Freelance photographer Sebastian Richards has put aside traveling the world to show his grandmother he’s capable of helping out on the family farm, even though it’s hard to let go of his wanderlust. But when he rescues a beautiful woman from a difficult situation, and Sebastian learns Isabella Romano is going to his hometown, heading back to Prickle Creek holds more appeal.
Isabella has come home to the Outback for a short visit to her father before she heads off to begin her dream job in England. Circumstances throw Isabella and Sebastian together at every turn—so maybe a short summer fling could be fun?
Isabella is determined to leave, even though her heart wants to stay. Sebastian is determined to stay, even though his heart wants to go. But the only way for them to be happy is to take a chance on love.
Each book in the Prickle Creek series is STANDALONE:
* Her Outback Cowboy
* Her Outback Surprise
* His Outback Nanny
* His Outback Temptation
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Sebastian leaned his head back on the soft black leather headrest and closed his eyes. The comforting drone of the engines soothed the strange restlessness that had filled him ever since he'd boarded the plane in Rome. Choosing to travel business class from Europe might have been an extravagance, but hey, he'd worked hard for the past two years. His destination was a long way from the luxury apartment he'd shared in Florence. Spending some of his savings on making the long flight back to Sydney more comfortable had been a no- brainer. If he had to spend time back at the farm, he would have a comfortable trip getting there.
How long would he be there?
A few months?
A few years?
Sebastian still hadn't got his head around the fact that he was going home.
A long while.
The rest of my life?
Spring Downs was good enough for his cousins, and now it was time for him to do the right thing by his family. Since Gran had called them all home two years back, Lucy, Liam, and Jemima had taken their turns and gone home to Spring Downs to look after their grandparents' farm. One by one they'd decided to settle in the Pilliga Scrub where they'd grown up. And when he'd come home to the Outback for a visit — not that it had been very often — their contentment had surprised him.
Maybe he was even a little bit jealous. If the truth be known, watching the three people he was closest to fall in love and settle happily with their respective partners had left him a little bit hollow and lonely. And that was way out of character for him
"Love-'em-and-leave-'em Seb" was the nickname given to him by his colleagues in the business. Somehow, Liam had gotten wind of that nickname back home, probably from Lucy when Seb and Lucy had worked together at the advertising agency in Sydney. Of course, it had gone through the family, and Gran had shaken her head and tutted about it when he'd visited.
So he had a reputation as a bit of a playboy. Let them think what they liked. He enjoyed life, and he knew he could make a go of whatever the Outback threw at him.
But he hadn't gone home very often. He knew he was a disappointment to his family but that was their problem, not his. Gran kept going on about how lucky he was.
What a great life Seb has.
"Sebastian has an easy job," she told everyone. Clicking away and taking photos was a breeze compared to the hot dry work in the paddocks at Prickle Creek Farm. "He is so lucky," Gran would say, "not to mention they pay him a ridiculous amount of money to swan around the world."
Well, it was time to come home and prove that he could work as hard as the rest of the family.
Sebastian shook his head and reached for the glass of fizzy water that the air steward placed on the tray beside him. Whoever would have thought that a graphic designer, a journalist, and an international supermodel would be happy and settled in a small farming region on the edge of the Outback? Now a freelance photographer would be joining them.
It was time to see what coming home to Spring Downs would do for him.
No one knew the grief he'd carried inside since his mother had been killed in a car accident. No one knew how much he longed for the vast open plains of the Pilliga Scrub ... sometimes.
Maybe it was time to settle down to real work. A bitter smile tugged at Sebastian's lips.
Gran's words, not mine.
* * *
Isabella Romano caught the eye of the female steward as she walked up the aisle towards the service area at the back of the economy section. "Excuse me? May I have some more water please?"
"I'll be back in a moment," the steward replied with a smile.
As Isabella waited, she took the opportunity to move farther to the right. Closer to the armrest of the aisle seat, and as far away as she could get from her fellow passenger. Ever since she'd reboarded the plane after the brief refueling stopover in Singapore, the guy sitting beside her had talked nonstop. Even putting the earphones in and trying to watch a movie hadn't worked. Whenever she tried looking at the screen, he'd touch her wrist to get her attention back. He was driving her crazy.
Harmless but a pain in the arse.
She'd heard all about his trip to China. How much he'd hated the food. How he'd hated the crowds. And then he'd started on how much he'd hated his job and wasn't looking forward to going home. He leaned closer and the stale smell of his clothes almost made her gag. She bit her lip as his long, greasy hair brushed her shoulder when he settled in his seat.
"And my boss sucks, too," he added.
"Maybe you could take another vacation," Isabella had said politely, inching as far towards the aisle as she could.
And then he'd started on about how he'd used all his leave up and couldn't afford it, anyway.
She deserved a medal. Four hours into the flight and he hadn't shut up for one minute.
Four hours down, three hours and twelve minutes to go.
"Thank you." Isabella took the plastic cup from the steward and sipped at it. She tried to ignore the conversation coming from her left. Sadly, she'd already sussed out the plane, and there wasn't a spare seat to be had.
