Would anyone like a real-life Ragnar Lothbrok in their stocking this Christmas? :-D
Thought I'd tell you a bit about my new release, out November 4. If Kisses Were Snowflakes takes place on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which is in the north-east of England, near the border of Scotland, in a county called Northumbria.
I've been to Holy Island several times, and it's a magical place, which is separated from the mainland twice a day when the tide comes in and covers the causeway. This is a gorgeous pic of the castle, don't you think?
Angel, our heroine, loves the place because she's an archaeologist specializing in the Viking period. This was the first place in England that the Vikings invaded in AD793 - can you imagine how scary it must have been for the monks that lived here to see the longboats landing on the beaches?
She also loves the medieval monastery on the island - you can see it here, with its beautiful 'rainbow arch' in the background.
The story follows what happens when Angel visits the island and miscalculates the time it takes to cross the causeway as the tide comes in. Around once a month, someone makes this mistake, and there are refuge huts along the causeway for stranded travelers to hide in. This one is similar to the one that Angel climbs into. Imagine having to sit in this in the middle of the night, in winter, with the sea all around you!
It's a gorgeous place, and magical at Christmas, when it feels like a floating Brigadoon - a town that only appears once every hundred years! Anyway, here's a snippet of the story, where our hero, Halvar Carlson, known as Hal, rescues Angel from the refuge hut. Enjoy!
EXCERPT FROM IF KISSES WERE SNOWFLAKES
The lights of the Toyota RAV4 shone on a sheet of water across the tarmac, but the white lines in the middle of the road were clearly visible. He checked his watch—it was 12:17 p.m. The official safe crossing time was 12:25 p.m., but Hal had a four-wheel-drive and knew the tricky points, plus it was less risky splashing through water on the outgoing tide than on the incoming one. If it looked too deep, he’d just leave the car idling and wait ten minutes.
He set off, keeping up the revs, thinking about what he’d have to eat when he got indoors.
The car’s headlights glinted off something to his right, one shining point in a literal sea of darkness. Here, the water was only a few inches deep, the tide rapidly receding, so Hal stopped with a frown. He dug his flashlight out of the glove compartment and shone it through the window.
It was a car. The sea had carried it off the road, and although the water level now only reached to its wheels, it had obviously been almost fully underwater at one point. Luckily, it had swung around and become trapped against the legs of one of the refuge boxes out on the Pilgrim’s Way, otherwise it might have ended up a few miles down the coast.
Hal got out, his boots splashing through the water, and walked to the edge of the road, shining the flashlight toward the other car. The sea was still too deep for him to reach it. He bent and tried to look inside, but couldn’t see anyone. In case they’d gotten out and climbed into the refuge box, he flashed the light up there and shouted, but nobody appeared.
Maybe it was an elderly person who’d been unable to climb the ladder. If they were lying down, he wouldn’t be able to see them. Should he wade in and swim to the car to see if they were inside? He hesitated, slipping his hand into his pocket to find his phone. The most sensible option would be to call the police or coastguard and get help. But if they’d been caught by the incoming tide, they would have been out in the cold for four or five hours. They needed help now.
If he’d seen someone in the car, he would have dived in at once to help, but it would be dumb to do so with no evidence so late at night and in the pitch darkness, even if the tide was going out. He thought furiously, sweeping the flashlight around. The car would have been on the road when the driver realized they were stuck. The sea had obviously picked it up and carried it onto the sand. If there was no sign of them in the hut on the Pilgrim’s Way, maybe they’d gotten out earlier, while they were still on the road.
He made a decision—he’d check out the hut on the bridge, and if nobody was in there, he’d swim out to the car.
After getting back in the RAV4, he drove the short distance to the bridge, which was now clear of water. Parking by the hut, he got out and shone the flashlight up. He couldn’t see anything, but if they were lying down, they wouldn’t be visible.
“Hello?” He walked to the bottom of the ladder, slotted the flashlight into the top pocket of his jacket, and began to climb up.
When he reached the top, for a moment he thought it was empty. And then he saw the figure, huddled in the corner.
“Hello?” he said again, and pulled himself up and into the hut. He dropped to his haunches before the person, his heart racing. It was a woman, coatless and dressed only in a sweatshirt and jeans, which were both soaked. She was shivering violently—but at least she was alive, and the shivering was a sign that her heat regulation systems were still active.
