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Rimmer's Way
 

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Rimmer's Way


  Rimmer's Way by JANE CORRIE

  Della tried to shut out the disturbing effect Cal was having on her. "Might be better if you let yourself go occasionally" he said. "I'd kind of like to see what's behind that wall you've built up around yourself." Della gasped as she realized the implication of his words. So he did want to make love to her! Well, he was right about the wall. What's more, she'd go on building—so high no man could scale it. Especially not Cal Tarn!

  Printed in U.S.A.

  OTHER Harlequin Romances by JANE CORRIE

  1956—THE IMPOSSIBLE BOSS 2020—RAINBOW FOR MEGAN 2038—SINCLAIR TERRITORY 2053—GREEN PADDOCKS 2072—THE BAHAMIAN PIRATE 2087—DANGEROUS ALLIANCE

  Many of these titles are available at your local bookseller, or through the Harlequin Reader Service.

  For a free catalogue listing all available Harlequin Romances, send your name and address to:

  HARLEQUIN READER SERVICE,M.P.O. Box 707, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14302

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  or use order coupon at back of books.

  Original hardcover edition published in 1977 by Mills & Boon Limited

  ISBN 0-373-02098-8

  Harlequin edition published September 1977

  Copyright @ 1977 by Jane Corrie. All rights reserved.

  Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or In part In any form by any electronic, mechanical or other maans, 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.

  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.

  The Harlequin trademark, consisting of the word HARLEQUIN and the portrayal of a Harlequin, is registered in the United States Patent Office and In the Canada Trade Marks Office.

  CHAPTER ONE

  DELLA CASTLE breathed a sigh of pure content, everyone was so friendly; her earlier doubts of throwing up a good job with excellent prospects now diminished.

  The decision had not been an easy one, but now she was sure she had done the right thing by agreeing to join her only living relative, her Uncle Denny, in Australia.

  She smiled at the girl talking so animatedly to 'her, indeed she had never seemed to stop talking since Della had told her of her destination.

  'Rimmer's Way?' she had exclaimed. 'Why, goodness, everybody knows of Rimmer's Way just about the biggest cattle station in the Tablelands.'

  That had been on the boat coming over, and by the time they had reached Sydney, Della had received a mine of information on Rimmer's Way; but she had become increasingly puzzled by the repeated mention of one man's name: Cal Tarn. Della had known her uncle was in partnership with another man, but to hear Alice Dody tell it, there was only one owner who mattered—Cal Tarn.

  She came to the conclusion that Alice was slightly prejudiced in the man's favour. 'An absolute gor-

  geous specimen,' she had enthused, then warned Della, 'And don't get sentimental over him. He's about as warm as the Pole. There's only one thing that man loves, and that's Rimmer's Way. Whoever marries him will come a bad second—mind you,' she grinned at Della, 'I wouldn't mind even that, but chance would be a fine thing! '

  When they reached Bathurst Alice tried to get Della to stay with her people overnight, until her uncle collected her the following morning, but Della declined the offer. She badly needed a breathing space from Alice's ceaseless chattering, and wanting to savour her new surroundings- in peace and quiet, she booked into the hotel room her uncle had reserved for her.

  However, her peace was shortlived, as she had only just washed and changed when her telephone rang. Uncle Denny, she thought as she went to answer it, ringing to welcome her to Australia.

  She frowned on finding her caller was not her uncle, but Alice, requesting her presence at a party she had found waiting for her on arrival at her home. 'You must come, Della. I've told everybody about you, and they want to meet you.'

  Della sighed; it was nice of Alice to think of her, and however much she would have liked to have refused, she knew she would have to accept; it wasn't as if she had anything else to do, and Alice knew it.

  Not quite sure what to wear, Della chose a printed

  silk dress of a delicate pink that she knew suited her dark colouring. While she waited for Alice's father to pick her up, she gazed reflectively at herself in the mirror. Her appearance was not one to set the world alight, she admitted ruefully to herself. Her dark brown hair lay long and straight to her shoulders, and a fringe disguised her rather high forehead. She had good bone structure, with high cheekbones that just lifted her out of the plain category, although Della saw none of these things.

  Her wide brown eyes that mirrored her thoughts more than she knew gazed back at her solemnly as she continued her appraisal. Her nose was anything but classical, it was retroussé, and gave her a younger appearance than her twenty-one years. Her figure also left much to be desired, in her eyes. It was too thin, and however much she tried to put on weight, she stayed thin.

  Della took after her mother, figure wise, at least— but in no other way, for her mother had been a beauty in her time, and had still caught the eye before her untimely death, ten years ago. Her father had died only two years ago, and Della sighed as she brushed her hair into a more tidy appearance. She ought to have come out to her uncle then; he had wanted her to, but there had been John.

  The hand holding the brush ceased its motion; she had been so sure of his love then, and so utterly shattered when he announced his engagement to the managing director's daughter. Della had known

  that he was ambitious, and was not averse to cutting corners, but she hadn't realised the extent of those ambitions. She wasn't a vain girl, and was well aware of her shortcomings, but she knew John loved her, so it came as no surprise when he sought her out, not two months after the marriage, begging her to forgive him, and wanting things to go on as before.

