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Authors: Rula Sinara

The Promise of Rain

BOOK: The Promise of Rain
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He wants to take her child out of Africa…

The Busara elephant research and rescue camp on Kenya’s Serengeti is Anna Bekker’s life’s work. And it’s the last place she thought she’d run into Dr. Jackson Harper. As soon as he sets eyes on her four-year-old, Pippa, Anna knows he’ll never leave…without his daughter.

Furious doesn’t begin to describe how Jack feels. How could Anna keep this from him? He has to get his child back to the States. Yet as angry as he is with Anna, they still have a bond. But can it endure, despite the ocean—and the little girl—between them?

Anna had faced just about every dangerous wild animal in Kenya.

And yet she’d never been as horrified as she was now, facing Jack and hearing what he had to say to her. This was exactly what she’d been afraid of, what she had known would happen if he found out about Pippa….

He couldn’t take Pippa away from her. No. Way.

“Jack. Don’t talk like that. You don’t take a baby from its mother. You can’t.” Her hands felt numb and she flexed her fingers.

“I’m not leaving her here. My name is on that birth certificate. I have rights.”

“The right to what? Uproot her? Scare her? Take her from the only family she’s ever known? You want to take her screaming and kicking, Jack? Is that what your father-daughter bonding experience is going to be about?”

Jack climbed back into the Jeep.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“I’m not going anywhere until you agree not to do anything crazy.”

Dear Reader,

I’ve always been fascinated by elephants. Such majestic and
powerful creatures, yet under an elephant’s thick skin is a nurturing, soulful
heart and mind that values family, community and love. Yes, love. They’re
emotional creatures who mourn the loss of loved ones, protect and care for both
their own young as well as orphans, and unfortunately, due to brutal poaching,
know firsthand that some wounds never heal. And though they march on to the next
watering hole, they remember. Behavioral researchers have observed them holding
grudges and reacting to the mere scent of someone who has caused them pain in
the past.

Memories and experiences shape us, often in good ways, but
sometimes they prevent us from embracing life. Fear of abandonment, trust and
self-worth are a few of the themes in my debut novel,
The
Promise of Rain.
Although both my hero and heroine have marched on
with their lives—on opposite sides of the world from each other—neither one
realizes just how much they’ve allowed their past wounds to erode their
self-worth and ability to trust in unconditional love.

We all express love differently. Some show…some tell…and
others silently ache for love. Sometimes all it takes is one drop to spring a
heart to life, so give without expectations, because every living thing has a
unique way of reciprocating love.

I hope you enjoy
The Promise of
Rain,
the first in a three-book series for the Harlequin Heartwarming
line. I love hearing from readers, so send me a note at
[email protected]
or pop by my website
at
www.rulasinara.com
or blog at
www.awritersrush.blogspot.com
.

Wishing you love and acceptance,

Rula Sinara

Rula Sinara

The Promise of Rain

RULA SINARA

After a childhood enriched with exotic travels and adventures (both in books and real life), Rula Sinara is now settled in rural Virginia with her husband, three boys and crazy but endearing pets. When she’s not writing, she’s busy attracting wildlife to her yard, watching romantic movies (despite male protests), or researching trees on her garden wish list. According to her kids, she’s obsessed with anything that grows, including the seed of a story idea and the love between unlikely characters.

Acknowledgments

I’d like to thank every writer, reader and blogger who, knowingly or unknowingly, taught, encouraged and inspired me. I’ve made so many dear friends, writers and industry professionals alike, who selflessly helped propel my writing dream forward and have stuck by my side along the way. You know who you are and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for every opportunity you’ve given me.

Thank you to Harlequin and everyone who is a part of their family for being there from the start. The invaluable educational and writing opportunities, community support and guidance for unpublished writers you provide made all the difference.

Also, a heartfelt thanks to animal charities and wildlife organizations who strive to stop both animal cruelty and the endangerment of species.

Dedication

To Stephanie, because sometimes friends know us better than we know ourselves. I’ll never forget the day we were having a heart-to-heart while washing dishes, and you turned to me and said that I should write a romance. Here it is, my friend.

To Kaily, whose fated friendship has meant the world to me. Thanks for sharing the writing journey with me, for all your advice and for being my rock along the way. Thank you for everything. There are no words…

To Jeannie, for taking me under her wing. I can’t thank you enough for your friendship, advice and constant support. This story would have never come to life if it weren’t for your caring nudge and belief in me. You opened the door for this book. I can’t thank you enough.

