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About the author:
When Alissa Callen isn’t writing she plays traffic controller to four children, three dogs, two horses and one renegade cow who really does believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. After a childhood spent chasing sheep on the family farm, Alissa has always been drawn to remote areas and small towns, even when residing overseas. Once a teacher and a counsellor, she remains interested in the life journeys that people take and her books are characteristically heart-warming, emotional and character driven. She currently lives on a small slice of rural Australia in central western New South Wales.
What inspired you to write your book?
I live in the outback and there is no better a place for inspiration. Inspiration surrounds me, whether it be the brown snake at my back door or the resilience of bush communities in times of drought, fires or flood. Beneath Outback Skies draws upon my experiences living in a small town during a never ending drought.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Unless this city boy is on a first-name basis with the rain gods, I’m not showing him around Banora Downs.’
Paige Quinn’s quiet, measured words fell like much-needed rain into the silence of her father’s study.
‘I know how hard you work, how busy you are, but I’ve given my word this man can stay.’ Lines of tension mapped Connor Quinn’s creased features. His strong shoulders were braced beneath the red-checked cotton of his best shirt. ‘Possum … I’m sorry.’
Her Akubra crumpled beneath her tight grip. She’d been out droving hungry cattle in the long paddock for a fortnight. In such time it looked as though her father had aged a decade.
‘It’s okay, Dad. You can’t control fate. Can’t make life fair.’
Her gentle tone failed to return colour to her father’s hollowed cheeks. They both knew she wasn’t talking about the endless blistering Australian summer.
‘We can do this. We can survive.’ Conviction echoed in her words like her footsteps upon the floorboards as she approached her father’s desk. ‘Just as we’ve always done. Just the two of us.’ She placed her hat upon the time-worn mahogany. ‘We don’t need some paying guest’s cash.’
She may as well have been talking to one of the garden statues that now presided over old tools in the shed, instead of lush lawns and fragrant flower beds. The only movement in her father’s expression was his eyes as they glanced from her face to her hat. She shifted on her feet. The sun-bleached felt would look pristine compared with her torn-around-the-edges appearance. Her faded emerald-green shirt was caked in ochre dust, her jeans so stiff they could walk by themselves to the laundry.
Her father lowered his hands and the sinews of his forearms flexed as he manoeuvred his wheelchair out from behind the desk.
‘Yes, we do. We haven’t had a wheat crop for five years. We’ve few cattle left to sell.’ She steeled herself so the reality of how much they did have left wouldn’t show on her face. ‘This drought has hit us hard. We need money to eat … to live.’
She swallowed down her hunger. The meagre slice of toast she’d eaten around her dawn campfire was little more than a memory.
‘We’ll make do. You know what happened with the last city-slicker. He had three showers a day and drained the tank. Not to mention our phone bill because his mobile didn’t have reception. As for the time he went for a walk and we had to organize a bloody search party …’ She knelt to grasp her father’s hands. ‘This man will be just the same. He’ll be nothing but trouble. We don’t have the diesel to drive him to town. We don’t have the cash for his lobster and caviar.’
‘If it helps,’ a deep-timbred voice sounded from the doorway behind her, ‘I’m allergic to seafood.’
Paige stiffened. Only the firm grasp of her father’s hands prevented her from spinning around. ‘Paige,’ her father murmured as if she were six years old again, ‘play nice.’ A flicker of humour lit his eyes. ‘We want our guest to leave with good memories, not with his arm in a cast. Okay?’
She kinked a brow. ‘You do remember cousin Charles fell out of the tree all by himself, don’t you?’
Her father winked and eased his grip on her hands. She straightened and spun on her boot heels to see a tall man stride into the room. She met eyes as blue as the water that haunted her dreams. For a nanosecond she drowned in their cool, clear depths. Then the stranger’s scent hit her. Top-shelf aftershave. Hand-crafted leather. Money. Three things as foreign to her world as dust, dehydration and desperation were to him.
It didn’t matter if the price tag for keeping his thick, dark hair city-short would feed them for days. It didn’t matter if the muscles beneath the fine weave of his blue chambray shirt were exactly what she needed to fix the broken fence. This paying guest wasn’t welcome. The outback was no place for the inexperienced or the foolhardy. Even more so when rain was non-existent. Everything was thirsty and bad-tempered. Stock. Snakes. Humans. There was no way this man could stay the weekend.
He stopped in front of her and offered his hand. ‘Tait Cavanaugh.’
Her arm lifted as though it were anchored by a heavy weight. ‘Paige Quinn.’
His clean, smooth palm slid against her smaller, work-roughened one. A smile laced his eyes with laughter and light. She pulled her hand away. Unless this man’s charm made it rain, he and his high-wattage grin were as useful as stilettos in a cattle yard.
She inclined her head towards Connor. ‘I believe you’ve spoken with my father, Connor Quinn?’
‘Yes, I’ve already had the pleasure over the phone.’ He extended a hand towards the older man. ‘You were right on the money. The V12 engine did the trip in just under eight hours.’
The men exchanged a lengthy, vigorous handshake. She ground her teeth. A masculine love-fest of all things automotive wasn’t part of her eviction plan. Not only would Tait deplete their water supply, he’d also soak up her time – time she needed to hide the true state of Banora Downs’ affairs from her father. She’d promised her mother she would take care of him and he had enough to deal with without the added burden of the farm. The trading of his cane for his wheelchair told her just how much his legs troubled him. V12 engine or not, this man, his fancy vehicle and his easy grin had to go. No matter how much money he was paying. Or how much her father’s expression had lightened in the past few minutes. Exhaustion pressed upon her shoulders.
‘Mr Cavanaugh, your being allergic to seafood does help. We don’t have insurance. So it’ll be in both our best interests if you stayed elsewhere.’ She pushed her lips into what she hoped qualified as a smile. ‘I personally will arrange accommodation in another farm-stay closer to town.’
‘I wouldn’t want to cause trouble.’
‘Oh, it’s no trouble. Believe me.’ She inclined her head towards the phone on the office bench. Her fingers curled into a fist at the urge to reach for the handset. ‘It just so happens I have the farm-stay’s number on speed-dial.’
‘I bet you do.’ His chuckle failed to disguise the determination clipping his words. ‘But you won’t need any insurance. I’m a good boy scout and brought my emergency adrenaline EpiPen.’ The corner of his mouth kicked into a half-grin. ‘I’m sure you’ll have no trouble sticking a needle into me.’
She compressed her lips to stifle a smile.
Gorgeous. Witty. Used to getting his own way.
This city pretty-boy wasn’t even staying a day.