Women’s Fiction / Romance
Date Published: 12/30/2013
A beautiful Australian para-equestrian, Eleanor, is rudely awakened the morning after her twentieth birthday to face two pressing problems: the first, though she refuses to accept it, is that she’s been told by many acquaintances and relations that she’ll never find true love, and the second being, though she doesn’t know it yet, that she can’t even get up the steps to visit the blasted night-club with her mates! What no one knows is that one random act of chivalry, at the hands of a handsome American naval flight officer, is about to turn her world upside down. The heartfelt and sometimes harrowing journey that follows is as humorous as it is inspirational.
A Canter of the Heart is the romance of a new millennium, a story that you’ve never heard before, and one that should take its place amongst the iconic romances of our time. But most importantly, it is a romance that will speak, most unapologetically, to your heart. A Canter of the Heart is the first book in ‘The Equestrian and the Aviator’ trilogy that sets our intrepid heroine on the journey of a lifetime. The first thing that you will no doubt discover is that Eleanor, fickle girl that she is, has already found the love of her life – her inspiring love of horses.
This trilogy is based on a true story, and is a testament to the therapeutic riding programs offered by the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. It is dedicated to the many remarkable, selfless people who made and continue to make those programs possible.
The bedroom was freezing, I realized, shivering in brief spasms while pulling the covers higher up under my chin. It wasn’t bad enough waking up with this nasty belly wog, I had to be born at the start of winter too? I loved Carol and Annette, but why on earth did they have to buy me that horrible blue drink? Still, you only turn twenty once, and that was the first and the last time I’d have turps like that.
I didn’t know if it was worse to lie here or to try to get out of bed. The guinea fowl were chattering and making such a racket that it was impossible to sleep anyway, but I did my best to ignore them as I laid in bed a little longer, pinching my eyes shut in an attempt to squeeze out an errant ray of morning sun as it snuck through the gap in my bedroom curtains. I only wished I could’ve squeezed out this niggling headache as well.
“Oh, sod it!” I thought. “The sun’s up, I might as well be too.”
Haltingly, I tried to sit up, only to pause while allowing my stomach to settle before laying back down and pulling the covers up to my cheeks. On the third attempt I managed it, accepting that my stomach ache would persist, no matter what I did, so I resolved myself to greet the day. Sliding my legs out from under the covers and off the side of the bed, I positioned my Quickie wheelchair and lifted myself across, pulling my feet up onto the footrests before heading off down the hallway to the kitchen.
Mum, who’d just returned from milking at the Roberts’ dairy, was adding some jarrah to the cooking stove’s fire-box, getting ready to make breakfast and heat up the water for the house. It was warmer in the kitchen, and a nice hot bath would be brilliant later. Dad was sitting at the dining room table reading his paper.
“Morning Mum,” I barely whispered.
“Morning Mouse, care for an egg?” Mum replied brightly, looking askance from the stove. “Feeling crook?”
“I think I’ll survive,” I replied too soon, squinting as a wave of throbbing pain returned to my temples. I raised my hand, as if asking permission for the room to stop spinning, then added while waving it back and forth for emphasis, “No eggs, thanks, Mum,” then continued toward the dining room as something caught my eye. “There’s a scorpion next to your foot, Mum,” I warned as I rounded the kitchen table.
Mum crushed it with her slipper, reached down and flung it into the fire.
“Blasted things are coming in off the woodpile again.”
“Sorry Mum, next time I’ll run him over for you.”
I proceeded into the dining room, taking my place next to Dad.
“Morning Dad, how’s your foot?” I said in as loud a voice as I could muster, which wasn’t much on this particular morning.
“Bloomin’ gout’s agony, but it won’ get tha better o’ me, nowt as long as I’ve somethin’ to say about it. ‘Ow about you then, ‘ave a right good time at the pub did ya? Givin’ the blokes a bit o’ trouble?” he replied in his usual gregarious manner followed by a hearty chuckle.
Unlike Mum and myself, Dad spoke with a pronounced Devonshire accent, moderated only slightly by his years at boarding school in Brighton. Living amongst the farming communities of southwest England before moving to Australia accounted as much for his skills as a farmer as for his accent. My own accent was a mixture of what some would call ‘posh’ or ‘proper’ English as learnt from Mum and Gran mingled with Australian as taught at private school and a smidgen of Yank thrown in from the American romance novels that were my mainstay – much to my family’s chagrin. Next to my Aussie mates, I didn’t have much of an Australian accent. Anyway, I loved talking with Dad as, no matter what state he was in, and he’d been through a lot between his gout and his heart condition, he never failed to make me feel better.
