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Aussie Heiress

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Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 47,331
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When Alex Holroyd's mother died, she was left without any near family. Her sheltered life was over and she needed to get away from small towns and sad memories. Her harsh, old-school grandmother claimed they were rightful heirs to an English estate and now it was time to see if that was true. Colin Redesdale also needed to escape. Australia was the other side of the world; and that's how far he'd need to go to be sure of keeping his freedom. On the journey from Australia's heartland to England's green landscapes, Alex and Colin slowly leave their scarred pasts behind and begin new lives. Colin learns that sometimes being firm with the one you love is as important as loving them. Alex finds she prefers a disciplined life to the one she thought she'd chosen for herself.

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Excerpt

Colin let the other passengers board the bus, waving the women forward with a wry smile. There wasn't anyone under ninety and he appeared to be the only man. Men were the luckier sex he thought gloomily, as he watched the women tottering up the bus steps; their reward for putting up with women's foibles over fifty years was an early release. Women's reward for fifty years of putting up with men was twenty years of staring out of windows in the company of other women.

Already, he was regretting signing up for this last excursion. He should have stayed in Sydney and explored the city for his final few days or rented a car and driven himself instead of spending two days in a bus touring the Blue Mountains and Opal Fields. What was he thinking of? It should have been obvious the coach would be full of pensioners. British bus tours always were; why would Australian ones be different?

"No need to rush, ladies," the tour guide called from the bus doorway, her yellow uniform jacket glowing in the bright sun, "there's a seat for everyone."

Colin rather hoped not. He hoped they'd over-booked and he could gracefully withdraw and get his money back.

"Mr. Redesdale?" the guide asked, looking at him quizzically as though doubting his existence.

"Yes," said Colin, his heart sinking. If she knew his name, it was probably because he was the only man on the bus.

"You're a lucky man," she said with a slightly malicious grin. "You have what every red-blooded male dreams of, being surrounded by beautiful women and no competition."

The few remaining pensioners waiting to board the bus eyed him suspiciously, twittering like birds with a cat on the prowl nearby.

Colin smiled weakly and handed his case to the driver who stowed it into the vast hold that ran almost the length of the coach. He stepped into the bus, looked down the length of its aisle, which was bordered by white and blue rinsed perms, and thought for one glorious moment his wish had come true. He couldn't see a spare seat.

"There's a seat right at the back, Mr. Redesdale," said the guide brightly, motioning him on like a Tricoteuse at the foot of the guillotine.

Colin stumbled forward past the rows of curious eyes until he found the one empty seat.

"Is this seat taken?" he asked the young woman in the window seat. He thought 'young' because she was probably his age, late twenties, maybe thirty. They both seemed very young in these surroundings.

"Obviously not," the woman snapped and went back to looking out of the window.

Colin sat gingerly beside her. Just his luck to get the only woman on the bus who didn't want a male companion, or not one she hadn't chosen for herself anyhow. At least he'd get his book read, he thought with a sudden flash of silent humor. So far, his trip had been so busy, he'd only read two chapters, and it had to be back to the library the day after he got home.

The driver settled in his seat, the guide introduced herself as Kathy and started telling them about the trip. Colin listened dutifully. He noticed the young woman beside him didn't, she stared ferociously out at the street determined not to give him any opportunity of speaking to her.

As the bus pulled out of the station and into Sydney's busy traffic, crawling forward, Kathy had ample time to describe the buildings they passed. Architecture wasn't Colin's thing so he dug his book out of his knapsack and opened the cover to read again the author's biography. The author was an historian he admired but, with this book, he was having doubts. The man just wasn't holding Colin's interest as he'd expected. Colin checked the return date and confirmed next Saturday was the day the book was due back. He sighed, turned the pages to chapter three, and noticed the young woman's eyes flick back to the street. Briefly, Colin wondered what had caught her attention in a book of Lancashire history but the thought passed and he once again tried to follow the intricacies of cotton trading in the early nineteenth century.

