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Outback Brides of Wirralong
Home is where you make it
Lady Emmaline Lewellyn Grayson has never felt at home in her stuffy, aristocratic world. She might look the part of a Lady and play it to perfection, but a wilder world has always beckoned. A world where people say what they mean and keep their promises. A world where, if a man says “I love you,” the next word isn’t “but…”
Liam McNair is a rough and tumble cattleman with a station to run and no time to babysit a fragile English rose. But if Lady Em needs a keeper for the short time she’ll be in Australia, it might as well be him. He’ll show her the Outback, keep her out of trouble, maybe have a little fun and at the end of her stay he’ll gladly wave her on her way.
Three months. Two worlds. One proposal. Decision time.
“A book of pure joy and an utterly perfect end to this gorgeous series.”
Shelagh (Amazon Top 50 reviewer)
Emmaline, age 7
They were back at the big house again. The big grey one with all the steps and the man in the uniform who opened the door and stared down his nose and never said a word. Except that this time he looked past her and her mother to the chauffeur who was taking a bunch of heavy-looking grey suitcases out of the big black car. Two big suitcases and her little pink school case too. “Mama, are we staying?” she whispered, trying to be polite like Governess Judy always said she must. “Mama, why is my school bag there?” And Ellie, her one-eared stuffed elephant that squeaked when she hugged it. Emmaline was too old for Ellie, Mama said, but Ellie was allowed to stay on the high shelf in her bedroom. “Mama, why is Ellie here?”
“Never mind that now.” Her mother was ‘in one of her moods’, and had been all morning. Governess Judy always said it was best not to bother her mother when she was ‘in one of her moods’. “And stop picking at your fingernails, Emmaline. How many times do I have to tell you!”
Hands by your side, child. Shoulders back. Ankles and knees together. Governess Judy didn’t even have to be there anymore for her lessons to echo in Emmaline’s ears. So there she stood, with her mother’s mood, and her new best dress on and her shiny black shoes and tried not to rub her thumbs and fingers together while the chauffeur put her pink bag and her stuffed elephant just outside the door and silently returned to the car.
Inside the house was the same as she remembered. Dark and wooden with the highest ceilings she’d ever seen and mirrors and paintings on the walls and thirty seven stairs between the ground floor and the first floor, and Emmaline wondered if the butler counted them too, every time he went up or down them.
“He’s in his study,” the door man told them.
“Thank you, that will be all. I’ll take it from here,” said mama.
The butler stopped and nodded. Feet and knees together and his hands at his side, just like her. She smiled at him and nodded too. He glanced her way. “He’s not alone.”
“He never is. Come along, Emmaline. Time to see your father.”
Her mother’s shoes clicked importantly on the fancy patterns of the wooden floor and she tried to make hers do the same.
“Must you stomp!”
Emmaline tried to make her feet make no sound at all after that, and she almost did it when she walked on the rugs, but there was so much space in between the rugs sometimes. Maybe if she jumped…
“Emmaline! What are you doing? I swear to God this is not the time to start playing up.” They reached a closed door, and her mother pushed it open with a scowl and ushered Emmaline inside.
There were two men in the room. One behind the big wooden desk, and one tucked up in one of the two big window seats like a lazy cat. Her mother pointed towards the window seat on the opposite side of the room. “Sit over there and be quiet. Your father and I need to talk.”
Emmaline went and sat. Her mother turned to the pale and pointy man sitting behind the shiny wooden desk. Her father. Emmaline tried not to stare—staring was rude—but she needed to fix his image in her mind. She’d forgotten what he looked like. She’d only been six last time she saw him. She was a year older now and needed to remember.
“Didn’t you get my offer?” her father said. “I must confess, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Oh, my lawyers received it. I’m simply not interested in accommodating you.” She flicked a glance to the young man in the window. “Must we do this in public?”
Her father shrugged and crossed his legs with a smile on his face that didn’t make Emmaline feel like smiling back at all. “You’re the one who’s choosing to do it.”
“It’s time, Thurston.” Her mother spoke again. “She’s quiet. Well behaved. No trouble.”
“Then keep her.” The cold gaze of the man—her father—slid over her and made her want to scratch at her fingernails with her thumb nail all over again. “I heard she was all mouth, literally and figuratively. Ugly little thing, isn’t she? Who does she take after? Because it’s not me.”
Ugly? Emmaline took after her mother in looks, everyone said so. And mama was pretty.
“She’s not unattractive, Thurston, regardless of the fact that she’s not blonde and not male. She’ll grow into her looks, I promise.”
They stopped looking at her, all except the man in the window who still looked all sleepy, but she had a strange feeling he might just be listening as hard as she was. She sent him her best smile and got a little smile back, before her turned to look at her father, who’d started speaking again.
“You promised me a lot of things, my dear wife. Incessant badgering was not one of them.”
