Jess squirmed in the passenger seat as the car sped along the lonely outback
road, windscreen wipers thrashing madly. At thirty-seven weeks pregnant, she
would have found this journey tedious under any circumstances.
Tonight, in the inky,
rain-filled darkness, with the wrong music playing and the monotonously
annoying swish, swish of the wipers, the journey was definitely too
late and too long and far too uncomfortable.
Beside Jess, her husband contentedly chewed gum and tapped the
steering wheel, matching his rhythm to the latest hit from his favourite band.
Alan was pleased with himself. Today he’d landed a new job managing an outback
pub – a chance, at last, to earn regular wages. Jess had to admit she was
pleased about this fresh start, away from the city temptations that had caused
them so much trouble.
This morning, they’d
travelled out to Gidgee Springs to view the pub and to settle the agreement,
and in a few months, when their baby was old enough, Jess would probably work
in the kitchen, so they’d both be earning again. Fabulous.
Admittedly, life in a
tiny outback town wasn’t quite what Jess had envisaged when she’d made her
wedding vows, but she’d been pretty naďve the day she’d married Alan Cassidy
on a romantic tropical beach at sunset. Now, three years older and wiser, she
saw this new job as a much needed chance to start over, to get things right.
As the car sped on, Jess peered ahead, worried that the headlights
seemed too feeble to fight with the rain. They barely picked up the white
dividing lines on the narrow road and she was grateful that the traffic in the
lonely outback was so sparse.
She closed her eyes,
hoping she might nod off, found herself, instead, remembering the terrible day
she’d almost walked out on Alan after he lost the last of their money on yet
another hopeless business scheme. Jess had made the tough decision even though
she’d known firsthand, that single-motherhood was a truly difficult option.
She’d never known her
own father, and had grown up with her mother and serial “uncles,” and it
wasn’t the life she wanted. But she’d realised she had to leave Alan even
though it would mean the death of her dreams of a proper, two parent family.
Those dreams had already crumbled to dust on the day Alan lost their savings.
Single, she would at
least regain control over her income, and she would have found a way to keep a
roof over her baby’s head. Then, at the last minute, Alan had seen an ad for
this job as manager of a pub. It was another chance. And Jess had stayed.
Years ago, her mother
had warned that marriage was a gamble, that very, very few lucky souls could
ever hope for a happy ending. Now Jess was taking one last gamble, praying
that after today, things would be different.
Surely they should be
Oh, please, let him be
They would finish this
interminable drive back to Cairns. Their baby would be born in a few weeks’
time and then the three of them would start their new life in Gidgee Springs.
She would give her
marriage one last chance.
Reece Weston almost missed seeing the car in the ditch. He was about to turn
into his cattle property when the headlights picked up the rounded hump of a
dead kangaroo lying in the rain at the edge of the bitumen, and then skid
marks veering off the road. Driving closer, he caught the gleam of white
uncomfortably in his gut as he pulled over. A small sedan had plunged
nose-down into a rocky gully.
He knew the vehicle
hadn’t been there an hour or two earlier, and chances were, he was the first
person to come across it. Grim faced, he grabbed a torch from the glove box
and slipped his satellite phone into his coat pocket.
The night was moonless
and black and wind threw rain into his face as he negotiated the slippery
bank. The car’s front passenger door hung open, the seat empty. Flashing the
torch over the sides and bottom of the gully, Reece hoped he wasn’t about to
find a body flung from the crash. He couldn’t see anyone outside the car, but
when he edged closer to the wreckage he found the figure of a man slumped over
the steering wheel.
Scrambling around the
vehicle, he dragged the driver’s door open, released the seatbelt and felt for
a pulse in the man’s neck.
He tried the wrist.
Still no sign of life.
Sickened, he wrenched
open the back passenger door, shoved a suitcase from the back seat into the
rain, leaned in and lowered the driver’s seat backwards into a reclining
position. It would be hours before help could arrive, so saving this guy was
up to him. Struggling to get beside the body in the cramped space, he began to
Come on, mate, let’s get
this heart of yours firing.
