About the author
Pat Noad was born in Brisbane, but when she was just three weeks old her father bought a modest weekender at Surfers Paradise – a perfect name, she thought as a child, for a perfect place. As time rolled on the family watched with a mixture of disbelief, excitement and horror as their paradise exploded into the Gold Coast. These days Pat does most of her writing in a secluded corner of the Sunshine Coast.
Intrigue in Paradise is the third of the Annie Bryce mysteries, and Pat is currently working on the fourth, which takes Annie to North Queensland: Destination Tribulation should be published in 2010.
A number of Pat’s short stories have been published by CrimeWriters Queensland and elsewhere, and she is involved in the local writing industry as an occasional workshop presenter and adjudicator of competitions.
Fear and grief make terrible travelling companions. The flight from Heathrow to Brisbane was proof beyond doubt.
I’d gone to England to testify for the prosecution in a murder trial. The experience had exceeded my worst nightmares: nothing had prepared me for the murderous hatred blazing straight at me from the accused in the dock, or for the savaging by his legal team. The jury had brought down a verdict of guilty. So why the fear gripping my guts? It wasn’t rational, my left brain asserted. But that man, that convicted murderer, wanted me dead. Some time, some day, he’d get his chance. My right brain knew it.
The grief? I’d had to choose, and I’d chosen life with Steve in Brisbane over a romantic but spasmodic liaison with the nomadic Rafaelo – but ending our affair had become immeasurably harder when Rafaelo had appeared unbidden in the courtroom, showering me with the love and support I so badly needed. He was also the reason I was flying home ten days late.
It was an interminable flight. My every attempt to sleep, or read, or watch a film, was overtaken by gut-wrenching scenes from the past few weeks replaying over and over in my head. When I staggered off the plane at dawn, I was a mess. My heart lifted when I saw Steve’s large, bearded figure waiting for me, leaning heavily on his crutch. He hooked me into a one-armed hug and held me tight. I clung to him, gratefully absorbing his feel and smell of home, security and the future. At least I did until he spoke those two fateful words.
‘You’re late,’ he said into my hair.
I pulled away, surprised. ‘Are we? They said on board that we’d be landing on time.’
‘That’s not what I mean. You’re ten days late, as you well know.’
I’d fully intended telling Steve what had happened in England; he’d known I planned to contact Rafaelo in Europe, to finally end our relationship. Prevarication wasn’t my style, but as an independent woman in my thirties I found myself bristling – hey, this was my life, and how I lived it was my business. I held my tongue.
‘I will explain, Steve, but not right now. I’m stuffed. That flight was straight from hell. Hey, if you’re here you must be driving. That’s looking good.’
A terrible accident had left Steve a legacy of seemingly never-ending operations, the last just before I’d left. I was surprised he was driving so soon, even given his iron determination.
‘I’ve borrowed an automatic,’ he explained. ‘This is my first outing on wheels. You should be honoured.’
‘I am.’ I squeezed his hand.
‘I’ve missed you, Annie.’ He put his arm around me. ‘After all those weeks together out west … I didn’t hear much from you while you were away.’
Another warning bell clanged. ‘I know,’ I said carefully. ‘No-one did. The trial was just so full-on, Steve, I was wrecked. Martin Barclay kept glaring across the courtroom like he wanted me dead. It was just hideous.’
‘He probably does. After all, it was your evidence that got him arrested.’
‘You’re not wrong.’ I swallowed. ‘He never took his eyes off me, not for a second.’
He pulled me closer. ‘It’s over, Annie, and justice was done. What about the sentence?’
‘Still to come. The police predicted he’d get a long stretch.’ I was suddenly cold. ‘Let’s hope so.’
Steve picked up my daypack and I trundled my wheelie behind me as we headed for the car park and the drive home.
Home: now where was that exactly? The realities of life, pushed aside for weeks, descended on me. If Steve and I were to live as a couple, many decisions lay ahead of us. Would we move in together? When would we take that momentous step, which totally terrified me? And where? – in my home in Dutton Park, or in his bachelor pad in Auchenflower? Or should we start afresh somewhere else? My head spun at the possibilities.
I glanced at him but his eyes were firmly on the road and his look was grim, so I fell silent, quietly warmed by the familiar sights of my home city – the winding grey river, the tall silver buildings, the sharp contrast of the old and modest with the new and lavish, which was fast becoming a Brisbane signature.
As we pulled up I surveyed my little cottage affectionately, where I lived amid a companionable if unmanageable clutter of books and papers and a garden that right now looked more like a jungle. The first property I’d ever owned, it sat comfortably in a street of nineteenth-century houses, some renovated, some – like mine – still waiting for their big day.
Once inside, Steve threw his arms around me and gave me a long, hungry kiss which I returned with enthusiasm. I found myself clinging to him, unwilling to separate myself and face his questions. Eventually we opened the windows and I put the kettle on. We took our mugs of tea out to the little verandah. The early summer breeze was soft on my face, and I inhaled the sweet air gratefully.
‘So,’ he said, any vestige of romance having completely evaporated, ‘do you want to tell me where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing since the trial finished?’
I stared at him. When had this man decided he owned me? Well, he’d have to realise that he didn’t, and soon. Now, in fact. I took a deep breath.
‘No, Steve, I don’t. I need a long hot shower, not to mention some sleep. We’ll talk about it when I’ve got myself together.’
His lips tightened. ‘And when might that be?’
‘I don’t know – tomorrow, maybe?’ I made an effort. ‘Hey, what is this, Steve? It’s not like you. We’ve always given each other space.’
‘Have we?’ He heaved himself to his feet and leaned over the verandah railing, his back to me, and cleared his throat. ‘I’m not sure any more, Annie. See, I thought we were rock solid, you and me. Then you shoot off to England and all I get is a couple of hurried phone calls and two-line emails before you disappear entirely for over a week. How do you expect me to feel?’
‘I don’t believe this.’ I banged my mug down. ‘Get real! It’s not as if I wanted to shoot off to England. I simply dreaded it – and I was dead right, it was a shattering experience, you’ve got no idea. I was a write-off when that damned trial finished, I needed some time out. And you weren’t there for me, either.’
He spun round to face me. ‘Not there for you? How could I be?’ he yelled. ‘You know perfectly well I would have come with you if it hadn’t been for that bloody operation.’
I squeezed my eyes shut and clapped my hands over my ears. ‘Just listen to us. Can’t we leave all this?’
‘Leave it? Why?’ His voice was harsh. ‘To give you time to dream up some more fiction for me? Or to psych yourself up to tell me that the Latin lover turned up on the dot as arranged to whisk you away when it was all over? That’s what happened, isn’t it? All quietly organised in advance while I swallowed that story about ending it all, mug that I am. That’s what’s been eating away at me, Annie.’
‘It wasn’t like that.’ It was out before I could stop it.
His brown eyes bored into mine. ‘I was right then. I knew it! So if it wasn’t like that – tell me, Annie, how was it exactly?’
Suddenly a mist of rage swept over me and I lost it completely. I seized my mug and hurled the contents at him, showering him with the remains of my tea.
‘I’ll tell you how it was when I’m ready to tell you,’ I screamed. ‘That’s if I decide to waste my time on a class one bully. Now get lost.’
Purple with fury, Steve wiped his face and his beard. He glared at me for what seemed an eternity, breathing heavily. Then without another word he grabbed his crutch and stumped down the path, revved up the car and disappeared.
I put my head down on the table and burst into tears.
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