When Kirsty Fox goes on the run to escape a crash-and-burn at work, she finds a family she didn’t know she needed… A witty and warm rural romance perfect for readers of Rachael Johns and Alissa Callen.
They say a change is as good as a holiday. Joey Miles is hoping so after leaving the city behind, his stockbroking career in flames, to embrace a brand-new challenge: farming. But while returning to his hometown somehow feels right, he’s got a long way to go to get back on his feet financially and the last thing he needs is the townsfolk meddling in his love life (or lack thereof).
To the townsfolk of Clarence, Joey has always been the ultimate tragic romantic hero – and it’s time this hero had a happy ever after…
But Kirsty Fox is only in Clarence to dig up information about a World War II figure from her family’s past – she has no intention of sticking around and finding out if Joey is as adorable as he seems. Kirsty doesn’t stick around. Ever.
But when the locals of Clarence spy the chemistry between these two, a secret item gets added to the agenda of the next town committee meeting: matchmaking. This warm-hearted community will pull every trick in the book to show Joey and Kirsty everything they’ve unwittingly been searching for is right under their noses… What could possibly go wrong?
Chicken wrangling, an adorable kid niece, a secret in a cow shed and a big-hearted town full of meddlesome wannabe poets… This new romance from Australian author Stella Quinn is a knockout.
Kirsty Fox strode through the Mediflight West hangar. Four years on at the Port Augusta headquarters, she still wasn’t over the thrill.
As far as adventures went, this one was a cracker. She’d even broken her never-hang-around-for-long rule for this job.
‘Where’s my clipboard?’ she said.
John, retired paramedic, head sausage-turner for the monthly barbecue, and logistics legend of the two aircraft and ten personnel who connected patients from remote South Australia to the hospitals in the city, stood up from behind the clutter on his desk.
‘Emergency pick-up of Mrs Ullrich,’ he said. ‘She’s gone into labour a month sooner than she’d planned, and her husband’s having kittens by the sound of him.’
Kirsty lifted her eyes from the flight plan long enough to shoot John a grin. ‘Isn’t that always the way? You know I’m supposed to be off duty on Fridays, right?’
‘Missing out on a hot date, love?’
‘I wish. No—I’m supposed to be in Adelaide. Mum’s been calling me nonstop and wants me to go see her. She’s probably behind on her rent again and needs me to negotiate.’ Or pay it.
Terri had been three years off the pokies, but her ability to stick at a job was a work in progress.
‘You’re a good daughter, Kirsty.’
She smiled. ‘True. And bad luck doesn’t follow me around the way it follows Mum.’ Because she didn’t let it. ‘So, who’s on board with me today?’
‘The new doctor. Don’t freak him out with turbulence this time,’ John said. ‘It took maintenance a week to get the smell out of the carpet.’
She snorted. She had a perfect flight record, as John well knew. She gave him a wave, then set off for the gleaming King Air B200 aircraft and began her walkaround. Tyres, excellent. Rivets on the newly repainted wheel strut looked good as new. Propellors were free of nicks, the windscreen was free of cracks.
‘We getting in the air anytime soon, Fox?’ said a voice behind her.
‘When my checklist is ticked, Carys,’ she said, leaning forward to swivel the cargo hatch lock. Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey … the lock was secure.
‘You and that bloody clipboard.’
Kirsty turned and grinned at her friend. ‘I’ll take that as a compliment. All right, on you go. Let’s get this ambo in the air.’
The rookie doctor was already aboard, clutching an airsick bag and looking greener than his Mediflight uniform. Kirsty hauled the stairs up, locked them, and made her way up front to the cockpit.
She rested a hand on the doc’s shoulder as she passed. ‘Forty minutes’ airtime,’ she said, ‘and John’s weather printout is saying clear skies all the way. It’s a perfect day for a perfect flight.’
‘Great,’ he said weakly. ‘I love flying.’
Yeah, she thought. If he kept telling himself that, one day it might even be true.
Unlike her. She’d loved flying from that childhood moment when she’d scabbed a ride in a crop duster, on that Marla property. The day she’d earned her pilot’s licence had been the luckiest day of her life, and everything had been bang-on perfect since.
Well, mostly perfect, if she discounted the occasional financial bail-out of her mother.
She squeezed her way into her seat, scanned the dashboard left to right—trim tab controls set, flight tracker on, oil pressure perfect—and fired up the twin Pratt & Whitneys.
The rumble and whine filled the plane, and she reached for the headset she’d left on the empty co-pilot’s seat. Just as her fingers hooked into the headstrap, her phone lit up with a call from a screened number.
