Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
My newest print novel, Line of Fire, is available! Click
here to read about the book.
Tired of being surprised at unexpected content in your books?
Movie-like book ratings are finally here! Click below to find out more:
For a complete list of my books, click here.
Click here for Site Map
Copyright ©2000 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
Karissa Mathees sat at her desk, staring at the computer screen. Her
eyes were sore and begged for relief, but she had work to finish. Despite
the tiredness, a part of her relished the fact that she felt needed and
vitalfor the first time in a very long time.
Her right hand reached for the mouse as she forced her eyes to focus.
It had never been this difficult to concentrate. In the old days in Los Angeles,
she had always reveled in the challenge of meeting deadlines and doing her
work well. But that had been before moving to this small, confining Alaskan
island. And certainly before Jesse and Brionney Hergarter had arrived on
Kodiak with their three beautiful little girls. Since then, the last vestiges
of Karissa's contentment had vanished, replaced by the secret ache she had
hidden for so long.
With her left hand, she pushed back her dark hair that curled in gentle,
shiny waves, reaching nearly to her waist. Cut to one length, it often fell
to block her vision. She was tall for a woman, and slender, with long,
cultured-looking hands and trimmed fingernails. She wore faded jeans, and
the shirt was an old one from her husband's drawerher weekend working
clothes. Her narrow feet were clad only in socks, her hiking boots flung
carelessly under the huge oak desk.
She tried to concentrate on the screen, but it seemed to reflect back
not the new accounts-receivable program Jesse Hergarter had written, but
the tiny cherubic faces of his daughters. It was difficultno, painful
was perhaps a better wordseeing Brionney and Jesse with their children.
And now Brionney was expecting again. She became pregnant so easily. How
could it be so difficult for Karissa?
Her mind refused to stay focused. She glanced above the computer at
a framed picture of the Savior with a dark-haired little girl. The picture
had been a gift, and the giver had gone through such an effort to visit her
at work and to hang it there that she hadn't the heart to object, though
the picture often gave her a pang of sadness and resentment. She often took
it down and stored it in one of the desk drawers, hanging it again hurriedly
when the secretary warned her of a visit from the donor. She had been tempted
to throw it away. But even an inactive Mormon couldn't just throw away a
picture of the Savior.
And the little girl, with her dark eyelashes and bright eyes . . .
No, better not to think in that direction.
A wall clock fashioned out of a slice of tree trunk polished and lacquered
to a brilliant shine hung next to the picture. Malcolm had made it for her
when they had married nine years before. It was his hobby, something he did
so little of these days. Now he was as absorbed by his work as she had once
been with hers.
Why did I ever agree to come to Kodiak? she thought. Sometimes
she wanted to scream at how enclosed she felt, how isolated. Most people
dreamed of living on a remote island; she dreamed of leaving one.
Last year, Malcolm had insisted they move here, back to the place where
he had been born. "Our children will have room to roam, Karissa," he had
said. He had always wanted a big family, and the words gave her renewed hope.
"The property my grandfather left me is way out in the middle of nowhere,"
he had added, as if that were all-important. "We'll build our dream house,
anything you want. It'll be a great place for filming my commercials. And
you'll love the pace there. We'll have time to be together."
What he hadn't said aloud was that their marriage was failing and that
moving to Kodiak was a last-ditch effort to stem the leak that slowly drained
His commercials mean more to him than I do, she thought. Sadly,
she wasn't sure if she even cared.
The gold-colored hand on the clock read six a.m. It was Saturday morning.
The night hours had fled and she still wasn't finished. She turned her head
back to the screen, but her eyes wandered to the silver-framed picture of
her husband next to the monitor. His younger self stared back at her: laughing
gray eyes, straight dark hair, and chiseled features. He was good-looking,
and even as she stared, a rush of emotion grew in her breast. She did love
Malcolm. But did that feeling belong only to the days before, the days when
they had been younger and had hope for the future? To the days when she could
still give him a child?
Tears squeezed out the corners of her eyes as she shut them against
the pain that seemed to encompass her entire body. Why hadn't she been given
a child? Of course she already knew the answer. Guilt ate at her, but her
terrible secret had been kept so long that she was unable to give voice to
it. Not even to Malcolm. She knew she was being punished, and more importantly,
that she deserved every bit of agony the sentence gave her.
The doctors had assured her they could find no reason for the infertility,
except for a slightly lower sperm count on Malcolm's part. "Just relax and
forget about it," they had told her years ago. "It'll probably happen when
you least expect it."
She had immersed herself in her career as assistant administrator of
a medium-sized hospital outside of L.A. and had pushed thoughts of a family
aside. She and Malcolm had drifted further apart each day.
