Read The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots Online

Authors: Loretta Hill

Tags: #FICTION

The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots

BOOK: The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots
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About the Book

‘Let me burst your city bubble for you. This is the Pilbara. And it’s the Pilbara that makes the rules . . .’

Lena Todd is a city girl who thrives on cocktails and cappuccinos. So when her boss announces he’s sending her to the outback to join a construction team, her world is turned upside down.

Lena’s new accommodation will be an aluminium box called a donga. Her new social network: 350 men. Her daily foot attire: steel-capped boots.

Unfortunately, Lena can’t refuse. Mistakes of the past are choking her confidence. She needs to do something to right those wrongs and prove herself. Going into a remote community might just be the place to do that, if only tall, dark and obnoxious Dan didn’t seem so determined to stand in her way . . .

The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots
is a delectable tale of red dust and romance, and of dreams discovered in the unlikeliest of places . . .

‘A funny, touching tale . . . Let the escapism begin’
Cleo

‘A fun story of friendship, overcoming preconceptions, and unexpected love. The ideal summer read’
West Australian

‘An A-plus debut novel’
Grazia

For the real Lena,
My beautiful sister and successful engineer.
When we were younger, I wrote stories to make you laugh.
Nothing much has changed.

‘We’d like you to go to the Pilbara.’

Oh no.
‘Er . . . the Pilbara?’ Wasn’t that a wasteland of bush, red dirt and hot weather? Lena clutched her hands together in her lap, noticing even in her dazed state that she had chipped her nail polish.

Damn.

‘Yes, Cape Lambert to be precise,’ her boss, Ivan, continued.

Focus.

‘Oh right.’ She smoothed her cream skirt across her thighs and regarded him with what she hoped was an expression of intelligent interest. ‘I’ve heard about the project we’ve got going on out there. Sounds big.’

It was. It was one of the biggest projects Barnes Inc had taken on that year. Theoretically, Lena should have felt honoured that she had been chosen to go, but she didn’t.

Not even slightly.

The outback was something to be celebrated on Australia Day, or perhaps on a stroll through Perth Museum. But as far as Lena was concerned, one should never
live
there. Lena liked the city. She liked the nightclubs. And she loved shopping.

Couldn’t she use her skills here?

Ivan pushed the papers on his desk together into a neat pile. ‘We believe as a graduate engineer this experience will enhance your site skills. This is a vital requirement for a good engineer. Would you be interested in taking this position?’

Lena’s skin prickled as she registered the importance of the question.

It was a test. He was asking her if she was serious about her career.

‘Yes, yes, I would.’

For goodness sake, sound convincing.

She cleared her throat and tossed her dark blonde mane. ‘It’s very important to me to do well here, Ivan.’

‘Glad to hear it.’

Oh good. The Tone.
It wasn’t the first time Lena had heard that particular blend of condescension and sarcasm in someone’s voice. In fact, she got it a lot. Heard it on her first day of work when she’d arrived wearing her lucky red suit. Heard it at her first meeting when she’d laid her turquoise smartphone on the table next to her notebook. What was it with engineers and fashion? Was there some rule against bright colours and quality accessories that she hadn’t read about at university?

An internal groan echoed in her head. There was a lot she hadn’t picked up on over her four years at university. She hadn’t even worked out that she was there to study not party until her third year. It was her parents’ fault really, sending her to a strict private school for girls. It was no wonder that when she broke out, all she wanted to do was let her hair down. She licked her lips. ‘So . . . er . . . how long do you need me there for?’

‘About three months for starters.’

For starters!

Lena swallowed. She had been told about others who had been transferred there. They never came back. The outback was like the Bermuda Triangle. It sucked you in and pretty
soon the people in the city didn’t know where you were or what had become of you. She’d be leaving all her friends behind. She pictured the parties booming without her. No one glancing up from their cocktails to ask where she was. No one looking at the door to see if she had arrived. The scene cut unhappily to her sitting under a gum tree in dirty clothes, fanning herself against tropical heat. Her hair, unrecognisable – fuzzy and teased to an enormous height by the weather. Unconsciously, her fingers reached behind her ear to pull at strands.

‘Are you all right?’

‘Fine. Fine.’ But her throat had constricted painfully as Ivan’s face came back into focus. She knew she couldn’t say no. This was the point where she was expected to fail, give up the ghost, show herself to be unfit for the profession she had chosen.