  In spite of her determined refusal to agree to this underhand arrangement, and although he talked wildly of divorce, Della was no longer sure of him, or herself, and had taken the only way out by putting temptation beyond her reach—several oceans beyond her reach.

  On the boat over she had had plenty of time to think, before Alice had found her, that was, and came to the sad conclusion that she belonged to the `also ran' class, and if she wasn't very careful it would happen again.

  There were some girls men married, and others they flirted with and moved on again, and Della was certain she belonged to the latter. If John could do a thing like that, so could others, and Della was going to make very certain no man came within hurting distance again.

  Losing John had only been part of her misery. She had had to give up her job as well; work she had loved, as personnel officer to a large textile firm. It was a highly responsible and rewarding position, and one she wouldn't have given up, but for the fact

  that John's office was only a hundred yards down the corridor, and as Labour Manager he had a perfectly viable excuse to make frequent visits to her office.

  On hearing a tap at the door, Della laid the brush down, and collecting her coat and bag, went to open the door to Alice's father.

  As they walked through the hotel lobby, it occurred to Della that her uncle might ring to welcome her later, so she asked Mr Dody if he would mind waiting while she left a message at reception of her whereabouts, and this done, she accompanied Mr Dody to the waiting car.

  Della was very conscious of
her five feet seven, as she sat beside the small dapper man who kept up a cheerful conversation on the journey to his home. Alice, it appeared, took after her father in height. At five feet two, Della had seemed to tower over her, and she found herself hoping there were a few folk present at the party in her own height range.

  An hour later, as she sat listening to Alice's instructions on the kind of clothes she would find most suitable for wear at the ranch, Della found herself actually enjoying the evening. It was not too large a party; there were about twenty people present, all of whom she had been introduced to, but couldn't hope to remember their names. Once the introductions were over, Alice had commandeered her presence, and they sat in a window seat slightly apart from the rest of the company.

  In this position Della was able to get the first

  glimpse of the man who arrived late. His height first took her attention—at least six feet tall, probably taller, she mused. He wore a khaki shirt and drill trousers. It wasn't only his height that put him apart from the rest of the guests, there was something about his stance, and the proud way he held his head. His dark curly hair was cropped close, and he had a look of authority about him.

  Della watched as his gaze swept over the company and rested on her. As brief as it was, she felt that look. There wouldn't be much those piercing grey eyes missed, she thought. She was not a person to believe in premonitions, yet she was certain that this man would play a major part in her future, as crazy as it seemed, and was not a bit surprised when Alice gave a slight shriek of, 'Call For goodness' sake, come over here!' Della found herself dragged forward. 'Della, meet Cal,' Alice commanded, and turning to the bronzed stranger said, 'Cal, this is Della Castle. We arrived today, as you probably know —you aren't going to drag her away, are you? She's not due at Rimmer's Way until tomorrow.'

  Cal Tarn's hard fingers gripped Della's hand, then just as suddenly as if there had been no contact between them, released it. 'Welcome to Australia, Miss Castle,' he said brusquely, and turned to Alice. 'I'm sorry, Alice, something's come up.' His keen stare rested again on Della as he remarked quietly, 'We'll go back to your hotel.'

  With a start, Della realised he hadn't even asked her if she would mind leaving the party, but again that touch of premonition made her obey him without question. Something had happened, and whatever it was, he didn't want to tell her there.

  Once outside, he guided her to a very expensive-looking car, and held the car door open for her while she got in. During the short journey he did not attempt to make light conversation, and Della gathered he was not the type of man to waste breath on ordinary chatter. She noticed his long tanned fingers lightly holding the steering wheel. There was strength in those fingers, she could almost see him astride a horse, for that was clearly where he belonged, and a small thrill shot through her. She had met her first 'outback man'.

  When they reached the hotel, he accompanied her to the lift and asked her room number—a request which might have made her slightly apprehensive had it been any other man, but as Alice had said, he was a cold man, but trustworthy. Instinctively Della knew he was a man one could trust in a crisis. Her uncle had chosen a good partner.

  Inside her room, Della took off her coat, and placed it, and her bag, on a chair and turned to face her companion. She was a little disconcerted to find he had been watching her closely, and as her brown eyes met the alert grey ones, he looked away and tucked his thumbs into his wide leather belt.

  `Your uncle died at three-thirty this afternoon,' he said bluntly.

  Della's eyes widened a fraction and she blinked. Cal Tarn looked back at her. 'Saw no point in wrapping it up,' he said in clipped tones with just a trace of an Australian accent. 'That's why I brought you back from that party—guessed you'd rather be alone when you heard.'

  She nodded dumbly, and slowly sank down on the nearest chair. 'How?' she asked quietly.

  He shrugged. 'Been ailing for some time—heart. He went out the way he wanted—no sick bed for Denny.'

  Again Della nodded, feeling numb. Only a day, she thought miserably; if she had only got there a day earlier. He had asked her to come all that time ago and she had put it off—for John—John, who had let her down.

