Outback Ghost (Bunyip Bay #3)
Harlequin MIRA AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
For the last 20 years, Adam’s family has been broken. His younger sister disappeared one day from the family farm while playing with Adam – he only took his eyes off her for a few minutes. He was just ten and even though he knows it wasn’t his fault, he’s carried the guilt with him. His mother has never gotten over the tragedy and the fact that they’ve never found out what happened has left her nothing but a shell. After so long trying to get through to his wife, Adam’s father has given up.
Single mother Stella has scrimped and saved to give her young daughter Heidi a proper holiday for Christmas. They are renting a farmstay cabin on Adam’s property for two weeks and Stella is looking forward to spending a lot of quality time with her daughter. Even though Stella hasn’t had a relationship in a long time and the last one left her let down completely, she can’t help being attracted to Adam who is not only gorgeous but treats her special needs daughter with touching tenderness and warmth. Perhaps it is time she did something just for herself…after all, they’re only staying two weeks.
But then Heidi becomes somewhat tangled up in the 20 year mystery that surrounds Adam’s family and Stella knows that it isn’t going to be easy explaining it. As they get closer and closer to finding the answer of what happened to his younger sister all those years ago can both Stella and Adam lay their respective ghosts to rest?
Outback Ghost is the third and final novel in the Bunyip Bay series that kicked off with Outback Dreams and then Outback Blaze. Running through both of those books was a story about the disappearance of Adam Burton’s sister. Finally Adam gets his story and we get to learn more about that day twenty years ago when his sister vanished and also, discover what happened to her. Having really enjoyed both the previous books in this series, I was very keen to find out how it was all going to end and get to the bottom of the mystery! We get all that….but also lots more.
I take my hat off to Stella. She found out she was pregnant at a young age and although her boyfriend was willing to support her and marry her, that all changed when it became known that the baby might potentially have a birth defect. When that was all but confirmed, he ended things. Stella has brought up her 7 year old daughter Heidi completely on her own with no family support. She has worked various jobs and done her best to be not only mother but father as well. She and Heidi are having a proper holiday staying in a cottage on a farm and Stella is looking forward to two weeks with her daughter. Heidi is a charming child, curious and engaging, sweet and with a gentle empathy. She loves animals and seeks to befriend everyone. Initially worried at how some may react to Heidi and her utter openness with everyone, Stella relaxes when she sees just how welcoming the people of Bunyip Bay are and how they seek to involve Heidi in everything. She spends a lot of time with Adam’s mother who is still suffering and grieving the disappearance of her daughter. No one has known how to help her but the simplest of things, the joyful company of a little girl, begins working wonders and Adam watches the life and spark slowly begin to come back into his mother.
I absolutely loved watching everyone interact with Heidi. I haven’t read many (if any? none really come to mind) books that feature a character who has a special needs child. Heidi has a natural keenness to explore and learn and she’s also incredibly affectionate and sweet. She develops a rather special relationship with Adam’s mother, providing the sort of therapy that perhaps no one else could. I could not help but feel for Adam’s mother Esther. To lose a child is horrific – to not get any answers about what happened to that child for two decades, to not know if they were gone really so you could lay them to rest, I can’t even imagine it. I have two amazing kids and the thought of what happened to Esther and the Burton family….I can’t even contemplate it. The lack of answers would be like a poison. It hasn’t just affected Esther and her husband Dave but also Adam. He was just 10 when his sister disappeared and she was with him at the time. His whole childhood, adolescence and adulthood has basically been shaped and revolved around that one incident. Because of it he doesn’t really believe that he deserves a loving relationship and the possibility of children so like Stella, he isn’t looking.
Two people who aren’t looking definitely find each other and it’s an instant attraction but both of them try at different times to either ignore it or pretend that it’s only going to be a temporary, casual thing, neither wanting to see the long term possibilities and perhaps face disappointment. Stella has been let down and she knows that it’s going to take someone really special to accept her daughter and not just the willing man but a family and community as well who won’t point and stare or exclude. Heidi’s bond with Esther gives both of them something they need – Heidi gets a surrogate grandmother in a way and Esther begins the process of healing.
Outback Ghost is a fitting end to the trilogy and although I’m a little sad to say goodbye to Bunyip Bay, I can do it feeling satisfied.
Book #187 of 2014
Outback Ghost is book #68 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014