Four sisters, one farm and a second chance at following your heart.
Penny McIntyre loves her life as an ambitious city professional, with a marketing team at her fingertips and a promotion just within reach. So when she's floored by a mystery illness, and ordered back to the family farm for three months' rest and recuperation, she is horrified to find her perfect life imploding.
Within days, Penny has to leave her much-loved job, her live-in boyfriend, and her beloved city apartment ... to return to the small country town in which she grew up. Back to her dad and three sisters, one of whom has never forgiven her for abandoning her family. And to her ex-boyfriend, Tim Patterson, who was the biggest reason she ran away in the first place.
When Penny's father is injured in a farming accident and Tim campaigns to buy the property, she must choose between the city life she loves and the farming dream she buried long ago.
Wildflower Ridge is rural fiction straight from the heart.
|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
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Penny McIntyre stirred before the hall lights were turned up to full strength, hours before the first stream of visitors came marching down the hallways with flowers and chocolates. The night nurses had only roused her once last night for monitoring, much better than the three-hourly checks done on the first and second nights. Hopefully, they'll give me the all clear to head home today. Surely there's someone else who needs this bed more than me.
She stretched carefully so the wires and drip wouldn't catch or yank at the cannula on the back of her freckled hand. The starched nightgown scratched at her skin, and a wave of fatigue made her wince, crushing her as if it were one of the steamrollers working around the clock to repair the Melbourne roads twenty or so storeys below. Penny blinked the sleep from her eyes. Okay, maybe not home today, she conceded silently. But soon. She looked out the window, at the skyline peppered with lights and streams of commuters heading into the city. Commuters that didn't include her, travelling to offices just like the one she had collapsed in three days ago.
Penny's jewellery sparkled under the hospital lights as she pushed aside a bouquet of 'get well soon' flowers and reached for her mobile. She pressed the phone screen, but it remained lifeless. Flat as a tack. Her strawberry-blond hair fell across her face as she wriggled closer to the other bedside table, the one containing four more floral arrangements and her phone charger. Her head and body throbbed in protest as she stretched further and plugged her phone into the charger — the most activity she had undertaken in days. She flopped back onto the pillows, a triumphant smile spreading across her pale face. Couldn't manage that yesterday. I must be on the road to recovery already. The smile stayed on Penny's lips as she closed her eyes and allowed the pain relief to drag her back to the darkness.
* * *
Bright daylight peeked around the edges of the window when Penny woke again. A young nurse padded into the room and swept open the curtains with unreserved efficiency.
'Beautiful day out there, Miss McIntyre. How about that lovely sunshine? You'd pay a mint for that natural light in a city apartment.' Her voice echoed off the industrial-grey walls, her smile as radiant as the streams of golden light pouring through the glass.
Penny was usually the first to comment on the sunshine and appreciate beauty in all its forms, but from her vantage point in the hospital bed, she couldn't quite muster up the same enthusiasm.
'It's lovely, though I have to admit I'd rather be in my office. I've got loads to do. Do you think I'll be out tomorrow?' Penny's enthusiastic question was met with an amused look from the nurse.
'Return to work tomorrow? Miss McIntyre, you'll be back here within a week if you return to work or any physical activity in the immediate future. Ross River fever is not to be underestimated. You need bed rest and lots of it, if you want to shake this nasty virus.' The nurse bustled around the room, checking the drip and cannula.
'Resting's not exactly in my DNA,' Penny admitted. 'If a mosquito hadn't hijacked my body, I'd be sealing the deal for a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign right now instead of lounging around in a hospital bed.'
The nurse laughed again as she straightened Penny's pillows, scribbled on the observation chart and checked the pain relief levels.
'It's not lounging around, it's recovering. Try your luck with the doctor when he does his rounds, but I can't imagine his answer will be any different from mine. I guess that's the risk you take when you sign up for those mud runs, right?'
