‘An Australian rural romance about an unexpected inheritance that sends a city girl down deep into the country...
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When Cassie Taylor inherits Yallandoo, a cattle station near Cairns in Far North Queensland, she is shocked. What does she know about running cattle? But the property has been in her family for generations, and Cassie is not a quitter. She leaves behind her Sydney life and heads to the station, determined to make a go of it.
But a long drought and falling prices mean challenges Cassie doesn’t expect. To save her heritage, she’s going to have to come up with some new ideas — and fast. Then the threatening letters start to arrive. Someone doesn’t want Cassie to succeed, and they’re willing to go to any lengths to stop her...
Outside the sun blazed down on Cairns, but inside the chapel it was cold. Or was it just her? Cassie Taylor shivered as she sat in the front pew of the chapel, with the drone of the minister’s voice in her ears, conscious only of the coffins of her aunt and uncle, thinking of how she would miss them.
A nudge from her friend Rosie made her turn. Cassie nodded and, rising, went to stand by the coffins. Relinquishing the two white roses she had been clutching, she placed one on each coffin before returning to her seat to sit numbly through the rest of the service.
Rosie’s hand clasped hers as the coffins finally descended. Cassie took a deep, shuddering breath and the tears came then, hot and scalding. They stayed in their seats until Cassie, giving a final sniff, took the handkerchief Rosie offered her and blew her nose.
‘Do you think you can face the crowd yet?’ her friend asked.
‘I think so.’ Using both hands, she smoothed her short fair hair and then ran them over her face, wanting to wipe away all traces of tears. ‘Just give me a minute, I’ll be all right.’ She stood, breathing deeply for a moment or two.
‘Thanks. I’m okay now.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ she nodded.
They moved into the room next to the chapel and stood together, sipping tea. A few people Cassie recognised came up and offered their condolences. Then a voice at her side made her turn, to see a bright little sparrow of a man, with greying hair and dark eyes, offering her his hand.
‘We have met, Cassie, but you may not remember me. It was a long time ago, when you were only a little girl. I’m Graham Walsh, your uncle’s solicitor. The accident was a terrible tragedy, for them both to be killed like that. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.’
‘Thank you, Mr Walsh. It’s been a terrible shock.’
‘I know, and I am sorry to intrude at a time like this, but could you come to my office before you return to Sydney?’
‘I’m sorry, but I’m booked on a flight back this afternoon. I won’t have time. Is it important?’
‘Well, yes, it is. Very important, actually…hmm…let me see.’ He looked at his watch. ‘There’s a small private room here. I’ll arrange to use that. I’ll come and get you in a minute. Is that all right?’
‘Yes, of course.’ Watching him go, Cassie frowned and turned to Rosie. ‘I wonder what he wants with me. Perhaps there’s some formality with the police. I suppose…in a road accident…’ Her voice trailed off.
‘Must be something like that, I guess. Sounds important, if he needs to see you alone.’
‘Yes, it does.’ Cassie was puzzled.
In a few moments, Graham Walsh returned and led Cassie to a small room. He ushered her to a seat, fussing over her. ‘Can I get you something, a cup of tea perhaps?’
‘No thank you.’ She gave him a wan smile. ‘What was it you wanted to see me about?’
‘There are matters we must discuss, now that Yallandoo is your responsibility,’ he told her, seating himself.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked, startled. ‘How can it be my responsibility?’
‘It’s in your Uncle Len’s will, Cassie,’ Graham Walsh explained. ‘Don’t you have any idea how he left his estate?’
She shook her head, frowning. ‘No. I haven’t thought about it.’ She paused. ‘To Aunt Isobel’s brothers I suppose, seeing he had no children. My father was his only other relative and he’s dead.’
‘No. Her brothers don’t feature in the will at all. There are a few bequests, but the bulk of his estate, including Yallandoo Station, goes to you.’
Cassie drew in a sharp breath. ‘To me? Surely not.’
‘Yes, Cassie, to you.’
