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Authors: Mary-Anne O'Connor

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BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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And the last thing Rose needed right now was competition, not if she was going to get what she needed from Jack Murphy.

‘Stop scowling, Rose. The wind will change and you'll stay that way!'

Her brother Iggy was in a better mood, as he usually was after he'd played the piano for hours. Not so the cricket and tennis parties for him: he much preferred spending time with his music, the one constant positive throughout his invalid years. Although fit and hale now, he'd little interest in attaining sporting skills, with the exception of horse racing. He watched Ebony's sleek form with pride as they took off in the buggy for home, his parents having left a little earlier, Mildred still a little teary from the ‘sweet music' (although Rose suspected it was a mite more due to the sherry).

‘You got your way. I went to the damnable cricket and got the story out of Jack, then spread it around.' Iggy cast a look at Rose. ‘You should be happy! He was by your side the whole night.'

‘You didn't manage to get the most important piece of information! It wasn't much use without naming her.'

‘Oh well, it made him look like a hero, and you were on his arm all night so you got some reflected glory out of the situation,' he reminded her and she smiled a little. ‘Come on now; tell me what's going on. Why was I helping you name and shame this girl? She's no competition to you; she's only a kid.' In fact Iggy secretly considered Veronica very much a woman, and a beautiful one at that. He hadn't minded trying to help squash any potential romance between her and Jack Murphy. Besides, he was really trying to protect her. He loved his sister, she was the only one who had kept him sane when he was ill, but he also knew that jealousy was a poison in her veins and he didn't wish her enmity on anyone.

Especially not Veronica O'Shay.

‘Well, it's finished with now. I was hoping her mother would be a bit more scandalised and lock her away but it obviously wasn't enough. I need something more.' She furrowed her brow thoughtfully.

‘Just get him to propose. She can't be a threat to Mrs Jack Murphy,' he suggested.

‘Of course that's the goal, but it's not that easy…Wait. That's it!'

‘What's it?' Iggy was wary. Rose seemed obsessed with this man, and that wasn't like her. Usually she just toyed with an assortment of admirers, dangling them before her like pieces of jewellery before throwing them back in the box. But since their family had moved to Beecroft she'd seemingly shut the lid and set her eye on the prize diamond that was Jack Murphy.

She was terribly spoilt, he acknowledged, beyond the suspicion of their innocent mother, who wouldn't have believed Rose capable of such scheming. Besides, Mildred had spent their childhoods far too focused on fussing over her sickly son to pay much attention to the secretive side of her daughter. Iggy sighed, remembering the years of cosseting.

She was their father's favourite of course. Why wouldn't she be when she gave him exactly what he wanted in a child? Healthy, confident, uncomplicated. The opposite of his son. Rose never gave her father one minute of concern. With dimply smiles and manipulations, Rose had managed to completely bamboozle Dr Dwyer, who never saw the hard selfish streak that coursed through her.

But Iggy knew. He was probably the only person in the world she was ever herself with.

Perhaps she was serious about wanting to marry Jack. In fact, observing her calculating expression he was starting to wonder just what she was capable of doing in order to secure him.

‘Let's just say that Mrs Murphy could be the answer to everything,' she said thoughtfully, and fell silent the rest of the way home.

Shaking his head, Iggy thought, not for the first time, that his piano was far better company than people; after all, he knew what tunes it could play.

Even though he was exhausted from the day, Jack twisted and turned in the sheets, the dampness of his body meeting the thick, still air as sleep continued to elude him. Sweat bit at the deep scratches on his shins, and it occurred to him that Rose hadn't even commented on them that morning. In fact, she hadn't seemed interested in the story at all until there had been company and she relayed what he'd told Iggy. Then again, he allowed, there'd been other things on her mind. He closed his eyes, picturing her lush body beckoning him, arching her back, her long blonde hair…His eyes flew open.
Red
hair.

It was no use trying to sleep after that. Getting up, he went out onto the back porch, where he rolled a cigarette and stared up at the stars, clear and bright with the lack of the moon. He knew Rose expected him to marry her, and he would have to do so, and soon. He had taken liberties, after all, far more than he should have with a lady, and she was becoming increasingly more difficult to resist. Besides, he'd been head over heels since he first laid eyes on her.

He'd been at mass that Sunday morning, home from town for the weekend and sitting with his family, when he noticed something unusual was going on. Tom and Mick were a few pews ahead and acting very strangely – dropping hymnals and bending down, craning their necks to the side. Glancing around, he saw the source of their distraction. Across the aisle sat a family who were new to their parish; and seated primly between her parents, in a glow of white cotton, was an angel. A sunbeam through the stained-glass window cast a pattern across her face and she'd lowered her lashes, then redirected her vision his way. When his eyes met the dark brown pools of her irises, he'd swallowed hard. He couldn't recall a time when he'd paid less attention to the mass as he surreptitiously drank in every detail of her, from the faint outline of her corset to the honeyed skin of her neck curving into her collar. By the time mass had ended he'd made up his mind to speak to her, although what to say to such a girl he'd no idea.

To his delight, Catholic etiquette saved him the trouble. The Murphys and the O'Shays had walked as a group over to the Dwyers to welcome them to the parish, and his mother made the introductions.

‘I see ye have a cake stall running there,' Mildred commented after the niceties had been observed.

