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Following instructions, she took a domestic flight to Longreach, where she was to be met by Scott who would fly her back to the station. She was none too happy about that. She hadn't forgiven Scott. And she had tried.
The news of Broderick McGovern's death had been broken to her by her father, who had worshipped the man. A short time later the news broke on radio, T.V. and the Internet. Broderick McGovern, billionaire "Cattle King", had been killed in a helicopter crash while being ferried to a McGovern outstation on the border of the Northern Territory. He, the pilot and another passenger, a relative and federal politician, had been killed when the helicopter, flown by an experienced pilot, simply "fell out of the sky", according to a lone witness who had been rounding up brumbies at the time.
No one had been prepared for this violent assault by Fate.
Keefe McGovern, 30, Broderick McGovern's elder son, was now master of Djinjara, the historic Outback station. Mr McGovern could not be reached for comment. The family was said to be in total shock. Broderick McGovern had only been 55 years of age.
Such had been his stature, not only as one of the country's richest men, a philanthropist and premier cattle producer, that the Prime Minister announced with genuine regret, "This is a man who will be sorely missed."
Skye stood under a broad awning, waiting for Scott to arrive. Scott was another one who had a hold on her memory. She wondered if he had matured at all since she had last seen him; wondered if his fierce jealousy of his older brother had abated over time. Both Scott and Rachelle were very much affected by having a brother like Keefe. Instead of making their own mark, they chose to remain in Keefe's long shadow. Scott, who had been trained in the cattle business and played an active role, sadly lacked Keefe's extraordinary level of competence, let alone the leadership qualities necessary in a man who had to run a huge man-orientated enterprise. Still he raged, secretly secure in the knowledge he would in all probability never be called upon. Rachelle, the heiress daughter, made no effort at all to find her own niche in the world. She preferred to live on Djinjara and take numerous holidays at home and abroad whenever she found herself bored.
To Skye it was an empty, aimless life. She had no idea what would have happened had Scott been his father's heir instead of Keefe. Instead, Scott and Rachelle acted as if their lives had been mapped out for them.
Goodness, it was hot! Far, far hotter than it ever was in subtropical Brisbane, but this was the dry heat of the Outback. Oddly its effects on her were invigorating. She had grown up in heat like this. Even the slight breeze was bringing in the familiar, tantalising scent of the bush. She drew in a breath of the aromatic fragrance, trying to calm herself and unravel the tight knots in her stomach. It wasn't easy, returning to Djinjara, but it was unthinkable not to attend Broderick McGovern's funeral. He had always been kind to her and to her father, who was in genuine mourning.
It wasn't the time to wish it was Keefe who was coming for her. She knew perfectly well Keefe wouldn't be able to get away. He had taken on his dead father's mantle. But she still had many reservations about Scott. He had always been a chameleon when they had been growing up. Sometimes he had been fun, if a bit wild, other times a darkness had descended on him. He idolised his brother. No question. But to Scott's own dismay he'd had to constantly battle a sometimes overwhelming jealousy of Keefe, the heir. It had made him angry and resentful, ready to lash out at everyone on the station who couldn't answer back without the possible risk of getting fired. That included her father who felt pity for Scott McGovern, the classic second string with all its attendant problems.
When Scott was in his moods, especially as he grew older, station people learned to steer clear of him until the mood passed. Skye in later years realised she was perhaps the only one who had missed out for the most part on Scott's sharp, hurtful ways. It had taken a while for her to become aware that Keefe had always appeared to keep a pretty close eye on them.
She had found out. And a lot sooner than she had ever imagined. When she had been around sixteen and Scott almost twenty he had fancied himself either in love with her or determined to take advantage of her. Either way, it was the cause of an ongoing simmering tension between the two brothers. One that stemmed from a single violent confrontation.
All these years later, Skye remembered that traumatic episode as though it were yesterday…
As she stepped into the deep emerald lagoon, catching her breath at its coldness, Skye became aware someone was watching her. She spun about, calling, "Who's there?"
