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Boutique business opportunity at Bellaroo Creek
Former bakery offered at nominal or deferred rental to help revitalise the town's retail business.
Bellaroo Council, in support of the Regional Recovery Programme, is calling for expressions of interest to occupy and redevelop Lot 3 Wattle Street on a lease or freehold arrangement. Some bakery equipment is included in the assets.
Enquiries/business plan to J. P. Elliot CEO Bellaroo Council, 23 Wattle Street.
Milla sat on the edge of the hospital bed, a cup of tea and sandwich untouched beside her. It was over. She'd lost her baby, and any minute now the nice nurse would pop back to tell her she was free to go.
Go where? Back to the lonely motel room?
From down the hospital corridor the sounds of laughter drifted, along with the happy chatter of cheery visitors. Other patients' visitors. Milla looked around her room, bare of cards or flowers, grapes or teddy bears. Her parents were away on a Mediterranean cruise and she hadn't told anyone else that she was back in Australia.
Her Aussie friends still thought she was living the high life as the wife of a mega-rich Californian and she hadn't been ready to confess the truth about her spectacularly failed marriage. Besides, the few of her friends who lived in Sydney were party girls, and, being pregnant, Milla hadn't been in party mode. She'd been waiting till the next scan to announce the news about her baby.
Milla wrapped her arms over her stomach, reliving the cramping pains and terror that had brought her to the emergency ward. She had wept as the doctor examined her, and she'd sobbed helplessly when he told her that she was having a miscarriage. She'd cried for the little lost life, for her lost dreams.
Her marriage fiasco had shattered her hopes of ever finding love and trust in an adult relationship and she'd pinned everything on the promise of a soft, warm baby to hold. She longed for the special bond and unconditional love that only a baby could bring, and she'd been desperate to make a success of motherhood.
Such wonderful dreams she'd nurtured for her little boy or girl, and imagining the months ahead had been so much fun.
Along with watching a tiny, new human being discover the world, Milla had looked forward to patiently caring for her little one. Chances were, it would be a boythe Cava-naugh wives always seemed to produce sonsand Milla had imagined bathing her little fellow, feeding him, dressing him in sweet little striped sleep-suits, coping with his colic and teething pains and the inevitable sleepless nights.
She'd pictured trips to the park and to the beach as he grew, had even seen herself making his first birthday cake with a cute single candle, and issuing invitations to other mums and babes to join in the party.
'Ten to twenty per cent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage,' the doctor had informed her matter-of-factly.
But Milla could only see this as another failure on top of her failed marriage. After all, if the statistics were turned around, eighty to ninety per cent of pregnancies were absolutely fine. Just as two thirds of marriages were perfectly happy.
The irony was, she'd become pregnant in a last-ditch attempt to save her marriage. When that had proved to be clearly impossible, she'd turned her hopes and ambitions inwards. To her child.
She'd been mega careful with her diet, taking all the right vitamins and folates, and, although she'd been through a great deal of stress and a long flight from LA to Sydney, she'd made sure that her new lifestyle included a healthy balance of rest and exercise and fresh air.
And yet again, she'd failed. Fighting tears, Milla packed her toothbrush and wallet into the carryall she'd hastily filled when she'd left for the hospital.
It was time to go, and after one last look around the small white room she set off down the long hospital corridor.
The final years of her marriage to Harry Cavanaugh had been grim, but she'd never felt this low or this lost as if she'd been cast adrift in a vast and lonely sea.
Fleetingly, she wondered if she should let Harry know about the baby. But why bother? He wouldn't care.
In his midtown Manhattan office, Ed Cavanaugh was absorbed in reading spreadsheets when his PA buzzed that he had an important call. Time was tight and the info on his computer screen was critical. Ed ignored the buzzer and continued scanning the lines of figures.
A minute later, he sensed his PA at the door. 'Mr Cavanaugh?'
Without looking up, Ed raised a silencing hand as he took a note of the figures he'd been hunting. When he was finished, and not a millisecond before, he shot a glance over the top of his glasses. 'What is it, Sarah?'
'A call from Australia. It's Gary Kemp and I was sure you'd want to speak to him.'
Gary Kemp was the Australian private detective Ed's family had had hired to track down his escapee sister-in-law. An unexpected tension gripped Ed. Had Milla been found?
'Put him through,' he said, closing down the screen.
Scant seconds later, his line buzzed again and he snatched up the receiver. 'Gary, any news?'
'Plenty, Mr C.'
'Have you found her? Is she still in Australia?' They already knew that Milla had caught a flight from LA to Sydney.
'She's still in the country, but you'll never guess where.'
