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Ross's Girl
 

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Ross's Girl


  ROSS'S GIRL by Jane Corrie

  Vicky Dale was having second and then third thoughts about her engagement to Ross Janson. He might be an attractive man, one of the most sought-after in New South Wales, in fact — but the plain fact was that she didn't love him, and he certainly didn't love her. So she broke it off. Which made it rather unreasonable of Ross to object so strongly to Vicky's new friendship with Pete Noonan. Why should Ross complain, when he was in love with Ella Waden anyway?

  Printed in Great Britain

  Books you will enjoy by JANE CORRIE

  BRIDE FOR SALE

  To further her father's social-climbing ambitions, Rowena had been summarily married off to the local squire Sean Tancred, who needed her money to keep his beautiful home going. In her teens Rowena had had a mild crush on Sean—but not anymore! Not now that she had realised what a cold, unfeeling man she had married!

  PIRATES' LAIR

  Tragedy greeted Thea when she arrived in the Virgin Islands to visit her brother—only to learn that he had been killed in a car crash. But when her brother's boss, the formidable Marcus Conan, asked her to marry him it looked as if she was going to have a happy ending after all. Until Sapphire Durley burst her dream bubble for her...

  ISLAND FIESTA

  Because they shared the same name, it had been fairly easy for Corinne's cousin to persuade her to go to the Canary Islands in her place, to claim a legacy-. But it wasn't as simple as that—as Corinne found when she met the co-inheritor Juan Martel and found herself trapped into marrying him!

  THE STATION BOSS

  If only temporarily, Sheena just had to get away from Doyle Charter who had treated her so badly, so she accepted Clay Dayman's offer to take her off to his cattle station in the north of Australia. All she really wanted was to get back to Doyle as soon as she could—yet somehow, in all her dealings with Clay, she found she had no choice. What was it about this forceful man?

  All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are pure invention.

  First published 1982

  © Jane Corrie 1982

  Australian copyright 1982

  ISBN 0 263 10032 4

  CHAPTER ONE

  VICTORIA DALE sat on the paddock fence and surveyed the rolling pastures in front of her. The picture had always pleased her before, but now it had a sameness about it that made her long for new scenery.

  A fly landed on her bare left leg and she sighed as she flicked it off. She didn't understand why she should feel this way. Dale's Creek was home to her, and she had been perfectly happy up until now, and she didn't see why she should let Cassy Brook's remarks get under her skin.

  She gave another sigh. They were jealous, of course. Cassy and her friend Lucy Sean had had their eyes on Ross for years, and so had several other girls, she thought, and if it hadn't been for an understanding between Ross's family and Vicky's family that their marriage would amalgamate the two largest stations in the Albury district of New South Wales, Ross's life would be one continual siege of girls looking for a wealthy landowner husband, and add good looks and an easy disposition to the aforesaid, the tracks to Jarra Station would be strewn with casualties from the infighting to gain such a matrimonial prize.

  The fly landed on her other knee and she flicked it off again. So they were jealous, she thought

  sourly, but the plain fact of the matter was that what they had said had been perfectly true, and it was that part of it that was causing her uneasiness. `He wouldn't have looked twice at Vicky Dale if she hadn't been a Dale and only daughter of Gordon Dale,' Cassy had said, unaware that Vicky was sitting in a partitioned-off cubicle behind her in the teashop where she had gone to wait for her appointment for a hair-set in the adjoining salon. `A man like that needs a real woman, not a skinny tomboy who doesn't look a day over sixteen,' she had declared emphatically.

  Vicky was nineteen, and although she had no illusions about herself, she had been hurt by the reference to her age. As for being called a 'tomboy', she hadn't minded that at all; she was more at home in a blouse and jeans than a dress, and would much rather stay at home pleasing herself where she roamed on the huge sheep station that her father owned than pay the expected social calls whenever there was an occasion to go in to town.

  Had Ross's mother been privileged to hear Cassy Brook's remarks, Vicky had a sneaking feeling that she would have agreed with them, but as both Ross's parents had died in an air crash two years ago while on a European tour, Vicky would never know the answer to that, but it was a fact that she had tried to bring out the feminine side of the girl they had nominated as their only son's wife in the not too distant future, and Vicky had found herself the victim of several stern if well meant lectures on the subject of genteel behaviour, and what young

  ladies did or didn't do, and that Vicky would pass on to her mother afterwards in satirical fashion, and her mother, after scolding her for not paying due attention to her lessons, would invariably be forced into a chuckle at her naughty daughter's mimicry.

  The loss of Ross's parents only a year after Vicky's mother had died had brought them even closer together, although the families had been close friends for many years. Ross's father and Vicky's father had been firm friends since their boyhood and had grown up together. There had not been quite the same rapport between their wives, but certainly no dissent. Mrs Janson had done her best during that first difficult year for Vicky after she had lost her mother, but there had been such a wealth of difference in -their views and upbringing, that it only produced a kind of resentment from Vicky, even though she knew Mrs Janson had her welfare at heart, for behind her well-meant interference Vicky had sensed a purposeful intention to groom her future daughter-in-law into the kind of wife she wanted for her son.

