I’m excited to announce the release of Desolation Bluff, a short suspense novel about a blind man who regains his sight. It is set in Australia, in the beautiful Southern Highlands region of New South Wales.
When blind romance author Oliver Cameron suddenly regains his sight, he uncovers a shocking betrayal – and a deadly game of cat and mouse begins.
Here is the book description
DESOLATION BLUFF – A thriller
He can see clearly now…….
Blind romance author Oliver Cameron uses the pen name of Fidel Amore and thinks he has the perfect life at his country estate near Desolation Bluff. After a honeymoon in Paris, his wife Vanessa continues her work as his assistant. His friend Ray is the business manager who lives in the gatehouse and also acts as the public face of Fidel Amore, doing all those book-signing trips that Oliver never wanted to attend. Helen Dunkley is the housekeeper devoted to him since childhood – but she detests the two newcomers.
Complications set in when Ray, working on his old car, accidentally backs into Oliver. His injuries appear minor but the next day he suddenly regains his sight. Oliver wants Ray and Vanessa to be the first to hear his good news, but when he finds them he uncovers a shocking betrayal.
A game of cat and mouse begins – and with the arrival of a mysterious stranger, it turns deadly.
A short suspense novel that will keep you guessing right to the very end.
This is what people are already saying about Desolation Bluff:
“Desolation Bluff by Toni Pike tells the story of a successful blind author who falls deeply in love with his beautiful assistant Vanessa. We first meet them when they are on their honeymoon in Paris and she is describing the view of the Eiffel Tower from their hotel room. Oliver is wealthy, kind and considerate and you can easily fall for him as the hero in the book. It’s a little difficult to give more of the plot without spoiling the story. There are other characters, such as the elderly housekeeper Helen, and Ray, Oliver’s business manager. At the start of the book, life seems idyllic, but things had begun to unravel long before the reader comes on the scene. Just as I was sure I had guessed the end of the story, the plot twisted again and there was yet another layer to the story I didn’t see coming. I like the way the characters were introduced. Not once did I have to reread to work out who was who. For me, that is the sign of a well-constructed book, excellent characterization, and realistic dialogue. At intervals in Desolation Bluff, there were readings out loud of the romantic happy ever after novels that Oliver – under the pen name of Fidel Amore – churns out four times a year. I loved these ‘badly written’ excerpts along with the equally trite titles. A bright, lively read with several cliff-hangers and believable characters which kept up a satisfying pace. There are plenty of tongue in cheek moments, giving light and shade to the more dramatic parts. A little different from Pike’s Jotham Fletcher mysteries, so this book took me by surprise. Toni Pike is an author whose books I enjoy and I will read everything she writes. A well deserved 5 stars from me.” – Reader’s Favorite Review
“Assured and confident – I very much enjoyed this story.” – Review on Facebook Book Club
“A beautifully conceived book that sets an exciting pace and keeps the reader glued to their seat until the last page is read!” – Amazon Review
“Toni Pike is a master of thrillers.” – Amazon Review
Here is an excerpt from Desolation Bluff
The Elite was said to be one of the finest hotels in Paris. Built in the nineteenth century, it was decorated throughout with French provincial furniture and was known for discreet and attentive service. That made it the perfect choice for Oliver and Vanessa Cameron.
They had just arrived for a two-week stay and were now following the porter. The skinny young man adjusted his cap and pulled a squeaky luggage trolley into their elegant suite. Vanessa was arm in arm with Oliver, who tapped his white cane with every step.
“This is the perfect choice for a honeymoon, Madame,” said the porter, who was eager to show them around. “They say people who stay here are sure to have a long and happy marriage.”
“I certainly hope it’s true,” said Vanessa, planting a kiss on her husband’s cheek. She ran a finger through her light brown hair as she scanned the room.
“Are you from Australia?”
“We certainly are.”
He opened the curtain to reveal a view so breathtaking it made her gasp.
“What is it?” asked Oliver.
“The Eiffel Tower, laid out in front of us,” said Vanessa.
The porter smiled as he unloaded their bags from the trolley. “You see, you have a vue magnifique. The best view in Paris.”