Alexandra settled back into the coach seat and pretended to watch Sydney's urban sprawl, as it swept by the window, while she watched her travel companion from the corner of her eye. He seemed a nice enough man, she'd watched him assisting the old women with their bags and letting them board before him. He was attractive, in a scholarly way, though he was also tall and fit and seemed well off. His clothes were good anyway, so he wasn't poor. What was the failing that had brought him to this low pass, sharing a bus with a bunch of old women?

Probably drink, she thought morosely. In Alexandra's admittedly limited experience, there were only two kinds of men, those who drank too much and those who hadn't yet started drinking. In her small village that was men and boys. And there were only three kinds of drunks, the amorous sort, like old Mr. Cuthbert who was always 'accidentally' touching her blouse. Or the violent sort, like Ed Connery who, if he couldn't get a fight in the pub went home to beat his wife, and the sad sort, like Mr. Allison who cried into his beer.

Alexandra wondered if men had only recently become useless or were they always that way and hid it by pretending to run things. Certainly the men she knew didn't measure up to her idea of a man. There were no heroes in Wadeville, no explorers, pioneers, soldiers, sailors, writers, artists, or leaders. She glanced again at her companion. He didn't look like a drinker; quite the opposite, he looked like a runner, lean, greyhound-like. A marathon-running professor, she decided.

Despite Colin's best efforts, Lancashire history wasn't absorbing him and he couldn't help noticing the woman was sizing him up. Well, too bad. Her response to his politeness was enough for him; the famous British reserve would protect him for the rest of the trip. After Tracy left he'd enjoyed his solitary state so much he'd come to the conclusion it wasn't just Tracy who didn't suit him, it was all women.

Alexandra regretted her early ungraciousness; she wanted to ask him something and she'd made it difficult. Mulling over her best approach for a few minutes only made her angry with him. Her rude reply, if it was rude, was his fault after all, pointing out to the whole bus her single status. Why didn't he just put up a sign? Here Sits a Spinster, a Failure among Women!

That thought made her smile at the injustice of it. Poor man, all he did was sit in the last seat on the bus, after asking politely if it was taken, and she'd spent nearly twenty minutes heaping all the failings of life and mankind on his head. She decided the best way to repair the damage was to use some famous Aussie bluntness.

"Are you from Whalley?" she asked.

Colin, who had finally begun to get into the chapter, was momentarily unaware she was addressing him. He looked at her and found she was.

"Yes," he said at last, "do you know it?"

"I've never been there but I know of it," Alexandra said. Since her Mum died, she'd wondered if any of the story was true. It had begun to blur, shifting in her mind, until she doubted even the place names. Seeing one of them, Whalley, on his library book stamp brought Gran's tale back sharply to life.

"My Gran said we were descendants of a noble family from near there," Alexandra continued. "Do you know a village called Ashton de Cheney?"

"No," Colin said slowly, "but I'm not a local in the area. I only moved there a few months ago after my divorce." He frowned. Why had he said that? His divorce was no business of anyone but him. He hoped it wasn't because she wasn't wearing a wedding ring? He'd already established he was cut out for the monastic life but, if he were to change his mind, this woman would be interesting. She was attractive, neatly dressed in tasteful clothes and her brown eyes and full lips suggested a sense of humor, though he couldn't quite say how based on their acquaintance so far.

"I'm Alex," Alexandra said, holding out her hand.

"Hi, Alex," Colin said, shaking her hand, "I'm Colin." Her hand was soft but her handshake firm. Despite his first impression, Colin felt himself thawing. "Are you from around here?" he asked.

"No," Alex said, "I come from Victoria. Wadeville, it's a tiny place about a hundred miles inland from Melbourne."

"I've just come from Melbourne," Colin said. "It's a lovely city."

"I wouldn't know," Alex said, "apart from the airport, I've never been there."

"Never?" Colin asked.

"We didn't get off the station much when I was a kid," Alex said, "then when Dad took off, and we had to move into town, Mum, Gran and me couldn't afford to go anywhere."

"I'm sorry," Colin said. "Still, the country round there is so beautiful you can't have missed much growing up."

