Sunday, February 16, 2014

"A Canter of the Heart (The Equestrian and the Aviator)" by E. E. West

A Canter of the Heart
(The Equestrian and the Aviator)
by E. E. West

A Canter of the Heart, the first book in The Equestrian and the Aviator trilogy, is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author and a giveaway. Please make sure you visit the other tour stops as well.

A beautiful Australian para-equestrian, Eleanor, is rudely awakened the morning after her twentieth birthday to face two pressing problems: the first, though she refuses to accept it, is that she's been told by many acquaintances and relations that she'll never find true love, and the second being, though she doesn't know it yet, that she can't even get up the ruddy stairs to visit the blasted night-club with her mates! What no one knows is that one random act of chivalry, at the hands of a handsome American naval flight officer, is about to turn her world upside down.
The heartfelt and sometimes harrowing journey that follows is as humorous as it is inspirational.
A Canter of the Heart is the romance of a new millennium, a story that you've never heard before, and one that should take its place amongst the iconic romances of our time. But most importantly, it is a romance that will speak, most unapologetically, to your heart. A Canter of the Heart is the first book in The Equestrian and the Aviator trilogy that sets our intrepid heroine on the journey of a lifetime. The first thing that you will no doubt discover is that Eleanor, fickle girl that she is, has already found the love of her life - her inspiring love of horses.
This trilogy is based on a true story, and is a testament to the therapeutic riding programs offered by the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. This trilogy is dedicated to the many remarkable, selfless people who made and continue to make those programs possible.

Chapter Two
I watched in awe as the sunrise set the gum trees afire with yellows and reds and then lit the horizon with a halo of ambers and golds while the rest of the canvas sat eerily still, as if waiting for the final brushstrokes of a perfect morning before daring gasp its first breath. I had no idea how much sleep I'd had, though it couldn't have been much. But despite that, I felt full of energy, and nearly jumped out of bed when the guinea fowl commenced their time-honoured soliloquies. They were better than an alarm clock in so many ways, I mused, as I daydreamed about last night. I even beat Mum to setting up for breakfast this morning, adding a bit of jarrah to the firebox as it was still right frigid in the house. Mum had already been up for hours, and was only now getting back from milking, so it wasn't much of an accomplishment, but considering when I got home last night, I surprised myself simply being awake.
“Morning Mum, wasn't that a beautiful sunrise?”
“What are you doing up, Mouse?” Mum asked with a puzzled look on her face. “We didn't even hear you get home last night.”
“I know Mum, it was more like this morning, I'm not sure when.”
“You must be exhausted, why don't you go back to bed?”
“I can't, Mum. Anyway, I'm not tired. I need to get dressed. I promised that I would go riding at ten thirty, and then go for a drive down towards Cape Leeuwin, and maybe stop at a winery for lunch in Margaret River.”
“Promised who? Are Carol and Annette coming over?”
“No Mum, I met a... gentleman last night, and I told him I would show him the roos in the back paddock, give him a tour of the farm, and then show him a bit of Australia while he was here. And I'm still wearing last night's clothes, I need a bath, my car's a mess – how am I ever going to be ready in time?”
Mum and I stared at each other for a moment, then, with the hint of a wary smile, she said, “Have a little brekkie and I'll give you a hand. There should be enough time, and it won't hurt him to wait either.”
She gave me a hug then we went back to fixing breakfast.
When ten thirty finally arrived, I felt fairly ready but I was still nervous. I wasn't even sure that he would show up. Maybe I'd imagined the whole thing, or maybe he had to get back to his ship, or maybe he was completely lost from my directions and had headed back to Fremantle. By now I was absolutely certain that he wasn't coming, but, right on schedule, someone was driving up the access road.
I was outside grooming Snowy in the front driveway next to the utility shed. I'd thought about staying inside until he arrived, but Snowy needed some grooming before I took her out. David pulled up in a blue Subaru Outback and parked in front of the hay shed, got out of the car and walked straight over to me.
“Good morning, Eleanor,” he said, as he gave me a hug and a sweet little kiss.
He was dressed a bit smarter than last night, with slacks, dress shoes and a fresh jumper.
“Did you get any sleep?”
I couldn't help but smile. “No, not really, how about you?”
“I got a few winks,” he laughed, “but enough if you'd still like to take that drive together.”
“I wouldn't miss it. Do we have time for my ride first?”
“Of course, all the time you wish, but don't forget your promise.”
I'm not sure why, but I blushed as I remembered last night. “I won't forget. Now why don't we go inside and say hi to Mum and Dad, and then I'll take you round the farm.”
“After you, my love.”
David followed behind as I made my way up the path to the veranda where Mum and Dad were having a spot of tea.
“Would you care for some tea and a bikkie?” Mum asked David.
“Thank you, ma'am, if it's not too much trouble.”
Dad stood up with some difficulty, using his cane for balance while keeping the weight off his gammy foot, and extending his hand. “Come an' 'ave a seat. Me name's Michael, Eleana's father. Eleana tells us you’re a sailor off an American ship.”