The boss, she thought, with some last-minute plan change.
‘Kirsty Fox,’ she said, pressing the phone close to her ear to drown out the propellors spinning only a few feet from her.
‘This is Constable Farrelly, from the Gindarra Street Police Station.’
What? That was the cop station near her home. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Do you live at 16 Barbery Street?’
‘A woman has been apprehended breaking into your property via a window. A neighbour alerted us and we caught her in the act.’
‘Oh my god. Has anythi—’
‘The woman says she’s your mother and has your permission to be there, but we wanted to confirm that with you. We ran her ID … turns out she’s got a record.’
Her happy pre-flight buzz evaporated. ‘Terri Fox,’ she said. ‘Short for Theresa. Is that who it is?’
She sighed, then switched into the explanatory mode she’d developed all those years ago living out of the hatchback, from country town to country town. ‘Look, she doesn’t really have a record. There was a misunderstanding about some unbanked rates when she was working at a local council, and she did her community service and everything was paid back. Every dollar.’
‘So, no need to charge her with break and enter, then?’
‘Of course not, Constable.’ But … Kirsty pressed her fingers into the crease that had decided to cut her forehead in half.
‘Wait … she wants to talk to you.’
She listened to the scramble as a mobile phone changed hands.
‘Kirst? Is that you, sugarplum?’
‘Yes, Mum. It’s me. What’s going on? I sent you a text: I’ll come see you tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow would have been too late, Kirsty.’
‘Don’t tell me; something bad has happened to you.’
‘Well, I am a Fox, darling. It was only a matter of time. And … well … the thing is, Kirsty, this time it involves you.’
Terri hadn’t finished. ‘Of course, it’s probably nothing, or good news even, so I’m freaking out for nothing, but I won’t know until you open the letter.’
‘I’m about to get airborne, Mum, but I should be home after lunch. Put Constable Farrelly back on, will you?’
‘Tell her she can stay,’ she said when the policeman returned.
‘Rightio,’ he said. ‘Maybe hide a key under the doormat next time, hey?’
She ended the call and looked through the thickened perspex of the B200’s windows. Next time. There was always a next time with Terri, wasn’t there?
And each time was getting a little bit harder to shake off.
She reached down for her headset and noticed her fingers were trembling. Actually, not just her fingers. Her hands were shaking. Her lungs felt tight and she closed her eyes for a moment.
‘Pull yourself together,’ she muttered. ‘Terri has the bad luck, not you. You are totally fine. You do not have the curse.’ But had she made a mistake buying a house? Staying at the one job for so long?
She took a long breath and blew it out the way she’d seen Carys instruct patients who were about to lose their cool because of some farm accident where they’d lost a finger or whatever in an auger.
She was fine. She was about to fly off on an adventure, and she was a thousand per cent fine.
And the roar of the propellors reminded her today wasn’t about her. She was on a rescue mission, and a young woman was counting on her. ‘Fuel gauge, oil gauge, tachometer,’ she said, chanting it like a good luck charm. ‘Fuel gauge, oil gauge, tachometer.’ She slipped the brake, cranked up the throttle, and cleared her mind of everything except the voice of the control tower operator in her ear.
‘Delta-one-six-eight-Charlie, you have clearance to runway one.’
That was good. That was excellent. As the B200 flung its way skywards, its speed pressed her deeper into her seat. There was no freaking way the curse of the Foxes was finding her up here.
Only … the curse did find her.
At least that was the one thought she had in her head forty-three minutes later when she brought the plane down in the rough red dirt and the starboard landing gear buckled beneath her.
Her head whacked a cockpit panel even as her hands fought for control, and there was a breathless moment while the world went sideways and six million dollars’ worth of aluminium and high-tech gear ground its way to a halt.
Engine off. Check fire. Check fuel leak. Check passengers.
That was the newbie doctor behind her, bless him.
‘I’ll be right with you. Is everyone okay back there?’ She slewed around in her seat, but getting up was weirdly downhill and her ears were buzzing as though desert flies had taken up residence.
Was she okay?
Maybe not, but she could worry about herself later.
As the buzz in her head cleared she heard yelling, but it wasn’t coming from her own mouth … she could work that out because hers felt like it was full of cottonwool.
She fought her way to the rear of the plane. Carys and the doctor had opened the door and evacuated—emergency landing procedure 101—and the empty cabin was a mess of strewn baggage and shrink-wrapped bandages and shortbread biscuits.
