It’s almost here… the book that nearly killed me and yet I’m so thrilled with how it came out. A few of the early reviews are in and mention that my descriptions of South Africa make the reader feel like they are there, which is such a wonderful compliment.
Getting to visit that beautiful country was an amazing experience, and I loved going back (in my head) with Olivia and Ethan. There is a lot of my trip in the book. In fact, here’s an excerpt, and this is exactly how it happened my first night at Inyati Game Reserve.
The wide Land Cruiser sped across a sandy path through the short trees and bush. The CB radio mounted below the dash buzzed with Afrikaans or another language she didn’t know, and Phillip snatched up the receiver, gave a short reply, and returned the receiver to its rest.
“There’s a pride of lionesses hunting a kilometer from here,” the South African said.
The vehicle lurched forward as he stepped on the gas. The landscaped changed quickly around them. One minute it was thorny, dense bush and the next it was open, grassy plain.
“Giraffe,” Olivia said to no one in particular, pointing down the hill as they flew by. The lanky animal stood on its long legs, eating leaves from a treetop and paid no attention to them.
“And zebra,” Phillip replied, although he pronounced it zeh-bra. “Giraffe and zebra are old friends. You usually see them together.”
She didn’t care what the men thought of her reaction, it was impossible not to be dazzled seeing something she’d only seen behind fences at a zoo. “He’s beautiful.”
“She, actually,” Phillip said. “They are elegant, no?”
“Yes.” Elegant was the perfect word.
They crossed over a dry creek bed and the Land Cruiser scaled the rocky hill on the other side, leading them to where another vehicle sat, the logo of a different lodge displayed on its side. The vehicles were similar in style, but the back of the other one was full of passengers, all with camera straps slung around their necks.
Phillip pulled alongside the driver and chatted with the burly, tough looking black man, in what sounded like friendly conversation. Then, as they parted, Phillip yelled to the other vehicle’s passengers, “Make sure you ask him why he’s called Gentle Creature!”
The driver gave an embarrassed smile when he pulled away.
“Why is he called that?” she asked.
“Johannes used to be a tracker for us. One day he came into a clearing and startled a rhino bull. The firing pin of his rifle had jammed, so he said he had to talk the rhino out of charging him.”
“How’d he do that?”
“Johannes told the rhino that he was a gentle creature and meant it no harm. We can’t let him get by without teasing.” He moved the gearshift. “Hang on, we’re going in.”
She wasn’t quite sure what he meant until the tires turned off the path and into the bush. Then Phillip drove right over a large sapling. Her hand latched onto the bar over the seatback in front of her.
“Duck down,” the South African yelled over the tree limbs snapping beneath the undercarriage.
Duck down because now he was going under a low-hanging tree with two-inch thorns on it. She flattened herself against the center seat as the thorns dragged and scraped over the hood, and continued relatively harmlessly over the shirt on her back. The Land Cruiser tackled a few more bushes, and Phillip cut the engine.
In the center of the thicket, three lionesses lifted their heads from their meal to focus on the visitors, bloody entrails dangling from their deadly jaws. The largest cat went back to eating and the others followed. They did not view the people or the vehicle as a threat.
Olivia couldn’t fight the instinct to press herself into the leather seat. There were no fences, no bars or glass separating her from these gorgeous beasts. She was only twenty feet from them. There was nothing to stop them if they wanted to pounce and rip out her throat.
“It’s all right,” Phillip said, sensing her apprehension. “They’re comfortable with us. We’ve been coming around for long enough that we’re just another part of the environment to them.”
These cats looked so different from the ones in captivity. Muscles stretched beneath their hides that were hardened through need. It could be days before their next meal. Scratches and scars dotted their faces. It was a tough life, even at the top of the food chain.
She could have stayed for hours, silently watching them. Lions had always been her favorite growing up. At one point, she turned to Nathan, although she was unsure why. Maybe since he was also American he was likely to feel the way she did.
“Isn’t this amazing?” she said.
His eyes slowly drifted away from the cats to settle on her. “Yes.”
It sent a delicious shiver up her spine.
And here’s that moment. You can’t see in this picture, but there was a third lioness behind the bush eating. These two were heading into food coma . . . the top one is yawning.