty miles to Butedale. After that, I’ll take you where you want to go.”

The day was never going to end, and it was a bad day. If she could only endure, get through it, tomorrow would come and she could get her life back to normal. Tomorrow there would be work, and at work she would regain the feeling that she controlled her own life, not this crazy feeling that some mischievous God was turning her world upside down with alarm clocks that didn’t ring, computers that wouldn’t work, missed planes.

And the man, those dark curls that made her fingers remember the feel of loving, of touching …. of David. But his dark eyes and the lined face were certainly not David’s.

Eventually the drone of the engine lulled her thoughts to nothingness. The hills rose up high and green, one much like the next. The water was black, with white dashes and the occasional small toy boat. Ahead, she saw clouds. She watched and decided that Jesse was flying lower now, below the tops of the hills, well under these new clouds. Although jets flew above the cloud cover, she supposed a small plane like this would be obliged by regulations and safety considerations to keep visual contact with the ground. She wondered why the clouds and the change in altitude did not worry her, and decided that noise and vibration were making her feel odd, separate from what was happening around her.

Then the silence screamed, deeper, more complete than the quietness that had frightened her on their landing at Kitkatla.

The tension in the man beside her was not imagined. He flicked a switch, then another. His eyes were everywhere, looking at the instrument panel, then out, then down.

The plane banked gently, silently at his touch. Silence grew. His hands were busy even as he pulled the microphone close to his lips. He said a series of numbers and letters, then, “—engine failure. I’m setting down at the north end of Princess Royal, near the west shore of the channel.”

Engine failure.

They would crash.

She felt frozen. This wasn’t real, but the water floated closer and the silence screamed.

“We’re landing. Down there.”

She turned to stare at him.


She jerked, her heart hammering into her rib cage. The trees were close, too close.


The silence was terrible, the ground growing horribly close. How could it take so long to crash? Her fingers clenched agonizingly on the strap of her audit bag. Whatever happened, she had to look after the bag.

“It’s all right.” He sounded impossibly calm. His face was still tense, but not panicked. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t go well.” His eyes were on the water, not on her at all. “This might not be my smoothest landing, so put your head down between your knees.”

She had read it in enough books. She assumed the crash position, head down, hands above her head. She couldn’t see anything except his muscled legs through his jeans.

What had happened? Why had the engine stopped? Silence. How much longer? It surely couldn’t be more than seconds, but it stretched forever.

The plane seemed to float, without power. She saw Jesse’s muscles flex as he pressed one of the pedals on the floor. What was he doing?

She was numb with terror, but he looked relaxed. This end of him, at least. She turned her head and let her eyes wander up to his thighs, the seat belt across his hips, the bulge—

She jerked her head back, closing her eyes. Was she insane? They were crashing. In seconds she might be dead, and here she was looking at the pilot’s crotch.

Then it all came from where it had been hidden, the memories flooding back until she could not tell which feelings were now and which then. Sliding, twisting. Johnny’s sudden scream. David, his hands on the wheel, his face suddenly hard and tense. Long, long seconds.

“Only a few more seconds.” The voice, so unlike David’s, jolted her back.

What was that sound? Water? Waves?


Her head jerked up as he swore. She saw his hand yank hard on the stick. Somewhere, someone shouted, “Get your head down!”

She did.

Then the world went wild.

* * *

Awakening Dreams is available from



The Garbage Can Test for Writers

Writing Romance, 3rd Edition, by Vanessa Grant

EC Sheedy Tweeted me this afternoon about today’s blog, asking, “Are you doing the “garbage can? A little bit scary for writers, that one :-)”

Although “scary” (and I do agree!), the Garbage Can Test has always come through for me. So, on request from a recent email conversation between Pen Warriors, here’s the Garbage Can Test described in Chapter 11 of   Writing Romance, 3rd Edition.

The Garbage Can Test stumbled out of my  mouth several years ago during a weekend workshop at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. One of the writers attending asked for help with a complicated plot involving bad guys, a sheriff, and a heroine’s imprisoned brother. It sounded like good action but I’d become confused by the details and uncertain what to recommend.