Oliver walked towards the window. Although he was blind, he could still perceive light and darkness. Vanessa walked around the suite, with a look of delight as she glanced in at the spacious bedroom and marble bathroom. “It’s wonderful here,” she said.
“Everyone says that,” said the porter. “I’ll leave you alone now, Madame Cameron.”
“Thank you so much,” she replied, taking out her wallet and giving him a tip.
“Merci, Madame. Enjoy your time in Paris. And if there’s anything you need, just give me a call.” He looked Oliver up and down then turned back to Vanessa. It was clear he pitied them both. “Bonne chance.”
She nodded as he left and shut the door behind him. “At last we’re alone, darling,” she said. “I feel so tired after the flight.”
Oliver was beside the window, touching the glass. “What can you see from here?” he asked.
“Right now, I see my new husband, tall and handsome.”
He turned around in response to her voice and smiled, as if he was looking straight at her. “I was talking about the scenery.”
He swung around and put his hand on the windowpane again.
“Let me help,” she said, sauntering over and putting her arms through his from behind.
“There’s something I didn’t tell you,” said Oliver. “My parents brought me to Paris when I was three years old. But, of course, I can hardly remember anything.”
“You must miss them so much,” she said, resting her head against his shoulder. “I wish they could have been at the wedding.”
“So what you can you see out there – is it everything you hoped for?” he asked.
“It’s the most romantic view in the world – like something from a Fidel Amore novel. Right over here we can see the Eiffel Tower.” She put her hand over his and traced the shape of the Tower. He began to smile, and could feel the warmth of her body pressed against him. “Standing in the Field of Mars,” she continued, moving his arm horizontally across the glass. “And over here is the Palais de Chaillot.”
As she led his arm around the shape of the Palais, they couldn’t help laughing.
“You have a very good accent,” said Oliver.
“And how do you know all this?”
“I’ve been studying a guide book for weeks.”
Oliver gently rang his fingertips across Vanessa’s face. “You’re like my eyes,” he whispered.
“I am your eyes from now on,” she replied, pressing her lips against his.
“You smell like a garden full of roses.” He covered her cheeks with urgent kisses. “Take me to the bedroom before I make love to you right here in the living room.”
Vanessa took his hand and led Oliver to the enormous bed. They both fell onto it, laughing as they sank into the plump quilt. She placed his hand on her breast as he rolled on top of her.
Oliver Cameron was an only child and inherited his parents’ estate in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales several years earlier. While they had been quite wealthy, his own career as a romance novelist had significantly added to his coffers since then.
The Southern Highlands was an area of rolling hills, lush farmland and beautiful gardens, just over a hundred kilometres southwest of Sydney. It was a popular area for weekend breaks and visitors often thronged the small towns filled with cafes and antique stores. The climate was cool and temperate, and the propensity for rain and mist reminded many early settlers of Scotland.
Oliver gave Vanessa a new BMW as an engagement present, and she parked it at Sydney Airport while they were in Paris. Their return flight in business class comfort took almost twenty-four hours and now she was driving them home.
After passing the turnoff to the village of Bundanoon, Vanessa drove along a narrow road beside the national park. It was a vast area filled with dense bush. “We’ve just passed Desolation Bluff,” she said, referring to the steep cliff overlooking a rugged valley hundreds of metres below. It was aptly named, because the viewpoint attracted very few visitors. Most people preferred sights that were closer to the main towns.
“Almost home,” said Oliver, putting his hand on her slender thigh.
The Cameron estate was named Stonehaven after a small town in Scotland. When Vanessa turned into the long driveway, she came to an abrupt halt outside the caretaker’s cottage, a compact two-storey house where Ray Malik now lived.
Parked out the front was a gleaming red 1986 Mercedes Benz 380 SEC. Ray was there as well, engaged in his favourite hobby of polishing the immaculate surface of his prized possession. Six feet tall with dark hair and dashing good looks, he smiled at Vanessa and walked over.
“Welcome back, love birds,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow as he bent down to look in the window.
“Good to hear your voice again, Ray,” said Oliver.
“Are you going to join us?” asked Vanessa, looking up at him.
“Definitely – I want to hear all about the honeymoon. I’ll tidy up and be there in a minute.”