"So tell me all about yourself. I think we're going to be friends," the creepy guy said. "I still don't even know your name. Let's go out for a drink tonight in Sydney."
The hide of him! For all he knew she could be catching a connecting flight as soon as they landed. She considered using that as an excuse, and then she straightened in her seat and gave him a cool look.
"I'm not staying long enough in Australia to become friends with anyone."
God, I'm an idiot. Don't engage in conversation. Don't tell him anything.
Why do I find it so hard to be rude to anyone? This guy was certainly overstepping the boundaries of polite behaviour, and he didn't deserve a response at all, let alone a polite one.
But of course he pounced on her words, and she spent the next three hours avoiding even more personal questions.
Eventually, he began to really creep her out.
As they prepared for landing, he pulled out a pen and scrawled his number on the back of the napkin that he'd already wiped across his mouth.
If they hadn't been so close to landing, she would have begged the steward to find her another seat, even though she'd walked the length of the plane a couple more times and it was full.
Finally, the fasten seat belt light stayed on, and those wonderful words, "prepare the cabin for landing" came over the loudspeaker.CHAPTER 2
Seb turned around as he heard his name over the hubbub of noise in the queue to passport control. Before he could blink, a small body slammed into his. All he got was a fleeting look at wide dark eyes, lush red lips, and a tangle of black curly hair before a pair of arms wound tightly around his neck.
"Kiss me, quick. Please help me," a husky voice demanded a second before warm, soft lips pressed against his. "As if you can't bear to let me go."
Who am I to argue with such a request? The voice and the quick glimpse of the face were familiar. It was someone he knew, and as he returned the kiss, he tried to remember where he'd seen her pretty face before.
In a bar in Sydney? At the office?
Without breaking the lip-lock, he managed to slide his camera bag down beside his feet. The mystery woman bent with him as he leaned, and the firm arms didn't leave his neck when he straightened again.
"Don't stop. Please." Those soft lips were warm and welcoming as she pressed her mouth even more firmly against his. "Keep kissing me." All at once Sebastian realised that the woman's voice was shaking and surprise jolted through him. Whoever she was, she wasn't crazy, or playing games; she was plain scared. A sweet, lemony fragrance surrounded him as he put his arms around a tiny waist. His hands brushed against some sort of silky material, but he could still feel the soft curves beneath it. Sebastian couldn't help the smile that tipped his lips. He went to pull back to look at her to see who he was actually kissing.
"No, no. Don't stop yet." The lilt of her accent was tugging at his memory. Someone from Italy?
"Okay. It might be a moot point, but at least tell me who I'm kissing." His words were muffled against her lips.
He felt her lips lift in a smile against his. His nerve endings tingled as she lifted her hands and wound her fingers in his hair to hold his head firmly against hers. Not that he wanted to go anywhere.
Closing his eyes, he tried to remember a Bella from his past. "Bella who?"
"Lucy's friend. Isabella from Spring Downs High School."
"Bella? Isabella Romano?" Sebastian frowned as the lips vibrated against his. He'd never had such a long conversation during a kiss before.
She tasted minty and fresh.
It must have been at least ten years since he'd last seen Bella. He and Lucy had been in high school when she'd moved to Spring Downs. Lucy had held down a part-time job for one summer at the milk bar that Isabella's father owned.
Con's Milk Bar. He'd never found a milkshake that tasted as good as Con's.
"Come on, mate. You're holding up the queue." The impatient demand came from behind them. Sebastian lifted his head a fraction and looked ahead to the electronic passport control booth. He had been so absorbed in the unexpected kiss, he hadn't noticed the queue move forward, and now there was a huge gap between them and the person about to step into the booth. It was their turn next.
The short, fat guy with long, greasy hair standing behind them glared at him.
"Please don't stop," Isabella whispered, pulling his head down again. "Make it look as though you've missed me. Really, really missed me."
She was crazy.
"Sorry, sweetheart. It's our turn to go through passport control. You'll have to let me go," Sebastian said, his lips still against hers.
"Can you keep your arm around me, and then let me go first? I'll wait for you at the other side?" He obliged, lifting his arm and putting it around her shoulders and holding her close as he reached down for his camera bag.
"Wait for me there. I missed you, darling," he said loudly. Lowering his head he pretended to brush her cute little ear with his lips but he whispered, "It's okay. I get it now. Don't worry."
The guy behind them reached over and tapped Isabella's arm as Sebastian hefted the camera bag onto his shoulder. "You forgot to take the napkin," he said in a whiny voice, shoving a stained paper napkin at Isabella.
"No, thank you." She lifted her head briefly from where she'd snuggled into Sebastian's shoulder. Sebastian didn't recall that she'd had an accent when they'd been at high school, although she hadn't been in Spring Downs for long before she'd left again. Not that he'd spent much time with Isabella back then. She'd just been one of the girls at school. He stared down at her as she lifted her chin and turned away from the man behind them.
"And I missed you too, Seb."
"If you missed each other so much, why weren't you sitting together?" The guy was persistent and Sebastian narrowed his eyes.