Alex considered her reply. He was right, the country was beautiful and what would be the point in telling him of their poverty. A poverty of mind as well as body, and made worse by Gran's belief they were Quality and had to keep themselves above their neighbors. Even Mum, whose resolve was much less than Gran's, believed they should behave like they were superior. What was the use of telling him about her lonely childhood, the teasing and bullying at school that drove her to leave early and miss out on college? How she'd lived all her life in a tiny village of fifty people and hadn't a relative or friend in the whole place? How Mum would say, 'a pretty girl like you will soon get a good husband, not one of these yokels' while she had to run home from school to stop the yokels from pawing her, not because they fancied her but because they wanted to hurt and humiliate her.

"It is pretty round there," Alex agreed. "Living there, you forget. It takes a stranger to remind you of things sometimes." She fell silent. An incredible thought had entered her head and, never having thought or done anything spontaneous before, shaken her confidence in her sanity. Could he have any way of knowing what she'd just thought? She glanced furtively at him and was reassured. He wasn't wearing the smug expression of a man who had mastered his woman. This was really bizarre. First, her mind was considering asking him to take her back to Lancashire when he went, now it was as 'his woman'.

Colin decided she'd run out of ideas and it was his turn to further the conversation, so he asked, "Was your Gran from Ashton de Cheney?"

Alex shook her head. "No," she said. "It was my Grandad who was the de Cheney. Gran was just a regular girl. They met in the war but he was killed before Mum was even born. And so were his parents, by a bomber unloading its bombs. Gran said the Jerry was afraid of all the flak over Liverpool so he dropped his bombs early and scampered back to Germany. She says it happened a lot. The Jerries were cowardly like that, not like our boys who flew right into the thick of it." She paused, and then added, "Her husband was a bomber pilot and he was killed over Germany. That may have clouded her judgment."

Colin smiled; her wry honest comment confirmed his earlier suspicion of a latent sense of humor.

"Perhaps," he said, 'but still I prefer simple national pride to the modern fashion for revisionism."

Alex got the sense of his comment but realized she may not have the education to keep up if the conversation continued this way. Not for the first time, she wished she'd had more courage and stood up to the other kids when she was at school. A lifetime of reading could only take you so far. After that you needed to discuss and debate with other people and she'd never done that. Mum and Gran didn't need debates; they knew what they knew was right and everything else was wrong.

"I do too," she said, "I just feel the pilots on both sides were incredibly brave though I never told Gran that. She'd have skinned me alive."

"It's always a mistake to run down your enemy," Colin agreed. "It devalues your victory if you win and humiliates you further if you lose."

"Exactly," Alex said returning his grin. Then she blushed, for the idea of returning to Lancashire with him flooded back into her mind with a whole host of other feelings she barely knew she had.

"Was your Gran so fierce?" Colin asked.

"Too right, she was," Alex answered with a barely repressed shudder. "And the older she got the worse she got."

"Grandmothers are either kittens or tigers," Colin said, "and I've always had a soft spot for the tigerish ones."

"You're welcome to them," Alex retorted. "My guess it's because yours were the other sort."

Colin nodded warily. It was obvious he was treading into dangerous territory.

"Mine were, but my friend John's Gran was a real so-and-so. She'd whack us with a wooden spoon or her slipper if we annoyed her," Colin said with a laugh.

"And you liked that?" Alex demanded.

"When it first happened I complained to my Mum about child abuse," Colin conceded. "Mum laughed, and said, 'Colin she's seventy years old. How much abuse could she do?'"

"And what did you say to that?"

"I said it wasn't that she hurt us, it was just embarrassing."

"Your Mum would be impressed by your case, I'm sure," Alex said.

"She was. She said if I didn't want to be embarrassed I shouldn't give John's Gran any more trouble."

"Sounds like your Mum wasn't in tune with modern parental practice either," Alex said disapprovingly.

"She was really," Colin said. "I don't remember Mum or Dad ever hitting me or my sister. It's just they didn't think it a big deal if other people had different ways of dealing with things. So long as we weren't going to be seriously hurt, I think they were willing to let John's Gran get on with it. After all, her kids had turned out all right."

"You're very forgiving," Alex retorted.

