she didn’t realize the biggest adventure of her life was about to
begin. With her visa about to expire, and desperate to stay in
Australia, Jodie has a plan she’ll marry for convenience!
Jodie is offering a one-year marriage, with no strings
attached. So why does sexy cattle rancher Heath Jameson,
who is almost certainly looking for a long-term wife, want
to marry her? Heath seems so sureand so handsomethat
Jodie takes the plunge. Only to fall for a convenient husband
who seems to be running from the ghosts of his past
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HAPPY hour at The Cave was drawing to a close, but Jodie didn't mind at all.
She had used up every second of employment her working visa had allowed so now her final weeks in Melbourne were hers to do with as she pleased. And it pleased her to sit on a bar stool twirling a daisy-shaped earring she had made from scratch earlier that day, sharing a bottle of red wine that someone else had paid for, and enjoying every last second that she wasn't in London.
"Where's Mandy?" her housemate Lisa asked. "I have to start work in eight minutes and those customers who haven't booked a table won't turn themselves away."
"Beach Street is back on in less than three minutes,'Louise added, her clipped London accent so obvious amongst the neighbouring Aussie strine. "No matter how exiting Mandy's big surprise, after the break Angelo is about to find out that Cait was once married to his brother, so her announcement will be nothing but white noise to me."
"She'll be here," Jodie said chirpily. The fact that Louise, the half-sister she had never even known existed until two weeks before, had turned up on her doorstep amidst her own family drama wasn't lost on Jodie. But she began throwing pretzel chunks at Louise, who was glancing at the overhead television every few seconds, all the same.
"If you do that one more time, Jodie," Louise warned, "when the next ad break comes along I will retaliate."
Jodie grinned, but she stopped throwing pretzels at Louise and threw one into her mouth instead, amazed anew that this tall, cool, sophisticated, blonde product of the infamous restaurant family, the Valentines of London, was related to her— mousy little Jodie Simpson.
It was obvious Louise got the glamour goods from their shared mother, whereas Jodie wasn't sure what she had acquired from Patricia except a lifelong pain in the neck. But thankfully all that was back in London, far far away from friends and fun on this fine Melbourne evening.
"I've got it!'Mandy cried out, rushing in as fast as her pencil-thin power skirt and two-inch heels would allow. She waved a piece of paper high above her head.
"If that's a doctor's certificate telling you rotten Jake has finally given you something only penicillin will cure, I don't want to know about it," Lisa called back.
"Funny," Mandy said. "Now leave my love life out of this; this magical piece of paper is all about Jodie's."
"My love life?" Jodie wheezed while coughing up a pretzel crumb that had lodged in her throat.
"Yep," Mandy said. "I have found a way for you to stay in Australia."
That got everyone's attention. Lisa stopped staring at her watch. Jodie's mouth went so dry she wouldn't have had a clue if she had been drinking red wine or juiced sawdust. Louise spun on her seat leaving Beach Street"s Angelo and Cait to sort out their worries on their own.
Jodie felt a pang of guilt lodge between her shoulder blades. Until that moment Louise had had no idea that she was considering not returning to London. In Jodie Louise would have a close friend outside the Valentine family she was feeling so angry toward right now, and a sister to be at her side when she met her real mother for the first time.
And though Jodie so wanted to be that person for Louise, she wanted to be in Melbourne more. She waved a quick hand at Louise, intimating she would explain everything later.
"How? I've tried everything," Jodie managed, "including writing letters to the Australian Department of Immigration telling them how much I want to be one of you."
Jodie looked from Mandy to Lisa. She would have given her right ear to be like them—bright, breezy, and free as the wind. And being that way in Melbourne.
"But I still have to be on a plane back to London on the thirtieth of December," Jodie said, letting her hand flop back to the table.
Mandy grinned. "I have found a way." 'And it has something to do with Jodie's love life?" Louise asked, sounding anxious.
Mandy nodded. "Dust off your best bridesmaid's frock; we are going to marry your sister off to an Australian."
