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The Country Girl - Cathryn Hein

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Published: 18th December 2017
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Published: 1st January 2018
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Bestselling Australian author Cathryn Hein returns with a moving and uplifting rural romance about facing hard truths and moving on in pursuit of life.

After landing a major cookbook deal, star food blogger Tash Ranger swaps city life for the family farm. But Tash's homecoming is bittersweet, for now she can no longer avoid seeing her best friend Maddie, who was severely injured in a riding accident and unable to communicate. No one knows that Maddie and Tash had a deep falling out and with every visit Tash must pretend to be the friend everyone believes her to be.

Patrick Lawson, Maddie's fiancé, battles despair and hope daily as Maddie lies imprisoned in her body, gradually losing his faith in her recovery. When Tash returns to Castlereagh Road with her joy and boundless appetite for life, he realises finally what his loved ones have been trying to tell him for months – that Maddie wouldn't want him to throw his life away. It's time to move on. But letting go is no easy feat, especially if moving on means Tash. He's a country boy and she is a star on the rise with ambitions that could propel her out of reach.

Can these two friends step out of the shadow of Maddie's tragic life and accept love, or is the past forever destined to dictate their future?

Chapter One

There were locals who claimed Fortune had always gazed favourably on Castlereagh Road. Perhaps that was true, back in the day—the long-lost good times before Fortune’s ugly cousin Tragedy crawled in and tore a family’s heart apart.

For Patrick Lawson, those people couldn’t have been more wrong. Castlereagh Road was where despair battled hope in a war where victory for one was as unthinkable as the other was impossible.

Some days he never felt like this. Some days Patrick imagined he was happy. That the two-kilometre drive from his parents’ farm to Springbank was the same as it had been eight years ago, when he was seventeen and he and Maddy had first fallen in love. That she’d greet him in the yard like she always did, grinning the smile that made his heart feel proud and possessive, and other parts of him hunger.

Some days he deluded himself that the world was okay, and the joyful life he’d mapped out could still happen. Then a day like today would rise up and kick him so hard it was like it was his body shattered beyond repair. His brain wiped of its human beauty.

It was the horse that set him off. Again. Hanging over the post and rail fence with his dark brown eyes and snip of white on his nose, and stupid twitching ears constantly moving as if guided by intelligence. Khan spotted the ute and tossed his head and flared his nostrils in happy greeting, and for one blinding moment all Patrick wanted to do was smash his foot on the accelerator and drive as fast at the fence as the engine would allow.

Instead he kept a steady pace down the drive while sweat beaded his brow and his grip turned slippery, and he pretended not to notice as Khan followed his progress at a lively trot and then broke into a canter and veered away from the rail, racing, racing, like Maddy would now never do.

It took Patrick a good few minutes under the blast of the car’s aircon to set himself right. He never liked for Grant and Nicola to see him when he was like this. They had enough to cope with as it was without the burden of his anger. And he sure as hell never wanted Maddy to sense it.

He got out and slammed the door shut and glanced at the paddock. Khan had cantered away to the far end, below the slope and out of sight. Patrick hoped he rotted there.

There was music playing, drifting through the screen door. He could hear Nicola singing softly, probably preparing dinner. Patrick wondered why the familiarity of it didn’t soothe him.

‘Hey,’ he said, knocking on the jamb and entering.

Nicola looked up from the spuds she was peeling. ‘Oh, Patrick. Hi.’ She smiled. ‘Sorry for the singing. I thought you were Grant. He’s due back from town any minute.’ She nodded towards the radio. ‘You can turn that down now.’

‘And spoil your fun? I’ll leave it.’ He paused. ‘How is she?’

Nicola’s smile slipped a fraction as it always did when talking about her daughter. ‘Oh, not too bad.’

Which meant not too good. Patrick glanced at the doorway that led to the living-dining area, now converted to Maddy’s day room. He could only see the edge of the bed. Nicola must have wheeled Maddy to the French doors so she could look out.

‘Need me to do anything?’

