The chopper followed a wide river then Doug swung around and deliberately swooped over a massive herd of cattle grazing on the bank. The cows stampeded like a disturbed mound of annoyed ants running in all directions and leaving a cloud of orange dust in their wake. She stared longingly at the sparkling blue water winding away in the distance imagining diving into the tempting depths and cooling down. “I didn’t think there was so much water in this part of Australia. The river looks wonderful, but why did your grandfather build the homestead so far from the water? It’s too far to walk for a swim.”
He gave her an exasperated stare then rolled his eyes skyward.
She swallowed hard. Snakes, spiders and now crocodiles, what else did she have to put up with — man-eating plants? “Oh, I thought they were native to Queensland.”
“Nope. They are up here too, and where there is water, there are crocs, unless it is on top of a plateau. You see, crocs can’t climb. They haven’t reached Brisbane yet, but I hear they have sharks in their rivers. Even the million-dollar Gold Coast homes on the canals have sharks in the water outside.”
“Do you have crocodiles outside your back door?”
He shrugged dismissively.
“Not really, that river is about two Ks away, and the ones here are fresh water, not as dangerous as the saltwater crocs.” He indicated ahead with his chin. “The fences keep them away from the livestock. The cattle shouldn’t be that close to the river that’s why I buzzed them before. The fence must be down.”
She peered out looking for a break in the fence then frowned. “Perhaps they’re thirsty?”
“Not likely. They have water troughs, and they’re automatically re-filled. We have an efficient irrigation system, pumping water from the river but as soon as it cools down the cattle start moving around, and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” He grimaced. “Then they become croc tucker.”
Unease tightened her stomach, and she swallowed the growing lump in her throat. “Wonderful.”
The herds of cattle scattered around the area were not the only animals surviving on this rugged landscape. They had flown over hundreds of kangaroos bounding across the grasslands plus a few isolated groups of camels and horses. Sipping the bottled water, she glanced at him. “Are the camels and horses yours too?”
“Yeah, if they wander onto our land and don’t have a tag. They have been here since the first settlers came to the area and left to run wild. The stockmen round up the horses once a year to keep the numbers down. Some we break-in to work the cattle, the rest we sell. The camels, well, they please themselves. You can’t eat them, and they’re mean, nasty buggers so are best left alone.”
As Winnawarra Station came into view, her heart raced. They headed towards a runway standing out like a red road going nowhere with a wind direction flag at one end on top of a post leaning precariously to one side. They flew over the main house. The huge, long building with wide shady verandas on all sides Doug called “the homestead.” Adjacent to the main building windmill powered water tanks sat on high platforms. The reusable energy theme continued throughout the station with lines of solar panels packed on every spare space of roof. She had expected a rundown farm, but Winnawarra was far from what she had imagined. Modern machinery and freshly painted buildings stretched out in all directions. As they descended, she noticed a fenced area at the back of the homestead surrounding a bright green patch. “Do you grow your own vegetables?”
“We have a veggie patch, but it’s the cook’s domain.” Doug grinned at her. “I’m banned from raiding the tomatoes.”
Emily inspected her new home taking in a line of massive sheds and a small aircraft inside a hangar. Beside the homestead ran a row of barns piled high with the biggest bales of hay she had ever seen in her life. Stock pens and grain silos rose from the ground, and the entire scene resembled a small town.
She listened to Doug relaying his arrival over the radio and held her breath as he set the helicopter down some distance from the house. The churning blades lifted the dust and created a dense red fog around them. As the engine whined to a stop, she turned to him. “You’re a very competent pilot. At first, I thought we wouldn’t make it here in one piece.”
He gave her a baffled stare and shrugged.
“I’m not sure how to take you, Em’. You’re a strange one.” He chuckled and held out his hand for the headset. “Let’s take it one day at a time, hey. This may be a big place, but it’s not like you can take off on your own to get some peace and quiet.” He waved a hand towards the open landscape. “It’s dangerous out there. So, before you run for the hills come and talk to me. I try to make sure nobody goes stir-crazy and trust me it happens to the best of us.” When his full lips quirked into a warm smile, her stomach went into free fall. “Deal?”
How could she resist? She offered her hand, and his long rough fingers brushed her palm in more of a caress than a shake. Her heart missed a beat then thundered in her chest. She swallowed hard. “Deal.”
Romance One Word at a Time
Born in London, England and now living in Australia, Elizabeth spent twenty years in a small rural town before moving to the coast. She enjoys the thrill of writing romance and creates stories that will remain with the reader long after the final page.
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