Sneak Peeks

Read a sneak peek: Long Way Home by Nicola Marsh


Read a sneak peek: Long Way Home by Nicola Marsh

From USA Today bestselling Australian author Nicola Marsh comes a warm and winsome rural romance about second chances and belonging.

A prodigal daughter returns to Brockenridge…

Eleven years ago Ruby Aston left Brockenridge – and its small-town gossip – for the anonymity of the big city. Now, a grieving Ruby is forced to come home to the place she loathes. But it also means returning to someone she’s always regretted leaving behind…

Connor Delaney is determined to prove himself and not get by on his family name alone. To do this he needs to acquire the local roadhouse. He never anticipated the owner would be the same ‘bad girl’ who ditched him at the high school ball and was never heard from again.

For Alisha Nathieson, the grief of suddenly losing her dear friend and employer Clara Aston has forced her to examine her choice to stay and support her ageing parents. As she battles a growing need to explore her past, temptation wars with duty. And then there are her feelings for handsome chef Harry, who has secrets of his own…

In following their hearts, will this unlikely trio lose what they’ve craved all along?

Long Way Home


This was categorically the best day of Ruby Aston’s life.
She’d thought getting a beaten-up Holden as a gift from her mum on her eighteenth birthday last week had been the best day but she’d been wrong. Attending Brockenridge High’s graduation ball tonight as Connor Delaney’s date easily topped the car. It was even better than that momentous day last month when he’d asked her to go with him.
Her, not Jane Jefferson, the most popular girl in school and the town’s resident blonde bombshell, who proudly displayed her D cups in the tightest T-shirts ever invented. Not Louise Poole, who had the perky cheerleader look down pat and made guys fawn over her with a bat of her mascaraed lashes. Not Becca Boag, who had honed the fresh, wholesome outback girl look that had the boys at school clamouring for a date.
Connor asking Ruby to the graduation ball rather than one of the popular girls had been significant—and the girls hadn’t let her forget it. They’d made her life hell for the last thirteen years, and the fact the most gorgeous guy in school—and the richest in the district—chose her over Jane had ensured they’d ramped up their bitchiness to unbearable.

Ruby pretended not to care, like she’d done forever. But every time one of the terrible trio called her a slag for living behind a roadhouse, or a slut like her mum, who ran the roadhouse and the motel attached to it, Ruby died a little inside. The cyber-bullying was the worst even though the school had tried to clamp down on that. As if that would stop the bitches; they’d opened fake accounts and continued their relentless campaign of hate.
Ruby couldn’t wait to get out of this dead-end country town halfway between Echuca and Swan Hill on the Victorian–New South Wales border and head to Melbourne to start her life. But first, she’d count down the hours until she saw the bullies’ expressions when she waltzed into the ball on Connor’s arm.
Thankfully, they hadn’t seen her just now in the op shop where she’d bought a faux fur stole and crystal drop earrings that resembled mini chandeliers to complement the vintage strapless gold dress she’d found for a bargain online. Those three could afford the best of everything, so spotting them rifling through second-hand stuff was plain weird, but Ruby hadn’t stuck around to find out what they were doing. No way would she let them ruin her big day.
As she left the shop, Natasha Trigg, who worked as a waitress at the roadhouse with Ruby’s mum, waved her over from outside the bakery. Ruby would’ve preferred to rush home and get ready but Tash seemed anxious. She placed her shopping bag in the front basket of her rusty bicycle and strolled across the main street.
‘Hey, Tash, what’s up?’
‘Could you give me a hand? Harry asked me to bring the scones back to the roadhouse for the CWA meeting but I didn’t realise he’d ordered so many and I can’t carry them all to the car.’
‘Sure.’ Given the way the Country Women’s Association members devoured the other delicacies Harry whipped up for their monthly meetings, Ruby thought they didn’t need scones, but Tash