  Mrs Janson had had high ideals, and were it not for the question of land, and the desirability of adding to their already substantial acreage, Vicky was sure that Ross's mother would have sought elsewhere for a bride for her son, for as the daughter of a wealthy auctioneer who owned a huge business that had branches in all the towns that dealt in wool and livestock, she had the right connections. She had also had the benefit of a good

  education, and it was this at times that had made Vicky's mother feel a little inferior to her, and not a little in awe of her, although Mrs Janson never consciously paraded the fact.

  Vicky's thoughts then turned to Ross. What did he really think of the proposed. match? Would he prefer to seek his own partner? What right had her parents, or his, to lay down the law as to who should marry whom? From the property angle it was a perfect match—and that, she thought crossly, had been their only consideration at the time, plus the fact that she got on with Ross, even if she was a little overawed by his autocratic ways.

  She drew in a deep breath. What could Ross do about it if he didn't want to marry her? For all she knew he might have an undying passion for Ella Waden, the grazier's daughter whose station bordered Ross's on the south-west boundary, and whose beauty had awakened interest from most of the single men in the area without committing her to any one admirer. Waiting for Ross? she wondered. She drew in another deep breath. Now that would have to be a love match, for there was no question of gaining more land in that direction, as the station was under joint management with a city consortium.

  Vicky's brown eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun. It was getting on for midday and she would soon have to go back to the house to prepare the meal, although she doubted if her father would be present. He had taken to making mysterious visits to the town lately on the slightest excuse

  avail
able, and Vicky suspected that he was carrying on a surreptitious courtship that she would undoubtedly hear about when he was ready to tell her.

  She stood up and turned slowly towards the homestead. Everyone, it seemed, was determined to keep her in the dark, not only her father with his newfound attraction that was keeping him away from his usual hawkeyed watch over the station staff, but Ross as well, who had never bothered to talk over their future together. She straightened her slim back as she started back towards home. What it all boiled down to was that she knew nothing, she thought irritably. She had always accepted the fact that one day she would marry Ross, but had never bothered to examine the fact before, and now that she did, she was amazed at her feelings. Ross was like a big brother to her. There had been no endearing words, or even a sly kiss when they were alone, only a lecture if she did anything that he considered foolish, such as swimming in the Creek when it was swollen after a rainstorm and—oh, there were innumerable instances that she could recall, when his attitude towards her was one of forbearance rather than romance.

  In point of fact, she thought sadly, romance simply didn't exist in the arrangement. As in days of old, that was something that came later—but would it? Her eyes widened as she imagined the future, and then she shook her head vehemently. It was all utterly impossible. She was very fond of Ross, but in a sisterly way only, the same as he felt

  about her, she was certain, but as things stood there was nothing he could do about it and he would go ahead with the marriage in due course of time.

  She gave a slight shiver in spite of the heat around her as she envisaged their wedding night and the total embarrassment to both of them—not that she could imagine Ross ever being in such a state, he was much too sure of himself, but she would certainly be, and there was only one answer to that. Call the whole thing off as quickly as possible!

  If Ross was so keen on adding to his property, then perhaps he could come to some arrangement with her father, which at that time would be no bad thing, Vicky mused thoughtfully, as she recalled her father's sudden loss of interest in the station. Only the day before Jake Loman had sought her out and reminded her to get her father to sign up the shearers for the following week as they were now on Ross's property, and usually made Dale's Creek their next stop, but as yet no firm arrangement had been made, and this was most unlike her father. They would come, of course, as they had come for years, but there were things that had to be arranged first, like moving the sheep down from the upper pastures and into the pens around the homestead. Jake, as foreman, would already have most of this organised, but he had to have Gordon Dale's go-ahead.

  Vicky sighed as she entered the cool entrance of the homestead. She had never thought the day would come when her father would neglect his

  property to the extent that he had over these past few weeks. If it hadn't been for the vigilance of the staff everything would have come to a dead halt by now, Vicky thought.

  As she moved into the lounge and on through to the kitchen, she found that her surmise that her father had not yet returned was correct, and she began to prepare herself a light salad lunch. While she ate her solitary meal, it occurred to her that her father might be contemplating giving up farming, and that meant that whoever the woman was, she was a townee, and had no intention of burying herself on a station, no matter how prosperous that station was.

  When she had finished her meal she made herself a cup of coffee, and as she drank it her thoughts roamed on. She was certain that it was a woman who had caused her father's sudden loss of interest in the station. Nothing else made sense. Besides, all the signs were there. Her father's careful attention to his clothes, for instance. He had never been a man to fuss over his appearance, but things were different now, and it seemed a long time ago since he had looked Vicky in the eye without giving a sheepish grin and then making himself scarce over some detail that he ought to have seen today ago.