Ed grimaced. This Aussie detective could be annoyingly cocky. Ed had no intention of playing guessing games, although in this case it would be dead easy to take a stab at Milla's whereabouts. Her tastes were totally predictable. She would be holed up in a harbourside penthouse, or in a luxury resort at one of those famous Australian beaches.
'Just tell me,' he demanded with a spurt of irritation.
'Try Bellaroo Creek.'
'Bellaroo Creek,' Gary repeated with a chuckle. 'Middle of nowhere. Dying town. Population three hundred and seventy-nine.'
Ed let out a huff of surprise. 'Where exactly is this middle of nowhere?'
'Little tinpot whistle-stop in western New South Wales, about five hours' drive from Sydney.'
'What are you telling me? My sister-in-law passed through this place?'
'No, she's still there, mate. Seems it's her hometown.'
Just in time, Ed stopped himself from asking the obvious. Of course, his brother's sophisticated socialite wife must have grown up in this Bellaroo Creek place, but he found the news hard to swallow.
'Her family's long gone,' the detective went on. 'So have most of the former residents. As I said, the place is on its last legs. These days it's practically a ghost town.'
None of this made sense to Ed. 'Are you sure you have the right Milla Cavanaugh?'
'No doubt about it. It's her all right, although she's using her maiden name, Brady. Interesting. As far as I can tell, she's barely touched her bank accounts.'
'No way,' retorted Ed. 'You can't have the right woman.'
'Check your emails,' Gary Kemp responded dryly. 'This isn't amateur hour, mate, as you'll soon see from my invoice. I've sent you the photo I took yesterday in Bellaroo Creek's main street.'
Frowning, Ed flicked to his emails, opened the link and there it was a photo of a woman dressed in jeans and a roll-necked black cashmere sweater.
She was definitely Milla. Her delicate, high-cheek-boned beauty was in a class of its own. His younger brother had always won the best-looking women, no question.
Milla's hair was different, though. Pale red-gold, with a tendency to curl, the way it had been when Ed had first met her, before she'd had it straightened and dyed blond to fit in with the other wives in Harry's LA set.
'OK,' he growled, his throat unaccountably tight. 'That's helpful. I see you've sent an address, as well.'
'Yeah. She's staying at the Bellaroo pub. Booked in for a week, but I'm guessing she might think twice about staying that long. It's so dead here, she could get jack of the place and shoot through any tick of the clock.'
'Right. Thanks for the update. Keep an eye on her and keep me posted re her movements.'
'No worries, Mr C.'
Ed hung up and went through to his PA's desk. 'We've found her.'
Sarah looked unexpectedly delighted. 'That's wonderful, Mr Cavanaugh. Does that mean Milla's still in Australia? Is she OK?'
'Yes on both counts. But it means I'm going to have to fly down there pronto. I'll need you to reschedule the meetings with Cleaver Holdings.'
'Yes, of course.'
'Several people won't be happy, but that's too bad. Dan Brookes will have to handle their complaints and he can run any other meetings in my absence. I'll brief him as soon as he's free. Meantime, I want you to book me on the earliest possible flight to Sydney. And I'll want a hire car ready to go.'
'And can you ring Caro Marsden? Let her know I'll be out of the country for a few days.'
To his surprise Sarah, his normally respectful PA, narrowed her eyes at him in an uncharacteristic challenge. 'Ed,' she said, which was a bad start. Sarah rarely used his given name. 'You've been dating the poor woman for four months. Don't you think you should'
'All right, all right,' he snapped through gritted teeth. 'I'll call her.'
Sarah was watching him with a thoughtful frown. 'I guess you're going to break the news to Milla about your brother?'
'Among other things.' Ed eased the sudden tightness of his collar. His younger brother's death in a plane crash and the subsequent funeral were still fresh and raw. The loss had hit him so much harder than he'd imagined possible.
'The poor woman,' Sarah said now.
'Yeah,' Ed responded softly remembering and wondering.
Almost immediately, he gave an irritated shrug, annoyed by the unwanted pull of his emotions. 'Don't forget, it was Milla who cut and ran,' he said tersely.
Not only that. She kept her pregnancy a secret from the family. Which was the prime reason he had to find her now.
'I know Milla's persona non grata around here,' Sarah said. 'But I always thought she seemed very nice.'
Sure you did, Ed thought with a sigh. That was the problem. The woman had always been a total enigma.
It was weird to be back. It had been twelve long years.
Milla drove her little hire car over a bumpy wooden bridge and took the next turn left onto a dirt track. As she opened the farm gates she saw a large rustic letterbox with the owners' namesBJ and HA Murraypainted in white.