"Come on, you work too hard." The words Malcolm had said more than
a year earlier sounded in her ears, almost as if he were in front of her
saying them again. "Let's move to Kodiak. I've seen their ad for a hospital
administrator there, and you'd be perfect for the job. That's what gave me
the idea, in fact. You'd be your own boss. And since they only have one big
hospital on the island, plus a few clinics, it's a pretty important job,
The idea had excited her. She knew she could make a hospital run very
well under her own authority. And she had done even better that she hoped.
In the face of her new responsibilities, she had succeeded in forgetting
her deepest longing. She had even stopped wanting a babyalmost. The
only problem was that Kodiak wasn't L.A., and life, even as top administrator
of the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, wasn't very exciting. There
were no surprises, nothing to challenge or excite her soul, and she soon
Her problems intensified when Jesse Hergarter, an old acquaintance
of Malcolm's, contracted with the hospital to upgrade their computers and
programs. Last month, his small programming team, his wife Brionney, and
their three little girls had arrived on Kodiak. Since Malcolm had been the
missionary who had first taught Jesse the gospel twelve years ago in Arizona,
Karissa had been forced to spend time with the family. Malcolm had even invited
the Hergarters to stay with them for two days while they searched for a place
to rent. For once, their house had come alive with the laughter of children.
But the laughter made Karissa realize how empty her life really was, and
how she and Malcolm seemed like strangers.
At least she had comfort in knowing the Hergarters wouldn't be on Kodiak
forever. Jesse would finish the work at the hospital in a few months, and
then take care of the other contracts he'd picked up in Anchorage. With any
luck, they would be gone from Alaska by the end of the year. Until then,
she could simply stay away from them and their rented house near the hospital.
"You almost done, Kar?"
Karissa looked up to see Damon Wolfe standing in the open door. She
forced a smile. He was on the board of directors, and had flown in only yesterday
from Anchorage to see how her new hospital programs were coming along. On
Monday, the rest of the hospital board would be here to examine the progress
they had made.
Damon looked as beat as she felt. His blonde hair was nearly white
under the stark fluorescent lighting, and his dark amber eyes were bloodshot.
His face was haggard, and the ends of his short moustache twisted slightly
as they always did when any serious changes were made at the hospital. Twisting
them helped him think, he'd say. The sharp curves of his face reminded her
of a falconslightly hooked nose, angular cheeks and jaw, yellow-brown
eyes, thick feathery eyebrows. He was tall and strong-looking, and had the
magnetism of a man who knew his direction in life. In that respect alone,
he reminded her of Malcolm.
"Almost. I've about an hour left," she said.
"Why don't you knock off then? You need a breakand, by the looks
of you, some sleep. You can finish Monday morning."
Karissa's smile became real. It said something that Damon, who was
part owner of the hospital and essentially her boss, trusted that she would
be able to finish the work before the Monday afternoon appointment with the
board. "Thanks. I think I will." She certainly wasn't accomplishing anything
by thinking about the Hergarters.
Damon nodded, then tossed her something from his shirt pocket. Karissa
caught it in mid-air. A pack of Camels.
"Thanks," she said wryly, looking at the full ashtray on the desk.
"I figured you would be. I wanted you to have something to keep you
awake on your drive home."
Karissa laughed. "I didn't know you cared."
"Of course I do. With all the money I'm paying you, I can't afford
to have you laid up in an accident."
Karissa laughed again, and with a few deft strokes shut down the computer.
She slipped on her boots, not bothering with the laces, and snatched her
bag from the bottom drawer of the desk. Shrugging on her fur-lined leather
jacket, she crossed to the door and reached for the light switch, plunging
the room into darkness.
"Maybe I'll come in tomorrow," she murmured, "just to be sure." There
wasn't much else she would be doing on a Sunday.
"You can't," Damon said. "You have some homecoming or something, don't
you? You mentioned it weeks ago."
Karissa had been opening the pack of Camels when he spoke. A wave of
guilt fell over her, and she thrust the cigarettes, still unopened, into
her purse. "That's right. I'd almost forgotten." Malcolm's brother had invited
them to his son's missionary homecoming, with the traditional family party
afterwards. "We usually get out of these things, but this time Malcolm ran
out of excuses."
"Don't you like your family? I thought you Mormons were a close
"We're not supposed to smoke, either," Karissa retorted, her voice
taking on a sharp edge.
Damon grimaced. "Sorry. None of my business, I guess."
She sighed. "No, I'm sorry, Damon. I'm just tired."
"Let's get you home." Damon took her arm and propelled her down the
wallpapered hallway. Her feet dragged over the smooth tile, feeling heavy,
and her eyes burned. It took much longer than she remembered to arrive at
the employee entrance.
