Her Outback Surprise(2)

By: Annie Seaton

Gran had said she wanted them all home as soon as they could come. “Your grandfather has to go to the hospital, and I can’t cope with the wheat harvest, the cattle work, and the cooking by myself.”

“Of course, Gran.” Liam had agreed without thinking it through; after all, family came first. It was only after he’d ended the call that he wondered if she had an ulterior motive for getting them all home. Knowing Gran, there was more to it.

He tipped his head back and stared at the vivid blue sky. Even here in the city, the sky was a brilliant blue. Nowhere else in the world was the sky this depth of colour. He was looking forward to getting out west where it was an even deeper hue.

To the big sky of the outback.

The only place where he’d ever felt truly at home. He’d searched from Indonesia to the United States and had kidded himself he’d been fairly settled in London for the past two years. He had been until— No, don’t go there.

Liam glanced at his watch. He’d taken an earlier flight and called his younger sister, Jemima, from the transit lounge in Dubai. She’d agreed to wait until he arrived in Sydney so they could travel out to Prickle Creek Farm together.

“So what’s the go?” he’d asked his sister on the phone.

“I don’t know. I’ve got a horrid feeling that Pop is really sick. That’s the only reason I’m going back out there.”

“I was surprised you said yes. What about Lucy and Seb? Did they get the call, too?”

“Lucy’s already gone home but she said Seb won’t go.”

“Not surprised. He and Gran had a huge ding-dong row a couple of years back. He said some pretty nasty stuff to her. Seb always held a grudge when we were kids, too.”

“And you were the perfect child? Give me a break, Liam. You and Seb were always trying to be the best at everything, and you always fought with him.”

It was true. The rivalry between the cousins when they’d been kids had been strong, but those days of growing up at Spring Downs had forged a bond between them all. It was sad that life and tragedy had broken it. They were grown up now and all very different people. In one way, he hoped that Seb didn’t come out to the farm. Liam could handle Jem and Lucy without getting his emotions all fired up, but one word from Seb—and he was the master of sarcastic comments—would bring him undone.

A taxi driver blared his horn in one continuous blast and Liam stared at the line of cars picking up passengers. He shook his head. Had he really chucked his job at one of the top British newspapers and headed home after one phone call from his grandmother? Especially in the current job market where journalists were being retrenched all over Australia and the market for freelance work was drying up. After he’d had a break, he’d have to go back overseas to resume his career. That’s where he’d made his name, and that’s where he’d have more chance of a high-powered job, and success. He must have had a bad hangover the night Gran had called. Agreeing to come home had perhaps been a rash decision. A wheat and cattle farm in the Pilliga Scrub was a long way from the lights of London. Deep down, he knew the reason he had agreed so quickly, but he wasn’t going to share that with anyone. Hell, he wouldn’t even admit it to himself. And maybe deep down he knew he had to make a change to his lifestyle.

Jeez, he just needed a break. He ran his hand through his short-cropped hair. The last couple of years had been tough. A quick visit to check that his grandparents were okay, maybe look Angie up—just maybe, and only to check she was okay, nothing more—and then he’d be back off into the wide world again.

His phone buzzed.

“Liam? Where are you?” He listened to the precise tones of his sister’s voice. She’d worked hard to get her accent in place. She sounded more posh than the Sloane Rangers—the fashionable upper-class young women of London—he’d gone out with when he’d first arrived in London. Being a rugged Aussie in London, and working on Fleet Street, had given him entry into the social events where all the pretty girls hung out. But he hadn’t done that for very long. Not after that wonderful night at the Feathers pub in Euston where he’d thought he’d met the love of his life.

“I’m already out on the footpath where the drop-off and pick-up is. Where are you, pipsqueak?”

“Don’t call me that,” Jemima said, irritation lacing her voice, and Liam grinned. “Wait for me there. That way I won’t have to pay for parking. I won’t be long, just coming through the Eastern Distributor Tunnel now. I’d like to drive out to the farm today.”