The last thing advertising art director Lucy Bellamy wants is to go home to the Outback, but duty to family calls. At least there’s one bonus—her first love, sexy cowboy neighbour, Garth Mackenzie, is there and the attraction between them is still explosive. But Lucy has no intention of getting stuck in this two-bit town and she counts down the days until she can go back to her real life.
After an engineering degree and working in the mines of Western Australia, Garth has returned to the Outback and is home to stay. His goal is to settle down, start a family, and work his beloved land with the girl he’s always loved. But if it comes to Lucy choosing between the glamour of the city or making a home with him in the Outback—he’d lose, hands down.
Each book in the Prickle Creek series is STANDALONE:
* Her Outback Cowboy
* Her Outback Surprise
* His Outback Nanny
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Her Outback Cowboy
A Prickle Creek Novel
By Annie Seaton
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Annie Seaton
All rights reserved.
Lucy hung up the call and crossed her legs, clad in her favourite, redpolka-dotted tights. She pretended to ignore Sebastian, and he frowned as she flicked an imaginary speck of dust from her matching knee-length red leather boots.
"You are the softest touch, Luce. I cannot believe you! And correct me if I'm wrong but you agreed with her? Bloody hell."
"Oh, are you still here, Seb?" She would play the cranky card. She'd seen his eye roll when she'd disconnected and had decided that ignoring him was the best strategy. Sweetness didn't work in their family; they'd all learned that very early. And Seb could be a spoiled brat.
"You know full well I'm here, Lucy. Don't be a little smart-arse."
"So not Luce anymore? I'm Lucy now, am I?" She clicked the mouse and turned back to face him. All six foot six of her cousin, dressed in black, as usual. "Okay, so what's your problem this time, Sebastian Richards? You're always trying to boss me around, and it's way past time that you accept we're equal employees here at the agency."
"It's nothing to do with work, as you well know." He gestured to the phone. "I heard you talking to her. I told you not to answer it."
Lucy leaned back and folded her arms, her voice rising. "And since when do I listen to you?"
"Not when you should, that's for bloody sure." Seb ran his hand through his long hair, and Lucy softened. He really was upset.
"Did I really hear you agree to go out to the Pilliga Scrub and visit the old battleaxe?" Seb dangled his large hands between his knees and didn't look at her.
"You did. And don't call my grandmother an old battleaxe." Lucy injected primness into her voice.
"Our grandmother." He lifted his head, and his eyes were sad as he forced a smile.
"And you can't talk. You're as hard as nails." Lucy pointed at her cousin and ignored his plastered-on smile. She'd seen any sympathy he'd had for her disappear the instant she'd agreed to go home to see Gran and Pop.
"Of course I'll come, Gran. I hate to think of you out there by yourself." A note of worry had crept into her voice. "Pop is okay, isn't he?"
"Y ... e ... es. He's fine."
Sebastian shook his head when Lucy told him Gran had been teary. "The old battleaxe has you sucked in as usual."
"Sebastian. Stop it. We're all they've got left. Do I have to remind you of that?"
"No, of course you don't, but the old cow will use us for whatever purpose she has in mind. And you fell for it, baby. Hook, line, and sinker."
"Bugger off, Seb. There are times when I don't like you very much."
But instead of leaving, her cousin stood and crossed to the window overlooking Sydney Harbour. Lucy followed his gaze out over the harbour; she'd been so busy all day she'd paid scant attention to the day outside. When she'd left her apartment this morning, the weather had been clear and bright and it had put her in a good mood for the work she'd had ahead of her. But she always carried an umbrella in this fickle coastal weather.
As she'd walked through the Rocks this morning, the doormen of the five-star hotels she passed doffed their hats and smiled at her. She knew them all by name, and most mornings when she got off the bus at the end of George Street she would linger to chat, and was often late to work, much to Caleb's displeasure.
"Morning, Miss Lucy."
"Morning, Erwin, has that daughter of yours had her baby yet?" "Morning, Lucy."
"Hey, Reggie, how was the football game last night?"
The friendly chats made Lucy feel as though she belonged in the city-this was her place in the world--and the walk always put a smile on her face before she arrived at the office.
"Love those red polka dots." Erwin's grin had been wider than usual this morning as he'd looked at her outfit. Lucy liked to make a statement with her dress. It made her feel as though she was a part of the vibrant city and that she belonged to the arty graphic design community at the top of town.
"Thank you, Erwin." She'd smiled back at him and waved her frilly umbrella. "My tights match my umbrella."
He'd chuckled as she twirled around, the frills on the edge of the red-spotted umbrella fluttering in the stiff breeze.
In her teens, Gran's neighbour's son--Garth Mackenzie--had teased her about the colourful, zany clothes Lucy had worn to school every day. It hadn't taken long for her to realise he'd only teased her so he had an excuse to talk to her. She smiled: he'd never realised she'd chosen the crazy outfits so he would take notice of her. Last she'd heard, Garth had married a girl from the outback and moved to a cotton farm. He'd been her first love and the guy who had stolen her teenage heart. Lucy had pushed away the little feeling of sadness that had rippled through her.
