A Place to Stay by Jennie Jones
Recently released in eBook and paperback
A remote outback home where she can become someone new—and maybe find a forever love?
Rachel Meade is a woman with a past she wants to escape from. Finding herself in Mt Maria, a small outback town in Western Australia, she thinks she’s found a place to stay.
Before she knows it, Rachel is corralled into helping with the Tidy Town competition by the Dramatic Society widows who have a tendency to gossip and take charge. It’s not in her plan, but she finds herself allowing friendships to develop. She’s even more surprised by her growing attraction to the town’s engaging senior police officer.
Ex-detective Senior Sergeant Luke Weston knows anything and everything happens in the country, and he’s seen it all—stolen chickens, pub fights and alleged cheating for the Tidy Town competition are only some of puzzles Mt Maria offers Luke. He’s been playing for Rachel, thinking maybe she’s the one. Then he gets news that the Crime Squad are looking for her, and he’s ordered to get close and stay close. Is Rachael in trouble, or is she the trouble?
Luke is fighting his attraction to a woman he might have to take into custody, and it looks like he’s going to be arresting more than one person before the end of the week. Luke needs to restore peace in his corner of the outback, but he knows he’s not going to get out of this without getting his heart busted.
With her past catching up with her, Rachael has to decide whether it’s time to cut and run again, or whether this time she’s found the person—and the place—to finally heal her heart.
Excerpt from A Place to Stay by Jennie Jones
Rachel Meade pulled the comb from the back of her head, threw it into the bag on the passenger seat and ran a finger under the collar of her blouse. She undid the top three buttons and attempted to let the caution that shadowed her life slip away. Hot air rushed through the open windows of her old 4WD, whipping her hair across the frames of her sunglasses as Bono singing I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For came full blast from the radio.
It was good to see the end of this day but the trouble she’d been involved in forty minutes ago had shifted from a concern to a worry that wouldn’t budge. Would there be charges? Would they ask her to give a statement against those men? She didn’t want her name on anything official.
She fidgeted on the seat, suddenly desperate to discard the formal white blouse and black skirt she wore to work every day at the town hall in Mt Maria on the Western Australian edge of the Great Victoria Desert.
She didn’t know how this little town had survived the century since its beginning in the gold rush days, but she was grateful it existed. She felt a tug of appreciation for Mt Maria and its people. Well, some of them. Not the mine site workers who had swarmed into town a fortnight ago, causing trouble that started long before closing time at the hotel.
She stared at the road ahead—straight, wide, and empty—calming herself with the vista. The landscape was theatrical in its majestic, golden barrenness: vast blue sky creased the faraway horizon, with rich red earth, mulga woodlands and spinifex grass below. Ten more minutes and she’d be at the Laurensen place—the rental house she’d begun to think of as her own after years of moving away, moving on, moving anywhere. Mt Maria offered a truly outback lifestyle, the brochure had told her. And it was out the back of beyond. Which is why she’d moved here.
She hadn’t been looking for anything except normality and a sense of safety. If she was lucky, she’d found both. If she stayed in this rangeland district long enough, the Laurensen place might even become known as the Meade place.
It sounded good, but she didn’t want to give the idea too much consideration, regardless of already having savoured the notion a few times too many.
Five fifteen and it was still as sweltering as it had been earlier that morning when she’d driven to work. At a hundred kilometres an hour, the air coursing through the car was like a blast from a heater on full power. The aircon hadn’t worked from the day she’d bought the vehicle, and there was nowhere to get it re-gassed out here, so she put up with it and enjoyed the exhilaration of air rushing over her.
Flashing lights reflected in the rear-view mirror.
She tensed. What now?
She brought the car to a stop, turned the radio off, pulled the sunglasses from her face and fastened two of the buttons on her blouse, reluctantly bringing back the cover she’d only just let loose.
The police car drew up behind. The lights flickered a jagged line across the breadth of the burnt-red road for a few seconds, then stopped. She checked the side mirror and held her breath as she recognised the officer getting out of the marked wagon, adjusting his cap and taking his time as he moved towards her car. Did they teach them how to walk like that? A contained stride, without haste but full of objective.
She’d seen too many cops in very different circumstances but this one put her on edge in a way she wasn’t accustomed to.
He came alongside the driver’s door, his shadow falling on her car and shielding her from the glow of the early evening sunshine. She moistened her lips and ignored the warmth building inside her that had nothing to do with the weather. Against all her better instincts, she was riveted.
He put his hands on the heavy equipment belt sitting on his waist. ‘Sorry about the lights. Didn’t mean to frighten you but I needed you to stop.’
‘I thought I must have been speeding,’ she said with a hint of a laugh, but it came out nervously.
He knocked the brim of his cap back with a finger, strands of short, dark brown hair visible above his ears and at the back of his neck. ‘Actually, I did clock you doing seven over the limit.’
The tanned skin at the corner of his mouth creased with a smile. ‘I’ll overlook it this time.’
Well over six foot, built like a football player, he wore the blue of that intimidating uniform as though he’d been born in it, displaying authority with a laid-back demeanour and managing to make her feel as shy as the nineteen-year-old she’d once been. Too long ago. Too many broken dreams ago.
‘So what have I done wrong?’ It pained her to ask, but she had to appear normal because she had no intention of telling him or any police officer what had happened to her three months ago.
‘You haven’t done anything wrong, Rachel.’ He tipped his head, a familiar gleam appearing in his eyes. ‘Hi, by the way. How are you?’
She allowed him a smile, although truthfully it came almost naturally, which was another worry. She hadn’t seen him around town the last couple of days. She’d wondered where he was but hadn’t asked anyone.
‘I heard what happened outside the hotel,’ he said.
She remained still but her nerve endings roared to life.
‘Just wanted to check you were okay.’
‘Your constables helped. And it wasn’t just me, there were two other women being pestered.’
‘So do you want to ask me a question or something?’ she asked, amazed at how well she was keeping it together.
Immediately, she realised she’d given him an opening. One she didn’t want him to take.
‘Well I have asked you out twice now,’ he said, a gentle glow in his eye. ‘But I didn’t follow you out here, flashing the lights, to ask you to have dinner with me.’ He paused, maybe giving her a chance to speak, but she kept quiet. ‘I saw you drive out of town in a rush. I got a bit worried about you.’
‘You don’t have to apologise. Like I said, you did nothing wrong.’
Oh, God, but she had.