Author's Official Booksite PINKIE PARANYA

Sample Chapter: Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

~ Chapter 1 ~

“Oh no! My purse fell overboard!” Strangers ran to the side of the ferry and watched the brown leather bag bob backward through the wake.

The reality of Flynn’s entire existence floated away, destined to eventually sink in the depths of the dark water somewhere between mainland Australia and Tasmania. She felt in the pocket of her jeans for the thin fold of bills and a few coins. It was a tiny consolation to know she wasn’t entirely broke.

Tears of angry frustration blurred her vision, and when she blinked and looked again, the bag was gone.

“Are you all right, miss?” An elderly couple leaned close, as if to shield her from the loss of her handbag.

Flynn Stevens tried to tidy her flyaway hair, which had come undone from the ribbon at the nape of her neck. “No, I’m not. I’ve just lost my money, traveler’s checks and passport.” What would she do? Nothing this bad had ever happened to her before. “I still have my backpack, though.” She pointed to the sturdy bag leaning against the railing.

The couple clucked like a pair of chickens looking for a nugget of corn.

“I realize I shouldn’t have kept everything valuable in one place. I’m usually more organized.” She took a deep breath, wanting to be alone with her misery.

“You poor dear.” The woman touched her arm in sympathy.


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

“You should check with Captain Dugan. He can issue a letter stating what happened; that should serve until you get reissues of your passport and traveler’s cheques.”

“Thank you. I’ll do that.” She felt a little better already. There was nothing to be gained by mourning over what couldn’t be helped. Still, in a strange land without money and passport, she felt insecure and vulnerable.

“You’re from the States, aren’t you?” the elderly man asked.

Not in the mood for chit-chatting just now, she supposed he was trying to take her mind off her immediate problem. They were kind and she guessed they meant well. “Does it show?” She was surprised; she had thought of herself as cosmopolitan. Like her mother, only not like her mother, she hoped.

The man and woman smiled. “We own a boarding house in Hobart. During the tourist season, many of our guests are American.” The woman’s soft wrinkles folded into a look of concern. “What will you do? Can we help you? There are no consulates close by, but perhaps you are meeting someone?”

Flynn chewed on her bottom lip. “Well...” She was meeting someone, although he didn’t know it yet. Her cousin had cautioned surprise was the only way to open Marshall Beckett’s door, to get to Timmy and the diary she’d left behind.

“Yes, I’m meeting someone. According to my directions, I take a bus to the Tamar Valley—to Launceston—and then on to a place called Rainbow’s End. Have you heard of it? A horse ranch, apple orchard, I don’t know...something like that.”

“Everyone in Tasmania knows about Rainbow’s End. Marshall Beckett inherited the farm from his father, but he’s turned it into a real showplace. We’re all very proud of what he has accomplished. Do you know the family?”

At this bit of information, Flynn felt unsure of herself. Their obvious respect for her cousin’s ex-husband threw her. Suzy had called him a tyrant and a loner, and worse—she’d said he was a Tasmanian devil. But then she always was prone to exaggeration. Flynn’s thoughts turned immediately to the child. Would his father actually mistreat their little boy, or was that an embroidery of the truth? No matter, Timmy was the only child in their family and she had to find out.

“Terrible tragedy about his beautiful young wife.”

Her mouth opened but nothing came out. Tragedy? She’d come to Tasmania prepared to hate Marshall for what he had done to Suzy. According to her cousin, he’d sued for divorce when Timmy was about five and took full custody of the boy, leaving her with nothing.


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

Was that legal? Could he do that? Under what circumstances would a rational man behave so?

“I did hear something about a wife...but a tragedy?”

“Vanished. Off the face of the earth. No one ever saw her after that party at Damon’s.”

“Oh, that was a while ago,” the man piped in. “She and Beckett had it out in front of God and everyone. She disappeared right after that.” He pursed his round little lips, his expression one of fatherly concern belied by the excited twinkle in his eyes.

News must be hard to come by on the island. It was obvious that tidbit had been rehashed many times between the couple. “Disappeared?” Flynn’s voice squeaked and she fought to control it. Impossible. It was less than a month ago when she last talked to Suzy. Maybe, as far as these people were concerned, she had vanished.

“Oh, yes. It was quite scandalous. Word has it she ran off with someone, but no one around there was missing at the same time.”

“Everyone thought she would eventually come back for the boy. The little mite doted on her.”

Flynn desperately wanted to sit down, her legs were trembling so much they threatened to buckle. None of this made any sense. It didn’t corroborate anything Suzy had ranted about over the telephone. Admittedly, the connection was bad and Suzy said she had a cold. But when was the last time before this they’d talked over the phone? It was hard to remember, it had been that long ago. Suzy was the type of person who preferred to write short, irritating notes on floral, perfumed stationery that left out more than they told.

