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THE HOUSE ON
DID YOU PURCHASE THIS BOOK WITHOUT A COVER? If you did, you should be aware it is stolen property as it was reported ‘unsold and destroyed’ by a retailer. Neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this book.
First Published 2013 First Australian Paperback Edition 2014 ISBN 978 174356774 6 THE HOUSE ON BURRA BURRA LANE © 2013 by Jennie Jones Philippine Copyright 2013 Australian Copyright 2013 New Zealand Copyright 2013 Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilisation of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the permission of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the condition that shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published in arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Published by Harlequin® Mira® An imprint of Harlequin Enterprises (Aust) Pty Ltd. Level 4, 132 Arthur Street NORTH SYDNEY NSW 2060 AUSTRALIA
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Samantha Walker didn’t want to add some sensuality issue to
her bucket of problems. She’d only been in town ten days and the bucket was practically overflowing. But the flutter in her belly was of the exhilarating variety, and wouldn’t go away. Dr Granger, the tower of manhood creating this disturbance, lifted Sammy’s burly ginger cat onto the examination table, then cast an enquiring look at Sammy. That summer-blue gaze was the second thing she noticed about him when she ran into his surgery, hurling the cat box at him when she stumbled over the pig in reception. Stunned by the breadth of him. The man, not the pig—although the pig was pretty big. ‘What’s your cat’s name, Miss Walker?’ ‘Duke,’ Sammy said, tightening her stomach muscles. Desire, at this point in her life, was as unexpected as the man in the moon asking her to dinner. She wasn’t even going to think about her drab attire, tangled hair and weariness. If she’d known she was going to meet a rugged, powerful looking vet at ten
o’clock on a Wednesday morning, she would have changed her T-shirt. At least. Dr Granger smelled of tree bark, fresh air, and sawdust. Please don’t let her smell like the twenty chickens it had taken so long to catch earlier. She’d lived in New South Wales, Australia, all her life, but not the country parts. Everything was so … rural. Entirely different to what she’d envisioned when she left the energetic rush of Sydney. Swallow’s Fall, the Snowy Mountains. Population eighty six on the sign. Eighty seven with Sammy, but no-one had changed the curvaceous six to a diagonal seven. No point complaining, they were difficult numbers to fudge, even for her—and she was an artist. She glanced at Dr Granger’s strong, ring-less fingers, then took her gaze off the capable bachelor hands. She was single by the sheer grace of her newly acquired independence and there wasn’t a man on earth who was going to change that. ‘Is everything alright?’ Dr Granger asked. His voice was a symphony of bass notes which made her want to listen harder and breathe in more. ‘I’m a little stressed,’ she said, looking into his blue eyes. ‘Because of my chickens.’ His brow rose. ‘Did you bring chickens too?’ ‘No. They’re at home.’ The immediate creases on his tanned face suggested a smile. He turned to the table, took hold of the scruff of Duke’s neck and checked the feline’s gums. Sammy took the opportunity for a deeper review of the veterinary situation. Dr Granger’s navy cotton shirt was wrinkled down the length of his well-developed back and tucked haphazardly into the belted waistband of dark blue jeans. He had his shirt sleeves rolled up showing forearms capable of handling rampant bulls, and a stethoscope around his neck. It hung loosely against the
The House on Burra Burra Lane
shirt collar. His sandy hair skimmed the back, a little tousled, as though the wind had caught hold of it. ‘Have you noticed any signs of anxiety?’ he asked. ‘No. I’m fine.’ She’d dashed from city to country; hadn’t found her feet yet. The ten acre homestead she owned needed more restoration than suggested by the photos. The pile of tools in her shed were stacked so high she’d need a manual to figure out which did what, but determination sat between her shoulder blades like a backpack of courage. She would be a cultivator of the land and accept all countrified things that came her way. Snow, drought, isolation, wombats, wingless cockroaches— ‘Duke seems fine too,’ Dr Granger said. ‘What are your concerns?’ About herself? Sammy grimaced. That was a long list. She gave herself a mental kick. Irrepressible. Reckless. That’s who Sammy was. Goodbye hurt and jaded Samantha, tied to those around her and never pleasing. ‘He wanders from sunrise to sunset,’ she said. ‘He did that in the city too but down here there’s more space to get lost in.’ Duke wasn’t used to the country either. ‘I kept him inside for a week so he’d acclimatise, and now he doesn’t want to come home to me.’ Dr Granger’s mouth curved, ever so slightly. ‘I can’t imagine why,’ he said softly. Oh that wasn’t fair. Look at him, just look at him! Warhorse height, body indestructible with strength, and the planes on his face a fascination of intelligence and warmth. Impossible he was flirting. She was dusty and dirty … ‘I’m worried about him,’ she said. ‘He’s my only friend.’ Without Duke she’d be on her own. ‘My chickens aren’t overly fond of conversation, Dr Granger.’ The men she knew were tailored and immaculate, governing their office worlds with a snazzy