She wasn't nervous. She felt perfectly safe anywhere on the station. She knew everyone and everyone knew her. There wasn't a soul on the station who hadn't kept an eye on her as she was growing up. They had all known her beautiful mother. They worked alongside her father. The entire station community had as good as adopted her. No one would harm her. She called again, startling a flock of sulphur-crested, white cockatoos that set up a noisy protest. A few seconds later, lanky Scott appeared. He had the McGovern height but not Keefe's great shape. He was dressed in his everyday working gear—skintight jeans, checked cotton shirt, riding boots. His hat was tipped down over his face. He had the McGovern widow's peak that looked so dramatic on his older brother but vaguely sinister on him.
"Why didn't you speak?" she asked in surprise. How long had he been watching her from the cover of the tree—three minutes, four? She had stripped down to her turquoise and white bikini, leaving her clothes neatly folded on the sand.
He didn't move. Didn't respond. He remained where he was at the top of the sloping bank, the loose sand bound by a profusion of hardy succulent-type plants with pockets of tiny perfumed white and mauve lilies in between.
"Scott?" she questioned, shading her eyes with her hand. "Is something wrong?"
Suddenly he smiled, spread out his long arms, then half ran, half skidded, like they had done when they had been kids, down the bank to the golden crescent of sand. "Boy, oh, boy, you should get a look at yourself," he whooped. "That's some bikini, girl!"
It wasn't the words, normal enough, but the way he said them that caused her first ever flurry of unease. "Like it?" She answered in a deliberately casual voice, nothing that could remotely sound like a come-on in her tone. "It's new." This was Scott. This was a McGovern. Much was expected of them.
"You have a beautiful body, Skye, baby," he drawled, his eyes moving very slowly and insolently over her. "Beautiful face. That blonde mane of hair and those sparkly blue eyes!"
He moved closer, tossing his wide-brimmed hat away. "I'm coming in."
She wanted to shout, No! Some expression on his face was causing her alarm. Instead she managed, "Don't, Scott."
For answer he began to strip off his shirt. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do, Skye McCory."
It sounded remarkably like a threat. That put the fight into her. "Well, you'll have to swim alone," she announced crisply. "I'm coming out. I have things to do."
"What things?" He spoke disparagingly, sounding a bit too much like his sister for comfort. "Don't try to disappear on me," he warned.
Now he was stripping off his jeans.
A voice inside told her things had changed. In his briefs, she couldn't avoid seeing he was sexually aroused. Immediately she decided to change tack and strike out for the opposite bank. What then? She was a good swimmer with a lot of pace. Scott was coming after her. What was his plan, to trap her? Not only cold water washed over her. She felt the icy finger of panic. She couldn't help knowing males got intense pleasure from looking at her these days. Even her friends at boarding school teased her all the time about the crushes their brothers had on her.
She reached the jade shallows, pulling herself up out of the water, her heart banging against her ribs. Swiftly she shook back her long hair. It had come free of its plait. Where to now? Take one of the trails?
Scott pulled himself out of the water seconds after her, his grin tight. "What's the matter with you?" he challenged.
She put her arms around herself, shielding her small breasts, their contours enhanced by the snugly fitting bra top from his view. "What's the matter with you is more to the point?" she said sharply. "You're upsetting me, Scott." Indeed, he was changing her perception of him.
His answer was to lurch towards her, fixing her with a look that dismayed her. He easily pinned her wrists, because he was very much taller and stronger. "I want to kiss you. I want you to kiss me back."
Part of her brain searched for words to stop him but couldn't find them. He was overstepping the boundaries and he knew it. "Are you mad?" She got ready to aim a well-deserved kick at his groin. She was an Outback-bred girl. She knew all the ways a lone woman could defend herself.
"Mad for you." There was the fierce glow of lust in his eyes.
She looked around her quickly. On this side of the lagoon the trees grew more thickly. There was sunlight coming in streams through the canopy, lighting up the trails taken by horses and riders. This particular lagoon was her favourite swimming spot, one of many on the vast station, but today the whole magnificent wild area seemed threatening and deserted. "Take a deep breath, Scott," she cautioned, wishing Keefe would miraculously ride that way. "Stop this now."