looked frazzled and the faster Ruby helped, the faster she could head home and prepare for her big night.
Her mouth watered as she stepped into the bakery and inhaled the tantalising aromas of chunky steak pies, red velvet cupcakes and the town’s signature vanilla slices. Betty’s Bakery had won a recent award for the best vanilla slices in Victoria, as though any one of the three thousand people who lived in Brockenridge needed an award to tell them that—they had been gorging on Betty’s delicious slices for years, long before the bronze award plaque appeared in her front window.
‘Smells good, huh?’ Tash grinned as she hoisted a tray of foil-covered scones off the counter and placed it in Ruby’s outstretched arms. ‘Pity we don’t have time for a quick snack.’
‘Yeah.’ Ruby nodded, knowing she couldn’t eat anything despite the tempting smells wafting from the kitchen. The knot of nerves in her stomach at the prospect of being alone with Connor put paid to squeezing food in there too.
‘My car’s parked around the corner,’ Tash said, lifting the second tray and following Ruby out through the multicoloured plastic strips strung over the doorway to keep out the flies. ‘We’ll dump these in the back seat and you can skedaddle home to get ready.’ Tash winked. ‘You must be excited, going to the ball with Prince Charming.’
‘Connor’s just a regular guy,’ Ruby said, as she felt heat flood her cheeks, making a mockery of her fib. There was nothing regular about Connor Delaney at all—six-three, lean, chiselled jaw, enviable cheekbones, chocolate-brown hair and blue-grey eyes that could melt a girl at twenty paces. He’d had the women of Brockenridge drooling since he’d hit his mid-teens and morphed into supermodel material.

He was one of few kids in school who didn’t treat Ruby differently because of where she lived, who didn’t tease her for working

part time at The Watering Hole during the holidays, who didn’t snigger when kids made jokes about why the place was so popular with truckies who stayed at the motel. Connor had always treated her with respect and she could’ve kissed him for it. With a little luck, she might get her chance tonight.
Tash chuckled. ‘Your cheeks are neon red so I’m guessing you’re playing down just how regular Connor is.’
Ruby grinned and rested the scone tray on her hip to open the back door of Tash’s car. ‘Connor’s a good guy.’
Some of the amusement in Tash’s eyes faded. ‘Be careful, sweetie. You’ll be heading to Melbourne soon. No point starting something.’
Tash meant well. Considering she had abandoned her nursing degree two years ago to return to Brockenridge, pregnant, and was now a single mother raising a toddler, Ruby knew the warning came from the right place.
‘I’ll be careful.’ Ruby placed the scones on the back seat and straightened. ‘We’re going to a ball, not the local registry office.’
‘Don’t let your mother hear that,’ Tash said, sliding her tray into the back of the car. ‘She already has enough qualms about you dating the richest boy in the district.’
Ruby rolled her eyes. ‘We’re not dating. He asked me to be his partner to the graduation ball, that’s it.’ But it wasn’t, because every night over the last month since Connor had asked her, Ruby had dreamed about what it would be like for a boy like Connor to be seriously interested in a girl like her.
‘Do you want a lift home? You can stow your bike in there.’ Tash pointed to the boot. A puzzled frown creased her brow. ‘Actually, why are you riding and not driving your new car?’
‘It needs a tune-up.’ The lie slid from Ruby’s lips with some difficulty—she hated fibbing—but she’d never tell Tash the real reason, that she’d spent her first month’s fuel on the vintage dress for tonight.
Thankfully, Tash believed her. With a brisk salute, she said, ‘See you back at the Hole.’
Ruby nodded and returned to her bike, keen to ride home, take a shower and start prepping. She’d practised a few up-dos she’d seen online and had decided on a classy chignon that made her cheekbones and brown eyes pop.
However, as she neared her bike, she saw a cluster of people around it. Namely Jane, Louise, Becca and Nancy, the owner of the op shop, who appeared to be going through her shopping bag.
Ruby broke into a run. ‘Hey, that’s my stuff!’
She skidded to a stop when four pairs of eyes, three calculating and smug, one horrified, fixed on her.
Nancy held her hand up, a necklace hanging from the end of her index finger. ‘You didn’t pay for this, Ruby.’
A flicker of fear stabbed at Ruby’s defiance. ‘I’ve never seen that necklace in my life.’
Nancy’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed in disapproval. ‘Then what’s it doing in the bag with the stole and earrings you just bought?’
‘I don’t know,’ Ruby said, but as the corners of Jane’s glossed lips twitched and Becca sniggered, she did. That’s why they’d been in the op shop. They’d framed her. They’d waited until she’d left her bag in her bike basket before slipping the necklace in there. Cows.
‘Stealing is an offence,’ Nancy said, her tone frosty. ‘I should report you to Sergeant Brennan.’
‘But I didn’t take the necklace.’ Anger made Ruby shake.
Jane stepped forward, tut-tutting. ‘Lying’s as bad as stealing, Ruby.’ She grinned and gestured at the girls. ‘We all saw you take it.’

