An epic tale of modern day Australia, where greed, desire, tragedy, and ambition collide . . .
Alexandra Ross has always known Lavender Hill will be hers one day. The grand old house, with its waving jacaranda fronds circling around it like a canopy against the white-hot Australian sun. The acres of orchards, trees heavy with sweet-smelling mangoes and prickly pink lychee. The rushing emerald creek that claimed her brother’s life; the genteel boudoir where her mother died of grief, gin, and stroke. Even the quad bike her bullheaded father uses to tear around the plantation like a teenager, as his covetous young wife plays tea party with Alex’s mother’s favorite china.
Someday Alex will undo her father’s blunders and be the good neighbor her childhood friend Rafe Rutherford deserves. The yearning she feels for Rafe can never overcome the heartbreak they’ve lived through together, but at least she will have his companionship.
Until her father is killed and the plantation is divided. If she wants to keep the land she loves Alex must break free of guilt and hesitation. And once she begins to fight for what her heart desires, there’s no telling where she’ll stop . . .
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Her Australian Hero
By Margaret Way
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Margaret Way
All rights reserved.
Alex walked quickly, even though the day was a scorcher with high humidity. A white-hot sun flared out of a sky that was bluer than any sea. The very air sparkled with heat. It sprang up from the rich volcanic soil, beating at her body, burning through the thick soles of her runners. If there were such a thing as spontaneous combustion, she thought she might go up in flames. She could feel the flush on her skin, but trusted in her daily routine of applying the most effective sunscreen on the market. Glancing down at herself, she noted the sweat marks on the red singlet she wore with a pair of denim shorts. These were her everyday work clothes. Once upon a time in the city she had been something of a clothes horse. Not now. She was back on the farm, and far too busy.
She had been out longer than she intended amid the green colonnades. R2E2, their second most popular mango variety, was bearing a bumper crop. The trees were laden with large, greenish yellow fruit that would quickly turn a deep orange with a lovely reddish blush. The heat had set the sugars, guaranteeing the fruit would be delicious.
The air over the entire plantation was saturated with a soporific fruity fragrance that made some susceptible people drowsy to the point of falling asleep. Everyone had heard of the term "going troppo." Another name for it was "mango madness." It happened before the onset of the Wet. There were no distinct seasons in the tropics, only the Wet and the Dry. She had always thought the name R2E2 was like something out of Star Wars, but the fruit had actually taken its prosaic name from its row and position in the field at Queensland's Bowen Research Station.
She had kept her meeting with the plantation foreman, Joe Silvagni, brief. They needed to set the date of the mechanical pruning that followed on the harvest. No relaxing post-harvest. There was always something that had to be done.
Alex and Joe worked in harmony, which was essential to the smooth running of the plantation. Harvest was a stressful time. There was always the fear of battering storms, hail, flood, early onset of the monsoon. Their top-quality bumper crop would be on the shelves from this coming November through February. It was estimated North Queensland and the Northern Territory would send to market eight million trays, with each tray packed to contain at least twenty large mangoes. Her own favourite and that of the entire country was Kensington Pride. KP had a unique flavour. The drawback was it was an irregular bearer with a relatively low yield. The September harvest had been disappointing, but there was always next year.
It was she who had given Joe the job, sacking the previous foreman, Bob Ralston, her father's appointee and a known slacker. She had endured quite an argument with her father about replacing Ralston. The good news was, in little over a year, Joe had proved himself. He saw all the things that needed to be done without waiting on orders from her or Connor. She and her father were meeting up with Rafe later in the day. Rafe's privately owned Jabiru Macadamia Plantation was one of the biggest in the world. Australia was the world's largest producer of the native Queensland nut, the "bush tucker" the aborigines called baupa. Not that the macadamia plantation that processed the delicious nuts through their various stages was Rafe's sole business interest. Rafe was an entrepreneur, just like his forebears who had ventured north from the colonised southern states, into the wild frontier that was Northern Australia.
Rafe Rutherford! Lord of the valley.
Some men cast a long shadow. Rafe Rutherford was one of them. She could scarcely remember a day when Rafe hadn't figured in it somewhere, whether in reality or in the caverns of her wounded heart. He had been hers and her brother Kelvin's idol when they were kids. The two of them had looked on him as the big brother they never had. Even their one-eyed father, Connor, could see past his adored son and heir to Rafe and the outstanding qualities he had in abundance. Their gentle mother, Rose Anne, had always had a great fondness for Rafe. In a strange way he still reigned supreme with her, if he only knew it, but their once idyllic childhood relationship had undergone a catastrophic seismic shift. That had begun twelve years before on the fatal day when Kelvin had been lost to them. At fourteen, Kelvin Ross had been destined never to grow old. Gone these many long years. Dead.
