E.R. nurse Ella Majors has seen all the misery that she can handle. Burned-out and unsure of her next step, she accepts the temporary position as caregiver to Marion Henderson, a frightened five-year-old who suffers from juvenile diabetes.
But Ella soon realizes there is more sorrow in the isolated home than the little girl's illness can account for. Harris Henderson, a single father, seems better able to deal with the wild birds he rehabilitates in his birds-of-prey sanctuary than with his own daughter.
Then something magical begins to happen: the timeless beauty of the South Carolina coast and the majestic grace of the wild birds weave a healing spell on the injured hearts at the sanctuary. But a troubled mother's unexpected return will test the fragile bonds of trust and new love, and reveal the inherent risks and exhilarating beauty of flying free.
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About the Author
Mary Alice Monroe is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of thirteen novels. Her books have received numerous awards, including the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, Florida Distinguished Author Award, SC Book Festival Award, and the International Fiction Award for Green Fiction. An active conservationist, she lives in the low country of South Carolina where she is at work on her next novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Mary Monroe
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All right reserved. ISBN: 1-55166-700-2
Chapter OneBirds of Prey (also known as raptors) have characteristics that distinguish them from other birds. A bird of prey has a sharp, hooked beak for tearing food, sharp, curved talons, powerful feet for killing its prey and binocular vision. Thirty-eight species of raptors are found in the geographic limits of the United States and Canada. These species are divided into categories: buteos, accipiters, falcons, harriers, kites, eagles, ospreys and owls.
* * *
A brisk, wintry wind whistled along the South Carolina coast. It rattled the ice-tipped, yellowed spartina grass and rolled a thick, steely gray fog in from the sea. The old black man paused in his walk and cocked his ear toward the sky. He heard the whispers of change in the wind. Hunching his shoulders, he turned the collar of his threadbare woolen jacket high up to the brim of his fedora, then dug his hands deep into his pockets. He resumed walking, but he kept his eyes skyward.
The old man had walked nearly half a mile when he heard a high, plaintive whistle over the wind's song. He stopped abruptly, rigid with expectation, staring out at the heavy shroud that hovered over the wetlands. It was a still morning; the pale night moon lingered in the dusty sky. Suddenly, a magnificent white-crested eagle broke through the mist. Its broad,plank-straight wings stretched wide as it soared over the water.
"There you be!" he muttered with deep satisfaction.
Bringing his large, gnarled hands to cup his mouth, he whistled sharp and clear, mimicking the birdcall.
The bald eagle circled wide, flapping its powerful wings with a majesty reserved for royalty. The great bird took a lap around the marsh before deigning to return the call.
The effect was not lost on the old man. Heartened, he rushed his hands to his mouth and whistled again, louder and more insistently. This time, the eagle banked, then flew unwaveringly toward him.
This was the moment Harris Henderson relished. He squinted and let his gaze slowly traverse the wide, open meadow encircled by tall, leggy pines. The grasses were crisp and the ground was hard with the early morning frost. In only one day's time, winter had blustered into the Lowcountry, plummeting temperatures from balmy to freezing. He took a long, deep breath, feeling the moist chill go straight to his lungs. The morning air carried the scent of burning wood - cedar, he thought - so strong he could almost taste it.
Turning his head, he gazed upon the sleek red-tailed hawk held firm against his chest by his thick leather gloves. Maggie Mims, a robust woman with hair almost the same color red as the hawk's tail, looked up at him with eyes sparkling with excitement.
She gave a curt nod.
Harris moved his gloved hands so that his left wrapped around the hawk's wings and the right maintained a firm hold of the hawk's feet. Instantly, the hawk's dark gaze sharpened, her mouth opened and she jerked her wings hard for freedom.
"So, you're eager to be off," he said in a low voice.
