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Broome, North-Western Australia
All day the heat had been like a headache, pulsing and thick with moisture. The local Aboriginal clans called this 'knock-'em-down' season—the clouds were a dark-and-brilliant tapestry covering the sky, and the rumbling thunder, lightning forking across the beach, brought the entire landscape to fascinating, terrifying life. Then at last the wild storms came, the unrelenting rain fell, cutting off the entire Kimberley region from the rest of the world, apart from a few brave souls that ventured here on the one highway that stayed open. The shops all closed in the town from just after New Year to the start of February, apart from grocery and the petrol stations, the resorts and the odd souvenir store.
Her little grocery/souvenir shop stayed open for those few tourists who came in. It opened at seven a.m., and stayed open until seven at night. She had to fill her life with something, right?
Anna West—soon to be Curran once again—walked along the beach toward the small apartment she'd taken five months ago. Cable Beach was her favourite place in the world. Dazzling creamy-white sands were littered with rocks and stunning aqua water, and sometimes, not as often as the famed Monkey Mia beach, but sometimes the dolphins came so close to the shore you could pat them, and the whales swam past on a journey to and from the Antarctic, leaping from the crystalline water to give tantalising glimpses of long, sleek, grey beauty, their family lives evident in their care for their little ones…
Don't think about it, not on this of all days.
She wiped the sweat running down her face and kept walking, her eyes blinded to the beauty. She'd look again tomorrow, love it then as she always had. Not today. One year since—
Anna knew she shouldn't be alone today. She had plenty of places to go, if she wanted to.
'Come to Perth, Anna. You can stay with me as long as you want to. You'll have total peace and quiet here—but you won't be alone,' Sapphie told her during every call, in that gentle yet insistent way of hers. Sapphie, her long-time best friend from their boarding-school days, the daughter of Jarndirri's former housekeeper, would never give up until Anna came.
'Come to Yurraji, Anna,' her sister, Lea, would say. 'You don't need to run that stupid shop—Broome's got twenty of them already—but you've only got one niece. Molly needs to see her only aunt—and you should be with your family now.'
Anna knew that beneath Lea's gruff, commanding tone—so much like their dad's—was a world of anxiety she felt for her little sister. She could never say 'I love you, I miss you', and especially not 'I'm scared for you'. Lea was a fighter, not a lover—but it was in every call, in every unspoken word.
Yurraji was the property Granddad had left Lea. It lay in the wildest, most remote part of Western Australia where brumbies, the wild horses, still ran free, and Lea could gentle them and give them a sanctuary. Anna could spend a week, a month or whatever she needed—and she'd never find a place more peaceful, or farther away from gossip and speculation.
Both Lea and Sapphie called every evening to check on her, as they'd done for the past year, bearing with her monosyllabic replies with more patience and love than she had a right to expect. Their calls made the long, lonely evenings bearable, and yet…
The bitter cocktail sloughed down her throat again, the shame and resentment of her own sister, her dearest friend—but the worst was that she couldn't even bear to talk to her only, adored niece. Hanging up the phone when she heard Molly's little, piping voice cry, 'I wanna talk Aunty Anna!'
She'd do it—soon. One day. When even hearing Molly's voice didn't set off images…
Images of Molly playing with her baby cousin… Lea, Sapphie and Molly exclaiming over Adam's first tooth, his first smile, his first steps while she and Jared almost burst with pride over every word, Adam's every achievement.
The rain was falling again, and not from the sky.
Anna swiped savagely at her treacherous eyes. Stop it. Just don't think about it.
It was her daily mantra. As if she repeated it often enough, something might happen—perhaps a convenient dose of amnesia, or she'd wake up beside Jared fifteen months ago. She'd pull his hand over her enormous mound of belly, and they'd smile together as a little hand or foot travelled across, as if waving. Hi, Mummy, Daddy…
A dark boom of thunder sounded from over the ocean, coming in ripples across the water. She broke into a run, heading across the sand to the end of the lane connecting the beach and the main street, where her little house sat in wonky pride. A shabby cottage with a sagging verandah, built to face the waves at the side of the beach, did her just fine. She didn't need the big, gleaming apartment in the centre of town that Jared had bought for her, as befitted a Curran. Her cottage was private, and that was all she wanted.