She hadn't seen her old school friends, Brad and Heidi, since she'd left town when she was twenty, dead eager to shake the district's dust from her heels and to travel the world. Back then, she'd been determined to broaden her horizons and to discover her hidden potential, to work out what she really wanted from life.
Meanwhile Heidi, her best friend, had stayed here in this quiet old backwater. Worse, Heidi had made the deadly serious mistake of marrying a local boy, an error of judgement the girls had decreed in high school would be a fate worse than death.
Shoot me now, they used to say at the very thought. They'd been sixteen then. Sixteen and super confident that the world was their oyster, and quite certain that it was vitally important to escape Bellaroo Creek.
Unfortunately, Heidi had changed her mind and she'd become engaged to Brad only a matter of months after Milla had left town.
But although poor old Heidi had stayed, it was clear that many others had found it necessary to get away. These days Bellaroo Creek was practically a ghost town.
This discovery had been a bit of a shock. Milla had hoped that a trip to her hometown would cheer her up. Instead, she'd been depressed all over again when she'd walked down the main street and discovered that almost all the businesses and shops had closed down.
Where were the cars and people? Where were the farmers standing on street corners, thumbs hooked in belt loops as they discussed the weather and the wool prices? Where were the youngsters who used to hang around the bakery or the hamburger joint? The young mums who brought their babies to the clinic, their children to the library?
Bellaroo Creek was nothing like the busy, friendly country town of her childhood. The general store was now a supermarket combined with a newsagent's and a tiny post of-ficeand that was just about it.
Even the bakery Milla's parents used to own was now boarded-up and empty. Milla had stood for ages outside the shopfront she'd once known so well, staring glumly through the dusty, grimy windows into the darkened interior.
From as far back as she could remember the Bellaroo bakery had been a bustling, busy place, filled with cheery customers, and with the fragrant aroma of freshly baked bread. People had flocked from miles around to buy her dad's mouth-watering loaves made from local wheat, or his delicious rolls and shiny-topped fruit buns, as well as her mum's legendary pies.
Her parents had sold the business when they retired, and in the short time since it had come to this an empty, grimy shop with a faded, printed sign inside the dusty window offering the place for lease. Again.
Who would want it?
Looking around at the other vacant shop-fronts, Milla had been totally disheartened. She'd driven from Sydney to Bellaroo Creek on a nostalgic whim, but instead she'd found a place on the brink of extinction.
It seemed the universe was presenting her with yet another dismal picture of failure.
It was so depressing.
Poor Heidi must be going mental living here, Milla decided as she drove down the winding dirt track between paddocks of pale, biscuit-coloured grass dotted with fat, creamy sheep. At least Heidi was still married to Brad and had two kids, a boy and a girlwhich sounded fine on the surface, but Milla couldn't believe her old friend was really happy.
Admittedly, her contact with Heidi had been patchythe occasional email or Facebook message, the odd Christmas card.
She'd felt quite tentative, almost fearful when she'd plucked up the courage to telephone Heidi, and she'd been rather surprised that her friend had sounded just as bright and bubbly as she had in her teens.
'Come for lunch,' Heidi had gushed after the initial excited squeal over the phone. 'Better still, come for morning tea and stay for lunch. That way you'll catch up with Brad when he comes in around twelve, and we can have plenty of time for a really good chat. I want to hear everything.'
Milla wasn't particularly looking forward to sharing too many details of her personal history, but she was keen to see Heidi again. Curious now, too, as the track dipped to a concrete ford that crossed a small, shady creek.
As her tyres splashed through the shallow water she imagined Heidi and Brad's children playing in the creek when they were older. She edged the car up the opposite bank and rounded a corner, and saw her first view of the farmhouse.
Which wasn't grand by any meansjust a simple white weatherboard house with verandahs and a red roofbut it was shaded by a big old spreading tree and there were well-tended flowerbeds set in neat lawns, a vegetable garden with trellises at one end and free-ranging, rusty-feathered chickens.
Her friend's home was a far cry from the acres of expensive glass and white marble of Milla and Harry's Beverly Hills mansion.
And yet, something about the house's old-fashioned, rustic simplicity touched an unexpected chord in Milla.
No need to get sentimental, she warned herself as she drove forward.
Before she'd parked the car, the front door opened, spilling puppies and a rosy-cheeked little girl. Heidi followed close behind, waving and grinning as she hurried down the steps and across the lawn. As Milla clambered out she found herself enveloped in the warmest of welcoming hugs.
After weeks of loneliness, she was fighting tears.