A Wish For Adam Kincaid
All single mother Billie Temple wants is to trade her hectic Sydney lifestyle for simple country living and a place to call home.
All widowed cattleman Adam Kincaid wants is for Billie and her son to go away. They remind him far too much of the family he loved and failed to protect. He doesn’t deserve another chance at happiness.
Or does he?
The strength of this great little book was in the intriguing characters, the small-town setting, not to mention the brilliance of the author, Kelly Hunter, in getting it all across with gentle humor and a depth of understanding of what makes people tick. It’s a book you read (well, I read) with a smile on your (my) face the whole way through and like the very best of stories, the characters become people we know quite well so they linger on in the readers’ head and he or she keeps hoping their lives all turn out brilliantly. And from baking pies and fixing a windmill to a wriggly puppy peeing on a little boy’s foot, it’s the small details that bring a book to life and make it something special.
‘Are we lost?’ asked Cal.
‘No,’ said Billie Temple as she drove along the narrow dirt track, avoiding the potholes as best she could. ‘I’ve been lost before and it feels vastly different to this. We’re just temporarily sidetracked. Big difference. Huge. Trust me, I’m your mother.’
Cal favoured her with a long-suffering look. ‘The old guy back at the rental agency said we’d be there in ten minutes.’
‘Yeah…’ said Billie. ‘I’m thinking he lied.’
‘Or you’re not driving fast enough.’
‘We’ve been on the road for eight hours. We’re on a back track full of potholes. I’m driving fast enough.’
‘So where’s the house?’
‘It’s probably just around this bend.’
Billie cursed and hit the brakes a touch enthusiastically given the rough conditions, fishtailing to a halt an inch away from the nose of the biggest bull she’d ever seen.
The bull stared.
Billie stared back.
‘Should he be on the road?’ said Cal at last.
‘Hard to say.’ The big bull looked like he owned the road.
‘Maybe I could call him.’ Cal was halfway out the window. ‘You think he’s got a name?’
‘I think he has an attitude problem,’ she said, reaching over and tugging her son back inside the car by the seat of his bright orange board shorts. ‘We’ll go around him.’
The bull watched with complete indifference as she edged the car past him and then with a dismissive flick of his tail he continued on his way. Good to see that at least one of them knew where they were going.
Billie took a steadying breath and looked around at the rolling green hills generously peppered with grim grey rocks. Granite grazing country, this. About a thousand metres above sea-level. Mild summers. Bitter winters. She’d been warned.
There was a hill up ahead. A long, lazy incline topped by tall gums. Surely the house would be just over that crest? Had to be. The rental agent’s directions had been crystal clear and she’d followed them exactly. They weren’t lost.
The sun met her at the top of the hill, a dazzling ball of orange that seared through her sunglasses and made black dots dance before her eyes as the car shuddered and jolted over something hard and ribbed. A cattle grid, hopefully, as opposed to the bones of, say, a dead dinosaur. First cattle grid Billie had ever driven over.
‘Is this it?’ asked Cal, his voice sharp with excitement as Billie slowed the car to a crawl and blinked to clear her vision.
And blinked again.
Nestled into the side of the hill, a little way off the track, stood a neat weatherboard cottage with a tin roof and wraparound verandah. The surrounding grass had been recently clipped; the garden bed looked low on weeds. Only an old climbing rose had been allowed free rein – it ran up the side of the water tank and wove its way around the verandah in a lush display of yellow and green against silver roof and white walls.
Beyond the house lay a valley dotted with cows, and in the distance more hills, clear to the horizon. To a woman more used to traffic lights, city streets and the glint of light off skyscraper windows it looked like paradise.
Billie turned into the wheel ruts that led to the cottage, pulled up beside the front steps, and sat there staring. The spectacular view, the tidy old cottage, the isolation…
‘No neighbours,’ said Cal. ‘That’s different.’
‘Very.’ Particularly when home up until now had been a couple of rooms above a publican’s bar in central Sydney. ‘Plenty of room to play, though.’
‘Whatever it is that kids who don’t spend all of their spare time helping around a pub usually play.’ Cal wasn’t eleven; Billie was convinced of it. He was fifty. ‘Wonder what it’s like inside?’
She handed Cal the house keys and he was out of the car and racing towards the house in an instant; a skinny, tousle-haired boy with a big smile and eyes that reminded her of his father. A father who hadn’t lived to see his son born.
Old wounds, those, and only rarely did they ache. Today’s aches were all about trying to stretch eight hours of driving from tense muscles, but she stretched her arms high above her head and then behind her back before squaring her shoulders and heading for the house.
It was cool inside the cottage. The floorboards were bare, the ceilings high, and the walls freshly painted; the colour of choice being fencepost white. There were two bedrooms at the front of the house; two more rooms behind them. One of them was the kitchen. Tacked onto the kitchen, like an afterthought, stood an old cement bathroom.
Partly furnished, the old rental agent had said, and it was. There were two double beds, two wardrobes, a kitchen table, three red vinyl chairs, a vintage fridge, and a twin-tub washing machine. Charmingly retro, she decided, and wondered how long it would take for the charm of the ancient washing machine to wear thin.
Unpacking didn’t take them long. A bagful of clothes. A box full of groceries and assorted kitchen utensils. Bed linen and pillows. An old guitar and even older violin. A truckie was going to drop a few more things off in Inverglen the next time he rolled through.
‘So what do you think?’ she asked a short time later as she and Cal sat on the edge of the verandah and watched the play of colours across the sky as the sun slid towards the horizon.