‘No. Grant helped me bath her earlier. You go on in.’

He nodded, stepped towards the door and took a breath. No matter that he did this every day, he still needed that pause. He was a man stuck in a loop of disbelief, as though each night erased the truth and each afternoon he had to face it again for the first time.

A heartbeat was all it took, a fortifying half-breath and then he could stride in, smiling the love he still felt. That he’d promised he’d always feel.

‘Hey, babe.’ Patrick kissed her hello, closing his eyes and letting the soft skin of her cheek caress his own as he breathed her in. Maddy smelled of the body wash Nicola favoured, and the massage oil she used for the muscle-stretching exercises.

He moved back a little, searching Maddy’s eyes for a hint of recognition, anything, but they remained unfocused. In the early days Patrick used to fret that she might be blind but the doctors assured him she wasn’t. The blankness was simply a symptom of her minimally conscious state, plus there were moments when Maddy definitely recognised her parents. Followed by really shitty times when she would notice Khan through the window and make a movement that could have been anything, but Nicola swore was Maddy reaching.

Something she never did for him.

Spotting a crust of dried saliva, Patrick automatically snatched up a wipe and cleaned it away, then caressed her hair and moved across to the bookshelf. A velvet box sat in one corner. He picked it up and took out the ring, and shifted back to gently unhook her curled left wrist and hand, and slide it on her ring finger.

He sat with her hand cupped in his, the diamond sparkling in the afternoon sun, and began to talk.

‘First of the weaner sales today. Prices were strong. Most of them northern buyers. They’ve had good rains up there and are looking to restock, plus the export market’s picking up. About time. Things have been pretty crook.’

He paused and stared out the French doors at the view of the patio and garden, and paddocks beyond. Grant and Nicola had been graziers once, before the accident. In the past they would have been with Patrick and his dad at the saleyards on a day like this, assessing the lots, watching the auctioneers in action, nodding in approval at the rally in prices, but most of Springbank had been sold, leaving only a few hundred acres around the house. Patrick’s dad had bought the 600 acres that bordered their own property, Wiruna, along the southern side, and the rest had gone to the McDayles.

‘You would have enjoyed it, Mad. Everyone upbeat.’ He returned his gaze to her, amazed at how she could look the same yet so different. The accident had left her once-fit body twisted and wilted, despite regular physical therapy. The golden tones of her skin had faded long ago, leaving it almost translucent.

Her face remained beautiful but also heartbreakingly wrong. The nose he used to plant affectionate pecks on was still straight and fine, her cheekbones high. Nicola kept Maddy’s dark eyebrows as precisely shaped as they’d always been, and the thick lashes surrounding her chocolate brown eyes remained long and still fluttered against him in butterfly kisses when he pressed close. Her hair was clean and silky but was now kept shorter for practical reasons. No thick pony tail to give teasing tugs.

His darling Maddy, and yet not.

The mouth he’d kissed so often moved involuntarily in yawns and contortions. Her eyes rolled. Frowns appeared and disappeared at random. There was no speech, only incoherent vocalisations. Sounds unlike anything Patrick had ever heard, like something in agony. He hated them. They made his gut clench in fear for her, that she was trapped and hurting and calling for help.

Nicola believed she understood every nuance of voice and movement. That Maddy was communicating to her with what she had left. Grant humoured his wife but in secret had revealed to Patrick that he thought it was only wishful thinking. The doctors were certain that the slow transition from coma to vegetative state to minimal consciousness had progressed as far as possible given the severity of Maddy’s brain injury. But hope was a living thing, and every real or imagined sign of improvement brought with it the idea that the experts could be wrong. That one day those who loved her would have her back.

‘I heard a bit of news today.’

He rubbed his thumb over the diamond of her engagement ring.

The ring that had taken him four long months to save for. The ring that he’d slid on her finger while bended on one knee like a cartoon Prince Charming as she’d nodded over and over, and half-sobbed, half-laughed above him.