He waited patiently for the bird to calm itself, all the while looking on with admiration. She was a beautiful specimen, creamy breasted with a dark bellyband and the brick-red tail feathers that gave the species its name. Red-taileds were superb hunters, "the black warriors" J. J. Audubon had called them. It was hard to believe, looking at her sleek, healthy form, that she'd been brought into the clinic with gunshot wounds a mere two months earlier. "Well, it won't be long now."
The bird cocked its head at the sound of his voice, glaring, ferocious - the right attitude for survival. Every instinct in its body was on alert for flight. Harris could feel the bird's anticipation in his own veins.
In this brief moment before flight, Harris sought to merge spirits with the bird. He'd read stories of shamans who practiced this ancient art, myths of Indians whose spirits soared with eagles, tales that he'd heard spoken of only in passing or in jest. Though he'd tell this to no one, deep down he'd always believed that at the core of legends and myths lay a kernel of truth. There were individuals who communicated at some visceral level with birds. He knew it. Witnessed it.
And it was his private pain that he was not one of them. Although highly skilled, he didn't possess the rare instinct - the gift - of connection. The art of truly flying the birds.
The closest he came to it was at liftoff. The seconds when the bird's wings stretched out and he heard the whup-whup of their flapping and felt the quick fluttering of air against his cheek as the bird flew fearlessly into the wind. At that stolen moment in time he caught an exhilarating glimpse of what it might be like to fly, to feel the lift, then the air glide over him like water.
"Ready?" asked Maggie.
Sensing freedom at hand, the red-tailed tightened its talons on his arm. The brisk wind gusted, riffling the feathers on its head. She didn't flinch. Her eyes were focused. A faint stream of breath clouded the air like steam as her chest rose and fell. The moment had come.
"Okay, my beauty," he said softly to the hawk. "Let's send you home."
With a lift of his arm, he let his hands go. Instantly the talons released their grip. Wings fluttered, stirring the air. Harris released a sigh as the hawk took flight.
Up, up, the red-tailed climbed. Harris tracked the bird, assessing her strength and looking for any tipping, which would indicate the broken wing hadn't completely healed. The margin for survival was very slim in the wild. A raptor had to be one hundred percent to successfully hunt. There was nothing tentative about this bird's flying, however, and Harris felt a bone-deep satisfaction that their work at the rehabilitation center had been successful.
This bird, number 1985, was successfully released to the wild.
* * *
"We're not s'posed to hunt in there."
Brady Simmons pointed the business end of his .22 caliber rifle toward the No Hunting sign posted on the gnarled bark of a bare-leafed live oak. "It says right here, see?" he said, careful to make it more question than statement.
His father rubbed his bristled jaw and drawled, "I don't see no sign."
"Billy Trumplin's dad says we could get in big trouble if we hunt in there. 'Specially birds. It ain't even the season."
Roy Simmons slowly turned his head, narrowing his eyes as he focused on his eldest son. His voice was low but lethal. "You tellin' me what to do now, boy?"
Brady took a step back. "N-no, sir."
The spark in his father's eyes banked as he acknowledged the respect. "Our family's been huntin' this here land longer than anyone can remember. There ain't nothing wrong with takin' a little of what's there for the takin'." He hoisted his rifle. "Besides, we ain't here for sport. We're here to put food on the table. And I'll be dog damned if some tree hugger's gonna up and tell me I can't."
Brady gave a curt nod and kept an eye on his father's balled fists. The stench of stale whiskey on his father's breath kept the boy mute with fear and contempt.
His father reached out to rip the sign from the tree bark and throw it on the ground.
Brady's face was a portrait of teenage apathy as he watched his father ground the muddy heel of his boot on the federal sign. What a jerk, he thought. He was sick of hearing his father grouse about land that had been "stolen" from the people. How could someone steal what wasn't theirs in the first place? Besides, what did he care about the land and who owned it? All he wanted was to get as far away from this hellhole as he could.
Satisfied, his father turned and pushed into the federally protected land. "Well, come on, then," he said over his shoulder. "Don't lag behind."
Excerpted from Skyward by Mary Monroe
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.