‘But... but...why me? What am I going to do with a cattle station, way up here near Cairns? I live in Sydney.’ She moved restlessly on her chair. ‘Surely he couldn’t mean for me to try and run it? I couldn’t possibly. I wouldn’t know where to start.’
‘You’ve spent a lot of holidays up here, so you do know something about it, but I know you’re very young for such a responsibility. How old are you? Twenty-one?’
‘Ah.’ He pursed his lips. ‘Any chance of marriage plans, then? Someone who could help you with running Yallandoo?’
He relaxed his professional manner for a moment. ‘A pretty girl like you, I’m surprised. I remember you sitting in my office with Len when you were a little girl, so cute, with your big green eyes and mop of blonde hair. Len told me then you’d be a beauty when you grew up and he was right.’ He sighed. ‘He thought the world of you, you know, you were like the daughter he never had.’ He shook his head. ‘Oh dear, it’s all so sad.’
Cassie blinked away the tears. ‘He was like a father to me after Dad died.’
The lawyer took a deep breath and reverted to formality. ‘Now, no prospects for marriage in the future then?’
Cassie frowned as she shook her head. ‘No.’ Normally she would respond fiercely to such chauvinism but today she let it pass.
‘What you must remember is that if it hadn’t been for the car accident that killed them both, this wouldn’t have happened for many years yet.’ He spoke gently. ‘It’s a measure of his love for you. You understand that, don’t you?’
Her chest tightened. Swallowing the lump in her throat she took a deep breath. ‘Yes.’
‘And,’ he spoke firmly now, ‘his belief that, being a Taylor, you’re capable of shouldering big loads.’
Cassie straightened her shoulders. Of course, the Taylors came from pioneering stock.
‘However, if you feel it’s too much for you, you can always sell. But you don’t have to make a decision right now. Probate is slow; it could take up to twelve months. Until then, nothing will change. Len appointed me as executor of his estate and I’ll take care of everything for you.’
‘But what will happen to Yallandoo in the meantime?’
‘I’ve already spoken to Tom Hanson, the manager. He’ll stay on and everything will run the same as usual. Len regarded him as an excellent manager, capable and trustworthy. I don’t believe you need have any worries on that score.’
‘Yes, I know Uncle Len thought highly of Tom and Lorna. They’ve been on Yallandoo for as long as I can remember. And Rosie, their daughter, is my closest friend. I know they’re reliable.’ Standing, she moved to the window. Outside the sun still shone, its fiery kiss sending the holiday makers scurrying to cool off in the pools, but here, in this little room, Cassie was oblivious to it all.
She tried to think ahead. She couldn’t imagine strangers owning Yallandoo. She loved everything about it. The graceful old homestead, surrounded by lawns and trees, and the home paddock beyond. Its sprawling acres, with the spread of cattle that were Uncle Len’s passion. But best of all, the great green tangle of rainforest where she and Rosie roamed, and the rock pool, secluded and mystical, where they went to swim.
How could she bear never to see it again if she sold it? But how could she ever manage to run it? Although she had spent all her holidays there, she knew little about the actual workings of the place.
Turning back into the room, she spoke slowly. ‘It’s all such a shock. Coming right on top of losing them. I…I just don’t know what to think...what to do.’
‘Don’t worry about it now. It’s all been a big shock for you, give yourself time to get used to it. If you hadn’t been booked on the plane back to Sydney today, I would have waited longer to tell you, but I’ll take care of everything that needs to be done now. I’ll write to you and send you a copy of the will, and explain everything else you need to know. Are you still living with your mother in Sydney?’
‘Then I have your address. You’ll hear from me soon. Now, don’t worry. It’ll be all right. I’ll have a word with Tom on my way out and let him know what’s happening. I’ll be in touch soon. Now don’t worry,’ he repeated.
Graham Walsh held the door open for her and they returned to the room where tea and biscuits had been served after they left the chapel. The lawyer went to talk to Tom and his wife Lorna. Cassie started to go with him but she saw Rosie waiting for her and walked over to her instead.