Her cousin could sometimes be annoyingly impractical and often selfish, but never mean. The Suzy she knew wouldn’t have left her child behind. Flynn felt a headache coming on, with a tightening at the nape of her neck that worked upward in chilling waves to the top of her head. She wanted to sit alone and have a good cry.

“I’ve never met Mr. Beckett,” she admitted. “But I do know someone who knows him. I’m answering an ad he placed in the Melbourne paper for a nanny.”


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

Her application for the role of nanny was rather ironic. She’d never had a childhood of her own. What could she possibly know about children? This idea of Suzy’s was very thin, now that Flynn found herself in the middle of it. Suzy could always make a plan plausible and exciting—until you were away from her charm a few minutes to re-think its logic.

Growing up with Suzy had been fun. In spite of the numerous nannies who came and left—her mother had always found something wrong with them, no matter how competent—Suzy kept her sense of whimsy. Her cousin’s outrageous lack of common sense made life very challenging and exciting. Flynn always had to be the sensible one.

Now she had flown across the American continent and halfway around the world on a leave of absence from her concert tour, nearly sending her agent into cardiac arrest in the process. All because of Suzy’s frenzied plea for help. It was so unlike Flynn’s ordered existence.

The couple, both talking at the same time, brought Flynn back from her uneasy thoughts. They looked at her expectantly, plainly waiting for her reply.

She took a flying leap at the conversation.

“I didn’t know about his missing ex-wife. One would think she’d have come back to see the child by now. What does Mr. Beckett have to say about her?”

Both of their faces registered matching looks of shock.

“We’ve heard he never talks about her. Forbids mention of her name in his presence, or the nipper’s.”

“Then there’s Rainbow’s End,” the man said. “Everyone thought old man Beckett would give the property to Damon, Marshall’s younger brother. Damon lived there with him for years, helping him with the place. But before he died, old Beckett called Marshall home.”

“Where was Marshall all this time?”


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

“He became an engineer and worked on hydroelectric projects here in Oz and Enzed.”

Flynn looked confused. “Enzed?”

“New Zealand, love.”

“Oh. Wasn’t this brother angry about not getting the property?” Suzy had never mentioned a brother or any of these complications.

 “Of course. But old Beckett settled a small fortune on Damon, or so the story goes. The lad accepted the money and bought the adjacent property. He loved Rainbow’s End. It’s no bloody wonder the brothers don’t get on.”

What was going on with Suzy? Why had she disappeared so completely from life that she couldn’t return to check on her son and pick up her diary? So far, her cousin’s life sounded like a scenario out of a bad soap opera.

“’Tis a lovely drive from here to Launceston. It only takes the coach about an hour and a half to get there. You’ll enjoy the ride,” the woman said when the ferry nosed up to the dock. The couple excused themselves and hurried forward to their waiting family.

Feeling more alone than she’d ever felt in her life, Flynn wished she could turn back time. She wanted to forget about this ill-fated journey and settle back into her comfortable shell of a life. Straightening her shoulders, she went to find the captain.

It didn’t take long to tell her story.

She watched the top of the captain’s shiny, bald head while he wrote out a letter and stamped it with his seal.

“There you go, miss. That should stand you in good stead until you get replacements. Sorry about what happened.”

Flynn nodded and read the paper he extended to her. “Thank you, Captain Dugan. You’ve been very kind.” They shook hands and he saw her to the gangplank. By that time, the passengers had left and a new group boarded.


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

She dug in her pocket for the bills and counted out the amount needed to buy a cold apple cider from a vendor on the street. After she paid for the bus fare, she would be nearly broke. The thought made her queasy and she scolded herself. That will help. Nausea and a headache. What next? She should have taken a flight to Launceston, but that would have brought her more quickly into Marshall Beckett’s path and she wasn’t quite ready for that. In fact, she wasn’t ready for the upheaval to her orderly existence at all.

The village square was lush and green, with huge oak and elm trees flourishing in the center of the park. All her tours and few vacations had been spent in cities. Paris, Rome, beautiful places in the world she’d passed through on her concert tours. They were nothing like this serene, placid village.

Places, like people, were merely something to smile at, sometimes admire from afar, and then leave. As long as Flynn had her music she was whole, needing no roots or anyone as an anchor.

Only lately had doubts begun to creep in—curious longings she had pushed away. She’d had fleeting relationships over the years, but no one had come near to claiming her heart.

She boarded the bus and sat near the front, setting the backpack on the floor against her legs. The sun disappeared behind a bank of dark clouds, and the smell of rain hung heavy in the air. The weather reflected the most wretched day of her life. She missed her violin. It was an extension of her arm, but much too valuable to carry on a crazy errand like this.

