‘A returned criminal, a cult-like family and cybercrime all clash against the backdrop of the Flinders Ranges in this thrilling new rural suspense novel from the best-selling Voice of the Outback.’
by Fleur McDonald
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Emma Cameron, a recently divorced farmer and a local in Barker, runs Deception Creek, the farm that three generations of her family have owned before her. Every day Emma pushes herself hard on the land, hoping to make ten-year-old memories of a terrible car accident disappear. And now there are more recent nightmares of an ex-husband who refuses to understand how much the farm means to Emma.
When criminal Joel Hammond is released from jail and heads home to Barker, Detective Dave Burrows and his officer Senior Sergeant Jack Higgins are on high alert. Joel has a long and sorry history with many of the townsfolk and they are not keen to see him home to stay.
Not all of the Barker locals want to see Joel run out of town though. Some even harbour doubts about Joel’s conviction. The town finds itself split down the middle, families pitted against each other with devastating outcomes.
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Excerpt from Deception Creek
by Fleur McDonald
‘I’ve told you, Alice, I haven’t touched anything! What can I do to make you believe me?’ Kyle’s voice was pleading as he looked over at his wife, but she wouldn’t return his gaze.
Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest as she stared out the car window at the Mount Gambier country. The paddocks of tall grass rippling in the wind were passing at a hundred and ten kilometres an hour.
This time she turned to him, her blue eyes flat and cold, no trace of their usual sparkle.
Kyle drew a breath as he remembered the words from his mother: Never get between a Sharpe and their money, son. There’s some truth in their last name.
‘You’ve been skimming money from the bank accounts,’ Alice snapped. ‘Dad told me all about it.’
At a glance, Kyle could see heat flooding her cheeks. She was fuming, and he knew he had two options: he could deny all knowledge, calmly and quietly, or he could get angry. ‘Look in my briefcase. The statements are there, along with all the reconciliations. There’s nothing amiss. Oliver’s got this wrong.’ His words were firm and quiet, but anger pulsed through him as he said his father-in-law’s name. Oliver Sharpe was an interfering, obnoxious man who thought he knew better than everyone about everything, and Kyle didn’t like or trust him one bit. He had only ever seen the old man’s aggression aimed at others, but now here it was, coming at him. He shouldn’t have been surprised.
‘I don’t believe you. Dad doesn’t make mistakes like this.’ She shifted in her seat to look straight at him. ‘A hundred grand? In six months? The whole time we’ve been married!’
‘And as a senior accounts officer I’d like to think I don’t make mistakes either. If you believe him,’ Kyle snapped, pushing his foot down on the accelerator, ‘why are you here with me, going to the accountant? There must be some doubt in your mind.’ He rearranged his face and softened his voice, with difficulty. ‘I’d hope there’s doubt in your mind. After all, I am your husband—I’d like to think you trust me.’ The hurt was real.
‘Do you think I want this to be true?’ Her voice held an accusation, while her long fingernails tapped on the edge of the window. ‘No, I want to go to the accountant, I want to hear that this is all a big misunderstanding. I want to go home. I want things to be the way they were when we brought you into the business.’ She paused. ‘The trouble is, I don’t think that’s going to happen.’
Gripping the steering wheel tighter, Kyle could see all his hard work, the long hours on the tractor, the countless times he’d bitten his tongue to get on Oliver’s good side, being snatched away by the opinion of a person he didn’t even know. The accountant was paid by Oliver, instructed by Oliver—if he wanted Kyle out of the business, that’s exactly what would happen.
Everything was going wrong. His whole life was coming to a grinding halt over a stupid misunderstanding.
‘Kyle, slow down!’
Alice’s voice broke through the waves of anger that were overtaking Kyle’s mind.
‘You’re going too fast. Look!’ His wife nodded frantically towards the speedo.
He looked down. One hundred and twenty.
Lifting his foot slightly, the ute slowed. Kyle dragged in a deep breath. ‘Look, Alice . . .’
‘No, Kyle, I don’t want to talk about it.’ She held up her hand in a stop sign. ‘I want to get to Foster & Foster and see what Hannah has to tell me.’
‘Oh yeah? And what about what I want? I’m your husband, don’t I get a say in any of this?’ The red-hot angry words shot out of him before he could stop them.
‘I don’t think you’re in a position to have a say.’
His knuckles were white. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, he saw a vehicle coming up behind them, the indicator on as if they were going to overtake. His eyes flicked back to the landscape in front; large, fat-trunked trees lined the road leading to the corner not far ahead. The morning was foggy and dew was glistening in the pale light as the sun tried to force its rays through the heavy, lead-grey cloud.
The white Nissan X-Trail pulled out.
‘Really?’ There was no way the driver behind should be passing on this stretch of road. Kyle’s instinct was to lift his foot from the accelerator, but he didn’t. Instead, he pushed it down harder and felt the ute jump away as the turbo kicked in.
‘What are you doing now?’ Alice’s tone was a mix of exasperation and angst.
‘This bloke needs a lesson on how to drive.’
Clearly the driver realised there was a problem, because he pulled back in behind Kyle.
‘Shouldn’t try to pass when you can’t see what’s coming up, idiot,’ he muttered, once again glancing to the front.
On the wide, sweeping bend was a large tree and around the corner, Kyle knew, the road opened up into a long stretch of bitumen, where the guy behind would be able to pass. He pushed his foot down a bit harder.
‘Stop it. Slow down. Please, Kyle.’ This time there was fear in his wife’s voice. ‘Don’t be stupid.’
He ignored her, his eyes flicking between the road ahead and the ute behind them. The Nissan was still in the left lane. Good. He took a couple of breaths.
‘This is crazy,’ Alice said softly. ‘Come on, slow down.’
‘How about you grab all the information from the back seat and look at it, Alice. You’ll see for yourself then.’
Lifting his foot, the vehicle slowed.
Alice cast a worried look towards him. ‘Okay.’ She twisted around in the seat and reached behind her.
‘Every cent is accounted for.’ He watched her in the mirror as she did as he asked.
Not able to reach, Alice undid her seatbelt, grabbed the paperwork and sat back down in one quick, fluid motion.
‘You’ll see now,’ Kyle said, the word coming from him more loudly than intended.
‘It’s not going to matter what I think,’ she said tightly, as she studied the reconciliations. ‘If Dad has found something amiss . . .’
‘But I haven’t stolen anything!’ He banged the steering wheel hard with his fist, and the ute jumped away as he pushed his foot down once more. ‘I haven’t!’ His face was warm from the anger that was radiating through him, and his fist throbbed a little from hitting the wheel.
She looked up from the printed pages.
‘What?’ The word snapped out of him.
‘The corner! It’s . . .’ His wife reached out to yank his arm but didn’t connect, because with one quick movement, Kyle had pulled the steering wheel to the left, throwing the ute to the side. A wheel hit a pothole and the vehicle bounced, throwing them together, and Alice’s arm bounced off Kyle’s as he held the wheel.
A loud, high-pitched shriek emerged from Alice, just as the left-hand side nose of the ute hit the gum tree.
When Kyle’s head hit the steering wheel, he couldn’t hear Alice’s screams anymore.
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