As she passed, the wafting scent of the local takeaway-cum-anything shop enticed her. She'd stop and grab some fish and chips, take them home and grab a DVD. Maybe Monty Python…nobody could feel self-pity while they watched Monty Python. She'd smile and laugh and almost forget for an hour or two.
Half an hour later she let herself in her door, munching on the chips she'd bought through a hole she'd punched in the top of the paper wrapping. She plopped the stuff down on the coffee table, opened the DVD and pushed it into the player, grabbing the remote—
A loud, aggressive knock on her door startled her from pushing the on button.
She stiffened her spine. She'd handed him a million prime Kimberley hectares on a platter when she'd walked out five months before. Why did he keep trying to bring her back? Because he's the kind of man who doesn't know how to lose. He'd made a pact with her father: if he married her, he'd inherit Jarndirri, and The Great Outback Legend Jared West could never be seen to welch on a deal. It would humiliate him in front of all his peers almost as much as his wife daring to leave him.
The knock this time was imperative, harder than the thunder crashing overhead.
Anna called, 'Coming!', and, gritting her teeth, walked to the door without rushing. She couldn't seem eager to see him or he'd know he could take advantage. A single kiss and she'd be gone. Heaven knew how hard it had been the first few times. He'd had her stripped half-naked and melting in a puddle at his feet before she'd regained her senses, and thrown him out. She might not love him any more, but her body didn't seem to know the difference. One look at his face and the inner screaming for release began; one touch and all she could think about was him.
No more. It's over!
She threw open the door, her face lifted, ready to do battle—
But no six-two of rugged, dark-haired, dusty male filled the aperture. Instead was a young woman with a pretty face, a too-thin body, and desperate eyes pleading for help. 'Hi, Anna, um, hi, how are you…?'
Anna's heart didn't sink, it whacked her feet with its mile-a-second descent; yet the aching hunger came. She knew what Rosie Foster was about to ask, and she could no more deny her than she could stop breathing. 'I'm fine, Rosie. How are you and our beautiful Melanie today?'
Rosie jiggled the baby car seat in her hand as if in instinctive comfort. 'Um, we're good. Look, I know I have no right to ask you…'
The familiar terror and pain and hunger washed through Anna as she forced a smile to her face. Her only real friend in town, Rosie Foster never asked Anna about her life. She had enough troubles of her own. Rosie was a new mother, a single mother whose deadbeat ex had done a runner. She needed help, and had chosen Anna as her confidante and babysitter—probably because Anna never volunteered her own troubles in return. She had a constant listener and someone who'd never turn down the opportunity to mind her baby when Rosie needed a break.
Why me, Rosie? I can't do this again, I can't! Why had Rosie chosen her, barren Anna West, who'd lost her son and her womb in a day, and then walked out on the marriage that was almost a folk tale among the locals?
Maybe it was because Anna was even more fiercely alone than Rosie was. At least Rosie knew how to reach out, to ask for help; Anna didn't know how to lower her pride. Everyone hereabouts might know she'd walked out on Jared—and they all had their theories why—but she refused to indulge their curiosity, or their spite, by giving them a version of events, or sharing her most private anguish. She hadn't talked to anyone in a year. A year to this day…
Unable to stop herself, she dropped her gaze. A flushed, chubby face looked back up at her from the midst of a car seat, with big blue eyes and long golden lashes surrounded by a pink, frilly bonnet. Dimples peeped as a trusting smile filled the little face, sure of her welcome.
Hi, Aunty Anna, the beautiful eyes said without words. I've come to play again… A chubby little fist left a rosebud mouth; a tiny hand reached for her, the toothless little mouth smiled up at her in a drooling, adorable hello.