To Victoria, my extraordinary, gifted editor, for seeing something worth nurturing in my writing, from the first manuscript I ever penned, to the story between these covers. Your guidance, advice and faith in me have made this book so much stronger. You’ve been there from the start and you’ve made me a better writer. I’m forever grateful.

To my family for encouraging my love of writing since childhood and for believing I always had it in me. And to my guys at home for their support, patience and for taking up the slack when I needed to write. Thank you infinity.

In memory
of Anwhar…a kind, patient man and giving soul. Your friendship and advice will never be forgotten.

CHAPTER ONE

“H
EY
!” D
R
. A
NNA
B
EKKER
shielded her face as she peered up into the sprawling acacia tree that shaded her observation platform, and spotted her primate stalker. One bite of leftover fruit tossed to him in sympathy and four years later the little guy was as much a part of camp as anyone.

“Ambosi, you sadistic fool, fruit pits are not the way to get a girl’s attention. Get lost. I’m not playing,” Anna said, rubbing the lingering sore spot on the top of her head. He cackled and grinned before scrambling off on his three limbs to a nearby grove of elephant pepper trees for more ammunition. Some guys could not take a hint.

A screech pierced the background symphony of the Serengeti and an elephant rumble thrummed the air as the blood-orange hues of daybreak embraced the left side of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. Such a breathtaking balance of power and serenity. A daily affirmation that she’d made the right decision five years ago. Anna downed the last of her coffee.

Time to face her beloved chaos.

Tightening her fingers around the metal handle of her mug, she braced herself on the edge of the wooden platform she’d helped erect, and hopped down. A mushroom of dust billowed around her boots.

Anna looked up at the sky. Solid, morbid blue. They needed rain—badly—and they were still a month away from the start of the next rainy season. The Busara Research camp had tapped into an underground stream, but animals didn’t have pump wells or deep roots. Even Busara’s well was getting low. If any more riverbeds dried up, the herds would either move beyond Anna’s observation area, or die. As if the poaching numbers this year hadn’t been bad enough. She sighed and trudged toward the bustle and calls of a camp coming to life. Rounds before research had become her game plan over the past few years. Busara included a small nursery, mainly for baby elephants orphaned by poaching, but really for any animal Anna didn’t have the heart to turn away.

Even cheeky little monkeys.

She passed the wooden enclosures and metal-roofed structure that served as her clinic, and headed for the even more rustic multipurpose tent that doubled as their kitchen and mess hall. She needed her morning dose of sweet, little girl kisses before going on her rounds, another daily reassurance that she was doing what was best for everyone. She waved at two keepers leading their patients out of the pens for a morning bath, but dropped her hand at the skin-prickling shriek that came from the far side of camp.

The children.

Anna’s chest tightened and she took off at a run, dodging another keeper on his way to their well with a metal bucket. She rushed into the mess tent, the screen door slamming behind her.


Usijali,
Anna. Don’t worry. She’s fine. Just couldn’t wait for her
ugali
to cool down,” said Niara, Anna’s friend and nanny, as she held a cup of potable water to Pippa’s mouth. Framed between rampant curls and the rim of the cup, two green eyes widened.

“Mommy!” Burned tongue forgotten, her little girl pushed the cup away and shimmied off the wooden bench. Anna scooped her up. “I got a boo-boo,” Pippa said, pinching the tip of her tongue between two fingers and tugging it as far out of her mouth as she could. Not all the mash had washed down. Lovely.

“I see that,” Anna said, her pulse still racing from the scare. “But how many times have I said don’t scream like that unless there’s danger?”

Crying from pain, Anna could understand. After all, Pippa was only four. But the shrill death call her baby had taken to recently was getting old fast. Anna dreaded what Pippa’s next animal imitation would be. She’d already mastered baboons, hyenas, elephants and a number of birds. This piercing alarm of a guinea fowl defending its nest took crying wolf to a whole new level.

“You told me burns are dangewus,” Pippa insisted.

Yes, she had. Anna wrinkled her nose. At least her daughter hadn’t taken up biting...yet.

“Never mind. Next time, wait until Auntie Niara says the grits are cool.”

“I did.”

“No, she didn’t,” Haki said, sitting up a little straighter.