Patrick studied Maddy’s expression and saw nothing. His fingers tightened. Maybe he shouldn’t tell her. Maybe there were some things she didn’t need to know.

But he’d made a pact from the start that he wouldn’t keep secrets. That their lives and those of their families and friends would remain as talked about and dissected as they’d always been. This was news he would have told her before. No matter how bittersweet, he’d tell her now.

‘Clipper finally found the balls to ask Bec to marry him. She said yes. Wedding’s going to be in November apparently. They want …’ He inhaled deeply as his throat seemed to fill with gravel. ‘They want to start a family straight away. Clip reckons he’s wast—’

Patrick got up, breathing and blinking hard. He shoved his hands into his pockets and faced the doors, away from Maddy, ordering himself to pull his shit together. He peered at the sky, feigning interest in the weather while he tried to swallow the painful thickness from his throat.

A keening noise sounded behind him. Patrick closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the glass, wanting to smash it through. It was Maddy making one of her sounds. Nothing more. Yet the keen kept coming. To his heart it was like a wail.

He forced himself to turn around and felt like he’d been sledgehammered. Maddy’s mouth was curled and her eyes were scrunched shut. It wasn’t an unusual contortion but today it was different. Today, sliding from the corner of her right eye, was a tear.

‘Patrick?’

Nicola was at the doorway, tea towel in hand. He stared at her with his mouth open as Maddy continued to keen.

Frowning, she stepped into the room. ‘Patrick, what’s the matter?’

He stared back at Maddy.

Nicola walked briskly to her daughter’s side and inspected her face. The worried expression softened as she gently brushed Maddy’s fringe aside. ‘It’s okay, honey. Dinner’s not far away.’ She smiled at Patrick. ‘Her stomach’s probably hurting. She was in a mood and didn’t eat much at lunch. I’ll bring her bowl in a minute.’

But Patrick knew better. It wasn’t hunger, it was grief and anger at the unfairness of life. The same emotions boiling up in him. Except in his case he didn’t want to just shed a tear, he wanted to wreck things, destroy, the same way Maddy’s life had been destroyed, the way Nicola’s and Grant’s had. The way his own had.

He didn’t look at Nicola as he shoved past. His thoughts were elsewhere, on the rifle Grant kept. The gun safe and ammunition. Patrick had been coming to Springbank his entire life: as a typical farm-kid neighbour, as a teenager in love, and as a man. He knew pretty much where everything was kept. Most of all he knew where the keys to the gun safe were stored.

‘Patrick?’

Nicola’s startled voice carried up the hall but he ignored it. He rummaged in the office drawer and plucked out the keys. Minutes later he had the rifle and bullets.

When he turned back into the hall Nicola was there. She took in the gun, her eyes turning enormous.

‘What are you doing?’

He shook his head and pushed past her.

‘Patrick?’

He kept walking.

‘Patrick!’

The kitchen screen door opened with a squeal and banged shut behind him.

‘Oh, God. Oh, God. Grant! Grant!’

The outside air struck Patrick’s face, cooling the tears there. Unaware he’d even been crying, he swiped at them as he marched. Grant must have come home. Patrick had to hurry now, before the older man stopped him.

Khan was back grazing near the fence. He whickered when he spotted Patrick and immediately wandered over to hang his head over the top rail.

‘Good boy,’ crooned Patrick, holding his hand out and stroking the horse’s forehead. He rubbed, sniffing back tears, hating even touching the animal but needing it calm for what he was about to do. Satisfied, he stood back to aim the rifle.

The horse stayed still in anticipation of more attention.

Patrick’s teeth were clenched, his breathing ragged. One squeeze, one gentle little squeeze, and the thing he hated most would be gone. He breathed in and sighted, honing in on an imaginary crossing of diagonal lines drawn between Khan’s eyes and ears.

More tears slithered, bringing with them another noise. It was a few heartbeats before he realised it was coming from his own mouth. A kind of inhuman rasp.