“Yes sir, my name's David. I'm a naval flight officer.” He shook Dad's hand. “Our ship's at anchor in Fremantle, the USS Carl Vinson.”
“You'll 'ave to speak up, me 'earing's not wha' it used ta be,” Dad said loudly as he sat back down, with apparent relief. “Cane's for me bloomin' gout. Seems if somethin's worth eatin', it makes me gout worse. Still, aye can manage a bit o' gin, so all's not lost,” he gave out a hearty chuckle, “and it doesn' keep me off tha tractor.”
Mum came back with a cup of tea for David and a packet of chocolate biscuits.
“Thank you ma'am,” David said, standing up and taking the cup of tea, “and please forgive me, I neglected to introduce myself earlier. My name's David,” he said, extending his hand.
“Sally,” she replied, shaking his hand in return, “Eleana's mum. Care for a bikkie?” She offered David the biscuits.
“Yes, thank you,” David said, taking a biscuit from the packet and handing it back.
“Mum, can I have one too?” I could never pass up a chocolate biscuit.
“Would you like some of my tea?” David offered, noticing that I was the only one without a cup.
“No thanks, I can't stand the stuff.”
“Is that allowed? I always thought drinking tea was a prerequisite to being English,” David smiled.
“Aye, now ya know our family’s dirty laundry,” Dad added with a bit of a laugh. “Eleana's grandfatha' was a tea taster, and couldn't abide by any tea after tha'. Eleana no doubt gets it from 'im. Aye understan' yer only 'ere for anothe' day and then you’re on yer way back 'ome.”
“Yes sir, that's right, I have to be back aboard my ship Sunday afternoon, otherwise I have to swim home. I'm afraid that I'm imposing on your daughter's good nature to show me a bit of the real Australia before my ship leaves, but the truth is I've become very fond of your daughter in the hours since we've met. I hope we can stay in touch after I leave.”
“Don' ya blokes 'ave a lass in every por'?”
Mum and I gave Dad a hard look, but he was smiling, paying no attention to us, and was definitely up to no good.
“No sir... well, not yet anyway,” David replied with a bit of a grin.
Mum got up. “Mouse, you and I should get Snowy ready for your ride, and I'll set out a pair of wellies for David.”
David stood up, immediately realizing his error and flashing me a penitent smile. “Thank you ma'am, I'll be right there.”
I followed Mum, and David sat back down to finish his talk with Dad.
Mum and I tacked and brushed Snowy and Mum was helping me on when Dad and David came out talking and laughing. David was wearing the oversized gum boots that Mum set out.
I heard Dad wish us both a safe trip, telling David to stop back by before buggering off to America.
Seeing us waiting, David jogged over to us. “Are we off, then?”
“Yes, off you go. Eleanor will show you how to deal with the gates. Have a good ride, Mouse,” Mum said.
We started off at a fast walk, side by side, with David jogging to keep up. I was feeling charitable, so we slowed to a walk and I took care of the first few gates on the way to the back paddock.
“I love the trees, they’re so different from back home. What are they?”
“Those are blue gums,” I said as I pointed with my riding crop, “and those are red gums. That bushy one over there is blackboy and that one's jarrah. We also passed a macadamia nut tree on our way out.” I pointed back behind us. “Most of the fence posts are made of jarrah, as it's a very hard wood that can last fifty years or more.”
“Any crocodile around these parts?”
“No, not round here, it's not wet enough for crocs, but you should mind the snakes, the redbacks and scorpions. Then, if you fancy a swim, keep an eye out for sharks, box jellyfish, the blue ring octopus, stonefish, stingrays, sea snakes and an assortment of other hazardous creatures. Oh, and watch out for the cone shell snail – they have pretty shells, but they're deadly too and they can shoot you with a tiny poisonous harpoon before you know it.
“That'd be embarrassing, being killed by a snail.”
I laughed, “Most won't bother you unless you bother them, and if you're quick enough, they have anti-venom for most of the dangerous ones. Except for the blue ring octopus, sea snakes and a few others that are pretty much fatal. And the box jellies are extremely painful and can put you in a coma, or worse.”
“Sounds like a rough neighbourhood, but it doesn't seem to bother you too much.”
“Nah, there are worse things, all kinds of nasty viruses that you can catch around estuaries and creeks from mossies, bities or even swimming in fresh water.” I wasn't sure if I really wanted to go down this road yet, but I supposed there was no time like the present and he seemed too much a gentleman to ask, which was good, as I hated when people came up and asked why I couldn't walk – it was none of their blasted business!
