When Cassie Taylor inherits Yallandoo, a cattle station near Cairns in Far North Queensland, she is shocked. What does she know about running cattle? But the property has been in her family for generations, and Cassie is not a quitter. She leaves behind her Sydney life and heads to the station, determined to make a go of it.
But a long drought and falling prices mean challenges Cassie doesn't expect. To save her heritage, she's going to have to come up with some new ideas – and fast. Then the threatening letters start to arrive. Someone doesn't want Cassie to succeed, and they're willing to go to any lengths to stop her...
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The touch of his fingers made her cheek tingle and sent a quiver through her body. Cassie put her hand to her cheek briefly as her heart leapt. Startled at her reaction, she took a deep breath and forced her mind back to their conversation.
"I ... I know we'll pull through this." She swallowed. "But I worry about the future. There'll be other droughts. If only there's something else we could do that didn't rely so much on the weather. I've been trying to think of some way to diversify. But ... I'm not sure..."
Mark looked surprised as he sat back and regarded her.
"That's a very forward thinking approach." He paused, seeming to turn it over in his mind. "I must say I agree with you, I have the same thoughts myself. Perhaps we can talk about it sometime. But now," he became cheerful again, "if you feel up to it, perhaps you could show me some more of Yallandoo."
"Of course," Cassie responded, smiling. "Do you want to go into the rainforest? There's a track a bit further up."
"Yes, I'd like that very much."
They urged their horses forward and soon turned onto a narrow path that led them into a cool, dim world. Trees arched above them, forming the roof of a green cathedral, their leafy limbs lifted in homage to the sky. With just room for two people to ride side by side, they let the horses pick their way along the track, avoiding the rocks and gnarled old roots that poked out of the ground, and stepping with sure feet over fallen tree trunks.
Even in here, signs of the dry weather were visible in the brown, curling edges to the less hardy plants. A few small green shoots pushed their way bravely through the leaf litter on the forest floor, but mostlythe undergrowth was parched. Every living thing waited for the rain!
Creek beds with stony bottoms, some dry now, meandered alongside the path. Many trees, some with large buttresses at their bases to hold them in the ground, were clothed in green lichens. Bird's nest ferns clung to trunks or high branches. Vines hung everywhere and ferns grew in profusion. Light filtered through the canopy high above. The midday stillness was disturbed only by the rustle of the dry leaf litter underfoot and the occasional fluting call of a bowerbird.
"It's so dry now," Cassie told Mark. "Normally this would all be damp and those little creeks would have water running through them. And there'd be heaps of those little ferns and things growing through the leaf litter."
"I think it's still wonderful."
"I've always loved it, but it's at its best in the wet."
They were deep in the forest when suddenly, without warning, a snake slithered out from beneath a small log lying by the path as Tango passed. It raised its head and hissed ominously before darting back into the surrounding bushes. Cassie's horse reared. Mark's horse pranced, tossed its head and snorted then stood its ground.
"Whoa, steady girl, steady." Mark grabbed the bridle of the plunging horse. Cassie lost her balance in the sudden lunge. Struggling to retain her she seat she slid sideways and would have fallen had Mark not moved closer and slipped his arm around her to hold her as Tango slowly quietened.
"Are you all right?" he asked in an anxious voice.
"Yes. I'm okay," Cassie replied, her breath coming in gasps as her heart raced with shock. She looked up at him and saw a protective concern in his eyes.
He was disconcertingly close as his arm remained tightly around her. "Are you sure? You've had a bad fright."
His breath lightly touched her face. His eyes probed hers. "I ... I think so." Her heart thudded even more as he encircled her with both arms and she felt the strength and warmth of his body against her. She dropped her eyes, afraid they might reveal her inner turmoil.
Mark sat quite still holding her for some minutes, waiting until her breathing returned to normal before relinquishing his hold. "Do you want to go back?"
"No. I'm just a bit shaky. I'll be fine. We'll go on in a minute."
"If you're sure you want to?"
"Yes, I'm okay."
She stroked Tango's neck and spoke in a soothing voice to the still trembling horse. "It's all right now, Tango. It's gone now. Settle down. There now." Tango calmed at her words. She turned back to Mark. "There's a creek further on that should still be running. We'll go as far as that."
Mark remained very close as they went on their way at a slow pace, watching for any signs of wildlife. But there were no more upsets.
Finally he broke the silence. "So does this rainforest go right up the side of the mountain?"
"Yes, it does."
"Is it thick like this all the way?"
"No. Three quarters of the way up there's granite outcrops and the trees thin out. There are two or three small caves up there. We used to go up to them a lot when we were children." Cassie's voice became animated as she described the places she loved. "Up higher again, a spring comes up and becomes a creek. It runs down between the rocks and the boulders. There's a rock pool where you can swim. It's an amazing place but you have to be a bit careful. The boulders can be very slippery, and the water's deep after rain. It rushes down; it's quite treacherous. There's the danger of flash floods, too. There's an aboriginal legend that tells about the water spirits taking those who are careless."
"I think I've heard something about that. It sounds fascinating. Do you think I could see it sometime?"
"Of course. I'll take you up one day, if you like."
"I'd like it very much."
"The creek's not far now. I hope it's still running. The wildlife relies on it."