He swallowed it away, shoved the butt harder against his shoulder and tightened his grip on the forestock. Khan blinked, the skin above his eyes wrinkling as if in confusion.

One squeeze. Just one.

Footsteps approached. Grant stood alongside him. Patrick kept focus on the wavering barrel, trying to hold it steady. He wasn’t a cruel man. This wasn’t about suffering. This was about eliminating the reminder of everything that had gone wrong. A bullet in the right place would ensure that.

Patrick sniffed and blinked, and braced his legs harder. Slowly he drew in a breath and began to move his finger.

A worn hand rested on the barrel. ‘Don’t, son.’

‘I have to.’

‘You don’t.’

Patrick shook his head but he eased back on the trigger. He couldn’t fire with Grant this close.

‘It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t anyone’s.’

But it was. It was absolutely the horse’s fault. Maddy hadn’t done this to herself.

‘Pat, it won’t change anything.’

‘I just want to go back. To the way it was.’

‘I know, son. We all do.’

There was no pressure on the barrel, just the weight of Grant’s hand, but it felt like the sky pushing against him. Patrick clenched his jaw. He needed to do this. Why couldn’t Grant see that?

‘Don’t kill the thing she loves.’

‘I hate it.’

‘I know. But shooting Khan won’t help you and it’ll only hurt Maddy. You don’t want that.’

The barrel dropped, Patrick’s head with it. He would never hurt Maddy. Never. He let out a sob as the older man took the rifle from his hands and placed it on the ground. Then Grant’s arms were around him and his choked voice was promising Patrick that the pain would pass. It was just a moment. They all had them now and then.

‘It’ll be all right, son,’ said Grant, patting his back one last time and letting go.

‘Yeah.’ Patrick rubbed his hand across his mouth, wiping his tears as he went. ‘Yeah.’

But they were words he was finding harder and harder to believe.

Chapter Two

Tash Ranger smiled as she focused the video camera. Her friends looked brilliant, exactly as specified. Colourful and cool, and without a scrap of Melbourne black, which was just as well. Not a lot of breeze found its way into the tiny backyard of her townhouse and the evening was a bit of a stinker. Black was the last thing anyone needed to be wearing.

Her soon-to-be ex-townhouse, she reminded herself. This time next week Tash would be gone. To fresh woods and pastures not new, as she liked to misquote Milton.

Her stomach did a slow nervous flop. This project would be a success. She would make it one. Eighteen months from now Tash would be looking back and laughing at her silly doubts.

‘Come on, Tash!’ yelled her shaggy-haired neighbour Thom, looking his usual casually hipsterish self in rolled-up drainpipe camel chinos, braces and a striped shirt that looked like something Tash’s pa would wear but was most likely an expensive designer label.

‘Just making sure you all look gorgeous!’

She inspected the screen again, then, checking no one was near, zoomed in on Brandon Seymour for a second. A long, indulgent second that made her heart beat too fast and her brain fizzle. Quickly, she zoomed back out before she combusted with lust. Or was caught.

That was the trouble with unrequited love, the risk of humiliation was huge, and while Tash was perfectly happy to make a goose of herself for the sake of her business, she wasn’t about to have her heart smashed in front of all her friends. Or worse, have them feel sorry for her because she’d been dumb enough to fall for a man so far beyond her reach he was practically interplanetary.

Well, maybe not interplanetary, but certainly intercontinental.

Ceci appeared at her shoulder and peered at the screen. She glanced up at the yard and back at the screen, and puckered her perfectly glossed pink lips. ‘How do you do that?’

Tash shrugged and made a final filter adjustment, before moving on to an auxiliary camera for a last-minute double check. There were three cameras in all, each set to capture different angles, although the second wasn’t as high quality and the third was her phone. Footage from the phone was mainly used for stills and mood shots, plus Tash had learned the hard way to have back-up. ‘Garden-variety talent, my darling friend. Garden-variety talent.’