Anyway, here goes. “My legs, for instance. I was only two years old when I got the virus that did this. They never did figure out what it was. Mum thinks I picked it up while visiting hospital for shots. Still, it could have been much worse. When it happened, nothing worked from my neck down, and look at me now, I have feeling down to my toes, and I can even wiggle them. When I'm on my horse, I'm absolutely free.” I looked over at David as he smiled at me. “I actually use my legs all the time, they're really strong. I was in hospital for a long time trying to get everything to work again. The physio thought she could get everything working too, but the surgeons wouldn't wait and cut out some muscles that helped stabilize my legs and hips. They made it so I could sit in a chair, but without those muscles there was no way I'd ever walk again. Mum and Dad couldn't stay at hospital with me, they had to work the farm, but when they found out about the surgeries, they got me out of there and took me home before they did any more damage. They were under a lot of pressure from surgeons, doctors and all sorts of odd-bod busy bodies that thought I'd be better off in hospital – for the rest of my life – but Mum and Dad and Gran and Grandpa wouldn't have it and fought to take care of me themselves. I still have nightmares about hospital and the surgeries they did – they hurt so much, and I was all alone. I'll never trust a surgeon or hospital as long as I live.”
There, it was out.
Approaching the gate for the back paddocks, I asked, “Can you get the gate for me? Just untwist the wire loop and pull it through.”
“No problem, I hope.” He ran up and looked at the mangled wire. “Okay, I see it. It looks simple enough, I think...” He fiddled with it for a minute then threw the wire back and swung the gate wide.
“See, you'll make a jackaroo yet.”
“Make a what?”
“A jackaroo, a farm hand.”
“Thanks, that actually sounds like it could be fun. Beautiful weather, fresh food, minutes from the ocean for a refreshing swim after a hot sweaty day, an ice cold beer and my sweetie to give me a back rub, and maybe a wee bit more,” he said, looking up with that devilish grin. “Yep, sounds better every time I think about it.”
He looked at me like he was going to ask me a question but stumbled on a piece of wood, not quite falling down, but looking a bit embarrassed.
“Tripped on a dugite, did you?”
David looked up with a slightly mischievous look, “Yeah, hope I didn't hurt the little guy.” Then he went on, “You do look at home on that animal – you seem truly happy and con...”
“Look, over there in that bushy spot next to the boundary fence. I see maybe two dozen in the mob, plus a joey or maybe two.”
“I see them, about two o'clock. They're standing there like they haven't seen us.”
“Don't worry, they're used to Snowy and me. They'll let us get a bit closer before they bolt.”
We continued without a word, getting half as close again before stopping.
“The joey is still playing. If they were concerned about us, the flyer would call out and the joey would jump into her pouch before the mob takes off,” I said in a hushed tone.
“That'd be really something, I'm really looking forward to seeing that.”
“There's actually an Aboriginal story that tells how the kangaroo got her pouch – it's very sweet. It begins as a kangaroo mum, or flyer, is grooming her joey when an elderly wombat stumbles by them. The wombat is whinging and carrying on about how she's old and blind and has no friends and she's hungry and thirsty and can't find food or water. The flyer takes pity on her, agrees to be her friend and lets the wombat hold onto her tail while they go search for food and water. It takes quite a while, but they get the old wombat her water and food, only to realize that the flyer's joey has wandered off, which happen every time the flyer turns her back. She finally finds her joey asleep under a blue gum tree and decides to go back to check on the wombat, only to find her being stalked by a hunter with a boomerang. The kangaroo gets the hunter to follow her to spare the wombat, then manages to lose the hunter before returning to her joey. He’s waking up from his nap only to find that the wombat is a great god who has descended from the sky world to find which of his creatures had the kindest heart. The god is so pleased with the kangaroo that she gives her a pouch to hold her joey as a gift of thanks and recognition, but the kangaroo's heart is so kind that she only wants the gift if she can share it with all the marsupials, and that's how all the marsupials got their pouches.”
“That's a cute story.”
“Yeah, the Aborigines have lots of stories about the animals and the land. They call them dreamings and pass them down from generation to generation. I don't know why exactly, but I'm fond of that story. It really suits the flyers, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy watching them so much.”
We stood there watching the kangaroos until they sensed something was amiss and, as I'd predicted, the flyer called out, her joey climbed into her pouch and off they hopped.
“Wow, that's so cool – it's exactly what I'd hoped to see.”
“You’re the only person I've ever brought back here except Mum, and she brought me.”
“Thank you, I'll always remember Australia this way.”
“Do you want to head back now?”
“You’re the guide.”
On the way back I thought I'd get a little payback. A girl in every port, eh? We’d have to see about that. It was a sunny day, and David had already stripped off his shirt and jumper, tying them round his waist. He was already sweating quite a bit, but now it was time for a little fun.
“Time for a little exercise. Let's see if you can keep up,” I said as I urged Snowy into a trot and we quickly moved ahead, but much to my surprise, David caught up in no time. He seemed to have less trouble keeping up at a trot than he did at a walk, though he was mucking about with the gates a bit as he caught his breath back up. Still, I'd have to say he gave it some welly, especially in those oversized gum boots.