As he reached out and touched her arm, she opened her eyes, blinked a few times, and stared at him.
“Ragnar?” she said.
He frowned. Confusion was a sign of hypothermia. He removed his flashlight from his pocket and shone it on her. Her face was white, her hair plastered to her head. He couldn’t tell what color it was.
“My name’s Hal. Did you get caught by the tide?”
She ran a hand over her face. “Yes.”
As she straightened, he saw a dark stain on the front of her sweatshirt. Alarm shot through him. “Jesus, are you hurt?”
She looked down, still shivering. “It’s k-ketchup.”
Relief made him give a short laugh, which he stifled hurriedly as she blinked at him. “Sorry. My car’s just beneath the hut. Can you move?”
She stirred, moving awkwardly, obviously stiff from the cold. He slipped off his wax jacket, clenching his jaw as the icy wind sliced through him. “Put this on.”
“I don’t n-need rescuing,” she murmured, staring at the jacket, her teeth chattering.
He raised his eyebrows. “You sure about that? I can leave you here if you like.”
Her eyes filled with tears. “No. I’m s-sorry.” She pulled on the jacket, biting her bottom lip hard. “Some fucking sh-shield m-maiden I t-turned out to b-be.”
A smile tugged at his lips as he helped her do up the zipper. “Shield maiden?”
“Doesn’t m-matter,” she mumbled.
“Come on,” he said softly. “You’ve probably got hypothermia. It can make you confused, and irritable. You need to get to hospital. There’s one in Berwick. It’s not far.”
“No.” She let him help her up, and was able to stand, even if she was a bit wobbly. “I have a c-cottage on the island. If you c-could just take m-me there… George has a k-key.”
“If you mean George Swift, he’ll be well asleep by now. You won’t be able to get the key until tomorrow.” He helped her to the ladder, turned, and backed down a few steps. “Come on. You’ll have to come with me if you won’t go to the hospital.”
She turned and stepped down the first rung. “I c-couldn’t do that.”
He ignored her, guided her down the ladder, and led her over to his car. Once she was in the passenger seat, he ran around to the driver’s side and climbed in, started the engine, and turned the heater up to full.
Flicking on the light for a moment, he made sure she had her seatbelt on and that the jacket was tucked around her. For the first time, he saw her face clearly. Her skin was like white china, and she had large, dark eyes. Her hair, although still plastered to her head, was clearly blonde. The dark eyes stared at him, reminding him of a wounded animal. As a big guy, he rarely felt vulnerable or scared, but suddenly he understood how frightened she must feel, injured, nearly frozen, and alone with a stranger who’d forced her to get in his car.
Something shifted inside him like tectonic plates, and, for a brief moment, it was as if he could feel every piece of the universe slotting into place. He’d been delayed at work so he’d miss the tide, forcing him to arrive at the island as soon as the sea started to go out. He’d been sent there to save her. The feeling was so strong, it took his breath away.
Then she blinked, and it disappeared, leaving him vaguely embarrassed and confused. Jesus, he thought, he must have been out in the cold longer than he realized.
“You’ll have to come with me,” he said, as he put the car in gear and headed toward the island. “The hotel will be closed, and there’s nowhere else for you to go.”
“You could be a mass m-murderer,” she pointed out, wrapping her arms tightly around her, still shivering.
“That’s true,” he said, wondering how many times he could get insulted in one night. “I don’t think a mass murderer would have lent you his coat, though.”
“T-true.” She held her hands out to the heater. “I can’t believe I was s-stupid enough to get caught by the t-tide.”
“It happens all the time. The sea comes in fast and by then it’s too late to turn back. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” He drove carefully through the low-lying area where the sea was still reaching up to the wheels, then breathed a sigh of relief as the road rose, shadowing the island toward the town. “That’s it. We’re safe now.” He reached out and pulled her hand away from the heater. “Not too close. You’re going to have to warm up slowly.”
She tugged the sleeves of his jacket over her hands. “Do you live on the island?”
“Yes.” He glanced across at her. Her eyes were like saucers. He could only imagine how terrified she must feel after what had happened. “I have two kids,” he added gently, “if that makes you feel any better—they’re in bed at the moment. And my name’s Halvar Carlson, but everyone calls me Hal.”
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