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Sunny's Summer

Book 2, Seasons of Destiny Series

Six months after the deadliest fire in California history, Sunny Ray drives into rubble and ash, all that remains of once-lovely Paradise. She is there to document the history of the Camp Fire for her graduate thesis, one survivor story at a time. Sunny’s troubled past enables her to connect with members of the community in a way that helps their healing, except for Deputy Sheriff Evan Millet. 

Distant and simmering with resentment at Sunny’s intrusion, Evan refuses to speak with Sunny, but slowly relents enough to help with her research. A mutual attraction sparks between them and a bond of trust begins to bloom. But when their fragile trust is broken, can they salvage their budding romance, or will it become another paradise lost?

From the Author

This book marks a departure for me. I’ve always exercised care to make my books timeless, not tied to the news, technology, or popular culture of any particular period. When this story spoke to me, I couldn’t resist it, and I knew it had to be tied to the time, place, and events you will find here.

Until November 8, 2018, I had never been involved in a natural disaster. I’d heard and read about them, watched my adult children deal with them in various parts of the world, prayed for the victims and their survivors, and contributed to distant relief efforts. But the tragedy of a natural disaster had never touched me personally. Although my husband, Roger, and I lived in northern California for more than forty years and raised our family here, we missed those disasters that affected other parts of our state and nation. Even the devastating fires in the Santa Rosa area in 2017 were far enough away that we had no personal connection.

The Carr fire in July and August of 2018 was closer—within seventy miles of our home—and we knew people who lost their homes and possessions in that conflagration. Yet it still seemed distant from us. At the time, we were away on a fourteen-month assignment living and working in Arizona in the Navajo Nation.

We returned to California on November 1, 2018; the Camp Fire started one week later. Although it did not reach our home, it burned to within five miles of us. We were on alert for possible evacuation, and the park just a third of a mile from our home was closed in the event evacuation became necessary. We saw the black smoke clouds, thousands of feet high, rolling down at us from the ridge, and for days we lived in skies so dark that the streetlights stayed on day and night and everyone had to drive using headlights. 

For most of three weeks, we did not go out unless we had to. When we did, we wore hazard masks. Worse, we heard the stories and saw the videos from friends, people we knew well, who lost everything: homes, possessions, businesses, pets. Some people we did not know lost family members. At least eighty-five were killed in the fire, the most destructive and deadly in California history.

Then came the floods. Although this area hadn’t seen measurable precipitation in nearly 220 days, the skies opened in a series of “atmospheric rivers” that poured rain and snow across the region for months. In the fire zone, what was left by the flames washed away in a series of floods and debris flows. A friend was among the archeologists who went into the debris zone to rescue the ashes of the dead before the floods could wash them away.

In the months since then, my husband and I have visited the burned-out areas, viewing only a few of the 211 square miles consumed by the flames. We have participated in relief efforts and have tried to extend our help and sympathy to all those affected. Yet we feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming, destructive natural power.

When I first conceived this story, my husband warned me not to write it. “It’s too soon,” he said. “The experience is too raw for too many people.” Then I wrote a short sketch of the basic storyline and showed it to a friend affected by the fire. My friend did not lose her home, but the flames burned to the edge of her back porch. She was evacuated for nearly a month without knowing whether her horses were alive. When she returned, her whole home had to be professionally cleaned due to smoke damage. What couldn’t be cleaned was an uninsured loss. (As a side note, a neighbor who did not have to evacuate cared for her horses. They are well.)

My friend who had experienced the fires said, “Write it! You must! People have to see that others are experiencing the same things: the horror, the loss, the guilt . . . oh, the guilt! Yes, write it. Maybe it can help some to heal.”

In this book, which is tied to exact times and places, I tell the story of fictional people who are experiencing the aftermath of the Camp Fire. I hope their experience can help others heal.

—May, 2019

NOTE: This book is a work of fiction. Although many of the events recorded here did happen to real people, those depicted here are fictional characters, not meant to represent any individual, living or dead. This book and the song lyrics contained within it are proprietary materials, copyrighted in 2019 by Susan Aylworth.

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