Reece had only done this
on dummies before, so he was by no means experienced, but he was glad the
training came back to him now, as he repeated the cycle over and over –
fifteen compressions and two slow breaths.
He wasn’t sure how long
he worked before he heard the woman’s cry coming from some distance away. The
thin sound floated faintly through the rain, and for a split second he thought
that perhaps he’d imagined the sound, a trick of the wind. But then he heard
it again. Louder.
‘Help, someone, please!’
Definitely a woman. She
had to be the passenger, surely.
He grabbed his sat phone
and punched in numbers for the district’s one and only cop, praying there’d be
an answer. To his relief the response was instant and he’d never been more
pleased to hear the sergeant’s gravel-rough voice.
‘Mick, Reece Weston
here. There’s been an accident out near the turn off to my place – Warringa. A
small sedan’s hit a kangaroo and gone off the road. I’ve been trying CPR on
the driver, but I’m not having much luck, I’m afraid. No signs of life. And
now there’s someone else calling for help. I’m going to check it out.’
‘OK, Reece. I’ll alert
the ambulance at Dirranbilla, and come straight out. But you know it’ll take
me a couple of hours. And the ambos could be even longer. Actually, with all
this rain, they might have trouble getting through. The creeks are rising.’
Reece let out a soft
curse as he disconnected. Times like this, he had to ask why his forbears had
settled in one of the remotest parts of Australia. He flashed his torch up and
down the gully again, then scrambled onto the road and cupped his hands to his
mouth. ‘Where are you?’ he called.
‘On a track off the
road. Please… help!’
The only track around
here led into his homestead. The woman must have scrambled from the car in a
bid to reach help for the driver. She sounded both scared and in pain.
Rain needled his face as
he started to run, the beam of his torch bouncing ahead down the track,
lighting muddy puddles and drenched grass and the slim trunks of gum trees.
Rounding a bend, he found the woman huddled in the rain, sagged against a
He flashed the torch
over her and caught her pale frightened face in its beam. Her hair was long
and hanging in wet strings to her shoulders. Her arms were slender and as pale
as her face, and she was holding something…
A step or two closer, he
realised she was supporting the huge bulge of her heavily pregnant belly.
He was shocked to a
man arrived just as the pain came again, huge and cruel, gripping Jess with a
vice-like force. She tried to breathe with it, the way she’d been taught at
ante natal classes, but no amount of breathing could bring her relief. She was
too horrified and too scared. She wasn’t supposed to be in labour now. Not
three weeks early, not on the edge of a bush track in the rain and in the
middle of nowhere. Not with Alan scarily unconscious and unable to help her.
The man stepped closer.
She couldn’t see him very well, but he seemed to be tall and dark haired. Not
‘Are you hurt?’
She shook her head, but
had to wait till the contraction eased before she could answer. ‘I don’t think
so,’ she said at last. ‘But I’m afraid my labour’s started.’
He made a despairing
sound. No doubt he wondered what the hell she was doing out here in an
advanced state of pregnancy. She felt obliged to justify her predicament. ‘My
husband needs help. I was trying to find a homestead.’
By now his hand was at
her elbow supporting her. Despite the rain, his skin was warm and she could
feel the roughness of his work-toughened palm. She sensed she could trust him.
She had no choice really.
she said. ‘I couldn’t revive him, and then the pains started when I had to
climb up the rocks to the road.’ She gave a dazed shake of her head. ‘I
couldn’t use my mobile. There’s no network. But he needs an ambulance.’
‘I saw him,’ her rescuer
said gently. He had brown eyes, as dark as black coffee, and he was watching
her now with a worried frown. ‘I’ve rung the local police and help is on the
way. But for the moment, I think you need to look after yourself and your
Jess’s response was
swallowed by a gasp as another contraction gripped her, then consumed her,
driving every other thought from her head.
‘Here, lean on me.’ The
stranger slipped his arm around her shoulders, steadying her against his solid
Just having him there
seemed to help.
From “The Cattleman's Special Delivery"
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