But I can do this.
She sat up straighter, determination thickening her spine. She had too much to prove – more than the other engineers who didn’t wear skirts and clips in their hair. She could be as good as any of them; and here was her chance to show it. So she stretched her lips into a gorgeous cherry-gloss smile.

‘When do I start?’

‘Immediately. Have Megan book a flight for you.’ His heartless and dismissive assent had Lena biting her lip, desperate to buy back time.

‘Could I have a few days to organise myself?’ The Myer Stocktake Sale hadn’t finished yet and she wanted to catch up with all her friends before she left – perhaps even throw one of her famous parties at her favourite club.

Ivan raised his eyebrows. ‘Okay, Monday then.’

Lena knew by the tightness around his mouth that she couldn’t push her luck any further. ‘Perfect.’

She headed back to her cubicle on wobbly legs and had to clutch her desk as she lowered herself into her chair.

What have I done?

She grabbed her mouse and as she moved it the Barnes Inc screensaver on her monitor disappeared and her email flashed up on the screen. There was a new message from Robyn.

RE: Dinner at il Ciao tonight?

Lena clutched her mobile and tapped her best friend’s name in her favourites.

‘Hey. Did you get my email?’

‘Sure, yeah. Dinner’s fine,’ Lena rattled off, her head darting from left to right to see if any of her colleagues were within earshot. They weren’t but she lowered her voice further anyway.

‘Something terrible has happened.’

Robyn gasped. ‘You’ve ruined your red velvet coat.’

Lena rolled her eyes. ‘Not that bad.’

There was a pause and then another deep breath. ‘OMG.
They found out
.’

‘Close.’ Lena gritted her teeth against a wave of panic. ‘They’re
going
to find out.’

‘How? When? Did you stuff up?’

‘No.’ Lena shut her eyes. ‘If anything, I think they’re impressed with me. I mean, they’ve got to be. They’ve just decided to send me to the Pilbara.’

Robyn snorted. ‘Then what the hell are you worried about?’

‘Have you not been listening? They’re going to send me to the
Pilbara
, Robyn – as in the outback, as in the rear end of nowhere!’

The gravity of the situation had finally dawned on Robyn: her reply came back breathless. ‘OM
G
. You’re right. You’ll die out there. Tell them you won’t go.’

‘I can’t do that.’ Lena bobbed her head over the wall of her cubicle again, on the lookout for eavesdroppers. ‘It’s all part of my initiation. They’re trying to find my limits. I have to prove that I can do this. I have to show them I’m a good engineer.’

‘Puh-lease.
We
know you’re a good engineer.’

‘No, we don’t.’ Lena moved the phone closer to her mouth so that her lips brushed the receiver. ‘Don’t you see, Robyn? Maybe this is exactly what I need.’

‘No life and a tropical cyclone?’ Robyn’s voice was firm. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘It’s not quite cyclone season there yet.’

‘Who cares? Whatever. Just don’t go.’

‘I have to do this.’

‘Lena, you
don’t
,’ Robyn said. ‘Nobody knows about what happened in uni except for you, me and Intellectually Impaired. And let’s face it, he’s not going to tell anyone.’

‘That doesn’t make it right.’ She shook her head. ‘This might.’

Robyn’s sigh was long and exasperated. ‘Well, if you’re going to the Pilbara, for goodness sake don’t take your red velvet coat.’

The flight to Karratha was relatively short and Lena whiled away the time reading a magazine. Immersing herself in articles such as
‘Ten Ways to Liven Up Your Wardrobe This Summer’
and
‘Is He Cheating on You and How to Find Out . . .’. Anything to distract herself from the fact that she was off to live on a construction site for three or more months, just to prove that Intellectually Impaired didn’t have a point: ‘You’re a beautiful girl, Lena . . . the real world won’t fall for you as easily as I have.’

She could still see the fury on his face when he’d said that to her. That wrinkled brow she used to love kissing smooth – in the beginning, when she’d idolised him.

He’d come into her life at just the right time. He was so smart and dedicated and so good at everything she wanted to be good at. He’d helped her too, helped her a lot. She never questioned that part and would probably always be grateful for it. But people change. People grow up. She certainly had.

