Outback Surrender

By: Margaret Way

CHAPTER ONE


SHELLEY hit the pavement with a fast light step that belied her tiredness. It was late Friday afternoon and she'd all but completed her list of "must-dos" in the town of Koomera Crossing. Her first meeting, with the bank manager, hadn't gone too badly, but the meeting with her father's solicitor the only one in the town-had not been so good. She'd then ordered fresh food supplies from the general store, where they always did a marvellous job. That had been the most important and most pressing need. Supplies had to be ordered in to accommodate a small party of Japanese guests due in a month's time. Those supplies would be airfreighted out to the station before the tourists' arrival.

She'd stocked up on all the non-perishable items, and now she was going to buy a few little treats for herself, just to keep her spirits up. Toiletries, mainly. Soaps, shampoos, creams, a bit of make-up and the like. Usually she spent very little on herself, only peanuts on clothes and cosmetics, but she made sure she looked after her hair and skin. Those precious assets had to last her a lifetime, after all.

She was dog-tired even for a girl with plenty of go, and she had to force her legs to see out the distance. She'd started out from home, Wybourne Station, in the pre-dawn, making a fairly quick trip-some three hours, over rough Outback roads-before she hit Koomera Crossing, the nearest thing to civilisation in this part of the world.

South-West Queensland really was the Back O'Beyond, but she loved her desert home with a passion. Nowhere else could offer her such peace and freedom, such vast open spaces. This was the Timeless Land, sacred to all aborigines. Shelley too revelled in her extraordinary environment-the living desert, with its vivid pottery colours, undulating red gaols and surreal rock monuments. There was nowhere quite like the Outback for mystique. Its very antiquity gripped the soul.

II also kept her close to Sean, her guardian angel, her twin heather. Sean had drowned when they were six. Even new she remembered the sound of his sweet voice calling to her as she'd run madcap in the homestead's rambling, overgrown garden...

S'hel... ,Shat... She L..

Sean had always run to her, his twin, for love, for reassurance and comfort, rather than to their older sister, Amanda, or even their mother. And even after the terrible day of the accident, of which Shelley had no clear recollection but of chaos and high, screaming voices, Sean had still accompanied her on her childhood adventures. Hadn't he woken her every dawn of her life, patting her forehead and pulling her ear? "Wake up, Shel. The sun'll bum a hole in you."

Sean! Always destined to remain a beautiful little boy, Titian curls his halo, rosebud lips moving soundlessly, his eyes like shining jewels, a gauzy white radiance all around him.

That was what twins were like. They shared a bond that meant they were never parted, not even in death. Still, hearthache--was never far from Shelley. Her memories of her little brother were bittersweet, but the power and magic of their love for each other sustained her even now.

She walked on briskly, calling a pleasantry here and there. Nearly everyone in the town was as well known to her as she was to them.

Shr had no intention of returning to Wyboume tonight. Site couldn't possibly find the strength for the long drive ,after hoofing around the town for hours, always trying to find shelter under awnings from the dry, burning sun.

It was the greatest mystery to her and to everyone else and sometimes she thought her older sister Amanda was

secretly outraged by the fact-but she didn't have a single freckle. She the redhead with the untameable firewheel mop. Her skin was often referred to as "porcelain". She had to thank her darling now deceased maternal grandmother Moira, born in County Kerry, Ireland, for that. Ditto the rose-gold mane, the green eyes and, it had to be said, the Irish temper when aroused.

She was staying at the town's only pub, run by Mick Donovan. The food was fine and the accommodation was comfortable and spotlessly clean. She couldn't wait to run a bubble bath-what a luxury-and just soak. But first she'd have to buy the bubbles.

She was standing in the town's pharmacy, deciding between two-jasmine-scented or gardenia-when a hand tweaked one of her curls. And not all that gently, she thought in surprise. She was sure in the course of the day she'd spoken to just about everyone who was out and about in town. Station born and bred, she'd been coming into Koomera Crossing all her life.

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