Jodie felt herself blanch and blush all at once. "You want to marry me...off?"
Mandy looked down at the computer printout she held through a pair of tiny reading glasses. "The marriage would only have to last two years. At first you'll get a Temporary SpouseVisa and at the end of those two years, once you achieve your Permanent Visa, you can divorce the guy and be free."
Free. Of all the words Mandy could have chosen to sell the idea that was the one that worked. For a child from a split home it certainly rang in her ears a lot more comfortably than marriage, or divorce...
But surely it couldn't be that simple. "You and Lisa are both natives, yet Lisa has been single since I've known her and the closest thing to a long-term boyfriend you have managed to locate is rotten Jake. What makes you think I can do it in two and a half months?"
Lisa looked back down at her watch again, neatly avoiding Jodie's comment.
"One and a half," Mandy said, also ignoring the point. "Excuse me?" 'You have to fill out an Intention To Marry form one month and one day before marrying. So at the outside, you have six weeks in which to find your man. Considering it has been a month since you starting putting big red crosses on your calendar in a passive-aggressive reminder of the looming Day You Have To Leave, I had my team make it top priority. As of today you have your own website!"
"Website?" Jodie repeated. "It's called www.ahusbandinahurry.com," Mandy said, puffing up proudly.
Louise, who had been elegantly sipping on a Cosmopolitan, coughed inelegantly into her drink.
Jodie sunk her head onto her hands so as not to see the amplified mortification that would surely be in Louise's eyes. "But what if anyone I know has seen it? What if my mother has seen it?"
"Unless she is trawling the Internet looking for a cute British bride, then I think you'll be fine. Besides, we did you proud. We used that photo of you from the Christmas in July barbecue on the home page."
"Not the action shot where I was laughing so hard you could see my tonsils as I fell off my chair by way of too much champagne?" Jodie asked.
"That's the one," Mandy said, grinning. "The men at work voted that one their favourite. They all said you seemed, and I quote: "cute, adorable, and fun"."
"So why not just set her up with one of the guys from your work?" Louise asked. Several faint frown lines marred her forehead. She wasn't as aloof to the situation as she was making out. But Jodie couldn't deal with what those frown lines meant. Not yet.
Jodie was beginning to see the possibilities. There was any number of reasons why two people could happily marry for convenience's sake. And considering this was her last chance at staying in Australia, the place where she had found fabulous friends, a growing number of people who stopped her on the street to ask her where they could buy the unique floral-inspired earrings she herself created, and where she had begun to delight in her youth, maybe, just maybe, she could pull this off.
That was the clincher. After years of being the adult in the family, the one who remembered to pick up milk, the one who kept the house free of dust bunnies, the one who remembered to pay the gas bill, the one who made sure her mum got to work in time—when she managed to hold down a job—Jodie felt hopeful that at last she had a chance to find the youth inside herself.
"Oh, no,'Mandy said, "once they knew she was looking for a husband, even a two-year one, they backed away like I had pulled a shotgun."
And there was the rub.
Jodie looked to Lisa, who had been quiet through all of this. "What do you think?"
Lisa held up both hands before slipping off the seat and backing away. "You don't want to know what I think. Besides, can't talk, I'm now on the clock."
"She has some old-fashioned view that you should only date, marry, sleep with a guy if you're in love." Mandy shivered as though that would have saved her from a whole lot of fun. "But I'm not expecting you to worry about any of that. Leave it all to me."
Jodie had every intention of leaving it all to Mandy. Though it wasn't in her make-up to come out and say it, she needed help. For there was no way on God's green earth she was ever going back to London. To that oppressive apartment. To that half life...
But the real question was: what sort of man would give up two years of his life to marry her, to be her husband, after knowing her for less than a month?
Heath swung back and forth on the love seat on the veranda of his big old home, staring out across the flat red dirt of Jamesons Run.