I smiled, “No Dad, it was a girls’ night out at the Lord Forest. We’re supposed to go out again tonight to a dance exhibition. It’s something called the Lambada that Carol wants to see and it’s meant to be quite the event.”
We almost never went out to pubs, let alone a posh place like the Lord Forest, but Carol simply had to see this dance exhibition and I’d already told her I’d go, but now I wasn’t quite sure that I’d be up for it.
Mum took her seat next to Dad. “I brought back some fresh cream for your cereal.”
“Thanks Mum, that sounds great.”
“Thanks love,” Dad replied, removing a portion of Weet-Bix from the box and crushing it into his bowl.
Dad may not have been the tallest of blokes, but he was stout with the massive hands of a farmer and anyone would think twice before crossing him. There had been a bloke who’d threatened him with a shotgun once but Dad simply yanked the shotgun out of his hands, punched him in the nose and that was that.
“Looks like another beautiful day, Dad, but I could see my breath in bed this morning.”
“Aye that’d be about right, nearly a record aye ‘ear, and nowt for rain in the forecast. Aye ‘ope we can make it through another year o’ drought with the bore, if the ‘ouse well dries up… Might ‘ave ta put in a rainwater tank. Rainwater’s good for laundry ‘n’ cleanin’, but nowt much for drinkin’, there’s nothin’ like a good well for drinkin’, but water off a bloomin’ dirty roof? Aye don’t care for it m’self. Got the bloomin’ birds dirt, mice, possums and tha like, it’s no good for drinkin’. Should boil it, aye’d say. Other’s may no’ mind, but I don’t fancy it a’ tall. Aye’d rather drink the ruddy bore water than that, it might ‘ave a bit o’ iron an’ a few ruddy stains, but it’s a good bore, never run out and likely never will.”
“I’m sure we’ll get rain soon, Dad, the drought can’t go on forever.”
“Aye ‘ope your right, the paddocks need a good soak too, even the jarrah’s dyin’ off an’ those trees ‘ave been round near a thousan’ years.”
“You up for a potter about on Snowy after brekkie?” Mum asked me with a wry smile.
“Of course Mum, whenever you like.” I’d have to be bedridden before I’d pass up a ride, and even then I’d probably find a way.
Mum smiled as she cut off the top of her soft-boiled egg.
I finished breakfast, changed into my riding clothes and headed down to the tack-shed. Mum had already brushed and tacked Snowy and was cinching down her girth when I stopped to make a fuss over Snowy, giving her a pat and a hug. “Can I pick her hooves, Mum?”
“It’s done, are you ready?”
“Yes, Mum.” I backed up to make room before Mum bent down and lifted me up to the saddle. I scooted back onto the saddle, lifting myself with my arms then lifted my leg over Snowy’s withers and repositioned myself properly before taking the reins. “Thanks Mum.” I smiled as I rubbed and patted Snowy.
“Have a good ride, Mouse,” Mum said before turning to go about her work. With Dad’s gout, Mum had twice the work to do round the farm, but had been helping me ride since I was four and knew how important it was. My physio would always marvel at how strong and well developed my muscles were, right down to my toes. Most folks in my position were a mess of atrophied muscles and a never-ending variety of ailments that came from an absence of good exercise, but not me – thanks to Mum and Snowy.
It turned out to be a lovely day despite the belly wog, which was my only real complaint. Having a potter about the farm always brightened my day. It gave me a feeling of freedom that was far more than simply being out of the wheelchair. I couldn’t fully explain it, except to say that somehow Snowy and I had become best mates. A friend had once remarked that it was like her horse had become her legs and followed her subconscious thoughts, but for me, I felt a connection with Snowy that made me a part of her world, and her part of mine. As we meandered about the paddocks, I felt such an incredible sense of inner peace and tranquillity that I couldn’t help but smile. I was truly free.
There were, unfortunately, our share of disagreements as Snowy could be headstrong and had a bit of a temper that could leave me sprawled in the middle of a dusty paddock, but she was a good horse regardless. And when Snowy did manage to tip me off, Mum would simply pick me up off the ground, throw me back on the saddle and smack the rotten animal for being a pain, though Snowy never seemed to take much notice. Of course it could take Mum a while to realize I was on the ground, but that gave me time to collect my thoughts and get over the fall. At least Snowy was only fourteen hands – only a pony really – so the tumble was never too bad, and as long as there wasn’t a dugite slithering by, I was happy enough to wait. Snowy was pretty handy at stomping snakes anyway, as long as she was in the mood to oblige.