When we got back, Mum met us and helped me slip off Snowy and back onto my Quickie. David was standing in front of Snowy holding her reins, sweat dripping off his body as he caught his breath. His T-shirt, soaked with sweat, clung to his body leaving little to the imagination. He was a little thin, but obviously in good shape. He must do more than sit behind the controls of a jet, I mused, then quickly averted my eyes as I realized I was staring. Hopefully no one noticed, but I felt my cheeks tingle with embarrassment.
Mum came over and handed me some carrots.
“Did you two have a good potter?” Mum asked as she unhitched Snowy's girth strap.
“Yes, thanks Mum, it was great.”
David reached over and handed Mum the free end of the girth strap over the saddle. “You have a beautiful farm, ma'am, I really enjoyed seeing it.”
“I had a nice trot on the way back,” I said to Mum as I gave Snowy a pat and fed her the carrots as she proceeded to drool all over my jodhpurs in appreciation.
“I saw that. You had quite a long trot, well done Mouse.”
I gave Snowy a big hug before Mum lead her back to her paddock then I turned to David.
“So, what did you think of our ride?”
“I thought it was a great workout... and I think I fell in love... with Australia... and you.”
David bent down, surveying my face with his eyes, and with that wonderful smile, he put his arms around me and he held me tight. I did the same, still hot and sweaty, dishevelled and covered in horse drool, but I couldn't think of a better way to end a ride, I felt completely and utterly loved, oddly enough, in a way that was so candid and sincere that I had trouble breathing as I held back a tear.
After a quick change of clothes, we decided to take David's Subaru Outback for our drive south as I was pretty knackered from lack of sleep, and he felt awake enough to drive – even on the wrong side of the road, as he put it – so long as I kept an eye on him. Even so, he started off helping me in on the wrong side of the car, but once we got going, everything went pretty smoothly.
“How are we doing, my love?” David asked, driving south on the Bussel highway.
“We have a way to go before the turn-off at Margaret River, it's well signposted.”
“So tell me about your parents. I'm not sure your mother approves of my sense of humour.”
“Is that what it was?” I looked at his face with hint of concern, but mainly amusement. I had absolutely no reason to be jealous, but neither did I wish to become one of his port-calls, especially if that position included a clutch of ankle-biters to go with it. But let's be fair, how could anyone reasonably be jealous after knowing someone for less than a day? “Dad was only having a go at you, so I don't know why Mum would even take notice. She's used to Dad's little jokes.”
“Your Dad has quite a sense of humour. I really enjoyed meeting him, even though I had a bit of trouble with his accent. I hope we have time for another chat before I have to go.”
“Mum and Dad are really great, they always went out of their way to make things work when I was growing up. Mum made sure I had a horse to ride, and Dad took a landscape and maintenance position at Boyanup Primary so he could help me on and off the bus, up and down stairs or take care of any of the other issue that would come up from time to time. I couldn't ask for better parents.”
“You do have a great life, I'm really envious. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my own life, but, to me you have everything that you could ever want at your fingertips – great weather, beautiful beaches, incredible parks, I even love your trees. To grow up on a farm here, I couldn't imagine anything better.”
“I see your point, and yes, I know I have a lot to be thankful for. There's only one thing that I can think of that I don't have.”
“Really, what else could you possible want?”
“I want you... I only want you.” I turned my head, looking out the side window to hide the tear in my eye.
We both sat quietly for a bit as we continued our drive south, both lost in thought, not knowing where to go from here.
“There's our turn up ahead, make sure you stay left of the centre line.” I still wasn't sure what to say, but at least this would give us something to do while I tried to figure it out. “The turn-off for the winery should be about a kilometre further on the left side.”
“That's great, I'm really getting hungry, and you must be famished too,” David said as he started the turn. “And don't worry so much, you have me at least until Sunday.” He reached over and rubbed my shoulder.
My eyes opened wide as I quickly exclaimed, “LEFT, KEEP LEFT!”
David looked up quickly, widening his turn to avoid the oncoming traffic. “Unless I kill us both, in which case you can have me forever,” he added with a smile, as he continued to rub my shoulder.
The winery was stunning. Even the car park was impeccably landscaped with indigenous plants, vine-covered gums, blackboy and flowers of every colour and variety. David came round and opened my door.
“I'd no idea! This is paradise...” Looking down he realized that he'd forgotten my Quickie. He went back and opened the boot and quickly retrieved it, bringing it round to my door.
He hadn't yet unfolded it, so I demonstrated. “You push down here on the seat like this.” I reached over, gave it a push and the Quickie popped open and was almost ready to go. “Now all we need is my cushion.”
“Cushion? Of course...” He went back and opened the boot again, grabbed the cushion and brought it round.
“This is the front, so turn it this way, set it on the velcro and, as we Poms say, Bob's your uncle.” I transferred myself over onto the cushion, positioned my feet on the footrests and backed away from the car door.
