Amy stood at the open window
of the shabby hotel room in Far North Queensland, and watched a utility truck
emerge out of the heat haze to the north. She felt an anxious flutter tremble
from her stomach to her chest. The driver was almost certainly Seth Reardon.
Her hair was damp against
the back of her neck and her cotton clothing stuck to her skin, but as the ute
rattled down the street and came to a halt directly opposite the pub, she
wasn’t sure if her discomfort was caused by the tropical heat or her
The driver’s door opened and
with an excessive lack of haste, a man unfurled from the cabin.
His build was tall and lean,
a perfect match for his faded jeans and well worn riding boots. He wore a
milk-blue cotton shirt, with long sleeves rolled to his elbows to reveal sun
darkened skin on his forearms. His hair was very black.
From this angle, Amy
couldn’t see his face, but he crossed the empty street with a slow and easy
stride that commanded attention.
Without warning, he looked
And saw her.
She swung away from the
window, her heart thumping strangely. She’d gained a fleeting impression of
masculine strength, of a grim mouth and a proud and resolute jaw, and eyes
that were a breathtaking vivid blue.
‘Oh, Bella,’ Amy whispered,
sending a glance back to the two year old playing with a toy pig on the bed.
‘This man is your daddy.’
It was too late to change
her mind, but suddenly, for the first time since she’d left Melbourne, Amy
wondered if she’d done the right thing to come all this way.
Rachel had been so cagey
about Bella’s father. She’d always confided in Amy – always – and yet
she hadn’t breathed a word about Seth Reardon until Bella’s second
Rachel had finally made the
big confession after the birthday party, a very casual gathering in her
backyard – a few playgroup mums and toddlers, with colourful cupcakes, jelly
oranges and chocolate frogs.
Afterwards, Amy had helped
to wash coffee cups and once Bella had been tucked into bed, she and Rachel
had opened a bottle of wine and made spaghetti. They’d eaten on the back patio
and talked long into the night.
When Amy brought up the
subject of Bella’s father, Rachel had groaned. ‘Do you always have to act like
‘But Bella’s two years old
now,’ Amy protested. ‘And she’s such a gorgeous little thing. I can’t help
thinking there’s a guy out there who’s missing out on so much by not knowing
To Amy’s surprise, Rachel
had actually agreed.
‘You’re right,’ she said,
and after almost three years of silence, the confession had tumbled out.
Rachel had met this
absolutely amazing guy when she’d been working on a cattle property on Cape
York, in Far North Queensland.
‘I suppose I was totally
overawed by him,’ she admitted. ‘He was the most attractive man I’ve ever
‘You mean…’ Amy whispered,
‘he was The One?’
Rachel’s face was white, her
voice edgy. ‘Yes, I’m afraid he was – but that’s what scared me, Ames. That’s
why I never kept in touch with him. If I’d told him about Bella, he would have
wanted me to live up there with him.’
‘But if you love each other
you’d live happily ever after,’ Amy declared. It had seemed incredibly simple
and romantic to her.
But Rachel’s mask slipped to
reveal raw fear. ‘I couldn’t live there,’ she said. ‘He’s the boss of a
massive cattle station. It occupies his whole life, and it’s so hot and wild
and remote. I’d be mad with loneliness and I’d drive the poor man insane.’
A glass of wine later Rachel
had said more calmly, ‘You’re right, Amy. God help me, you’re always right. I
really must make contact with Seth again. I do want to take Bella to meet him.
I just need to find the right time.’
But she’d never found the
Which was why Amy was here
now, in the Tamundra pub, almost three thousand kilometres north of Melbourne.
When Seth Reardon heard
footsteps on the bare timber stairs, he stood in the empty hotel dining room,
facing the doorway, shoulders squared, hands lightly fisted at his sides.
He wasn’t looking forward to
meeting this friend of Rachel Tyler’s, and he frowned, sensing something odd
as he listened to Amy’s Ross’s approach.
He was here for a business
meeting and he’d expected to meet her alone, but he could hear another set of
footsteps – eager, small footsteps.
Without warning, a tiny girl
burst, like a small torpedo, through the doorway.
Arms outstretched, the child
greeted Seth with a huge grin, as if a reclusive cattleman, whom she’d never
met, was the one person in the world she most wanted to see.