She drove another kilometre down the gravel driveway to reach the main house. Stonehaven was a cream-painted colonial mansion built in the nineteen-twenties, and it was almost identical to a well-known plantation house in Ceylon that the first owner had tried to replicate. It was surrounded by a wide expanse of lawn and the garden beds were filled with rhododendrons and azaleas. The stands of deciduous trees were now at the height of their springtime glory.
Vanessa parked beside the front steps. Almost straight away, Helen Dunkley walked out the front door to greet them. Sixty years old and slightly overweight, she had been the family’s housekeeper for more than thirty years and had no intention of retiring. Her husband had been the gardener until his death eight years earlier.
She went straight over to Oliver, who was holding his white cane as he got out of the car. “How was Paris?” she asked, kissing his cheek. “It’s good to see you safely home again.”
“I’m fine, Helen,” he replied. “We had a wonderful time in the city of romance. But it was very cold.”
“Freezing, in fact,” said Vanessa. “I had to buy another coat. But at least there were no tourist crowds to contend with.”
“Have you been sleeping well since we’ve been away?” asked Oliver. Helen had been almost like a mother to him since his parents had died and he was always concerned about her.
“Quite well, thanks to the new pills the doctor gave me,” replied Helen, taking both his hands. “Oh, let me have a look at you.”
“I’ve only been gone two weeks,” he said with a grin.
“Well, I’m pleased to see you home.”
“It’s nice to be home where I can find my own way around without bumping into everything. I collided with all the great tourist attractions of Paris.”
“I was there, too, Helen,” said Vanessa with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“And I see you came back,” she replied, narrowing her eyes.
Ray arrived just then and walked over to Vanessa. “Give me the keys and I’ll take the luggage inside for you,” he said.
She handed them over but his hand seemed to linger on hers for a fraction of a second. She raised her eyebrows slightly as she took a step back.
He walked around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. “There’s a lot more here than you started with,” he said, lifting out two bulging suitcases.
“I’ll help you,” said Helen. She went over and took out several smaller shopping bags. “I see you did plenty of shopping.”
“I’ll take some of those,” said Vanessa. “We have some presents for you.”
“They were under my feet all the way from Paris,” said Oliver.
Ray led the way inside but paused in the front hall and put the suitcases down.
“Now, why don’t I make you a nice cup of coffee?” asked Helen, taking Oliver’s arm and leading him up the three wide steps and through the front door. “You must be exhausted after the flight.”
“Twenty-fours hours from start to finish,” he said, tapping his cane as they walked past Ray. “Coffee would be great. I’ll be going to bed early tonight.”
“I’d love some too,” said Vanessa as she followed them into the house.
“I’m sure I can manage that,” replied Helen, glancing at Ray as she walked past him in the front hall. “And you?”
He gave her a leering grin in reply. She scowled and disappeared into the kitchen, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Vanessa stopped beside Ray. He moved imperceptibly and gently touched the palm of her hand. She gave him a knowing look in response and lingered there for a moment before continuing inside. “I’ll take the suitcases upstairs and then you can tell me all about Paris,” he said.
“Every last detail, we promise,” replied Oliver.
The honeymooners sat next to each other on the large leather sofa and Ray walked in a short time later. “Time to start talking,” he said.
“Can you believe I had to take Oliver up to the Eiffel Tower five times?” said Vanessa with a laugh. “He just loved the elevator. I was terrified.”
“She got her own back,” said Oliver, strumming his fingers on the arm of the sofa. “We had a five-hour walk around the Louvre Museum. Not to mention the ten-hour shopping trip. But at least I got plenty of exercise.”
As Ray sat opposite them, Vanessa handed him an exquisitely wrapped box. “This is for you,” she said. He quickly unwrapped it and lifted out a tailored blue shirt.
“I bought it all by myself, with the help of a shop assistant,” said Oliver. “Look at the label – apparently that proves it cost a fortune.”
“Thanks, Oliver, I love it,” he replied, rubbing the fabric between his fingers.
Helen walked in with a tray of mugs and put it on the coffee table.
“And this is for you, Helen, from both of us,” said Vanessa, handing her a pink gift bag.
“You shouldn’t have worried about me,” she replied, but her face brightened when she looked inside. “Don’t tell me this is a bottle of Ensnare.”