"I'm not going to be here tomorrow anyway," Damon said. "I'm flying
home today to be with the kids. But I'll be back Monday morning, bright and
early." The "kids" were Damon's two children, a fourteen-year-old son and
a four-year-old daughter. His wife had died the previous year after a long
bout with cancer, and though he had a live-in housekeeper and nanny, he didn't
like to leave his children for long stretches.
Damon walked with her to her new four-wheel-drive Nissan truck. It
gleamed a dark, shiny green against the melting snow in the parking lot.
The early morning April air was brisk and fresh, and Karissa zipped up her
jacket and rummaged in her purse for her matching brown leather gloves.
"Ciao," Damon said, shutting her door. "See ya Monday. Don't be late."
He smiled, knowing that she, more likely than not, would be there long before
"Ciao," she repeated. She turned the key, and the engine flared to
life. Automatically, she checked the gasoline guage. Since the station closest
to her house was a forty-minute drive, it didn't pay to run out of gas.
The sun had just begun to lighten the sky above the ocean, turning
it to a pale shimmer of orange and gold. The small city of Kodiak, Alaska,
was mostly still sleeping, except for the fishing boats that already dotted
the water. She drove through the town, her thoughts wandering.
When she had first moved to Kodiak Island with Malcolm, she had hated
the idea of Alaska's cold and barren landscape. But he had been born here,
and most of his family lived in Anchorage. He wouldn't give up his dream.
"Alaska means The Great Land," he had said. "And Kodiak is the best
part of Alaska."
"What kind of a name is Kodiak?" she asked. "It sounds like film."
"It's a native name. Aleut. They live on the island too. I promise
you, once there you'll never want to leave."
Karissa hadn't been sure, but excitement about her new position as
administrator at the hospital diminished the unease in her heart.
Kodiak had been a surprise. Due to the Japan Current, its weather was
surprisingly mild. The island still became cold in the winter and the snow
was very wet, but it wasn't any worse than northern Washington, where her
grandparents lived. The snow-capped mountains had a certain austere beauty.
In the summer, everything was green, almost to the tips of the mountains.
Last fall, Malcolm had taken her to Pillar Mountain to pick lingan berries,
small cranberry-like berries that mixed tart and sweet as only nature could.
Though everyone on the island called them cranberries, they were so much
better than the cranberries she was used to. Her mouth watered as she
It had all been so strange to herthe boat harbor and canneries
on one side of town next to the ocean; the city of Kodiak, with its quaint,
nearly all-wood structures nestled against Pillar Mountain; the many breathtaking
bays and unique small villages; the ocean going on forever until it curved
out of sight over the horizon.
And she hated all of it. Every single bit.
The quiet, fertile beauty emphasized the barrenness of her womb. It
was much easier to forget her dark secret in the bustling city life. In L.A.,
she had always been too caught up in her work; here she had time to
thinkand to mourn.
The medical center was situated in the Northern outskirts of Kodiak.
She lived forty-five minutes away to the south, which meant she had to drive
through the small city to reach what she laughingly called their "estate."
The land had been given to Malcolm by his grandfather, who was Aleut. Malcolm
and his six older siblings each inherited land on Kodiak when the old man
died, yet only Malcolm had built on it; the others lived in Anchorage on
Their house had gone up quickly, despite the island's remoteness, and
for a brief time she and Malcolm had been close like in the old days, when
they had first met at the University. Back then they had been so much in
Karissa turned the wheel slightly as she hugged the curve of the road.
They had been so young in college, and there had still been hope for the
forgiveness she craved. Now it was too late, and there was no one to blame
"Pay attention!" she said aloud, struggling to keep her eyes open as
the truck passed the airport and the Coast Guard base.
Thirty minutes outside of Kodiak, she pushed harder on the gas to climb
the small hill at Dell Flats where several houses studded the landscape.
Here the paved road became dirt. Almost home. Just ten minutes more.
Her neck ached and her body felt sluggish as she drew up to the two-story
house they had designed with an architect in the first year of their marriage,
long before coming to Kodiak. The gray-painted wood house with the wide
double-pane windows nestled among lofty spruce and cottonwood trees. A vast
greenhouse stood off the back of the house. The kitchen and family room on
the main floor had huge windows facing inside to the greenhouse. On the second
floor, Karissa's office had a wall of glass that also faced the greenhouse
and its year-round greenery. Originally, she had meant the greenhouse for
a playroom, a place where her children could build in the sand and romp among
the plants when snow covered the ground outside, or when the rain drizzled
for weeks, as it so often did on Kodiak. But now she doubted that her child's
laughter would ever echo in the stillness.