On impulse – if I’d thought it out ahead, I might not have had the nerve – I held up her manuscript and said, “Okay, we both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it. Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”

I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me and she leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.

“It’s gone. Into the garbage. You’re never going to be able to write it. You’ll never see the characters again. I want you to think about that.” I could feel her thinking and worried that I’d gone too far. I was winging it and hoped I knew what I was doing. “If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story,” I asked, “just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”

What she picked surprised me, because I hadn’t known what was important to her in the story. It wasn’t the sheriff or the brother in jail. It wasn’t the bad guys. It was something I’d lost sight of, but when she grabbed that “one thing” it was suddenly crystal clear to both of us.

A few weeks later I told Naomi Horton about my experience with the garbage can. She was stalled in her book at the time but when she tried the garbage can, she realized the thing she cared about was the hero she’d visualized, a man who had lived undercover so long he was more accustomed to lies than truth. She threw out her planned heroine and wrote No Lies Between Us with a heroine whose motivation and backstory fit the hero — a woman who vowed she’d never be lied to again. The next time I attended one of Naomi’s lectures, I heard her mention the Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.

Hmm. I put the test in my own arsenal of writer’s tools, and used it myself for the first time in writing Yesterday’s Vows. Since then I’ve used the garbage can test at some point on almost every book I’ve written. In the rare event when it hasn’t worked, it’s been because I’ve been at a point in my life as a writer where I need to take a break, where I have to step back from writing and re-examine my goals and myself as a person.

Not long ago my current work-in-progress took a scary trip through the garbage can when I feared I’d written 30,000 words of a story that was going nowhere. Not so, growled my detective heroine, Alix Hyde, when she climbed out of the garbage can clutching a passionate desire to right a past wrong, despite the knowledge that  her actions could destroy the life she’d fought so hard to build.

Has your idea ground to a halt? Are your characters going down in quicksand? Do you wonder what the point of your story is? Is it time to try the garbage can?

  • Sit in a comfortable chair, take a few deep breaths and relax.
  • Close your eyes and imagine you are holding your story in your hands.
  • Visualize yourself throwing the story and all its papers into your garbage can. If you have trouble imagining this, collect the papers together and physically throw them into an empty garbage can.
  • Tell yourself it’s gone. You’ll never be able to write that story now. Let yourself feel the loss.
  • If all you feel is relief, then let it go, but if you feel as if you’ve just tossed your first-born into the fire, then…
  • If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?
  • Let everything else  go. Begin again, starting from that one thing.

For more about the Garbage Can Test, see Writing Romance, 3rd Edition.

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May the muse be with you.


Mary Ann Shaffer Makes Potato Peel Pie delicious!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slipping gently into the enchanting story world of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, I’m falling under the spell of authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story is told through a series of letters written and received by post-war British author Juliet Ashton, who is searching for a new book idea. After receiving a letter from a Guernsey resident who found her name written in a book, Juliet falls into correspondence with a growing number of Guernsey residents. As the authors reveal their story world and characters layer by layer, I am falling under their spell. How delightful to fall in story-love layer by gentle layer, a subtle treasure in a world of fast-immersion fiction.

Paperback available at Amazon Books The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader’s Circle)

Kindle Edition The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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Hooked on J. R. Ward’s Brotherhood series

Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #1)TDark Lover by J.R. Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d been resisting Dark Lover for months before I read it in 2006. I had read several of Anne Rice’s vampire novels a few years earlier and decided it wasn’t a genre I had any further interest in. So when one of my writer friends announced that she’d just read a great vampire book by J R Ward, I didn’t follow up. Then it became two writers, then three, and suddenly lunches with my three closest writer friends were filled with excited references to JR Ward’s “Brotherhood” of vampire warriors. Three very different writers, two of whom I wouldn’t have thought would be interested in vampires unless they moved into the house next door. These women had very different reading tastes, yet all three were all in awe of what JR Ward had done in this book.