The rest of the day was pretty much a dead loss. I had some lessons to work on, but couldn’t concentrate with my head and stomach in such a state. I even skipped lunch, which was usually a really bad idea, but I had a Flake bar to tide me over.
Mum was preparing a guinea fowl for dinner – serves him right, I thought, for carrying on this morning. Maybe I’d be able to sleep in tomorrow. Even though it wasn’t this morning’s noisy guinea fowl that we’d be dining on, I thought it a good joke all the same.
“Guess I’d better figure out what to wear tonight,” I thought as I entered my bedroom. There in the middle of my bed, where I’d forgotten to pull the sheets back up, were Toby and Sooty curled up together fast asleep. “You’re getting hair all over my sheets you rotten things,” I scolded them, but as I was about to turf them off my bed, I thought better of it.
Toby, our Jack Russell terrier, was the main reason my friends hated to come out to our farm – he was very protective and a bit of a menace. He would snap at any stranger that came up the road to the house, and most people wouldn’t even get out of their cars. At our previous farm, Toby and Ruff bailed up a solicitor in the dunny for several hours before Mum got back from work and rescued him. Sooty was our dwarf black cat that Mum picked up at work one day as a tiny kitten. At first Toby didn’t know what to make of her, but finally took a fancy to her and even helped raise her, letting her nurse on the tips of his ears when she missed her mum. She also loved curling up inside my jumper on my lap and would spend hours purring away there. Anyway, Toby and Sooty were so cute curled up together that I had to let them have their cuddle and snapped a picture of them instead. It was my fault for not making my bed this morning, and now I could use the photo for art. What’s a little hair between bed-mates anyway?
Now, back to the real problem – what was I going to wear tonight? It was going to be right cold, so I’d better rug up. Maybe my best pair of jeans and my pink floral knit jumper over my embroidered blue denim shirt – that’d keep me warm enough and still look tidy.
If only my stomach could get over itself.
Being the furthest one out of town, I usually did the driving – which worked out well as I usually didn’t drink, and after last night, had no intention of ever drinking again. When we pulled up to the Lord Forest, it looked like the whole town of Bunbury had come out to see the exhibition. It was as well I’d left plenty early, having no idea how long I’d have to wait for Carol and Annette, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gotten in at all. Better luck than judgement I always say.
“Crikey, what a mob,” Carol exclaimed, “Ian said a few of ‘is mates were comin’, but I ‘ad no idea it’d be like this.”
“Those must be the dancers,” Annette said, pointing to a small group of women in tight-fitting but very colourful and very short dresses, who were in more than a hurry to get inside. “Bit draughty for that sort of thing this time of year,” she added, smiling.
I was very glad I’d worn the jumper as simply looking at the skimpily-dressed dancers gave me the shivers.
“All right girls, we’ll ‘ave to park out a bit and walk back. Chuck a leftie on Victoria and ‘ead up toward the light ‘ouse. We’ll find a spot up there.”
Carol was a chef at the Rose Hotel on Victoria Street and knew her way round Bunbury much better than I did. I came into town once or twice a week to help Mum with shopping, posting letters or to catch up with Carol and Annette over a bite or a visit to salon. Between riding, art and school, I spent most of my time round the farm or a short distance up the road at the Riding for the Disabled Association. The RDA was a volunteer organization that offered therapeutic horse riding to those who could benefit from it, and were helping me improve my English dressage skills for some upcoming competitions.
“There’s a spot.” Annette pointed to a vacant curbside parking place. That figured; I hated parallel parking, and it was always iffy getting out with traffic dodging round you. Still, it was better than squeezing out with a car parked right next to you. Oh well, we always managed.
It only took me four attempts to get close enough to the curb to call it good, and no one ran me over. “Touch wood,” I thought, tapping myself on the head.
The walk was refreshing, and helped calm my stomach. The guinea fowl had made for a beautiful tea, but nothing seemed to settle well today. Maybe he was getting me back for my little joke.
The Lord Forest had an impressive grand atrium with interior balconies and hanging vines to seven stories above the lobby. It left a large reception area for events, plus an open restaurant in the centre and a more isolated bar. The dance exhibition was set right in the centre of the atrium between the pub and the restaurant, so you could see the demonstration no matter where you were. Annette had worked as a receptionist for the hotel and arranged a great table in the pub where we could see the dancers and still have a drink. The service was slow, but that was fine as we were in no particular hurry – it was simply nice to be out and to see so many people having a good time.