Soon a faint sound of water reached them, and shortly after they arrived at the creek. They reined in the horses on the bank and sat looking down at the clear water moving slowly below them. Ferns grew in abundance along the edges and grass sprouted along the banks.
"Well, at least it still has plenty of water," Cassie said with relief.
"Yes, plenty. It's a wide creek; you have a great supply of water on Yallandoo."
"Yes, we're very fortunate. This goes down and empties into the river, so we don't really use it. Of course, it helps the river and we use that."
They sat watching for a few moments.
"Time to go back, I think," Cassie said, and they turned their horses and started back along the track.
They rode in silence, enjoying the stillness and then, emerging from the rainforest, they halted and Mark spoke, as if he had been pondering something.
"What are the caves like?"
"Not very large. But one of them has aboriginal drawings on the walls."
Mark turned to her. "You know, Cassie, you have something special here. The rainforest, and the caves. You could develop it. People would pay to come and see all this."
Cassie shook her head vigorously. "What, have day trippers all over the place? Buses bringing their hordes in? I don't think I could stand that!" Even as she spoke she remembered her own earlier thoughts about tourism. But she hadn't been thinking about busloads of people!
"Perhaps it needn't be like that." Mark leant and stroked his horse's neck. "It was just a thought, anyway. Thinking about diversifying. Probably not a good idea. Forget about it." He straightened. "Now, on a different subject. One of the reasons I came to see you today was to invite you and Rosie to a pool party on Sunday. I'm christening the new pool and I have a few people coming. Will you join us?"
Cassie smiled with pleasure. "Yes, I'd like to come, thank you. I'll have to check with Rosie, of course, but I don't think she has any arrangements. It sounds like fun."
"Good. About eleven, then? I'll look forward to seeing you both."
"Goodness, a pool. And didn't you say something about fishing in the dam? You are doing a lot of work over there."
Mark resumed his bantering manner. "Ah, comfort is important. And pleasure. I'm a great believer in both."
"I see." Cassie laughed. "Well, it sounds as if you're going the right way about it."
"Work hard, play hard," came the light-hearted response. "The tennis court has just gone in. Do you play?"
"Then we'll have the first game on the court."
"With all these activities, when do you ever get time to run the station?"
"I have an excellent manager, he sees to it that I have plenty of free time."
"And do you have other plans for Binbin to fill that free time? A gymnasium, perhaps, or even a golf course?" She matched his jesting tone.
"Both excellent ideas. And now you can see why I want extra land." He spoke lightly but she sensed a purpose to his words.
"You are joking!"
No joking in his voice now as he tilted his head and gazed steadily at her. "I am serious about the extra land. My offer stands. Should you decide to sell I'd make you an excellent offer. Drought or not."
Cassie wrinkled her brow, considering his words. "I haven't decided yet if I'll sell or not. Probably not, I think. But should I decide to, then I'll let you know."
"You'd give me first option?"
"Thank you." The corners of his eyes crinkled as he flashed a smile. "And thank you for an enjoyable and interesting ride. And you will keep your word and show me the caves and rock pool?"
"Yes, if you want. We'll have to go up on foot. It might be a warm climb," she warned.
"Perhaps we could cool off in the pool up there?"
"If there's enough water. And, Mark ... thank you. For what you did in there."
"Cassie, I'd hate anything to happen to you, and I'm glad we're friends now." Leaning across, he kissed her cheek.
A delicious shiver ran down her spine. The kiss seemed light and friendly but the look in his eyes held more. Cassie couldn't quite fathom the look. There was interest in it, but something more. Was it admiration? Or was it calculation?
"I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. About eleven." With that he wheeled his horse around and rode away.
Cassie sat quite still for several minutes watching him go. What had she seen in his eyes? Interest ... yes ... but interest in her ... or in Yallandoo?
Christ, Mark thought, as he rode away. What was he doing? Going all soft. It had been the perfect opportunity to pressure her to sell Yallandoo when she had been so worried about a mortgage. Why had he hated to see her upset and then yielded to the impulse to try and make her feel better? Why had he talked to her about Yallandoo's potential attractions? Just because she's beautiful and ... well ... somehow, vulnerable? He wasn't some callow youth to be bowled over by that. He knew all about beauty, didn't he? And what had it brought him? Nothing but heartache and misery. You're a bloody fool, he told himself angrily. But the memory of her in his arms remained strong.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Inheritance is a wonderful romantic suspense novel that focuses on the strength of an young Australian woman who must find a way to save her uncle’s beloved livestock station (ranch) Yallandoo after he and his wife are killed in a car accident. Cassandra Taylor loves the ranch, but she is not sure her business experience offers what it takes to keep the place going in the third year of a terrible drought. The people who have worked the ranch promise to stand by her so, refusing to give up on the land that has been in her family for over 100 years, Cassie decides to develop a part of the ranch for tourism. All the things that she loves about the land make it perfect for a small tourist encampment. Once she starts believing in the possibilities. she discovers that the handsome divorced neighbor, who by the way wants to buy her land, has almost completed a large resort complex. Then someone seems willing to do almost anything to keep the business from come to fruition. Problems seem to strike from every corner, but she refuses to give up. The wonderful friendships she has with the other characters add to the action and to the delight I found in the book. Her love and respect of the land and its heritage are woven beautifully through the story. The romance is not surprising but I loved it. I look forward to more of Mrs. Loveday’s books.