David closed the door, appearing amused but still a tad befuddled, so as he started to walk by, I caught his hand and gently pulled him toward me. Turning my Quickie closer to him, I placed my other hand behind his neck and when his face was level with mine I kissed him deeply and with the full force of my passion for him. He placed his hand in my lap to steady himself as his other hand went behind my head, returning my kiss with almost reckless abandon.
In a few minutes, as if remembering where we were, he straightened himself and looked questioningly into my eyes, “Are you sure you've never kissed anyone before?”
“Well... there was this bloke once, outside the Lord Forest – not a bad bloke, really,” I said with a smile. Then I leaned forward and pulled his face close to mine and said softly into his ear, “Thank you... for taking me here today.”
Rubbing his cheek gently against mine he replied softly in my ear, “Thank you... for showing me paradise.” Then, kissing my ear, his lips traced a line back to my open mouth as we continued our passionate embrace.
“Shall we venture inside?”
At a loss for words, I gave a slight nod, to which he responded with another kiss.
The oversized front doors opened into a grand entrance revealing a reception desk, a bottle shop attached to the reception area, a tasting room in the far corner and a large formal dining area. An attractive young blonde woman in an orange and cream floral pattern sun-dress with an open back was seated behind the reception desk and stood up to greet us.
“How ya goin' mate, are ya 'ere for tha tour?” the receptionist asked David.
“We would actually like some lunch, if you're still serving.”
“Yeah, no worries, 'ave a seat where ya like an' I'll bring some menus.”
“Actually... Emily,” he said, quickly reading her name tag, “do you have something a little more private?”
She looked at him as if she thought it an odd request.
“Something a little more intimate, perhaps,” he added, flashing her a smile.
“Yea... of course,” she responded as if it took her a minute to comprehend. “Me favourite table is in tha garden, but ye 'ave ta go down a few steps.”
“That's no problem... no problem at all,” he said reassuringly.
“No worries then, right this way,” she said, picking up our menus.
It was only three stairs and a short garden path to a little round table under a red umbrella with pretty sprays of flowers all around. It was completely off on its own. David removed the extra chair, then moved his chair next to mine, giving me a lovely kiss before sitting down.
“Thanks Emily, this is perfect.”
 “Ace!” She smiled, then continued, “We 'ave two specials t'day, we 'ave a lovely chicken pot pie for two with garden fresh veggies an' we 'ave a beautiful pan fried barramundi with chips.”
“Eleanor, would you like to share a chicken pot pie with me?” David asked, sounding hopeful.
“My stomach is still a bit queer, but I'll have a little, if I can have a lemon squash to go with it.” I really didn't feel much like eating, but I'd pay later if I didn't have something.
“All right, then,” he said turning to Emily, “we'll share the chicken pot pie, but can I have a garden salad to start with?”
“Of course, sir, an' what can I get ye ta drink?”
“I'll have a glass of your Chardonnay, and Eleanor would like a lemon squash. And can we have a look at your dessert menu?”
“No worries... an' it'll be about twenty minutes for the pot pie, but it's worth the wait and I do fancy the chocolate soufflé m'self, which takes ten minutes to cook, but we can start it when we serve your dinner.”
“What do you think, my love, are you up to sharing a chocolate soufflé?”
“Sounds scrummy, could we?”
“I thought your stomach was upset?” he teased with an inquisitive smile.
“Chocolate always makes me feel better – it's the only true miracle cure.”
He chuckled, then nodded agreement.
“Okay, it's settled, we'll have your chocolate soufflé. Thanks Emily.”
“Matthew'll be yer server an 'e'll be right out with yer drinks. Enjoy you two,” she added as she left us to our cosy little table.
“I love this place,” David said, taking my hand in his. “In fact, I've loved everything about this trip since I left Perth and headed down this way. This is the Australia that I'd hoped I'd find; the warm, friendly Australia of my dreams. And now you'll always be part of that as well.”
“I want to be part of your life, not your dreams,” I said, without thinking.
David sat back with a distant stare. “I wish it was that easy, but I have duties and obligations, and they take me a long way from here.”
“I'm sorry, I know it's impossible,” I said with a mixture of hope and trepidation. “I'm not completely daft. I've known you for less than a day and I already want to be part of your life? While my mind tells me it's absurd, my heart tells me something else.”
Catching me completely off-guard, David leaned forward, kissing me with such uninhibited passion that I closed my eyes and lost myself in a dreamy world where our two naked souls danced and played, and when our lips did part, it took me a moment to come back, feeling all warm and tingly, still clinging to the memory of his lovely warm embrace...
He smiled contently then sat back down. “Eleanor, have you ever realized that our lives are defined by a series of brief but beautiful moments, starting with the moment we're born, first ride a horse, drive a car, fly a plane, our first kiss and so on, until the day we move on from this world... and we spend most of that life trying to get from one beautiful moment to the next. What if this is that beautiful moment, and we missed it? What if we look back one day and realize that this was the most important moment of our lives and we let it slip away? I can't promise you what tomorrow will bring, but I feel like we've been looking for each other for most of our lives, and now we have only hours left to share. There is something deep inside me that's telling me, even yelling at me, not to let go, to hold on and truly embrace the time we have. Tomorrow will work itself out, but for now, as they say, Carpe Diem, which means – and I'm paraphrasing here – have the fish today because it may not smell so good tomorrow.”