“Evening girls, me name’s Gabe and I’ll be servin’ ye tonight. Our drink special is Alexander’s own Blue Lagoon, with vodka, Blue Curaçao, and lemon squash. We also ‘ave a wide array of beers and wines and inside our drink list is our lite bites menu…”
“Let’s all ‘ave a Blue Lagoon,” Carol jumped in to get things moving. She was always very organizing, which was undoubtedly the reasons she was such a great chef.
“That looks good to me,” Annette added, staring at a bloke at an adjacent table.
“I’ll have a cola, thanks.” I knew I was going to get a prodding from Carol, but there was no way I could face any more alcohol, let alone anything blue! And sure enough, here it came…
“Aww, come on luv, it’ll make ya feel better. I recall you were in a party mood last night.”
“Sorry Carol, my stomach’s been off all day, and I need to drive us home as well,” I replied, trying not to whinge.
“We won’t be drivin’ ‘ome for hours, luv,” Carol said, then no doubt sensed my resolve. “Well, all right then, two Blue Lagoons and one lolly water for our little wowser.”
Gabe smiled. “Thank ye, laadies, it’ll be a few minutes, the barman’s flat out.” He gave a bit of a wink then added, “Keep your receipt, and you can get free admission at the West End night club, I’ll be workin’ there later.”
It was a good thirty minutes before Gabe was back with our order. Simply seeing those blue drinks made me feel queer, so I tried to keep my focus on the dance exhibition as I sipped my soda. The dance was right tawdry and a bit over the top, which may have accounted for the large turn-out.
“What do ya think of the Lambada?” Carol asked. “The song made it to number one on the wireless ratings this year,” she added.
“I see why they call it the forbidden dance. It’s a great one for an exhibitionist. I only wish the men wore less,” I said with a strong emphasis on men, and smiled as innocent a smile as I could muster.
“You’re so, so bad,” Carol chastised, sniggering with Annette.
“I love the sexy rhythm,” Annette added. “A lot of the dance comes from the Carimbo, which is also known as the forbidden dance, but the cadence is different and look how they tease each other with the rhythm. Talk about erotic! That’d get my heart pumping! Mmm… it’s so sensual, so colourful, what an amazing dance. I love it.”
Annette was an artist, and endeavoured to see things from a deeper perspective.
“I think I can see why it was forbidden,” I remarked. “Still, it looks like it would be a lot of fun.”
We all laughed.
“Hey, I heard The Lambada was still showing in Perth – should we drive up and see it?” Annette asked.
“I heard it got horrid reviews – which is great, as I always hate films that get good reviews. That sort always puts me to sleep,” I mused.
“Yeah, that’d be spot on,” Carol agreed. “Sounds like a ripper – ‘ow about next week?
I smiled. I always enjoyed spending time with Carol and Annette; they were the best mates anyone could ask for.
People were starting to leave, so we finished our drinks and payed up, keeping our receipt, as Gabe suggested. We decided to go for a walk, and maybe check out the night club. It was still early, and we were nowhere near ready to go home yet. Leaving the bar, we casually strolled through the lobby.
“Lots of spunk blokes about, don’t you think?” Annette said. “No doubt on their way to that night club.”
Heading out onto the sidewalk, the air was brisk and refreshing, and there were lots of smartly-dressed people walking about, holding hands, without a care in the world. So romantic. I was daydreaming, picturing what it would be like, when we reached the entrance to the night club.
“There must be a dozen steps up to that place,” I said incredulously, “I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”
“Yeah, no dramas luv. There are lots of pubs round ‘ere where we can ‘ave a fine time, and they don’t ‘ave any stairs. Anyway, looks like they’ve done a bodge job of it an’ probably ‘ave sod-all for decent music,” Carol added, making light of it.
As we were standing there deciding where to go, a tall bloke with dark hair came down the stairs and was about to head down the street when his eyes caught mine. He stopped, taking a brief look at my Quickie, then he turned towards me with a handsome smile.
“Evening ladies, are you in need of some… assistance?”
We all looked at the bloke. He was fit, a little thin but spunk, wearing jeans and a jumper, but he had an air about him that I couldn’t explain. And, oh yes, he was obviously a Yank. Carol, Annette and I looked at each other, exchanging a silent shrug of approval ratified with a smile.
