I know I joked about drawing these winners from an egg cup, but by the cut-off this afternoon, 158 of you buggers had entered this giveaway. My egg cup seriously overfloweth!
It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting to folks on here, and on Facebook and your efforts with the swearing challenge have been nothing less than spectacular. Many thanks to all of you who took part, and I hope those who pick up copies of Tumbledown have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.
That being said, congratulations to: Laurie Bobbie and Sarah Shaw, whose names have just popped out of the random number generator bucket.
All being well (i.e. if I’ve managed to contact you!) your books should be posted tomorrow at the latest. Enjoy!
As a consolation prize to those who missed out, I’m tagging on another couple of scenes that didn’t make the final cut of Desolation Point. Much like this one, they were deleted from the latter section of the novel in order to tidy up the ending.
I’ve added a cut for the spoiler-phobic…
~ ~ ~
In the original version of Desolation Point, these two scenes took place immediately after Alex had woken in the hospital.
~ ~ ~
“Keep some pressure on it for a minute or two while I go get Alex unhooked as well.”
The nurse smiled at Sarah, who listened to the whoop of delight from beyond the drapes as Alex’s IV was also removed. Bright sunlight flooded into the room when the nurse pushed the drapes apart. It caught the stud in her nose and made it sparkle.
“All done,” she told them both. Then she turned to Sarah. “You’re on bed rest for at least an hour, to make sure you’re not leaking.”
“You say the sweetest things,” Sarah said. She grinned when the nurse winked before leaving the room.
Seconds after the door had closed, Alex carefully climbed out of bed. “I am officially a free woman,” she declared, displaying arms that no longer came with tubing attached to them.
“So am I. Only, I’m banned from getting up, which doesn’t seem fair.”
“No, but it’s probably sensible when you’ve just had a big plastic pipe pulled out of your guts.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t in my guts,” Sarah muttered, still feeling aggrieved. She wriggled over to make space for Alex on her bed.
“Oh, that’s very cozy.” Alex snuggled beneath the blankets just as a knock on the door made them both freeze like naughty children. She cleared her throat. “Uh, come in?”
Sarah relaxed when she saw who it was: Agent Castillo’s shape could not be easily mistaken. He avoided comment on their new seating arrangements, instead placing a laptop on the overbed table.
“As promised,” he said. He entered a password and clicked on a series of icons. “Just give me a call when you’re finished.”
“Is it that time already?” Suddenly feeling self-conscious, Sarah ran her hands through her hair. “How do I look?”
“Radiant,” Alex said, though Castillo merely winced.
The expression on Ash and Tess’ faces when the Skype channel opened suggested that Castillo’s reaction had been the more honest.
“Oh, dear merciful Christ,” Ash said loudly, crossing herself for added effect, despite—to Sarah’s knowledge—never having been the slightest bit religious.
Tess managed a smile, but her eyes brimmed with tears.
“Hey there.” Sarah waved at the screen, glad when Alex took her other hand in silent support.
“What did they do to you?” Tess whispered. “The agent said you were okay.”
“I’m fine, really. Please don’t worry.” Sarah did her utmost to sound reassuring, though it seemed a stupid thing to say when they had undoubtedly been worrying for days. “I’m so fucking sorry I made such a mess of everything. Are you both all right?”
They looked disheveled, as if caffeine and nervous energy were the only things keeping them alert. Even Ash, who claimed to be able to sleep through a hurricane, had deep shadows beneath her eyes. “Better now, I think,” she said, with unusual openness. “There’s only so much rolling news you can watch, telling you the same useless information over and over, before it starts to send you a bit doolally.” She pulled an exaggerated crazy face to emphasize her meaning.
Sarah nodded, tongue-tied; she could only imagine what she had put them through.
Ash seemed to take pity on her. “Jamie finally went to sleep ten minutes ago,” she said, in a transparent ploy to change the subject. “Otherwise we’d have introduced him to his auntie.”
“Probably for the best. Don’t want to give the poor thing nightmares.” Sarah’s attempt at levity rang hollow, and she lowered her eyes from the screen. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, love, we’re bloody proud of you.” Ash wrapped her arm around Tess. “It’s just that you look like you’ve been through the wringer.”
