Read An Extract: Birthright by Fiona Lowe

Chapter One

‘It’s Sunday morning on Australia’s radio show.

The twang of a banjo exploded in Sarah’s ears, hauling her aggressively and abruptly out of a deliciously deep sleep. Worse than that, it imploded a wondrous dream of a place where she floated peacefully, bathing in all its wonder. A place no one expected her to juggle the transport logistics of bread and cheese, solve staffing issues, find missing wallets/keys/phones/items of school uniforms/homework—in fact, no one was asking her to do anything at all. It was her definition of bliss.

She lay momentarily stunned, her heart pounding and her mind struggling to compute more than No! Too early! Go away! The reali­sation it was Mother’s Day dribbled into her consciousness more slowly, before jabbing her like the sharp end of stick.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why didn’t you check the alarm last night?

She’d shared her life with Alex for twenty-two years and she was intimate with the fact that eighty per cent of the time he forgot to switch off the six-day-a-week radio alarm on Saturday night. So here she was awake in the dark at 6.30 am on Mother’s Day. Fabulous! The temptation to wallow in a seductive bath of ‘why today of all days?’ tugged at her, but martyrdom wasn’t a coat that fit. All her life she’d been a problem solver, a fixer—a woman who got things done. Sure, she was awake ridiculously early on a day that was technically ‘her day’, when sleeping in was an essential part of the manual, but was it an opportunity? Carpe diem and all that jazz? She smiled. This year, they only had one kid at home and she’d bet Gus wouldn’t be up this early, giving her and Alex plenty of time to celebrate.

Rolling over, she moved to spoon her husband. Her arms touched warm but empty sheets just as Alex’s feet hit the floor with their usual thump. A streak of cool air zoomed in under the doona, skat­ing up her spine. She sat up in the dark.

‘You’re going for a ride?’

The sound of lycra snapping against skin answered her. She worked at not sighing out loud and actively bit off the words, ‘It’s Mother’s Day’. There was no point uttering them.

When the children were little, Alex had helped them make her breakfast in bed but the moment they’d become teenagers he’d stepped back, saying, ‘She’s your mother, not mine.’ Apparently, Mother’s Day had never got close to an event for the Hadfield fam­ily. Sarah tried to take the same hands-off approach to Father’s Day but she was hopeless; each year she found herself reminding the kids it was coming up, cajoling each of them into making a card, and she always arranged a family outing.

‘Go back to sleep,’ Alex said, his early-morning voice raspy.

The yellow light from his bedside lamp penetrated her closed eyelids, turning everything orange. ‘Argh.’ She pulled the doona over her head.

‘Sorry.’

The light snapped off and as if that was their cue, the dawn chorus of raucous cockatoos screeched as loudly and as stridently as a fire siren. She flinched; the sound mocking her for entertaining thoughts of sleeping in. Alex silently patted her shoulder and she sleepily raised her head for a kiss. She missed and her cheek hit his shoulder as his hair brushed her forehead. Oh well. At least they were still trying after two decades together. It was more than could be said for many of their peers.

Over the last few years, there’d been a cascade of divorces in Mingunyah. The domino effect had started after Bianca Russo drank too much red wine at a Rotary dinner, grabbed the microphone and announced to the room she was leaving her husband. More marriages went on to fail, and each time Sarah heard of another separation she found herself examining her own marriage. Alex didn’t seem to need the same reflection. Their discussion on the night of Bianca’s bombshell was a case in point.

‘You know what this means?’ Alex’s coffee-coloured eyes had shone with the same enthusiasm that had captured her heart two decades earlier.

‘That yet another marriage of people our age has hit the wall?’

A momentary look of remorse crossed his face. ‘Yeah, that part’s sad. But their land abuts the farm. We could build a fourth dairy. Milk another two thousand goats and secure our milk supply. This is the next step in taking our cheese beyond Victoria.’

It was a tempting idea, one that would free them up from relying on other milk suppliers. ‘They may not want to sell.’

‘Oh, I think they will. Ed paid top dollar for that place and it’s heavily geared. There’s no way Bianca will get her share of the marriage assets without them selling. And we’ll be waiting in the wings with an offer they can’t refuse.’

‘Look out, Australia,’ she teased, ‘Mingunyah Cheese is coming.’

‘We’re not stopping at Australia. Think of the foodies living on the West Coast of the US. They’ll fall over themselves to get their hands on our healthy, organic cheese.’

As always, his excitement was both terrifying and infectious. ‘I always knew life with you wouldn’t be boring.’

‘Damn straight.’ He’d grinned and kissed her again before dem­onstrating exactly how exciting and exhilarating life with him could be.

Back then, they’d thought the goal of entering the American market was the ultimate prize, but they’d been wrong—China was the crowning glory. They’d opened an office there and now exported their marinated goat’s cheese and sheep’s yoghurt. It was beyond their wildest dreams and recently, with a middle manage­ment structure firmly in place, they finally had time to explore interests outside of the business. Sarah was yet to get out from under her workload and family commitments but Alex had committed to cycling.

He was a cycling store’s dream come true, from his state-of-the-art Italian, full carbon-fibre bike with its lights, computer and little solar panel for charging his phone, to his gloves for every season and booties with heated insoles. Given that winter mornings were below zero, it made sense. Sarah didn’t begrudge him the thousands of dollars he’d spent on getting kitted out—it wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford it. In fact their bakery benefitted from cycling tourists and skiers, selling them, among other things, marinated fruit muffins nicknamed turbo buns.

Like every other morning, Sarah lay in bed listening to the famil­iar sounds of cycling shoes clicking into cleats, the gentle whirr of tyres, and the clunk of gears changing until they faded into the distance. Now fully awake, she ran through her options. She could stay in bed and wait for Gus to wake, remember it was Mother’s Day and give her breakfast in bed. The only flaw with that plan was that, without his father or younger sister in the house, the chances of Gus waking before ten and remembering the significance of the day were slim.

Always practical, Sarah got up and, alone in the kitchen on Mother’s Day, made herself coffee and baked a cake.

A rather sad and pathetic-looking cake.

Sarah cocked her head to the left and studied the offering. She couldn’t believe her no-fail chocolate cake had sunk on her. But then again, nothing was going according to plan so far and it wasn’t even ten yet. Grabbing dark chocolate from the pantry and cream from the fridge, she went into fix-it mode just as she had the week before when her sister-in-law Anita had texted, Doubt our plan to run away for a spa day on Mother’s Day will fly. Margaret will want family lunch.

Sarah had immediately texted back, Riverbend 12.00.

Why had she done that? Sure, she’d hosted Mother’s Day for her mother for years, but now that Anita and Cameron were living in Mingunyah, her lovely sister-in-law, who was a stellar cook, had probably been about to offer to host lunch herself. Anita’s mother had died before she’d married Cameron, so although Mother’s Day was a bittersweet day for her, Anita had never known the inherent problem of the day—being a daughter and a mother.

For years Sarah juggled trying to have her own day as well as making sure her mother felt special too. More than once it had culminated in hot tears and chest-crushing frustration. After one particularly disappointing year, she’d pretty much accepted that until her mother was no longer with them, expecting to have Mother’s Day exclusively for herself was both unrealistic and angst-inducing. Since then, Sarah kept breakfast for herself—although this year even that seemed in peril—and devoted the rest of the day to being a dutiful daughter. Her brother, Cameron, was a dutiful son on the occasions it suited him. Their younger sister, Ellie, was unfamiliar with any aspects of the term ‘dutiful’.

Sarah absently licked the spatula dripping with the remnants of the melted chocolate and fervently hoped her emergency cake min­istrations wouldn’t send anyone into a sugar coma.

‘Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.’ Gus, her gangly, almost seventeen-year-old son ambled over, wrapped his arms around her and gave her a hug. ‘Bit hard to give you brekkie in bed when you’re already up.’

She resisted glancing pointedly at the clock. ‘True, but I’ll hap­pily eat it with you at the kitchen table.’

He scratched his head and opened the fridge, staring into it as if willing whatever it was he was looking for to levitate from the shelf and float into his hand.

‘Are there any croissants?’

‘Did you buy any?’

He looked sheepish as he closed the fridge door. ‘Where’s Dad? Is he in town?’

Sarah gave in and checked the clock, surprised to see it was ten thirty. ‘He was riding to Gravitt’s Lookout. I thought he’d be back by now.’

‘I’ll call him and get him to buy some.’

Sarah did the calculations in her head and knew that wasn’t going to work. ‘How about you toast me some of our fruit loaf and slather it in butter? Then be my kitchenhand so we’re ready when the hordes descend.’

Gus grinned. ‘I’ll even make you a cup of tea.’

‘You’re my favourite middle child.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘One day Finn and I are going to get you to admit you like Emma best.’

‘Only on Mother’s Day,’ she quipped, tousling his chestnut hair as if he was seven. ‘And only because she remembers the croissants.’

Of her three children, Gus was the sportiest and yet he was also the most reserved. A talented footballer and skier, he was the quiet one among his friends, often surrounded by noise and girls—hugging, squealing girls. Sarah noticed that other boys with similar skills always carried themselves with an air of confidence—a cer­tain swagger—but the moment Gus walked off the footy field or hung up his skis, he seemed to retreat into himself just a little. This bothered her but whenever she mentioned it to Alex, he’d sigh and give her a look that inferred she was worrying over nothing.

‘That kid,’ he’d say, pride lighting up his face, ‘has the world at his feet. If he plays his cards right, he’ll end up playing footy in the AFL.’

‘Mum?’