In spite of her black mood, her spirits lightened as they passed through the countryside. Vivid hues of green infused the pastoral scene. Wildflowers punctuated the landscape like spatters from a frenzied paint brush. It was breathtakingly beautiful yet disturbing. She wasn’t comfortable with such...such prolific disorder. In European cities, gardens were kept neat and precise.

“Stopping for Launceston,” the driver called out. When the passengers disembarked, she was the only one still seated as the driver went inside the bus terminal. Flynn looked at the colonial buildings and the maze of gardens from her seat.

“Lovely old town,” she commented when the driver sat behind the wheel again.

He turned in his seat with a grin across his face. “Yes’m. It’s called the Garden City. Population is growing every year. It’s still just half the size of Hobart.” He turned back around, shifted gears and pulled out.

“Tasmania is beautiful, from what I’ve seen so far.”


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

He nodded. “Some say it resembles New Zealand, but I wouldn’t know. Never been off the island. Waiting to go by bus.” He winked at the rearview mirror.

She smiled. “That may take a little while.”

“Where is it you want to go, miss?”

 “Have you heard of Rainbow’s End? I’ve been told it’s somewhere in the Tamar Valley.”

“Oh, right you are, miss. Everybody knows Marshall Beckett’s place.”

He pulled off the highway, the motor still running, and pointed ahead.

“See there, miss? That’s Cataract Gorge. You can’t see much from here, but if you’re ever back in Launceston, don’t be missing it. There’s a thousand-foot chair lift all the way to the top. The missus won’t hear of riding it, though we’re both born and reared in these parts. She says that’s for the tourists. She wants no part of it.” He laughed and pulled back onto the highway.

It didn’t seem like any time before he spoke again.

“This is where you’ll be wanting to get off, miss.” The driver’s voice broke the vacuum of silence within the bus. She hadn’t even realized he’d stopped. The brisk finality with which he waved goodbye and closed the door startled her. With mixed feelings she watched as the bus rolled off in a puff of smoke.

Flynn pushed aside her feelings of abandonment by trying to picture the lovely, exotic Suzy in this bucolic setting. The land flared out in gently swelling hillocks of lush greenery, punctuated by vividly-colored wild flowers. It looked as if someone had scattered confetti through the fields. The stark grandeur of dark mountain peaks formed an impressive background to the scene. It was an odd feeling. It was the middle of spring in Tasmania, and yet it was fall in New York.

She shouted up at a flock of birds, “What am I doing here?” and they scattered in alarm from the trees. There was no need to stay long. She just needed enough time to see how Suzy’s ex-husband was treating the child and to look for the diary her cousin put so much stock in.


Romancing a Tasmanian Cowboy

Flynn needed to regain her life. Without the papers and money that was in her purse, she felt invisible. She stopped on the little dirt road, set her backpack down for a rest, and breathed in the rain-promised air. She wore scruffy old jeans and walking boots bought at a surplus store in Melbourne, and now she deftly braided her hair into a long thick braid and removed her earrings. This was how she thought a person a little down on her luck and looking for an adventure might dress. Who but an adventuress would answer an ad in the Melbourne paper for a job in Tasmania?

She picked up the backpack again, catching a sound of pounding hooves that blended with a simultaneous crash of thunder, interrupting her daydreams. Before Flynn could connect the sound with the road beneath her feet, a huge black horse bore down on her. She stood frozen in terror, eyes closed tightly, unable to move as she waited for the impact.

A whoosh of air brushed past and the heavy smell of horse assaulted her. When she dared open her eyes, the dust had not yet settled.

“Bloody hell, woman! What are you gawking at in the middle of the road?”

She took a deep breath. Raw anger replaced her fear. She’d been through enough for one day. Too much to take any guff from some farmer with manure on his boots.

“Fool! Why don’t you watch where you’re going! You nearly ran me down. You don’t own the road.”

She unshouldered her backpack, letting it slide to the ground as she struggled to slow her heartbeat. Hands on hips, she glared up at the giant on horseback. He swung down from the saddle and faced her.

Flynn’s impression was of lean strength. The man’s shoulders were wide, his hips slim, and he moved with graceful agility. Rich, burnished-copper hair had streaks of sun-bleached lightness threaded through the crown, where it looked thickest.

His dark-brown eyes held a bold look of approval, of admiration mixed with indignation. He towered above her on the narrow dirt road.

He looked away across a field, plainly disconcerted by her glare. Moments passed before he looked back at her. His eyes were wary. It was his mouth that caused her anger to dissolve into confusion. A sensual mouth, tilted at the edges for easy laughter. However, he was not laughing now.