I laughed. Silly or not, I loved him and knew he was right.
“All joking aside, I really do mean that. I don't want to look back and wonder what could have been. I know in my heart that this is the best time of our lives, and I know I'll always...”
The server interrupted.
”G'day, I'm Matthew, I 'ave a lemon squash for the laady, and a Chardonnay for the gentleman. I'll be right back with your salad.”
“Thanks Matthew,” David said, and as our waiter left David turned to me. “I know I'll always see it that way. Now I want to know everything that I can about you. Start with all of your favourite things, and end with everything you despise, and don't miss anything in between.”
“Okay,” I started, a touch flustered, but I soon warmed to the idea. After all, I was looking forward to delving into his secrets. “Well, let's see, riding will always be the top of my list. I love having my own horses. I ride English style, and compete in dressage. In addition to riding snowy, I ride at the Boyanup Riding for Disabled Association. I've been working to master the canter so that I can do more advanced dressage tests, but I haven't found a horse with a smooth enough transition, and I keep getting thrown when I go from trot to canter. I won’t give up, though, I only need to find the right horse.”
“You do have an undeniable glow when you ride, and even when you talk about horses you have a smile that lights up the world around you. I love your confidence, it's incredible, as if you’re part horse yourself. You're more in your element on a horse than anywhere else I've seen you.”
Matthew was back with our salad and dinner rolls. “Ere ye are, is there anythin' else I can get for ya?”
“No, this is great. Thanks Matthew.”
I went on as David shared the salad between us. “I suppose my next favourite thing would be my car. I love the freedom of having a car that I can hop into and drive off whenever I feel like it. Tomorrow you'll have to let me take you for a drive – I'll show you how the hand controls work, and how I can get in and out. It's a bit of work, but nothing when I consider the freedom I get in return. On top of that, I can run errands for Mum and Dad, go shopping, meet up with friends, drive to my physio and all that sort of thing.”
“Are you going to have some salad?” David asked, offering me some bread.
“I'll have a bit with my bread, I'm really not that hungry. My stomach's still not over itself. I really don't think I was ever meant to have alcohol.”
“Okay, but you're missing a great salad – everything is so fresh. I haven't had anything like this since we left San Diego four months ago... I was hoping to go with you on another ride tomorrow, and then you could drive me someplace you like to go. You can surprise me.”
“I'll have to give that some thought. There are so many places I'd love to show you – I really wish you had more time.”
“I do too, but I've already violated orders to come down here. We were told not to rent cars while we were on shore leave, but being a brown shoe, I've always tended to skirt the rules a little. I tend to follow the Aviator's creed somewhat religiously. In the air there is no time to ask questions, so we do what we need to do and if we're wrong, beg forgiveness after we land. I think that applies in life as well.”
“Brown shoe?” I asked, a little perplexed.
“Sorry, in the Navy, officers in the aviation community wear brown shoes with khakis and everyone else wears black shoes, hence the terms 'brown shoe' or 'black shoe'. Anyway, I could talk my way out of one transgression, but if I didn't get back in time and missed movement, they'd probably give me a BCD.”
“A what?”
“A Bad Conduct Discharge. It’s a less than upstanding way to leave the service, to say the very least.”
“That doesn't sound so bad, at least we could be together,” I said wistfully.
David laughed. “When I do choose to leave the military, I'd prefer to leave on favourable terms – I may joke around a bit, but I'm actually very dedicated to what I do for my country, and I'd never do anything to jeopardize that.”
Matthew was back with our lunch. “I 'ave your chicken pot pie, would you like me to serve it for ya?”
“No thanks Matthew, we can manage, but can you please make sure that they start our soufflé. We still have a bit of a drive before it gets dark.”
“No worries, I'll get it goin'.”
“Here you go my love, you need to eat something to keep up your energy for whatever else we might get up to along the way.”
“You're bad! Anyway, the chocolate soufflé will give me all the energy I need,” I replied with mock innocence.
“Now who's being bad?” David grinned.
I was hungrier than I thought, so we both ate quietly until Matthew brought out our dessert.
“And here is your soufflé,” Matthew announced. “Can I take your dinner plates?”
“Thank you.” David handed Matthew the two dinner plates.
“I'll be right back with your dessert plates.” Matthew turned to leave.
“That's all right Matthew, we're sharing anyway. We'll be out to settle up in a moment.”
“Of course sir, no worries, then.”
David picked up a dessert spoon. “Are you ready for the first bite, my love?” he asked, scooping out the best looking bit and checking the temperature. He leaned over, kissed me gently and then fed me the lovely bite.
“Oh, this is heaven,” I remarked as David leaned forward for another kiss.