Ceci shook her head. The sleek blonde bob she was currently sporting was so sharp it threatened to cut her off at the jaw. ‘There is nothing garden-variety about your talent.’ She grabbed Tash’s upper arm and squeezed tight. ‘I’m going to miss you so much.’

Tash blinked as her eyes suddenly prickled and her throat thickened. ‘I’m going to miss you, too.’ She gave her a get-over-it nudge that was more for herself than Ceci. The last thing she needed was puffy eyes and a snotty nose. ‘But it’s not forever. Only a year, eighteen months.’

‘It won’t be. People love that whole escape to the country thing.

They won’t be able to resist. You’ll grow even more famous and never come home.’

It was weird to hear Ceci call Prahran home. No matter where Tash lived, the home of her soul would always be Castlereagh. Her parents’ farm near Emu Springs in the borderlands of far western Victoria was as much a part of her as the blood that flowed in her veins. ‘I doubt it. The country bliss thing is just another of those trends, like quinoa. Kale. Salted caramel.’ She screwed up her nose as she hunted for another trendy food. ‘Bottarga.’

Tash laughed. ‘Exactly. Like bottarga. People will get sick of it and move on. My job is to milk it for all it’s worth while I can.’ And secure herself a future as a professional food writer while she was at it.

Other food bloggers found fame and longevity thanks to television reality cooking shows that manipulated their images and took all their rights, raised them up and sometimes let them fall, which was fine. For others. Tash was made of different stuff. Her ambition was no smaller, but she was determined that any success would be on her own terms, or not at all.

She hooked her arm through Ceci’s. ‘Come on. Time to party for the camera.’

Eight of her closest Melbourne friends were here, crammed onto the terrace, their laughter loud and vibrant. The sky had the amazing colour wash of an almost-done sunset—peach, apricot, deep indigo. Strategically placed tea lights cast the area in a soft glow. Tash’s potplant garden, so carefully nurtured over the last few years and in full summer leaf and fruit, softened the hard edges of what was a stale, modern yard. Tomatoes rose high on their stakes, lush fruit heavy and shiny, while cucumbers, capsicums and eggplants dangled like baubles. Pots of herbs formed decorative clusters, and an espaliered lemon tree spread its branches like an anatomy sculpture.

But it was Tash’s friends who created the aspirational tableau she was after. A milling, laughing, drink-sipping crowd of glamorous twenty-somethings enjoying themselves and each other’s company. Follow The Urban Ranger, it said, and this could be yours too. And easily, as Tash had demonstrated in the videos and still shots she’d produced earlier that day of herself mixing up the retro punch her friends were sipping, and the canapés they’d soon be eating.

Depositing Ceci with Thom, Tash moved into position and poured herself a glass of punch from the bowl she’d set up on the Moroccan-inspired tile-and-wrought-iron garden table she’d picked up from a garage sale for next to nothing eight months earlier, and had filmed herself cleaning and repairing. She deliberately lifted the ladle high, pouring the punch so that the last of the sun caught the glittery stream and an attractive foam formed in the glass. Done, she set the spoon down, and with a broad smile and wink raised a toast to the camera, before turning to mingle.

Fifteen minutes later, Tash was back checking the footage, frowning as the perfectionist in her caught a few things that could have been done better. Not to worry. She could edit those out and it was too late for a retake. The light had gone and her friends were getting restless.

She clapped her hands to get their attention and spread her arms, smiling proudly. ‘You were all stars!’

‘Thank fuck for that,’ said Thom, downing his punch and heading to the kitchen for the esky full of icy beers Tash had organised for them. Ceci did the same, only it was a bottle of sauvignon blanc she was chasing.

Tash laughed as others followed suit. ‘It wasn’t that bad!’

‘It wasn’t,’ said Thom and took a slug of beer, his entire body sagging in a silent ‘ah’. ‘But even you have to admit it was a bit unmanly.’

Tash poked her tongue out.

Ceci paused to kiss her cheek, bottle neck clawed in a death grip. ‘It was lovely. But a girl cannot live on sunset punch alone.’

‘Philistine.’

