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Authors: Margareta Osborn

A Bush Christmas

BOOK: A Bush Christmas
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About the Book

From the author of
Bella's Run
, a gloriously rural and hopelessly romantic Christmas novella.

Jaime Hanrahan does not want anything to do Christmas this year.

She's just been retrenched, and if that wasn't bad enough, this is her first Christmas without her beloved father Jack, who died last Boxing Day.

Determined not to spend it with her mother, who has already remarried, and her friends, who still have six-figure jobs, she jumps at the chance to house-sit a mansion in rural Burdekin's Gap.

Two problems.

Number one, the property comes with a handsome station manager, Stirling McEvoy, who doesn't take kindly to a city chick destroying his peace. Especially when she needs rescuing from stampeding cattle, falling Christmas trees and town ladies wielding catering lists and tablecloths.

And two, in Burdekin's Gap there's no chance of escaping the festive season. For the town has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas – big time, BUSH style!

Includes an extract from Margareta's upcoming novel,
Hope's Road
.

For my wonderful friends.

Without your love, encouragement, kindness and support

I couldn't survive this incredible ride called life.

Chapter 1

There were three things in life Jaime Josephina Hanrahan couldn't stand. Her name, public transport and musclebound men riding Harley-Davidsons. She couldn't do much about the first, unfortunately. And the last two were currently within her field of vision.

The bus that had brought her here to Lake Grace was now wheeling around the corner out of town, the driver having broken every rule in the book on the four-hour journey up here. The Harley was parked in front of the hotel.

‘What do you mean I can't get a taxi to Burdekin's Gap?' said Jaime.

The publican glanced across his scarred red gum countertop and shrugged. ‘We don't 'ave no taxis here. Nearest one's gotta come from Narree.'

Jaime shot another look out the bar door at the man gearing up to get on the bike. He was grunting as he pulled on his boots. In the early evening light his back looked like it had been chiselled out of black marble. Solid, square, immovable.

And dangerous. She shivered.

Jaime pulled out her mobile phone, held it in her hand poised to dial. ‘So what's the taxi company's number?'

The publican smiled in a condescending way. He was a red-haired dirty looking bloke, wearing little more than a bluey singlet with holes the size of walnuts decorating his protruding belly.

‘They won't take you up that mountain, no matter how much you pay 'em.' He swung around and placed the glass he was polishing up on a high shelf.

Jaime glanced back out towards the street. Marble Man was clipping up his motorbike boots. She could just see a shock of dark russet hair, cropped close to his
head. A small tattoo appeared to spin a little dance behind his left ear. Gross. Another thing she loathed. Tattoos.

She eyed off the barman again and realised she'd have to use a tad more persuasion. She leant on the bar, squeezed her arms together to create cleavage and cleared her throat.

The barman turned, his eyes immediately drawn to her V-neck top, just like she'd hoped.

‘And just why not exactly?' she asked, her tone just a touch away from a simper.

‘What?' The barman was momentarily transfixed before glancing down at his left hand. A thin silver band sat on his third finger. He gave a slight shake of his head.

‘The taxi? Why no taxi up the mountain?'

‘Too many roos and wombats.' The man turned away to place another glass on the shelf.

Jaime sighed. So much for persuasion. ‘Well how does a girl get to Burdekin's Gap if there's no taxi, she hasn't a car and it's too far to walk?'

‘A horse would do it in about a day and a half,' said a deep voice near her right ear. ‘Or a pushbike might be quicker. That's if you can stand the pace.'

Marble Man. Right there in the flesh beside her. Close up he was
big
, and he must have played rugby some time in his life; his shoulders would have challenged any tailor's measuring tape. She edged to the left. The man exuded testosterone in truckloads in those black jeans and jacket, not like the suit-clad office jocks she was used to.

‘I'm off, Bluey,' said Marble Man. ‘Send that parcel I've got coming up on the truck, will you? I won't be back down for another week or so.'

The publican nodded, made a note in a dog-eared exercise book beside a cash register decorated in Santa figurines.

For the first time Jaime realised the Lake Grace Hotel was dripping with bright baubles and tinsel. She'd been too stressed after her terrifying ride in the bus. She cast her eye at the ceiling. Oily looking, off-white pressed tin was draped in gaudy bands of gold, silver, green and red. The overhead fan was making the tinsel shake and shudder in its breeze.
Argh. Christmas.
The season of joyful celebration. Two weeks until Christmas Day. The reason she was here in this Godforsaken place was because she was trying to
avoid
having anything to do with it. She'd thought remote would mean less chance of being bombarded by jovial festivities.