A blood-red sunset glowed across the plain. A nimble dry wind whipped along the dusty ground so that the golden kangaroo grass seemed to be waving toward the grand old willow dipping its sad leaves into the dam at the centre of his main paddock.
He could do with rain—and not just to damp down the dust storms that were springing up from nowhere more often than not these days. Rain would be a break in routine of stifling hot temperatures that spoke of an oppressive summer to come. Rain would be a change.
Heath looked over his shoulder to find his older sister Elena standing in the doorway with a paper plate drooping under the weight of mixed desserts. An outfit of a floral dress and stockings on such a warm day could only mean one thing—a wedding or a funeral. And there had not been a wedding at Jamesons Run in years.
He let his riding-boot-clad feet drag against the wooden floor until the seat stopped swinging so she could sit beside him.
"I brought this for you before the Crabbe sisters had the chance," Elena said. "No doubt they are still squabbling over whether you might prefer Carol's custard tart or Rachel's mud cake."
Heath smiled, and he only hoped he had managed to make it reach his eyes. His appetite seemed to have departed him since the moment he had picked up the phone four days earlier to learn that Marissa was gone, but he swallowed a bite of Elena's home-made pavlova to keep her happy. His mouth was so dry that the sticky passion-fruit topping caught on his palate. Now he would be prying pavlova loose with his heavy tongue all night.
"How you doing, little brother?" Elena asked, patting him on the knee. "You holding up okay?"
He nodded, though he turned away for a brief moment so she wouldn't see his frown. Why was she worried about him? Cameron was the one she should have been comforting. Cameron was the one who had lost his wife. He had only lost...what? A friend? His last remaining link to the life he had once thought he might have?
"Do we have enough ice?" he asked, tidily avoiding the question. "I can run into town to get more."
"We have plenty of ice," Elena said. Her patting stopped. "Though I'm sure it won't occur to Cameron to thank you, he appreciates you holding Marissa's wake here. And when you took over for him during the eulogy, oh, that fair broke my heart then and there. You're a good kid, Heath."
"A thirty-six-year-old kid," he reminded her. "Which makes you—"
"A lady of indiscriminate age," Elena said, cutting him off quick smart. "So when are we going to get to use this big old place for more than Christmas parties, local community meetings and funerals? When do we all get to come here to celebrate your wedding?"
"Ha! I'm surprised you and the Crabbe sisters haven't lined Cam and me up for a double wedding by now."
As soon as the words left his mouth he regretted them. They were cruel and hurtful and born of the fact that he barely believed the words even as he said them. He stood and moved to the edge of the veranda, wrapping his hands around the wooden railing until a bunch of splinters poked deep enough to hurt.
"Sorry," he said. "That was out of order." 'And completely understandable, considering. Does the thought of settling down frighten you that much?"
Settling down? That was what she thought had kept him from the altar all this time? He had settled down a decade ago. What scared him was that if one day he settled down at Jamesons Run with someone else it meant that he would never leave. But now, on this tragic day, it no longer seemed the biggest problem in his life.
"What if I told you that right this moment I am feeling the very opposite?'he said. He turned and leant his backside against the railing and folded his arms and stared his big sister down.
"Well, kid, I would say thank the gods." She stood and grabbed him by the arms, giving him a big kiss on the cheek. "Is there a particular woman who has brought about this change of heart?"
One woman? Absolutely. But she was gone now. Not just gone from his life, but gone from all life. And it had taken a shock of that magnitude to knock him from the path of his life.
"None in particular," he said. His reasons were his to wrangle alone. "So what do you think? Should I go and give the Crabbe sisters the fright of their life by proposing to one of them right now?"
The Crabbe girls were as sensible a choice as any. He knew from past experience of country-dance bottom-pinching, all instigated by one or the other of them, that they would not have been immune to such an idea. But no matter how hard he tried to picture himself in the role of doting husband with a good little country wife by his side, he found he in all good conscience could not. It felt like too much of the same.
And what he craved so deeply was change.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A must read, i read it in one day, i wish that it had a book 2 to come, loved it.