So I borrowed Dark Lover and became fascinated by the power of its author. Dark Lover hooked me on page one, drawing me into a dark romantic fantasy with powerful characters. As an author I’m fascinated by the way Ward can take dark characters I would run from in real life and grab me by the gut. Many of the mysteries and thrillers I like have a dark twist, but Ward mixes the darkness with romance in a heroic way that instantly put her at the top of my to-be-read list.

I couldn’t put Dark Lover down until I found out what happened to Wrath, the blind king of the vampires and head of a brotherhood of warriors; to Beth, the dissatisfied reporter who has no idea she’s the daughter of the vampire Darius and about to turn into a vampire herself; and Butch, the violent cop I didn’t want to like.

J R Ward is an author who breaks all the rules – or what seem to be the rules – and does it so well, with characters so alive and vital that they sweep me into her world and make me love it. Generally I’m not a big fan of vampire books, but JR Ward’s Brotherhood is something else. Hats off to a powerful writer who created an irresistible book that propelled me out looking for book 2, which luckily had already been published!

If you haven’t read any of J. R. Ward’s books, give Dark Lover a try.  If you become a Brotherhood fan like I did, there are seven more Brotherhood books waiting for you, and the ninth, Lover Unleashed, comes out in March 2011.

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About writing Stray Lady

Stray LadyI got the idea for Stray Lady while I was writing my fifth romance novel,  Jenny’s Turn. I needed someone to shake Jenny out of her hopeless love for Jake, and get her far enough away for Jake to realize how much she meant to him. I reached for inspiration and Jenny’s phone rang. When she picked it up, there was her cousin George. Like Jake – the hero of Jenny’s Turn – I didn’t realize at first that George was a woman.

George and her guitar caused me quite a bit of trouble while I was writing Stray Lady. Here’s a woman sailing around the world and afraid to stop because she’s running from her grief. George’s story unfolded for me as I wrote Jenny’s Turn and I had to take a firm hand with this restless woman to stop her from taking over her cousin’s romance.

“Just step back,” I told George firmly. “This is Jenny’s story, not yours. I’ll do you next, I promise.”

Once Jenny’s Turn was shipped off to my publisher, I was finally free to let George loose, but as soon as I put her on the page of her own romance, she started causing trouble for me again. How on earth could I get George to stay in one place long enough to fall in love?

I hope readers enjoy  Stray Lady as much as I enjoyed writing it.”

Vanessa Grant

Synopsis of Stray Lady

Shipwreck …

One minute George was sailing single-handed down Canada’s west coast, willing the salt breezes to show her how to go on living without her late husband.

… and rescue

The next she was being pulled from the waves by island lighthouse keeper Lyle Stevens and drawn into a magic existence with Lyle and his daughter. Lyle offered George love and the home she’d never known – but did she have the courage to gamble on love again?

This novel is available in a variety of eBook formats


About writing Jenny’s Turn

Jenny's Turn

I got the idea for my fifth romance novel, Jenny’s Turn, when I was a college instructor taking a summer course on instructional media at the University of British Columbia. I had expected the course to be boring, but instead of learning about overhead projectors I learned about the life of a commercial film-maker and it excited me. The course didn’t do much for my skills as a college instructor, but it jump-started my new book by bringing my hero to life. Jake … artistic, passionate, driven and successful. Women loved him, but I needed a special woman who could become the only woman in his life. What if my hero didn’t recognize the right woman when she came along? And just how long should a woman in love wait for her turn? I hope you enjoy reading Jenny’s Turn as much as I enjoyed writing it – and if you’re wondering what happens to Jenny’s cousin Georgina, check out Stray Lady where George is forced to stay in one place long enough to fall in love.

Vanessa Grant

Originally published in hardcover by Mills and Boon Limited.

Synopsis of Jenny’s Turn

She’d had enough!

Jake’s talent as a filmmaker made working with him an exciting experience for Jenny, but after five years doing things his way, she’d had enough! She’d fallen hard for Jake and she knew the only way to get over him was to leave Vancouver and get out of his life. So she left – but a Pacific Island just south of Alaska wasn’t nearly far enough to keep Jake away!

Now available as an eBook from a variety of retailers