This was my first published book, released only in Australia as a print only paperback. It had won me two national competitions by then. When Saltwater Press/Rocky River Romances tried to break into the US market, I was asked to rewrite it in an American setting, choosing Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountains for the similarity of terrain and history and becoming "Mitchell's Valley". It sold its print runs in all it forms, but it never sat comfortably in my mind in its new location and I promised myself I would rewrite it in its original location, the Victorian High Plains, because I had walked/hunted/rode over the ground there and it exists exactly as I describe it.
This excerpt is the end of the opening chapter:
It was an endless journey through unrecognizable landscape, curving to follow unseen contours and trapped in the capsule of light from his lamp, only the effort of following his trail mattered. She could sense his surety. There was no hesitation in the path he chose and he had time to glance back over his shoulder occasionally to adjust his tempo so she remained two ski lengths behind.
Surrendering to the mindlessness of following in his tracks gave her time to think … and feel a little ashamed. Andrew Mitchell had compromised a profitable illegal operation to save her life, risking his own in the process. He had given her lessons in chess, tolerated her pettiness and then refused to take advantage of her gratitude. This was a very rare man...
Her mind elsewhere, she almost cannoned into him when he stopped at the crest of a ridge and swung his skis until they were pointing back along their tracks. His stock, driven deep in the snow guided her skis to one side so she stopped with her skis parallel to his, but facing the other way so that they stood right shoulder to right shoulder.
“The lights of the Chalet.” He extended his right arm down the slope, turning his body so they faced each other. “Follow the ski run. I can go no further.”
Cynthia was too breathless to respond.
“I have two souvenirs.” He reached across and unzipped the breast pocket of her jacket. “This is to prove what happened.” He tucked the nugget she’d examined in the mine into her pocket and zipped it closed. “And this is make certain you remember me.” He pulled her into his embrace and kissed her.
Cynthia’s mind awoke. If he was prepared to accept a kiss, she was more than prepared to make it the best she was able to give. She surrendered totally to the moment, allowing herself to become pliant as his arms held her firmly against a body hard with the physical labour of mining. She could taste the herbs he had used on the stew and tannin bite of the black tea on his tongue, but his lips were surprisingly gentle on hers. This man would take only what she ceded willingly.
She damned the thick winter clothes for their interference, especially when the memory of his naked body against hers sent her need flaring, threatening to consume her utterly, had he not chosen that moment to break their embrace and push her gently away. She teetered uncertainly on her skis, disoriented, and his voice seemed to come from a distance...
“Go back to your own world, but don’t forget me too easily, for I will never forget you. You are truly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Goodbye, Goldilocks.”
He pushed off with his stocks and accelerated smoothly down the reverse slope away from her. She stared after him, physically drained, incapable of doing anything but watch him leave, consumed by disappointment.
It was only when the glow from his cap lamp faded completely, she realised her own danger. The snowfall was increasing rapidly and the diffused loom of the chalet lights was barely visible. Soon she would have nothing to guide her. She sighed gently, set off cautiously, and skied steadily down the hill, returning reluctantly to reality.
The police station was her first call. They would be coordinating the search and she owed them the duty of reporting her return. It would also be the first test of her determination to protect Andrew Mitchell. He’d not asked her to conceal his presence, but she would conceal his part in her rescue if she could.
A tall blonde female Senior Constable was on desk duty. She took down all the details on a printed report sheet; an odd expression flitting across her face occasionally, particularly when Cynthia nervously over-explained the points that concealed Andrew Mitchell’s involvement. It was surprisingly hard to lie deliberately, no matter how honourable her intentions.
When the report was complete, the policewoman insisted on escorting Cynthia to the Alpine Patrol Headquarters. The duty Patrol Commander was in the midst of planning a day of scaled down searching, convinced that she was already dead. Nothing would satisfy him short of another recital of her escape. She kept her description of the terrain vague, pleading darkness and ignorance, saying that she had stumbled on the trail to the village by accident. It was the best she could do for her rescuer.
"You have been very lucky," the Patrol Commander commented. "Few people have survived forty-eight hours in that sort of conditions without help. Your initiative in finding a cave and using it so effectively is commendable."
Cynthia flushed, knowing how little she deserved his praise. She was about to leave the small office when she noticed a large newssheet under glass on the wall. It was the front page of an old newspaper and, taking up the full page, was a recognisable picture of her rescuer!
"That’s Andrew Mitchell. Our last hope was that you had met him." The Patrol Commander had noted her sharp focus. "He's a legend up here, that some of us have been forced to accept." He gave the policewoman a hard look, suggesting that she was not a believer.
Cynthia hardly heard him. She was staring at the date on the top of the page. It was impossible! It claimed that Andrew Mitchell disappeared on August 21st, 1886!