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.
Kelvin really was gone, though she talked to him often, even if only in whispers. At the tender age of twelve she had been crippled by an overwhelming sense of guilt. She had continued to live. Kelvin had not. She knew better than anyone that if her father had to lose one of his children he wouldn't have agonized over his decision. He would have chosen Kelvin to live. Kelvin was his finest achievement, the apple of his eye. It should have been a daughter who died, not a son. The whole community knew it, though not one word was uttered in public. Everything was said behind closed doors. Kelvin Ross's death was a tragedy that lived in the collective memory of the town.
Rafe had always been extremely protective of her and her mother. Only she hadn't wanted that. She wanted it for her vulnerable, grief -stricken mother. Not for her. She shunned pity. Especially from her idol. Kelvin's death had stripped her of so many of her finer feelings. Guilt was her due. Death had been waiting for Kelvin that fateful day. She had sensed it without knowing why.
The close bonds between the Rutherfords and the O'Farrells, her mother's family, went back generations in the town of Endeavor. The two families had pioneered Capricornia. Both families had greatly increased their wealth during the Queensland gold rushes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gold mining had transformed the landscape of the State of Queensland. Gold had financed the building of Lavender Hill. The O'Farrell estate boasted one of the most beautiful colonial mansions in the state, so called because the house built in the eighteen sixties was surrounded by glorious lavender-blue jacarandas that protected the mansion like shields.
It was her O'Farrell grandfather who had deeded the estate to their daughter, Rose Anne, their only child. The estate included the house and the thriving sugar and burgeoning mango plantation. Her grandparents were returning to Ireland. Out of the blue, her grandfather had inherited a grand country house in the Irish Midlands. It came along with a minor title on the unexpected death of a cousin who had been shot dead in the wilds of Africa by an ivory poacher. A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Her grandparents had confidently expected her mother would return with them to Ireland. Instead Rose Anne had shocked them by announcing she was going to marry Connor Ross, a young man they had considered highly unsuitable. Deaf to all advice, the normally dutiful Rose Anne had stood firm. She was madly in love. She refused to give up the handsome Connor Ross. Seeing no other option, her parents had deeded Lavender Hill to her as a magnificent wedding present.
So that, then, was the way it was.
A sigh welled up from deep in Alexandra's breast. She still heard her mother's voice, just as she heard Kelvin's. She thought of them as silver bells pealing softly in her head. She had fought hard to block out her grief, though the scars remained. She got on with life. There was no other option. These days the great irony was her father couldn't manage without her.
By the time she was in sight of the house, her head felt woozy from the heat and the thick, pungent air. Her heart was hitting against her chest. Everything was starting to look white. There was no breeze to ruffle the feathery leaves of the compound's jacarandas that were on the cusp of bursting into an ecstasy of lavender-blue bloom. No shrieks from the legions of brilliantly coloured parrots feeding on the wealth of nectar-bearing flowers. A solitary hawk hovered above her head. It was waiting to pounce on some tasty bit of prey. She was so looking forward to the bliss of a cold shower before she started back to the office to go over the books.
Things were looking up. She had found four new markets. Two domestic. Two overseas. Her father had allowed her to take over the business side of the plantation in double-quick time. Over the years he had taken many unnecessary risks that had led to the planation's financial difficulties. Under her stewardship things had made a marked improvement.
She had intended entering the house via the kitchen even if she risked running into Hazel Pidgeon — a surprisingly morose creature for one endowed with such a benign name. Mrs. Pidgeon was the woman Sasha had hired to run the house and do all the work. To be fair, she did it well.
Connor had married Sasha a scant ten months after her mother died. It by no means shocked the town. They were used to Connor Ross's ways. Except the glamorous Sasha, whom he had met on a trip to Sydney, was said to be some fifteen years younger than him. Connor Ross wasn't yet fifty and still a big, handsome man. Many women in the town thought so but were too canny to get caught up in his macho aura. They all remembered his treatment of Rose Anne, Alex's mother.
