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Authors: Mary-Anne O'Connor

Gallipoli Street

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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GALLIPOLI STREET

MARY-ANNE O'CONNOR

www.harlequinbooks.com.au

Contents

About the Author

Part One

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Part Two

Twelve

Thireen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Part Three

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Thirty

Part Four

Thirty-one

Thirty-two

Thirty-three

Part Five

Thirty-four

Thirty-five

Thirty-six

Thirty-seven

Thirty-eight

Thirty-nine

Forty

Forty-one

Forty-two

Forty-three

Forty-four

Forty-five

Forty-six

Forty-seven

Forty-eight

Forty-nine

Fifty

Author's Note

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Mary-Anne O'Connor has a combined arts education degree with specialities in environment, music and literature. She works in marketing and co-wrote/edited
A Brush with Light
and
Secrets of the Brush
with Kevin Best.

Mary-Anne lives in a house overlooking her beloved bushland in northern Sydney with her husband Anthony, their two sons Jimmy and Jack, and their very spoilt dog Saxon. This is her first major novel.

For Nana and Da

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

Colonel John McCrae, 1915

Part One
One

Beecroft, Sydney, Australia, November 1913

The rumble echoed through the faint drone of cicadas and Jack lifted his head, listening.

A flash of grey caught his attention through the branches and his country-honed senses fell into instant alert.

‘What's wrong?' asked Rose.

Jack held up his hand to silence her and parted the trees, emerging from their lovers' hollow. Squinting in the late-spring heat, his eyes made out the green snake of creek line twisting through the valley, the telltale artery of a landscape that had lazed too long in sunshine. Parched and dry, it seemed ready to self-ignite from lack of rain.

The smoke had disappeared…but no, there it was.

The rumble echoed again and he registered that it was actually the sound of a horse and wagon at full pelt. The cart could be glimpsed between bushes as it careened along Cowpasture Lane, and he could now make out that the grey ‘smoke' was in fact dust billowing in its wake.

A woman's scream carried across the expanse and he jumped to his feet, annoyed at himself for taking off his boots moments before. Jack glanced back at the beautiful, flushed face looking up at him enquiringly and cursed the wretched timing of it all, hoping she would heed his instruction.

‘Stay here!'

With that, he leapt onto Tilley, snatched up the reins and hurled her down the slope.

Tilley wasn't nearly as fine looking as Ebony, Iggy's mare, but Jack had only had her a few weeks and already she was outstripping a few of the others out on Riley's track. He felt reasonably sure he could catch the bolting horse and wagon before they hit the mush that had replaced the shallows in recent months. Thinking about what would happen if the wheels met with that thick clog of mud, he gripped the leather saddle hard with his thighs and urged Tilley on faster.

He tore across the paddock, taking the fence at a gallop before cutting down towards the lane, weighing up the unappealing option of cutting through Stan's Gully without boots to save time. His mind was made up as he caught a glimpse of the runaway. Yes, it was a woman on her own, standing up in the wagon, dragging on the reins.

‘Bloody fool's gunna break her neck,' he muttered. He turned Tilley towards the gully, taking the rocky slopes and gritting his teeth against the sharp tear on his shins as the sword grass lashed him. Sweat ran into his eyes, piercing them into momentary blindness, as he swerved against the large sandstone boulders: rough grazes added themselves to the lines of cuts. Jack vaguely registered the trickle of blood, and supposed his legs were by now a mess, but then Tilley found the sudden rise that bordered the road and he forget all else, finally gaining a clear view of the situation.

The sight was not what he expected.

With her honey-blonde hair loosened from its usual tight braiding and her cotton dress tucked into a belt about her waist, Veronica Maggie O'Shay was standing up in her father's cart, one leg firm against the front-board. Her arms were taut and she was obviously in full control of Bessie, who was galloping along in front. The girl let out a loud catcall, which Jack recognised as the ‘scream' he'd heard earlier, then took a bend in the lane with precision, laughing in exhilaration.

It was the laugh that did it. Jack's high-pitched whistle made Veronica start and she turned and stared at him in surprise. Her confident pose became a confused moment of imbalance as she contorted in alarm, the cart careening dangerously before she managed to regain control, slowing Bessie down to a canter then finally to a walk.

She jumped down from the wagon and rounded on Jack as he dismounted, her hair twisting and bouncing about her, reminding Jack of a pet cockatoo he'd once had, who used to gallop across the floor, crest fanning in fury, whenever he saw the biscuit tin being put away.