Colin shrugged. "Actually," he said, "the old lady turned out to be a lot more fun than my parents. They would always be saying things like 'Don't do that, it's dangerous.' John's Gran would say, 'What are you, a man or a mouse?' My parents would have a fit if I got in a fight and lecture me on civilized ways to resolve arguments. John's Gran would say, 'You're as big as he is, punch him on the nose.'"

"She sounds as bad as mine," Alex said sullenly. Colin's cheerful account of the old lady's peculiarities confirmed her opinion he was just like other men, brutal. Colin might think being hit with a wooden spoon was just embarrassing but Alex knew better. It hurt and so did a wooden hairbrush. She couldn't imagine ever dismissing such treatment so lightly.

Kathy's voice boomed suddenly on the PA speaker above their heads and Colin and Alex's attention was turned to her commentary. "The city of Sydney's suburbs have grown enormously in the past twenty years..."

Colin was relieved by the interruption. He and Alex had talked for fifteen minutes and he could sense she was quickly returning to her original state of anger with him. How this could happen based on a conversation about Grandmothers, he didn't know but so it was. No wonder she was traveling alone. He smiled at Alex, briefly taking leave, and picked up his book. He'd let the guide's commentary calm her down.

Alex too was relieved and she made a conscious effort to be interested in the sights being picked out by the guide. She craned her neck to look at new shopping Malls and sports grounds, letting her rancor slip away. After years of living inside herself, pushing people away, she desperately wanted to connect with Colin. Living day-to-day, as she had, drifting aimlessly through her teenage and twenties' years, now suddenly she'd discovered a purpose, a Quest. Life, so lately awakened in her, was drawing her forward through this man and the strange coincidence of his home and her history.

She would research her roots. It wasn't unusual; lots of people returned to their original homelands to see what they were made of. Her savings, and as a Legal Secretary to Wadeville's only lawyer she had managed to put money aside, would be enough for one big trip and she was going to take it. It wasn't the unfamiliar yearning she felt deep inside that made it imperative, it was the history. He was interested in local history and she'd need someone like that when she got to Lancashire.

Alex let the guide's canned speech flow over her, soothing her jangled nerves, restoring her calm. She would give Colin a few minutes then start again and this time she would not allow herself to become angry with him. She would not! Mentally, she gave herself a hard slap. For once, she would force herself to reach out to someone and not push them away.

Colin tried to read but couldn't. He stared at the pages in dismay. He was stuck for two days with a woman who alternated between apparent friendliness and barely repressed rage and he had no idea what pushed the buttons for either state. His predicament reminded him of the last weeks with Tracy, which was what he was here to forget. Though, he'd noticed, in dreams he was remembering his first few weeks with Tracy more and more, those days and nights when they couldn't keep their hands off each other.

He decided he would respond if she spoke to him but otherwise comment only on the weather or the scenery, the old standbys of polite people everywhere, and hope she hadn't a phobia about them. This resolution was intended to settle his mind, but it failed miserably and he took to skipping through the book's few illustrations as a way of avoiding looking past Alex through the coach window. He wouldn't see much of the Blue Mountains this way, he thought morosely.

"Are you interested in Lancashire history or do you work as a historian?" Alex asked when she felt confident she'd mastered her nerves.

"I teach history," Colin replied.

"So your reading is really for next year's students?"

Colin hesitated. Did he want to explain and risk another return to her 'Mr. Hyde' personality or just be brief? He decided to cautiously explain and hope she loved history.

"No. For my students I have to follow the syllabus in class," he said. "I'm researching a thesis I'd like to do for a Master's degree. I've had the idea for a while and Lancashire is one of the regions I think supports my thesis. This book, and some others I've been reading lately, is research to see if it in fact does. You seem interested in my book, do you enjoy history?"

"I hated school," Alex said shortly, feeling her hackles rise, "and history most of all."

Great, thought Colin. That's just frigging wonderful.

"Most of my students would agree with you," he said with a nervous smile. "We're getting out into the country now," he continued quickly. "I like natural scenery so much better than cities, don't you?"

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