Penny sank into the freshly plumped pillows for a second then sprang back up, receiving a sharp reprimand from her aching joints. She turned, more carefully this time, and fossicked in her handbag for a hairbrush. Lacking the luxury of a mirror or the phone camera on selfie mode, she tamed the bird's nest of shoulder-length hair into what she hoped was a slightly less frightening style. Her enthusiasm didn't carry as far as make-up, but she reasoned something was better than nothing. A clatter of footsteps neared her door. She shoved the hairbrush back into her bag as a bevy of white coats filed into her room.
'You're looking perkier this morning, Miss McIntyre,' said the doctor, reaching for her chart. 'And awfully modest. Young Belinda here showed me your double-page spread in last week's Good Weekend magazine. Melbourne's hottest corporate couple, eh? I was thinking of bringing it in for an autograph, but maybe I should wait until you and your boyfriend are both here.' He smiled. The mousy-brown intern behind him flushed.
Penny grinned. The novelty of being recognised from a magazine brought a spark to her grey–green eyes.
'Thank you, it was good coverage for Boutique Media,' she said. Hope they take that into consideration while dealing with the fallout from this week's drama.
'How are you feeling?'
'Much better,' she hedged. It wasn't a complete lie — the IV drip and pain relief had controlled the fever and helped mute what the doctor had yesterday labelled as polyarthritis. 'I'm pretty sure I'm right to check out soon.' She beamed at him, confident that a man of his standing would have more of an appreciation for career matters than the nurse.
With a wistful smile, he shook his head.
'It's not a hotel and you won't be going anywhere for a few days, Miss McIntyre. Usually, our patients are begging for sick certificates to get more time off, not less. It must be some job if you're hankering to return after collapsing on the boardroom floor.' The doctor made a note on the observation chart and nodded politely. 'I'll see you in a day or two.'
The tribe of interns scurried out the door behind him.
Penny's earlier optimism wilted at the mention of the boardroom floor. She recalled the sweat dripping from her brow as she began her pitch to the company's most lucrative clients. The overhead lights that dazzled her, making her feel even hotter. The burning in her bones that contrasted against the shivery feeling on her back. The surprised squeak escaping from her mouth as she fainted from a dangerously high temperature, crumpling to the boardroom floor. Her disorientated vision of chairs scraping on carpet, people rushing to her aid before everything went dark.
Penny blinked away the memory, focusing on the flowers that had arrived from her employer the same afternoon she had been ambulanced to the hospital. Flowers that should be sitting on her office desk with a card that read: 'Congratulations on your promotion' instead of: 'Get well soon'.CHAPTER 2
Georgie Morton's hair was neatly bobbed as always. Not a hint of white regrowth dared sneak into her side part, and her heavy application of make-up was set off with trademark crimson lipstick. As the executive manager for Melbourne's most prestigious PR firm, she subscribed to a holy trinity of wool, silk and linen. Today was no exception, with her linen shift dress, silk scarf and finely tailored jacket bringing a distinct flamboyance to the drab room. Penny sat in her hospital bed. With only a hastily applied veil of make-up and a cashmere cardigan over her nighty, she felt distinctly vulnerable. The conversation wasn't going quite as she'd planned. She regrouped and tried a different tack.
'Please, just let me come back, Georgie? You know I'm the best marketing executive on staff. I'll do everything in my power to fix this ... this ... this mess I've made. Surely our clients will understand. They're in the pharmaceuticals industry, maybe they'll take me on as a trial project.' Penny laughed feebly, hoping the joke would cover the hint of alarm that had crept into her voice.
Georgie kept her hands clasped neatly in her lap, though her gaze darted around the room, glancing from Penny's IV line to her cheap, standard-issue hospital nightgown, and then down to the lifeless, utilitarian bedding.
'That's precisely why I'm insisting you take a break, Penny. I can't force you, of course, but I strongly recommend it. The Whitfield Pharmaceuticals ship has sailed. Those vultures at Yarra PR were just waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in and steal them from under our noses. All it took was one hiccup and they were gone. Doesn't anyone believe in loyalty these days?'