“I have.” There was no point in lying when the evidence of what had happened was literally staring them in the face. Sarah waited with a lump in her throat as Ash took a handkerchief and dabbed at the smudges of mascara on Tess’ cheeks.
“So, where’s this lass of yours, then?” Ash had to raise her voice over the noise of Tess blowing her nose.
“Right here.” Sarah adjusted the laptop until Alex was in shot and watched Ash’s eyes widen.
Ash whistled. Then, speaking as if there was no possibility of Alex overhearing her, “Oh, she’ll be lovely once the swelling goes down.”
Sarah started to laugh, all her stress and guilt alleviated by that one comment. “I did try and warn you,” she told Alex.
A baby wailed in the background, and Tess nudged Ash. “I think that’s our cue to leave you in peace, sweetie. They said not to stay on for too long. You get some sleep and some decent food inside you.”
“Okay.” Homesickness made Sarah want to beg them to stay, but instead she blew them a kiss. “I’ll speak to you soon. Love you.”
They blew kisses back, before Ash reached over and cut the connection. The Skype window disappeared, leaving Sarah staring at a slowly revolving FBI logo.
“You okay?” Alex asked.
Sarah nodded but then shook her head.
“Want me to go back to my own bed?” Alex said.
“God, no.” Sarah shuffled down and leaned her head against Alex’s chest. She felt Alex start to move her hand in slow, careful circles on her back, and she let her breath escape in a long sigh. Alex was humming something she didn’t recognize, the melody not very tuneful but comforting all the same. Too tired to sleep, Sarah listened to the gentle blur of noise as it combined with the steady thud of Alex’s heartbeat, and tried not to think about anything else.
~ ~ ~
Sarah stood in the shower and let the hot water pour over her. She had never imagined that something so simple, something she had taken for granted for most of her life, could feel so decadent. Beyond the screen, water from her bath glugged down the plughole. She had soaked in the tub for almost an hour before a nurse had screwed her nose up at the color of the water and suggested that a shower to remove the lingering layer of scum might be a good idea. Rinsing shampoo from her hair, Sarah watched the run-off change from dirty gray to off-white and finally clear.
A shadow moved across the screen, and Sarah grinned as she heard Alex call over the noise of the spray.
“The hospital management have been on the phone, wanting to know whether your insurance will cover the water bill.”
“Sod off. You were in here just as long.”
The screen creaked open, and Alex peered in. “You do not want to know what crawled out from between my toes.”
“You’re right. I don’t.” Sarah cut the water off and stepped into the towel that Alex held out, letting Alex wrap it around her.
Alex kept her in a close embrace and rested her chin on Sarah’s shoulder. “Feel better?”
“I feel great.”
“God, you’re tiny.” Alex had splayed her fingers across Sarah’s torso. “You lose as much weight as I did?”
Five days of frantic exertion and minimal food had taken their toll; Sarah could feel Alex counting down each of her ribs.
“The nurse did look quite envious when I stepped off the scale.” Sarah decided to avoid being specific about her weight loss. “I’m not sure she’d appreciate the ‘running for your life in the wilderness’ crash-diet, though.”
Alex chuckled, the sound low and pleasant in Sarah’s ear. “Probably not.” She stepped back from Sarah and handed her a pile of clothes. “Agent Castillo brought you these. I hope he was a better judge of your size than he was of mine.”
Sarah took the opportunity to look Alex up and down. The navy blue sweats she was wearing were turned up at the ankles and sleeves. Her bath had left her cheeks suffused with a healthy pink flush, and she appeared to have done more to her hair than run her fingers through it and hope for the best.
“You look cute as a button,” Sarah told her.
The flush grew more pronounced as Alex smiled shyly. “I do?”
Instead of answering, Sarah leaned in and kissed her, feeling a warmth that had nothing to do with the steam-filled bathroom.
“Agent Castillo is waiting just outside,” Alex said, her voice breathy and filled with regret.
“Damn.” Sarah leaned her forehead against Alex’s. “Did he at least bring food?”
“He certainly did.”
“In which case, tell him I’ll be right out.”
~ ~ ~