Ruby’s anger turned to fury as she watched them nod like wise sages.
‘The girls were in the shop, Ruby, so I have no reason to doubt what they saw.’ Sadness pinched Nancy’s mouth. ‘I’m disappointed in you. If you couldn’t afford the necklace you could’ve told me and we could’ve worked something out.’
Mortification flushed Ruby’s body and, to add to her humiliation, tears stung the back of her eyes. ‘I didn’t take the necklace. I swear.’
Nancy shook her head and turned away, the offending necklace still swinging on her finger, taunting Ruby. ‘Don’t ever set foot in my shop again, Ruby.’
‘Are you going to report her to the police?’ Becca piped up, her smile sickly sweet as she gave Ruby the finger behind Nancy’s back.
‘No, but I’ll be speaking to her mother,’ Nancy said, casting a final glower over her shoulder at Ruby before heading back into the shop and letting the door slam.
Ruby whirled back to the girls. ‘You bitches—’
‘Foul-mouthed as well as a thief,’ Jane said, wagging her finger. ‘I seriously think you’re not fit to be Connor’s date tonight. And once he hears about this …’
Fear wrapped around Ruby’s heart and squeezed. ‘You’d lie through your professionally whitened teeth because you’re too much of a troll for Connor to ask you to the ball?’
Malice glittered in Jane’s eyes. ‘We’re not just telling Connor. We’re telling the whole damn town what a scumbag you are. Including Anne Delaney, who won’t let her precious son anywhere near you once she hears this.’
‘Go to hell,’ Ruby said, needing to escape before the tears stinging her eyes spilled over. She pushed past the girls and straddled her bike.

‘Isn’t that where you’re headed now?’ Louise wrinkled her pert nose. ‘That place you call home is the closest thing to hell I’ve ever seen.’
‘Let her go, girls,’ Becca sneered, her high-pitched voice quivering with barely suppressed laughter. ‘She doesn’t have the guts to show up at the ball now, not when Connor wouldn’t be seen dead with a thieving slag.’
Ruby wanted to say so much. She wanted to let her hatred for the three girls who’d made her life a misery spill over in a raging torrent of vitriol. Instead, she pedalled away, ignoring their taunting laughter, tears streaming down her face.