Ceci poked her tongue out in return, then poured her wine and took it and an unlit cigarette back out onto the terrace.

‘Stay near the fence,’ yelled Tash after her. She hated it when smoke drifted into the house.

‘Yeah, yeah.’

Tash shook her head. Why someone as beautiful as Ceci would want to smoke was beyond her. Not only smoke, but drink to excess. Tash enjoyed a drink too, but her face wasn’t her business in the same way Ceci’s was. Sure, Tash had to look good, being on camera three times a week, but it was a part of her brand that she looked like an everyday girl people could relate to. Softly rounded, enormously cheerful, pink-cheeked and a little bit silly, but a whiz in the kitchen and garden, handy with tools, and slightly wondrous of the world. The country girl determined to live her values in the city.

And now Tash was going to take it back to where it began: Castlereagh.

She detached the main camera from its tripod and carted it to the lounge where she’d set up her makeshift office, then returned for the other camera and her phone. The townhouse was tiny, one bedroom with a main living area and kitchen cum laundry that opened onto a paved terrace. Anything bigger would have been beyond her budget, but it had been enough space to create her small but rapidly growing business.

Not that that had been deliberate. The Urban Ranger enterprise had been more accidental than anything—a media studies project that somehow had taken on a life of its own. Now, after three years, Tash still didn’t have a degree, but she certainly had a career. One she took very seriously, even more so now she had substantial sponsorship and a cookbook deal that would see her take her first steps offline and into the mainstream media.

Settling at her desk, Tash knuckled down to work, ear halfcocked towards her friends who were becoming more raucous by the minute. Fortunately, she’d become pals with her neighbours on either side from the moment she moved in. Ceci and Thom were both lively, glamorous in their own ways, and had proved invaluable in the success of her business. Thom lent his skills as a website designer and computer programmer. Ceci worked at an upmarket cosmetics counter and occasionally modelled, and had patiently taught Tash how to apply make-up so it appeared she wasn’t wearing any, along with how to pose to show herself at her best. Both also adored being featured as extras in her videos and happily played the role of on-screen tasters and testers of her creations.

She would miss both of them terribly and had been flattered by their pleas to stay, but Tash was also aware that behind the entreaties lurked other, more selfish agendas. Thom was generous and fun and thought his minor video stardom a huge lark, but Tash’s move would cost him access to Ceci, who he had a raging crush on. Thom was convinced that she wouldn’t look twice at a computer nerd like him, no matter how hipster cool. But Tash’s mutual friendship at least kept him in Ceci’s orbit, which was better than nothing.

Ceci, on the other hand, hungered for fame—hence the shortening of Cecilia to media-friendly, Euro-chic ‘Ceci’ in preparation. Tash might not yet be a household name but her celebrity was growing, and Ceci was happy to sashay on her coat-tails in the hope of being talent-spotted and catapulted into the stardom and riches of a young media darling. Once there, she would cement her hold through smarts, of which she had plenty.

With the stills uploaded and tagged, and the video backed up for editing in the morning, Tash leaned back and stretched. And caught the eye of the man who’d wandered into the room.

‘Hey,’ said Brandon.

Aware her top had probably ridden up and exposed an unflattering sliver of belly, Tash quickly dropped her arms. ‘Hi,’ she squeaked. Hi was pathetic. Squeaky was pathetic. She was pathetic.

Brandon took a languid suck of beer and Tash couldn’t help her gaze following his muscled arms and locking on his mouth. An almost painful ache squeezed her chest as she realised that with her move home any chance of her ever sampling that mouth was probably over.

‘All done?’ he asked.

She smiled brightly and stood, shuffling things around her desk unnecessarily. ‘Nearly.’

Tash stopped shuffling as he wandered closer, her mouth suddenly so dry she needed a drink. Her wretched heart was thumping, and all she wanted to do was ease up on tippy-toes and kiss that beer-flavoured mouth of his and then drag him off to bed and stuff everyone else.

