Kate Brodie stood, with her
suitcase beside her, her sensible jacket folded over her arm, and looked
across the stretch of sunburned grass to the site of her first and worst
She had hoped to feel calmer
about coming back to the Australian Outback after nine years, but her first
glimpse of the low, sprawling homestead baking beneath the harsh sun sent her
stomach churning like a tumble dryer.
Such an annoying reaction
after all this time. She was no longer the naïve English teenager who’d come
to her uncle’s cattle property for a holiday. She’d recovered years ago from
the embarrassing crush she’d wasted on Noah Carmody, her uncle’s handsome
Kate looked again at the
silent homestead with its ripple iron roof, reaching low, like a shady hat,
over deep verandas, and her throat tightened painfully. She could almost
picture her Uncle Angus standing at the top of the front steps, waiting to
welcome her, his silver hair shining in the sun’s dazzle and his smile as wide
as his open arms.
He’d lived in virtual exile
in Australia, which had always seemed like the bottom of the world to Kate,
but he’d been her only male relative and she’d loved knowing that he was
there, like a deep sea anchor. It was so hard to accept that he’d gone for
Turning slowly, she looked
about her, taking in the vastness, the overwhelming emptiness of the Outback.
The tourist coach that had brought her from Cunnamulla had already disappeared
into the shimmering heat haze and flat red earth dotted with grey clumps of
dried grass stretched as far as the eye could see.
Her uncle’s letters had
hinted at the prolonged drought in this part of Australia, but she was shocked
to see how desperately hot and dry it was.
Nine years ago, these same
parched paddocks had been oceans of lush grass and the creeks had run with
clear, fresh water. Pretty green lawns and bright, flower filled gardens had
surrounded the homestead.
Now, with the gardens gone,
every blade of grass shrivelled, and the earth sun-bleached and bone-hard, the
homestead had lost its grandeur. It looked sad and faded, as if it, too, had
succumbed to the cruelty of the withering sun.
Four lone frangipani trees
had survived the drought and they stood, two on either side of the front
steps, like maids of honour. They were ablaze with extravagant blooms and
their gaudy splashes of colour were like thick daubs in an oil painting –
pristine white, sharp lemon, deep rosy pink and rich apricot.
A photographer’s dream.
But now wasn’t the time for
A hot wind gusted, picking
up gritty dust and throwing it in Kate’s face. She ducked her head and blinked
hard. After her tediously long journey, dirt in her eyes was almost too much.
She was weary to the bone. Jetlagged.
And she still had to face up
Which shouldn’t be a
problem. She was sure Noah Carmody had long forgotten the awkwardness of her
teenage infatuation. For heaven’s sake, it had all happened when she was
seventeen. Noah had recognised her crush, had taken pity on her and kissed
responded with a wantonness that had shocked him. That was the embarrassing
part Kate fervently hoped Noah had forgotten.
She’d been so wild and
headstrong back then, so desperately in love with him. And with the buoyancy
of youth she’d bounced back from his rejection. Focusing on the kiss rather
than the rejection, she’d gone home to England with her head full of dreams of
leaving school, of getting a job and saving hard to return to Australia.
She’d planned to work as a
jillaroo, to meet up again with Noah again, and she’d been sure that, given
time, she could win his heart and marry him.
How pathetic she’d been,
fighting her mother’s protests and refusing to get her A levels, or to go to
university. She’d given up everything for that one dream. And then, at about
the same time she’d earned the money to buy her plane ticket to Australia,
word had arrived via Uncle Angus that Noah had married an Australian girl.
Even now, all these years
later, the memory of that letter made Kate’s throat close over. Thank God
she’d eventually recovered. It had taken years, but at last Kate was normal.
Her latest boyfriend, Derek Jenkins, was a rising star in London
banking and Kate was quietly confident that she was over Noah. Completely and
permanently over him.