As she'd walked along the harbour, she'd hummed one of the country and western songs she and Garth had sung together when they were a couple.
And I'm hazy, crazy in love with you, she'd mouthed the final words of the song as heavy clouds had scudded across the sky over the harbour, matching the blue mood that had suddenly descended on her. The threatening rain--she could smell it in the strong southerly wind snapping the colourful banners on the Museum of Contemporary Art across the square--was very different to the dry and dusty outback.
"Lucy!" Sebastian's voice broke into her daydreaming. "Just because her own kids are gone doesn't give her rights to the next generation. You know what a controlling witch she is. She wants something from us and you know it. That's why I wouldn't talk to her when she rang. I tried to warn you." He stared at her, his dark brown eyes narrowed in a frown. "Come on, Lucy. Think about it. The farm! The sticky flies that crawl into your nose and into your mouth, the smelly cattle, the cat's head prickles, and that red dust that gets into everything. You hate it!" Lucy's attitude about the farm had been a standing joke in the family when they'd been kids and visited Gran and Pop's property in the school holidays. Even though they'd lived in the small country town not far from the farm, the joys of farm life had not been high on her list of holiday priorities. Dad had loved to tell the story of her standing in a cow pat when she was about ten years old, looking down her young nose with disdain.
I so hate farms, he'd mimicked her perfectly for years afterward. When I grow up I'm going to live in an apartment in the middle of the city. So no one had been surprised when Lucy had moved to the big smoke straight after high school.
Lucy had settled into city life when tragedy hit the family and she had been left alone. Mum and her two sisters had been killed in a car crash on their much-awaited European holiday. Before the year was up, Dad had moved to Canada, and he'd only been there a few months when Lucy received another tragic phone call--Dad had suffered a heart attack and hadn't even made it to the hospital.
A broken heart, Lucy liked to think. She knew how much her parents had loved each other, and after Mum had died, Dad had been utterly lost without her.
So Lucy had her new life, far away from the family farm and away from her family until Seb had arrived in the city when he came home from Europe. Being away from where they had grown up allowed her to keep the sad memories where they belonged. Locked away deep in her heart. In there, they ached, but it was bearable. Time healed, and she was making a life in the city.
Sad memories aside, the Pilliga Scrub hadn't been home to any of the cousins for a while. University, overseas trips, and Lucy's career in advertising had taken precedence over going back to Spring Downs, the small western New South Wales town where they had all grown up. Prickle Creek Farm was fifty kilometres west of town and apart from the funeral, Lucy had only been back a couple of times since she'd left when she was eighteen. She told everyone it was because she loved the city, but she knew that a big part of the reason was that Garth had left town. Spring Downs wasn't the same without him.
"I feel so guilty for staying away. You should have heard Gran's voice. She was pleading with me. It's time we all went back. They're getting old. We can't leave it till it's too late." Lucy brushed her hand across her eyes as tears threatened.
Her cousin shook his head and ignored her plea. "She's a cranky old bag."
"Come on, Seb, be kind. I know you had a blue with her a couple of Christmases back."
"That was three years ago."
"Well, that makes me feel even more guilty. I didn't realise it was so long since I'd been back. Be a sport--say you'll come with me. " "I'm not going." Seb's lips pursed obstinately, and Lucy shook her head.
"Well, I'm going because Pop's in hospital in Spring Downs," she said.
That got Seb's attention, and his eyes narrowed. "I didn't know the old codger was sick."
"It's nothing dire; he's having a knee replacement and Gran needs a hand on the property."
"So what are you going to be doing?" A reluctant smile finally cracked his face. "Gawd, Luce, you hated the farm when we were kids. I can't see you helping out in the paddocks. Liam, Jemmy, and I loved it, but you? I can still see your nose wrinkled up from the stench. 'Eww, smelly cattle!' You used to compare the cattle yards to the Bog of Eternal Stench movie you loved."
"Labyrinth, and I won't be going anywhere near the yards. I'm simply helping Gran out with the cooking for the contract workers. I won't have to go anywhere near the cows. Or outside on the farm at all."
"Not cows. They're cattle. Steers and heifers," Seb said distractedly. "Cows are in dairies." He frowned and stared through the window behind her head. "It's the end of February so they'll be in the middle of the last wheat harvest for the summer, if I have the right farm calendar in my memory. There'll be a dozen men working day and night with bloody big headers in those never-ending paddocks. And the trucks will be there, kicking up dust, collecting the grain to take to the silos in town."
"I'm impressed. You still know the farm lingo." She injected sarcasm into her voice and waved her hand. "Cows, cattle, whatever."
"You know what they say."
"You can take the boy out of the country ..."
"Oh, puh-leeze." Finally, Lucy let out a giggle. "Come with me. I can work on this portfolio while I'm out there."
"Nup. No way. She's up to something, and I'm not going anywhere near her. You might be naive, but I know dear old Gran and she wants more than a cook."