‘Well, what did he want?’ her friend asked.
‘You’re never going to believe this. I can hardly believe it myself. Uncle Len left Yallandoo to me.’
‘To you?’ Rosie’s voice rose. She threw her arms around Cassie in a wild hug. ‘How wonderful! How abso-bloody-lutely fantastic!’
Cassie found her excitement catching and laughed as she returned the hug. ‘It’s just incredible; it never entered my head to imagine such a thing.’
As they drew apart, Rosie’s blue eyes sparkled. ‘Does this mean you’ll be coming up here to live permanently now?’
Cassie sobered. ‘I don’t really know. It’s such a shock I haven’t thought about what will happen. I’ll have to give it a lot of thought. And talk to Mum, too, of course.’
‘Oh, yes, your mother.’ Rosie grimaced. ‘Gwen won’t want you to live up here. She’d hate it if you left Sydney.’
‘Hmm. Yes. I suppose she might.’
‘I’m sure of it. After all, you do help her run her catering business.’
Cassie sighed. ‘Yes, I know.’
Looking around, she saw Graham Walsh had left, along with the rest of the mourners. She caught hold of Rosie’s arm. ‘Oh, look. Your parents are all on their own. Come on. Let’s go and talk to them. They’re waiting for us. They’ll have heard the news by now.’
They crossed the room. The waiting pair looked stiff and uncomfortable. Was it because of the formal clothes they weren’t used to wearing? Tom, a lean, wiry man, with pushed back hair bleached almost white by the sun, would plainly be more at home in stockman’s garb than a suit. In spite of the air-conditioning, he looked hot and bothered. Lorna, a little roly-poly of a woman, with brown hair pulled back in a bun, wore a black dress just a little too tight for her. They were watching the two girls approach.
Rosie raced ahead, all excited. ‘Isn’t it great news? Len’s left Yallandoo to Cassie.’
‘Yes. We’ve just heard,’ Tom replied in a heavy voice.
He doesn’t sound as if he thinks it’s great news, Cassie thought, as she reached them.
‘Well, aren’t you happy she owns it now?’ Rosie persisted.
Tom responded stiffly. ‘Of course we are.’
Cassie couldn’t understand his cold response, but perhaps he was worried about his job. She tried to put him at his ease. ‘I’m so happy you’re going to stay on Yallandoo, both of you. I just couldn’t manage without you. In spite of all the time I’ve spent there, I know very little about the actual working of the station. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t staying.’
They both relaxed at her words.
‘Of course we’ll stay, love.’ Lorna smiled at her.
‘Just as long as you want us to, Cassie,’ Tom added. ‘Graham Walsh told us everything will be put on hold till after probate. But what then, Cassie? What will you do with Yallandoo?’ he asked bluntly.
‘I honestly don’t know, Tom. It was so unexpected; I’m still trying to come to terms with everything. As soon as I work it out, you’ll be the first to know, I promise you.’
But what was she going to do?
Cassie had mixed emotions as she sat in the plane on her way back to Sydney. Sadness at the loss of her uncle and aunt was foremost. However, skittering alongside the pain, and she felt guilty to admit it to herself, excitement jerkily pushed its way up. Yallandoo was hers! The thought of it set her mind whirling like autumn leaves in a storm. But what should she do? Her knowledge of running a cattle station was pretty close to zilch. Should she sell Yallandoo?
Cassie thought of her uncle and how much the station had meant to him. She remembered the family stories of previous generations who had lived there, going right back to her great-great-grandfather Charles. Fresh out from England with his brother Robert, they had settled Yallandoo a hundred and thirty years ago, facing hardships and loneliness.
Charles’ eldest son John had inherited the property, and so it had been through the succeeding generations, down to her father and uncle. And now, herself.
Sighing, she leant forward and took the in-flight magazine from the seat-pocket in front of her. Idly she turned the pages, her mind still on Yallandoo. Suddenly her attention was caught by an article, ‘Tropical Far North Queensland.’ Perusing it with interest, she read that tourism in the area was growing at an unprecedented rate. She sat back thoughtfully, the magazine on her lap.