smile and slotting into the sophisticated wine bars with sharp, boys-only jokes. The vet surpassed anything she thought of as commonplace. Dr Granger swept his gaze around her face, his smile not fullblown but getting there. ‘Ethan,’ he told her. It was hardly more than a quirk of a muscle next to his wide mouth but a girl could linger in the comfort. She plucked at the hem of her T-shirt. It had been clean at 7 am but it had taken over two hours to catch the chickens and tie the broken coop together, so when Duke came home she’d grabbed him and run. ‘I’m sorry about the pig,’ she said, recalling the inquisitive face of its owner. ‘I hope I didn’t hurt him.’ ‘That’s Ruby.’ Dr Granger straightened. ‘She’s a three hundred pound Landrace pig. It’s unlikely she even felt you.’ Three hundred pounds? ‘The woman had her on a lead.’ Interesting idea, if you had the right temperament in a pig. ‘Mrs Johnson, Ruby’s owner,’ Dr Granger said, checking Duke’s undercarriage. ‘I haven’t met everyone yet. I just arrived.’ ‘Ten days.’ ‘Yes! How did you know?’ He paused, gazed at her again. ‘It’s a small town, Miss Walker.’ More like a wilderness. Sammy looked down at her grassstained track pants. The soil was easy to fork and turn which was good, considering her ten acres were covered in weeds, but what sort of statement did she make? ‘Perhaps I should have changed,’ she murmured. ‘We take our newcomers as we find them.’ Some relief then. ‘Although you’re the first in eighteen years so you might attract some attention.’ Oh, great. She fought a sudden giddiness. Shouldn’t have skipped breakfast, but those chickens were feisty buggers.
The House on Burra Burra Lane
She ran a hand through her hair. Morelly’s hardware store had been her main source of interaction with people so far. She was on, ‘How’s your day going?’ terms with young Mr Morelly, although why he was labelled ‘young’ she had no idea—he had to be sixty. She’d met a few townspeople at the post office counter in the grocer’s where she collected the bigger parcels of her artwork from a Sydney fashion house. She hadn’t completely run away; she still needed an income. She breathed deeply, and glanced around the room. There was no surgical impact, apart from scrubbed white bench tops and the examination table. No medicinal or animal smells lingered on the jarrah furniture: the desk, the filing cabinet and the large bookcase overflowing with hardback volumes, paperback publications and stacked magazines. She looked through the window to the High Country farmland, dotted with snow gum trees, their wide branches spread to the sky, freed from the weight of winter’s heavy snow. Eucalyptus leaves spiralled in the spring breeze. The landscape blurred suddenly: a kaleidoscopic haze. She caught hold of the table. Dr Granger picked Duke up, plopped him quickly into the cat box, locked the lid, then cupped his hands beneath Sammy’s elbows. ‘All right. I’ve got you.’ ‘Sorry.’ She grabbed his arms, forced smaller breaths until the turbulence washed away. ‘Don’t know what came over me.’ ‘Miss Walker, is there a chance you might be pregnant?’ She stuttered a laugh. ‘I sincerely hope not.’ That would keep her chained to Oliver for the rest of her life. ‘Anyway, it’s been too long … ’ She closed her mouth. Fast. Dr Granger cleared his throat. ‘I missed breakfast,’ she told him, getting the subject off sex. ‘I see.’ He licked his top lip. ‘Well, there’s some colour in your face now.’
That might be the heat of him from beneath his navy shirt. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you.’ ‘I don’t scare easily.’ He cocked an eyebrow, grinned. ‘This happens to me all the time.’ ‘I bet.’ She smothered a laugh as a vision of the townswomen came to the fore, all fainting in front of him so he could catch them in his bull-grip arms. ‘Actually,’ he said, looking at something over her shoulder, ‘you are a bit of a surprise.’ ‘Oh believe me, so are you.’ He darted his gaze back to hers. ‘I mean … you don’t look like a doctor.’ ‘That’s because I’m a vet.’ Such serious reflection, agreeable disarray and calm strength of mind. Did he have any idea how appealing the mixture was? ‘Don’t vets have white coats?’ He paused, narrowed his eyes. ‘A white coat would make you the perfect specimen for a woman’s romantic inclinations.’ ‘Is that so?’ A friend had once tried to get her hitched up with an intern. Then Oliver had come on the scene and put an end to that. But her ex-fiancé’s manipulative behaviour wasn’t something she wanted to think about whilst so close to Dr Granger’s contemplative blue gaze. ‘Where was I?’ she asked. ‘Your romantic inclinations towards me.’ She laughed, shrugged from his hold. ‘I meant other women’s. They probably dream about you in your white coat, you know.’ If not, he could count on one for tonight. ‘It’s that attraction to authority thing, I think.’ His smile curved like the bend in the river at the back of her property, slow and certain.