‘Hmm?’ Sarah was on her knees with her head in the fridge playing Tetris to make room for the cake. The buzz muffled Gus’s words but she thought she heard ‘play’.

At yesterday’s match, Gus took a spectacular flying leap and cleanly marked the ball. Slowly running in, taking his time, he kicked the winning goal right on the siren. Not only did the entire team slap his back, the crowd slapped Alex’s. Her husband glowed with as much pride as if the ball had come off his own boot.

Carefully sliding the cake onto the middle shelf, Sarah rose and closed the fridge door, pleased Gus was mentioning the moment. He generally underplayed his achievements. ‘It was an impressive play, darling. Your coach was beside himself.’

‘Yeah.’ Gus’s hand gripped the handle of the kettle. ‘He was.’

Sarah heard resignation instead of pride and gave him her full attention. ‘Isn’t that a good thing?’

He dropped his gaze, concentrating on pouring boiling water over the tea leaves. She waited for him to say more but his large hands fumbled with the tea cosy.

‘Gus?’

‘G’day, mate.’ Alex appeared in the kitchen, sweaty and red cheeked. ‘Everyone at the café’s talking about your mark. Old Daryl Cotter said it reminded him of your grandfather.’

Confusion crossed Gus’s face. ‘Grandpa didn’t play footy.’

‘He’s talking about my dad.’ Sarah was sure she must have told Gus at some point over the years that her father had played for the Mingunyah Tigers. If she hadn’t, then her mother certainly would have said something. Mind you, her father’s playing days finished not long after he married Margaret so footy hadn’t really been part of their shared life. Come to think of it, her father had never talked about footy much at all. His only nod to his time on the team was a dusty framed photo that hung off a rusty nail over his workbench in the shed. The fit young player staring out at her with a roguish glint in his eyes had always seemed a totally different person from the man who was her father. He’d been older and greyer, and the roguish glint had been replaced by a businessman’s preoccupied stare.

‘Ask Gran about it at lunch. She’s probably still got some photos.’

‘Photos?’ Alex snorted. ‘Her entire house is a shrine to Kevin.’

A ripple of irritation ran along Sarah’s veins and she tried to shake it off. After all, there was no good reason for it—Alex was right. Decades after her father’s death, her mother still kept many of his things on display, but the football memorabilia was not part of the collection.

A memory came to her—clear and bright—tumbling her back to when she was eleven. Determined to avoid her mother and her demands that she ‘clean up that tip of a room’, Sarah was hiding in the shed. Looking for something to pass the time, she went exploring and, under a faded old green tarp, she discovered a pile of dust-covered boxes. It was the equivalent of finding lost treasure. One was filled with tarnished football trophies, all engraved with her father’s name. Inspired, she rummaged about in the old biscuit tin he kept on his workbench and, among the tins of dubbin and boot polish, she found the Silvo. Listening to Wham on her Walkman, she spent an enjoyable hour polishing the trophies and bringing them back to their former glory. When she was satisfied that they couldn’t shine any brighter, she ran into the house waving the gleaming cups.

‘Look, Mum!’ she said proudly.

Her mother’s face rapidly stiffened into hard and sharp lines. ‘That’s what you’ve been doing instead of cleaning your room? Take those straight back to where you found them.’

‘Why? You’ve got Cameron’s tennis trophies on the mantelpiece, so why not Dad’s?’

‘Do. As. You’re. Told.’ Margret ground out the words as if Sarah was being excruciatingly difficult and trying her patience to break­ing point. ‘Or do you want to feel the sting of the wooden spoon?’

Having recently experienced a series of run-ins with that spoon, Sarah reluctantly trudged back to the shed. Her submission to her mother’s request, however, wasn’t enough to stop the simmer of resentment swelling in her chest.

‘It’s not fair,’ she complained to her father as she sat on the end of his workbench after tea.

His hazel eyes held only resignation. ‘They don’t fit with your mother’s decor.’

‘Neither do Cam’s!’ An unfamiliar hot spot burned in her chest and she rubbed it.

Her father marked the wood he was measuring with his flat red carpenter’s pencil. ‘It’s a rule that mothers display their son’s trophies.’

‘Then wives should have to display their husband’s trophies.’

He laughed and stuck the pencil behind his ear in his familiar and reassuring way. ‘It doesn’t work that way, blossom.’

‘I’ll keep them in my room then,’ she said indignantly, confused by her father’s acceptance of what she clearly saw as a double standard.

‘Tell you what. How about I teach you how to make a cabinet for them? We can mount it on this wall.’ He pointed to a gap between two tool boards.

They’d spent a few happy weekends making the cabinet. With infinite patience, her father had taught her how to accurately mea­sure timber and mitre corners and the art of a bevel edge. For a time, she’d taken great delight in polishing the glass and dusting the trophies. When puberty hit, she’d lost interest in carpentry, the trophies and hanging out in her father’s shed.

The memory faded, pushed out by Sarah’s sudden realisation that it had been decades since she last thought about that special time with her father. What had happened to the cabinet and its contents?

Gus placed the buttered fruit toast and a cup of tea on the table before pulling out a chair for her with a flourish. ‘Here you go, Mum.’

Gus’s timing was terrible. The clock was ticking down fast and she still needed to peel potatoes, make a berry sauce and set the table before the family arrived. Overriding the urge to keep work­ing while she ate, Sarah made herself sit down and appreciate his efforts. She picked up the warm, fragrant toast and remembered that Alex’s arrival had interrupted their previous conversation.

‘Gus, what were you telling me when I had my head in the fridge?’

But Gus was asking his father about his average speed up the mountain on the morning’s ride. Alex held his bike computer in his palm and they bent over the device—one chestnut head and one jet black sexily streaked with grey—studying the numbers. Sarah smiled. Boys and their toys.

Her mobile rang.

‘Happy Mother’s Day.’

‘Finn!’ Her heart rolled and she grinned at the sound of her eldest child’s voice. She still remembered the moment the midwife laid baby Finn in her arms and the rush of love thundering through her with such overwhelming intensity it would have buckled her legs if she’d been standing. Eighteen years later, her baby was doing his first semester at Melbourne University and studying agriculture. By stalking Facebook, Sarah had gleaned that more partying took place than studying. ‘You remembered. Thank you.’

‘Of course, I remembered,’ he said smugly. ‘I even sent a card.’

‘Did you?’ She’d cleared the post office box the day before. ‘It hasn’t arrived yet.’

‘Oh, I only posted it last night,’ he said easily. ‘Appreciate the effort, Mother dearest. Cards are so old school. Everyone laughed at me when I said we had to walk past a letterbox on the way to the party. All my mates are messaging or Snapchatting their mothers.’

She laughed. ‘In that case, I’m honoured. Thank you very much. I’ll enjoy reading it when I get it.’

‘I didn’t say I wrote anything,’ Finn teased. Voices in the back­ground called his name. ‘I gotta go, Mum. Love ya.’

His duty done, the line went dead and disappointment socked her. She’d wanted to ask Finn about his lectures, about college and if he’d got the results back on the essay he’d been struggling to finish. Alex laughed at something Gus said and a shot of anger—white and hot—flashed behind her eyes. It’s supposed to be my day. My breakfast at least.

‘Alex, get in the shower,’ she said more snappishly than she intended. ‘Everyone’s arriving at twelve and I need your help. And Gus, start peeling those potatoes.’

Resignation slumped Gus’s shoulders but he walked to the island bench without a word.

Alex’s eyes flashed the colour of burned butter. ‘I’m not one of the kids, Sarah.’

But you’ve just spent two hours playing. ‘No. Sorry.’ She wasn’t sorry—she only said it because she didn’t have time to argue right now. ‘I’d really appreciate it if you could take a shower and set up the ping-pong table for Noah.’

‘Ellie’s coming?’

‘Maybe. She said she was, but you know Ellie. It’s anyone’s guess if she actually turns up. I really don’t understand why she finds making a decision and sticking to it so difficult.’ Her younger sister was a mystery to Sarah.

Alex gave his only-child shrug, the one he’d perfected over the years. He brought it out as a silent comment on her family, but it spoke very loudly. As much as the shrug annoyed her, Sarah was often secretly jealous of Alex’s only-child status and the fact he was blessed with largely uninterested parents. Alex didn’t have to spend his Father’s Day cooking for Ray.

Miaow! For goodness’ sake, what was wrong with her today? It wasn’t like she’d never hosted Mother’s Day before. This was the eighteenth time, although it was the first occasion all her siblings would be together since—God! When was the last time they’d all been under the same roof on Mother’s Day?

She sipped her tea, reassuring herself that Anita would arrive early to help. They’d open champagne and be quietly buzzed before Margaret strode through the front door in a cloud of perfume and took centre stage. Before Cameron and Ellie got around to spar­ring. Before Ava threw a tantrum because Chloe and Noah were ignoring her. She quickly reminded herself that these were just blips on what would be a happy day.

Sarah loved her mother and when it was just the two of them together, she enjoyed her company and her wit. No one told a story about the foibles of Mingunyah’s residents better than Margaret. Although she was spry at seventy-six, Sarah was conscious that her mother moved a little more slowly these days and arthritis made fine-motor movements tricky. Over the last three years, Sarah had developed a habit of dropping in to Mill House each weekday for a quick hello. Her mother usually had a job waiting for her. This suited Sarah as she didn’t want her mother climbing ladders, changing light bulbs and risking breaking her hip. Although her mother didn’t make a fuss of thanking her—that had never been Margaret’s way—Sarah knew she appreciated her care and concern. But on days like today, when the family gathered en masse, Margaret leaned into the role of the matri­arch with gusto, and Sarah found that champagne always helped.