In the end, in no mood to contend with the housekeeper's seemingly permanent scowl, she walked around the side of the house, making for the front door. She didn't live here anymore. She had been virtually ejected from her mother's house. It had taken a couple of weeks to move into the Lodge on the extensive grounds. One of the few times she had allowed Rafe to help her. She and Sasha didn't get on and never would. Her father had gone along with the plan. That still didn't stop her from entering the house, invited or not. No one would stand in her way. Certainly not Sasha, a woman who Alex guessed had been on the make from her teens. She knew she had all the fight her beautiful mother had not. She had plenty of grit, but her heart was barred. She was herself, yet not herself for years now. She wasn't happy and she wasn't sad. She was busy.
She heard voices. Her heart flipped. The male voice was Rafe's. She would know it amid a hundred raised male voices. Sasha was cooing like a turtledove. Sasha thought it a secret known only to her that she was madly attracted to Rafe, but then so were most of the women in the town, married or not. Rafe was the alpha male. The utter embodiment of tall, dark, and handsome. He put life into every woman's beating heart. Not that Rafe cared about any such thing.
It was too late to turn back. Sasha had spotted her. No doubt Sasha's big blue eyes would be rejoicing in Alex's somewhat grubby appearance.
"Sandy! Sandy!" Sasha lifted a slender arm in greeting as Alex knew she was bound to do. Unfortunately it was all an act. An outsider might have been forgiven for thinking them bosom buddies. She swallowed down her irritation. This "Sandy" thing was a game. No one, but no one, had ever called her Sandy, yet Sasha had hit on it from their very first meeting.
Petite of stature, Sasha had taken her hand sweetly, before making a point of standing on tiptoe to kiss her cheek. That hadn't been necessary; Sasha had been wearing very high heels at the time. Her brand-new stepmother had laughed delightedly, her eyes sparkling with mischief. Sasha and her father had been married in a registry office in Sydney, so the marriage had been a fait accompli before anyone knew, including her. From that moment on, Sasha made it plain she was the new mistress of Lavender Hill.
Alex mounted the front steps, appearing calm and self-possessed.
Rafe rose to his impressive six-three. "Hi, Alex."
She had to wonder if there was ever to be an end to his hold on her. Was it even possible? His mere presence called up tumult. She gave him a faintly bitter smile. "Hi, Rafe." Their eyes locked. She wished she could cut the live current that surged through her body, but she couldn't. The force was too strong. Embarrassed, she became aware her damp singlet was clinging to her. She wasn't wearing a bra. She didn't have much of a bust in any case, but what was there was good enough. "You'll have to excuse me," she said, anxious to bypass the area where he and Sasha were seated companionably at the white wicker table. Its glass top was covered by a pristine white linen-and-lace cloth, embroidered at the centre and around the edges. Matching small napkins. Obviously from the trolley that stood a short way off, they had been enjoying what appeared to be a lavish high tea any tea expert would die for. Her mother's favourite Wedgwood tea service, Wild Strawberry, was on show. There was a silver three-tier cake stand holding what remained of a selection of delicious finger sandwiches — she spotted crab and cucumber — an assortment of pretty little cupcakes, and the obligatory scones. Mrs. Pidgeon had surpassed herself.
"Do stay and join us for a few minutes," Sasha urged. For some reason she was beating a tattoo on her teacup with her long, painted fingernails. An inferior piece of bone china might have cracked. "Take the weight off your feet. I'll ring for fresh tea."
How she hated these games! Never an offer of a cup of tea and a chat when they were alone together. "Please don't bother, Sasha. I need to take a shower."
"Of course, dear." Sasha smiled her understanding. "You do look terribly hot and bothered, I must say."
She was well aware of that. "That's probably because it's sweltering out there." Alex turned her head briefly to address Rafe. "You're a bit early for the meeting, aren't you?" As usual it popped out like a challenge. If she weren't careful, one of these days Rafe might react and put her firmly in her place.
"As you can see, I invited Rafe over for afternoon tea beforehand," Sasha cut in, as if she at least knew how to do the decent neighbourly thing. She was watching them with the utmost care, her light blue eyes darting from Alex to Rafe as though she believed some of the things she had heard from Connor were true. No one would question that Rafe and Alex were extremely aware of one another, even if there were no big smiles, much less hugs. Sasha couldn't recognize exactly what it was that simmered between them. Memories, she supposed. Heart-stopping moments. The death of Kelvin.