  Now she had no one; no kith or kin and was in a strange land. Della wanted to be alone; she wanted this man to go, she had a lot of things to think about —what she was going to do, for one thing.

  Dully she heard that clipped voice speak again. 'The funeral will be on Wednesday,' he said. 'I would like you to stay here until then.'

  Della pulled her whirling thoughts back to the conversation. She would go to the funeral, of course. She looked up at him; he had said he wanted her to stay at the hotel, but why? Did he think she was afraid of death? She had seen it before—twice in fact, with her mother and father. 'I'm not afraid of death,' she said quietly. 'And I would like to see the ranch,' she added slowly, but somehow it didn't sound right. What she had really meant to say was that she wanted to see the place that had been her uncle's home for all those years.

  From his curt answer it was obvious Cal Tarn thought she had another motive. 'All in good time,' he drawled. 'There are a few things to be settled first. I shall be away for the next few days, I have to attend a cattle sale, but will be back for the funeral.'

  Della wished he wouldn't keep on about the funeral. She was still trying to come to terms with the fact that her uncle had died.

  She saw him walk over to the telephone and ask for room service, then request a bottle of brandy and two glasses. She roused herself from her stupor and murmured, 'I don't drink,' but he did not answer, or change the order.

  A minute or so later there was a tap on the door, and a young waitress entered the room with a tray. Giving Cal Tarn a welcoming smile, she laid the tray down on a side table. 'Your order, Mr Tarn,' she said coyly.

  Nodding at the girl, he gave a dry, 'Thank you, Esme.'

  The girl seemed inclined to linger, and she gave Della an appraising stare, in which curiosity was clearly shown, but Cal Tarn opened the door for her exit, and giving him another brilliant smile, she left.

  Measuring out two tots of the light brown liquid,

  he handed one to Della, who stared first at the glass, then back at him; he obviously had not heard her .earlier remark. Shaking her head, she said, 'No, thank you.' -

  He still held the glass towards her. 'Take it,' he said curtly. 'You've had a shock; it will help.'

  Della was too weary to argue, knowing it would be a waste of time where this man was concerned, and accepted the glass but just sat holding it.

  Cal, Tarn watched her for a second or so, then said, 'Sip it slowly if you're not used to it.'

  Again Della complied; the strong smell of the liquor met her as she lifted it to her lips and she grimaced in distaste, but she did take one sip, at least her lips touched the liquid, forcing yet another grimace.

  Cal Tarn picked his glass up and sat down in the only other chair in the room. Della did not understand why he didn't finish his drink, and leave her in peace.

  The chair was not really big enough for a man of his size, and his long legs were splayed out in front of him as he relaxed with his drink. Watching him idly twisting the glass in his hand, Della saw how his eyes were narrowed in thought. He did not appear to be in a hurry to leave, and she could not tell him to go, even though she wished he would. It did occur to her that he might need company. He must have felt her uncle's death, for they had been together for some time. As she surveyed the man so lost

  in thought, she tried to gauge his age. Perhaps somewhere in the early thirties? She jumped when he spoke.

  'I understand you have no other relatives?'

  So that was what was worrying him; did he feel responsible for her now that her uncle had died? He would obviously want to know what she was going to do. Well, she wondered herself, but it was no concern of his. She would make out; she had always done so. After what had happened with John she had developed a second skin; she wa
s not as vulnerable as she had been.

  'I shall be all right, Mr Tarn,' she said quietly, with more confidence than she felt at that particular time. 'You don't have to concern yourself over me. I appreciate your interest, but it's not necessary. I don't intend to burden myself on you.'

  He raised one eyebrow at this bald statement, and Della thought how good-looking he was, and wondered how he had managed to sidestep matrimony,

  then she recalled what Alice had said about Rimmer's Way being his only love.

  'I'm afraid your uncle left me no choice in the matter,' he commented curtly.

  Della pulled her glance away from the glass in her hand that she had been studying, and stared at him. Surely Uncle Denny had not wrung a last-request promise from him to look after her? And it was not, she thought shrewdly, that he took any pleasure in

  the fact either. She sensed a distaste behind his words, veiled, but it was there.

  Giving a wry grimace, she said quickly, 'Perhaps he forgot my age. I was eleven when he last saw me ten years ago. I suppose he still thought of me as a child.' She met that grey stare of his full on. 'I'm twenty-one, Mr Tarn, and quite able to look after my own affairs.'

  'What are you thinking of doing now?' he asked abruptly.

  Glancing at him, Della had a feeling there was more behind his words, but he was not a man to indulge in idle chatter—even so, how could she say what she would do?—She had not had time to think yet. If he would leave her perhaps she would come up with something. 'I don't know,' she said abruptly. 'It's a little early, isn't it? I mean, I shall need time to work things out.'

  'You hadn't thought of going back to England?' he asked, and again Della had the impression of a certain tenseness behind his words.

  She shook her head decisively. 'No; I stay,' she said firmly. 'Oh, not necessarily here. I shall find a niche somewhere and settle down—so you see there's no need to ...'

  `No ties anywhere?' he said persistently.

  Again Della shook her head, unable to understand his persistence.

 
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