Alex’s mobile rang. ‘Phil,’ he said in what everyone in the family recognised as his boss voice.

Sarah and Gus stopped what they were doing and looked at him. That voice on a Sunday never boded well.

‘Shit. When? Have you …?’ Alex was listening intently and nod­ding. ‘I’ll be right over.’ His face was grim as he cut the call but his eyes lit up with the excitement of a challenge. It was the same light that had twinkled in his eyes the night he’d proposed to her.

‘There’s a problem at dairy two’s processing plant. If we don’t get it fixed, we’ll lose a day’s production.’

‘Dairy two?’ Sarah’s stomach lurched. ‘That’s the shipment for Beijing. The truck’s got to leave for Melbourne by three tomorrow to make the plane.’

‘Exactly.’

‘We could draw off dairy three to fill the order. It would mean telling Coles we’ll be short this week but—’

Alex nodded. ‘It’s a good back-up plan but let’s just wait and see. I might be able to fix it.’ His experience as a mechanical engineer often saved them. ‘It probably means I’m going to miss lunch.’

Sarah wished he’d try harder to look disappointed. ‘Remember to ring your mother,’ she called as he departed for the shower. ‘I better ring mine,’ she said absently to Gus, picking up the phone.

‘Why? Gran will be here in two hours.’

‘You know she likes a sense of occasion. She likes to be called on her birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day even if I’m seeing her later in the day. While I’m talking to her, I’ll ask her about the football photos.’

‘You’re not going to get like Gran when you’re old, are you?’

She waved Gus quiet as her mother answered. ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ Sarah chirped in a sing-song voice.

‘Who’s speaking?’ Margaret asked cantankerously.

Sarah tried not to sigh at this game that had started in her child­hood when Margaret insisted the first thing they ever said on the phone was their name. ‘It’s Sarah.’

‘Sarah? What are you doing at the police station?’

‘I’m not at the police station, Mum. I’m calling you from Riverbend.’

‘Someone’s stolen my car.’

‘From the garage?’ Horror streaked through Sarah at the brazen theft. That sort of thing didn’t happen in Mingunyah. ‘How? When?’

‘If I knew that, it wouldn’t be stolen, would it?’

‘Have you rung the police?’

‘No,’ her mother said imperiously, as if Sarah was a little bit slow. ‘I was trying to call the police when you rang. Now you’re tying up the line.’

I called to wish you happy Mother’s Day! Sarah reminded herself that her mother was stressed, which was why she sounded rude. ‘Do you want me to come over?’ Hello? Bad idea. You’ve got ten people coming for lunch. ‘Actually, Mum,’ she hastily amended, ‘I’ve got a better idea. Call Cameron. He can drive you to the police station then bring you here for lunch.’

‘I can’t ask him to do that. Your brother’s a very busy man.’

And I’m a very busy woman. Sarah drew in a long breath and blew it out slowly, because she was never going to win that competition. ‘It’s Sunday, Mum. It’s Mother’s Day. I’m sure Cameron’s got the time and he’ll be happy to help.’

At least one of those statements was correct.

***

Anita was propped up on pillows and balancing a tray on her knees as her two youngest daughters bounced on the bed.

‘Do you like the flower, Mummy?’ Ava asked. ‘I chose it.’

‘Open your present, Mummy,’ Chloe demanded. ‘I chose it.’

Ava put her hands on her hips. ‘I chose the present.’

‘You both chose the present,’ Cameron said, lifting his eyebrows in a ‘here we go again’ tilt. ‘And I cooked the pancakes.’

‘Open your present,’ the girls chorused.

‘She’ll open it after she’s eaten breakfast. Come on, shoo. Leave Mummy to eat her breakfast in peace.’

Ava pouted. ‘Aw, but I want her to open it now.’

Cameron clapped his hands and the noise echoed around the room like a gunshot. ‘Kitchen. Now. Or you won’t get to see her open her present at all.’

Surprisingly, the girls obeyed, running from the room.

Anita sighed as she took in the slightly charred pancakes and the rapidly cooling coffee. She didn’t even want to think about the state of her kitchen. ‘I’m sure I need a champagne and orange.’

‘Plenty of time for that,’ Cameron said, giving her a kiss. ‘We don’t want the girls telling the family you were on the slops at breakfast.’

‘It’s Mother’s Day. Sarah will approve.’

He flashed her a look. ‘Mum won’t.’

Anita wasn’t certain Margaret approved of her, full stop. She’d been part of Cameron’s life for fifteen years now and there were still moments when her mother-in-law’s grey eyes took on a decidedly steely hue. Naively, Anita thought that giving Margaret four grand­children would have helped things along, but apparently the lack of a grandson was a mark against her. That riled, given that gen­der determination was solely Cameron’s domain. Still, ever since they’d moved to Mingunyah, Cameron was intent on not upsetting his mother. As Margaret had generously paid for Phoebe’s full-size cello and they were hoping she’d buy Ruby’s new dressage saddle, Anita didn’t wish to upset her either.

‘It’s a shame we’re not hosting Mother’s Day this year,’ Cameron said as he stole a piece of pancake from her plate.

His mild censure prickled. ‘We’ve been through this. I was lead­ing up to offering and suddenly Sarah had it all organised.’ If Anita were honest, it was a relief to have a weekend off. For months she’d spent almost every weekend helping Cameron establish Prestige Country Properties by cooking and hosting lunches and dinners for clients he wanted to schmooze and impress. ‘I’ll tell Sarah today that she’s off the hook for next year and we’ll host.’

‘Good. By the way, what am I giving Mum for Mother’s Day?’

Anita pointed to a pretty gift bag on her dressing table. ‘Her favourite perfume and a silver-framed photo of you and the girls on the beach at Mallacoota this summer.’

‘Perfect.’

‘I thought so. I’ve wrapped both boxes. All you need to do is sign the card.’

‘What would I do without you?’ He leaned in and kissed her on the lips. ‘Hmm. Maple syrup.’ His grey eyes twinkled. ‘Shame the girls are home.’

‘Not all of them.’ Sadness fluttered over Anita like a cape. This was her first Mother’s Day without all her daughters at home.

‘The older girls are loving school, Annie,’ Cameron said with resigned weariness. ‘It was the right decision.’

Anita wanted to agree with him but a tiny part of her held back. She was the product of a poverty-stricken high school in the far-flung northern suburbs of Melbourne. Not once had she entertained the thought of her daughters attending boarding school but then again, she’d never anticipated Cameron’s push to move the family back to his childhood town either. Although, unlike her childhood, his had been happy. It was the death of his father that changed the course of his adult life and tainted his love of the town to the point he didn’t even mention Mingunyah early in their relationship.

It took until their four-month dating anniversary before Cam­eron casually mentioned growing up in the country. The news stunned Anita because Cameron oozed urbane smoothness and nothing about him said country roots. She’d assumed he’d grown up feeling out of place and run from Mingunyah—like she’d run from Coolaroo—the first chance he got and never looked back. It was only after they’d announced their engagement that he finally took her to meet his mother and elder sister. That weekend chal­lenged every idea Anita held about country people.

It was a jolt to realise that, unlike her, Cameron didn’t leave home and reinvent himself, he’d just left home. The second bomb­shell exploded after a very formal family dinner party, where Anita needed to closely observe which fork was used for which course before picking up her own. After Cameron drank one glass of whis­key too many, they retired to the guest room, where he’d paced back and forth before kicking a chair and growling, ‘The family business was stolen from me.’ The bitterness in his tone gripped her like the bruising press of fingers against her throat. Rattled and wanting to help, she’d asked what had happened but instead of telling her, he’d drained the cut-crystal glass of its expensive amber fluid, and given her a dark, grim smile.

‘Water under the bridge.’ He’d patted the mattress of the four-poster bed and grinned at her sloppily. ‘Now, wife-to-be, come and make me feel better.’

They’d fallen into a pattern of only visiting Mingunyah at Christmas, Easter and on their way to and from the ski fields until four years ear­lier, when the seeds of change were unwittingly sown: the big girls became horse mad. Sarah suggested they join the Mingunyah pony club and ride with their cousin, Emma. She’d also recommended a trusted horse broker. The girls were ecstatic. Cameron not at all.

‘Jesus! My sister’s unbelievable. She might have money to burn but we don’t. Do you have any idea how much it costs to keep two horses? Forget hay. We’ll just feed them hundred-dollar bills.’

Anita, who considered Sarah to be the sister she’d never had, immediately defended her. ‘Sarah knows the girls love riding. She just wants to help.’

‘Help?’ Cameron snorted. ‘If she wants to help, she can buy the bloody horses.’

Eventually worn down by Ruby and Phoebe’s incessant cam­paign to join the pony club, Cameron begrudgingly accepted Sarah’s offer of free agistment at Riverbend.

Visits to Mingunyah increased. Anita preferred staying with Sarah, where the older cousins entertained the little girls and she got a rest, but Cameron insisted on staying with his mother: ‘There’s more room at Mill House.’

Yes, but there’s Margaret. Staying with her mother-in-law didn’t come close to relaxing.

Despite the increased frequency of visits to Mingunyah, Cameron always arrived back at their Glen Iris home saying expansively, ‘You gotta love the smell of the city after all that fresh air and horse shit.’

So, on a seemingly ordinary Thursday evening when Cameron dropped his briefcase at the door, tugged at his tie and slumped onto a chair, his life-changing words were a bolt from the blue.

‘I’m sick to death of Melbourne. The traffic’s a nightmare. The pollution’s giving me headaches and the noise never bloody stops.’