"Stop what?" He leaned closer to her.
"What you think you've started. It's not on. So get yourself together. Remember who you are."
Scott set his jaw, his handsome face turning grim. "I'm not Keefe. Is that it? I'll never be Keefe. Keefe is the one you want." His grip on her wrists became punishingly hard as his pathological jealousy grew.
She responded with heat. "You're hurting me, Scott." She wasn't about to show her fear. She stood her ground, even if inwardly she cringed.
Abruptly he released her, but just as she relaxed, one of his hands reached out to caress her breast. He wasn't toying with her. He was dead serious.
She flung herself backwards and dashed a tear from her eye. Surely she wasn't crying? She never cried. A small fallen branch lay on the sand. She bent sideways to pick it up. If she had to defend herself, she would. She knew with Scott in this mood something bad could happen to her.
He found it too easy to create fear in her. Scott appeared to be enjoying her efforts at evasion. "Give up," he advised with a brittle laugh. "I'm really mad about you, Skye. That's what I'm tryin' to tell you. Don't you care?"
There was a hard knot at the base of her breastbone. "I care that you're making a huge mistake, Scott." Her voice was tight with strain. "You're my friend. You're Scott. You can't be anything more to me."
He struck like lightning. She landed a stinging lash on his arm. The tanned skin reddened immediately but he didn't look at the welt, or appear to feel it. No matter how much she wished otherwise, there was no mistaking her imminent danger and his raw intent. Scott meant to have his way. Kiss her? Or take her forcibly? Anything was possible. Who was she to him anyway? Only the overseer's daughter. Dozens of girls would gladly have swapped places with her, no matter the risk. Scott McGovern mightn't be his brother, but he was still a great catch.
"Now, what makes you think that?" he asked with slow menace. "I tell you, Skye, you've turned into the sexiest thing on two legs."
I'm scared but I can't show it.
Find me, Keefe. Find me.
She concentrated on sending her message out into the great plains. "This isn't going to work, Scott. You'd better find someone else."
"I don't want anyone else." He cut her off with a chopping motion of his hand. "And when I make up my mind, I don't change it."
"Then go to hell!" she shouted, adrenalin flooding into her blood. "You're acting like a bully and a coward."
It was a mistake.
Scott reached for her, wrapping one arm around her. "This can work, Skye if you let it."
"No. No. And no!" She fought back, digging in her nails.
"Too ordinary for you, am I? I'm not Keefe."
She threw back her head. "Keefe would never force a woman," she cried with utter conviction.
"Wouldn't have to, would he? You'd let him take you in a minute!" There was rage and bitter resentment in Scott's blue eyes as he repeated his resentment of his older brother. He went to kiss her and she turned her face, both of them recoiling abruptly as a familiar voice came from behind them in a barely contained roar of ferocity.
"What the hell is going on here?"
Keefe's tall, wide-shouldered, lean figure came stalking along the narrow sunlit corridor. His body language was wrathful. He looked blazingly angry, angrier than Skye could ever have imagined. Keefe was famous for keeping his cool.
Now it was Scott's turn to be intimidated. Instead of attempting an answer, he appeared ludicrously shocked, while Skye found herself moaning her relief. With no thought to her actions, she ran to Keefe's side, grasping his hard, muscled arm, feeling the heat of rage sizzle off his skin.
"Okay, I guess I know what was happening," he rasped, shoving Skye bodily behind him. "You can't help yourself, can you, Scott? The only thing that concerns you is getting what you want."
"And I would have got it if you hadn't turned up. Skye has the hots for me."
"Believe that, and you'll believe anything," Keefe bit off with disgust. He closed the short distance to where his brother stood, grabbing hold of his bare shoulder with such force Scott winced. "Goddammit, Scott," Keefe groaned in a kind of agony. "I'm repulsed by you. Where's your sense of decency? Your sense of honour?
"You got the lot," Scott retorted with sudden venom, trying unsuccessfully to break his brother's iron grasp. "You want her yourself."
Keefe's expression was daunting. "What you're saying is what I want, you must take for yourself."
"Well, she is one alluring little chick!"