We ate over half of the soufflé this way, kissing between bites, before we put down our spoons and continued to kiss until we'd lost track of time.
“That was beautiful, thank you,” I said, feeling completely sated. “I need to freshen up a bit before we go.”
David helped me up the path, and the three stairs. “I'll settle our tab and then meet you in the tasting room when you’re done.”
When I came out of the ladies room, David was chatting with Emily and Matthew in the tasting room. As soon as he saw me, he shook hands with Matthew and gave Emily a friendly hug and waved goodbye as he walked over towards me. Leaning over, he gave me another kiss and we made our way out to the car.
Opening the passenger door for me, David asked, “Do we still have time to get to Cape Leeuwin and back before dark?”
I moved my Quickie into place and slid across to the passenger seat. “Yes, it might be a little dark by the time we get home, but we don't have to stay long. Unless we stay for sunset, in which case it'll be quite dark.”
“We'll, I'm really looking forward to it, and we're nearly there anyway,” David said as he pulled the Quickie back and closed the passenger door. After folding the Quickie and putting it in the boot, he jumped in the driver’s seat. “Okay then, we're off.”
The drive down to Cape Leeuwin was longer than I thought, and as I was right knackered I nodded off for a good half an hour. I woke up as we were pulling off into the car park with a lovely view of Cape Leeuwin and the lighthouse. There wasn't much to get out for, as it was only a dirt pull-off and there wasn't even a proper walking path, so we set our seats back and rolled down the windows to relax for a bit while we watched the waves crashing against the cliffs surrounding the lighthouse. It was a ruggedly beautiful shoreline and, with the sunset rapidly approaching, an exceptional vantage point to take it all in.
“I love doing this, sitting here watching the waves with my sweetie. I wish we could do this forever,” I remarked dreamily.
“I know what you mean and your wish might actually come true – we're almost out of gas. I didn't notice until we we're pulling off the highway.”
“It may be difficult to find a servo that's open late,” I said.
“Oh well, worst case we can make it to a hotel, and get gas in the morning.”
“Did you plan this?” I asked hopefully.
“I'm a navy tactical commander, so OF COURSE I planned this, and that's what I'll tell anyone who asks.”
“What about MY reputation?” I asked, feigning shock and indignation.
“You’re a civilian and I outrank you, so my reputation always comes first,” he answered in a commanding but jovial tone.
David rolled onto his side facing me. “Now, come here and give me a kiss.”
I rolled onto my side facing him, put my arms around him and kissed him deeply, exploring the benefits of our new-found predicament as David did the same, kissing me back with greater and greater intensity and playfulness.
As the late afternoon waned, I whispered, “Shouldn't we go find a hotel?”
David smiled, pulling me closer and giving me a big hug and another pash kiss. “No, my love, we passed a gas station when I pulled off the highway a few miles back, and they're open late. After all, I have my reputation to consider, don't I?” He flashed me a smile and a wink.
He laughed until I started laughing too, then I rolled over and punched him in the stomach as hard as I could, but he just kept laughing.
We did stay for the sunset, cuddling and kissing, until I forgave him completely – which took all of two seconds, but I never told him that as making up seemed half the fun.
“It'll be dark soon, sweetie, shouldn't we start heading back?”
“Yes, my love. I'm sorry, I really didn't want our day to end so soon.”
By the time we got back on the highway it was starting to get quite dark. We were both exhausted from lack of sleep, and while I did my best to keep David from nodding off, we ended up pulling off the highway several times for a quick nap and a lovely cuddle. We agreed to meet early in the morning, but had time for a quiet stroll under the stars and we lingered as long as we could, kissing until we were both falling asleep in each other’s arms then, begrudgingly, I watched him drive away. I stood watching the empty road for quite some time, hoping that he might turn around and come back, then went inside and collapsed on my bed, dreaming of the beautiful day, and all the time that we'd shared.

The heroine of this book is one of the most amazing women! She's strong but real in her struggles with life in a wheelchair. She's smart, sexy and a true horse lover. Anyone who loves horses, airplanes, Australia and a fun, inspiring romance story will love this book!

Interview With the Author
Hello David, thank you for joining me today to discuss your new book, A Canter of the Heart.
While I understand that you are co-author and publisher of the book, E. E. West is actually the only listed author, can you explain why that is?
Yes, of course...  My wife and I had, over the years, discussed my desire to become a writer, and over those years we spoke of several story ideas, but paying the bills and a busy life always seemed to take precedence, as it does for most. Eleanor was always a voracious reader, and always had a book with her – if it was a sunny day, you could count on finding her sitting in the garden, enjoying the sun while reading the latest Jayne Ann Krentz novel or re-reading a book from one of her other favorite authors. Needless to say, I always valued her advice, and she had always encouraged me to follow my dreams. I only wish she was here to help me proof read and market her book, but Eleanor passed away nearly two years ago, which is when I realized that I had to write this book – it was no longer an option. As I wrote, I always felt that she was writing it with me, helping me through story problems and giving me direction – I felt closer to her while I was writing, so I couldn't stop. As much of the dialog in this book came from our letters – we must have written over three hundred letters and post cards to each other over that time - and the book was written religiously in Eleanor's voice, even using Australian spelling and strine for authenticity, I always knew that this was Eleanor's book, though I take full credit for any errors or over-embellishments. Maybe it's naive on my part, but I always hoped that Eleanor could live on through these books and enjoy a degree of immorality. I guess that's the long-winded way of putting it, but E. E. West was Eleanor's maiden name, and the pen name that we chose for romance novels.