Penny winced as she calculated the loss of income that must have followed her ambulance stretcher out the door. The commission from the Whitfield Pharmaceuticals contract alone would have paid for a fortnight in the Whitsundays.
'Surely I can woo them back when I'm better? A week, maybe ten days and I'll be fighting fit again,' she said.
Georgie sniffed and pushed her horn-rimmed glasses a millimetre up her perfectly sculpted nose. She tapped a lacquered fingernail against her lips.
'I heard on the grapevine Yarra PR reeled them in with a three-year exclusive. No enticing them back to Boutique Media in the short term. I'll pull a few strings to keep your promotion open, but you've got to be 100 per cent healthy upon your return.'
Penny opened her mouth but closed it as Georgie held up a hand. Her voice held an edge of steel.
'I won't stand for lies, either. I found Dr Atwood's medical certificate in your office. If you'd taken leave as she advised a fortnight ago, neither of us would be here right now. What were you thinking, Penny? This makes me look terrible. It makes our company look terrible, as if we're overworking our employees.'
Shame prickled at Penny's skin, though she knew as well as Georgie that both of them fell into the overworked category. Her fingers fumbled for the top button of her cardigan, brushing the swollen lymph glands under her jaw.
'I'm sorry, Georgie. I thought I could push through it.' And she truly had. Each time she'd swallowed a painkiller and masked her fever and aching joints, she'd been positive the poorly timed flu, or whatever it was, would blow over.
'Get well, Penny. That's all I ask. Ten weeks' leave should do it, starting today,' said the older woman.
Penny's stomach dropped. Georgie made a show of brushing imaginary lint from her jacket as she stood to leave.
'Ten weeks? TEN. WEEKS. I didn't want to take one week's sick leave, let alone ten. Please don't do this to me, Georgie.'
Georgie furrowed her brow and pressed her lips into a thin, red line as she turned in the doorway.
'It's not up for discussion, I'm afraid. And it sounds like a hiatus is just what the doctor ordered.' The suggestion rolled uncomfortably off Georgie's tongue, as if it were something she felt obliged to recommend but would never self-prescribe.
A sudden weariness washed over Penny. She knew Georgie well enough to read the set of her chin and the stiff back. Determined to salvage her dignity, she swallowed the lump in her throat and tried for an upbeat tone.
'Even if I'm out of the office, I won't stop thinking about work. CC me into all the emails, I'll make sure I keep my phone charged.' She watched her boss and mentor stalk down the hospital corridor, wafting a trail of Chanel perfume in her wake.
Georgie paused at the industrial-sized antibacterial gel dispenser, just as Penny had known she would. But instead of rubbing her hands and continuing on, Georgie reapplied the gela second time. As she reached for a third dose of gel and then a fourth, Penny stifled the uncomfortable feeling that Georgie was trying her best to wash her hands of the whole situation.
* * *
Tim Patterson let the conversation and country music roll around him as he collected crockery from the farmhouse dining table. Almost every spot was filled with three generations of the McIntyre clan.
'Leave the dishes, Tim. We'll sort them out when we get back from Wildflower Ridge,' said Angus McIntyre, wiping his mouth with a handkerchief.
Tim smiled at his boss — not only the head of the McIntyre Park Merino Stud but the family patriarch — as he moved across to the sink.
'Not a chance. It's the least I can do after that feast. Get going before you miss the sunset.'
Quiet chatter followed the family out the house, as they eased into workboots, gumboots and enough jackets and scarves to ward off the unseasonably cold autumn night.
Tim cradled the treasured plates in his callused hands, determined to return the delicate porcelain to the china hutch in pristine condition. He often admired the matching set when he came in for smoko and knew it would sit behind the glass doors for another 364 days before being returned to service.