Seth’s stomach dropped as
she headed straight for his knees, blue eyes dancing, dark curls bouncing. He
knew next to nothing about children, would rather face an angry scrub bull
than a small, toddling female.
To his relief, an anxious
young woman, the same woman he’d glimpsed in the window upstairs – Amy Ross,
he presumed – came hurrying behind the child.
‘Bella!’ She reached for the
little girl’s hand and halted her headlong dash to embrace Seth’s legs.
‘I’m sorry,’ she huffed,
slightly out of breath and blushing brightly. ‘I’m afraid Bella’s very
‘So I see.’
Seth’s dryly drawled
response was the result of habit rather than displeasure. Now that the child
was safely perched on her mother’s hip, he could see that the two of them
formed a charming picture.
The child’s dark, curly
hair, dimples, and blue eyes were in startling contrast with her mother’s
brown eyes and straight, honey brown hair. Amy Ross’s complexion was warmer
than her daughter’s, with the slightest hint of a golden tan.
But in spite of the
differences in their appearances, the close bond between the two of them was
clear, and Seth was suddenly lassoed by unexpected emotion. He’d been
stoically resigned to his life as a loner, but now he felt strangely left out,
excluded from a very special unit.
He thought he’d thrown off
his urges to be a family man.
‘Perhaps we should start
again,’ Amy Ross said, and she held out her hand with a smile as appealing as
her daughter’s. ‘I’m Amy and you must be Seth. How do you do?’
He accepted her greeting
with a stiff nod, and as they shook hands, he was super-conscious of the soft
warmth of her skin.
‘You didn’t mention that you
were bringing your daughter,’ he said with an asperity he immediately
Amy’s eyes widened. ‘I hope
you don’t mind. I’m afraid I couldn’t leave Bella behind. She’s usually well
Seth made no comment and the
little girl continued to regard him with enormous delight, which he found
He swallowed to clear the
tightening in his throat. He was mad with himself for allowing a total
stranger – a woman, no less – to convince him to drop everything and race into
Admittedly, Amy Ross’s phone
call had delivered alarming news that Seth couldn’t afford to ignore. He’d
been shocked to hear about Rachel Tyler’s death. He hadn’t heard from Rachel
since she’d worked on Serenity, and he’d tried to put her clear out of his
Her death was a tragedy.
And already, there’d been
too much tragedy.
Amy hooked the straps of her
shoulder bag more securely and held Bella’s hand. But the child immediately
began to squirm.
‘Man, up!’ she demanded,
running to Seth’s side and tugging at his denim jeans with determined little
‘Bella, no.’ Grimacing with
embarrassment, Amy pulled picture books from her shoulder bag. ‘Come and sit
here quietly and look at these books while I talk to Mr. Reardon. Come on now,
be a good girl.’
Seth tried to be patient
while Bella was persuaded to sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor with books
and a handful of toys. He and Amy sat at one of the dining tables.
‘Hey, diddle, diddle,’ the
child announced gleefully.
He stifled a sigh of
irritation. ‘Does your daughter usually accompany you to business meetings,
‘Cat an’ fiddle,’ chanted
Flushing, Amy nervously
lifted her hair from the back of her neck. Clearly, the heat and the tropical
humidity were bothering her. Her hair was damp against her skin, and her neck
was flushed and shiny with perspiration.
‘I’m not married,’ she said.
It was only then, as Seth
watched her elegant hands securing a twist in her honey hair, that he noticed
she wasn’t wearing rings.
So she was a single mother.
He supposed he should be more tolerant. He’d heard all the news reports about
the excessive costs of day care.
‘I don’t usually have Bella
with me while I’m working,’ she said. ‘But I had to travel such a long way
this time, and I didn’t want to leave her.’
He bit back a question about
the child’s father, but he couldn’t help wondering where the guy was and why
he hadn’t been able or willing to help out.
‘You’ve come quite a
distance,’ he said.
‘Don’t I know it? It’s so
hot and muggy here.’ She lifted the limp collar of her cotton shirt away from
her skin. ‘The tourist agency told me it’s as far from Melbourne to Tamundra
as it is from London to Moscow.’
Seth nodded. ‘And you’ve
chosen the very worst time of the year to make such a long journey.’
From “The Cattleman's Adopted Family"
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