"Dad is out there somewhere," Alex found herself saying aloud, almost inviting Rafe to respond. There was an odd prickling at her nape and between her shoulder blades; an acute and uncomfortable sense of what could go wrong in life. "He's on his quad bike. I just hope he's wearing a helmet."
"He'd be very foolish not to." Rafe matched her tone with a quick frown. "Quad bikes put riders at risk. They're so unstable at speed, as we all know." He realized it was quite possible Connor wasn't wearing a helmet. Connor was a foolhardy man. Poor Kelvin had inherited his father's gung-ho attitude. He knew Alex would be thinking the same.
As usual, whenever they met she stood alert, braced on her lovely long legs, resolute to keep him at a distance. He knew she had long since convinced herself that was the way to go. Certainly she hadn't unburdened herself to him for many long years. She had chosen to do it hard. It was a kind of self-punishment, he had always thought. Sometimes when he got angry — his anger was becoming more frequent these days — he thought of it as her ecstasy of guilt. Desperately in need of love and understanding from her father, Alex had been held at bay as if it were a sin for Connor Ross to allow his daughter to replace his dead son.
After the tragedy Rose Anne had tried her best to unite the family. An impossible task. Alexandra, the young girl he had known so well, had been full of the joy of life. She could draw lightning-swift sketches of the people around her — many of him, to his surprise. She drew anything and everything that caught her eye. He remembered her many studies of the sylvan creek with its sculptural boulders, and banks overhung by trees that were a magnet for the swarms of gorgeous rainbow lorikeets. Alex had inherited her gift from her great-grandfather Rory O'Farrell, who had been from all accounts a fine watercolourist with exhibits in the National Museum of Ireland.
Hot and bothered or not, he thought she looked extremely beautiful and extremely desirable, as sexy as a woman could look without even trying. It was impossible to take Alex in at a glance. There was too much to cover: the flush over her high cheekbones, the flawless skin dewed with sweat. She had beautiful feminine shoulders. Beautiful small, high breasts. He could see she wasn't wearing a bra. The tight buds of her nipples peaked against the damp singlet. He looked away, his male body experiencing a near-painful erotic charge. What man wouldn't feel it? What man wouldn't want her? Alex had her father's height. Her mother had been a petite, small-boned woman. Alex was tall, narrow-waisted, with a strong, very slender body. One long, thick, lustrous braid of blue-black Irish hair hung down her back. Her vivid blue eyes blazed out of a face that wore what he called her regal expression. It suited her, he thought, half amused. There was a depth and dimension to Alex quite apart from her beauty.
Excerpted from Her Australian Hero by Margaret Way. Copyright © 2016 Margaret Way. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An epic tale of modern day Australia, where greed, desire, tragedy, and ambition collide. .. Alexandra Ross has always known Lavender Hill will be hers one day. The grand old house, with its waving jacaranda fronds circling around it like a canopy against the white-hot Australian sun. The acres of orchards, trees heavy with sweet-smelling mangoes and prickly pink lychee. The rushing emerald creek that claimed her brother’s life; the genteel boudoir where her mother died of grief, gin, and stroke. Even the quad bike her bullheaded father uses to tear around the plantation like a teenager, as his covetous young wife plays tea party with Alex’s mother’s favorite china. Someday Alex will undo her father’s blunders and be the good neighbor her childhood friend Rafe Rutherford deserves. The yearning she feels for Rafe can never overcome the heartbreak they’ve lived through together, but at least she will have his companionship. Until her father is killed and the plantation is divided. If she wants to keep the land she loves Alex must break free of guilt and hesitation. And once she begins to fight for what her heart desires, there’s no telling where she’ll stop . . . Review: I have to say this Author has a way with her words that really make you feel the place that she is writing about. I have not read this Author before and I liked her descriptions of not only the setting of the book but the people also. This is a sad story, so much hurt and loss goes on through the story. Instead of bringing those left behind closer, it throws them even more apart. Thank goodness Alex comes to her senses before she loses Rafe for good. They are so good together, enough in common and different to make them interesting. Besides this being a dramatic piece, there is some action and mystery also thrown into the story to give some good tension. The one thing I did find a little bothersome was the switching back and forth between multiple points-of-view and then the epilogue has what seems like voyeuristic/Author POV, it was a little odd and hard to follow sometimes. This seems to be the first in a new series, though I am not sure how they will tie together as this seems like a stand-alone book. 3.5Stars *I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*