‘Yes, to raise money for the orphanage,' Alice said.

The angel had smiled up at him and Jack had felt himself gape, all words evaporating under her gaze.

‘Do they sell butterfly cakes? I do so love them.'

Jack had managed a nod and somehow thought to offer her his arm.

The O'Shay boys had watched in envy as he'd led her to the tables, and Jack vaguely registered Tom's muttered amazement.

‘Cheeky bastard.'

The courtship had blossomed from there, at a speed that sometimes took even Jack by surprise, and he knew that she would be the perfect choice to warm his bed and grace his table. There really was nothing else to consider, was there? The blonde hair flashed through his mind again, and he frowned. Veronica had stirred something within him. The girl who'd been like a little sister had grown into a woman. He thought of her bare legs today, the perspiration on her skin as she stood so close, the feel of her beneath his hands as he'd danced with her tonight. Suddenly he wanted her. It rushed through him and he couldn't deny it. But if he was going to be a married man he had to accept that there would always be desirable women in his path. He wasn't an animal that couldn't control his lusts, was he?

Jack threw his cigarette into the night, forcing the images of Veronica away.

He decided he'd better look into buying a ring that week while he was in town.

Decision made, he headed back to bed. Closing his eyes, he imagined Rose, her corsets in a pile, her body awaiting his touch. But when he woke at dawn it was images of purple roses that left him in a sweat.

Monday dawned with glaring brilliance, the heat already radiating off the tin roof of the shed. Alice Murphy bent down to investigate underneath the coop towards the back and laughed as the largest rooster, King Henry, strutted out, puffed up as usual with self-importance. Henry had been so named by Pattie, and Alice thought it was the perfect name for the pompous-looking rooster, who appeared to consider himself royalty among chickens. As she thought of her daughter she shook her head, but then couldn't help smiling at her impish ways. Alice might sometimes succeed in dressing her as a lady, but Pattie was a free spirit at heart. Whoever took her on was going to have to have an open mind about decorum – not that Alice really worried about her very much. Pattie could look after herself.

She cast a look down at her basket, satisfied that the two dozen or so eggs would be well received at the orphanage, and headed back towards the house. The long white verandah ran around its entire circumference, and Alice admired it as she approached, noting the jasmine was growing thickly post its flowering and would need a good prune before Christmas. It wasn't quite as grand as Highview's, but the Murphys' farmhouse was renowned as the prettiest in the area, situated as it was in a spot near a dam shaded by several jacaranda trees. The purple flowers had dropped a carpet on the lawn, disguising the dry, patchy grass and rows of apple trees lined the nearby paddock. It was a sight she never tired of, the beauty of her home.

Alice turned her mind to the upcoming Christmas season. For many years now, she and George had taken their family over to join the O'Shays' relatives at their residence in Wahroonga. Situated little more than five miles away, this lofty area on the North Shore was renowned for its large, beautiful homes and their extensive gardens, but the grandest of all was Greenshades. With its manicured lawns, fruit-filled orchard, tennis courts and swimming pool, Greenshades was a delight, and Christmas there was the highlight of the year. Marjorie, Kevin's sister, had married a wealthy importer and, much like her brother, was a generous host who loved a good party. The result was a Christmas event that rivalled all others in the area, with tennis and champagne, swimming and riding and the traditional pavilion dinner party.

What drew Alice's especial attention every year, however, was that the family and its connections also provided a Christmas event for the orphans cared for by the Mercy Sisters nearby. Alice had been heavily involved with the orphanage since she first moved out that way as a young bride, and was grateful for the opportunity to put her comfortable financial position to good use.

Unfortunately it couldn't buy her a choice of daughter-in-law. She sat down on the porch step, taking a moment to drink in the reflections on the water as the occasional jacaranda bloom twisted its way down into the dam. No, it wasn't Pattie that concerned Alice right now: it was her son.

Rose certainly looked the part on his arm – elegant, assured, fashionable – however it was the undercurrents beneath the polish that concerned Alice. Her only son knew his own mind, a characteristic for which she was usually grateful. Determination and decisiveness had served him well in his studies and now his business career. He'd all but taken over the family packaging company, leaving George to enjoy an early semi-retirement. Yet now it seemed his strength could become his weakness, because once he decided on something he couldn't be swayed, casting aside advice and warnings and focusing only on his goal.

And this girl was undoubtedly in his sights, however blinded by the vision he might be. Alice knew any criticism of the match on her part would fall on deaf ears.

Alice sighed, drawing herself up and swinging the door open into the cool interior to deposit the eggs on the kitchen table. ‘I'm just off to town for a bit, Maude. I shouldn't be too long.' She gathered up her hat and nodded at the maid.

‘Before you go spendin' more on presents for them little ones, you might want t' take a look at the growing mountain under that tree,' Maude said dryly, pointing at the parlour.

Alice smiled as she headed off to the sulky, mentally ticking off all the things she still needed to buy as she took the reins. Tilley seemed to enjoy the exercise of pulling the lightweight cart and Alice soon found herself relaxing into the drive. It was only a mile and a half to town and the sky was cloudless in an endless blue, the thirsty, golden fields shimmering slightly in the breeze. A few wallabies flicked their ears at her with interest and the cows grazed in their slow way, one occasionally lifting its head in idle curiosity at the sound of the sulky.

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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ads

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