Far North Queensland, reaching as far north as you could go in Australia. A land of towering mountains and lush, fertile plains. Dense green rainforests. Rivers and waterfalls. Golden beaches and coral reefs. And cattle stations. Some so big you could drive for days before you reached the boundary.
Tourism — now that was an area she would like to be involved in.
But what could you do with a cattle station?
Six months later, Cassie sat back in her seat and stared out of the window of the plane on her way back to Cairns. She had expected to return much earlier, but, as Rosie had predicted, her mother had not wanted her to leave. Gwen wanted her to sell Yallandoo. Their conversation after her return from the funeral came back to her.
‘A station’s a big responsibility,’ Gwen told Cassie. ‘Especially at your age. However, it means you’re wealthy now. When you sell it, you’ll have money to do whatever you want in life. Travel. Buy a lovely home overlooking the Harbour. Whatever you want, really. Besides,’ she reached out her hand, ‘I really want you to stay here with me.’
Standing, Cassie moved aimlessly around the room, straightening an ornament on the mantelpiece as she struggled to arrange her thoughts. ‘But...I suppose, knowing how much I’ve always loved being up there...Uncle Len really thought I’d want to go up there and live.’
‘You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?’
Gwen always put her own wishes before anything else. And managed to make Cassie feel guilty if she went against them. In the end, Cassie compromised, training another staff member to take over her duties but promising to consider carefully before making a final decision.
Now she was finally going back. How would things have changed since her last visit? Picking up a magazine she tried to read, but her mind kept wandering. Memories of previous visits to Yallandoo came flooding back. Memories of happy childhood holidays spent with Uncle Len and Aunt Izzie and of the things they had done together. Trips to Cairns to see a movie. Picnics. Sunday night tea in front of the television, often with Rosie, Tom and Lorna. Always with hot scones and freshly baked cake. And Uncle Len making them laugh with his funny stories, often about him and Dad growing up on the station.
Dad had wanted her to spend as much time on Yallandoo as possible. And so Cassie spent all her school holidays there. Always with Rosie. They swam in the rock pool, explored the rainforest, played all the games little girls play. Sometimes they just sat quietly and read books together.
Dad had left Yallandoo when he was in his early twenties. The bright city lights beckoned. First Brisbane, then Sydney. And later he married Gwen, a Sydney girl.
Sometimes the three of them came to Yallandoo together. Such fun they had. ‘Why don’t you live here, too, Dad?’ Cassie asked him. ‘You and Uncle Len get on well together. I know you enjoy it here.’
‘Yes, Cass, but only for a holiday. I decided when I was young that country life wasn’t for me. I love the city. No, I’m very happy with the way things are. Len was always the one who was cut out for this life. Not me.’
And that was the way it was. And so it stayed until Dad had a sudden fatal heart attack at the early age of forty-three. Uncle Len and Aunt Izzie asked her and Mum to come and live with them then, but her mother was too much of a city girl to want to live away from Sydney. But Cassie’s visits continued.
Well, those times were gone for good. Now the future beckoned. In the next few weeks, she must make a decision. A decision that could change her life forever.
Looking out the window, Cassie saw they were approaching the coast. The long coastline with its fringe of green forest came into view. As the plane banked, ready for landing, the sun sparkled on the brilliant blue sea below. Further out, a dark patch in the water revealed itself to those above, like some leviathan slumbering on the seabed — a small coral island, part of the Great Barrier Reef that ran down alongside the coast of Queensland for some two thousand kilometres.
A voice came over the loudspeaker. ‘We are now approaching Cairns. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your seat in the upright position. We will be landing in approximately eight minutes. The weather in Cairns is fine. The temperature is thirty degrees. We hope you enjoy your stay in Cairns. Thank you for flying with Qantas today.’