‘What the hell do you think you're doing, Jack Murphy?' she demanded. ‘You could have killed me!'

‘Me? You seemed to be doing a pretty bloody good job of that yourself!'

‘Don't you swear at me!' She waved a warning finger at him, her breath coming in short gasps, from exertion or fury. ‘Sneaking up like that…I nearly ended up in the ditch!'

‘Sneaking up? With the racket you were making?' Jack glared back at her, feeling a wave of anger overtake him. So much for rescuing a damsel in distress. Bloody Veronica and her secret rebellions. He'd thought she would have well grown out of such things by now. ‘I'm sure your mother would be interested to know that her daughter was running about the place with her legs bare to the wind, making a scene!'

Jack indicated at the still half-tucked-in dress, distracted by the limbs that were being hastily covered from his sight.

‘She wouldn't…she…' Veronica swatted angrily at the unruly blonde curls blowing across her face and Jack knew he had her there. Mrs O'Shay would not be amused by this escapade. Veronica seemed to run out of logic and reverted to one of her brother Tom's favourite retaliations instead. ‘You're – you're nothing but an ugly man's dog, you know that?'

‘Sure she'd love to hear her supposedly refined daughter talking like that too,' Jack said, beginning to be amused by Veronica's outrage, and the way she'd copied Tom's slang, clearly the worst insult she knew. He could tell the comments about her mother were unnerving her; she was biting her lip and he noticed he was staring again. He became uncomfortably aware that they were very much alone, both in varying states of undress.

‘I'd better escort you home,' he said, quickly pulling up his braces, which were hanging down limply, and running his fingers along the edges of his shirt front for the buttons.

Veronica blushed and glanced down. ‘What happened to your legs? You're bleeding.' She bent and peered at the scratches and cuts on his shins. ‘What on earth possessed you to take off your boots?'

She reached out to touch his leg and he grabbed her arm, hauling her upwards.

‘Don't. It's all right.' Jack stopped abruptly as she stood in front of him and his eyes came to rest on the pulsing in the damp hollow at the base of her throat. A sticky strand of blonde curl still clung there and for a moment Jack felt a strong pull towards her, a lapse of conscious thought. An insane desire to brush that curl away and trace her skin with his fingers.

Then he met her eyes. O'Shay eyes. The same colour as her brothers, Mick and Tom.

His two oldest, closest friends.

Their little sister.

‘Anyway, you'd better do something about that hair,' he said, almost shoving her away and turning to needlessly tighten Tilley's girth.

Veronica seemed to steady herself before climbing back onto the wagon. Sitting on the bench seat she braided her hair furiously as Jack determined to look away. This is Vera, for God's sake, he told himself sternly, purposefully using her brothers' pet name for her. Get a hold of yourself.

Forcing a neutral expression, he mounted Tilley and deliberately adopted an authoritative, paternal tone. ‘Just take more care in the future, Vera. You would've been in serious trouble if I hadn't come along. What if you'd ended up in the creek?' He received a haughty sidelong glance in response, and felt his frustration rise again, forgetting the new, mature approach. ‘When are you going to bloody grow up a bit and stop acting all wild?'

Vera turned quickly on the bench seat. ‘When am I going to grow up? What about you? You can't even walk around with your…your shirt tucked in and your boots on! And for your information I was in perfect control of Bess the whole time, and I've lived on this lane long enough not to be so stupid as to drive a cart into the creek.'

Jack thought he detected a slight tremble as she picked up the reins, and he sighed. ‘Better give me the cart. You're too upset to drive.'

‘You just get yourself back to whatever crevice it was you crawled out of! I am quite capable of getting myself home,' she said, flicking the reins and adding over her shoulder: ‘And stop calling me Vera!'

She set off up the track at a pace, leaving him enveloped in plumes of dust. Jack moved to the side, shielding his face, watching the angry little cloud all the way to the corner until she disappeared from view.

What the hell was wrong with her? And, even more disconcerting, what the hell was wrong with him?

She was like family. Growing up on neighbouring farms, the Murphys and the O'Shays had been inseparable as kids – barefoot and unencumbered, they had grown as wild as the bush itself within a thousand adventures of childhood. He supposed they'd never looked ahead, to when adulthood would arrive and drive them into responsibility and restriction, reining them in and strapping them down. He suspected Veronica was resentful. She'd had the worst of it at that suffocating school her mother had sent her to and now, when it was finally over, she had come home to find that the rest of them had long moved on into adult lives. The adventures were of a different nature, the friendships altered.

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
9.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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