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SHADOWS OVER THE DELTA ~ WINGS OVER AFRICA (PRE-ORDER) (BOOK 1) (EBOOK)

SHADOWS OVER THE DELTA ~ WINGS OVER AFRICA (PRE-ORDER) (BOOK 1) (EBOOK)

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What killed Mike Jensen? A gunshot or a lion?

The evidence seems conclusive, but two days after a young man is charged, he’s found dead in the cells of a Botswana prison.

Fifteen years later, questions regarding Mike’s death resurface when Mike’s sister, Susan, reconnects with the other young men she accompanied on that fateful hunting trip as the tag-along sister fresh out of school.

Starky Willis has become a successful businessman, operating a hunting lodge that caters to the rich and famous.

Her brother’s other friend, Phil Greene, is now head of Botswana’s National Parks and Wildlife’s anti-poaching unit.

Susan is determined to hold someone accountable for her brother’s death – and the lie she’s been forced to live for fifteen years.

When she befriends disillusioned Australian journalist Verity White, newly arrived in Botswana after her husband has relocated to Maun having lost his jet job during the bitter Australian Pilot’s Dispute, Susan realises she has the perfect ally.

Verity's new job as a hostess on Starky's overland safari places her in the ideal position to help Susan investigate. With two wealthy clients intent on shooting a lion in the northern Okavango Delta, Susan sees an opportunity to trap the man she believes is a murderer.

But she has underestimated Verity, who, despite her vulnerability and unhappiness, demands a higher standard of evidence. As threatening forces close in, Verity finds an unexpected source of help. But is she too trusting?

So, what really happened to Mike Jensen on that doomed safari? And is Verity about to follow in his footsteps?

Murky like the Okavango's wandering channels, the truth is just as hidden and treacherous to navigate.

For lovers of Africa-set romantic suspense filled with mystery and the unexpected!

RELEASES AUGUST 31, 2024

Note that you will be charged at check-out and the book will arrive in your Inbox on August 31, 2024.