The plane touched down and taxied to the terminal. It seemed a long time since the funeral. Regular phone calls had kept her in touch with Tom and Lorna, as well as Rosie. Cassie knew they would be waiting to hear what she had decided to do with Yallandoo. And she still hadn’t decided.
Retrieving her travel bag from the overhead locker, she joined the other passengers leaving the plane and making their way to the Arrivals lounge.
Rosie was standing eagerly scanning the passengers as they came through the door. Pushing her way through the crowd, she grabbed Cassie in a bear hug.
‘Oh, Cassie, I thought today would never come. Are you okay?’ She hugged her tightly.
‘Yes, I’m fine. But you’re hugging me to death.’ Cassie laughed as she untangled her friend’s arms from around her. ‘Let me get my breath.’
‘I’ve been so excited for you to come. Did you have a good trip up? You look wonderful.’ All, it seemed, in one breath.
‘I’m excited to be here, too. And you’re looking pretty good yourself. Of course, it’s not all holiday this time. I have to attend to the business at Yallandoo, you know.’
‘Yes, I know. But you’ll still have some free time, won’t you?’
‘Come on, let’s go and wait for your luggage.’
Arm-in-arm, they walked the short distance to the luggage carousel.
A man stood on the edge of the crowd already waiting there, watching them approach. Rosie led Cassie over to him.
‘Cassie,’ she introduced her, ‘this is Mark Pierce, he’s our neighbour now. He bought the old Stevenson place a year or so ago. Mark, meet Cassandra Taylor, my oldest and best friend.’ She turned to Cassie. ‘Mark was coming into town today, so he offered to bring me in to meet you. I had to pick up some things for Dad and my car wouldn’t have had much room left for your luggage.’
Cassie took his proffered hand. ‘That was kind of you.’
Her ordinary words hid a flash of interest in the dark haired stranger. Here was a man who would stand out in any crowd. You couldn’t call him handsome; his deeply tanned face, with dark eyebrows and determined set to the chin, was almost severe. Still, he possessed an air of vitality that no one could miss. Tall, relaxed, his well-cut jeans and open-neck shirt did nothing to hide his powerful physique.
‘Not at all.’ He had a smooth, deep voice. ‘I was curious to see the new owner of Yallandoo.’ His scrutiny appraised her from head to toe.
‘I’m not really a new owner. I’ve spent a great deal of time up here over the years. I inherited the property from my uncle recently.’ She withdrew her hand from his.
‘I know; you’re Len Taylor’s niece. I was sorry to hear of his accident.’ He frowned. ‘But you’re very young to be left a cattle station. And a woman, too! Didn’t your uncle have any other family to leave it to?’
‘No.’ Cassie bristled. What business was it of his?
‘And you don’t have any brothers?’
‘No!’ Annoyance flushed her cheeks. ‘And I really don’t believe it has anything to do with you.’
‘It might have.’ He looked down at her with narrowed eyes. ‘I suppose you’ll want to sell. I’d be prepared to make you a good offer.’
Such arrogance! She felt her anger rising. ‘I haven’t decided any such thing. I have very strong ties to the place. Anyway, you already have a station. Why would you want another?’
‘To extend my land.’ He shrugged. ‘You can never have too much, you know.’ His offhand manner irritated Cassie further.
‘Oh, so you want to be a cattle king? Well, Yallandoo is not for sale!’
‘No?’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘It’s a lot for a young girl to manage. Maybe you’ll change your mind.’ His voice insinuated he was sure she would.
Her body stiffened. ‘I doubt it!’ At that moment, her case came into view on the carousel. ‘There’s my bag,’ she snapped as she moved across but Mark was before her, reaching out.
‘I’ll get it. This one?’
‘Is there anything else?’ he asked as he swung it easily to the floor.
‘No. That’s all.’
‘Let’s go, then.’ He strode ahead to the car park.
‘You sit in the front,’ Rosie told her, ‘you can admire the scenery on the way.’
Cassie started to protest but Mark had already put her luggage in the back and was holding open the front door for her, holding out his hand to help her.