Instead she swallowed and tried not to hyperventilate as Brandon slunk so close she could feel the heat off his arms brushing hers.

He traced fingers up and down the edge of her desk. ‘Can I ask you something?’

‘Uh huh.’ She swallowed again. ‘Yep, sure. Go for it.’

Oh, hell. Now she was babbling. Tash moved the video camera to a shelf, her phone to her pocket.

‘Do you think …’ He lifted his beautiful hazel eyes to hers. They were worried, almost sorrowful looking, as if he was terrified she would say no. Tash’s heart pounded as she held her breath. ‘… if I asked Ceci out she’d say yes?’

Her mouth had already been half forming her own yes when she realised it wasn’t her name he’d uttered. Disappointment floored her, but three years of living in Ceci’s perfect shadow had made her a pro at hiding her feelings. Brandon had no idea of her secret crush, or of how much he’d just hurt her with those words.

Tash took sanctuary in her laptop. Moving the curser, clicking mouse buttons. Already the party stills were attracting attention. Lots of thumbs-ups and comments. ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’

He ducked his head in that sheepish way she adored. ‘She hasn’t mentioned me at all?’

Tash kept clicking, counting the likes, shares and responses, anything to stop herself looking directly at Brandon. Or thumping him one. Not classy, but it might make her feel better. ‘Once or twice.’

He didn’t say anything for a moment, clearly hoping she’d elaborate. ‘Anything good?’

‘Look,’ said Tash, closing the laptop cover with more force than she should have. ‘I can’t tell you. It’s the girl-code. You want to know what she’ll say? Ask her.’

He stepped back, hands up. ‘Jeez, sorry. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Just thought I’d try and get the low-down before I made an arse of myself.’

‘Yeah,’ said Tash, turning away to pick up a pen from the floor. ‘I’m sorry too.’

Sorry for dreaming things, for hoping she might be in with a chance. She placed the pen on her diary and stared at the closed laptop. She could feel Brandon frowning at her in confusion.

‘You okay?’

She nodded, too emotional to speak.

‘Right. I’ll …’ He lifted his thumb towards the door then did the smart thing and bolted.

For a long while Tash stayed bent over the desk as she kicked the toe of her sandal savagely into the carpet. In the virtual world she had hundreds of admirers, thousands of them. More. It was thanks to them she’d scored the book deal that would see her head home.

Yet the one thing she secretly craved beyond business success remained out of her reach. In the hands of the beautiful people.

Well, stiff. She was a beautiful person too. Maybe not outside, but where it really counted. If Brandon couldn’t see that then too bad. Someone else would one day. Until then, she’d have the time of her life.

Four hours later, Ceci said yes to Brandon’s offer to come home with him. Tash and Thom looked at each other, shrugged, then proceeded to get drunk together on leftover punch and sick on canapés that had been left out in the open too long.

As was the remit of The Urban Ranger, Tash live-filmed her state the morning after, laughing hoarsely at her stupidity and swearing ‘never agains’ to the camera while cheerily whipping up high-calorie hangover food in her pyjamas. Signing off with a breezy ‘See you in the country!’ she staggered back to bed and an equally hungover but thoroughly satisfied Thom, leaving the post to collect a frenzy of hits, likes and comments as Tash’s fans realised she’d prepared plates of Welsh rarebit for two.
Cathryn Hein

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east. With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10. So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.

Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.

Cathryn’s first three novels, Promises, Heart of the Valley and Heartland were finalists in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards. Rocking Horse Hill is her fourth rural romance novel. In September she will release The French Prize, her first romantic adventure story.

Cathryn currently lives at the base of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s far west with her partner of many years, Jim. When she’s not writing, she plays golf (ineptly), cooks (well), and in football season barracks (rowdily) for her beloved Sydney Swans AFL team.

Visit Cathryn Hein's Booktopia Author Page


ISBN: 9781489242488
ISBN-10: 1489242481
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Published: 18th December 2017
Publisher: Harlequin
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.6 x 15.7  x 3.1
Weight (kg): 0.52