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Return to Warrapinya

Return to Warrapinya: An Australian Outback Second Chance Romance

One failed marriage. A couple from opposite ends of the globe. Should they risk another chance at love?

Cara is nervous about revisiting Australia, but she has agreed to take her small son to meet his father – her ex-husband.
It’s been five years since Cara last saw Luke. He’s as attractive as ever, her emotions are in turmoil and their reunion brings back so many memories – some incredibly happy, others hopelessly complicated.
But their little boy adores his father’s outback property, and now that Luke has his family again, he longs to keep them together.
The time has come for a massive decision. Should this girl from Manhattan give her marriage a second chance?

Return to Warrapinya is the second book in Barbara’s Heads or Hearts series. Don’t miss this deeply emotional, award winning novel – originally published as Claiming His Family and winner of the coveted Romance Writers of America’s RITA award for Best Traditional Romance.

Return to Warrapinya


CARA saw her ex-husband at the exact moment he saw her, at the very instant she emerged from Customs into the International Terminal at Sydney Airport. Their eyes met across the crowded sea of expectant faces, and she felt a jolt so savage she almost stumbled.

Luke Manning looked exactly as she remembered – a man who could never blend into a crowd. Wide-shouldered, long-legged and lean, with dark hair, prominent cheekbones and a mouth that could be brooding or good humoured by turns, Luke retained an air of inner confidence and calm that always set him apart.

But today there was something more. Despite the crowds that jostled him as they waved and called to loved ones, he gave an impression of remoteness, like the vast and lonely Australian Outback he loved. Even at this distance his grey eyes could freeze her.

Cara drew a sharp breath. For a fleeting moment there had been a spark of excitement in Luke’s eyes, but then, just as suddenly, the light vanished to be replaced with chilling blankness. In the past she’d never seen such coldness in his face, but its appearance now was hardly surprising. What else could she expect? Five years ago she’d walked away from their marriage. She hadn’t seen him since.

Now she felt a flash of panic.

Seeing Luke again was even harder than she’d feared. She’d been schooling herself to feel nothing. Nothing. But all it had taken was that single icy glance from those too-familiar grey eyes and the wounds that were supposed to have healed were ripped open again.

Once again she felt the awful pain. This was what she’d dreaded, why she almost hadn’t come.

A small, impatient hand tugged at hers. ‘You said my dad would be here.’ Joey sounded anxious. ‘Can’t you see him yet?’

‘Yes, sweetheart, he’s here.’

Cara gave Joey’s hand a squeeze, more to reassure herself than her son. She tried to ignore the trembling in her stomach, the unwanted surge of anxiety shooting high, filling her throat.

Around them, the lines of fellow passengers were breaking up as weary travellers were enveloped by welcoming arms. Mere metres away, Luke Manning stood still, waiting.

Cara’s heart thudded. She had to remember that this meeting was not about her. Or Luke. They weren’t here to rake up the past. Neither of them wanted that. Their marriage was a closed book, finished for ever. They were meeting because of their son. This was for Joey, for his future.

She heard a sharp exclamation and felt Joey’s hand slip from hers. He’d seen his father.

Even though Luke wasn’t astride a stock horse or wearing an Akubra hat, he looked so like the photograph on Joey’s nightstand that his son couldn’t fail to recognise him.

‘Hey, Dad!’ Joey shrieked, and began to rush forward, but after three or four steps he stopped, overcome by shyness.

Cara, pushing the loaded luggage cart, tried to catch up with the boy, but she too was gripped by a vexing hesitation. It was like a bad dream where she couldn’t seem to move. She’d come so far, all the way from Manhattan, but these last few steps seemed impossible.

Perhaps she should have accepted her sister’s offer to accompany Joey in her place. How terrible this was. The three of them were like a still-life tableau — Cara in her trendy New-York black trouser suit, suitably crease-resistant for travelling — Luke, an Outback man in the city, in pale moleskin trousers, a long-sleeved, blue cotton shirt and carefully polished elastic-sided riding boots — and little freckle-nosed, redheaded Joey, staring up at his father as he clutched his favourite possessions in a New York Yankees backpack.