Karissa parked in the garage next to Malcolm's black Jeep. She dragged
one foot after the other until she climbed the steps from the garage to the
kitchen. She inserted her key, but the door was already open. Malcolm almost
always forgot to lock up when he arrived at the house. At least the unlocked
door meant he had finished his shoot early and had come home.
The kitchen was eerily silent, and though her stomach grumbled, her
tired eyes could hardly focus on the rows of white-varnished oak cupboards.
She clumsily removed her wet boots near the door. A painting of Jesus caught
her eye, one with Him sitting on a rock teaching the peopleanother
gift she felt compelled to keep on her wall. His face seemed to follow her
movements. Purposely averting her gaze, she skirted around the eating bar
in the middle of the room and headed for the hall that led to their master
Malcolm was asleep. In the light of the thin rays peeking through the
blinds, she could see his lithe body flung out in abandon over the bed. He
didn't wake as she moved quietly to her side of the bed and slumped onto
it, sighing and at last shutting her eyes.
Exhaustion plagued her, but though she had slept less than four hours
in the last forty-eight, her body would not surrender to sleep. The approaching
missionary homecoming reminded her of her own family, most of whom were still
in California. She was the fourth of six sisters and two brothers. Months
had passed since she had talked to any of her family, and a part of her missed
them. She opened her eyes and stared at the dark ceiling. Oh, to be young
again and able to make new choices! The right choices.
When she did talk with her siblings or parents, it was hard to abide
their preaching, especially the stern disapproval of her father. Of all her
parents' eight children, she alone had married out of the temple. She was
also the only one in her family who had left the Church completely, and now
she felt separated from those she loved by an impassable gulf.
At first she had planned to seal her marriage in the temple, but by
the time her education was finished, she was thoroughly addicted to smoking
and couldn't give it up. At least that was what she told herself. But inside,
she knew the real reason she could never marry in the temple, why she wouldn't
go to heaven, and why she couldn't have children.
Karissa squeezed her eyes shut. They still burned, but gradually were
soothed by the tears that escaped her tight control. Her thoughts continued
wildly, with no hope of suspension until they reached their loathsome
God would never allow her to have a child after what she had done.
Karissa had committed a murder of the most despicable kind, and for that
there was no forgiveness or salvation.
"Karissa?" Malcolm whispered. He sat up, clumsy with sleep, squinting
his eyes at the increasing light. His stiff, dark hair was slightly gray-peppered
at the temples. The effect usually gave him a distinguished look, but now
his hair stood on end as if he had run his hands through it repeatedly, giving
him the appearance of a small child rather than that of a grown
"Uh-huh," she grunted.
"What time is it?" He squinted at the clock. "Almost seven? Did you
work all night?"
"That's not good for your health."
She opened her eyes. "You're a fine one to talk."
He snorted. "Well, yeah, I guess. So did you get the accounts
"Not yet. I'm going to finish Monday morning."
"That's cutting it short."
"I'll manage." She wished he would talk to her about something other
than work; that was all they ever talked about anymore. She didn't know how
much longer they could go on living as strangers and clinging to the dream
of real togetherness. Then he spoke again, and she immediately regretted
"You do remember the doctor's appointment Monday, don't you?"
How could she have forgotten? It was only the single most important
thing on her mind. The only excuse was her gross lack of sleep, but she couldn't
credit it to that. No, the truth was she had wanted to forget. The
new fertility specialist was coming in from Anchorage specifically to visit
them, but surely he could only tell them what the others before him had already
determined: there was no physical reason why they shouldn't be able to have
children. Yet only she would know the real reason.
"Sure, I remember," she lied. "I'll go in to work early, or back today
after I sleep a little. That way I'll be free."
"Maybe this guy'll know what he's talking about." Malcolm's mouth curved
in a hopeful smile. "We've let this ride for long enough, don't you
Karissa nodded numbly. How could she tell him the truth? She wouldn't
even know where to begin. What would he think of her? Would their marriage
be over if he knew? Did she even care?
For the quadrillionth time she wished that she could go back and change
the past. Her guilt was heavy and too repulsive a thing to bear. Yet she
deserved it, and never could she forgive herself. Nor would God or her family.
No matter how much time passed and no matter how she looked at it, abortion
was still murder.
Finally Karissa slept, but it wasn't peaceful. The dream came again
as it had every so often since coming to the island. She walked onto the
balcony, holding the baby. She tripped and watched helplessly as the infant
fell over the railing. She tried desparately to cling to the baby's dress,
but it slipped out of her hands.
"Why?" asked the baby as she fell.
Read the backliner and author's comments.
Where to Buy
Softcover Tradeback $14.95 suggested retail price. Buy for Kindle
for more stores.