When she saw him again, she
would be as reserved and polite as he’d always been with her, and the only
emotion she would show would be her grief over Angus’s passing.
Now, Kate marched resolutely
across the final stretch of dirt to the front steps, where an elderly cattle
dog, sleeping beneath the low veranda, lifted his head and blinked hazel eyes
at her. He rose stiffly and approached her, his blue and white flecked tail
Kate stopped. She hadn’t had
much experience of large dogs, and she expected him to bark, but he remained
utterly silent, watching her keenly.
‘Is anyone home?’ she asked.
The dog gave another lazy
wag of his tail, and then retreated to the shade beneath the floorboards, like
a pensioner, allowed to enjoy the shade after a lifetime of hard work.
Kate couldn’t blame him from
keeping out of the sun. Already she could feel it stinging the back of her
neck. Sweat trickled into the V of her bra and made her skin itch. She hurried
up the short flight of timber steps into the welcome shade on the homestead
And stopped dead.
The very man she’d been
fretting over was sprawled in a canvas squatter’s chair. Shirtless.
Kate gulped. And stared.
His face was covered by a
broad brimmed akubra, but she couldn’t mistake that long rangy
body and those impossibly wide shoulders. His bare chest was bronzed and
broad, and it rose and fell rhythmically.
By contrast, Kate’s
breathing went haywire.
It was the shock, she told
herself, the shock of finding Noah Carmody asleep at midday. The last, the
very last thing she’d expected.
She’d invaded his privacy,
but heaven help her, she couldn’t stop staring.
She took another step and
the veranda’s bare floorboards creaked, but Noah didn’t move. Her gaze fixed
on his hands, large and long fingered and suntanned and beautiful, loosely
folded over the belt buckle of his jeans.
Carefully, she set her
suitcase down and continued to stare. His hips were lean, his thighs strong,
and his blue-jeans clad legs seemed to stretch endlessly in front of him. He’d
removed one riding boot and kicked it aside and his right foot now looked
strangely exposed and intimate in a navy blue sock with a hole in the big toe.
No doubt he’d fallen asleep in this chair before he’d got the other boot off.
Kate’s lips formed the word,
but no sound came out. She sent another hasty glance beyond the veranda, to
the wide expanse of dry, empty plains spreading to infinity in every
direction. She’d get no help from out there.
The house was silent, too.
The front door was slightly ajar, offering a hint of a darkened and cool
interior, but no sounds came from inside. Beside the door, an old hat with a
battered crown hung on a row of pegs, next to it a horse’s bridle and a
leather belt with a pocket-knife pouch. The possibility that her Uncle Angus
had left them there, planning to use them again, burned a lump in Kate’s
She took another, careful
step towards the door. Someone must be awake – Noah’s wife, or a housekeeper
at least. But if she knocked, she might disturb Noah. To Kate’s dismay, her
confidence shrank to zilch at the thought of that tall, muscle-packed,
bare-chested man waking and setting his cool grey eyes on her.
She could avoid waking him
if she went round to the back door. Then she would find the housekeeper in the
kitchen. It was almost midday, for heaven’s sake, and someone should be up and
about. No doubt that someone should wake Noah…
Turning carefully, she began
to tiptoe, retracing her steps over the creaking veranda floorboards to the
steps. Halfway across the veranda, she heard a deep, gravelly voice.
She spun around.
It was just as she’d feared.
Noah was out of his chair,
standing tall. So tall. And heart-stoppingly attractive with a day’s growth of
dark beard shadowing his jaw. His eyes narrowed against the sun’s glare. ‘It
is you, Kate, isn’t it?’
‘Yes.’ Little more than a
squeak emerged from her tight throat. ‘Hell –’ She swallowed awkwardly.
‘Yes. Of course it’s you.’
His teeth flashed white in his suntanned face as he grinned. ‘No one else has
that colour hair.’
From “Her Cattleman Boss"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
Copyright: © Barbara Hannay
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement
with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com