Her Outback Cowboy

By: Annie Seaton

To my wonderful family.

There is nothing more important in life.





Prologue


Sebastian Richards put down his camera and pulled the buzzing phone from his pocket. “You can take a break, kids.” He forced a smile to his face as he gestured to the mother of the small children he was shooting for the department store catalogue. The little boy poked his tongue at Sebastian as he ran past, and he thanked his lucky stars for the call that had interrupted the photo shoot from hell. The little fiend’s sister aimed a kick at Seb’s ankles and stood there and stared at him.

God, I hate working with kids.

He was so preoccupied watching for the kicking feet of the child from hell, he didn’t look at the screen before he pressed answer. “Seb Richards.”

His blood ran cold as he listened to the voice on the other end.

The last person he would expect to call him. He turned away from the small girl, not caring if he got kicked to kingdom come. It would be preferable to talking to his grandmother.

“Sebastian.”

“Hello, Gran.”

“I want you all to come home.”

“All who?”

“Don’t be smart, boy. You and your cousins.”

“Sorry, Gran. I’m at work. I’ll call you back.” He disconnected before she could reply and shoved the phone back into his pocket.

“Sorry, Mrs Armitage. That was…er, business. I have to go. Take your kids out for some lunch and we’ll meet back here at two o’clock.”

He grabbed his camera and tripod and ran down the stairs. If he was quick he could get to the office on the next floor before the old bat called Lucy.



Across town, Jemima Smythe ignored her ringing phone as the stylist touched up the last of her makeup. She sat straight, the clinging blue silk of the formal dress whispering against her bare legs. The fashion parade was at the famous Sydney Opera House, and everyone was on their best behaviour. This was her chance to get to New York; she’d heard there was a talent scout from the Ford agency in the crowd today.

“You’re next up, Jemima,” Roger called. Next on the catwalk, and if she answered this call, she’d miss her cue and Roger, the volatile stage manager, would go berserk. Normally Jemima worked on being serene and presenting a calm exterior to the world. It was amazing how many favours—and indeed extra jobs—she’d picked up because of her reputation as an easy-to-get-on-with model, not a prima donna, no matter how hard the shoot or the day on the catwalk was.

The stylist put his makeup brush down. “You’re right to go. Perfect as usual. And listen, the word is the guy from New York is in the front row. Kill ’em, babe.”

Jemima glanced down at her phone and all serenity fled as a familiar number flashed onto the screen.

Oh, bloody hell, why is Gran calling?

Not now. She had to be calm. This was her chance to hit the big time.



The high-pitched chorus of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” shattered Liam Smythe’s sleep. He jerked awake and fumbled for his phone in the dark. He glanced at the green digital figures of his watch sitting on the bedside table as he lifted the phone to his ear.

What the—3:00 a.m.? And where was he? Another bloody hotel in what town? Liam had to think for a minute before he remembered he was in London. In his own bed in his apartment.

God, he hated calls that came in the middle of the night. Always bad news.

“Liam Smythe.” He cleared his throat, his voice gravelly from the one too many drinks he’d had when the news desk staff had wandered down to the West End after last night’s shift.

“Is that my favourite grandson?” A sweet voice chimed over the line, all the way from Down Under; all the way from the Pilliga Scrub in the Australian outback, to be precise.

Over ten thousand miles away from his safe and quiet apartment on the bank of the Thames river in London.

But Liam wasn’t fooled. That sweet little voice belonged to a woman with a backbone of steel. He sat up straighter and ran a hand through his hair, as if she could see him.

“Hey, Gran.” He leaned back against the bedhead and reached for a cigarette. Before he remembered he’d given them up last month. “What’s new?”



Lucy Bellamy rested the phone between her chin and shoulder, keeping both hands on the computer keyboard before she answered the incoming call beeping on her mobile. Her eyes were focused on the large screen as she put the final finishing touches on her project. She leaned forward, adding a bright red swirl to each corner of the graphic.

“There. All done!” she muttered quietly.

And the bloody best work she’d ever done, even if she did say so herself. Caleb was going to love it. Lucy smiled with satisfaction before she let go of the mouse and hit the answer button on the phone, looking up as heavy footsteps caught her attention.

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