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CHAPTER ONE

“When I wrote this speech a week ago, I listed four reasons for tonight’s celebration.”
Through the coloured lights and bobbing Chinese lanterns strung above the back deck, Verity smiled at their friends and family who’d gathered around, champagne flutes in hand.
Enigma was pumping out a melodious, psychedelic beat from the CD player in the living room of their new Malvern semi-detached, but everyone’s attention was focussed on Verity who stood on a chair. In her tight, knee-length black skirt and gold bolero from her favourite designer, Cue, she felt up-to-the-minute and fashionable, a welcome change from her usual uniform of shorts and tee shirts. Not that she hadn’t enjoyed the past few years in a string of hot and dry Outback towns but she was excited at the prospect of shopping for a whole new wardrobe for her exciting new job.
“You all know the obvious ones: that this is our housewarming but also James’s birthday and our wedding anniversary.” She grinned at the remark of a friendly heckler from the back. Tim could be relied upon to lighten the atmosphere, and a ripple of laughter cut across her serious, nervous tone. Though Verity was not fond of public speaking, the party and the speech were nevertheless her idea.
“Yes, Tim, if we’ve made it to fifteen years, I think we’ve earned our stripes – just like my clever, darling husband has earned his!” she called across the room. “Because, as you know, that’s another reason for tonight’s party. In two weeks, James will have three gold ones on his epaulettes after he’s checked to line with Ansett Airlines and I am so proud of him!” Verity bent down from her chair to stroke James’s cheek and their friends cheered and clapped.
Straightening, she opened her mouth to expound on his many great virtues and strengths, but emotion got the better of her, and as her voice broke, James leapt up beside her.
“You all get the gist of what Verity’s trying to say and while I’d love to hear all the good stuff, too—” He gave her a squeeze and kissed her cheek – “I also don’t want you standing here in the cold forever. Not when Verity hasn’t yet got to her important news which most of you don’t know because it was only confirmed half an hour ago—”
“Oh my God, Saskia’s getting a brother or a sister!” Sarah squealed from the back of the crowd and Verity’s stomach gave a disappointed lurch as she shook her head, letting James say, “No, but even better – for now, at any rate… Verity is Flair’s new Lifestyle Editor Extraordinaire! She starts – ”
His words were drowned out by the clapping and stamping of the thirty or so guests and Verity grinned stupidly before James had her properly in his arms, kissing her as they maintained a precarious foothold half a metre above the ground.
“The news couldn’t have been better timed,” Verity’s best friend Sarah remarked when the speeches were finished, and the champagne and red wine were flowing freely. “Your cup literally runneth over,” she added with a grin as Tim wove his way through the gathering, liberally dispensing the fizz which now poured down the stems of their champagne flutes.
“I have to pinch myself every morning I wake up.” Verity raised her voice to compete with The Cure which was now blasting out from the next room, before indicating with a nod that they continue their conversation on a corner sofa between two palms. “Don’t you still do the same, even though Tim’s been flying the line for a year now? I mean, remember how gloomy the guys were when they turned thirty-five and thought they were too old for a crack at the airlines?”
Verity and Sarah had become firm friends when their husbands were in the fledging stages of their careers, based in the remote Northern Territory town of Kununurra, flying sightseers over the Bungle Bungles and other scenic wonders in the Australian outback.
“I do,” Sarah replied with her usual quiet gravity. “The extra pay has enabled us to access much better care for Ben.”
With a nod, Verity acknowledged the financial and emotional strain their friends had been under since their youngest had been born with cerebral palsy ten years before. “But the Flying Doctors has been great,” Sarah went on. “And being so long in one place really helped us get a foothold.” She gave Verity’s arm a sympathetic squeeze, not putting into words what was implied. “You’re the perfect pilot’s wife, you know. Six jobs and six towns in fifteen years and you’re still by James’s side. Not every pilot’s wife is so patient. I don’t know that I could have been!”
“You’re the most patient person I know!” Verity drained her glass. “Ben has the best parents! I don’t know that I could have managed the way you and Tim have.” She hugged Sarah, suddenly overwhelmed by her feelings, and not embarrassed to show it. “Isn’t it wonderful how much better everything is when you’ve struggled for it?” She blinked back a fresh bout of tears. “All those years in general aviation, with companies folding, and contracts ending. Packing up another rental, finding another school for Saskia. But now our fellers are airline pilots. Or as near as makes no difference. Now we’re getting stability in our lives. And finally – maybe – James getting checked to line in six weeks and becoming a first officer with decent pay is just in time to make a difference for Saskia. Goodness knows, it’s what she needs. We’ll be able to send her to a different school before she’s expelled from this one—”
A deep, aggrieved male voice cut through their conversation, even drowning out The Cure. “Did you hear what the PM said on the 6 o’ clock news?”
Verity smiled and Sarah rolled her eyes as they glanced at long-legged Sean, one of their more outspoken friends, and an increasing regular to their new home since his marriage had teetered into shaky territory. Larrikin Sean had first met easy-going James and Tim at ground school when the three were studying for their Commercial Pilot’s Licence.
Verity moved in to whisper in Sarah’s ear, “I suppose I should listen to what Sean’s complaining about now that we’re all in this together.”
