A strange convergence of events provide graduate student Norah Erickson with the vacation of a lifetime. Leaving behind a snowy Minnesota winter, she hops a plane to Australia’s Gold Coast. The trip isn’t the dream come true Norah expects, however. Trouble seems to spring from every corner leaving the bewildered girl alone and in serious danger.
Aussie soldier Cameron Day is just looking for some rest and relaxation after a term in Afghanistan. But when a quick visit with an old friend turns up a beautiful American damsel in distress, Cam is quick to step in, offering Norah a place to stay and some company.
As desire flares between the international lovers, dangerous events arise which threaten not only their budding relationship, but also their lives.
Norah Erickson studied her appearance in the chipped full-length mirror which hung on the back of the bathroom door in her one bedroom apartment. She was wondering, for the first time in her life, if there was something wrong with the way she looked.
Norah had always been fairly confident she was pretty. She looked closely. Same golden-blond hair, thick and straight, hanging to her shoulders. Same face, symmetrical and more attractive than average, with arching brows, big, bright blue eyes, and a straight nose with a few freckles for emphasis. She had round, naturally pink cheeks on a porcelain complexion which required no makeup. Her full lips were rosy, her chin taut. Nothing to complain about there.
Stripping off her clothes and tossing them to the torn white linoleum floor, she continued her assessment, looking at her figure. This was her favorite part of herself. She wasn’t skinny, never had been, and didn’t want to be. Her breasts were very full, the kind that made men stop and look again. Her waist was narrow. Okay, her belly wasn’t flat, but so what? No one had that. And she had soft round hips and a perfect plump, smooth bottom to match. She loved her curves. And she had never lacked for male admiration. She looked the same as always. She had not gained weight, nor was her age starting to deteriorate her attractiveness. She was only 27 after all.
So why was her boyfriend losing interest in her? There was no reason for it she could discern. Shaking her head, she decided she must be imagining things.
Norah brushed her teeth in the pink scalloped sink, setting her toothbrush on the miniscule rose tiled counter. Once again she shook her head at the peeling flowered wallpaper before heading into the bedroom, her white flannel nightgown clutched in one fist.
It was a tiny room, all she and Kendall could afford, but it was big enough, barely, for the queen sized bed they had bought at a garage sale just before they had moved in together two years ago. There was a stained and wrinkled blue shag carpet on the floor, and the walls were a dingy off-white. To add some life to the room, the bed was covered in a crazy quilt her great aunt had made for her as a graduation present when she completed her bachelor’s degree. The main color in the bedspread was blue, which suited her. Kendall complained it was girly, but never contributed anything different, so she ignored his whining. Right now, he was burrowed underneath, hiding from the cold. It was November and the single-pane windows were ill fitting, allowing blasts of icy wind through the cracks in the frame. Norah felt quite chilled, since she was naked. She slipped under the covers beside her boyfriend and snuggled up against his back, teasing him with her curves and reaching around to fondle him.
There was no response whatsoever. His sex didn’t even jump in her hand. He did, however make a grumpy sounding grunt.
“Norah!” His voice, prone to whining at the best of times, was at its most petulant at that moment. He brushed her hands away irritably. “I’m trying to sleep.”
“Why?” she asked, hurt and bewildered. “It’s only 8:30.”
“I’m tired.” His curt tone did nothing to assuage her wounded feelings.
“Is something wrong, Kendall?” She used the sweetest voice she could muster, squashing down her desire to cry.
“What do you mean?” he asked, sighing and rolling over to face her, showing her his face. Normally he was almost girlishly pretty. Tonight he looked haggard, his skin gray. His bright green eyes were dim and bloodshot, his long auburn hair greasy and tangled.
“Are you sick?”
“No. Just tired.” There was something strange… a smell on him which seemed… familiar. She tried to place it, and the effort caused a growing sense of dread she also couldn’t explain.
“What are you tired of?” she asked, fishing for information.
He reacted instantly. “Stop bugging me, Norah,” he snapped. “I’m tired and I want to sleep. Jeez, girl. Don’t you think about anything else?”
Stung, Norah fell silent. At the beginning of their relationship, he had been just as hot and eager as she. Thank goodness they’d become intimate in the summer, or her GPA would almost certainly have suffered.
They had met in college. Norah, a senior anthropology major, had been teaching assistant, a T.A., for an introductory class. Kendall, also a senior, but majoring in Business Management, had taken that class to fulfill his graduation requirement for Humanities. She’d been drawn to him from the first… those luminous green eyes, tilted and feline, staring at her with more intensity than she’d ever seen before. He’d let her know, with no more than the touch of his burning gaze, that he wanted her beyond reason. It had taken all her willpower to make him wait until the end of the semester before they could start dating. They’d gone out all through spring semester, chastely. Norah was very cautious about such things. But by the first day of summer, he’d convinced her. They’d moved in together two weeks later, and had remained, just like that, until now.
Well, almost. Six months into their cohabitation, Kendall lost his job as a retail assistant manager because he’d failed a drug test. When Norah had heard about his lingering marijuana habit, a holdover from his youth, she’d broken up with him and returned, crushed, to her father over Christmas break. Stephen Erickson had not acted particularly sympathetically towards his daughter. He’d never liked Kendall, thought him a loser, and had particularly hated that she lived with him. He’d been livid when Kendall gave up pot and got a new job, begging Norah to come back, promising he’d changed for good. Despite her father’s fury, she’d gone.
Oh shit. Now I remember that smell. Her eyes narrowed.
“Ken, have you been smoking?” She hesitated even to say it. The evidence was irrefutable, but she hated to believe it.
“Don’t lie. I can smell it all over you. And your eyes…”
“Shut up, Norah. What if I did? It’s just a little now and then, to help me relax. Things are tough at work right now and…”
“And if you get caught, and lose your job, how tough would that be?”
“Tougher for you than me. It’s not like you’re making any money. You just rely on my income.”
Norah was taken aback at the vicious bite in his voice. “I know, baby. I thought it was okay with you. You know once I get this degree finished, I’ll get a job.”
“And how long will that be? You’re kind of expensive.”
This was blatantly unfair, and Norah choked a little at the ugliness of it. “I… you know how long. One more semester of coursework, and then my dissertation, which will take at least another year, maybe two. How am I expensive? I try to economize.”
“You eat too much. That’s why you’re so fat.”
Now that was just uncalled for. “I’m the same size I was when we got together.” Her voice sounded angry, which she felt was good because she was crying at the same time. The sobs quickly overtook her and she turned her face into the pillow, willing him to touch her, to comfort her and take back his cruel words.
“Oh God, get control of yourself, would you? How am I supposed to sleep with all that noise?”
“Never mind,” she choked, gathering up her pillow and heading to the couch, snagging her nightgown as she passed it. He made no sound of protest, and a few minutes later, loud buzzing snores began to filter out under the bedroom door. On the lumpy, second-hand sofa, Norah stared at the ceiling, counting the peaks in the popcorn, between the water stains, and wondering what the hell she was going to do now.