Authors: Louise Forster
A small-town romance about secrets, community and the family we make for ourselves.
London-based chef Jennifer Dove loves her exciting, fast-paced life and she has every intention of returning to it ASAP. This trip to Tumble Creek â middle-of-nowhere Australia â is just a blip, a trip out of time, to visit her sister and niece and farewell her beloved Uncle.
But barely hours into her stay, she disturbs an intruder in her uncle's house, is questioned by police, and finds a pair of fluffy pink stilettos in the bedroom. Things are not all they seem in Tumble Creek, and much as she tries not to, Jennifer is sucked in to the mystery surrounding her uncle. Who is his girlfriend Veronica, and why is she not here? What are the locals hiding? And why can she not get sexy local Calum McGregor out of her mind?
All is not what it seems in this sleepy, small town, and as Jennifer unravels its mysteries, she might just be tying herself to Tumble Creek forever.
Louise Forster grew up in a Victorian country town. She ran barefoot along dirt roads and loved looking through the leaves of tall eucalypts at the azure summer skies. Eventually, she grew up, and the country town became a suburb of Melbourne. Running barefoot to catch her train to work would have caused more than a few raised eyebrows so she opted for stilettos, of course. At eighteen, Louise travelled through Europe, parts of Africa and the Pacific Islands. These days Louise lives on the far north coast of New South Wales on a small property that includes her extended family, three dogs, three cats and all manner of wildlife.
To Kate Cuthbert, thank you for your patience, your suggestions and knowing I could do it.
Thanks to the team at Escape Publishing â they do a fantastic job.
Thanks to my wonderful editor, Linda Nix. You're amazing and I promise not to use âthat' word again.
To Ernie (Fred) for being there for me through drafts and edits, and when I yell out, âHelp, I'm looking for a word!' To my family, who listen and read my drafts. To the men in my family who tell me guys wouldn't say
Well, this is interesting,
Jennifer Dove thought. She stared at the misted windscreen from within her sister Sofie's old station wagon. Rain drummed on the roof. Every muscle in her body ached. Australian summer heat and the wild storm had turned the car into a sauna. A distinct aroma of sweaty sneakers in a gym locker wafted up from the threadbare carpet. And where the hell were Sofie and her niece Claudia? How could they leave a dishevelled, jetlagged woman asleep in a parked car at night? At least leave a note:
We've arrived at Uncle Bob's. Back soon with a double shot lattÃ©.
This could mean no more travelling. God, she hoped so. Hopping across Europe and Asia on a forty-hour flight from London to Sydney was bad enough, but on landing, Sofie and Claudia had whisked her into a car for a five-hour country road trip. She felt shattered and yearned for a soft bed, and lots of sleep with no â
âHello!' a deep voice boomed. Jennifer jolted out of her daydream. âAnyone there?'
Adrenalin shot through her.
she thought, and hunkered deeper into the bench seat, groping for her mobile and hoping he'd go away. A shadowy figure peered through the misted side window. Jennifer slipped further down, her bum nearly on the floor. Streetlights glared through the windscreen, and pain hit the back of her eyes.
Damn, he'd seen her. Jennifer eased herself up and quickly glanced around to check on the doors. Thank goodness Sofie had locked her in.
âYou left your lights on!' the man called out.
Jennifer slid across the bench seat and reached around the steering column. Her fingers found the switch and she turned the lights off. She opened the glove compartment, pulled out a rag she'd found and wiped the side window. In that same instant, she noticed the frills, the frayed waistband and the crotch â Sofie and her damned recycling.
Her gaze trailed up from the undies to see a man smiling at her through the rain. She gritted her teeth and smiled back, mortified: the cowboy was getting an eyeful of her sister's pink undies.
Bet he thinks they're mine.
Heat rose to her cheeks.
Jennifer wound the window down. It cracked open, then jammed. âThank you,' she said.
âYou'd betterâ¦' the man began just as a truck thundered past, blue exhaust trailing behind, and she missed what else he had to say.
âDidn't hear you!' she yelled through the gap.
âBetter make sure the battery isn't flat.' The man squinted at her, his face obscured by the streaky window. âI've got jumper leads.'
Jennifer copied what she'd seen her sister do and pumped the accelerator a couple of times. She turned on the ignition and the engine turned over without a stutter. She squeezed her fingers into the window's tiny opening and tugged it down a couple of inches.
âListen, I'm missing a sister and a niece. Have you seen a young woman, cherub face, blonde curly hair, about five-six, and a teenage girl, face like her mum, but trying to be Goth â black clothes, black hair, black eyes?'
The man looked up and down the street and as the lamplight touched his face, Jennifer craned her neck down for a better look.
. This bloke in his Akubra hat and oilskin raincoat could stop London traffic. His rugged features were most likely etched by sun, windâ¦and possibly humour.
She followed his gaze, but couldn't see past a couple of pedestrians sheltering from the rain.
âI think your missing family's coming this way. They look ready to clobber me.' He sent them a brief it's-okay wave and turned back to Jennifer. When their eyes connected, something â she wasn't sure what â happened to her stomach.