Wheels colliding with the tarmac jolted her from her thoughts and she shot a glance out her oval window. There wasn’t much to see. Karratha Airport was small compared to the Perth one: just a single-storey country terminal, surrounded by low scrub. She grimaced. This town was considered the big smoke. Her boss said she’d be taken from here to live on the outskirts of a much smaller place called Wickham.

The man waiting to pick her up was similarly disappointing: short, bald, tubby and decidedly cranky-looking. He was clearly a Barnes Inc employee because the blue shirt he was wearing had the company logo embroidered over the breast pocket. His legs were covered by navy army surplus pants. Lena’s mood slipped another notch.
That uniform better be optional.

Taking a deep breath, she strolled forwards, her hand held out before her in what she hoped was a friendly and enthusiastic manner. First impressions always paid and she needed to make a good one.

‘You must be looking for me. I’m Lena Todd.’

She stood there frozen in greeting for a good three seconds, while he simply stared at her like she had sauce on her face. Sweat dampened the back of her neck as she began to wonder whether she actually did. Withdrawing her hand, she lifted it upwards towards her nose.

It was only then that he spoke. ‘I’m Mike Hopkins.’

‘Pleased to meet you.’ She stuck her hand out again.

This time, however, he simply turned away and started walking towards the carousel. She hurried after him, realising that it wasn’t her imagination – he
was
being deliberately rude.

Great. What’s wrong with me now?

She squared her shoulders and turned on the charm. ‘It’s rather hot here, isn’t it? I mean, considering we’re just coming into winter.’ She fell into step beside him, passing a French-manicured hand across her forehead and flashing him her most winning smile.

Mike snorted. ‘This is nothing.
And you’ll get nowhere if you’re complaining already.’ He stopped walking abruptly as they reached the carousel.

‘Oh, I wasn’t complaining,’ she assured him. ‘I love warm weather! Don’t you?’

He ignored her comment. ‘What does your bag look like?’

‘Bags,’ she told him. ‘I have three.’

‘Three!’

‘Three red ones.’ She nodded. Red was her lucky colour. Most of her things were red.

‘You can’t be serious.’

The smile dropped off her face. If he was going to insist on being rude, there was no point in wasting her perfectly good charm on him. ‘Why not?’ She put her hands on her hips.

‘That you have to ask only reinforces my point,’ he replied.

Unbidden, Kevin’s voice echoed in her head: ‘I told you, you weren’t built for this profession. But you wouldn’t have it.’ She shook it off. Sexist rubbish. She was wise to Mike: he was a dinosaur. The subject of her observation took the opportunity to turn back to the carousel and seize a red bag that was passing them.

‘Is this yours?’

She lifted her chin. ‘Yes.’

A few seconds later, he had piled her vanity onto the rolling case and had the carry-on in his hand. She moved forwards to take it, but he pulled it out of her reach. Fuming, she caught up with him as he marched off and firmly tugged at the carry-on. She was perfectly capable of carrying her own gear. She had a lot of clothes, but she wasn’t a princess. He returned her glare but let her bag go.

‘What’s in these things anyway?’ he demanded as he neared the airport main entrance. ‘Have you packed your boyfriend as well?’ As she opened her mouth to tell him, he stopped her with a hand held palm out. Then came The Tone. ‘No, don’t tell me. I already know.’

Lena knew she had been optimistic to believe The Tone wouldn’t follow her to Karratha, but she was aghast to hear it so soon. She had foolishly hoped that at least the first person she met might give her the benefit of the doubt. It was her disappointment which made her snap. ‘You know, you’re pretty rude.’

Having drawn her sword, Lena waited with bated breath for Mike to pull out his own. But he didn’t, merely throwing her a contemptuous look – half smirk, half smile – and exiting the airport.

Her temper spiked. She caught hold of it and breathed deeply until her heart rate dropped to below Livid (if just above Cross). Mike was unquestionably and deliberately spiteful for no reason. After all, they’d only just met: how could she have offended him?

The vehicle Mike led her to was a two-seater ute covered in red dust. It was only just possible to see that its original colour had been white.

‘Are all the cars out here this dirty?’ she asked.

Mike’s expression was scornful. ‘You haven’t seen dirty yet.’ He paused. ‘We’ll go to the camp first to drop off your stuff. And then I’ll take you to site.’

She swallowed. ‘Er . . . camp? You don’t mean tents, do you?’

His smile was positively evil. ‘No.’

‘Oh good. I was led to believe I would be given my own place.’

BOOK: The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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