Ignoring the hand, she swung up into the front seat of the four-wheel drive Landcruiser without a word, sat and looked straight ahead. When they left the airport, they turned on to the Captain Cook Highway and headed north.
‘We’ll go by the Coast road,’ Mark said, turning to Cassie with a smile, ‘it’s the best view. I hope you like it?’
‘Yes, I do,’ she replied stiffly.
After a few moments, Cassie relaxed, leaning back in her seat. She never failed to enjoy the scenery on this route. It followed the coast, above the ocean, twisting and turning as it snaked its way along the ribbon of road created by man between the cliffs and the sea. She breathed in long draughts of the fresh sea air. Below the road, the dazzling blue water lapped the long stretches of golden sand then stretched to meet the brilliant sky at the distant horizon. An occasional beachgoer sheltered in the shade of one of the palms or pandanus trees scattered about. Waves curled up onto the beaches or sprayed white froth as they hurled themselves against a clump of rocks. Cassie’s anger slipped away as she embraced the sight. How she loved it all.
‘So, how long have you two known each other?’ asked Mark, interrupting her contemplation.
Well, he seemed to have lost his patronising manner.
‘Oh, nearly all our lives, really,’ Rosie replied for her. ‘Cassie’s always spent her holidays up here. And I’ve been down to stay with her in Sydney, too.’
‘So what do you do with yourself in Sydney, Cassie?’
‘I help my mother in her business. She’s a caterer.’
‘So you’re a cook?’ He flashed her a sideways glance, sounding interested.
‘Oh, no, I look after the business side. She needs the help. She started the business after my father died and it’s grown a lot since then, beyond her expectations. Quite amazing, really.’
‘I am impressed.’
Was he laughing at her? Frowning, she turned her head sharply to look at him. His eyes were on the road.
‘She’s done very well.’
‘I’m sure she has. You must be proud of her.’ He sounded sincere. ‘So who’s looking after things for her while you’re away?’
He turned his head again to smile at her. When he smiled, his face lost its severe look and his eyes crinkled at the corners.
‘I trained a replacement for her. A competent girl who was already working for us.’
Cassie watched him as he looked ahead at the road. What a strong profile, he’s really very attractive, when he’s not being obnoxious. She shocked herself by wondering what it would be like to go to bed with him. She pulled herself up short. The last thing she wanted was any involvement with the opposite sex. She had far too much on her plate for that. Besides, he was too arrogant and self-assured for her. Not her type at all. Pulling her thoughts back, she concentrated on the view.
They left the coast and started heading inland.
‘And how’s the fishing going, Rosie?’ Mark asked over his shoulder.
‘Good. I caught a three kilo barra last week.’
‘That’s pretty good. Do you fish, Cassie?’
‘Yes, Rosie and I sometimes go together.’
‘I stocked the dam with fingerlings last season when we enlarged it. They’ve grown to a decent size now. You’re both welcome to come over any time and try your luck.’
‘Thanks, we might take you up on that.’ Rosie answered, because Cassie was looking around, silent, shocked to see how dry the surrounding countryside had become now they had left the coast.
‘This is terrible,’ she said. ‘How dry it is. Let’s hope we have a proper wet this year.’
‘Yes, those who don’t have permanent water are really struggling to survive with this drought.’ Mark glanced across at her with raised eyebrows. ‘But I’m surprised a city girl like you would notice such things.’
Cassie frowned. ‘I told you, I’ve spent a lot of time up here. I don’t class myself as a ‘townie.’’
‘You look like one.’ His gaze slid over her slim figure, clad in white cotton pants and matching jacket.
Anger sparked again. ‘You don’t exactly look like a ‘bushie’ yourself. I’m sure you haven’t been on the land all your life.’
‘You could be right.’ He spoke easily. ‘But I’m a fast learner. I know almost as much as the old-timers now.’
What conceit! ‘My family has owned Yallandoo for well over a hundred years. My great-great-grandfather established it in the eighteen seventies. I’m the fifth generation of my family to own Yallandoo. I don’t think you can claim that sort of experience.’