Suddenly Cameron was waxing lyrical about waking up to the sounds of bellbirds and the bush. He was sick of ‘working his arse off’ for other people. He craved a challenge.

Worried, Anita bought a book titled Navigating the Male Midlife Crisis. The prologue alone terrified her and she didn’t read any fur­ther, telling herself that Cameron was nothing like the self-absorbed men described in the first ten pages. She quickly gifted the book to a friend and it was a relief to banish it from the house.

Three months later, Cameron announced, ‘Mum’s not getting any younger. It would be nice for her if we were closer. Nicer for the girls too.’

This was both a surprising and dubious point. Margaret lost inter­est in the girls soon after they dutifully kissed her hello and she’d admired or criticised their outfits. The older girls garnered more attention because Phoebe played the cello beautifully and Ruby had a ‘perfect seat’, which continued to win her a clutch of eventing ribbons. Margaret showed scant interest in the little girls unless she was saying, ‘Be quiet’, or telling them a story about her glory days.

Unease pitched her stomach. ‘When you say closer …’

‘I want us to move to Mingunyah.’

But we’ve just finished renovating the house. The first house she’d ever considered a home. With a shaking hand, she poured him a drink. ‘The big girls are teenagers. It’s a tricky age to change schools and we’ll never find a cello teacher the calibre of—’

‘They don’t need to change schools. They can board.’ His eyes glittered with enthusiasm. ‘It’s an investment in their education and, equally important, in the school network. Since the girls started there, I’ve sold six significant properties and all those commissions came through the parent network.’ Excitement vibrated off him and he leaned in close. ‘All those games of golf I’ve played, all your ladies’ lunches, sets of tennis, your cooking classes, not to mention the cocktail and dinner parties we’ve thrown, have paid off.

‘Adam and Liane Doherty have just bought Clearwater out on the old Mingunyah Track. Where the Dohertys go, the McKenzies follow. When Ricky Taranto and Sunny Chen got wind of their interest, both asked me about listings in the district. Believe me, once those two stake a claim in the valley, the floodgates will open. Soon anyone worth knowing will have a place there. It’s the perfect time to go out on my own.’

His confidence rattled her deep-seated need for security, but the reality was, her security was tied unalterably to Cameron. He’d plucked her from a grimy and vulnerable lifestyle, showered her with love and surrounded her with the sort of financial comfort she’d only ever dreamed about. Although his comfort level with debt was greater than hers, she trusted him implicitly. ‘If you think it’s the best way forward …’

‘Hell yes!’ He slapped his thigh. ‘Mingunyah’s finally taking off and we need to be part of it. Look at Alex and Sarah. They’re rak­ing it in. That fucking cheese of theirs is a licence to print money. Even their sourdough bread that was just something they did for cheese tastings has its own identity. Christ! It’s on the menu of every restaurant and café within two hundred K.’ He drained his shiraz. ‘We deserve this opportunity, baby girl. We’re owed it.’

So they’d moved to Mingunyah. It had thrown her life into dis­array for months.

Margaret was ecstatic to have Cameron close again. The little girls transitioned to Mingunyah Primary without a skipping a beat and the big girls loved boarding at St Cuthbert’s. As the parents of boarders, Cameron and Anita met a lot of expat and interna­tional parents at school functions. Apparently, Australians living in the crowded cities of Asia waxed lyrical about their homeland’s wide open spaces and Asians wanted to diversify their investments. Both groups had the disposable income to buy a plot of eucalyptus-scented paradise. As Cameron kept saying, ‘It’s win-win, baby girl.’

Not quite. Anita missed her elder daughters more then she let on and she pined for her lost in-home cooking business.

The unexpected treat of the move was her closer friendship with Sarah. Her sister-in-law went out of her way to introduce Anita to people as well as welcoming her into her book group. It was an eclectic group of strong-minded women and more than once, Anita had felt out of her depth intellectually and spiritually. She was, however, always the best dressed. That was something she didn’t understand about Sarah. If Cameron was to be believed, and Anita had no reason to doubt him, Sarah and Alex were falling off their wallets, yet Sarah often looked as if she was wearing her gar­dening clothes. If Anita had Sarah’s disposable income, she’d never bargain hunt for designer clothes and shoes again.

The phone rang. ‘The girls!’ She almost upended the breakfast tray in her eagerness to answer it.

‘I doubt it,’ Cameron said. ‘They always call on your mobile.’

‘Hello,’ she said breathlessly, ignoring her husband’s authorita­tive tone.

‘Oh. It’s you.’ Margaret’s haughty disappointment hit like a bucket of icy water.

‘Happy Mother’s Day, Margaret,’ Anita said with forced bright­ness, remembering the cello and the anticipated saddle.

‘I want to talk to Cameron.’

And happy Mother’s Day to you too, Anita. ‘Of course. I’ll pass you over.’ She thrust the phone at Cameron and whispered, ‘Your mother.’

‘Mum,’ Cameron said jovially. ‘I was just about to ring you. Happy Mother’s Day.’

As Anita took a sip of her coffee and tried not to wince at the bitter taste, she watched Cameron frown. She wondered what Margaret was saying.

‘Surely Sarah—’ He lifted the phone from his ear and Anita heard her mother-in-law’s usually well-modulated voice hit an unintelligi­ble screech. ‘I can hear you’re upset, Mum. Yes, Sarah should have—’ He sighed. ‘I understand. Yes, of course. No, it’s no problem.’ He pressed the off button and threw the handset onto the bed. ‘Shit.’

‘What?’

‘Mum reckons her car’s been stolen.’

‘God. That’s awful.’

‘Yeah. And apparently, Sarah wasn’t very sympathetic. Now Mum’s in a state.’

‘To be fair, Sarah’s hosting lunch,’ Anita said, setting aside the tray and throwing back the covers.

‘Yeah, well it means I have to go over and sort out the mess. Hell, it will probably take all morning and I’d planned to—’ He threw her a doleful look. ‘Sorry. I won’t have time to clean up the kitchen. The girls will help.’

If he was suggesting their five- and seven-year-old daughters help, then she knew the kitchen was a disaster. ‘There’s pancake batter on the floor, isn’t there?’

He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. ‘Love you.’

Oh yeah. Happy Mother’s Day, Anita.

***

Ellie breathed a sigh of relief as the car thudded over the first cattle grid, heralding their arrival at Riverbend. The car was making a knocking noise and despite a lack of flashing warning lights, she wasn’t totally convinced the engine wouldn’t suddenly seize. Today was not the day to break down, not that any day was good for that sort of inconvenience. But Sarah was still pissy with her for not coming to their mother’s birthday two months ago and, going by the regular reminder texts her elder sister had started sending at noon the day before, not even death was an acceptable excuse for missing this year’s Mother’s Day lunch.

You know how Mum loves it when we’re all under the same roof.

When that text arrived, Ellie was very tempted to type back, Does she though? But she didn’t want to have that particular conver­sation so she went with the less controversial, I’ll try to be there.

Sarah’s reply had been instantaneous. Noah always enjoys being with his cousins.

Ellie had nothing she could use to dispute that. Noah adored his older cousins with the sort of hero worship narcissists dreamed about and he loved playing with Ava and Chloe. The problem for Ellie was that no matter how great Noah’s enjoyment, it wasn’t enough to offset the discomfort she experienced whenever she was in the bosom of her family. Like a bad case of hives, there was little she could do to reduce her reaction to her mother and siblings, so, in the way of anyone with allergic tendencies, she avoided the irri­tants as much as possible. When she had no choice but to be in the presence of her family, she used alcohol instead of antihistamines.

With Cameron’s return to Mingunyah, the family-gathering goal posts seemed to have shifted. Over the last year, invitations had increased exponentially, which put her in a tricky situation. After all, there were only so many excuses a girl could use to refuse to attend.

‘Yay!’ Noah cheered from the back seat as the thud-thud-thud of tyres on iron bars stopped and the crunch of rubber on gravel took its place. ‘We’re here. That took forever.’

‘Hardly,’ Ellie said, smiling at him through the rear-view mirror. But then again, her seven-year-old found sitting still a challenge. His little body constantly vibrated with energy, wriggling and writhing in anticipation, and his tight black curls—so at odds with his almond-shaped eyes—bounced wildly. She wished her enthusi­asm for the day was a tenth of his.

In the years before Noah, when she was living and working in Thailand, the Land of Smiles offered up the perfect excuse for her not to attend family functions: distance. Ellie held fond memo­ries of that time and they weren’t restricted to living in a tropical climate among a mostly Buddhist population. Ellie wasn’t naive enough to believe that anything stays the same forever and she was intimate with the fact that life changed whether you wanted it to or not. And eight years ago, her pregnancy had raised more than one dilemma for her. Although living away from Australia gave her freedom from family, she wasn’t a natural risk-taker and it made sense to err on the side of caution. So she’d returned to Australia to give birth in a midwife-run birth centre with a world-class hospital across the hall. It had seemed a safer bet than having a baby in rural Thailand, close to the border with Myanmar.

She and Noah settled in Sydney, although that decision had little to do with the magnificent harbour or the pulsing nightlife, and more to do with it being the first city the plane touched on Australian soil. That and it wasn’t Victoria. Sydney, however, had proved to be an expensive city for a single woman with a child and despite sharing the cost of housing with others, Ellie reached a point where she could no longer ignore the fact her bank balance spent more time going backwards than forward. Being unable to afford all the things the city offered those with a medium to large disposable income threw up the stark and unrelenting question: what’s the point of living here?