Someone turned down the music, and Sean’s strident tones carried across the room. “Hawkey called us glorified bus drivers!” He almost spluttered his disgust.
Verity shrank back into the sofa as a group of pilots huddled about Sean who was declaring that their Prime Minister Bob Hawke needed to be reminded that negotiating through a union was a basic right. “Being besties with the Ansett boss has made him forget his trade union roots!” he all but shouted.
Tim, Sarah’s husband, gestured for Sean to tone it down, but although his response was more measured, Verity was surprised at his quiet anger. Generally, he was more laid back than Verity’s husband, James. “I got a call at 9pm on Tuesday night from the company saying they were happy to negotiate my terms and conditions but not through the Pilot’s Federation—”
Tim didn’t finish as his words were drowned out by a rumble of anger before Sean’s strident voice cut through once more. “We’ve had wage suppression for years. If they think we’re asking too much, then they should negotiate through the union! And if the government wants to treat us the same way as other employee groups, then our work conditions should be the same. Normal office working hours of 9am to 5pm! Let’s see how they like that!”
This time it was Verity who rolled her eyes in a secret sign to Sarah that she’d had enough of the men’s conversation. She was about to suggest they move to the other room and leave the men to their whingeing, but Sarah put her hand on her arm. “Verity, I know Tim is the first to say that Sean doesn’t know what hardship is like but in this instance, he actually agrees with everything Sean says.” She shrugged. “Me? I don’t know what to think.”
Sean had had it easy. Verity had heard James talking about his friend whose father, an Ansett captain on the Boeing 737, had funded his eldest son’s training. By contrast, James and Tim had scraped together everything they had to pay for their commercial pilot’s licence. Six months of study and a hundred grand later—courtesy of his father--Sean had walked into a pilot’s cadetship with Ansett while James and Tim had spent years building their flying hours through instructing, joy flights and airborne geophysical survey work around Australia.
“Are you sure you don’t want to get out of here, Sarah?” Verity found the hubbub of general disgruntlement disquieting. The evening had started off with such a festive air but the grievances of so many of James’s pilot friends were greater than she’d realised.
She was relieved when Sarah nodded her agreement and they moved onto the back deck which, though chilly, was a sanctuary from the noise inside.
“And now I want to hear abour your new job, Verity, which is every bit as exciting as James’s. I am so envious! No, I’m not. I’m proud and relieved. You’ve wanted something like this since I first met you.”
Curled up on the two outside sofas, with a light throw rug over their legs, and a couple of candles on the wooden coffee table between them, the women sipped their drinks. It was a relief to leave the men to their own affairs and to enjoy the easy camaraderie that Verity had missed so much for the past couple of years when she’d been living in a small Western Australian town while Sarah and Tim had moved to Melbourne.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear the good news of your editorship so soon,” said Sarah. “You told me you had a gut feeling Carrie Dunbar hadn’t taken to you.”
“That’s what I felt after the first interview, yes.” A return of the happy feelings that had buoyed Verity up all afternoon returned. “But when I mentioned to her that James was a pilot, she got all chatty because her sister-in-law is a hostie with Australian Airlines. And when I told her I’d done my journalism cadetship on Ballarat’s The Courier, she was like my new best friend. Apparently, she, too, was a lowly cadet on the newspaper twenty years before me.” Verity rolled her shoulders. “I guess finding that common ground made all the difference.”
“Which is why being Editor of Flair is perfect for you because you’re excellent at finding common ground in the first sixty seconds and getting people to like you.”
“And you’re not?” Verity raised an eyebrow and Sarah gave a short laugh.
“We’re talking about you,” said her friend. “You often seem deadly serious until people see that you’re not. There are two sides to you that you can hide or reveal. That’s great for a job like yours. Anyway, what did Saskia say?”
“About my new job? Not much. She’s in the doghouse for getting another ‘Lack of Effort’ report from school. James gave her a dressing-down yesterday and she’s still sulking.” Verity contemplated whether to say more. Over the usual afternoon get-togethers with Sarah, she could pour out her heart – which she realised with a jolt of sadness she’d not be able to do so frequently now that she’d soon be working nine-to-five – but in this busy, party atmosphere she wasn’t sure she wanted to dive deep into her growing concerns over her increasingly disaffected fifteen-year-old. She made a sweeping gesture with her arm. “Notice that Saskia hasn’t even looked in on the party. She’s closeted in her room talking to her bad influence friend, Annabelle, which is another reason I’m so happy James has got this job because it means we can afford to send her to a school that will discipline her.”
“Is discipline what she really needs?”
Verity was surprised by Sarah’s tone. She blushed. “You think we’re too hard on her, don’t you? But you don’t have a teenager who’s been suspended twice for smoking and who is so apathetic I don’t think she’d care whether we lived in a penthouse in Monte Carlo or a slum in Johannesburg. Nothing gets a smile out of her. I have to ask her to do something ten times before she might start a half-hearted job of it. Grrrr! I don’t want to talk about it!” Verity took a deep breath. “I guess the silver lining is that with this new job starting in three weeks, I’ll finally have things to drive me mad other than my daughter. And gaining the respect of my editorial team will have to make up for the lack of it from Saskia.”