‘Ah, but you haven’t grown up here. You don’t look like a country girl.’ He cast her a side-long smile, his voice mocking. ‘I can’t see you out knackering calves. Or spending a long, hard day in the saddle.’
‘I’m sure I can outride you any time!’
‘Really?’ He remained unruffled. ‘We’ll have to put that to the test. I’ll call you and we’ll make a day.’
‘I have no wish to go riding with you.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Frightened you couldn’t keep up?’ He flashed a sardonic smile.
‘You’re rude and…and impossible!’ Cassie spat the words out.
Mark laughed. ‘You’ll soon get used to me. I’m really quite likeable once you get to know me.’
‘I have no wish to get to know you.’
They swung in to the entrance of a property. The signs above the letterbox read ‘Taylor’ and ‘Yallandoo Station’. As they turned and drove through the gateway, Cassie fell silent again as she took in the scene before her. It was the dry season now and the country desperately needed rain. This normally green, lush pasture now held only lank tufts of dry grass, struggling for survival. The cattle were nowhere to be seen.
A long brown drive, with metal packed hard from constant use, led to the homestead. Cassie looked about her at the large, sprawling old ‘Queenslander’ homestead they were approaching, built on stilts for coolness, with a large open area underneath. Wide verandahs with white painted woodwork wrapped around the house. The tanks that stood nearby, fed by pipelines from the dam and nearby river, kept the lawns green even in a dry like this. Large shady trees interspersed with tropical palms and exotic flowering shrubs flanked the lawns.
A small modern house, not far from the main house, with its own fenced garden, had been built specially for the station manager and his family. The rest of the staff quarters and other outbuildings were further back beyond it, and vast paddocks surrounded it all.
It still looked the same as always. Her throat ached as she remembered her aunt and uncle were no longer here to welcome her. Then the enormity of it struck her. This all belonged to her now. Uncle Len had entrusted her with all this.
Tom and Lorna appeared as they pulled up in front of the house. They had obviously been watching for the car. They came forward now as Mark first deposited her case by the steps and then went back for two large boxes.
A smile lit up Tom’s weather-beaten face as he opened the door for Cassie. ‘Welcome back, Cassie.’ Dressed in standard stockman’s clothes of jeans, checked shirt and RM Williams high-heeled boots, he looked much more comfortable than he had at the funeral.
Lorna joined Tom and enveloped Cassie in a hug as she alighted.
Cassie returned the hug. ‘It’s so good to see you.’
‘And you too, love.’
‘Thanks for collecting these, Mark,’ Tom indicated the boxes, ‘will you stay for a cuppa?’
‘No thanks, I’ll leave you with your guest. Don’t forget our riding date, Cassie.’
Cassie ignored his reminder. ‘Thank you for the lift,’ she replied coolly. She had no desire to see him again, he was insufferable. Too bad if she offended him.
‘I’ll see you soon.’ With a wave, he climbed into his vehicle and pulled away.
Mark looked around as he drove away. Yallandoo was certainly a fine property; it would suit his purpose well, being next to his own station, Binbin. He was sorry Len had died. Apart from the fact that he really liked the man, he had already broached the subject of selling Yallandoo. While Len had not seemed really interested, he had been willing to talk, but that was as far as they had gone — preliminary talks.
Well, he’d just have to work on Cassie. He’d been happy to take Rosie to collect her; it gave him an opportunity to meet the young heiress. She was younger than he’d expected, just a slip of a girl, really. She had plenty of spirit, though. He smiled as he remembered how quickly she’d flared up at his blunt manner — and his teasing, too. He’d have to take more care not to antagonise her, to be nice to her. His brother, Laurence, always told him he wasn’t very tactful and he was probably right. Cassie’s a pretty little thing, he mused; those gorgeous green eyes with thick dark lashes and her short blond hair and small face give her a sort of a gamin look. Hmm...well, this was strictly business. He wanted no personal involvement.