Friday Sampler: Haven Lake by Holly Robinson

Haven Lake_FC

In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Wednesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Haven Lake by Holly Robinson.

As one book reviewer said: Holly Robinson is a natural-born storyteller and her tale of three mismatched sisters and the lost brother they search for will keep you turning those pages as she quietly but deftly breaks your heart.  I loved every single one of her characters and you will too; here is a novel to savor and share.

The Story

Holly Robinson
Holly Robinson

Sydney Bishop hasn’t returned to Haven Lake, her idyllic childhood home, since a pair of shocking, tragic deaths shattered her family when she was only sixteen. Now a child psychologist engaged to marry a successful surgeon, Sydney has worked hard to build a relationship with Dylan, her fiancé’s teenage son, so she feels nothing but empathy when he runs away—until she discovers that his hitchhiking journey has led him to Haven Lake and her mother Hannah’s sheep farm.

Sydney returns to Haven Lake for the first time in twenty years to coax the boy home. Against her daughter’s wishes, Hannah offers to take Dylan in until he’s ready to reveal his own troubling secrets. Now, for Dylan’s sake as well as their own, Sydney and Hannah must confront the devastating events that tore them apart and answer the questions that still haunt their family—and the suspicious surrounding community—about what really caused two people to die on their farm those many years ago.

The Excerpt

Dylan came downstairs, giving them a wary glance. “Hi, Dad. Hey, Sydney,” he said. “Sorry about all the hassle.”

The apology surprised Sydney into standing up to hug him. “That’s okay, sweetie. You scared us a little, but whatever reasons you had for leaving, I’m sure they were important. I’m glad to see you and happy you’re okay,” she added quickly, sensing Gary gathering a head of steam behind her. Where was Hannah? She hadn’t come down with Dylan.

Gary stood up, too, but didn’t approach his son. “Sydney’s wrong, buddy,” he said. “What you did was definitely not okay. Your decision to take off like that was completely irresponsible. You owe us a damn good explanation.”

“Maybe later, right?” Sydney said, feeling suddenly claustrophobic. Gary sounded just like her father. Once, Dad had slapped her across the face because she forgot to close the gate and the cows got loose. He was about to hit her again, but her mother had gotten between them and shouted at Sydney to run for Uncle Rory.

She had, barefoot through the woods, feeling sticks pierce her feet and branches scrape at her face and arms as if beasts were chasing her across a bed of nails. Uncle Rory was in his cabin, sprawled on his bed and reading, but he’d bolted out of the door, so fast and sure-footed as he ran toward the house that he left Sydney far behind. His bare chest gleamed in the moonlight; it was like watching a stag moving through the forest ahead of her.

“No,” Gary was saying. “Dylan has to understand there will be consequences to his actions.”

“Honey, please. Let’s just get on the road,” Sydney begged.

“Actually, that’s the thing. I was going to call you early this morning, but my phone died,” Dylan said. “I wanted to tell you guys I’m not going back with you. I can’t.” Now he was standing with his arms crossed, too, facing his father, his expression mirroring Gary’s: the blue eyes steely, the mouth set in a thin line.

“What do you mean you can’t go back with us?” Gary’s voice had risen a notch. “Of course you can. And you will.”

“No, Dad. I won’t.” Dylan’s brush cut stood on end, his light hair looking as determined as the rest of him. “Hannah said I can stay here for a week. Just a trial. I’ll help her around the farm, and if it works out, she says I can finish junior year at the local high school.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Gary said. “You don’t have any choice in this matter. You’re coming home with us today. You can’t stay here and be some kind of, some …” He sputtered for a minute, then exploded, “Shepherd!

“Dad, calm down,” Dylan said. “I’m not going to raise sheep, if that’s what you’re so worried about. Jesus. Did you hear a word I said? I told you I’ll keep going to school. I just want to do it here while I sort things out. Hannah said I could.”

Now Sydney, who up to this point had been feeling sorry for Dylan, felt her anger percolating along with Gary’s, though for a different reason: How dare her mother intervene and make this absurd offer, without even discussing things with them first?

“Dylan, your dad’s right,” she said. “You need to come home and work things out. I know things are bad with that girl, but it’s not the end of the world.”

“Wait a minute. That girl at the drugstore?” Gary said. “Is that what all this is really about?”
Dylan spun on Sydney, his face contorted with anger. “How do you know about Kelly? Have you been spying on me?”

“No, of course not.” Sydney reached out to touch his arm, trying to soothe him. “It’s just that, when we didn’t know where you were, we asked some of your friends and I went to see her.”

“Fuck.” Dylan jerked out of reach.

“Don’t you dare swear at us, buddy,” Gary said.

Dylan remained focused on Sydney. “You mean you actually talked to Kelly?”

“Just for a minute,” Sydney said. “I was trying to find you. Kelly told me you gave her a ride home once, but that she has another boyfriend. Is that why you ran away?”

Now Gary turned on Sydney as well. “Dylan gave her a ride home? How? He doesn’t even have his license yet!”

“I’m sorry,” Sydney said, looking at Dylan, who was tight-lipped, silent, drumming his bony hands on his blue-jeaned thighs. She was, too. She hadn’t meant to tell Gary anything about the car.

“Did you drive illegally, young man?” Gary stepped toward Dylan, his face thrust forward, cornering Dylan against the sink.

Sydney crossed the room and put a hand on Gary’s shoulder. “There’s no need to yell,” she said. “You’re scaring him.”

“I hope to God I am scaring him!” Gary yelled, his eyes fixed on Dylan, who was staring at the floor. “Really, what possessed you to pull a stunt like that, Dylan?” He gave Sydney a look that terrified her. “Both of you lied to me! How serious are things with this girl?”

“Serious. At least for me,” Dylan said.

Gary grabbed Dylan’s shoulder and shook him a little. “I don’t believe you. How can you be serious with a girl who denies ever going out with you?”

“I don’t care what she says. I slept with her, okay, Dad? We had sex!” Dylan said, a catch in his voice. “I slept with her and I love her. I still love her!” His blue eyes had gone dark with anger despite the fact that Gary had pinned him against the sink with one powerful arm.

Behind Sydney, Hannah spoke sharply. “Gary, let go of the boy at once.”

To Sydney’s amazement, Gary obeyed. Why would he listen to Hannah, but not to her?

Dylan took the opportunity to duck around Gary and run from the house, the dog barking hysterically at his heels, the screen door slamming behind them.




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