His Outback Nanny (Prickle Creek)

By: Annie Seaton
To my wonderful husband, who understands me so well and unerringly supports my need to write.





Prologue


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 evening dress whispering against her bare legs. The fashion parade was at the Sydney Opera House, and everyone was on their best behavior. This was her chance to get to New York. She’d heard there was a talent scout from the Eileen Ford agency in the crowd today. The problem was everyone else was excited, but Jemima wasn’t. Lately, she’d been a bit bored by it all, though the prestige of getting picked up by the New York agency kept her going. Not to mention the financial benefit—she’d be set for life, and then she could do what she really wanted.

“You’re next up, darling,” 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.

Sometimes she wondered if she’d chosen the right career. The hard work and the long hours didn’t faze her. It was attitude that was important. This was a short-term job, and Jemima knew she’d been very lucky. Hard work and the right attitude had paid off. Many of the younger models seemed to believe that a career in modelling was a path to fame and riches. But she’d been luckier than most. She’d started modelling for a department store in Sydney straight after high school, and by the ripe old age of twenty-five, she had saved a lot of money and had made some shrewd investments. More often than not, Jemima found herself mentoring the young girls aspiring for a quick path to the top. She shook her head, and the stylist grunted.

“Sorry.”

But despite the “glamorous” perception of her job, it was difficult work, and it was lonely. On the road most of the time, following the fashion circuit, she missed the quiet life of Spring Downs where she’d grown up. No one needed her here. If she disappeared, she’d be replaced by the next new “face.” It was all so shallow, so artificial—but it paid the bills…and more.

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.



One month later

Jemima pulled out into the heavy Sydney traffic on the motorway to the west, her Audi sports car making a muted roar. For some reason, she always felt as though she had to impress her big brother, Liam, and he’d certainly been impressed with her new car when she’d picked him up from the international airport. He’d looked tired and had quickly fallen asleep. When he’d woken up as she’d turned onto the Golden Highway, he’d been ready to chat, and they’d talked nonstop as they headed for Dubbo. She was still finding it hard to believe that they had both dropped everything and headed home to the outback at Gran’s request.

“The accident really changed our lives, didn’t it? I think of everything as before and after,” Jemima said with a sigh as she drove by the golden fields of wheat.

“Me too,” Liam said as they had to slow down behind a cattle truck. The smell of cattle seeped through the vents. “At this rate, we won’t be there until almost dark. But it’ll be good to be home for a while.”

“You still think of it as home? Funny. So do I,” Jemima said.

They were quiet for a while as she concentrated on the road, each lost in their own thoughts.

Jemima took in a deep breath. “Ah, the smell of the country. I’ve missed it.”

“Have you been out here lately?”

“No.” She shook her head. “This is the first time since the funeral, and I’m a bit nervous.”

“Don’t worry. You’re not Robinson Crusoe.”

Three hours later, Jemima cursed and fought for control as the Audi slipped from left to right on the wet road. A light shower had turned the six kilometre stretch of dirt road between the main Spring Downs Road and Prickle Creek Farm into a slippery track. It took them more than half an hour to get to the gate of the property, and when the red and green sign appeared on the fence, she pulled over. “I’d forgotten how far down the road the farm was. But it still looks the same, doesn’t it?”

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