Published By: The Writers Coffee Shop
Genre: FICTION / Romance / General / Science Fiction ISBN e-book: 978-1-61213-369-0
Hundreds of years after an asteroid slammed into Earth and sent it into a new ice age, what remains of the human race lives on in underground sanctuaries. Now, as the bicentennial anniversary of the impact approaches, a new leader prepares to take her place at the head of the government. At least, that’s what she thinks.
Bethanie Greene’s life has been planned out for her since the age of thirteen. Beautiful and intelligent, she’s spent the last twelve years training to become the next Matron of the underground nation of Oceania. But when Bethanie is kidnapped by rogue extremists just six weeks shy of taking office, her world is turned upside down by the handsome stranger who rescues her.
Howard James’ life has been the polar opposite of Bethanie’s. Struggling to survive in a world where those in power wished he didn’t exist, he harbors a deep-seated resentment of the government and all its representatives. Together with his unconventional family, he shows Bethanie a life she never knew was possible, while at the same time, opening her eyes to the injustices of the government she is meant to lead.
But can she trust a stranger? And can a few days change everything she believes and desires? Against all odds, Bethanie must decide if her heart and her duties can coexist.
EXCERPT: “Are you all right?” Howard asks, concern etched on his face.
“I don’t think I can go back in there,” I say in a pitifully weak voice.
“It will be okay. I promise I’m not going to let anyone hurt you.” He tugs on my hand, trying to get me to move. When I refuse, he says, “It’s safe, I promise.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I’ve lived my whole life here.”
The calm tone of his voice and the smile on his face should be reassuring, but I can’t shake the feeling that if I go inside something bad will happen.
“But . . .”
He grabs my hand and pulls me forward until we’re barely a hair’s breadth apart. “Bethanie, I can take care of you. I’ve taken care of you so far, haven’t I?”
I nod but still don’t move. “I just can’t.”
“Please,” he says, squeezing my hand as I try to move away. “You will be safe. on my honour, I swear.”
This near to him I can feel the heat of his body. I want to close the gap between us and sink into his warmth. I look into his eyes and straightaway feel the tension drain from my body. Something in his expression tells me I can trust him, that he really won’t let anyone hurt me. He smiles and gives my hand another tug, and this time I follow.
Entering the catacombs brings back memories of the previous day’s terror, as expected. Feeling me shudder, Howard pulls me close and puts an arm around my shoulders, guiding me safely through the passages.
We are in the catacombs for a little while before we walk through an exit on the bedrock side, opposite the city. I am shocked to see a tunnel system open up before us.
“What is this?”
“They’re natural caverns in the earth’s crust. Not many people left know they are here.”
The fact that no one knows where we are, and that they don’t even know these tunnels exist, makes me pause.
“How do you know about them?” I ask, my curiosity warring with my fear.
“I stumbled upon them by accident. I have always loved coming to the catacombs when I need a bit of peace and quiet. When I discovered this entrance, I couldn’t help but explore.”
I can understand that. Up until now, I had never really thought about what existed outside the edges of the city. To know there is more is extremely exciting.
Howard grabs a torch out of the backpack he brought with us. Then he pulls out what look like clothes.
“What are they for?”
“It’s going to get quite cold the further we venture along. These are hemp knit jumpers and scarves. They’ll keep you warm.” His eyes light up as he tosses one of the jumpers my way.
Sliding it on, it doesn’t take long to realise he’s given me one of his jumpers. The sleeves are long, and it looks like a dress the way it falls just above my knees.
He grabs my right hand and folds the sleeve up. “Sorry, mum doesn’t have any of this type of clothing.”
Once the right hand is visible out the end of the sleeve, he grabs my left and does the same thing. The urge to sniff the jumper hits me out of nowhere. The aroma is that of soap powder and something else I can’t quite put my finger on.
“There you go. Hands free.” He grabs a scarf and wraps it around my neck, finishing up with a kiss to the cheek. “Snug as a bug.”
My cheeks heat, the warmth spreading all the way down my chest.
He takes my hand and leads me through the tunnel entrance with a lightness in his step I’ve not seen before.
My thoughts immediately go back to the conversation I was having with Rhonda earlier and can’t help but wonder if this is the sensation she was talking about. I chastise myself for being so silly. It can’t possibly be what she was talking about because Howard and I are not in love. We barely even know one another.
Casting my silly thoughts aside, I concentrate on what we are doing. It takes a little while for my eyes to adjust to the minimal lighting, but, when they do, the sight that greets me is amazing. With just the small amount of light from the torch, it looks like a million tiny rainbows are bouncing off the walls.
“This is beautiful,” I say, my eyes darting around to take it all in.
“This isn’t even the best bit,” he replies.
We turn a corner, and the tunnel widens in front of us, directly into a cavern the size of a city block. The walls are bare rock and in the distance, I can hear a trickle of water. As in the tunnels, rainbows bounce off the walls wherever Howard shines the torch.
I gasp. The beauty of it literally leaves me breathless.
“Yes, it’s just so beautiful.” I take the torch from Howard and shine it around. The rainbow of colours, are stunning.
“Come have a seat.” Howard says. I turn and at my feet is a blanket.
I sit, still trying to take in everything around me. Though the light seems to barely penetrate the darkness, there is still much to see.
“It’s amazing isn’t it? The crystal spread throughout the rock is mesmerising.” I nod in agreement because it truly is a remarkable sight. “It took me two years to explore it all.”
I turn my head to the left to look at him. “Really. Why so long?”
“Well, I don’t get to come here as often as I would like with all my other responsibilities. So I only get to come about once a month, sometimes less and it is much larger than you’d expect.”
“I can see that it looks like it goes on forever. What did the other girls you’ve brought here think of it?”
“I haven’t brought anyone else here, let alone a girl.”
I blanch at his admission. “Really?”
~~ABOUT THE AUTHOR~~
Melissa Kendall is an almost forty-year-old mother of two from Perth, Western Australia, the second-most isolated capital city in the world. Predominantly a stay-at-home mum, she works a few hours a week as a software support consultant. She has always loved to read and write, and spent most of her teens writing poetry and short stories. Over the years, daily life got in the way and she lost the passion for it, but after the birth of her first child, Melissa discovered e-books and her interest in writing rekindled. She is now the author of two published short stories. Matronly Duties is her first full-length novel.
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