Not for the first time in the last little while she cursed her former employers, the chic Melbourne public relations firm, Wheetles & Brute, where she'd been a marketing executive. Retrenchment was a kicker. Gone was her six-figure salary, and with it her to-die-for South Bank rented flat, her car-that-came-with-the-job, her iPhone and iPad. And if that wasn't bad enough, it was her first Christmas without her father, Jack, who'd succumbed to a heart attack last Boxing Day.

Her mother, Blanche, not one to let the grass grow under her feet, had already remarried. Jaime's new stepdad was called Dave and he was a redneck bushman, not unlike Marble Man standing beside her.

‘Well, have
you
any idea how I'm to get to Burdekin's Gap?' she said to Marble Man. ‘And I can't ride a horse and I don't do bicycles.'

He leant back and quietly assessed her from head to toe. She watched as flinty blue eyes took in her long honey-coloured hair, the clinging sorbet-green top, her cut-off denim shorts and the cutesy melon-coloured slip-ons gracing her feet. They'd looked just the thing on a St Kilda beach.

But she wasn't in St Kilda and she wasn't looking at the ocean. She was in a bogan country town which had no damn taxi to get her to her new job on some high country cattle station out the back of Hicksville.

‘Well? Somebody say
something
,' she said, glancing at both men. All this silence was intimidating. Didn't they do noise in this place? She couldn't even hear any traffic out on the main street!

‘I figure she's Ryan's,' Marble Man finally said to the barman.

The barman shrugged. ‘Guess so.' He picked up another glass and started polishing. ‘He's about due for a new one.'

‘Don't talk about me like I'm not here!' said Jaime, indignant. ‘And who's Ryan?'

‘What were you planning to do with her?' said Marble Man to Bluey.

‘Buggered if I know.' Bluey cast a look at Jaime, his eyes resting on her cleavage for moment, then her long legs, before faintly shaking his head again. ‘You fit her on that machine of yours?'

Marble Man drew back, horrified.

‘The Kelly boys are in the pub tonight,' explained Bluey. Both men contemplated each other. Silence.

Jaime looked at the man beside her. The heavy brow was drawn into a grimace, the blue eyes were angry, the deep dimple in his chin had almost disappeared.

Who the heck were the Kelly boys? And why did Marble Man look so … well, pissed off?

Finally, ‘I suppose I could try.' Marble Man's tone was grudging. ‘I owe Ryan a favour. He's sorting out the business end of the Christmas trees to be sold for the fire brigade.'

‘Goodo,' said Bluey. ‘Might be for the best, considering …'

Marble Man looked her up and down again and grunted.

Jaime was swinging her head back and forth between the men. Who the heck did these two think they were? She was quite capable of looking after herself. At twenty-four she damn well better be.

‘Hellooooo, I'm here. Like, in the room. You can talk to
me
!'

Marble Man ignored her. ‘You got a spare helmet, Blue?'

‘Yeah, there's probably one out the back. Hang on, I'll go look.' Bluey shuffled off with more energy than he'd shown for the last five minutes. He mumbled over his shoulder as he went, ‘I don't want to be stuck with her.'

‘I am not going on that bike if that's what you're thinking,' she stated to Marble Man, who was still glowering like an impending thunderstorm. ‘I said I don't do bikes and that includes the motorised versions.'

‘Well they might think you're the new
town
bike if you stay here tonight. One of the local lads is having a bucks party. They'll think you're the stripper.'

Jaime looked, really
looked
into the man's face to check if he was kidding. He wasn't. Shit.

She chewed the inside of her cheek and took another glance at the monster Harley-Davidson outside the pub door. Dave, her stepfather, with his bull-neck and blustering ways, had one. She couldn't understand what her mother saw in him. It was bloody indecent how quickly Blanche remarried. It was like she wanted to forget Jaime's father – a gentle, quiet soul – even existed.

‘My father calls those things boat anchors,' she said. ‘Surely there's some other way to get to Burdekin's Gap?'

‘Nope. Not unless you want to wait for the supply truck to the general store. It comes up on Wednesday.'

Today was Friday. A whole five days. Double shit.