He fished around in the hot soapy water, catching the dishcloth as it snagged on the new collection of cuts and blisters on his fingers. It had been another productive week at McIntyre Park, busy enough to keep Angus's mind off the anniversary of his wife's death, but not too busy that he'd had to shelve his weekly volunteer session at the local school. Like Angus, Tim was happier buried in sheep work, paddock maintenance and a few community ventures than sitting around dwelling on his own problems.
Lara McIntyre jogged back up the verandah steps and plucked a hat from the laundry coat rack.
'Help yourself to more dessert, Tim. Or take a piece home for Stella,' she offered as she slipped the knitted beanie over her head.
'Not sure if Stella will be around tonight, and I'm already as full as a fat lady's undies.' His phrase elicited a rare grin from the austere woman, just as he'd hoped. 'But it was top notch as always — thanks, anyway,' he added.
A procession of McIntyres trailed past the kitchen window, their annual pilgrimage underway. Their destination was just visible in the blue mountain range that spanned the horizon. Diana McIntyre's three eldest boys tore across the yard, encouraging the resident rooster with loud hoots and hollers. They weaved in and out of the standard roses, sending flutters of petals into the air like confetti, before scrambling onto the back of the old farm ute. The fair-haired baby boy in Diana's arms flailed his hands, as if counting down the days until he too could ride on the back of the ute with his big brothers. Encouraged by the ruckus, the fledgling rooster joined in with another round of crowing that travelled through the farmhouse's weatherboard walls and into the kitchen.
Damn fool still hasn't worked out dawn from dusk. Tim scrubbed a dirty bowl, grinning as the oldest McIntyre daughter eyed the chicken coop. He wouldn't be surprised to turn up to work tomorrow and hear that the young cockerel was bubbling away in a stockpot on top of Diana's AGA, some five kilometres down the road. She might not live on her father's farm anymore, but she was still pretty handy with a meat cleaver.
Dark clouds rolled in from the west, casting deep shadows over the shearing shed. By the time they trekked up to Wildflower Ridge and back, it would be almost dark. A quad bike pulled up in front of the procession. Tim watched Angus shuffle back in the seat and gesture to his eldest grandchild and only granddaughter, Evie. Within seconds, the girl had jumped down off the ute tray, launched onto the front of the four-wheeler and guided it forward, leading the convoy towards the Grampians mountain range.
Tim returned his attention to the task at hand, gently wiping the dainty crockery's gold banding.
Tim shook his head at Eddie Patterson, keen to keep his brother as far away from the delicate china as possible.
'She's right, Ed. I've got this covered. But do us a favour and toss some wood on the fire, so it's all toasty warm when the McIntyres get back? Then we'll head home.'
Eddie grinned, his left cheek dimpling just like Tim's as he gave his brother a thumbs up. He hurried to collect the wood from a well-stocked wheelbarrow at the back door and raced across the kitchen, tiny pieces of loose kindling dropping behind him. Tim quietly picked them up and watched Eddie load the fire from the corner of his eye. Eddie's tongue poked out the corner of his mouth, his wide, almond-shaped eyes fixed with concentration.
The phone rang, cutting through the kitchen radio. Tim dried his hands, silenced the music and reached for the house phone.
'Y'ello, McIntyre Park.'
An unfamiliar voice came down the line. Smooth. Confident. City.
'Hello, is this Angus McIntyre?'
Tim leaned back against the kitchen bench, keeping an eye on the lounge room as he spoke. Sounds like the salesman Angus described this morning. The nerve of the guy, hassling farmers all hours of the day.
'He's not in at the moment, but we've already told you, mate. We're happy with our local tractor dealer. Weren't you supposed to scrub this number off your call list?'
There was a pause. Tim exhaled quietly as Eddie finished loading the fire without incident and gave him another thumbs up. For most twenty-one-year-olds, such a task would be a non-event, but for a boy with Down's syndrome, each successful fire-related accomplishment was an achievement. The man's voice came down the phone again, laced with irritation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wildflower Ridge"
Copyright © 2019 Maya Linnell.
Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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