Mama’s eyes hardened to flat brown pebbles. “Ex-wife, remember? I’ve seen you twice in the past six months because you were late with payments. Your daughter has seen you once a year for the past seven years as per the terms of our agreement. I do not badger. I keep my word.” Mama took a deep breath before digging into the pretty leather bag on her shoulder for a messy pile of papers that she placed on the desk and pushed towards him. “I’m sure you’re aware of the terms of our agreement, seeing you wrote it, but let me recap. Your child is seven years old tomorrow. The first seven years were mine. My responsibility—you didn’t want to be bothered, remember? My time is up. She’s yours now.”
What was mama talking about? Whose was she? And why was her pointy father pushing the papers away from him as if they smelled bad.
“Our agreement was for a son. I wanted a son.”
“Take it up with the medical specialist who guaranteed you one. Oh, wait. You sued him for every pound he had and then some, and he destroyed all your precious embryos in retaliation. Your mistake, not mine. It’s hardly my fault your cancer treatment rendered you sterile. I’ve kept my end of the deal, Thurston. You know I have.” Her voice sounded harder than Emmaline had ever heard it and this time she picked up the papers and slammed them down in front of him. “She’s all yours.”
“I’ve no use for a girl.”
“Tough. I’ve done my time and I’m not taking her with me. It’s your turn.”
Turn? Turn? Emmaline stared at her mother and father shoving papers back and forth between them. She wanted Ellie the elephant to hold against her to stop the shivering. She wanted her pink school bag to be back at home and not waiting at the front door. She wanted to pee. “Mama.”
“Not now, Emmaline.”
“I think she’s a little pet.” The young man who’d been lounging like a lazy cat on the window seat got to his feet and stretched. His feet were bare, his shirt unbuttoned and his eyes were bright blue like the sky in picture books.
“No one asked for your opinion,” said the father behind the desk.
“And yet, on occasion, I do have one.” He walked like a cat too, this young man, all slinky and fine and when he reached Emmeline he held out his hand. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s find you some food while your parents discuss business.”
Business? It wasn’t business they were talking about. But Emmaline took his hand.
They made it halfway along a wide hallway filled with paintings of angry old men on either side before he thought to speak again. “What’s your name, sweetling?”
“Lady Emmaline Charlotte Lewellyn Greyson the First,” she recited, just as she’d been taught. And then, because she wanted him to like her, she added, “Governess Judy says I’m a lot like a boy when you get to know me.”
“I don’t like dresses, I can find dirt anywhere and I’m far too fond of speaking my mind. For a girl.”
He had a nice laugh, and he swung their hands back and forth so that she had to skip a bit to keep up. “So what do you think of your father so far, Lady Emmaline Charlotte Stuart Greyson, the one and only?”
“He doesn’t like me.”
“Sweetling, I’m going to let you in on a little secret and I want you to remember it when the going gets tough. That man doesn’t like anyone.”
“He likes you.”
“I wish, but, no. He doesn’t. Even when I bend over backwards to make myself tolerable.”
“Are you sad because he doesn’t like you?”
“Sometimes I am, but you can’t teach a man with a heart of stone to care for others. It’s not in his nature. He is what he is.”
“What are hearts normally made of?” she wanted to know.
“All kind of interesting things. Hopes. Dreams. Feelings. Love.”
“What’s your heart made of?”
“Among other things, tolerance for the questions of skippy little girls who don’t like dresses. I like dresses. I look damn good in dresses. Do you like strawberries in your orange juice? I like strawberries in my orange juice. I’ll show you how to balance a strawberry on the rim of the glass, just so, and when you’re older you have to promise you’ll add champagne.”
Emmaline’s mother adored champagne. Emmaline was sure she would adore it too. “I promise.”
Slinky, smiley, toy-boy Jordan with the blue-blue eyes and the fondness for mimosas, unvarnished truths and skippy little girls, lasted less than three months as her father’s live-in lover.
Governess Judy didn’t last a week in the big grey house with all the stairs.
As for her mother…
Emmaline waited a whole year to see her mother again and on the day she turned eight she sat on the cold grey steps with Ellie in hand and her pink suitcase packed, hoping with all her heart that her mother would come to collect her.
But her mother never came.
This story takes place three or so years after Maggie’s Run and is set in the same small, multi-author created, country-town of Wirralong (and beyond). Lady Emmaline Lewellyn Greyson is a woman in need of friends and loving family and has returned to Wirralong (and Maggie’s warm welcome) several times during the past few years to visit. Emmaline doesn’t always fit in but she tries so hard and I love that about her. She babbles when stressed and is fond of grand plans, but she’s vulnerable too–maybe one of the most vulnerable I’ve written. Pair her with a taciturn outback cattleman with some outcast, social misfit qualities of his own and I was really thrilled with how well this story came together. Because Maggie’s Run with all its hype and award nominations and wins was definitely putting the pressure on!