The year before Noah commenced school, Ellie started looking for a job in rural New South Wales. The limited choice of jobs quickly dictated she widen her search and, still determined to avoid Victoria, she’d looked at South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. As she’d scrolled past an advertisement with a logo of a house sketched with a heart in the place of a window, eleven words snagged her gaze: Valley View Neighbourhood House seeks mentor for recently arrived Burmese community.

Surely it was a different Valley View from the town thirty min­utes down the road from Mingunyah? The two towns were so similar they were hard to tell apart, but it was unwise to mention that to a local. Mingunyah deplored Valley View for its underhand tactics in securing the shire offices a hundred and fifty years ago and Valley View hated that the only high school in the district was in Mingunyah. The rivalry always spilled over at the footy, where blood was invariably shed on the oval and then again post match, when girlfriends and wives were seduced by opposing sides.

When Ellie was growing up, one of the most cosmopolitan things in a mainly Anglo Saxon town was the espresso machine Gino Cilauro’s grandfather had imported in 1965 for the then equally eccentric and worryingly foreign pizza-pie shop. By the time Ellie was thirteen and spending school-holiday nights at Tony’s, they’d dropped ‘pie’ from the name but there was still a hint of the word in the shadow on the old sign. The second cosmopolitan thing to hit town was the black-market trade of homemade dips Con Papadopoulos sold from his greengrocer’s shop. Not many of the meat-and-potato-trained palates welcomed the eggplant, yoghurt and garlic combinations but she’d adored the strong flavours scooped onto pita bread. Her mother had been less enthusiastic: ‘No boy is ever going to kiss you after eating that!’

Ellie had thought this a good thing and enthusiastically shovelled more dip into her mouth.

On closer reading of the job advertisement, it became clear the town was her Valley View. Her mind boggled that Burmese refu­gees now lived there.

If her pregnancy had been a fork in the road of her life, so was this job. When she combined her experience in Thailand with growing up in Mingunyah, the position was tailor-made for her. There was just one significant drawback—Valley View’s proximity to Mingunyah. Ellie had tried to walk away from the siren call of the job, but it became impossible. The scope of it was something she could sink her teeth into and really make a difference. She applied, rationalising that it was pointless to worry about being so close to Mingunyah when her application may not even be considered. The board offered her the job at the end of a video-link interview.

After a sleepless night and as the early dawn light splashed against a hazy city sky, she conceded that staying away from Mingunyah was in her and Noah’s worst interests. So they moved into a share house on the eastern edge of Valley View, primarily because Min­gunyah lay to the west. A day after she unpacked the last box, she telephoned her mother.

‘I suppose you think you can just move back into your old room.’

Not even if I was destitute. ‘We’re living in the old Guthrie place on the outskirts of Valley View.’

‘Why on earth do you have to live in a commune?’

Ellie chose to laugh; it was that or say something that would inevitably cause Sarah to telephone and berate her.

‘Actually, Mum, it’s more of a collective.’ Really, it was just four women sharing a rambling old weatherboard farmhouse. Wendy, a yoga instructor and home healthcare worker, liked to decorate the front veranda with Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags to detract from the peeling paintwork. Rachel, the high school art teacher, extended her art to include the hanging of thirty teapots from the branches of the fragrant peppercorn tree by the gate; it meant visi­tors found the house far more easily than peering for the RMB number. Grace, whose paid job was in town planning at the shire offices, worked hard at resurrecting the old orchard, coaxing cher­ries, apples, quinces and almonds from the lichen-covered trees, as well as planting an enormous vegetable garden. She’d knocked together a stall out of old crates and palings and sold produce at the farm gate, mostly on an honesty system. Noah and Wendy’s daugh­ter, Bree, loved helping Grace in the garden. They also manned the stall on the weekends until they got bored, which was generally after about fifteen minutes. Ellie ran chooks and her border collie, Splotch, rounded them up, along with the two sheep that kept the grass under control.

It was hard to believe two years had passed since they’d moved in.

Ellie swivelled in the driver’s seat and faced her son. ‘You ready to open some gates for me?’

‘Yeah! Gus showed me how.’ Noah unbuckled his seat belt. ‘I have to close them too, Mum. Uncle Alex will go mental if the goats escape.’

He sounded just like his cousin and Ellie thought of her brother-in-law. Alex wasn’t really the type to ‘go mental’ but then again, she’d never let any of his prize stock wander onto the highway. It sounded like Gus may have and, as a result, learned that his usually reasonable father had his limits—limits that stretched a lot further than his mother’s.

Noah’s hand reached for the door handle.

‘Sit!’ she yelled and Splotch, who was sitting quietly on the seat, gave her a doleful look. ‘You know the rules. You stay sitting until the car stops. Then you can open the door.’

‘Yeah. But, it’s almost stopped.’

‘And if you fall out you’ll be stopped forever,’ she said, trying not to shudder. ‘If you want to open and shut the gates, you follow the rules. Otherwise you’ll be inside the car watching me do it.’

Noah grimaced as if he wanted to argue the unfairness of the conditions but he sat back. She stopped the car a few metres from the gate and pulled on the handbrake.

‘Now, Mum? Please.’

She glanced down the track, saw a plume of dust and a vehicle barrelling towards them. ‘Okay, but don’t open it until the other car’s stopped.’

Noah was out the door in an instant, his running feet somewhat impeded by the slurping grip of muddy ground. He climbed onto the gate and gave her a wave while he waited.

A slither of guilt wound through her. Noah loved Riverbend and often asked to visit, but as much as Ellie wanted to acquiesce, she could never fully shake off the feeling that Sarah felt awkward and uncomfortable in her presence. Every time Ellie convinced herself she was imagining it, Sarah said or did something ambiguous that brought the feeling rushing back. Ellie had no such confusion with Cameron—he openly disapproved of her and her life choices. So much for the theory that the youngest child was always indulged, never judged and always forgiven by fond elder siblings. Then again, the Jamieson family had always done things differently.

As the on-coming vehicle came closer, she made out two dis­tinctive white cylinders extending over the roof of the cab. Tradie’s ute. Surprise tangled with the financial implications. Calling out a tradie on a Sunday wasn’t going to be cheap. Ellie wondered what had happened to precipitate it.

The vehicle slowed then stopped and Noah waved enthusiasti­cally at the driver.

A broad-shouldered man of medium height got out of the ute, his hat casting a shadow over his features. The constant low buzz of anxiety that lived inside Ellie—the high-alert warning that was all about Noah’s safety—kicked up a notch. She pushed open the door, swung her boot-clad feet onto the damp track and strode for the gate.

‘G’day, mate.’ She heard the driver’s voice before she reached Noah. ‘Do you need a hand?’

‘I can do it,’ Noah called out. ‘I know how.’

‘Good on ya.’ The tone was laconic and wry. ‘I could have done with your help a couple of hours ago.’

‘I’ll close it too,’ Noah added proudly. Her son was generally keen to help but just lately she’d noticed he was particularly eager to help men.

Ellie reached the gate and gripped the top turn, positioning herself between Noah and the unknown man. Keeping her head down, she kept walking, taking the gate with her.

‘Mum!’ Noah’s furious objection laced the word. ‘You said you’d stay in the car.’

Glancing around, she eyed a grassy tussock with deep grooves created by the pressure of the bottom of the gate. She kicked it. ‘I thought it might get stuck on this.’

Noah shot her a sceptical look as the tradie said, ‘Eleanor?’

The surprise and pleasure in the man’s voice stilled her. Noah took the chance to gleefully push the gate to the full extent of its hinges.

The man wore filthy jeans and a navy blue polar fleece that fea­tured an embroidered logo on the left side of his chest. It was a clever design of two similar shapes—the right side was an orange flame and the left a blue water droplet—and was ringed by the words, ‘Mingunyah Plumbing Heating & Cooling Specialists’. As Ellie stared at him blankly, he pulled off his battered hat. Muddy blond hair that badly needed a cut fell across a high forehead and dark lashes ringed bright blue eyes that squinted into the noon sun. Eyes that were studying her.

Sweat pooled under her arms as he scrutinised her. It had been a long time since a man had looked at her like that, which was exactly how she liked it. The urge to grab Noah’s hand and run back to the car engulfed her as fast as the flames of a bushfire.

‘Ellie Jamieson, right?’

Before she’d decided if she was going to admit to being herself, Noah said, ‘That’s my mum’s name. I’m Noah.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Noah. I’m Luke.’ Deep lines arrowed around his smiling mouth and eyes—lines that spoke of a life lived outdoors—and he stuck out his hand to Ellie. ‘Luke Sorenson. Mingunyah Primary.’ She must have looked baffled because he added quickly, ‘We had Mrs Pye in Grade Six. She made us run the perimeter of the playground every morning.’

Ellie had a sudden flash of a boy with white-blond hair racing past her before turning, running backwards and taunting her that she ran like a girl. She’d beaten him enough times to keep things competitive. A laugh bubbled up at the memory; a laugh that sur­prised her.

‘Do you still run backwards, Luke?’

He gave a self-deprecating shrug. ‘I’m a boundary umpire. What about you?’

‘She chases me,’ Noah said. ‘She can’t catch me, but.’

‘You look pretty fast,’ Luke said in the easy manner of someone familiar with children. He turned back to Ellie. ‘The school had its hundred and fiftieth a couple of years back. Mrs Pye came and a dozen of us did the run for her. Didn’t see you there.’

‘No.’

He rubbed his stubbled jaw thoughtfully. ‘Didn’t you head off to some swanky Melbourne boarding school?’

