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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?"         

     



 

"It does. I feel about eighteen again. Prickle Creek Farm," Liam read  the words on the sign before he turned to her. "Why did you stop?"

"Because I need confidence and war paint."

He huffed an impatient sigh when she reached for the makeup bag on the  floor of the backseat and proceeded to make up her face before brushing  her long blond hair and putting it up with a clip. She finished off with  a bright red lipstick and a light spray of perfume.

"Gawd, Jemmy. I'll stink too. Give it a break."

"Jemima, and it's Chanel No 5." She looked at him as she started the car again.

Liam shook his head. "Do women really think that stuff makes a man look twice?"

"Oh, button it, Liam." Jemima took a deep breath. "If you want the  truth, I'm nervous as hell about going home. I can hide behind it.  Jemima Smythe, aloof model who doesn't do emotion."

Liam grinned at her. "Well, if you did, I think your face would crack with all that gunk on it."

For that, he copped a punch on his upper arm.

"We're not all as confident as you are. And don't you even think about saying a word of that to Gran or Lucy," Jemima said.

"Don't worry, sis. We're all in this together. Solidarity. Okay?"

Despite his teasing, Jemima knew her brother was also nervous about  coming home. Why had they all jumped to Gran's summons so readily? From  all over the world? Maybe it was because she'd never asked them for  anything before.

Maybe it was because they wanted a new start in life?

"Solidarity," she murmured quietly.





Chapter One


Twelve months later

Jemima Smythe's gaze was fixed on the red, dusty road as she walked down  the long driveway to the mailbox. It was mid-January, and the brown  snakes were active out here at Gran and Pop's farm in the Pilliga Scrub,  and Jemima couldn't go off into a daydream. Keeping an eye out for  movement in the tall grass was a must if you walked along the road in  summer.

The sun was bright, and Jemima squinted as she opened the flap on the  mailbox and pulled out the Prickle Creek Farm mailbag. There was a sheaf  of letters, advertising brochures, and the local weekly paper. She took  the newspaper and slipped it beneath her arm as she flipped through the  letters.

It seemed almost a lifetime ago since she had received that phone call  from Gran. After she'd collected Liam from the international airport in  Sydney, they'd come home, and Gran had revealed that she wanted each of  them to spend some time at Prickle Creek Farm. Her grandparents were  considering selling the farm, but they wanted to give the grandchildren a  chance to work it and see if any of their futures were here in the  Pilliga Scrub. For eight months, Jemima had fulfilled her contractual  obligations in New York at the Eileen Ford Agency, but her heart hadn't  been in it. She'd been home now for a couple of months, helping  Liam-Gran and Pop had toured the UK and now were on a bus trip through  Europe-and Jemima was ready to start a new job doing something she  wanted to do, something that was worthwhile and she enjoyed.

Yes!

There was a letter in an official-looking envelope-from the school. Her  hands were shaking, and Jemima pulled out the letter, her eyes scanning  the words. She let out a loud whoop, startling a murder of crows high up  in the trees above the gate. They flew away with a couple of loud and  cranky ark ark calls.

She read the letter aloud as she walked along. Reading out loud made it seem so much more real.

"Dear Ms. Smythe, Please report to Spring Downs School office at 8.30  a.m. on Monday, 29th January to be interviewed for the position of  kindergarten teacher."

Yes! She had an interview! The first step towards getting her dream job  was underway. Lucy had asked her about it when she'd come over with baby  James a couple of days ago.

"Jemmy, I can't understand you. You had a job that many girls dream  about. You've got enough money saved to live off for years, a snazzy  little sports car, and yet you want to go and work in a primary school?"  Lucy had screwed her nose up in disgust or confusion. Jemima hadn't  been sure which.

"I do. It will be so satisfying. I'll be making a difference. Helping  the children to learn. Teaching them to grow into responsible citizens.  In my hometown."

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