Only one year older than Pippa, Niara’s son took his responsibility as the older child to heart—insisting on fairness and the following of rules. Ever since he’d overheard the keepers talk of the tragic fate of a curious Masai child who’d wandered away from her village, he’d chosen to stick to the rules and stay close to his mother...and made sure Pippa did, too. Poor Haki had no clue that he was inadvertently challenging his headstrong playmate. Give her a few years and he wouldn’t know what hit him.

He wouldn’t know what hit him.

Anna pressed her lips together, steeling herself against the sadness that came in random spurts, like whenever Pippa’s determined expression mirrored her father’s. A constant reminder of the choice Anna had made.
He’s never going to forgive you. No one will. They won’t understand.
Anna scratched the back of her neck with both hands. Dwelling on it wouldn’t get her anywhere. She pulled the elastic band out of her hair, combed her hair back with her fingers and reset her ponytail.

“How about you finish your breakfast. I bet it’s ready now, and I need to get to work,” Anna said.

“Come, Pippa,” Niara said, extending her hand. “Let Mama eat something, too.”

“I already had coffee.”

“Coffee isn’t breakfast. You’ll start to look like Ambosi if you don’t eat more.”

The children giggled and Anna couldn’t resist smiling. Niara’s melodic emphasis on her syllables when she spoke English always added to the warmth of her innocent humor. With Niara, everything came from the heart. A resilient heart, despite the trauma the woman had suffered. After they met, Niara had wasted no time in making sure Anna didn’t pity her, or herself.

“No, really. I’ll break for lunch early. I need to check on Bakhari’s bandages.” Anna turned to Haki and Pippa. “Work hard on your books and maybe there’ll be time for a ride to see the herds.”

“Yay!” Both children clapped, spreading sticky fig nectar and
ugali
on their palms.

“How are we on supplies?” Anna asked, prompted by the food mess. Niara wrinkled her nose and shrugged. Great. So they
were
getting low. She hoped they had enough funds to cover a restocking trip. Especially for water purification.

Approaching the end of her research grant meant the area’s watering holes and creeks weren’t the only things drying out. Getting her research permit extended a second time wasn’t going to happen if funds weren’t available. As to whether funds
were
available, Anna still hadn’t gotten any email replies.

It didn’t help that their power had gone out. She rubbed her temples. Going back to the United States was not an option. Anna wasn’t ready to go back. Not now. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Facing the past meant explaining the present...and she couldn’t risk losing more than she already had. Her gut turned and she swallowed hard against the coffee’s acidity. She was jumping the gun again. Worrying for nothing. She took a deep breath and forced a carefree smile.

“Okay. I need to run an inventory of necessities at the clinic, too. Let me know what we need beyond that and we’ll make plans.” She rounded the table, kissed Pippa and Haki on top of their heads and left before Niara could read her face.

The funding would come through. It had to.

* * *

A
NNA
DROPPED
THE
USED
syringe in a plastic container. Her head keeper, Ahron, whisked it away. All supplies had to be kept outside the pens, far from trunk reach. She ran her hands gently around Bakhari’s ankle, checking for any loose wrapping. His bandages were holding nicely. They’d once dealt with a baby elephant who had used his trunk to work off his dressings during the night. Trunks were tricky. Anna stood and scratched the soft spot behind the baby’s ear. He flapped it gratefully. Hopefully, the antibiotics would do their job. Blasted snares.

They’d been lucky in recent months, but they lost an orphan often enough, and it tore her up every time. Painful memories. Bakhari looked at Anna, then wrapped his trunk loosely around her arm, as if to say that he understood she’d been there, too. And maybe he did. There was something to be said for an animal’s sixth sense. Anna had witnessed the phenomenon and believed the stories she’d heard and read about.

“Did he drink any milk?” she asked, as she unwound herself from Bakhari’s hug and forced herself back into clinical mode.

“Demanding one, he is,” Ahron said. “Pulled my cover off several times to let me know he was hungry.”

“That’s a good sign. Thanks.” Anna left the pen and stopped outside to log notes on Bakhari’s treatment and progress, noting the feedings and outdoor exercise schedules.

She looked up at the sound of the camp’s battered mobile vet Jeep approaching. A trail of dust lingered in its wake. Kamau must have gone back out in search of Bakhari’s mother, after not finding her near the calf yesterday. Elephant cows were highly maternal, and herds stuck together to protect their young, so finding Bakhari alone raised questions. Anna shielded her eyes against the sun and watched them approach. She was so grateful for having another vet on staff. Kamau’s dedication to their work at Busara was heart-rending and had made all the difference since he joined them shortly after her research began.