‘Scholarship,’ she lied with perfected ease. It was so much easier than the truth.

‘You back for a visit then?’

‘It’s Mother’s Day,’ Noah chipped in. ‘Sarah told Mum we had to come cos it’s Gran’s special day and she deserves it but Mum said it’s her special day too and—’

‘Noah! That’s enough.’ Ellie hastily cut off her son before he quoted her less than optimal opinion about today’s lunch to this virtual stranger. It was a quote from a rant she’d made to Wendy when she’d been certain Noah was watching television, but appar­ently not. ‘Mr Sorenson isn’t interested in that.’ Except going on the glint in Luke’s oddly hypnotic blue eyes, he looked far too interested. ‘He needs to get back to his family for Mother’s Day and you need to close the gate after him.’

Luke’s gaze rested on Ellie and she realised it still held the same teasing playfulness it had all those years ago. Back then it made her squirm with a feeling that lurched between delight and determina­tion. Now it just made her squirm with unease. She deliberately looked over his left shoulder. ‘We’re late.’

‘And I need more supplies for the job.’ Luke jammed his hat onto his head. ‘Noah, don’t move, mate. I want to see you when I drive through the gate. Good to see you again, Ellie.’ He walked to the ute without glancing back.

As Ellie trudged to her car, she felt her shoulders fall from up round her ears. She hadn’t been aware that they’d risen.

Chapter Two

Margaret pinned the diamond brooch on the lapel of her navy woollen coat before looking in her cheval mirror and checking it was straight. She’d worn the spray brooch with its scroll design for forty-four years, not caring that for twenty of those it had been considered old-fashioned. Diamonds never went out of style and now, with vintage fashion all the rage, her granddaughters adored the brooch. They always made a fuss whenever she wore it, and so they should. It wasn’t just a beautiful piece of jewellery worth a lot of money, it represented a lot of hard work—hers. She’d earned every single one of the 123 baguette-cut and twelve brilliant-cut diamonds. The day the brooch became hers was still etched in her mind—far more vividly than anything she’d done yesterday…

Cameron’s arrival ten months after Sarah’s was as swift as Sarah’s had been agonisingly slow. In the time it took for Kevin to deliver her into the care of the midwife, park the Fairlane and walk back inside the hospital, her son was born. The following day, Kevin’s father, George, visited her. He came alone and outside of the rigidly enforced visiting hours, a fact that hadn’t surprised her. Not even the dragon charge sister could resist George’s charm. When he unexpectedly walked into her private room, her first reaction was one of wide-eyed surprise immediately followed by disap­pointment. The least she’d expected from her father-in-law was flowers—and not just any flowers. Certainly not the common pink-edged cream carnations that every other woman in maternity had received. No, she deserved a massive bouquet of white roses for what she’d just done.

Quickly buttoning her matinee jacket, she sat up higher in the bed. ‘Hello, George.’

He gave a silent nod and pulled up a chair. She was about to say, ‘Have you seen the baby?’ when he said gruffly, ‘This is for you.’ Pulling an old blue velvet jewellery case out of his jacket pocket, he pushed it into her hands.

Hopeful anticipation quickly pushed aside astonishment and her fingers shook, fumbling with the ornate brass latch. She finally managed to open the box and gasped in delighted relief—it was exactly what she wanted to see. The ornate diamond brooch George had given his wife, Enid, on their tenth wedding anniversary was nestled in luxurious cream silk. Margaret knew it well; her rela­tionship with the brooch had started long before her relationship with Kevin.

The first time she’d been captivated by its tantalising sparkle was at a library fundraiser, where it had glinted on the lapel of Enid’s fur-trimmed coat. It was Margaret’s second week in Mingunyah after accepting the job as teacher-librarian at the high school and at age twenty-six, she’d never been so close to such an expensive brooch outside of a jewellery store. Nor had she met a woman who wore such a valuable item with so much casual style.

‘This old thing?’ Enid had said in response to Margaret’s compli­ment. ‘I’m glad you like it.’

‘Like’ was the understatement of the century. Margaret had coveted the brooch from that moment.

‘Oh, George.’ The wonder that it was finally hers danced through her fingertips as she lightly stroked the diamonds. ‘Thank you.’

Never a demonstrative man, her father-in-law cleared his throat and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. ‘I always knew you’d be good for this family, Maggie. You rescued us.’

With difficulty, she dragged her gaze away from the hypnotic brooch and looked at him. ‘You’ve always been good to me.’

And he had been—so much so that George was the only per­son she ever allowed to call her Maggie. Early on, Kevin had tried once or twice, but he soon learned she only responded to Margaret. But her admiration for her father-in-law was established before her marriage to Kevin, starting a few months after Enid’s death.

She and Kevin had been seeing each other for over a year but her goal of getting his ring onto her finger was proving elusive. She’d tried everything she could think of: listening to him talk about the sawmill and agreeing with his grievances even if she disagreed; watching him play endless games of football and enduring the monotonous post-game parties where Kevin was always absorbed in analysing the game with Gary Longmuir and Pete Cooper. Many parties were spent warding off the attentions of a few of his mates and their drunken pickup lines: ‘I wouldn’t ignore you, darlin’. I’d show you a good time.’ She imagined they probably would, but instant gratification wasn’t something she invested in. Her eye was on the long game—the future.

At the six-month mark and starting to despair, she’d tweaked the traditional advice of ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stom­ach’ by serving Kevin chicken and veal Kiev and chocolate soufflé before dishing herself up on a platter. Kevin savoured the meal before savouring her, sending her hopes soaring. But while Kevin hadn’t sought to end things with her after that meal, he hadn’t shown any signs of taking the next step either and with her twenty-eighth birthday having come and gone, she was at a loss as to what to try next. The idea of kissing one of Kevin’s mates to startle him into a claim of ownership was starting to look like a viable option.

When she accepted an unexpected invitation from George to dine at Mill House, she was struck by a thought the moment she stepped into its high-ceilinged Georgian hallway: Was she pursuing the wrong Jamieson? Surrounded by impeccable decor and obvious wealth, the idea of marrying a rich man thirty-five years her senior suddenly became something worth considering.

Over a meal of beef Wellington cooked by George’s housekeeper and accompanied by a bottle of Penfold’s Grange, he eventually said, ‘My son’s a fool for not snapping you up.’

Her meat-laden fork stalled halfway to her mouth. It took a moment for her brain to recover from its momentary shock and kick up a gear.

While she weighed up the best way to respond, George contin­ued, ‘I, on the other hand, always get what I want.’

‘I imagine you do,’ she purred, unwilling to burn any bridges lest George was expressing interest in her.

‘Do you want him?’

His directness stunned her. Of course she wanted the handsome heir to the biggest employer in town, but things between her and Kevin were travelling at a snail’s pace and had been for some time. Was saying ‘Yes, I want Kevin’ the right answer if George’s motive in asking her here tonight was because he was interested in her? She kept her cards close.

‘All I want is to make this family happy again.’

‘Good. We’re in agreement then. It’s what Enid would have wanted too. My darling wife spent the last eight years waiting for Kevin to marry and make her a grandmother.’ His voice quavered slightly. ‘That bastard cancer took her too early.’

The haze in Margaret’s mind cleared. George’s intentions had nothing to do with pursuing her. Tonight was all about her and Kevin. ‘There’s nothing I want more than to be Kevin’s wife but—’ She leaned forward, opening her palms and aiming for a gesture of conflicted understanding. ‘He’s still grieving for his mother.’

‘Life goes on. My son needs a wife and an heir to get him back on track,’ George said decisively. ‘Leave it with me.’

Her heart rate picked up, filling her with hope, but she tried to quell its expectations. ‘Leave what exactly to you?’

‘Everything.’ He poured her a whiskey and raised his glass to hers with a wink. ‘I promise you’ll be walking down the aisle of St Mary’s before the year is out.’

True to his word—and two days after her twenty-ninth birthday—that was exactly what she did. Wearing a cream, pure silk wedding gown with exquisite hand-embroidered scalloping and seven thou­sand seed pearls, she glided along the blue carpet on George’s arm in front of the who’s who of Mingunyah and the surrounding district. He placed her hand in Kevin’s as he stood nervously in a pale blue tuxedo next to his best man, Gary Longmuir. Mark ‘Tiger’ Ralston, the groomsman and one of a group of men she’d toyed with kissing to make Kevin jealous, gave her a big wink. Margaret liked Tiger a lot more than Gary. Gary was too serious and Kevin valued his opinion a little more than Margaret would have liked.

The squawk of a cockatoo brought Margaret back to the present and she gave the brooch a fond pat. The action made something niggle in the back of her mind—something Cameron had said to her recently. Was it about the brooch? It wasn’t like Cameron to notice jewellery, unlike that wife of his, who did enough noticing for the both of them. The annoying niggle burrowed in, demand­ing to be answered. What on earth had he said?

How long since you had the setting checked on your brooch, Mum? Cameron’s voice came back to her, soothing the prickling need to remember. It would be heartbreaking if one of the diamonds fell out.

It would be. Her hand rose unbidden to her mouth as an even worse scenario occurred to her. What if it got stolen like the lemons on her tree that had all suddenly vanished? As soon as she saw Cameron she’d insist he take the brooch to Melbourne this week and have Abe Rubenstein’s son check it and value it for insurance purposes. The Rubensteins had cared for the Jamiesons’ jewellery for decades and she wouldn’t trust anyone else with the task. Although part of her would love to see the look on Derek Lung’s face if she took it into Mingunyah Jewellery. The man sold the occasional diamond solitaire engagement ring but most of his sales consisted of costume jewellery and watches. She doubted he’d ever held anything like the brooch.