âAre you passing through?' he asked.
âI don't know.' Her jetlagged brain felt like fudge after forty hours on a dodgy plane. âIs this Tumble Creek?'
He flashed her a smile. âYep.'
âThank God.' Jennifer slumped with relief. âNo more travelling. We're here for our uncle's funeral tomorrow.'
âBob Feldman's your uncle. My condolences, Bob was a good man.' The stranger gave Jennifer a solemn nod in recognition of her loss. Rain dribbled off his hat.
âYou knew him?' Jennifer asked.
âIt's a small town. I'll be seeing you then.' He shrugged deeper into his long coat and jogged to his car, boots sending water flying with every step.
Jennifer forced the window down, stuck her head out and yelled, âThanks again!' He turned and touched the brim of his hat.
she thought. It was definitely worth getting wet for another look. He slid behind the wheel of his Range Rover and disappeared into the traffic. She pushed the window back up, muttering about Sofie and her clapped out old car. She probably kept it to torment their image-driven mother.
Huddled under a plastic raincoat, Jennifer's niece Claudia dived into the back. Sofie shoved Jennifer across and slid into the driver's seat. Sofie handed Jennifer a take-away bag and as the delicious smell of hot food permeated the car, she felt her stomach grumble.
âWhat did that gorgeous-looking bloke want?' Sofie asked with enthusiasm.
âHe was hot!' Claudia blurted from the back seat.
Jennifer cocked an eyebrow at her sister. âThe cute cowboy kindly told me our car's headlights were on.'
âHow thoughtful. He looked like Hugh Jackman in that movie
Sofie said. âHe waved and gave me a smile. I swear my legs went to jelly.'
âMum's legs turn to jelly watching a Bonds singlet ad,' Claudia said.
âMaybe I should've told him it was my ditsy sister who left the lights on. And that they weren't
frayed pink undies I used to clean the window.'
âOops.' Sofie busied herself opening a take-away bag.
' Claudia shrieked.
Jennifer realised her mistake and quickly changed the subject; there'd been enough tension between mother and daughter.
âI smell food.' She peeked in the bag. âOr perhaps not?'
âWait just a minute,' Claudia pushed on. âA strange guy got an eyeful of Mum's big, old undies.'
âExcuse me! They are not big. And that's recycling, sweetie. Everyone uses old undies to wash and polish things, and they're great for cars â'
âYou mean to say you washed this car and used...'
âYes, on the front lawn. Your friend Skids wanted to polish his bike so I gave him a pair.'
âNoooo!' Claudia cried out, arms folded tight across her budding chest. âNext thing I know, it's on YouTube. Picture it: me, humiliated all over the country â the whole world! I can't believe it.
Jennifer gave her sister a look. Sofie was trying to hide a grin. âI think your mum was kidding.'
âThink â think!'
âDon't worry, Claudia, if the cowboy tells just one person what he saw, by morning I'll be humiliated all over town. And I don't care.' Jennifer's conscience threw a little tantrum over her blatant lie. Her own self-image had been a work in progress from the time she'd left home.
âHe's a stockman,' Sofie corrected.
âBeg your pardon. Stockman.' Jennifer rubbed her face, thinking this was just the beginning; she had another week of this banter. Despite her irritation, she had to smile.
âSorry to break this to you, but you should see your hair,' Sofie giggled. âAll your curls are flat and up one side. Not that it matters, you were in the car the whole time.'
Jennifer dropped the bag in her lap and pulled the visor down to peer in the mirror. âI look like a raccoon!' She raked her fingers through her dark curls. Her mother would be horrified â fix your hair â fix your face â you're not wearing that, are you? Without thinking, she straightened her black linen pants and scarlet tunic.
âNo, you look Goth, like Muggins.' Sofie hitched a thumb over her shoulder at Claudia.
âWhat happened?' Jennifer asked no one in particular. âSomewhere between London and Sydney I aged ten years.'
âShut up, Jen, don't make me lean across and smack you. You're gorgeous. London-winter-pale, but gorgeous. Some women resort to surgery for that doe-eyed, green-eyed, gypsy look.'
âI'd love to have your skin, Aunty Jen,' Claudia said. âWhite is so cool.'
Spending nights in the restaurant and sleeping during the day, how could she be anything but pale?
âMum, how come Aunt Jen's a brunette and you're a blonde? She's tall, and you're short?'
âShort? Thanks, sweetie,' Sofie said dryly. âJen's a throwback from a past liaison?'
âYeah right, Sofie. You're the throwback. I can't see Mother having an affair twelve months after you were born to fall pregnant with me. Hardly,' Jennifer put in.
With the same old discussions having resurfaced, she did wonder if they could've had different fathers. Sofie drove around in a derelict car and dressed like a hippy, which was odd when their parents' aim in life was making the right impression.
âHow long was I asleep?'
âIt's nine-thirty now; you had less than an hour.' Sofie patted Jennifer's knee.