Okay, here is the prologue (again) and first chapter.
A week to go and it’ll be available in all stores 🙂 Yay.
Magic was happening. Even at the tender age of twelve, Lara felt the energy around her from the land. This afternoon was no different. A family of kangaroos grazed in a nearby paddock, their imposing figures framed in the afternoon glow as a little joey moved around in the dry, golden grass. They might even be big reds, but with the ochre hues from the setting sun behind them, Lara couldn’t be sure.
‘Get a load of that, Larz. Isn’t it just the duck’s bum?’
She studied the pink and gold sunset in the reflection of her father’s eyes. Oh, how she was going to miss him when she was sent away to boarding school next year: his brown stubble and wayward hair half hidden beneath his favourite red cap, the creases around his eyes and mouth from years of laughter. Dad always liked a good joke or harmless prank, and Lara wouldn’t have him any other way. He just wouldn’t be her dad without the checked shirt, singlet and jeans, and the leather Rossi boots. A farmer through and through. It wasn’t fair that she’d have to say goodbye to all this.
‘Come here, possum,’ he said, holding out his arm. The mouth of the shed framed her father in black like the thick edges of a photo frame.
Lara eagerly scooted her brown milk crate closer to her dad’s and enjoyed the warmth of his embrace as she tucked her arms around his chest. Her own checked shirt pulled tight against her slender arms and the button on her jeans dug into her belly, but she wouldn’t move for anything. She inhaled deeply. He smelled like grease, diesel and dust.
‘I’m going to miss this, Dad.’
‘What? Sitting by the shed watching the sunsets?’ his deep voice teased.
‘No . . . well, yes, but you too. This . . . now . . . everything. These moments.’
He gazed down at her. His eyes glistened with affection and the colours of the sky glimmered off his threatening tears. He blinked them away and planted a kiss on her head.
‘Why can’t I stay here?’ she asked for the millionth time.
‘You know why, love. We want the best for you, so you can go out and make something of yourself.’
‘But Noah gets to stay here,’ Lara tried once more. Noah got to go to the local district high school and stay on the farm while she was heading miles away to the big city of Perth. If only she’d been born a boy, this wouldn’t be happening.
‘Ah, yes, but Noah will be running the farm and you’ll be going on to something wonderful,’ he said with a sigh.
Lara knew her dad didn’t really want her to leave. If he had his way, he’d probably let her stay. It was Mum who had the really big plans for her. Mum had been studying to be a nurse when she’d met Dad, but had never gone back to it once Noah was born. She still regretted it.
Lara heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel behind them, then the sound of her mother’s voice. ‘Oh, I’m not too late,’ she said, dragging a crate next to her husband and resting her hand on his lap. ‘Gosh, it’s a beautiful one tonight. Look at that horizon.’ her mum reached across and squeezed Lara’s fingers tenderly. ‘Where’s Noah?’
‘Out on the motorbike,’ Lara said.
Her mother laughed. ‘I should have guessed.’ She flicked her long braid back over her shoulder and gazed across the darkening land. Lara wanted to be just like her mum, so beautiful, graceful and loving.
By now the sky was stained a lustrous cherry with splashes of gold, and tiny clouds dotted the sky like buttered popcorn. It wasn’t just the sky that was so breathtaking, but also the remaining warmth of the sun, the stillness and the echoing birdsong in the trees. It was the smell of lingering dust and eucalyptus and the feel of the crisp night air starting to settle. It was having people she loved beside her, the feeling of the big wide world before her, and the safety and security it all seemed to bring. That was the magic. Moments like these where Lara felt so blessed to be who she was. And no matter what her parents told her about it being best for her, she was sure she’d never understand why she had to leave it all behind.
Lara Turner lay on the lawn and inhaled the scent of damp grass, her sunglasses keeping out the midday sun. The smell instantly transported her back to her childhood, evoking an image of making tunnels in the marshmallow weeds in the sheep yards. Huge damp leaves tickled her eight-year-old arms as she commando-crawled through the green foliage, following Noah’s boots. The memory quickly disappeared, but for that split second she’d felt the carefree fun and wonder of her youth. With a sigh she crossed her ankles, careful not to dirty her favourite high heels. From this spot in the park, Lara could look up and see nothing but sky and the leaves on the trees. No intruding skyscrapers, including the finance building she worked in, the one that enclosed her all day. It was why she loved spending her lunch break in the park. She had to drown out the city noise with her iPod, but other than that she felt almost alone.
A glance at her watch told her she had only ten minutes left of her break. She sat up just as a hand touched her shoulder.
‘Who would have guessed I’d find you in this spot again?’
‘Nic! Hi. Did your meeting finish early?’ Lara peered up into Nic’s bright blue eyes as he rested his sunnies on his head. He held out his hand and helped her up. He looked gorgeous in his perfect white shirt and navy suit. She leant over and gave him a quick kiss.
