Cover - Rite of PassageRITE OF PASSAGE
available now at
www.wingsepress.com
ISBN 978-1-59088-680-9

By JoEllen Conger

Corrine Whitehorse is desperate to earn the money she needs to satisfy the balloon payment on her mortgage. She doesn't want to lose the only home her three, small sons have ever known.

Walter Fitzgerald, a businessman used to having his own way, is equally as desperate to reach the bedside of his hospitalized three, year-old daughter, fearing she may die before he arrives. Neither Corrine nor Walter plan to be distracted from the goals that drive them, until fate tangles their lives together. Learning to trust, learning to love again, changes their lives forever.

Corrine grieves the untimely death of her husband, which has left her to face her fear of losing her home. However, she has learned photography from the best… her Native American husband. As a wildlife photographer, Corrine is determined to film a series of golden eagle specials.

Being an experienced naturalist who has monitored a particular breeding pair of golden eagles in the Sierra National Forest, she knows she can't ask for help. The eagle pair would never permit strangers near their nest site while the fledglings are helpless. Therefore, she has no choice but to climb the rugged, Northwestern Mountain unassisted. Without a climbing partner, she must go alone. Although she has not worked with the eagles since her husband's death, Corrine prays the eagles will remember her. If they do not, she knows they will challenge her with their deadly talons.

After putting her three sons on the bus for summer camp, Corrine begins the long trip north to her mountain cabin. Suddenly she remembers she must stop along the way to purchase groceries. It is night when she stops at an unfamiliar shopping center. There, a wounded fugitive abducts her at gunpoint. Frightened for her life, Corrine submissively follows the fugitive's instructions to drive him to Seattle, relieved that her sons are safe.

Corrine's courage mounts when she realizes the man has lost consciousness. She is intent on making good her escape, but the man's pleas for help remind her that, as the wife of an "Eagle Warrior" she has vowed to revere and protect ALL living things. She cannot leave this desperate man to bleed to death.

Thinking she will find help along the way, she drives on toward Lost Hills Station. But when she arrives in the early morning hours, the ranger is no longer on duty. She can't wait. The only haven from the freezing cold is her mountain hideaway.

Later, as the wounded man cries out for Sara in his fevered deliriums, there is such love in his voice that Corrine decides he must be calling for his wife. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the curly-haired stranger. She holds him until his fevered nightmare passes and he finally sleeps.

It is hard for her to accept her feelings of desire to be loved again as a woman. Determined not to compound her problems by becoming personally involved with a wanted--and married--man, Corrine leaves food and medication near at hand, intent on climbing the mountain before dawn. Unaccustomed to climbing with such a heavy pack, the climb is much harder than she had expected; but determination drives her on.

Corrine is near exhaustion on the downward trail. Pausing for breath on an open ridge, she hears a strange, whistling sound. At first, she is unable to identify it. Fear rising, she whirls about and raises her eyes to the sky to see the she-eagle plummeting toward her. She doesn't know whether to expect a greeting or an attack. She only knows she mustn't run.

The wind from the eagle's strong beating wings whips Corrine's hair wildly about her face. The bird, its talons raised, its ear-splitting scream terrifying her, Corrine nearly faints before she remembers the Indian greeting her husband used to return the birds' salutation. "Meesha!" she calls, raising her arms toward the hovering figure. Recognizing her, the female eagle salutes her, then lifts to the skies.

Equally as frightening, her long-term friend, park ranger Fred Murphy stops by her cabin the following day for coffee. Fearing he'll find the wounded convict, Corrine reluctantly guides him into the cabin. Walter is nowhere to be seen. Corrine cannot imagine where he has hidden himself within the one room cabin.

Once the ranger is gone, she discovers Walter wedged under the bed. He is unable to extricate himself and Corrine is forced to aid him. Again her traitorous body responds. Angered by her physical response to the handsome stranger, Corrine vows to keep her distance. But during the following days, her continued confrontations with the weakened, but conscious, stranger only serves to set her emotional senses reeling. She decides that her only defense is to spend longer hours on the mountain.

When Corrine makes a final trip to Lost Hills Station to ship her video film and photos to her editor, she is relieved that the mortgage payment is finally assured. While at the country store, she learns from the gossipy Jacobson sisters that Walter's wife has died. Corrine returns to the cabin. Tearfully, she tells Walter how sorry she is.

Choking with a sob, tears filling his eyes, he is overcome. "But what of Sara," he asks, "How is she?"

Corrine is thunderstruck. The Sara he has called for in his delirium is not his wife, not his lover, but his daughter.

Walter explains that he and his wife have been divorced for some time. His daughter is the love of his life. He has missed her deeply.

Realizing that she has fallen in love with her stranger, Corrine is determined to see that Walter reaches Sara without detection or capture. Packing to leave, Corrine discovers Paul's treasure cache, filled with mementos of their years together. A small eaglet claw talisman catches her eye. Remembering the legacy of the golden eagle, she realizes that she can stay true to her late husband's memory, and still love again in the present.

With hesitant words she explains the essence of the ancient Indian legend to Walter. 'Wakiash, a powerful eagle god, safeguards all those who live by the Law of the Eagle'. Then, before the flickering firelight, she reveals the true nature of her passion.

In the darkness of early morning, they leave the forest. Once at the hospital, Corrine leaves Walter hidden safely in the car while she ingeniously prowls the hospital for clues to Sara's whereabouts. Through a series of exploits, Corrine not only learns the whereabouts of Sara, but also safely transports Walter through the gamut of reporters, police and hospital personnel to deposit him undiscovered to his daughter's room.

Young Sara amazes everyone by waking from her coma at the sound of her father's voice. Jabbering excitedly as only a three year old can, she tells her daddy about all the things that have happened since he went away.

It isn't long until the medical team, the detective, and the reporters are all in the room - each demanding answers to their own set of questions. Corrine slips away and falls asleep from exhaustion on a waiting room sofa, she knows that soon she will have to face the consequences for hiding and abetting a wanted man; but to her surprise, she finds that Walter is much more than a fugitive from justice. He is a wealthy businessman with influences and powers she never suspected. Walter makes arrangements for Corrine to take young Sara home with her while he returns to prison to await the results of the renewed investigation.

Spending the summer with Paul's family on the Indian reservation, Corrine reintroduces her boys to their Native American heritage. Chief Running Elk, the boys' grandfather, delights in spinning his many yarns; and their grandmother, Meadowlark, in pampering 'her babies'. Paul's sister and brothers include her children with their gaggle of nieces on every outing, while camcorder and cameras in hand, Corrine works actively again with the Golden Eagle Conservation Program.

Having reopened the case to examine new evidence, Detective Moorehouse writes to declare that Walter will soon be set free. His investigation has proven that Walter's partner was responsible for the misappropriation of the company's investment funds. Knowing his name will be cleared, Walter writes a letter to propose marriage to Corrine.

Corrine's excitement has her up at dawn on the day of Walter's release. Arriving early at the prison, she waits impatiently for Detective Moorehouse and Walter Fitzgerald to step through the release gate. Thanks to Detective Moorehouse's efforts, Walter and Corrine now have an exciting new life ahead of them.