The image of Byrne Drummond has burned in Fiona's mind ever since she first saw him in Gundawarra. A stoic, broad-shouldered cattleman stricken by the wreckage her brother had wrought....
Byrne has every reason to hate Fiona McLaren. Her reckless brother destroyed his family. But Fiona's touch is the first to stir him in years. He wants to stay away, but she draws him like a moth to a flame...who will get burned?
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April 10, 2007
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Excerpt from In the Heart of the Outback by Barbara Hannay
The man standing a few feet from Fiona looked as haunted and desolate as she felt-- too shocked to cry, too numb to feel pain.
He was wearing an oilskin coat, dark and shiny from the heavy rain outside, and he stood rock-still in the middle of the busy emergency ward, unaware of the staff ducking around him.
His skin was the suntanned brown of a man of the land, but shock had leached the tan from his cheeks. His eyes were dark and hollow, disbelieving. And although he was strong looking, tall and muscular, his shoulders were stooped, his chest caved in, as if the air had been sucked out of him.
He was clutching a teddy bear spotted with raindrops.
Fiona dropped her gaze and saw that the bottoms of his jeans and his riding boots were splattered with mud, and she wondered where he'd been when he was called to the hospital. She pictured him working in muddy stockyards, perhaps, dropping whatever task he was attending to--just as she had abandoned a board meeting in Sydney when the police had contacted her.
The horror in his face told her that his news had been terrible, too. She felt his shock, as deep and unexpected and dreadful as her own, and his stunned suffering seemed to double her awful anxiety about Jamie.
A nurse approached him. "Mr Drummond?" He didn't respond at first and the nurse tried again, more loudly. "Mr Drummond."
The nurse touched him on the elbow and he turned stiffly, his gaze fierce and threatening, his jaw jutting and rigid with tension. the nurse spoke to him in a quiet undertone, and Fiona watched the two of them set off down the ward. they looked incongruous-- the tall, big-framed man with the tiny toy bear, following the short, dumpy nurse like an obedient child, like a robot programmed by remote control.
they disappeared, and Fiona was left with her own protracted nightmare.
She slid her jacket sleeve back from her wrist and glanced at her watch. it was four hours since she'd received the dreadful news of an accident on a remote road in Outback Queensland.
"I'm sorry to inform you that one of the victims is James Angus McLaren from Gundawarra," the sergeant had told her. "I believe you're his next of kin."
Jamie, her brother, had been air-lifted to the Townsville Hospital, and his life now hung in the balance.
Shock had blunted her ability to think, but Rex Hartley, her company's senior partner, had been instantly sympathetic.
"Take the company jet," he'd insisted, when he'd found her, white-faced, frantically trying to book a flight north. "You need to get up there as quickly as you can."
But, by the time she'd arrived at this emergency ward, Jamie had already been taken to an operating theatre and surgery had begun.
Since then, Fiona had paced these heavily disinfected corridors in an anxious daze, lost and shaken, scared sick and hollow with dread.
But she refused to think the worst. Jamie would pull through. Jamie always pulled through.
Her younger brother was like a cat with nine lives. His boyhood had been littered with countless accidents. he'd fallen from the garage roof, from his bicycle, from the frangipani tree. he'd broken his collarbone playing football, his ankle doing high-jumps, and he'd always bounced back, stronger and cheekier than ever. Jamie was invincible.
For heaven's sake, as an adult he'd flown 747's all over the world.
"Excuse me, are you Fiona McLaren?" Fiona jumped and turned, saw a tired, young woman dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope looped around her neck, and she was swamped with sudden fear. Now she would hear how Jamie had fared. Her heart began to pound mercilessly.
The doctor introduced herself, but Fiona didn't catch her name. All she heard were the words that came next.