“Thanks mate, why not. She’ll be apples. I’ll take the ‘andles, and you lift down there,” Carol quickly organized.
“You need to hold onto the frame here.” I took his hand and moved it to the solid aluminium frame, partly for self-preservation, but primarily out of a prurient interest in the gentleman. “Don’t hold onto the footrests, they come off,” I added.
He looked into my eyes, smiled and said, “Thank you, I love your sweater, and please, call me David.”
I felt a twinge in my stomach, like butterflies, only much more squidgy and pleasant, and felt a warm flush from my toes up to my cheeks. I was relieved at the onset of twilight, as I hoped he wouldn’t see me blush.
“Are you ready mate?” Carol asked.
“No problem here… On the count of three then, one, two, three!” He started up the stairs, his expression becoming more serious as he concentrated on the task at hand, which I thought was cute.
“Much easier than it looked,” he added. “No problem at all.” David smiled again and gave me a wink.
“There you go luv, no worries,” Carol said as we reached the top.
“I’m on my way out, but perhaps I’ll be back later in case you ladies need help back down,” he remarked as he made his exit, smiling at each of us on his way out.
“Thanks mate, see ya round,” Carol replied. Then she said in a quieter voice to us, “He seemed in a bit of an ‘urry, I ‘ope he wasn’t a ruddy spruiker. Shall we get a table?”
The night club was not very busy, which made it easy to find a table, and we also didn’t have to worry about the cover charge as the DJ hadn’t started yet. We sat down at a table facing the DJ and the dance floor and ordered a round of drinks. I had another coke, which was starting to settle my stomach a bit.
“He seemed a nice enough bloke. What did you make of him?” Annette enquired as she surveyed the room.
“Yeah, nice enough for a Yank, but he was in a bit of an ‘urry – didn’t even give us ‘is name.” Carol bit her lip in thought. “Come to think of it, we didn’t tell ‘im ours either.”
“His name was David,” I said. “But you’re right and I didn’t tell him mine either. I wonder if he’ll be back like he said.”
“I don’t think I’d count on it, sweetie,” Annette shrugged. “You simply can’t trust a Yank, but there are plenty of spunk blokes around this place.” She winked.
Once again, I was very thankful to have Carol and Annette as best friends. Over the years, I’d been told so many times by so many schoolmates, rellies and all and sundry odd-bods – who couldn’t manage to keep their mouths shut – not to expect romance in my life. I should be content to grow old as a spinster with caring parents, but otherwise be alone with my animals and my art, and should somehow be thankful for that. I attribute my addiction to romance novels to such unsolicited advice. I always read them overtly to dissuade future busy bodies who might feel so inclined to dish out such wisdom. Carol and Annette, on the other hand, were good mates and dreamers like myself. They believed I could do anything I set my mind to, and whenever I was with them, I felt I could.
“I don’ know, luv… If I didn’t know better, I’d say ‘e ‘ad a thing for ya, an’ ‘e’ll be back if ‘e did.”
I smiled – even if it wasn’t true. Carol always made me feel better.
“You should’ve seen Toby this morning, cuddled up with Sooty, right on my sheets in the middle of the bed. It was my fault for being slack and not making up my bed, but they were the cutest little things.”
“Toby? That naughty little blighter?” Annette recalled Toby like a bad dream. “Every time I think of going to your farm, I only have to think about Toby attacking my car or trying to bite me and I change my mind. He’s only a little dog, but he’s a devil… Thinking of him cuddled up with tiny little Sooty is really precious, and such a paradox that it’s comical.”
“Yeah, I love dogs, but that Toby, ‘e’s a menace every time you ‘ave me over,” Carol agreed. “But that’d make a cute photo.”
“I took their picture. I was going to make a charcoal sketch of them for art. I’ll show you when I’m done, I think it’ll be really sweet.”
The night club was starting to get busy and the DJ began his show, which made it more of a challenge to carry on a conversation.
“Hello ladies, how’s your evening?” We all looked up, but no one said a word. It was the bloke who’d helped me up the stairs. He smiled and then continued, practically yelling over the music. “Please excuse my manners, I forgot to introduce myself properly earlier. I’m David. Do you mind if I join you?”
We looked at each other as before, but this time I smiled my approval first.
As usual, Carol was the first to answer. “Of course mate, love to, but we’re short a seat.” Not thinking I gave her a sharp look, then quickly caught myself and smiled. Hopefully he didn’t catch that.
