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Margaret Way- The Cattleman

Margaret Way- The Cattleman

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Published by rucraj
Harlequin
Harlequin

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Published by: rucraj on Jul 31, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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08/10/2014

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file:///E|/My%20Library/books/ROMANCE/margaret%20way/men%20of%20the%20outback/2%20the%20cattleman%20TXT/the%20cattleman.txt
the cattleman - margaret wayA mysterious portrait, an unexpected commission, a disappearance in the Outback. She might not know it, but these three things bring Jessica Tennant to Mokhani Station and the notice of cattleman Cyrus Bannerman. What Cy wants to know is if there's another reason for her presence. Something that has to do with his father's strange behavior... For her part, Jessica wonders if coming to Mokhani was a good idea. Working for the Bannermans might make her career, but this family -- with the exception of Cy --  just doesn't seem right. As for Cy, he could be more than all right if it weren't for the fact that he insists on assuming the worst about Jessica!PROLOGUEMokhani StationNorthern Territory, Australia 1947All the while they were riding, Moira felt a stab of anxiety as sharp as a knife beneath her breastbone. She tried to tell herself not to be afraid, but it did no good. A sense of foreboding weighed on her so oppressively, she slumped in the saddle, her hands trembling on the reins. If her companion noticed, Moira saw no sign. It was another hot, humid, thundery day on the verge of the Wet, or the Gunummeleng, as the station Aborigines called it. There were only two seasons in the Territory, she'd learned. The Wet and the Dry. The Wet, the time of the monsoon, extended from late November to March, the Dry lasted from April through October. It was midNovember now. She had arrived on Mokhani in early February of that year to teach the Bannerman twins, a boy and a girl aged seven. Nearly ten months of sharing her life with extraordinary people; the ten most life-changing months of her life. Ultimately, they had turned her from just out of adolescence into a woman. Her great fear was she had chosen a tragic path.Nearing eighteen and not long out of her excellent convent school, she'd craved adventure. Mokhani had offered it. After years of hard study and obeying strict rules, she'd been ready for a liberating experience. It was understood that at some time she had to continue her tertiary education, but if her parents hadn't exactly encouraged her to take a gap year, they'd put up no great objection when they'd seen how much she'd wanted it. As a much-loved only child, "the wonderful surprise" of her parents' middle years, their only wish was for her to be happy. The family solicitor, a good friend of her father's, had come up with the answer. His legal firm handled many Outback clients' affairs. It just so happened, the Bannerman family, pastoral pioneers with huge cattle interests in the Northern Territory and Queensland's Gulf country, wanted a governess for their children, someone of good family and proven academic ability, a young woman preferably, to better relate to the children.She qualified on all counts. Her father was a well-respected family doctor. Her mother, an ex-nurse, helped out several days at his surgery. Moira had been a straight-A student, winning a scholarship to university. The Bannermans, for their part, were rich, powerful, influential. The present owner and heir to the Bannerman fortune was Steven Bannerman-ex-Squadron Leader Steven Bannerman, seconded to the Royal Air Force during the war, survivor of the Battle for Britain, who'd returned home a war hero. His wife, Cecily, was a niece of the South Australian governor. In short, the Bannermans were the sort of people to whom her parents felt no qualms about sending her.
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The great irony was, they might have been signing her death warrant.Moira lifted one hand, pressing it hard against her heart to stop it from bursting through her rib cage. If her companion addressed a stray comment to her, she heard nothing of it. There were too many demons clamouring inside her head. She knew she wasn't very far away from a breakdown. In a sense, it was another version of the Aboriginal kurdaitcha man, the tribal sorcerer, pointing the bone. Yet nothing had been said to her. Her throbbing fears were virtually without proof, but like all victims, she had the inbuilt awareness there was threat ahead.It was deliriously hot. That alone caused profound dislocation. Temperature nearing a hundred and rising. A thunderstorm was rolling in across the table-topped escarpment that from a distance always appeared a deep amethyst. The storm revealed itself as magnificent. Majestic in cloud volume, black and silver with jagged streaks of livid green and purple that intensified the colors of the vast empty landscape and made the great cushions of spinifex glow molten gold. Even she knew it was risky taking this long ride. If it poured rain, the track could become slippery and dangerous and they would have to walk the horses. But it wouldn't be the first time a thunderstorm had blown over, for all the fabulous pyrotechnics.Nearly everyone on the station, even the Aborigines, the custodians of this ancient land, were feeling the peculiar tension the extremes of weather created. Heat and humidity. The humidity alone left one gutted. The monsoon couldn't come soon enough even if it brought in a cyclone. Not that she had ever lived through the destructive cyclones of the far north. Still she understood what the Territorians meant when they talked about going "troppo," a state of mental disturbance blamed on extreme weather conditions.Was that it? For one