Eleven years later

Ruby Aston drove through town, grief warring with guilt. Guilt that she hadn’t been back here once in the eleven years since she’d fled. Guilt that she’d been so self-centred she hadn’t realised how hard her mum was working and the toll that took on her health. Grief that she hadn’t spent more time with her mum and hadn’t seen her in the last few months before Clara had died of a heart attack.
Her mum had asked her to visit so many times but Ruby had always had an excuse: her uni hours were too long, her assignments too hard and, later, when she’d graduated with a degree in marketing, her work hours too manic. They’d caught up regularly in Melbourne, though, for shopping days, theatre premieres, spa dates. Ruby had spoiled her mum as often as she could once she’d started earning a decent wage, because Clara deserved it—she deserved the world on a platter and then some for slaving her entire life to provide Ruby with a good home, hearty meals and her university tuition. Clara had known why Ruby didn’t return to Brockenridge after she ran the night of the graduation ball and she didn’t push her to come home.
But Brockenridge had never felt like home to Ruby. Those bullying bitches had seen to that. The only place she’d ever felt safe back then was at The Watering Hole and having to return to the roadhouse now her mum was gone was bittersweet.
As she left town behind and drove along the road she’d traversed countless times on her bike, her gaze flicked to the once familiar landscape. Not much had changed. The paddocks had been a lot greener when she’d lived here and now appeared faded, alternating between olive, flaxen and russet, like a chequered testament to the scorching temperatures. Further afield lay golden plains leading to the wetlands near the mighty Murray River.
Sheep dotted paddocks with newly strung wire fences, with the occasional farmhouse in the distance. Towering eucalypts lined the road, their bark stringy and peeling, revealing smooth trunks beneath. A stark contrast to the magnificent red gums of Echuca, the town she’d always wished they’d lived in.
After driving the newly bitumened road fifteen kilometres out of town, Ruby’s heart rate sped up as she spied the familiar sign: bottle-green capitals against a beige background with a picture of a watering hole featuring native animals drinking at its fringe. Neon lit, day and night, the sign for The Watering Hole provided a beacon for weary travellers, mostly truckies who traversed this route to get to the towns along the river and beyond, knowing they’d be offered a welcome respite at the roadhouse.
She’d grown up surrounded by eclectic people from all over the country, the kind of folk who appreciated a hearty meal, friendly company and a comfortable bed. Weathered men who’d spent their lives transporting goods all over Australia, hardened women who’d rather live on the road than have a stable home. Some who’d fled abusive spouses, some running from their pasts. But they’d all had one thing in common: they’d adored Ruby and she’d adored them right back. The best education she’d ever had was sitting at the back table in the roadhouse, pretending to do her homework while letting the patrons’ conversations roll over her. She hadn’t eavesdropped per se, but the real-life experiences of the truckies were infinitely more interesting than solving algebra problems or writing history essays. Her mum had never tried to shelter her from the harder aspects of people’s lives and had encouraged her to converse with everyone, to be polite and respectful. Clara had expected the same from the roadhouse patrons. No one, not even the roughest truckie, had dared cross Clara.
Ruby smiled, remembering her mum’s ability to cut a man down to size with a glare, as she indicated and turned into the massive parking lot, large enough to house ten trucks, fifty cars and the odd bus.
Eleven years since she’d left. Eleven long years in which she’d achieved what she’d set out to do: escape the small-town mentality, prove her independence and become successful in her own right. Her freelance marketing career continued to grow and evolve as she built a solid reputation in a competitive field. She loved her work. Loved her apartment in Melbourne’s trendy inner-city suburb of Carlton. Loved her life.
Until the phone call a week ago from Alisha, the hostess at the Hole and her mum’s best friend, telling her the devastating news that Clara had died.
It had taken Ruby two days to finish with her current clients, another few to organise the funeral via a video call with a local parlour, and here she was, ready to lay the past to rest once and for all. She’d contemplated holding the funeral in Melbourne because

she was Clara’s only relative, considering her grandparents had died in a car accident when Clara had been nineteen. But the thought of making folks like Tash, Harry and Alisha, the Hole’s workers and the closest thing to family she and Clara had, make the long trip to the city because of Ruby’s selfishness didn’t seem right. So she’d packed a few bags and made the trek home.
She drove a slow circuit of the empty car park, blinking back tears. Mourners would be at the cemetery already but she wanted to travel there with Alisha, Tash and Harry. She’d arranged to meet them here so they could go together; she needed the moral support. Her bad memories of this town and her fresh sorrow were too much to bear on her own.
It also gave her a chance to visit the only home she’d ever known growing up without the mourners who’d traipse through later at the wake, offering condolences and sympathy that Ruby would have to gratefully receive while silently screaming that she’d rather have her mum back.
She parked the car near the front door, killed the engine and gripped the steering wheel tighter as the emotion clogging her chest threatened to spread out of control. Her lungs seized and she dragged in calming breaths, in and out, until the panic subsided. Just a few hours to get through and she could leave Brockenridge without looking back. She could do this for her mum. She would do it. After that, Brockenridge could become a part of her past once and for all.
She waited until the tightness in her chest eased then got out of the car and crossed the gravel, the crunch underfoot so familiar that she wanted to bawl again. Taking a deep breath, she pushed through the front doors and stepped back in time.

Long Way Home by Nicola Marsh will be available in-store and online from the 24th of September 2019

Buy it now 

Must reads