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Authors: Ann B Harrison

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BOOK: Coming Home
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"The kitten still
has claws, I see." A smirk crossed his face and he looked at her lips,
before he met her gaze again. "I think you and I could reignite that
flame, Kate."

She laughed, shaking
her head. "Oh, Cade, seriously. You don't know how to take no for an
answer, do you?" She caught a lock of hair that had escaped her ponytail
and tucked it behind her ear. "I run this place. I don't have to have your
permission for anything. It's the other way around now." Kate mentally
ticked her scoreboard as a dark shadow crossed Cades eyes and a frown marred
his otherwise perfect forehead. Gone were the days when she had to tow the line
to spend time hanging out with him.

"That's right. Get
your little brain around that one.
I
am the boss now. You get to live
here, but I run the place." She stepped back and nodded at the car.
"Now move it or it gets towed."

Anger tightened his
jaw. With no other option, Cade moved over to his car, shuffling along the side
of the shed wall to get into the front seat.

Kate moved back and sat
her butt on the old wooden rail fence that surrounded the vegetable garden. She
crossed her arms and watched as he manoeuvred his car out. With a glare in her
direction, he planted his foot on the accelerator and headed down the driveway
toward the barn. The small burst of power scattered crushed granite over the
grass and she laughed. Round one to her. A shame he still had the ability to
set her heart racing.

Not one to tag along at
the rear anymore, she quietly thanked her Cade’s father for taking her in and
toughening her up. When Kate had applied for the job of stockman, he’d laughed,
telling her she wasn't up to it. She’d proven him wrong more times than she
could remember.

Now she knew she would
have to prove herself all over again. Cade would to try and undermine her He
always had. It was his way to make himself look good when all he had to do was
play football and his following would be just as big.

Of all the Williams
children, Kate felt most sorry for Russ. He was the quiet achiever, the child
who’d always looked for approval. The eternal peacemaker she used to call him.
He was still the same, although there was now a sadness in his eyes that made
her wonder what had happened to him in the last few years.

The sound of silence
rolled over the farm and Kate realised Cade had turned off his car. The rumble
of the engine was no longer at odds with the cries of cattle in the paddocks.
From her position on the fence, she watched as he hobbled out of the barn and
headed back to the house.

Satisfied she’d made
her point, she moved over to the work ute and opened the door. Kate climbed in
and turned the key, not bothering with her seatbelt. Reversing back, she spun
the steering wheel and pointed the nose into the space vacated by Cade moments
before. When she was parked, she killed the engine and jumped out, slamming the
door behind her before hanging the key on the nail by the door post.

Kate stood and tilted
her hat back on her head, checking to see everything was in its place before
walking the few hundred yards to her home.

The original homestead
was one of the oldest homes in the Hunter Valley. Large hand cut sandstone
blocks soaked up the setting sun, giving off warmth that would keep the house
cosy for hours. Dubbed Thunderbolts cottage after the bushranger who had grown
up in the small house, it had been modernised before Kate had moved in.

She grasped the old
handle and pushed open the solid timber door. Kate turned and used the heavy
stone step to help slip her work boots off. She dug her fingers under the
elastic band of her socks and pulled them off, jamming them into the boots and
placing them beside the door step before walking inside the small front room. A
ginger cat looked up from its position amongst the pile of cushions on the
tapestry couch and stretched.

"Such a hard life,
Wally." Kate walked over and picked him up, smiling as he purred into her neck,
his whiskers tickling her skin. She continued to hold him and stroked around
his ears as she walked into the tiny compact kitchen. The cat jumped from her
arms when she got closer to the fridge. While Kate opened the door and took out
his tinned food, he wound himself in and out of her legs. "Cupboard love,
Wally, it's all cupboard love."

At least that was the
only demands her cat had on her. Food, the occasional loving cuddles and a
space on her bed at night. Those demands she could cope with, it was safer that
way. Her cat couldn't break her heart or pretend she wasn't there, unlike the
only man who had made her young heart flutter. As a teenager, Cade had never
acknowledged her existence unless he wanted something from her.

Now he was home and
things were different. She was in charge but he still had the ability to make
her legs tremble and her heart ache. If only Kate could have outgrown the
teenage crush she had on him, life would be so much easier. Kate stroked Wally
while he ate contentedly. She stood and headed for her bedroom, where she
stripped her work clothes off and dropped them on the floor before walking into
the en-suite.

The full length mirror
in the bathroom showed off her curves and Kate looked at her reflection with a
critical eye. She was fit and the hard work showed in the toned condition of
her body. She’d always been a physical, tomboy type so it was a natural
progression to jump at the job Cade’s father had advertised.

He alone had known how
much she needed a steady job and a place to live. Her own father was constantly
in trouble with the law for petty crime and that had made her mother turn to
alcohol when Kate was still in high school. But Mr Williams was the first one
to approach her after her parents were killed in a car accident, leaving her
with no family of her own. Both of them were drinking and fighting when they
crashed. The only blessing was they’d left Kate home alone to fend for herself,
as they more often than not did.

Essie had taken her
under her wing, made sure she fitted in and was looked after. Kate worked hard,
finding solace in the hard hours as she learnt along the way. Always quick with
figures, she thought ahead and planned what would happen stock-wise on
spreadsheets she kept taped on the wall beside her bunk.

Eventually the head
stockman found out and instead of ignoring the petite redhead, he had taken her
to see Mr Williams and asked if he could groom her for the job.

Essie had cooked her dinner
ever since she’d been made manager and didn't have to share stockmen’s quarters
and dining room with the rest of the farmhands. She’d said it was expected and
Kate was grateful for the quieter room and better food. Although she had her
own kitchen in the cottage that went with the senior position, she had
complied. It gave her a chance to learn from her boss where they could chat
about work over a shared meal. Kate made the most of not being interrupted by
farm duties, asking his advice on matters relevant to her job.