"Don't forget Gran and Pop lost their three daughters." Her voice trembled a little as she managed to put the past tragedy into words. It was something that they didn't speak about much. "No parent should lose a child, but they lost all three of their daughters in one day. And then we all left and followed our own lives."
"And we're happy. But now she wants something. Why the heck would she want us--all of us--out there all of a sudden? I mean, okay, Pop might be having a knee operation, but why would she need all of us out there? Besides, Liam's immersed in his newspaper job in London. He's not going to jump to her command. If he came home, I'd eat my hat and run around the paddock stark bollocky naked." Sebastian tapped his fingers on his thigh impatiently. "And really, can you imagine Jemima back there after she's spent most of the past two years on the catwalk in Europe?"
"Maybe Gran just misses us all and needs a hand to run the farm with Pop out of action?"
"And a graphic designer-slash-copywriter and a photographer from the city are going to do cattle work in the middle of nowhere? With a fashion model and her brother, the jet-setting journalist? Give me a break, Lucy. You always were the dreamer." He stood and put his hands on his hips. "She can afford to hire someone. They're loaded."
"Don't you feel one bit guilty that we haven't been home?"
He shook his head, and Lucy suppressed a groan. She wasn't going to let Sebastian see how reluctant she was to go out to the Pilliga. "Well, I'm going. I can cook for the harvesters, and someone can come and collect it from the house. I won't have to go out on the farm."
"And what about your big campaign? It's all you talk about, how busy you're going to be for the next couple of months."
"I'll work at night."
"Sure you will." He shook his head.
"Get out of here," she said. "If I'm going home to the Pilliga Scrub, I need to get some work done before I go."
"You know what I mean," she said.
Sebastian wandered out, but not before Lucy saw the guilty look that flashed across his face before he turned away.CHAPTER 2
"Thanks, Jim. I'll leave you to get cooking." Garth Mackenzie sniffed appreciatively as the aroma of beef stew filled the kitchen adjacent to the workmen's quarters. "I might eat down here with the men once the harvesting starts. Smells bloody good."
"You're welcome, boss. There'll be plenty to go around." The contracted cook had settled into the old building at the back of the farm, and he was ready to feed the workers when the harvesting started later in the week. Garth had bought two huge freezers and a large oven for the old shearing shed when his parents had left the farm. From the look of the pots bubbling on the stove and the aroma of baking bread coming from the oven, his workers were going to be well fed this year.
He whistled for Jack and waited till his old dog caught up to him before walking along the eastern boundary fence and checking the dam levels. Once he was done, he'd saddle up his horse and move the cattle to the back paddock, and then he'd check the dams on the other side of the farm. It had been so dry he was going to have to pump some water from the water table beneath the farm if it didn't rain soon. He looked over at Prickle Creek Farm and wondered how old Harry Peterkin was getting on. He'd been limping around for the past month or so. There was no point going over there to offer to help out. Since Garth had had words with Helena about the cattle, he'd noticed a padlock go up on the gate that joined the properties--the gate that had once been a meeting place for his and Lucy Bellamy's midnight swims in the dam. Garth shook his head; those weeks at the end of high school, before he'd left for university, had been some of the best days of his life.
Those days were long gone and the family farm was his now. Lucy had left town, and he often wondered where she'd ended up. He stood looking out over the waving heads of wheat, golden and ready to be harvested. The rich red coats of the Hereford cattle were glossy in the late-morning sun, and he smiled as they munched on the rich pasture beside the wheat paddock. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the forecast of rain looked like it wasn't going to eventuate. Satisfaction filled him; he'd worked hard to get himself to this position, and the dividends were beginning to show. It had been worth every one of the six years he'd spent away from the family farm. It was so good to be back, he didn't intend to go anywhere else for a long time. This wheat harvest was set to be the best one in years. His parents were settled down on the coast, and he was his own boss for the first time in his life.
Life was bloody good.
Maybe it was time for a trip into Spring Downs Returned Soldiers' Club--affectionately known to locals as the RSL or the rissole--to catch up with some of his friends one Friday night. It could get a bit lonely at times. Jack nudged at his thigh, and Garth reached down and absentmindedly rubbed his head. "Come on, old fella. We'll go and get you some dinner and then you can spend the afternoon sleeping in the shade. Some of us have to work, you know."
* * *
On Friday, a week after Gran's call, Lucy set off from Sydney just after dawn. Even that early, the traffic was chaotic as commuters headed to work. She sighed as she caught red light after red light. Finally she was out of the city and heading up the M1. She turned off the new Hunter Express bypass and onto the Golden Highway, and soon the green paddocks of the horse studs of the upper Hunter Valley were flashing by. Peace and serenity replaced the angst caused by the congestion on the roads, and she turned off the air conditioning and slid the window down, taking a deep breath of fresh country air.
Excerpted from Her Outback Cowboy by Annie Seaton. Copyright © 2017 Annie Seaton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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