“Anything?” she asked, stepping forward after the Jeep came to a stop.

Kamau jumped down. His team followed suit, unloading the gear and supply boxes that needed cleaning or replenishing. The grim lines on Kamau’s face said it all. Anna dropped her hand to her side.

“Oh.” She let out a breath and shook her head. “Where?”

“About forty-five kilometers southwest of here. Poachers. No sign of a herd. The herd might have gone back to find the calf, or taken the rest to safety. I already radioed in to the authorities.”

“This is bad,” Anna said. The crackdown on poaching had made a difference in recent years, but unfortunately, hadn’t eradicated it. But this incident... Forty-five kilometers was too close. The camp location had been chosen specifically because of its slight elevation and proximity to the range of one particular herd they’d been studying. If that herd got chased away, or killed... Anna draped her hand across the back of her neck and squeezed at the growing tension. It was more than the research that worried her. The deaths were wrong, and the orphans, well, Busara couldn’t afford any more. If she had it her way, Busara would grow into a fully equipped animal rescue center. But that wasn’t possible right now.

“Things are worse than you think,” Kamau said, walking away.

“Worse? What do you mean?” Nothing was worse than illegal, merciless killing. Anna returned the clipboard to its nail on the post outside the pen and doubled her steps to catch up with Kamau as he trudged toward the mess tent. He stopped a few yards from it and waited for her.

“We finally fixed the generator last night and got the computer running, although the satellite internet connection did give me some trouble at first. We got an email from your Dr. Miller. Apparently, he’s sending someone out here to check on our status,” he said, lowering his already deep voice so it wouldn’t carry through the screens.

Okay. Much, much worse. Why would Dr. Miller do that? Especially with such short notice.

“Like an audit? That’s ridiculous. He has reports and photos, and he’s never questioned my requests. It’s not like we’re living an extravagant life here,” Anna said, bracing her hands on her hips.

Of course, this grant request involved permit extension fees, an endorsement and lots of paperwork to prove that she’d complete the study and produce a paper out of it. Anna understood that more was on the line this time, but an audit? Overkill, Miller.

Kamau splayed his palms.

“He didn’t use the word, but what else do you call sending someone from his board out here to report back on our status? According to him, it’s not a big deal. The fellow happens to be in Nairobi giving a lecture and doing some collaborative work. Miller suggested he ‘drop by,’ as if Busara was in the neighborhood.”

Right. Just like some of the locals were convinced that, coming from the States, she had to be best friends with Tom Caine of
Beastly In-Laws.
She had never even seen the show and Miller had clearly not seen a map of western Kenya. Anna shook her head.

“When?” she asked.

“Yesterday.”

That figured. Expected yesterday and not yet here. Africa time. Lax schedules were such an accepted part of life here that Anna wasn’t sure why she still bothered wearing her watch. She rubbed its dusty face with the pad of her thumb. Given the delay in getting Miller’s email, their visitor’s tardiness was a relief. She scanned the camp. Everything seemed to be running as smoothly as could be expected. Nothing that would jeopardize funding other than several more orphans that Miller wasn’t yet aware of, and the threat of poachers. He’d try to use that on her again, but Anna had no doubt they were safe. She’d never have Niara and the children here with her otherwise. Kamau put a lot of miles on their Jeep. None of the actual killings had occurred close enough to camp to endanger anyone. Yes, the last killing had been closer than usual, but the poachers were after tusked elephants. There was nothing of value to them at camp. Miller didn’t understand the difference—just like he didn’t comprehend that Busara wasn’t “around the block” from Nairobi. All he worried about was liability and cost control.

“He’s never sent anyone, Anna. This can’t be good,” Kamau said.

“You’re right. Having someone show up at the same time as this incident isn’t ideal, but Miller has never denied me funding before, and he’s fully aware of the orphan nursery. And as far as the Kenyan government is concerned, I’m helping the wildlife. There’s no logical reason for not getting the permits and funds needed. It’ll be fine. Like you said, this person just happens to be in Kenya for other reasons. You’re worrying for nothing. This is a bunch of red tape. Miller is dotting his
i
’s,” Anna said, trying to believe her own words. But she wasn’t convinced the nursery’s growing needs wouldn’t pose a problem.

BOOK: The Promise of Rain
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