The House on Burra Burra Lane
‘I’m not sure where our conversation is going, Miss Walker, but I think you’re feeling better.’ Sammy stepped back. He didn’t want to laugh, apparently. Okay. Horrible when people pushed a person into something they didn’t want to do. ‘I do feel better. I can take huge breaths and stay upright.’ She heaved one in to prove it. He nodded, and turned. He picked up a pen at the counter along the wall and wrote something in a file. ‘Your feline friend is fine,’ he said. ‘He’s doing what cats do. You, however, ought to see a real doctor.’ ‘No need. I’m getting up earlier and working harder than ever before, that’s all. And I just … oh, I don’t know … ’ He probably had a big, rumbling laugh. A real man’s laugh. ‘It’s this country air,’ she said, a grin sneaking up on her mouth. ‘There’s so much of it.’ Ethan hesitated, unsure if he should let his laugh loose or not. Was she goading him? She’d been trying to prise the smile from him; he’d caught onto that, although at a snail’s pace. ‘You must think I’m a fruit loop,’ she said, and laughed as she swung a mass of rich brown hair over her shoulders. The colour matched the freckles sprinkled on her cheekbones. A couple danced on her nose too, or maybe it was just dust. ‘Well,’ he said with a spontaneity that seemed to have caught a ride with his smile. ‘You’re a very attractive fruit loop.’ Her eyes widened. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘I was … ’ He rolled his hand. ‘You know, playing along.’ He picked up the paperwork and slid it into a manila folder. Find some sense, man. She clasped her hands together. ‘I didn’t mean to be impolite. And I hope you don’t think I was flirting. I wouldn’t do that. I’m new in town.’ Didn’t he know it. She had a ruffled but natural flair about her, elegance even, regardless of the work clothes. Her T-shirt
was the colour of apricots, with the word FRESH splashed across the front. The shirt sat a little skewed on her torso and he was trying his damndest not to concentrate on the curves beneath the letters R and H. There was something mischievous about the tilt of her chin. Stubborn too perhaps, and no matter how long it had been, he was pretty sure he still recognised flirting. But he wasn’t going to ask her out, however tempting. She lived here, for the moment anyway. He hadn’t placed a bet although there was a wager in town on how long she’d stay, but she wouldn’t know about that. He wasn’t going to get close enough to tell her. Ethan Granger didn’t go down romantic tracks that wound close to home. He’d had to remind himself of this every few seconds since she’d launched at him over the pig, and in particular when she’d been practically in his arms. He glanced down at his jeans. What was wrong with him? Dr Granger hadn’t been down romantic tracks in years. He brushed some dirt off his thigh. He hadn’t had time to clean up after leaving a broodmare at the Smyth farm, when he’d been called back to the surgery for Ruby and a strange conversation about his white coat. He pushed the front tail of his shirt further into his jeans. ‘I apologise for being a bit untidy. I assure you I’m definitely a vet, but I’m a carpenter too. Furniture when I get the chance, but I also fix people’s porches, verandas and the like.’ ‘I’ve got a terrible porch, it’s falling to bits,’ she said with immediate interest. ‘I know.’ Keep mind in tune and gaze off FRESH. ‘How do you know that?’ A knot tied itself in his stomach. ‘The house has been empty for a long time.’ ‘That’s why I bought it. It was cheap.’