They stood there, stiffly silent and awkward in the midst of the busy, bustling airport.

And then they seemed to come to life at once. Luke’s hands came out of his pockets and his mouth quirked into a quarter-smile. With his eyes fixed on Joey, he stepped forward. Cara forced their luggage cart to move once more. Joey hitched his backpack over one shoulder and grinned.

‘Hi, Dad.’ His face was glowing as he looked up at Luke.

‘Hello, Joey.’ Stooping low, Luke offered his right hand and Cara held her breath as she watched the man and the boy greet each other. She felt a leaping sensation in her chest as she saw the deep emotion in Luke’s eyes, the shining pride in Joey’s.

This was such a big moment for Joey — the culmination of months of longing and desperate impatience that had begun last autumn when he’d started school — when he’d suddenly become obsessed by a need to know everything about his father.

Now, as Cara watched, Luke’s eyes seemed to devour the boy. What was he thinking? Was he remembering Joey’s birth and how proud he’d been of his new baby son — how smitten they’d both been?

Was Luke looking for a physical resemblance to himself?

Superficially, Joey looked more like Cara’s family, the Reillys. Both she and Joey had inherited lighter toned hair from her Irish father and their smallish noses were a Reilly feature too. But already it was clear that Joey was going to be tall like Luke and his high cheekbones were an unmistakable Manning legacy.

And the boy’s eyes were smoky indigo, a true mixture of Cara’s bright blue and Luke’s deep grey.

She wondered if she should break the silence, but it was Joey who rescued the moment.

Shooting Luke a self-conscious grin, her son said, ‘Good day, mate,’ in his best attempt at an Australian accent.

Luke’s face broke into a helpless crooked smile. ‘G’day, little mate.’ His voice sounded choked as he ruffled Joey’s buzz cut with a big brown hand. Then he tapped the logo on Joey’s backpack. ‘How are the Yankees? Have they had a good season?’

Joey nodded shyly and then Luke looked in Cara’s direction, his eyes bright yet wary.

Smile. She had to look cool and okay about this. Detached. Smile, dammit. But her lips refused to curve and she was forced to tighten her cheek muscles until her mouth pulled outwards and upwards into a very mechanical grimacing smile.

Luke, on the other hand, didn’t even bother to look pleased to see her. ‘Hello, Cara.’ His gaze was cold again and he spoke through tight lips.

‘Hi, Luke.’ She lifted her right hand, but then let it fall back onto the handle of the baggage cart. Best not to attempt to shake hands—it would be too embarrassing if Luke ignored her.

His jaw clenched, then relaxed. ‘How was the flight?’

She shrugged. ‘Very long.’

He nodded grimly.

Cara switched her attention to Joey, who was standing between them, and she stroked his cheek with her knuckles. ‘This little tiger managed to sleep for eight hours, so he’s ready and raring to go.’

‘That’s great.’

Joey’s eyes shone as he stared up at Luke. ‘Your cattle ranch is humungous, isn’t it, Dad?’

‘It’s big.

‘As big as the whole of Texas?’

‘Don’t be silly, Joey.’ Cara’s voice sounded too tense but it couldn’t be helped. ‘You know it’s not that big.’

‘Well, it’s bigger than Manhattan.’ Joey giggled with the cheerful confidence of a kindergarten kid, not yet required to come to grips with geography.

‘Quite a lot bigger than Manhattan,’ Luke agreed. He turned to Cara. ‘Let me push that cart for you.’

‘It’s okay. I’m managing.’

Overriding her foolishness, he stepped forward and his hand closed around her wrist. Oh, help. What was the matter with her? Did he notice how she almost jumped out of her skin?

For a breathless stretch of time Luke looked down at her small white hand, trapped by his, so large and brown. The contrast wasn’t merely one of gender and size. The difference between Cara’s sophisticated New York manicure and his work-toughened, calloused palm signalled everything that had been wrong about their union.