  Vicky was also sure that she was on the right lines over her guess that the woman was a town woman who preferred the bright lights of the city to the station plains, and she wondered if her father was contemplating settling in Canberra.

  She gave a light shrug as she finished her coffee

  and got up from the table and started to wash up her plates. Her father would tell her when he was good and ready, she supposed, when everything was finalised. The plain fact that he had not put her into the picture meant that he was not certain of his ground, and that he had not yet popped the question. He had not considered Vicky's future for the simple reason that her future was taken care of—at least he thought it was, she thought ironically. He did not know that Vicky was not going to marry Ross, she hadn't known herself until that morning, but this should not affect her father's affairs. If anything, it should make it easier for him, for he could then make an outright sale of the property at a price that Ross, who had inherited

  his grandfather's business, would not even miss

  from his bank account.

  As Vicky laid the dishes on the draining board, she was amazed at her cool acceptance of the fact that if her surmises proved correct, she would soon be leaving her home and beginning a future that was entirely foreign to her. Perhaps she too would go to Canberra? She would not foist herself on her father and his new wife, as that would be most unfair, but at least she would be close enough to pay the occasional visit to them.

  The prospect of a new future did not depress her, in fact, because of her restlessness that morning, it uplifted her. She would find something to do, she was sure, and there had been so much uncertainty hovering around her that she was glad of the chance of doing something positive.

  She glanced quickly at the kitchen wall clock and saw that it was just after one o'clock. She ought to catch Ross at lunch if she left right away, she thought. That was the first positive step she had to get over with as soon as possible. It was no use hoping to catch him in the evenings, he was so immersed in the various local agricultural committees that if he hadn't a meeting at his place, he was out attending one at someone else's, and he wouldn't thank Vicky for barging in on one.

  A few minutes later she was on her way to Jarra Station in her battered but much loved old Holden. As she neared the outskirts of the station, she could hear the shouts of the drovers as the sheep were herded into pens closer to the shearing sheds. All very familiar sounds, but for once it did not give her a sense of exhilaration, only an echo of the past that she felt was now outworn and over with as far as she was concerned.

  When she neared the homestead, she saw with a sigh of exasperation that Ross was not where she had hoped he would be, having his lunch in the peace and solitude of the homestead kitchen, and where she had hoped to have a private word with him, but snatching a sandwich in between directing operations. .

  She drew in a deep breath. That was Ross all over, he had a good manager and experienced staff to cope with any situation, but he had to be in the thick of any activity. Once her father had been the same, she thought ironically, but times had changed.

  For a moment she debated the wisdom of staying and trying to get in a private word with him knowing that he would not be pleased by what he would consider her untimely appearance in the smooth running of the shearing operations, then she shrugged her slim shoulders. Whatever time she chose would be the wrong time, and she didn't know what Ross would call the right time for such a talk, not that he had any idea of what was on her mind. Her smooth brow furrowed. Ought she to put it off? she wondered, then her lips firmed in resolution. It was now or never. If she left it to tomorrow, she might not have the courage to carry it through; there had been too much indecision in her life—on her part anyway. She had just accepted the plans that had been made for her future without a thought of her own, and that went for Ross too, she thought, and it wasn't good enough.

  Encouraged by this thought, she got out of the car and walked towards the shearing shed nearest the homestead and where Ross stood issuing orders from time to time and watchin
g points with his narrow blue gaze that missed nothing.

  He did not miss Vicky's approach either, and the instant, slightly exasperated look that passed over his lean features was not missed by Vicky, who should by now be accustomed to such greetings, but at that moment particularly resented it. It was hardly the way one greeted one's beloved, was it? she thought pithily, and if not beloved, the woman he was going to marry!

  None of this would have occurred to her a day

  earlier, and she would have apologised to him for distracting him from his work, but things were different now, she thought ironically, and her soft lips twisted. Cassy Brook had been perfectly right about Ross's reason for marrying her, and would not have looked at her if it hadn't been for the acquisition of yet more land, and she suddenly wished that her father didn't own Dale's Creek and she could start from scratch like any other girl waiting for the right man to share her life with.

  `Anything wrong?' Ross asked, as Vicky joined him, his vivid blue stare searching her face.

  Vicky concealed her annoyance by fixing her large brown eyes on the pen next to the shed and absently noticing the way it was gradually being cleared of livestock, as the sheep were passing through to the shearing area. 'I want to talk to you,' she said, trying to inject an urgency into her words but knowing that Ross would be annoyed at her intrusion and was not likely to attach any importance to what she had to say.

  `Can't it wait?' he replied impatiently, giving the answer Vicky knew he would give, then as another thought struck him he added, 'Is Gordon okay? I haven't seen much of him lately. I meant to call down the other evening, but something turned up.'

  `Something', thought Vicky sourly, always `turned up' with Ross, it was a wonder he found time to sleep. 'No,' she replied, `Dad's all right. I just wanted to have a private word with you, that's all,' she added crossly.

 
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