“We bought the largest bottle we could find,” said Oliver. “I remember you mentioning it a long time ago. Now I’ll know whenever you walk into a room.”
“I’m going to put some on right now and then I’ll be back with some hot muffins. I’d just put them in the oven when you arrived.”
She strode out of the room and Ray leaned back in his seat. “So did you get any inspiration from Paris?” he asked.
Vanessa gave him a sly grin and took a tiny package out of her own shopping bag. Moving slowly to avoid being overheard, she handed it to Ray.
“Yes, I did get an idea,” replied Oliver, staring dead ahead. “I want my next story to be set during the French Revolution.”
“The French Revolution – sounds exciting,” said Ray. “Tell me the storyline.” He coughed to cover the sound as he flicked the gift box open. Inside was an impressive gold watch. His eyes widened and he mouthed his admiration to Vanessa.
“A parlourmaid and an aristocrat,” said Oliver, putting his arm around Vanessa and cosying up to her. “A young serving girl rescues a handsome count from the guillotine. They fall in love while they’re fleeing to England, but then it turns out the parlourmaid is actually the long-lost daughter of a British nobleman.”
Ray took off his old watch and put it in his pocket. He slipped the new one on, his dark eyes sparkling as he admired it.
“I love it, Oliver,” said Vanessa as she gazed at Ray. “It’s just perfect for you.”
“What do you mean?” asked Oliver, turning his head.
“A great Fidel Amore story. What do you think, Ray?”
“It couldn’t be better,” he replied. “Just what your fans want.”
“I knew you’d like it, my friend,” said Oliver. “What would I do without you two?” He took Vanessa’s hand and gently kissed her slender fingers.
“I hope you won’t have to find out,” she replied.
Despite being only thirty years old, Oliver had been churning out four romance novels a year for more than five years. Written under the pen name of Fidel Amore, they had been popular from the start. But since Ray and Vanessa had come into his life just two years ago, that success had skyrocketed.
Oliver lived a reclusive lifestyle and no one outside his circle knew he was the author of The Gypsy King, Infinite Desire, My Spanish Lover and The Baron From New York, amongst many others. Ray worked as his business manager but it was Vanessa who one day had a brilliant idea. None of his readers had seen a photograph of the mythical author. She remarked that Ray, with his dark hair and moustache, was just how Fidel Amore ought to look.
Then she suggested Ray could pretend to be Fidel Amore and do those book-signing trips Oliver refused to attend. His publisher, Elizabeth Townsend, thought it was a wonderful idea. Soon, the handsome, dark-haired author was revealed to the world and his photograph was on the back cover of all his new books. Ray regularly visited bookshops around Australia and they were also planning some overseas tours.
Meanwhile, Oliver lived in happy seclusion. Vanessa worked to type up and edit the stories each day as he recorded them on a dictaphone. They made a good team, and Oliver had never been happier – especially when Vanessa declared her love for him just a few months ago.
The house had large rooms and soaring ceilings, and most areas still had the original, elegant Art Deco furnishings once owned by his parents.
Every night the three friends ate together in the dining room, and that night was no different. They sat at the end of the massive walnut table that had matching chairs lined with cream leather. Helen made roast lamb with mint sauce for Oliver’s first night back and he was enjoying every mouthful.
“I was sorting through the banking today,” said Ray, helping himself to some more gravy.
“Good news, I hope,” said Oliver.
“I’ve got quite a few papers for you to sign tomorrow. And I bought you some more shares in Feinstein Industries today.” He looked across the table and locked eyes with Vanessa.
“Whatever you say, Ray. Tomorrow I’m planning to make headway with The Polynesian Prince. I want to finish the first draft by the end of the week.” Oliver couldn’t find any more food on his plate and put down his knife and fork.
“We started work on the back page blurb while we were away,” said Vanessa.
“That was a conscientious thing to do on your honeymoon,” said Ray.
She waved away his praise. “Don’t get too excited. We’ve only written the first line. After all, we were in Paris – so there were some other priorities.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense – let’s hear it.”
Oliver cleared his throat and recited it. “A young and beautiful missionary comes to work in a little village in Polynesia and the local prince falls in love with her.”