The House on Burra Burra Lane
He lifted the cat box by its plastic handle and motioned she accompany him into the small reception area. Ruby snuffled at the floor, her bulbous white body quivering in her harness as she found something interesting to sniff at. Dog pee, Ethan thought, nodding at Mrs Johnson, who had Ruby’s lead linked in her fingers. ‘I’ll only be a moment, Mrs Johnson.’ Mrs J had her tweed-trousered legs crossed at the ankle, her silky headscarf tied tight beneath her chin, and her neighbourhoodwatch gaze on the newcomer. ‘Take your time, Ethan. Nice to see you two getting acquainted. What’s the cat’s name, Miss Walker?’ ‘Duke. He’s a wanderer so I named him after John Wayne, the cowboy.’ ‘I understand,’ Mrs J said, rattling Ruby’s lead, the tinkling bell on the harness telling the pig to come back to Mummy’s side. ‘I don’t have a cat but I like a cowboy sort of man. Someone big and strong, a little wild, a little hot.’ Ethan led a surprised Miss Walker towards the door, practically hearing her thoughts, figuring out what Mrs J had meant by the analogy of wandering cat and wild, hot man, as though it was some country-speak code for the lonely in town who ought to get together. ‘How does she know my name?’ she whispered. He leaned closer. ‘Small town.’ ‘Of course. I keep forgetting. It feels colossal right now.’ She stopped and looked up at him. ‘Do you take on building work for anyone, or just friends?’ ‘Well, normally … ’ He concentrated on the freckles on her nose, three of them. ‘I don’t have a lot of free time.’ ‘Would you take a look at my porch? I can’t find a builder closer than a hundred kilometres away and I’m sure they’re
trying to charge extra because of the fuel costs. I thought I’d give it a go myself but I don’t know where to start. I’ve got a pickaxe though.’ She was slight, not frail, but he couldn’t envisage her hefting a nail gun over her shoulder as she dragged stumps, joists and wooden decking behind her. He gripped the cat box hard. ‘How about three o’clock tomorrow afternoon?’ ‘Really?’ A velvet sparkle lit her eyes. ‘You’ll take a look?’ What was he doing? She lived a five minute drive from where he was standing, in a house he dreaded. ‘Well, I’ll … a look. We’ll see … ’ ‘Thank you, Dr Granger, thank you.’ She held her hand out. He switched Duke’s box to his left hand. ‘Ethan,’ he said, trying not to squash the bones in her hand. ‘You can forget the doctor part. I won’t be bringing my … you know … my white coat.’ He smiled, hoping it covered his awkwardness. ‘I’m sorry about that,’ she said. ‘And about collapsing on you too. I’ve never come close to fainting before.’ He didn’t have to look over his shoulder to see Mrs J’s internal antenna pop up. It all but crackled as she tuned in. ‘It was no trouble catching you. Just take things easy for the rest of the day.’ ‘Samantha Walker,’ she said. ‘Sometimes I’m called Sammy.’ He nodded. He had no idea what he’d call her except one hell of a shock. The pig oinked. He glanced over his shoulder. ‘I’ll be right with you, Mrs Johnson.’ ‘No rush, Ethan.’ Mrs J waved him back to what he was doing. Ethan turned to Miss Walker. ‘How much do I owe you?’ she asked. ‘Nothing,’ he said, looking into her eyes.
The House on Burra Burra Lane
‘Really?’ Doe eyes; too soft, too engaging. There should be clarity in this somewhere. He’d been shocked into a simple case of unexpected desire that she’d started when … well, he wasn’t sure how this had begun. To hell with it. Get with it, for once. He caught her fingers in his before they slipped from his hand. ‘Miss Walker, are we going to do anything about this … attraction?’ He waited. ‘No,’ she whispered. ‘Are we sure?’ She pulled her hand from his. ‘I really didn’t mean to—’ ‘I thought I’d ask the question, since we’ve both admitted … attraction.’ ‘I was joking.’ Joking? A shot of hurt punctured his chest. ‘Right … of course. So was I.’ He walked past her. ‘Not joking exactly,’ she said as she followed him outside. ‘No, really, it’s fine.’ He stood next to her ancient canary-yellow SUV. She pulled keys from the back pocket of her track pants and beeped the remote. Ethan slid the cat box into the back of the vehicle, closed the door, moved to the driver’s door and opened it for her. She hesitated before getting in. ‘I’ve embarrassed us both. This is not the best time for me and I babbled on without thinking.’ She tilted her head. ‘I do that sometimes.’ She gave him a little smile but her gaze was filled with concern. Ethan took a breath. She wasn’t the only one who’d messed up. It hadn’t been fair of him to make a play in the first place, knowing he wouldn’t take it far. Should have taken more note of that cautionary knot in his stomach. Thankfully he’d been dumped quickly, before idiocy completely took over.
‘We’ll start over,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow. Three o’clock.’ And they’d make it businesslike. ‘Thank you.’ ‘No problem.’ He pressed his lips to a tight smile. She hooked her hip onto the seat, swivelled her legs in, and fired the engine. He closed the door for her and stepped back as she drove off. What the hell had just happened? ‘Where’s your assistant vet?’ Ethan swung around to Mrs J. ‘Gone west. I’ve advertised for another. I don’t expect an influx of applicants in a hurry though.’ ‘So you’re on your own again?’ He nodded. It wasn’t as though he couldn’t cope. Wasn’t as if he didn’t usually have to. Plenty of vets with big business on their minds operated within a hundred and twenty kilometre radius, which was fine by him. He had enough to keep him occupied and didn’t need much for contentment. His major investment outside of the surgery was his brand new cobalt-blue utility truck. ‘Got your bet placed?’ Mrs J lowered her voice as though the sheep in the field behind the surgery might spread the rumour before she did. Ethan thrust his hands into his pockets. ‘I don’t usually bat the breeze, Mrs J.’ ‘It’s not idle talk, Ethan. There’s a serious bet down. Haven’t figured out why it’s such a big deal though.’ She paused. ‘Been a long time since you set foot inside the gate on Burra Burra Lane, hasn’t it?’ That damned house. He should have kept it … or burnt it to the ground twelve years ago.
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