blessed moment, she felt a lightening of her fears. Was she going troppo? Were her fear imaginary rather than real? No one meant her any harm. It was all in her mind. Her companion appeared almost serene, hardly the demeanour of an avenger. The heat did dreadful things to people, especially those not born and bred to the rigours of the inland.We're white people living in the black man's land.Steven Bannerman had said that to her when she'd first arrived, looking down at her with a strange intensity, his handsome mouth curved in a rare smile. Steven Bannerman was not an easygoing man. Many attributed that to his traumatic experiences during the war. Steven Bannerman was the symbol of power and authority on the station, as daunting in some moods as a blazing fire.Steven!She'd been destined to fall in love with him. Her heart leaped at the sound of his name. It resonated in her head and through the caverns of her heart. If she never saw him again, his image would remain etched on her mind, his touch imprinted on her skin. It was truly extraordinary the bearing one person could have on another's entire life.She had felt it such an honor to work for a war hero. She had handled the high-spirited, mischievous little imps of twins who had seen off not one but two governesses remarkably well. Everyone said so. Particularly Mrs. Bannerman, Cecily, a benign goddess who, at the beginning, had sung her praises. Not that she had ever been invited to call the Missus, as the Aboriginal house girls called Mrs. Bannerman, by her Christian name. Steven, too, was only Steven when they were alone. At all other times, he was Mr. Bannerman.A prince in his own kingdom; everything in the world to her. He had been since the first moment she'd looked up into his beautiful, far-seeing blue eyes-though it hadn't been revealed to her then. But each week, each month that passed, they'd grown closer and closer, learning so much about each other.
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Nothing had happened until a short time ago when their feelings for each other had broken out in madness.Fate had delivered her like a sacrificial lamb right into his arms.She had gone from innocence to womanhood all in one sublime destructive day. She was certain in her heart neither had deliberately chosen it. It had just happened, like an act of God; a flood, a drought, an earthquake, a deadly bolt of lightning from the sky. Acts of God were merciless.The voice inside her head started up again. She let it talk. It was the next best thing to a conscience.You know what you have to do, Moira. You have to get out of here. Leave before tragedy overtakes you. Worse, overtakes Steven. A scandal that would be talked about all over the Outback, affecting everyone, even the children.She couldn't bear that. She had to make her decision. She had to put a thousand miles between herself and Steven. Steven had made his decision years ago before God and man. He had a wife and children. He would never leave them. Not that she'd dreamed for a single moment he would. His role had been drummed into him from childhood. He was the master of Mokhani Station. Outback royalty. She was nothing more serious than a passing affair.Only, that wasn't true. Both of them knew it wasn't true. She had lain awake far into the night searching the corridors of her soul. There was a strong two-way connection between them, an instant bonding. Steven had told her she was his other half. His reward for what he had suffered during the war. They shared a dangerous kinship of body and spirit that opened the doors to heaven, but also to hell. Steven was pas sionately in love with her, as she was with him. Hadn't he told her he didn't know what love for a woman was until she'd come into his life? The admission hadn't been merely an attempt to break down her defenses; it had been wrenched from deep down inside him, causing him agony. A war hero, yet he had stood before her with tears in his eyes. Tears she understood. She too was on a seesaw.Love and guilt. Their love was so good, so pure, yet she knew it could be equated with shameful, illicit sex. Women of other cultures had been murdered for less. When it came to dire punishment, the women were always the victims. Men were allowed to go on exactly as before. Except for the Aborigines, who meted out punishments equally.Whether he loved her or not, Steven's marriage couldn't be counted for nothing. It was his life. He had married Cecily in a whirlwind ceremony before he'd gone off to war. He'd told Cecily he had wanted to wait. They'd been living through such tumultuous times and he could very easily lose his life. But Cecily had become hysterical at the thought of not becoming his wife there and then. She'd wanted his children, and what was more, she had conceived on their brief honeymoon. Cecily was a cousin of his lifelong friend, Hugh Balfour. Hugh had introduced them, and then been best man at their wedding. The tragedy was that after the horror and brutality of war, Steven had come home a different man. So had Hugh, once so full of promise, now well on the way to self-destruction. ` A full-blown alcoholic" Cecily scathingly labeled him. "Hugh can't cut it as a civilian!" Cecily Bannerman, Moira had quickly learned, was extremely judgmental, like many who had lived only a life of ease and privilege.But the tragedy hung over both families. She saw it clearly the first time Hugh had visited Mokhani after her arrival. Hugh idolized Steven. Steven in turn always welcomed his old friend, defending him even when Hugh's own family had written him off. Hugh had been so charming to her, offering friendship, asking her all sorts of questions about herself and her family. He'd made every attempt to get to know her, he had even painted her. Many times. Until, strangely, Steven had put a stop to it. She couldn't think about that now.
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