As he crowded their space, Isabella moved closer to Sebastian — if it were possible. Most of her body was already stuck to his like a limpet.
The guy's tone was full of belligerence. "I said, 'Why weren't you sitting with him on the plane?'"
Sebastian lowered his head and brushed his lips against Isabella's ear. "Do you know this guy, Bella?"
The shake of her head was almost imperceptible.
"I don't think that's any of your business, mate." While his words were firm, Sebastian kept his smile friendly. "But for your information, I was upgraded to business class, and I wasn't able to sit with my fiancée."
The passport control booth lit up and, turning his back, he blocked the guy's view of Isabella as she hurried forward with her passport open ready to scan. When she was through he followed quickly, placed his passport on the scanner, and as soon as the green light flashed he hurried after her. He walked beside her as she rushed through the "nothing to declare" entry to customs.
"I'll come to the baggage carousel with you," he said. "I don't like that guy's attitude."
"Me neither, and thanks. I really appreciate that," she said, flicking a nervous glance over her shoulder. "Once we get our bags I'll explain why I threw myself at you. You would not believe how relieved I was to see someone I knew." For the first time, a glimmer of humour was in Isabella's voice.
"My pleasure. Happy to oblige."
The slight flush that stained her cheeks made her even prettier. Sebastian stayed with Isabella while she retrieved her small bag, and then she stood beside him while he went over to the special luggage section to arrange for the delivery of his photographic equipment to Spring Downs. The nuisance guy seemed to have disappeared, but Sebastian wasn't going to risk leaving her alone. If the guy came back and bothered her again, he'd call airport security.
"So what now?" Sebastian swung his travel pack onto his back and reached down for Isabella's bag. "Do you want to share a taxi?"
Isabella bit her lips as he watched. "Are you staying in the city?" she asked.
"No. I'm collecting my motorbike from a storage unit at Botany, and then I'm heading out to Spring Downs later today. What about you?"
"Um." That lip biting thing she did was really cute. He couldn't take his eyes from her mouth; her lips were rosy and full.
And kissable. He could vouch for that firsthand. Another warm tingle ran through him and he smiled at her.
"Well, would you believe I'm going to Spring Downs, too?" she said, and that gorgeous mouth opened into a smile, revealing a row of perfect white teeth.
"Fair dinkum! That's a happy coincidence. I thought you moved away when we were in high school?"
"I did. Mum and I moved back to Italy, but —"
Sebastian put a hand on her arm. "Look, I'm starving. How about a coffee before we head out into the peak-hour rush? It'll be a better place for catching up than standing around in the airport."
He grinned when she nodded.
* * *
Isabella had been so relieved to recognise Sebastian at the airport she hadn't entertained a second thought when she'd hurried over to him and demanded a kiss. Convincing that sleazy guy that she was with someone had been uppermost in her mind. It had been dicey for a while when he'd insisted on knowing why they hadn't been sitting together, but Sebastian had picked up on the situation quickly and handled it adroitly.
What a jerk that guy had been.
She waited at the table Sebastian had snagged while he went over to order their coffee.
"Short black, please. Double shot," she'd answered when he asked her what she'd like. "I need to wake up a bit and get myself organised."
While Sebastian stood at the counter Isabella checked him out.
He sure could kiss. That's one thing she'd discovered about the grown-up Sebastian. He'd been tall at high school, but he'd grown even more, both in height and width. A tight black T-shirt moulded his broad chest, and his narrow black jeans hugged powerful thighs. His hair was pulled back from his face with a leather tie into a short tail. He looked more suited to the city than Spring Downs, with his movie star good looks. As tall and broad as those Hemsworth brothers who were in the magazine she'd tried to read on the flight.
She wondered if he lived there or if he was just visiting.
Sebastian was probably visiting like she was. He looked way too sophisticated to be living out in the boondocks. As he turned, she looked down, pretending to fiddle with her phone, not wanting to be caught blatantly checking him out.
"One short black, double shot." He put the coffee down in front of her and pulled out the chair opposite her.
"Where's yours?" she asked with a frown.
"They'll call me over when it's ready. I'm having a chocolate milkshake. It's the one thing I've craved while I've been in Italy."
Isabella smiled and picked up the packet of sugar to tip into her coffee. "Have you been over there on holidays?"
"No, I was working." Sebastian leaned back in the chair, and for the first time she noticed a small diamond glinting in his earlobe.
"Now tell me about that guy who was hassling you." He leaned forward with a frown.
"It was nothing major. I was probably overreacting. He was in the seat next to me all the way from Singapore, and he was very persistent. He just wouldn't stop talking."
"You should have called the steward."
"No." She shook her head. "There was nothing to report. He was just persistent and a little bit sleazy. He didn't do or say anything bad. I got off the plane as quick as I could, but then he was right behind me. I panicked when he tried to hold my arm. And then, I saw you, just at the right time." She picked up the spoon and stirred her coffee. "Like I said, I was overreacting. But I didn't feel comfortable going to sleep with him beside me so I'm extra tired now."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "His Outback Temptation"
Copyright © 2018 Annie Seaton.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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