FEATURE: Alicia Hope

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Alicia Hope lives in Queensland, Australia with her author husband, Frank H Jordan, and their two birds LB and QB, her much-loved feathered muses. A multi-published indie author, human resources professional, bass player and bird lover with a finely-honed appreciation for good espresso coffee, Alicia lives in one of the most beautiful parts of the country surrounded by rainforest, rare birds and butterflies.
She writes contemporary and rural romances and chick lit, all wholesome, feel-good stories set (mostly) in Australia. She suggests accompanying them with a barista-quality espresso and a generous slab of fine chocolate, and wishes her readers, ‘Bon appétit!’

Excerpt from The Long Road to Loving Grayson 

With his right elbow on the door’s arm rest and his left hand gripping the steering wheel, Grayson stared at the road ahead as they sped along. Beside him, Maggie gazed out her window absorbed in her thoughts, hands tucked neatly in her lap. But she gave a start when a sudden appalling realisation occurred to her.

In all that had happened, she hadn’t given Troy a moment’s consideration. Hadn’t contacted him, hadn’t even thought about him until now.

How could he have slipped her mind when she was facing what could be a life-threatening situation in a remote part of a remote area? Where was her burning need to reach out to her ‘other half’? But even as she asked herself that, she flicked Grayson a sideways glance.

Being here, with him, I feel safe … and somehow complete … how can that be? He’s not my husband, Troy is.

Making a mental note to phone Troy as soon as she had mobile reception again, she was relieved to glimpse the lights of Burketown on the horizon. When discernible sounds issued from the car’s radio once more and Grayson reached across to turn it up, she said, ‘Gray, I think I’ll be after an early night when we get back.’

The preoccupied steeliness in his eyes softened the instant they fell on her face, as did the firm set of his mouth. ‘Probably a good idea. We’ll need to make an early start in the morning … at first light if you’re up for it?’

She nodded, about to speak, when the weeeoo, weeeoo, weeeoo of a cyclone warning wailed from the speakers and Grayson turned up the volume so they could hear the update. Listening to the carefully dispassionate voice of the announcer advising of the continued storm threat, Maggie sank further into her seat. She felt thoroughly bone-weary. The reminder of the looming danger, her disappointment at having to cut short her training session, the thought of the long journey ahead, and her guilt about Troy, were taking a toll on her already unsettled nerves.

On their arrival at the hotel, Grayson slipped away while she busied herself unloading her gear from the car. Returning a few minutes later he announced, ‘I’ve ordered dinner to be delivered, hope that’s OK with you? I figured you’d want to eat in.’

She stood with her hands full of folders, laptop and other gear she’d taken for the training session, and threw him a grateful smile. ‘Thanks.’ Sighing, she wiped the beads of perspiration from beneath her eyes with her upper arms. ‘That’s thoughtful of you.’

Noticing the pallor of her face under the smudges of dust, he said stoutly, ‘Don’t mention it,’ and took the laptop bag and bulkiest folders from her. ‘I just hope you like what I’ve ordered for you.’

She gave another wan smile, murmuring, ‘I’m sure I will,’ while fishing the keys to her cabin from a pocket.

They made their way along the path to her cabin, and Grayson followed her inside to drop her gear on the table. As she turned to thank him, a woozy sensation came over Maggie. She blinked, trying to clear her head. It felt as though the room was shrinking, the walls closing in around them. Feeling herself tottering, she bent her head and closed her eyes, desperate to regain her equilibrium.

‘Are you alright, Maggie?’

She felt him put a steadying hand on her elbow. When she dared to open her eyes, she found him gazing down at her with concern. She swayed toward him as though drawn by a magnetic force, and closed her eyes again.

He’s so close, and so caring, and I could SO use a hug….

‘Maggie?’ His voice was nearer, and sounded husky.

She swallowed hard and straightened. ‘I’m OK. Ah … just a little worn out I guess.’ She ran an unsteady hand over her hair and threw him a weak smile.

Gently grasping both her upper arms, he peered into her face with a worried frown. ‘Are you sure you’re alright?’ The warm concern in his voice made her think of honey dripping from a hot buttered crumpet. Lovely … but perilous to the willpower. Feeling overwhelmed, she nodded dumbly and bent her head again.

This is all too much. I’m MILES from home with a man I should – but can’t – regard as simply a work colleague … and the whole purpose of this damn trip has been blown away by a monster of a cyclone that’s now bearing down on us … and I’m feeling more and more like death warmed up … and although comfort is tantalisingly close – so close I’d only have to lean a bit more and I’d be wrapped in it – I can’t accept it.

Stifling the sob that rose in her throat, she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, wishing herself miles away while also desperate to stay within the comfort zone of his presence.

‘Maggie?’ When she didn’t answer or make a move, he put a hand under her chin to tip her face upward. Seeing tears welling in her eyes, he breathed, ‘Oh Maggie, love,’ and wrapped her in his arms. ‘Don’t cry.’

Giving in to the moment of weakness, she sagged against his firm, broad chest. There, with her ear close to his heart and feeling its strong beats reverberating through her own body, one certainty emerged from her inner turmoil.

Something that feels this right can’t be wrong. And it doesn’t just feel right, it also feels safe, and comforting, and….

Wrong! her head shouted over the din in her heart. This is wrong. You shouldn’t be doing this.

I know, her heart sighed, but for a minute – just this one precious minute – I don’t care.

She allowed herself to savour his embrace for a few sweet seconds, before opening her eyes and summoning her strength to draw away. He loosened his hold but kept his hands on her arms.

‘I’m … sorry about that, Gray.’ Her mouth felt numb and her tongue stumbled over the words. She frowned and gave a small, self-conscious chuckle. ‘Guess I just needed a hug. It’s been a long day.’ When he once more tipped her face to gaze into her eyes, she managed to look at him with a semblance of normality.

With a small nod, he let her go and took a step back, saying stiffly, ‘Glad I could help.’ Narrowing his eyes, he said – as much for his own benefit as for hers – ‘Someone had to stand in for Troy.’

And suddenly there were three of them in the tiny cabin. Although Troy’s was an invisible presence, to Maggie’s ragged emotions the room became even more oppressive than before. And as Grayson made to leave, she felt the wonderful circle of comfort she’d enjoyed for that tiny fraction of time go with him, leaving her standing unprotected in the aching harshness of reality.

At the door he half-turned to gaze searchingly at her for another long moment, before giving a curt nod and walking out. As the door closed behind him, she took two faltering steps to the bed, collapsed onto it, and gave in to the tears.

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