Kate stepped away from
her own scrutiny and into the bathroom. She turned on the shower, waiting
impatiently for the water to heat up. When it did, she stepped under the spray
and thought of how far she’d come in the last few years because of her own
determination and hard work.

Initially the other
stock hands had relished a female amongst them and she was the brunt of
constant boy jokes and ribbing about cooking and cleaning for them. It seemed
they didn't get the point about her being there to work the same as them, not
as someone for them to chat up. Essie had taken pity on her and cooked her
dinner once or twice a week to give her a break from attention of the men.

The soothing water ran
down her face and Kate scrubbed the dust from her pores. The worst thing about
her job was the constant dirt and exposure to the elements. She worried what it
would eventually do to her fair skin. She lathered sun block on constantly but
it didn't seem to keep the freckles away. Kate turned off the shower and
reached for a fluffy towel.

Once dry and dressed in
slim fitting capri pants and a loose blouse, Kate brushed her hair before
pulling it up in a messy knot on top of her head. She smeared pale lip gloss
over her lips and sprayed a little perfume on her throat and behind her ears.

Satisfied she would
pass muster, Kate stroked her hand over Wally who was now washing himself on
her bed and walked out of her cottage toward the big house. Coming face to face
with Cade after giving him orders earlier was going to be interesting. Just let
him try and tell her what to do. She was running the show now and it was about
time he realised that.

 

Chapter Nine

 

Russ looked up as the
back door opened and Kate walked into the room. She headed for Essie and gave
her a quick peck on the cheek before turning to him.

"Russ, sorry about
the welcome before. I had on other things my mind." She walked over and
leaned in to give him a brotherly hug. "I'm pleased to see you. Sorry
about the divorce and all, it must have been rough." She perched her butt
on a stool at the counter and kept her gaze on his face.

"I guess it was,
but that's life I suppose." He shuffled his feet and sat beside her.
"It's funny but I'm glad it happened in a way. We weren't right for each
other. It took me a few years to figure that out." He sighed. "Paula
wanted more from me than I could give. Things I had no interest in, so it's
probably for the best all round." He reached over and ran his hand down
her arm. "Enough about me. Tell me what's been happening with you. Farm
manager, that's really great news, Kate."

She looked down at her
fingers and Russ wondered what was going through her mind. "Yeah, I like
it here and it suits me."

"So tell me how it
came about that you decided you wanted to be a farmer." He looked up when
Essie put a bottle of chilled wine on the counter in front of him.
"Thanks, Essie." He poured two glasses, handed one to Kate and sat
back waiting for her to talk.

"Well, you know my
folks were killed just after your mother died? I didn't know what I was going
to do. I mean, seriously there isn't much a seventeen-year-old can do with no
money and no family." She took a sip of the wine and Russ noticed how her
hand trembled as she gripped the stem of the glass.

"Your father took
me in and gave me a permanent job. Funny thing was, I'd already approached him
about it and was working holidays anyway. No fuss or anything, said I would
have to prove myself if I wanted to keep the roof over my head. He didn't have
time to worry over me or anything like that."

"Sounds just like
the old man." Russ smiled to soften the words.

"Yeah well, it was
the best thing he could have done for me. It gave me a purpose to keep going. I
think if I'd had someone molly-coddle me, I would have broken inside. He watched
me working and taught me what he could. I took to it like a duck to water. When
Thomas the old manager retired, he gave me the job."

"Sounds like you
deserved it to according to Tory. I'm glad it worked out for you, Kate. The
place is in good hands."

"Thanks. You can
tell me to mind my own business, but what is happening with you guys? Are you
staying?" She watched him, her emerald green eyes focused on his face.

"Yes, for now
anyway. I was telling Cade earlier, I think we should keep the farm in the
family. I mean, we don't know what Rooney is up to. She might want to come
home."

"Yeah, she might.
What about Cade? Is he staying too?"

"Worried about
your job, Katie?" Cade pushed the door and hobbled into the kitchen. He leaned
his crutches on the counter next to Russ and looked at her.

"No. Why should I
be?"

"Surely if the
farm gets given to the local government, they can appoint their own
managers." He took a glass and poured himself wine while he spoke to her.

"Nope. Tory has it
all sorted. I keep my job regardless of what happens." She smiled at him
sweetly and the look in her eyes dared him to say something.

Russ coughed to cover
up the laugh bubbling up his throat. "Give up, Cade. She's not going
anywhere and that includes falling at your feet."

"We’ll see about
that," Cade replied, watching Kate over the rim of his glass as he took a
sip of the wine.

Dinner’s ready,"
Essie interrupted.

"Thanks
honey." Kate led them into the dining room and took her seat while Russ stood
holding the chair out for her.

When they had their
meals in front of them Cade lifted his glass. "Here's to nothing."
His sardonic smile wasn't lost of Russ. If he was any judge there was more to
his brother’s injury and bad mood than he was letting on.

"Will you be at
the funeral tomorrow, Kate?" Russ ignored the snort that came from Cade.

"Of course I will.
Your father was good to me and I have to say my farewell the same as everyone
else does." Her voice wavered and she lifted the serviette to cover her
mouth, coughing.

"It should be an
interesting day," Cade said. "I wonder how many locals will come out
hoping we don't stick around?"

"Why would anyone
do that? Hell’s teeth, Cade. Your father was well liked, at least by people
outside his family. I'm sure they aren't thinking along those lines. Besides
they wouldn't know about the terms of the will anyway." Kate shook her
head and frowned at him.

BOOK: Coming Home
3.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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