He smiled. “Not a problem,” he said, then disappeared into the crowd.
I gave Carol another sharp look.
“Can’t make it easy for the bloke, luv. If ‘e’s worth anything, ‘e’ll be back,” Carol explained, in response to my stare.
Before I could say much, David was back with a chair and a beer, and again nearly yelling over the music. “Borrowed it from that 240-pound rugby player a few tables over. He’s on his way to the bathroom anyway so he won’t be needing it for a while!” Setting the beer down, he added, “Borrowed his beer while I was at it, cheers!” He smiled and gave me a wink.
We all laughed.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t recall your names.”
We’d neglected to introduce ourselves before.
“How ya goin’ David, I’m Carol and these are me mates Eleana, and Annette.”
David leaned closer to hear better over the music, and then moved his chair opposite Carol’s. He extended his hand to each of us, repeating our names as he shook our hands. “Nice to meet you, Carol… Annette, enchanté… and Eleanor, a pleasure.” He smiled, looking directly into my eyes with a handsome smile, but dropping his gaze slightly as if a little shy, though he really didn’t seem at all shy. I felt my face flush again, and felt tingly all over as if my heart skipped a beat. Before letting go of my hand, he again caught my eyes with his and smiled.
I’d never been prone to such feelings, though I read about them in my romance novels and thought they were absolute rubbish. I half wondered if I was coming down with something or maybe it was from that horrid blue drink. It wasn’t like he was a cover model off one of my books, but I thought him handsome enough. And there was something about him that bothered me, but in a pleasant way.
He sat down across from Carol, but facing the DJ. “So Carol, you seem to be the leader of this mob, what’s your claim to fame round these parts?”
“I’m not much on talking ‘bout m’self really.”
“Carol’s our lead mare all right! When it comes to getting things done, she’ll make them happen, but she can be a little shy. Carol’s a head chef at the Rose Hotel, only a few blocks from here. You should try it, the food’s lovely, but make sure you go when Carol’s cooking,” Annette smiled.
“Yeah, don’t listen to Annette, the food’s always great at the Rose, but if you let me know, we can do ya somethin’ special when ya visit.”
“Really? I’ll have to give that a try. I had the dinner buffet at the Lord Forest this evening. I was lucky to get in before the crowd swelled. Not bad food, but what were those tiny lobsters called – I’ve never seen them before.”
“We call ’em Joogies, yabbies or some blokes call ’em mud-bugs. They live in fresh water estuaries, streams and such. So ya liked ’em, did ya?” Carol asked
“They were great, everything else was good, but they were the highlight.”
“So where abouts are you from? You’re a Yank, aren’t you?” Annette asked
“Yes, that’s right, I’m from San Diego, California. At least I’m stationed there, I’m actually on shore leave off of the USS Carl Vinson. It’s anchored off the coast of Fremantle. We’re finishing up our West-Pac deployment, then we’ll be headed back to San Diego.”
“So you’re a sailor, are you?” Annette asked
“Sort of, I’m a naval flight officer. I’m part of Carrier Air Wing Fifteen deployed aboard the Vinson. I fly as a tactical commander on the S-3A Viking. How about you, Annette, tell me about your career?”
“I’m an artist and a psychic. I have some works in some local galleries; some oils, watercolours and a few sculptures. I’ll be opening my own gallery in Bunbury very…”
Abruptly, and with his big friendly smile, Gabe appeared at our table. “Glad to see ya ladies took my advice, I ‘ope yer ‘avin a good time. Can I get ya anything? Another round maybe?”
“What do ya think laadies, one more wouldn’t ‘urt, and ‘ow about you, David? Can we get ya another beer?” Carol looked round the table for approval.
“Thanks Carol, that’d be great,” David answered, then turned around slipping Gabe some money and saying something that we couldn’t hear as he pointed at the large bloke standing three tables over. Gabe nodded, then turned back to Carol.
“Great laadies, one more round for the table and a beer for the gentleman.”
“That’s brilliant, Gabe,” Carol answered, then turned to us, announcing expectantly, as if asking a question, “Excuse me laadies, but I need to visit the loo…”
“Yes, I could do with a freshen up,” Annette said immediately as she stood up too.
I smiled at Carol, saying in as ladylike a manner as I could manage while still being heard over the din, “I’m fine, thanks.”
Carol and Annette both gave me a look then, with an imperceptible shrug, went without me. David smiled at me for a moment as Carol and Annette disappeared into the crowd, then moved around the table taking Annette’s chair.