‘Yep, and I thought I’d rush down here to see you. Come on, I’ll walk you back to your office.’
Lara picked up her leather handbag, put her iPod away and walked beside Nic out of the small park. Her expensive heels sank into the lawn with each step. They walked in silence until they got to her building, where Nic opened the large glass door and walked straight in. luckily she had her hand ready and caught the door. He headed straight for the elevator while Lara went for the stairs.
‘Come on, Lara. There’s not much time and this is much quicker.’
Lara paused and raised a sculpted eyebrow. Nic’s smile almost turned her to jelly. ‘Oh, okay.’ She much preferred the stairs. She wasn’t exercise-mad, although she did enjoy keeping fit; she just hated the suffocating feeling of that tiny box on cables.
Inside the lift, Lara breathed a sigh of relief to find it was just the two of them. Nic touched the small of her back and they stood in silence as the lift ascended to the fifth floor.
The moment they got to her office, Nic quickly shut and locked the door. He smelled like the aftershave she’d bought him for his birthday and it instantly weakened her knees. Nic turned, his simmering eyes already undressing her. Lara’s breath caught in her throat.
‘Come here, beautiful,’ he urged, sweeping Lara up in an embrace. His arms crinkled her elegant white shirt, which tucked into her black pencil skirt just under her bust. He leant her back against her desk, planting kisses along her neck.
‘You’re so hot,’ he breathed.
She kissed him one more time before pulling back. ‘Sorry, Nic. I’ve got to get back to work.’
He shook his head and sighed. ‘I don’t know why you work so hard.’
Lara shrugged. ‘I can’t help it. Anyway, my break’s nearly over and I want to make a start.’ She pecked him on the cheek.
‘Okay, but we’ll catch up properly soon.’ Nic brushed away a strand of hair from her face. She loved the way he gazed at her, like she was the most important thing in his life and it was killing him to leave.
‘So I’ll see you tonight, then?’ They nearly always spent Thursday nights together, either in her bed or eating at a secluded restaurant.
‘Sorry, darling. Can’t tonight. I have a meeting I couldn’t get out of. Gotta wine and dine a client. You understand, right?’
She nodded sadly and the old sinking feeling crept up on her again. ‘Go on,’ she persisted. ‘I don’t want to get busted by the boss.’
‘I’ll let you know if I can catch up with you on the weekend. Okay, babe? Love ya.’ With that, he unlocked the door and left.
Just as Lara had finished straightening her desk there was a knock at the door and her assistant, Amber, walked in with an armload of papers. Her bushy eyebrows were raised.
‘Was that Nic?’ She plonked the papers on Lara’s desk and squeezed herself into a nearby chair.
‘Don’t give me that look, Ambs. He loves me.’
Amber removed her black-framed glasses and cleaned them. ‘Who just happens to be married?’
Lara sat down at her desk and picked up the papers. ‘I know you don’t approve, but they are separated. You know he’s leaving
Her next year, as soon as the youngest is at school.’
Amber tilted her head to the side.
‘They’re only living together for the kids,’ Lara stressed.
‘And you believe him?’
‘Of course I do. There’s this little thing called trust, Ambs. There’s nothing left of their marriage but he has to do the right thing for his kids and I can understand that. They’re important to him.’
Amber got up and shrugged. ‘Personally, I’d wait until he’d signed the divorce papers.’ She nodded to the papers in front of Lara. ‘Chuck them on my desk when you’re done. They just need a signature, okay? Oh, and your one o’clock appointment is running late.’
‘Thanks,’ Lara said as she started looking through the papers flagged with bright yellow sticky notes.
‘You’re welcome. Oh, and how about going home at a reasonable hour tonight? Ted said you were still here while he was trying to vacuum last night. You need a life, Lara,’ Amber added with a smile.
Lara took her eyes off the paperwork for a few seconds. ‘I really want that job, Amber. It’s what I’ve been aiming for.’
‘Workaholic is all I’m saying.’
Once Amber was gone, Lara rested her head on the desk, her loose hair cascading over her shoulder. She wanted the promotion so badly and knew they’d be making the decision any day. She wouldn’t drop the ball now, not when she was so close. ‘Be the best that you can be, Lara,’ her mother had always said.
Her phone rang and she sat up with a start.
‘Hello. Lara Turner.’
‘Hey, sis. How’s it going?’
‘Noah!’ she said, smiling and relaxing back into her chair. ‘Hey there, yourself. God, I haven’t heard from you in ages.’ Usually she did all the calling – at least on birthdays and at Christmas, although in truth they had struggled to stay in touch after their parents’ deaths. They led such vastly different lives now.
‘Yeah, good. Hey, I can’t talk long. I’ve just ducked out of the shed to get the next mob in, but I really wanted to ask you something. Can you come down this weekend? I need to catch up with you. It’s important.’