Cal shrugged. ‘It’s different.’
‘Different can be good.’
Cal shrugged again, and Billie let him be. For now, it was enough that he was willing to give this place a chance.
This was what she’d dreamed of back in Sydney while sorting out some crisis in the Brasserie or clearing away the wreckage of a Saturday night. Somewhere far away from the whores and the pushers and the nightly wails of sirens. Somewhere peaceful and perfect and full of possibilities.
Somewhere just like this.
‘The real estate agent called this place Casey’s Promise,’ she told Cal idly.
‘Reckon that’s Casey, then?’
‘Him,’ said Cal pointing towards the sun.
Billie squinted, reached for the sunglasses perched on her head, and took another look. She could see him now, a man on a quad bike with a dog sitting on a narrow board at the back. A farmhand, she surmised as he drew closer. The battered cap, the equally shabby work boots and jeans—these things suggested employee, but the closer he got the less likely that seemed. There was something about him, a certain confidence about his approach that suggested authority.
He parked beside her car and took his sweet time getting off the quad. It seemed only polite that she take her own sweet time looking him over.
He was big and lean; the sun-browned muscles of his arms and the contours of his chest beneath his filthy grey T-shirt a testament to years of hard physical labour. His face was all angles and cheekbones, his lips firm and sculpted. The cap came off to reveal sharp green eyes and unruly black hair that spiked in places and clung damply to his head in others. The hair was boyishly endearing. The eyes were cool.
He was quite the combination.
He stopped a few feet away from the verandah, his cattle dog beside him, and Billie got to her feet, uncomfortably aware of his size, his strength, and the animosity in him.
‘I’m looking for Billy Temple,’ he said, his voice clipped and raspy, as if on the edge of temper.
‘You’ve found her,’ she said politely enough.
The startled expression on his face didn’t bode well. The scowl that followed had Cal coming to stand protectively beside her, a move that didn’t go unnoticed by the big man or his dog. The man eased back; the dog moved forward to sniff at Cal’s ankles, a combination of events that didn’t sit well with Billie until the dog’s tongue came out and his tail started wagging.
‘What’s his name?’ asked Cal, crouching and holding out his hand.
‘Blue,’ said the man curtly, scowling at both dog and boy.
‘And you would be?’ she asked, scowling at him.
‘Adam Kincaid.’ He returned his gaze to her and she could tell he wasn’t impressed. ‘I thought you’d be older. And no one said a word about the kid.’
The kid stood up, his eyes narrowed and assessing as he stepped closer to Billie. Hard to say if Cal did this for her protection or his but he did it and his eyes never left the big man’s face. Inner city bars bred wary, worldly kids. Billie didn’t know whether to be proud of that or not.
‘Kincaid of Kincaid Holdings, right?’ The name was written on the top of her rental lease. Billie offered up a tentative smile. It wasn’t returned. So much for the friendly country welcome. ‘Is there a problem, Mr Kincaid?’
‘You could say that,’ he said at last. ‘But it’s easily rectified.’
Rectified, thought Billie gloomily. Big word.
All she had to do was leave.
Even with Billie Temple looking down at him from the knee-high verandah, Adam could see that she was tiny. A hazel eyed Tinkerbell, with hair the colour of ripe winter wheat cropped city slick to frame her face. And it was some face. The kind you saw on magazine covers. The kind that made people stare when they saw it for real.
Adam dragged his gaze away from those eyes and that face and studied the rest of her. She might have been small but she had some sweet curves, perfectly showcased by her snug T-shirt and low-slung jeans.
He could picture her with wings.
He could picture her naked beneath him.
But he couldn’t, by any stretch of his imagination, picture her running the local pub.
What the devil had Roly been thinking?
More to the point, why the hell had Arthur, the town’s only real estate agent, sent her out here?
‘I usually only rent this place out to men,’ he said, with a calmness he was far from feeling. ‘Farmhands. No women and no kids. For Roly’s new publican I made an exception. I thought you’d be older. He never said a word about you being twelve.’
‘I’m not twelve,’ she told him coolly, and with a glance in the boy’s direction, ‘If you need a point of reference, he’s twelve.’
The boy cut her a questioning glance.
‘Almost,’ she said with the hint of a smile.
Mother or sister to the boy? Adam couldn’t decide. If mother, she’d been hellishly young when she had him. That or she didn’t do ageing the same way the rest of the population did it.
‘Roly also gave me to believe you were born and raised country,’ he said grimly. ‘Was that bull too?’
Billie Temple finally had the grace to look disconcerted. ‘He said that?’
Which was answer in itself. ‘Know anything about generators? Water pumps? Tanks? Stock?’
‘I know I can learn.’
I self-published this story in late 2011. In 2012, Penguin Australia picked it up as a launch title for their Destiny Romance imprint. The story (then called Wish) went all sorts of scrumptious places, including Australia Post Offices, Jetstar iPads and eBook platforms everywhere. The good folk at Destiny Romance have been (and continue to be) fabulous to work with, but the rights to the story have now reverted back to me.
This one’s set in a small, semi-fictional country town in Northern Tablelands, NSW, Australia – a region I called home for over ten years, while raising my family. It’s not my childhood home, but it’s the closest thing my children have to one, given our somewhat nomadic lifestyle. Blue skies and wide open spaces, chill winds, fireplaces, good friends and a strong sense of community make for some very fine memories.
Penguin (now out of print) editions.
Wish (Large print edition)
Read How You Want edition