“I was hoping for this opportunity… I like your friends, they’re very nice, but I really wanted to talk to you. There’s something about you that I can’t quite explain and find very… Sorry, sometimes I tend to say more than I should. I am, however, very interested in hearing about your life here. What’s it like to live in Australia? Maybe you could tell me, what should I see while I’m here? I don’t know if you could hear what I said to Carol and Annette, but I’m on shore leave, and need to be back aboard my ship by Sunday evening, so I’m trying to see what I can of Australia in the short time that I have left. I’m sorry, I seem to be doing all the talking. Would you like to tell me a little about yourself?”
I thought about it for a moment, about what I should say, then I had a better idea but I wasn’t going to tell him right away.
“I was born here in Bunbury,” I started, “and I grew up round Boyanup on my parents’ farm.”
“How far is Boyanup from here?”
“About twenty, twenty-five kilometres, roughly a thirty-minute drive from here. The farm isn’t huge, it’s not a large station – some of those are thousands of hectares or more, as large as a small country – but ours is over forty hectares of nice land with a good bore. Not enough to irrigate, but enough water for stock. Mum and Dad keep cattle and sheep for the most part.”
“What’s it like, living on a farm?” David bellowed over the music.
“It’s great. I ride my horse Snowy most days – she’s a quarter horse and a little over fourteen hands. I usually see roos grazing on the paddocks, especially on longer rides. We have chickens, ducks, peacocks and guinea fowl, and Mum has her budgies and a peahen in the aviary. The guinea fowl usually wake me up in the morning – they do carry on a bit – but they’re good to eat. Dad calls them the poor man’s pheasant, but they have a lot more meat on them than a pheasant. And then there’s Ruff and Toby, which are Mum and Dad’s dogs, and Sooty, our dwarf black house cat. Scamp is my little dog that I raised from a tiny pup. Mum has a garden with passion fruit, oranges, lemons, herbs, beets, marrow, garlic and all manner of veggies. We even have a macadamia nut tree. Everything’s fresh, fresh eggs. There’s nothing like fresh cream for cereal, good beef, mutton and poultry.”
“That sounds really great! Before we pulled into Australia, we had pretty much run out of anything that was fresh aboard our ship. Even our milk was this nasty-tasting UHT that’s supposed to have a shelf life of more than six months and doesn’t ever need to be refrigerated. We were pretty much out of any fresh vegetables, and I don’t think I would remember what a fresh egg should taste like. I think they were using powdered eggs when we pulled into Fremantle. We’d been in the Persian Gulf for quite some time – they actually let us pull out of the Gulf a little early to come here, which was great. So what are your parents…”
“Gone for a minute and the bloke takes my seat too? You know you simply can’t trust a Yank,” Annette teased with a smile. “I only hope I don’t have a footy fight over this one. Then again, that could be fun.”
“So what are you two getting up to over there? Having a bit of private time are we?” Carol chided.
Having been leaning over to hear me better, David sat up and turned toward Carol and Annette. “That’s a fantastic idea! Why didn’t I think of that myself?” Turning back towards me, he asked, “Why don’t we have a stroll outside and get some fresh air. It would be easier than trying to yell over the DJ.”
I smiled my approval – it was getting a little close with people packed everywhere, and I couldn’t hear for toffee. “Yes, I’d like that,” I added but was hopelessly drowned out by the clamour.
He turned back to Carol and Annette, who looked a touch puzzled.
“Thank you ladies, I believe we’ll have a stroll around Bunbury, but if we’re not back within the hour, feel free to send search and rescue.”
He quickly moved Annette’s chair to make an aisle then helped clear a pathway through the crowd as I followed.
As I looked back, Carol and Annette both appeared slightly perplexed, but neither was about to stop me.
As we reached the stairs, he asked, “How would you like me to do this?”
“Make sure you hold on tight to the handles, tilt me back, and go down forward, one step at a time. She’ll be right… I hope. Take it slow, and I’ll help with the wheels,” I said, placing my hands over the handrims to help us roll over the steps.
He looked at the stairs and then looked at me and said, “As you wish,” briefly shaking his head, but then gave me a reassuring, confident and quite handsome smile.
In no time, we were halfway down the stairs and, without another thought, we were on our way down the sidewalk.
“I can take it from here,” I said, so he walked beside me as I led us through Bunbury.
“It’s a beautiful night for a stroll, the stars are brilliant. Are you warm enough?” he asked.