I am very sorry for your loss... Was this one of the books that you discussed?
No, I started writing a science fiction romance novel that was one of the books that we'd roughed out, but my mind kept returning to this book idea. Initially I didn't think it was a good story, but the more I thought about it the more it came together, and I liked the two opposing love stories, her special love of horses and riding and her almost opposing desire for the love of a man, a man from the opposite side of the world with almost nothing in common except their intense love for each other.
You told me that the book is based on a true story, how closely does it follow that story?
The book is based on a true story, but I feel it is better described as historical fiction because the fictional story is built around the timeline that is set by the actual port-logs from the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham Lincoln as well as the dates of military conflicts, geological events and the actual dates of dressage competitions in West Australia. Once the time-line was set, the fictional events and dialog were inserted to build the story around the actual events, much the way you would go about writing historical fiction.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Trying to remain somewhat authentic and true to the dialect and strine used by different characters without going overboard was a challenge, and could still use a bit of pruning on the next edit, but writing this book in general was a considerable challenge as, for me, it was emotionally charged to write even though the book was written to be very positive and is fully intended to be a fun, enjoyable read.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope they enjoy reading the book, that they laugh out loud at the humor, and cry when things don't quite work out, but in the end I hope they are inspired by the friendships that develop, and take with them the underlying theme, that if you're willing to take that giant leap of faith, that true love will prevail and overcome all obstacles.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Including re-writes and copy-editing, the book took a year and a half to complete, almost to the day.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
The writing is targeted for ages eighteen to forty.
What is your writing routine?
After dropping my children off at school, I try to write as close to two thousand words as possible, and if I have time left over, I will do research. In the evenings after I pick up my children and make dinner I try to organize my thoughts for the next day and then read my youngest a bedtime story.
How did you get your book published?
I published through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords in the various ebook formats.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
If you're having trouble with motivation, get involved with a creative writing group for inspiration and advice. Don't wait for the right time, because it may never come, and simply do your best and write when you can.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
When I'm not doing laundry or cleaning house, I enjoy spending time with my children. We enjoy taking our dog on a trail run and other times we enjoy a day out in Seattle to visit one of the many art museums, the EMP or the science center. We also love taking a ferry ride for a day trip to one of the many islands around the Puget Sound.
What does your family think of your writing?
My children believe in me – what else is there.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
Up to high school, I attended a Seattle school called Evergreen that encouraged creative thinking and self-reliance while allowing students to progress at their own pace. It was a very positive curriculum that  encouraged self-driven children to achieve the things that they were most passionate about, and I feel that this was a large factor in the development of my own creativity.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes, I always enjoyed becoming fully immersed in the new worlds of books, with new friends and new enemies at every turn. There is nothing quite like it - even the cinema cannot match the immersive qualities of a well written book.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I grew up with the works of Richard Bach, Tom Robbins, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, to name a few, but lately I've enjoyed some of Nicholas Sparks works and I've been re-reading some Jayne Ann Krentz. I'm also enjoying reading a wider variety of new and debut authors that I hear of through Goodreads, such as Casey Hays, Enrico Antiporda, and Marc Secchia.
Do you hear from your readers much?
I've just started getting reviews and ratings, but my readers have all been very positive, supportive and surprisingly helpful. There were some comments about the use of dialect and strine that makes some of the characters more of a challenge to understand, but most realize that I did this to make the novel as authentic as possible, which was very important to me as I wrote the book. It was important to me that Eleanor's voice stood out, and Eleanor's friends were very kind to tell me that it was like they were listening to Eleanor.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I am working on the next book in The Equestrian and the Aviator series and I'm also working on a science fiction action/romance novel that I also hope to have out later this year.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, David. Best of luck with your future projects.

From the Author
I've been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for the better part of two decades, and blithely accept life in the shadows of the nesting grounds of bald eagles while ensconced amidst the company of wild, damp and understandably nervous bunnies. I prefer to write at the dining room table, where the light is better and I can work next to Simon, the sweetest one hundred and twenty pound Rottweiler that you're ever likely to meet - except when he's in the mood to editorialize, which he is only on rare occasions. I much prefer to write love stories that take place in warm, sunny and exotic locales as I admire and rate the latest downpour direct from the Pacific Northwest's over-active convergence zone, but in my heart I will forever be drawn back to the lucky country ... Australia ... and maybe one more lovely canter along an endless beach.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card.