She checked her watch. It was time to leave for Sarah’s. Irritation zipped through her as she searched for her car keys. It was Mother’s Day! Surely one of her children should have offered to drive her? Why had Sarah and Alex moved out to Riverbend? After all, when they started out as cheese makers in the old factory, they bought their milk with no intentions of ever farming themselves. Margaret clearly recalled the first time she met Alex. He told her most emphatically that his father and grandfather struggled for years on the farm, which was why he chose to study engineering. So much for that malarkey. Riverbend was a good half-hour drive out of town and the last stretch was a minor road full of potholes and cor­rugations. She had much preferred it when her daughter lived three streets away and was available whenever Margaret telephoned.

A car horn sounded long and loud, making Margaret jump. It was probably that dreadful Hamish Makin visiting his mother. That boy had been a difficult child and now he was an obnoxious adult. If she’d known a decade ago that subdividing the land surrounding Mill House would mean noisy neighbours, she might have changed her mind. She peered through the lace curtains, expecting to see a bright blue Holden complete with a spoiler and dual chrome exhausts, but gasped in confused delight and surprise. Rushing to the front door, she pulled it open and waved as Cameron got out of the car.

‘Hello, dear,’ she said presenting her cheek for a kiss. ‘Why on earth are you driving my car?’

***

‘Got any more of that merlot?’

Sarah turned from stacking the dishwasher to see Cameron stand­ing in the kitchen, glancing around expectantly, empty wine glass in hand. It was that tricky period at a formal lunch when the table had been cleared after the main meal but dessert and coffee were yet to be served. Twenty minutes earlier, Cameron had emptied the second bottle of wine into his glass so his question was really more along the lines of a statement: I’m sure you have another bottle of that very expensive wine I’m enjoying so let’s open it.

Cameron liked to drink the wine Alex served, and it wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford to offer wines from the high end of the range, but Cameron rarely brought a bottle to add to their cellar. She knew this about him—had known it for a long time—but today, for some reason, it irked her. She had plans for the third bottle of merlot and it involved her, Alex and the couch.

‘I’m making coffee,’ she said, hoping he’d take the hint.

‘After this morning’s fun and games, I’d prefer to stick to wine.’ Cameron smiled as he spied the unopened bottle in the butler’s pantry. In three strides, he was holding the bottle in his beefy hand. Sarah heard the seal crack, and then the glug-glug of the velvet liquid swirling into the deep bowl of the glass. She had a sudden poignant memory of the days when red wine came corked and all it took to stymie greedy guests was hiding the corkscrew.

‘Oh, thank God. You’ve got more wine.’ Ellie appeared in the kitchen and extended her glass. ‘If I have to hear one more time how embarrassed my mother is about my housing situation, I need to be blotto.’

‘So how is life with the lesbians?’ Cameron asked, filling her glass.

‘I imagine the same as life with the heterosexuals,’ Ellie said equably as Sarah flinched at Cameron’s question.

Like most things about her younger sister’s life, Ellie’s sexuality was a mystery to her—one they’d never discussed. Ellie had never openly said she was gay but then again, she’d never said she was straight either. It didn’t help that she dressed in baggy T-shirts in summer, oversized flannel shirts and vests in winter, wore jeans on cold days, knee-length shorts on warm days and work boots no matter what the season. When Sarah considered that, apart from the occasional smear of gloss on her lips, Ellie’s face was never touched by makeup, that she drove an old Subaru station wagon and she was vegetarian, the evidence seemed pretty conclusive—right up until it wasn’t. Sarah always got stuck on the facts that Ellie had never introduced a woman to the family—or a man, for that matter—she wore her eye-stopping blonde, curly hair long and she always waxed her legs.

And then there was Noah.

Sarah had read enough to know that Noah’s existence didn’t mean Ellie was straight. But it struck her as odd that Ellie would choose to use Thai donor semen, so she was reasonably confident Noah had been conceived naturally. Of course the window of opportunity to ask the question was long past. It had got lost in the stunned surprise of Ellie’s out-of-the-blue phone call telling Sarah that not only was she unexpectedly in Sydney, Sarah was an auntie. Her spoiled and self-indulgent baby sister had once again managed to shock her.

The most recent Ellie thunderbolt was her decision to return to the valley, but she supposed that was old news now. Despite Ellie living closer than she had in decades, Sarah felt as removed from her life as she had when Ellie was living overseas. But it had been longer than that. The truth was that the last time Sarah felt close to Ellie and relaxed in her company was the summer before her wedding to Alex, when she’d taught her little sister to wax her legs.

Sarah quickly capped the merlot bottle in a vain attempt to save some wine for Alex and steered the conversation away from sexual­ity. ‘Talking about Mum, does Graeme Aitkens have any idea who took her car for a joyride?’

When Cameron arrived at Riverbend House with their mother, Margaret had breezed in, taking centre stage on the couch and accepting her gifts with the graciousness of the Queen before mentioning she was quite thirsty. Sarah, busy playing hostess and keenly feeling Alex’s absence, had appreciated Anita’s suggestion that Cameron help Gus organise the drinks. It turned out to be a stroke of genius, because apparently, her brother was the only member of the family capable of mixing a Bloody Mary to their mother’s exacting standards.

‘Sergeant Plod reckons it was opportunistic kids.’ Cameron sipped the wine. ‘He reckons Mum must have left the keyless remote in the car.’

Sarah shook her head. ‘Mum wouldn’t do that. She’s always had a thing about security. Remember how Dad used to tease her about being a city chick? He’d say that leaving everything unlocked was the only Mingunyah tradition Mum didn’t adopt. God, how many times growing up did we get into trouble for leaving our bedroom windows open when we left the house?’

‘I never lock my windows,’ Ellie said absently, her gaze fixed on the trampoline outside.

‘You don’t have anything worth stealing,’ Cameron said.

‘I have my Tibetan chimes.’

Sarah glanced at her sister, trying to work out if she was being serious or just winding up Cameron. She could never tell and she wished she could, because joining forces with Ellie and pushing their brother’s buttons was her sort of fun. As much as Sarah loved Anita—they shared the sort of relationship she’d never come close to achieving with Ellie—they couldn’t bond over teasing Cameron. To her knowledge, Anita didn’t tease him. Sarah found this a little odd, because she teased Alex a lot. More than once she’d wondered if this lack on Anita’s part had something to do with the seven-year age gap in the marriage or with the slightly disconcerting thought that Anita worshipped Cameron for marrying her.

‘And so many thieves are going to bother to lift brass chimes,’ Cameron responded predictably before turning to Sarah. ‘It’s a bit hard to argue hard-core theft when the car was parked in the IGA parking lot without a scratch on it. When I asked the good ser­geant to run fingerprints, he told me I’d been watching too much American television. As far as he’s concerned, the car’s back where it belongs, end of story.’

‘Is there a chance Mum’s forgetting things?’ Ellie asked.

‘No,’ Cameron said firmly in his ‘I’m the brother and I know best’ voice.

A slight stiffness rippled across Ellie’s shoulders. ‘She’s already told me twice today that Lindsay Bolt visited her last week after seeing a blue porcelain cat worth two thousand dollars identical to Mum’s on Antique Roadshow.’

‘She probably thought you didn’t hear her the first time when you were distracted by Noah’s enthusiastic assault on the chips.’ Noah had leaped onto the bowl as if he’d not eaten the salty treats since the last time he’d visited. Mind you, that was a distinct pos­sibility. Sarah knew Ellie’s parenting veered from being super strict with some things and incredibly lax with others.

‘Sarah and I see more of her than you do,’ Cameron added pomp­ously. ‘We’d have noticed if there was something wrong.’

‘I’m not worried about her memory,’ Sarah said, ‘but I do worry she’s determined to stay in the house. It’s too big for her. I think it might be time for her to sell and downsize. I’m going to take her to look at the new townhouses they’re building on the old saleyard site. Two of her friends have already put down deposits.’

‘Mum doesn’t need to move. Rita Bosco comes once a week to clean,’ Cameron said.

‘It’s not just the housework. It’s the garden too. Alex, Gus and I spent last Sunday doing a massive prune and clean up. Moving would solve that, but in the meantime, I was thinking of getting a quote from a gardener. Ellie, do you have a Burmese man or woman who’d be interested in some work?’

Cameron looked sceptical. ‘You know what Mum’s like. Do you really think she’ll be happy having an Asian gardener when her father was tortured by one?’

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ Ellie snapped. ‘The Burmese aren’t Japanese and Mum, for all her faults, isn’t racist. Her grandson’s half Thai and she shows as much interest in Noah as she does in Ava and Chloe.’

Sarah decided it wasn’t politic to mention that in comparison to the doting interest Margaret had lavished on Finn, Gus and Emma when they were little, the attention she gave the younger grand­children was negligible. It was almost as if she’d used up all her grandmothering energy by the time they arrived. But that aside, she had no idea what Cameron was on about. ‘Mum hasn’t got a problem with the Japanese. She and Dad visited Tokyo, remember?’

‘I just think it’s better if someone in the family does the garden,’ Cameron said firmly. ‘What about Gus?’

‘What about me?’ Gus ambled in through the back door with Noah standing on his feet and Ava hanging off his back like a monkey.

‘I’ve got a job for you,’ Cameron said in a magnanimous tone. ‘Mowing Gran’s lawns and weeding her garden.’

‘Oh.’ Gus looked underwhelmed.

‘It’s fifteen dollars an hour. Cash in hand, mate.’