Okay, so the curse hadn’t totally messed with her. No-one was dead, but now the yelling had stopped, she could hear a female crying out in the paddock. She took a breath and hurtled down the stairs, only to be stopped by a large freckled hand gripping her arm.
Her arm. Right there, between wrist and elbow. Right where—
Her lungs seized. So, it seemed, did everything else, because her arms and legs and thoughts stalled.
‘How hard is it to land a fucking plane?’ yelled an angry voice in her ear.
She forced herself to get breath back into her lungs. She wasn’t a kid. This man was a stranger, not one of the loves of her mum’s life. People were relying on her, so she needed to pull herself together right this second.
She wrenched her arm away. The man with the angry voice wasn’t the rookie doctor; he was a big, sunburned fellow with an ancient felt hat and a mouth so grim it looked like it had been carved from concrete.
Shaun Ullrich, imminent father. Patient medical notes weren’t her purview, but she knew the basics of who she was here to collect. Janey Ullrich, thirty-five weeks pregnant, possible breech birth, high blood pressure.
Shit. The B200 wouldn’t be flying anyone out now. She breathed out as the farmer turned back to the utility parked beside the strip of red dirt where she’d landed.
‘Kirst, honey? Can you give me a hand?’
Carys, the thirty-year nursing veteran who she’d flown with for the last four crash-free years, was kneeling beside a first-aid kit. Blood was gushing from a cut in her eyebrow.
‘Thank god you’re okay. How’s the doc?’
‘He’s fine, unlike our new father, who’s got himself in a bit of a state.’
The new father wasn’t the only one. Kirsty was feeling as unlike herself as she’d ever felt. ‘Understandable,’ she said, her voice quavering. Perhaps she’d damaged her throat in the landing. ‘Want me to grab you a bandage?’
‘I’ve got one, I just need a hand with the tape. What happened? I was about to unclick my seatbelt when everything went topsy-turvy.’
‘I’m so sorry, Carys. We had a problem with the landing gear.’ And when she could pull herself together, she’d go check out what that problem had been.
‘So … no take-off, huh?’
‘No take-off,’ she confirmed, ripping off tape with her teeth and securing a pad of gauze to the nurse’s eyebrow. And they both knew the other of the two Mediflight West planes was en route to a vehicle roll-over five hundred kilometres south. Patient critical, blood loss … that’d take priority over a birth, breech or not. ‘I’ll radio John.’
John Mann would ring everybody he knew in the district who kept a set of wings in their shed. If anyone could find a plane to get Mrs Ullrich to hospital, it would be him.
Another cry made her jerk, and she looked over to the back of the farm ute parked by the old airstrip. ‘Poor woman. Is our new doctor up for this? He looks as though he started shaving about three weeks ago. And how are you feeling, Carys? Dizzy? Loss of vision? Nausea?’
It was easy to name the likely symptoms, because they were the ones she was feeling herself.
‘I’m good,’ said the nurse. ‘Haul me up, will you, lovey? Sounds like I’m needed.’
Kirsty’s hands had a tremor when she reached out to help Carys. That must be the bang to the head making everything around her judder.
Yes. Juddery was the word. She felt off, and sick, and juddery. ‘You sure you’re not concussed?’ she said. She wanted to ask Carys to check if she was concussed, but she wasn’t the patient here. She wasn’t the one wailing in the back of a ute.
Carys—bless her, too, for surviving—was back in action mode. ‘Right. Let’s get ourselves a little organised, shall we? Young master Ullrich seems to be in a hurry to arrive, and he’s setting our timetable here. Looks like we’re having a baby in a paddock today, bum first. You reckon you can get into the cargo hold?’
Kirsty forced herself to check out the B200. The plane’s body and wings were intact, so long as you didn’t dwell upon the sheered strips of paint and aluminium where the wingtip had furrowed a new rut in the old airstrip.
The nosecone looked like it had been hit by a freight train, and the starboard propellor—what was left of it—would never see service again.
‘I can get in,’ she said. ‘Tell me what we need.’
‘The humidicrib and the duffle marked INFANT, and the jerry can of sterile water.’
‘I’m on it.’ Busy was good. Busy could fix anything.
But then anything she could do was done, and the medical team were a hundred per cent focussed on the young mum trying to deliver her baby in the back of a ute. She stood in the red dirt, cradling her bruised arm with one hand, and over the agonised noises coming from Janey Ullrich, all she could hear was her mother’s words.
Bad shit happens to Foxes.
Only … stuck out here on a red dirt airstrip, running away wasn’t an option.
Release date: 2022-07-06