“Yes, the exercise is helping. You should see the stars from our farm. It’s miles away from any lights to speak of and so they’re breath-taking, like a brilliant blanket of tiny lights covering the entire sky.”
“I know what you mean. Sometimes I’ll go up on the flight deck at night, after flight ops, and it’s hard to believe how many stars you can see out in the middle of the ocean. The sky’s almost white you can see so many.”
I stopped for a moment to look up at the stars. As he started to point out a constellation, he looked down and realized that I was staring at him. It was too dark to matter, but I could feel my whole face blush as he bent toward me, placing his hand behind my neck. Instinctively I tilted my head back as his face moved closer, his eyes reading mine, his lips open slightly as he kissed me gently at first, then more adventurously as we closed our eyes. My face was on fire with new sensations. I felt my heart pounding through my entire body. My leg jumped as his hand brushed my thigh, nearly burning everywhere he touched, as it moved up my thigh, then around to the small of my back, which I arched as he rubbed it with his strong fingers. My whole body ached for more as he slowly kissed me harder, as his tongue caressed first my lips, and harder still as our tongues danced experimentally together. I hoped it would never end as I lost myself in this timeless place that I’d only known from the shadow worlds of my dreams, but never truly understood until now. Time itself had vanished until we stopped for a breath, and though I felt thoroughly elated, I felt selfishly betrayed. Why did it have to end?
David stood up taking a deep breath, then bent down so that we were again face to face, brushed the hair out of my eyes, cleared his throat and said, “Shall we continue our stroll?”
I smiled, leaned forward then said, a touch sheepishly, “Of course… but… could I have another kiss first?”
David smiled that roguishly handsome smile before kissing my grateful open mouth. I ached with anticipation and desire as his free hand surreptitiously brushed up my right thigh, finding its way under my floral sweater and made itself at home massaging my side and ample bosom. I was on fire, and pleasantly out of control, breathing in short gasps between wild passionate kissing that I prayed would never end. It was clear to me now that he was the one: when breathing takes a distant second to unbridled passion, the answer becomes obvious. He was the one, straight out of my dreams. He was the one. I had no idea how much time had passed, and really didn’t care. Truthfully it wouldn’t have mattered to me if the streets were full of people and we were blocking everyone’s way. I had found the one man I was told didn’t exist, and I wasn’t about to let him go. At least not yet.
We did eventually finish our tour of Bunbury, chatting away, discussing all manner of things as if we had known each other for years and, of course, we stopped for the occasional warm-up along the way. When we did get back, Carol and Annette were already on their way out of the night club, looking a trifle concerned about our absence.
David put on a serious look. “Have we used up our hour already?” He looked pathetically contrite, staring at his watch, shaking it by his ear, knowing full well that we had been gone for nearly three hours.
“Exactly what sort of trouble have you two been getting into?” Annette interrogated with mock frustration.
“I don’t suppose that you’ve heard of the Aviator’s creed?”
“The Aviator’s creed?” Annette elected to play along.
“Yes, the Aviator’s creed is that it’s always better to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission,” he punctuated with a wink.
“So are we still on for tomorrow?” David said, turning back to me. “Or should I say, later this morning, at your parent’s farm.”
I smiled blissfully. “Of course, don’t be late, it’ll be fun.”
David bent down and kissed me for a good minute followed by a lovely, heart-warming hug while Carol and Annette exchanged glances and tried to stay warm in the frigid night air. I, on the other hand, felt toasty warm and wide awake for the drive home.
“Good morning ladies,” David said to Carol and Annette, “it’s been great meeting you both, and next time I’m in town it’ll be my shout.”
He turned around and walked off into the darkness.
“This is gonna take a bit of explainin’, young lady,” Carol jested as we returned to the car.
We chatted and laughed until our sides hurt most of the way home.
I’ve been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for the better part of two decades, and blithely accept life in the shadows of the nesting grounds of bald eagles while ensconced amidst the company of wild, damp and understandably nervous bunnies. I prefer to write at the dining room table, where the light is better and I can work next to Simon, the sweetest one hundred and twenty pound Rottweiler that you’re ever likely to meet — except when he’s in the mood to editorialize, which he is only on rare occasions. I much prefer to write love stories that take place in warm, sunny and exotic locales as I admire and rate the latest downpour direct from the Pacific Northwest’s over-active convergence zone, but in my heart I will forever be drawn back to the lucky country… Australia… and maybe one more lovely canter along an endless beach.
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