‘But the weekend’s the day after tomorrow! Can’t you just tell me over the phone?’ her fingers flicked through her diary.
‘Sorry, Lara. I meant to call you earlier but I’ve been flat out with shearing. You know how it is.’
Yes, she knew all about how easily time could get away from you. ‘Tell me it’s not because you’re short a roustabout?’ she joked.
‘No . . . but if you wanna throw a few fleeces, I won’t say no,’ he teased. ‘Please, Larz, it’s really important, and it’s about time you came back to the farm and saw old Dippa before he carks it.’
Lara’s heart lurched. ‘Is he sick?’ She couldn’t bear it if something happened to her dog. Dippa was a black and tan kelpie her dad had given her when she was fifteen. She’d always wanted her own dog, but she’d had the feeling Dippa was also a bribe to keep her coming home. It had been such a long time since she’d been back to the farm – two years since her last visit, and even then it was just for the night, for Noah’s thirtieth.
‘He’s fine, but he probably would have a heart attack if you came home, it’s been so long. Can you come?’ Noah pleaded.
Well, she probably deserved a break after signing off on the Denver file. It might even help her to stop thinking about this job promotion. Lara felt her smile widen as she made up her mind. ‘Sure, Noah. I’ll see you Saturday morning, okay?’
‘Thanks, Lara. I owe ya. Catch ya then.’
She said her goodbyes and hung up. A buzz of excitement built through her body as she stared out the side window at the other tall buildings. Row upon row of metal and glass twisted together to block out the sky. If she pressed her face right up to the glass, she could just make out the sky above.
Now that she thought about it, she was really looking forward to seeing the vast horizon on the farm. But lurking in the back of her mind, as always, was the unease of going home.
Lara had lived in Perth for nearly half of her life, since she’d gone away to boarding school at thirteen, but the farm was still home to her, and always would be. She had so many wonderful childhood memories with her parents. How could she not hold Erindale in her heart?
Yes, it had been a while, but part of her couldn’t wait to be heading home.
Noah hung up his phone and threw it on the seat of the ute before walking back to the sheep yards. Sweat rolled down the back of his neck and chest, soaking into his blue singlet as the midday sun tried to test him with its fiery summer heat. The sapphire sky was free of clouds but the breeze had picked up and could blow some in. he jumped over the outside fence of the yard. The sheep moved away from him, raising fine black dust that stuck to his sweaty skin and lined the inside of his nose. He walked towards a metal gate, swung it open and let the animals run through. Heavily woollen sheep raced past him as he whistled and waved them on. One hard-headed ewe clipped him in the back of the knee and his leg buckled under him, sending him down to the ground. His knees found the hard dirt and fresh sheep shit.
‘Ah, ya daft animals!’ he yelled. He’d never much liked sheep. When he was a kid helping his dad pen them up, they’d knock him over and trample on his feet. Sheep had been the cause of his first accident, too. When Noah was fifteen his dad had given him the old ute to use on the farm. it was to become properly his after he got his licence, but one day, as he was driving down the back lane, a stray sheep had run out into the middle of the road. instead of continuing to the other side, the stupid thing had gone every which way, leaving Noah with no option other than to pick a side. The sheep finally decided to head the same way, so he ended up skittling them like a bowling ball, and his beloved ‘new’ ute had been left bent and buckled.
Noah pulled himself up and closed the gate. he could hear the machines in the shed as the shearers worked. he’d be in there soon enough to start pressing up some bales, but he had to get this mob pushed up first. he watched their stick legs and large woollen bodies as they ran around in circles, just following the one in front. Bloody sheep.
he’d tried farming without them, after his parents had died and the farm had been left to him. he’d never been as pleased as when he’d watched the big trucks with their sheep crates take the last of them away. No more carting water, no more hand-feeding, no more shearing, crutching and drenching, and no more flyblown sheep. For a while he’d been happy on Erindale as he concentrated on the cropping side of things. he was finding a way to make it work – until the last few bad years hit. When the rain doesn’t come and the crops don’t grow, sheep are needed to keep the farm turning over. Typical. Noah felt like his father had reached down from heaven and slapped him on the back of the head. Damn it, boy. You need sheep to help balance the farm.
he’d got rid of the sheep for a selfish reason and now he was paying the price. And the price was high. of course he’d had to go back out and start buying up sheep again, but he could only afford the runty ones. Slowly he was building his numbers up – and he was hating every minute of it. it was like holding out his hand and smashing each finger with a hammer.
he’d thought of selling the farm many times since he’d inherited it. But he couldn’t. he was stuck here, whether out of loyalty or tradition he wasn’t sure. Erindale. it’s what his father had worked hard for and what he’d wanted for Noah. And his father had been a great man, so who was he to challenge his wish? Some part of him thought that running Erindale was keeping his parents’ memory alive. Maybe it was, but it would never bring them back.