‘Thanks for thinking of me, Uncle Cam, but Dad pays twenty-two. I think I’ll stick to milking sheep and goats and sticking cheese into jars of olive oil.’

‘Giddy up, Gus!’ Ava commanded. Her cousin whinnied like a horse, turned and headed back outside.

Ellie laughed. ‘Looks like you’ll have to up your rates, Cameron, or do it yourself for free like Alex and Sarah.’

‘I’m busy establishing a new business. Unlike some people, I don’t get weekends off.’

‘We could draw up a roster,’ Sarah suggested before Ellie made a crack about working for the man and the constant seeking of profits over people. ‘Between us, we can keep the garden under control until she sells.’

‘Mum’s never mentioned to me that she wants to sell the house,’ Cameron said. ‘It sounds like you’re badgering her into it.’

A jet of anger shot along Sarah’s veins, not dissimilar to those she’d experienced as a child when Cameron falsely accused her of something. ‘I’m not badgering her. I’m discussing options.’

‘If she’d wanted to move, she’d have done it years ago,’ Cameron huffed. ‘It’s not like she’s only just started living there alone. Dad’s been dead for twenty-six years.’

‘Being on her own isn’t the issue!’ She pulled back, softening her tone to try to get him onside. ‘She’s not keeping up with the garden.’

‘Well, I suppose I could possibly commit to helping once every couple of months but definitely not when Phoebe and Ruby are home competing and I’m flat out towing a horse float to every gymkhana within a hundred K.’

‘They might be happy to work for fifteen dollars an hour,’ Ellie said wryly.

A red flush crawled up Cameron’s neck. ‘Just wait until Noah’s a teenager and you’re driving all over the country for his passion.’

‘What about you, Ellie?’ Sarah asked, trying to keep them on track and away from lunging at each other’s throats. ‘How much garden time can you spare?’

‘I think Mum should employ someone. It’s not like she can’t afford it.’

‘True, but she doesn’t spend money easily.’ The words were out before Sarah realised she’d spoken them.

Ellie’s sparkling, pool-blue eyes opened wide as if she couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. A throaty laugh bubbled out of her and tears trickled down her face. ‘Oh, it was worth coming today just to hear that.’

‘And I thought you came to see us,’ Sarah said, locking onto offence to block her guilt over the uncharitable comment about her mother.

‘I for one appreciate our mother’s fiscal prudency and investment savvy.’ Cameron shot Ellie a combative look. ‘I doubt you’ll say no to a six-figure inheritance.’

‘Actually, I’d rather she spent her money making her life easier now than passing it on to me.’

‘Spoken by the woman who’s already benefitted from a big chunk of change.’

‘Cameron,’ Sarah cautioned as she scooped coffee into the plunger. Alex, please come home now and distract everyone with a story of how you rescued the cheese. She checked the clock: 3.35. She’d expected to have heard from him by now.

‘What are you on about?’ Ellie asked, clearly perplexed.

‘Don’t give me the innocent act. Sarah and I went to Mingunyah High but that wasn’t good enough for Princess Ellie. You badgered Mum and made her life miserable until she had no choice but to give in and send you to MLC.’

Ellie’s mouth tightened. ‘I believe you got three years at Mannix College when you were at Monash Uni.’

‘It didn’t come close. Your education cost fifty times what ours did and gave you opportunities we never had. But have you used any of them or the networking it offered you? I don’t think so. How many courses have you started? Three?’ He ticked them off on his fingers. ‘Four, if you don’t count the tarot cards and aura-reading class. Did you ever finish any of them? I don’t think so.’

Ellie’s nostrils flared. ‘If it bothers you so much, brother dear, why don’t we pro rata what was spent on my boarding and your college fees. If we do that we’ll both owe Sarah money from our inheritance, because she lived in a share house in Carlton.’

‘Shut up, both of you! It’s disgusting, talking as if Mum’s money is already yours. Mum’s always kept the contents of her will private, so for all we know, she might be leaving everything to the hospital. Inheritance is a gift not a right, and our mother is still very much alive, thank you very much. And she’s waiting for dessert.’ Her hand shook as she poured boiling water over the ground coffee.

‘Hey! Why am I being lumped in with being a baddie? It was Cam who brought up the subject and took a crack at me.’ Ellie set down her wine glass. ‘I’m going outside to jump on the trampoline with Noah.’

The moment the back door slammed, Sarah sighed. ‘Thanks for imploding a happy family gathering, Cam.’

‘What? Why am I in trouble for saying something we’ve both thought for years? It was time it was said. She’s had privileges you and I were denied and she’s wasted every single one of them.’ He looked out the window, watching Ellie holding Noah’s hands and jumping high. ‘I mean look at her! Her car’s on the verge of dying, she’s renting a room in a house that’s been a thorn in the side of the shire for years, her clothes look like she buys them from the op shop and Noah, the poor kid, has no male role models. What the hell is she doing with her life?’

Although Sarah had said similar things to Alex over the years, agreeing with Cameron didn’t come naturally. ‘Noah has you, Alex, Gus and Finn. I believe the new PE teacher at his school is a man.’

Cameron rolled his eyes. ‘It’s almost impossible to be a role model when we see the kid less than three times a year.’

‘Perhaps if you didn’t bait her quite so much, she’d come more often.’

‘Jesus. I need some fresh air.’ He strode out of the kitchen, mak­ing a beeline for the French doors and the veranda.

Alone in the kitchen on Mother’s Day. Again. Sarah arranged the cheeses on the board, unwrapping her favourite—their blue vein cheese. Eighteen years ago, this cheese had launched their business. Back then their goal was to become known as the cheese makers of an Australian-styled version of the famous French Roquefort. For five years, it had been their signature cheese but once they’d intro­duced their goat’s cheese marinated in herb-infused olive oil, it quickly outpaced sales of the sheep’s milk blue to the point they had to reassess the demand. It was the first business decision she and Alex had disagreed on and he’d accused her of letting sentimentality get in the way of sound business sense: ‘The figures never lie, Sarah.’ She’d hated that he was right and, as the cheese making had been her idea, letting go of the blue had been like severing a part of her­self. Now it was only made in small batches and sold as a boutique cheese in the café.

Anita walked into the kitchen, her petite frame bustling with energy. ‘How can I help?’

‘It would be great if you could hull the strawberries. If we sur­round the cake with them, it might draw attention away from the fact it’s totally uneven.’

‘I can do that.’

‘Thanks. Everyone else seems to have disappeared on me.’

‘Are you okay? You sound a bit upset.’

‘Sorry. I’ve been feeling a bit Jekyll and Hyde all day. Probably because I missed my sleep-in or I’m premenstrual.’ Her periods had been all over the place lately and she didn’t even want to think about what that might mean. ‘Oh, what the hell.’ She grabbed a bottle of vintage champagne out of the fridge, popped the cork and poured them both a glass. ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’

‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ Anita smiled as she sipped, enjoying the dry and tangy flavour. ‘Next year, I’ll host and you can bring the champagne. No arguments.’

‘You’re on. You don’t fancy doing Christmas too, do you?’

‘Just let me run it past Cameron. You know how men like to be consulted about these things.’

Sarah didn’t know any such thing. She was the front-end con­troller of their domestic lives and the coordinator of the family calendar. She told Alex the date and time of family functions and he turned up and served the drinks. For some reason, the idea of Anita telling Cameron that she’d asked them to host Christmas rankled.

It gave Cameron the power to say no. As she and Cameron had been in competition all their lives, giving him the advantage didn’t sit right at all.

‘I’m kidding,’ Sarah said lightly. ‘Of course we’ll have Christmas here. It makes sense. Mum dislikes change and we’ve got the pool so it’s best for the kids.’

Anita’s forehead wrinkled slightly. ‘Well, if you’re sure.’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Have you heard from Emma today?’

‘Not yet. She’ll only just be waking up to Sunday in France, so hopefully I’ll get a call soon. I hope Alex is back by then.’

‘You’ll feel better after you talk to Emma. I know I felt a lot hap­pier after chatting with Phoebe and Ruby. Did Gus—’

‘Sarah? Oh, there you are.’ Margaret shot a disapproving look at the two of them leaning against the island bench, drinking. ‘I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves. Meanwhile, you’ve left me sitting alone in the dining room.’

‘I’ve only been gone a couple of minutes, Margaret,’ Anita said apologetically. ‘I came in to help Sarah. We’ll call everyone to come back and sit down.’

Margaret looked at the platters. ‘Cake and cheese? Is that all you’re serving? People will go home hungry.’

Sarah’s hand tightened around the stem of her glass despite hav­ing anticipated and prepared for Margaret’s reaction. Her mother’s sweet tooth was legendary. When her parents had hosted din­ner parties, there’d always been two desserts to choose from and, on extra-special occasions, three. If she was ever asked to name the desserts of her childhood, she’d answer chocolate ripple cake, brandy Alexander pie and chocolate mousse. All of them featured alcohol and lashings of cream. Today’s offerings were a compromise to accommodate everyone’s tastes and waistlines.

‘I’ve also got your favourite truffles.’

Margaret’s critical demeanour faded and she smiled. ‘Your father bought me those.’

‘I remember. He ordered them from the Australia Arcade in Melbourne and when they arrived in their beautiful tin, Cam and I would beg you to let us have one.’

Her mother laughed, a tinkling, girlish sound, and she leaned in conspiratorially. ‘Sometimes, I ate them all myself.’

Sarah remembered that too.


We hope you enjoyed this sample of Birthright by Fiona Lowe!

Click here to find out more. 

Home Page Bottom Banner