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The Outback Wedding Takeover
By Emma Darcy
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE plane was heading down to a red dirt airstrip. Apart from the cluster of buildings that marked the sheep station of Gundamurra, there was no other habitation in sight between here and the horizon - a huge empty landscape dotted with scrubby trees.
"Wish I had my camera," Ric Donato murmured.
Mitch Tyler frowned over the other boy's words. Apparently the stark visual impact of the place didn't intimidate Ric. But then the guy had been copped joyriding in a stolen Porsche. He probably got off on wide-open spaces, while Mitch had always been happiest with a book in his hands. No local library here to tap into.
"The middle of nowhere," he muttered dispiritedly.
"I'm beginning to think I made the wrong choice."
"Nah," Johnny Ellis drawled. "Anything's better than being locked up. At least we can breathe out here."
"What? Dust?" Mitch mocked.
The plane landed, kicking up a cloud of it.
"Welcome to the great Australian Outback," the cop escorting them said derisively. "And just remember ... if you three city smart-arses want to survive, there's nowhere to run."
All three of them ignored him. They were sixteen. Regardless of what life threw at them, they were going to survive. And Johnny had it right, Mitch thought. Sixmonths working on a sheep station had to be better than a year in a juvenile jail.
It was half the time, for a start, and there were only two other guys with him, not a horde of criminals who would have established a pecking order. Mitch hated bullies with a passion. He'd learnt how to look after himself. No-one touched him anymore. But he sure didn't want to be incarcerated with a mob of power pushers.
He hoped the owner of this place wasn't some kind of little Hitler, exploiting the justice system to get a free labour force. Mitch decided he'd work out for himself what was fair and challenge anything that wasn't.
What had the judge said at the sentencing? Something about getting back to ground values. A program that would teach them what real life was about. Wouldn't teach him a damned thing about real life, Mitch had thought at the time. He'd majored in real life, ever since his father had walked out on his crippled wife, leaving him and his sister to look after their mother. The lion's share of that had fallen to Jenny, who'd only been eleven years old to his eight when their father had deserted them. Not that he'd been much help anyway, getting drunk every night, drowning his sorrows instead of facing up to them. A coward. That was what his father had been. A contemptible coward.
But not as contemptible as the guy who'd date-raped Jenny.
At least Mitch had had the satisfaction of facing that bastard with what he'd done.
There she'd been, all excited about being invited to a swish party, finally getting into a bit of social life, and to be treated like a disposable piece of meat ...
He was glad he'd given that piece of slime a beating he'd remember for a long time. It might be primitive justice, and against the law, but better than letting him get away with it, no justice at all. Jenny had been too traumatised to press charges against him. The silver-spoon heir to a fortune would probably have got off anyway, with his mega-wealthy family having the power and influence to get anything excused.
Mitch felt no remorse over what he'd done. None whatsoever. Though he was sorry he wouldn't be at home to help for the next six months.
The plane taxied back to where a man - the owner? - was waiting beside a four-wheel drive Land Rover. Big man - broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, craggy weathered face, iron-grey hair. Had to be over fifty but still looking tough and formidable. Not someone to buck in a hurry, Mitch decided, though size didn't automatically command his respect.
"John Wayne rides again," he mocked to cover his unease with the situation.
"No horse," Johnny remarked with a grin.
Mitch found himself smiling back.
It looked like Johnny Ellis would provide some comic relief if life got grim here. He seemed to have the kind of affable nature that would avoid violence if it was avoidable, though even at sixteen his physique was big enough and strong enough to match anyone in a punch-up if forced into it.
Johnny and Ric were street kids. No family. And no doubt they'd worked out ways of looking after themselves. Mitch figured Johnny specialised in being everyone's mate. He had friendly hazel eyes, a ready grin, and sun-streaked brown hair that tended to flop over his forehead. He'd been caught dealing in marijuana, though he swore it was only to musicians who'd get it from someone else anyway.
Ric Donato was a very different kettle of fish. He had an intensity about him that could make him dangerous, Mitch thought. Was he a thief because he wanted too much, too obsessively? He seemed to have a very single-minded passion for the girl he'd stolen the Porsche for, wanting to match up to her rich life.
Mitch imagined that most girls would get a thrill out of Ric, just by being the focus of his attention. The guy had sex appeal in spades - mad, bad and dangerous, well-built without being hunky, and strikingly handsome in a very macho Italian way - black curly hair, almost black eyes, olive skin, and a face that Michelangelo might have carved for its masculine beauty. Perversely enough, the guy didn't seem to have tickets on himself at all. Like he'd been hit too many times to believe he'd been handed anything to feel good about.
Mitch felt okay with himself. Angry at what had been dealt out to his family, but okay with the person he was. He didn't have Ric's good looks but he was presentable enough - on the lean side but not a weakling, taller than most guys his age, and having blue eyes with almost black hair seemed to impress some girls.
Mitch would prefer them to be more impressed by the smart brain that had got him labelled as a nerd before he took up boxing at the local boys' club. He'd never understood why using his intelligence earned scornful remarks from the jocks. Anyhow, he wasn't called a nerd or a weed any more. He might not be liked but he'd made damned sure he was respected.
The plane came to a halt.
The cop told them to get their duffle-bags from under the back seats. A few minutes later he was leading them out to a way of life which was far, far removed from anything the three of them had known before.
Excerpted from The Outback Wedding Takeover by Emma Darcy Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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