‘I've never ridden on a Harley-Davidson before.'

Marble Man turned to her aghast. ‘That's not a Harley! It's a Yamaha V-Max. A classic piece of machinery!'

He didn't say it but it was obvious he was thinking,
You fucking idiot!

Bluey appeared once again, a grotty looking fluorescent green helmet in one hand and pair of what appeared to be overalls in the other. Overalls that were the same navy-blue colour her father wore. Jaime could never talk about her dad in the past tense. She guessed that would come but it was all too recent, his death such a shock. He was only fifty-three.

‘'Ere. Put these on,' Bluey said, shoving the helmet and coveralls across the bench. She snatched at the gear, her actions displacing a laughing Santa from his perch at the end of the bar. The stuffed toy fell to floor. Jaime picked it up and slammed it back on the counter, the look of displeasure on her face obvious. The toy started to play a jovial rendition of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas'. Merry? Yeah, right.

‘No need to be mean to Santa,' said Bluey mildly. ‘My kids set a lot of store by the old bloke.'

Jaime didn't reply, just glowered at the barman. She'd left her friends and what remained of her family to get
away
from Christmas.

When her manicurist had suggested house-sitting a client's country mansion, garden and neurotic cat, Jaime had immediately thought of the Mornington Peninsula
or maybe even the NSW coast – Batemans Bay or Tathra. A cushy job near the beach in a gorgeous house.
On her own
. (She wouldn't even think about the cat.)

Jaime's daydreams took a nosedive when the manicurist continued, ‘Some place in the high country of East Gippsland. The property is very flash by her accounts.' The woman had then looked doubtful. ‘It's pretty remote.'

Images of rolling azure waves disappeared to be replaced with monotonous and rising grey eucalypt scrub. But then, she thought, mountains were pretty as long as you just looked at them, luxury meant cushy and remote equalled
no Christmas
.

She just hadn't realised
how
remote.

‘C'mon. I want to be up at Burdekin's Gap by nightfall.' Marble Man was already heading out the pub door.

Jaime remained where she was, looking down at the dirty outfit in her hands. The helmet was going to play havoc with her hair and, judging by the copious amounts of material, the overalls were at least three sizes too big.

‘Sorry,' said Bluey, apologetic, ‘my wife is a bit larger than you.' He blushed and then looked sheepish as Jaime unfolded the outfit. ‘They're her painting overalls.'

Jaime stared in horror. The front had been splashed with enough bright colours to make it look like Pro Hart had been responsible for the design and the back was decorated with hearts and had ‘BLUEY LOVES JEAN' scrawled all over it.

Bluey shrugged again. A blush was stealing up his neck. ‘The kids thought it was funny. You know, me, the wife, the hearts and stuff.'

Jaime was agog. She couldn't wear these! They were awful. Her Sass & Bide cut-offs would curl up in terror.

‘Hurry up,' a bellow came through the door. ‘I'm leaving in two minutes. It's the Kelly boys or the V-Max. Your choice, Princess.'

Jaime froze. Princess? She hadn't heard that in eleven months. It was what her father called her.

‘He's okay.' Bluey was now leaning over the bar, trying to look reassuring but only partially succeeding. His eyes had landed on her belly-ring peeking out from below her top. He forced his gaze from the glinting zircon crystal up to her green eyes. ‘Stirling's a good bloke.'

So that was his name. Stirling.

‘Not known for his patience though, 'specially when it comes to young dolls like you.' Bluey reluctantly moved back along the counter. ‘Not since Miss Fancy-pants Tiffany gave him the flick, anyway. She was a posh chick from the city too.'

Young dolls? Fancy-pants Tiffany?

‘That's it!' came a shout through the door. A motorbike rumbled to life, shattering the late afternoon peace of the Lake Grace main street.

Jaime snatched up the helmet, threw the overalls across her shoulder and took off, only to pause suddenly. She turned back for her forgotten handbag, then on impulse grabbed a bunch of Bluey's singlet, dragged him over the bar and planted a kiss on his cheek.

The man looked as stunned as a landed fish.

‘Thanks, Bluey. Ta ta!' She wiggled her fingers and raced out of the bar, a little grin playing at the corners of her mouth. You should always thank people and Bluey seemed a decent bloke, despite his holey singlet. Plus, the hearts
were
kinda cute.

BOOK: A Bush Christmas
9.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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