“Good on you!” Sarah laughed. She tucked a curl behind her ear and there was a gentleness in her expression that Verity wished she could feel reflected in her own heart. But then, everyone loved Sarah for her kindness, good sense, and compassion. Verity knew that, by contrast, she could appear prickly and intense. She’d been told that often enough growing up, though she attributed it to anxiety. As soon as she found her safe, happy place, she was sure she could be as chill – in a good way! -- as Sarah.
And with James having landed the job of his dreams—one that offered a steady progression to becoming an airline captain--coupled with Verity landing her dream job, then perhaps marriage, mothering Saskia, and everything else in her life that had had its ups and downs, was going to be smooth sailing.
Sarah reached for the champagne bottle. “Your little Saskia isn’t as closed-up as you imagine. Just give it a couple of years. I think she’s trying harder than you give her credit for. Yesterday she was telling me about her school work and the ancestry project she’s working on.”
“No way? She talked to you about school work? You mean, she’s actually doing some?”
Sarah laughed. “Do you two never talk? Yes, she’s actually doing some and she’s interested. She was telling me that she knows all there is to know about your side of the family in Australia but that her dad won’t talk much about his family in Zimbabwe and Botswana. She said she can’t wait to go there but that she’s never seen so much as a handful of photos and whenever she asks, James tells her to ask him later.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t say that! Anyway, Saskia only has to wait three years to finish school and then she can fly the coop.” Verity tried not to reveal that she was put out that Saskia should have opened up to Sarah when she kept things so close to her chest if her mother tried to probe. “Her granny who lived in Mafeking left her enough for a round-the-world ticket so she could have an adventure when she finished school. If that’s what Saskia wants to do, I won’t stop her.”
“So, she’s off to Zimbabwe, then.”
Sarah had spoken with vivacity, but Verity screwed up her nose as she tapped her glass with her nail. “There’s no family left in Zimbabwe, sadly,” she said. “The reason her dad probably doesn’t talk much about his side of the family is that it’s all so grim. James’s aunt married a Rhodesian. They farmed tobacco near Bulawayo, but the farm was burned down during the bush war about twelve years ago. His eight-year-old cousin, Veronica died in the house fire after the terrorists set fire to it, and her older brother was killed a few years later during a terrorist raid when he was in the Selous Scouts, a special forces regiment of the Rhodesian Army.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “How awful!” More contemplatively she said, “You’re right, though. I’ve never heard James talk about Africa.” She pressed her lips together. “Peace negotiations in Zimbabwe are almost finalised, aren’t they? The war is over, and everyone seems to think this Robert Mugabe is the best man to lead the country. He’s well educated, I heard. He seems to have the country’s best interests at heart.”
“That’s the hope.” Verity smiled.
“Maybe James just doesn’t remember too much about Africa, anyway. Wasn’t he just a child when he left Botswana?”
“He was seven. But he still has fond memories of his cousins, Michael and Susan. They lived in a remote town called Serowe and the families went on regular hunting trips into the Kalahari.”
“What’s the matter?”
Verity blinked then gave a short laugh. “Am I that transparent? Sorry! It’s all this talk about Africa. I was just remembering the day James and I set off to the travel agent to buy tickets to see James’s family in Botswana when he and I had only been going out for a few months. I’d got some unexpected freelance work on Homes & Living magazine, so we’d put together everything we had, and James was excited about introducing me to his cousins Susan and Michael, and to show me where he’d grown up. Except, I discovered in the morning I was pregnant, so instead of going to Africa, we had to get married instead.” She shrugged. “Things were different fifteen years ago so there really wasn’t any choice about it. Oh, but Sarah, I don’t mean I regret it!” she added hastily at the flare in her friend’s eyes. “Of course, it hasn’t always been easy, especially when you become parents at…lord, barely five years older than Saskia is now! And having to cover the bills on James’s meagre salary as a flight instructor. Anyway,” she finished, “I’m glad you told me Saskia’s enthusiastic about this ancestry project. It’s made me remember that old cardboard box we have in the garage which James’s aunt sent us, after poor Michael was killed on a hunting trip in the Northern Kalahari. James was supposed to be going on that trip, too, if—” she grinned – “Saskia hadn’t had other ideas.”
“That’s terrible! About the hunting trip accident!” Sarah looked distressed.
“It is, isn’t it? Not that I knew Michael, but he and James had grown up like brothers, so he was pretty cut up. And it wasn’t an accident, I’m afraid. Anyway, I guess the box is filled with Michael’s memorabilia. Old school medals and hopefully some photographs that Saskia can use in her project. It’ll have to make up for the fact she won’t be getting to Africa anytime soon.” She glanced over the back of the sofa to peer through the sliding glass doors into the living room which, she was relieved to note, was sparsely populated now that most of James’s friends had left. She hadn’t enjoyed listening to their grumbles about the workplace when James had spent the last fifteen years hoping to break into their ranks.
She turned back to pour the dregs of the champagne bottle into their two glasses and Sarah raised hers in salute. “Here’s to my best friend climbing the corporate ladder and achieving her career dreams—”
“And to James flying the 737 around Australia until he retires,” added Verity as a wave of happiness washed over her. “We can go to Africa when James makes Captain. I’m done with living out of a suitcase for the meantime.”

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