Echoes of the Savannah (#1)

Echoes of the Savannah (#1)

ONE

Unpredictable natures of life.

That’s what Henry always called it when baby animals showed up at the reserve, orphaned by one means or another, whether it was because of poachers or the animal was found wandering around alone.

“It’s just one of those unpredictable natures of life.”

Lynette stood beside the baby elephant, holding the oversized bottle as it downed the milk inside. Nothing but a slurping sound echoed around her, and as she looked over the African plain, she couldn’t help but take a breath.

Life’s twists and turns had taken her by surprise the last year. She’d gone from planning her retirement living over her daughter’s garage to moving to Africa to be with the long-lost love of her life—taking a breathtaking vacation and losing her daughter to cancer along the way.

“Such is the way of life,” Kate had told her several times. “One moment, you’re planning a future living above a garage, and the next, you’re standing in the middle of an African animal sanctuary, finding joy in the unexpected. It's strange how life unfolds, Mom, often not as we plan but perhaps as it's meant to be.”

Lynette glanced down at the ground, trying not to think of her daughter’s last breath. She never wanted to think of that day. She never wanted to remember what her daughter looked like, so thin and frail in that bed. Instead, she tried to remember Kate as she was when they were in Africa, full of life and happiness in finally seeing the beauty that Lynette had talked about her whole childhood.

“When do you think the guests will arrive?” Henry stood mere feet from Lynette, feeding another baby elephant who had come into the sanctuary just days before the one Lynette was feeding. Same story—mother killed by poachers—only they had come from different parts of the bush and were months apart in age.

“I don’t know. It’s about an hour’s drive from the airport.” She checked her watch. “But their plane should have landed about two hours ago. I guess that means they are late. I hope they didn’t get lost.”

“I’m sure they didn’t. They probably just stopped for something to eat.

“I guess you’re right.”

She glanced down the road, searching for dust coming from either direction. She saw nothing.

Henry scratched his head, a slight frown creasing his brow. "I'm still unsure about having Keira around the guests. You know how she can be with strangers." He glanced over at the cheetah lying near the fence. She looked into the distance like Lynette and sniffed the air as she blinked.

She’d been at the sanctuary for longer than Lynette had been, brought in by someone who had hit her with their car; Henry had nursed her back to health, or at least as healthy as he could help her get. Her injuries kept her from being released back into the bush.

Lynette bit her lip. She understood his concern. "I worried about that, too. But it's only a few people, just the bride and groom, his parents, her parents, and Joshua.”

“Have you spoken to him about how he’s feeling coming here again?”

“Not much. He’s been trying to get on with his life, which I know he must do.” Lynette inhaled a deep breath. “It will be weird seeing his family. I haven’t seen them in a long time. They were never really involved in Kate and Joshua’s marriage.”

“I’m sure it will be all right.”

“And I’m sure Keira will manage.”

They glanced at the Cheetah just in time for her to lift her head and stare at the road. Her ears perked, and as they followed her gaze, they saw a dust cloud approaching them as two vehicles made their way up the road to the sanctuary.

“I think they are here,” Henry said.

“I do, too.”

Kiera stood, sniffing the air briefly before trotting off toward the hospital. A slight part of Lynette wanted to hide away in the hospital with the oversized feline all weekend, too.

The cars pulled up, and the guests stepped out, stretching and looking around in awe at the sanctuary. Lynette's eyes immediately found Joshua, her son-in-law. He looked well, yet a lingering hesitation caught her attention, and after his parents climbed out of the car, Lynette saw why.

A young woman slid from the back seat with his mother, lifting her hand to her forehead as though to block the sun from her eyes. She glanced around, then turned to Joshua, reaching for his arm. Her fingers brushed against his sleeve, and he looked at her, smiling momentarily before he glanced back at Lynette.

Henry inched up behind her, dropping his voice to a whisper. “Why is that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he mention that he was bringing another woman?”

“No. He said it would be the seven of them. Julia, his sister, and Paul, her fiancé. Jack’s parents, Joshua’s parents, and him. He never said anything about another woman.”

Watching Joshua, Lynette felt a wave of emotion. She missed Kate deeply. Her daughter had always been the light of her life, and she could still hear Kate’s laughter echoing through the depths of her memories.

Julia bounded toward Henry and Lynette, and she wrapped her arms around Lynette with such a force that it caused her to take a step backward to keep her balance.

“Lynette! It’s so good to see you,” Julia said.

“It’s good to see you too.”

“It’s been so long. When was the last time?” Julia pulled away. “It had to be . . .” The young woman stopped herself from finishing the sentence, and her smile slightly faded.

“It was probably at Kate's funeral,” Lynette said. She didn’t want to bring down the moment, but at the same time, she felt the need to remind this bubbly girl that not everyone shared in her excitement.

Especially since her brother—Kate’s widower—decided it would be appropriate to bring a woman to South Africa.

“Yeah.” Julia’s smile faded, and she nodded, turning from Lynette to face Henry. She hugged him. “It’s good to see you again, Henry.”

“It’s good to see you, Julia. Congratulations to you and Paul.” Henry smiled at her and then moved toward Paul, who was heading their way along with his parents. Joshua’s parents were behind them, followed by the obviously not-so-sad widower and his new flame.

“Henry!” Paul said, shaking Henry’s hand. “I’d like for you to meet my parents. This is Tom and Susan.” Paul turned toward them as Henry shook their hands as well. “Mom, Dad, this is Henry.” Paul then pointed to Lynette. “And Lynette. She’s Joshua’s . . . she was Kate’s mom.”

Lynette smiled as best she could, and she stepped forward, meeting their greetings with as much energy as she could muster. She’d never been good at pretending after being blindsided, and this was a whopper she didn’t know if she’d survive.

After shaking their hands, Dorothy and Bill, Joshua’s parents, approached, first shaking Henry’s hand before looking at Lynette. Dorothy reached out for a hug.

“It’s good to see you again, Lynette,” she said.

“It’s good to see you, too.”

“How have you been?”

“Oh, you know. I’m getting by.”

Dorothy cocked her head to the side, giving a sympathetic look that Lynette didn’t know how she felt about. Sure, the gesture was meant to be nice, but it was also irritating.

Joshua was the last to approach them, and as he met Lynette’s gaze, he gave her a sheepish grin and ran his hand through his hair.

“Hey, Lynette,” he said.

Hey? Was that all this kid had to say to me?

“Hello.”

Henry moved alongside her, sticking out his hand as he greeted the young man and then looked at the woman standing with him. “Hello,” Henry said to her. “Welcome to South Africa. I’m Henry.”

“Hello. I’m Chloe.” She shook Henry’s hand and then looked at Lynette. Hesitation seemed to wash through her before she looked at Joshua, tucked her hair behind her ear with one hand, and stuck the other out to shake Lynette’s. “You must be Lynette. Joshua has told me so much about you.

Lynette glanced at the young woman and then back at Joshua. “It’s nice to meet you, too. I’m sorry I can’t say the same.”

Joshua ran his hand through his hair again and cleared his throat. “About that . . . I asked her last minute. I hope it’s all right that she came.”

“Of course it is,” Henry answered for Lynette. He moved between them, smacking Joshua on the back as he motioned for them and everyone else to follow him toward the row of tents. “We have plenty of room and plenty of work.”

Joshua followed after Henry but glanced back at Lynette over his shoulder. She could tell he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. Instead, he took Chloe’s hand as she reached for him and walked alongside her.

To be continued . . .
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