And Anna's heart, frozen for a long year—from the moment she'd known her beautiful boy was dying inside her and there was nothing she could do to save him—melted once again. 'Of course, Rosie, come on in, both of you. I've got dinner to share.'
It was almost time for the Wet again.
The clouds closed in every day, heavy as fleece bales after shearing, thick and dark and tinged with flecks of scarlet like blood. This time of year the clouds dominated the horizon from sunrise to sunset, moments of violent colour after dark, and before dark fell again. As if it had vanished, the sky wasn't there.
Just like Anna. He'd come home from feeding the animals one hot afternoon five long months ago, calling for his wife—and had heard only his own echoes mocking him.
For the thousandth time, Jared West had re-read the note she'd left.
We both know it's over. I can't give you the children you want, and I can't stand living here any more—always alone, enduring the silence.
I don't need anything from the Jarndirri account. I have my mother's legacy. It's enough to live on. Use the money to run the place—it was always more yours than mine. Don't try to find me. I won't come back. Just accept this is a fence that can't be mended.
I'll file for divorce when the year's up. You can still have the children you want. It's not too late for you. Be happy.
That was it. A few scribbled lines with no name, hers or his. As if five years of marriage had meant nothing to her. It was as if all those years of making a home, working together through the harsh climate, fighting for the right to create a family, their family, had never existed for her.
So why couldn't he toss the stupid thing out? Anna had left him five months ago, never once tried to contact him, and threw him out every time he went to her little house on the edge of Broome township—he knew from the first moment she'd go there; she loved the place. She'd even wanted to go there for their honeymoon instead of the six weeks in Europe he'd booked. He'd always promised to take her there for a week—one day.
Well, she had her way at last.
Last time he'd flown down to Broome, she hadn't even let him in the door. She'd handed him signed papers of legal separation, and said, 'Leave me alone, Jared. If you bother me again I'll file a restraining order.' Her eyes, soft, light brown and as gentle as a doe's in a sweet pixie face, had been filled with inflexible resolution. Then she'd closed the door in his face.
But how could he accept it was over when he didn't know why? Her note might as well be gibberish for all the sense it made. They'd had a fantastic life together, and they could have everything they'd lost—happiness, Jarndirri, and kids. He had it all planned out. He just had to bring her home.
When Adam had died…his beautiful son…he'd wanted to die too. But when Anna had woken up from the operation to the news that her uterus had split beyond repair—the cause of Adam's death, and her collapse within hours—and she'd had an emergency hysterectomy, his loving, perfect wife had gone away. She'd turned from everyone close to her, especially him and Lea. Sapphie, the only one she talked to, wouldn't tell him what Anna was saying or feeling.
Ask her yourself, Jared,' was all she said. 'Talk to her.'
But Anna refused to talk to him. He understood how hard it was on her, but he refused to give up hope. After months of research, he'd found a way for them to have the kids they longed for. He had it all planned. He'd been waiting for her to heal before he brought it up.
But despite everything he'd tried, Anna hadn't healed. She'd walked out on him, on their life—on everything.
Everything felt wrong without Anna. No matter what was stated on the deed of ownership, Anna was The Curran, the fourth generation of the Curran dynasty on Jarndirri. Without her he felt as if he was fumbling around the station, working at all that was familiar and loved in darkness so dense he couldn't see through it. He felt like an interloper in the only life he'd always wanted, the only dream he'd ever had.
Without Anna, he was nothing but a fraud—just as his father had been—
Don't go there. But every day since she'd left, he seemed to have lost control even over his mind. The memory came day and night…
Jared shuddered. At fourteen, he'd had the last day of his childhood—and his last day as a West. He'd become a Curran even before the funeral. It seemed his mother couldn't give him away fast enough—but at least she'd given him to the Currans.
In a world where one wrong word could tear his world apart, the Currans had made everything right. He'd lost his father, but in Bryce Curran he'd found a strong working man of the land, a man in whom he could be proud to be called son. He'd lost his brothers and sisters, but in Lea he'd had the straight-talking, gruffly affectionate sister of his heart.
And in Anna…he'd found his destiny.