“I’m sure Elizabeth will love it,” said Ray. “As long as you stick to the Clifford Publishing formula she’ll be happy.”
“Funny you should say that,” said Oliver, scratching his chin. “I was thinking of trying something a little different for my next book. Someone who isn’t just looking for love. Maybe more of an action adventure story.”
Ray’s mouth dropped open. “Are you crazy?”
Vanessa gestured for him to be quiet. She took hold of Oliver’s hand and patted it, while also rolling her eyes at Ray. “I don’t know if you should do that, darling,” she said in a gentle tone. “You have to comply with your contract. You know what your readers expect.”
“I’m only teasing you,” he said with a half-smile. “I wouldn’t want to rock the boat.”
“I knew you were only joking,” said Ray.
“Well I didn’t,” said Vanessa, giving him a tap on the arm. “Your trouble is you’re too good an actor.”
“I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly.
Helen walked in just then with three bowls of dessert. “I made my cheesecake for you,” she said, placing a huge portion in front of Oliver.
“My favourite,” he replied.
Then she handed out meagre slices to the others. Ray grimaced and couldn’t resist complaining. “I love it too,” he said.
“I know,” she replied. “Everyone tells me the same thing.”
Vanessa was determined not to let the older woman get the better of her. “That’s the perfect size for me,” she said. “I’m on a diet after all the incredible food we had in Paris.”
Helen cast her a sly look as she walked out the door. “You can rely on me to help. I’ll keep it in mind from now on.”
Ray continued after she left. “Elizabeth rang me this afternoon,” he said. “The sales of Love Under a Desert Sun are going through the roof. She thinks it will beat The Gypsy King.”
“That’s great news,” said Oliver. “Everything keeps getting better.”
“I’m so proud of you,” said Vanessa. “But Ray’s already told me something you’re not going to like. Elizabeth wants us to visit Brisbane.”
He turned towards her and, for some reason, felt a knot tighten in his stomach. “Is this something unexpected?”
“A new opportunity just came up,” said Ray. “I hate to drag Vanessa away from you so soon, but Elizabeth wants us there on Thursday afternoon. The bookshop owner was begging us to come to help maintain the sales momentum. We’ll have to fly up in the morning and stay overnight.”
Oliver grimaced. “I wish Vanessa didn’t always have to go.”
“You know Ray needs my help, darling,” she said. “You can’t expect Fidel Amore to be setting things up. Having an assistant makes him look a bit more impressive.”
“But I need you too.”
“Try to look on the bright side. You can have some peace to work on your story. When I get back I’ll work like crazy to catch up with the editing.”
Oliver hadn’t finished dessert and pushed the leftovers away. “Would you like this, Ray?” he asked.
“I sure would,” he replied, grabbing and devouring every last crumb.
“It’s just for one night,” said Vanessa, leaning over to kiss Oliver. “I’ll be thinking of you all the time.”
Ray touched her leg under the table with his foot. She frowned to warn him to be careful, but then her look softened and her eyes smouldered.
At one o’clock in the morning, Stonehaven was in darkness except for a single light above the front door. There was just enough moonlight to cast the dullest possible glow in the sumptuous main bedroom.
Oliver Cameron was sound asleep, his breathing soft and regular. Vanessa was always in awe of his ability to sleep all night without moving a single muscle. Her eyes were wide open and she checked her watch on the bedside table.
She slid out of bed so as not to disturb him and tiptoed out of the room. Creeping slowly down the stairs, all her thoughts were focused on trying not to make a sound. Then she kept close to the wall until she reached the kitchen. The back door was just a few steps away.
She emerged into the humid night air and took a deep breath. As she crossed the lawn towards a thick stand of trees and shrubs, the moonlight revealed her slender body under the long silky nightgown.
Vanessa moved faster and then almost ran until she reached her destination and was concealed by the trees. A hand reached out in the darkness and grabbed her arm.
Ray Malik pulled her towards him and put his hand over her mouth as he pushed her gently against a tree trunk. Their bodies intertwined as he covered her mouth with his. Then he ran urgent hands over her breast and down to the curve of her stomach. Taking hold of her hips, he leaned against them.
“I can’t stay for long,” she said. “God, I missed you.”
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment all day,” he said.
End of the first chapter
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