Chapter 8

Written by: Suraya Dewing

Saul emptied the decanter and flung it into the smouldering fire where it smashed with a loud burst of shattering glass. Smoke plumed into the air and ash puffed out over the ground.

Mary’s face hardened implacably as she looked from one man to the other. Then she threw her head back and sarcastically laughed. They were such fools. Squawking Kookaburras rose from the sweet scented eucalyptus trees.

A sob caught in Mary’s throat as she realised that New York was a ridiculous dream. Jake was a man of the land and Saul was simply a poser. Her gaze fixed on Jake and her stomach tightened. What kind of man gambled on people? She wondered how often he had done that. Angrily, she snatched the gun from Jake's holster and pointed it at the two men. She expertly twirled it. Jake and Saul both knew she was not to be messed with.

“Where’s your ranch?” Mary icily demanded.

Jake ran a hand over his tanned face, mouth tightly closed.

"You must have one," she insisted.

He slowly nodded. “As a matter of fact I do,” he drawled.

Saul awkwardly hefted himself to his feet and leaned against a gnarled tree. “Don’t go with him,” he brokenly pleaded. “Remember last night."

Mary sent him a regretful smile. She no longer believed his ridiculous American dreams.

Believing she would not actually shoot, Jake edged over to his horse and gathered up the reins. He leapt up and, once on the horse, it was as if they became one. “Come with me, Mary,” he said, kicking his horse with the heels of his boots and scooping Mary up by the waist.

She issued a surprised squeal but held on. They rode all day and into the evening. And, as the sun was dropping over the horizon, he stopped at the top of a hill and looked down into a valley.

There was a large farmhouse with a verandah on each side. A small stream ran beside it and cattle roamed the hills. The mooing of the animals drifted up to them and a thin thread of smoke wound its way to the sky from the chimney.

“Yep,” he said, nodding proudly. “I’m the greatest gambler Bendigo has ever known.” He deftly waved his hand around the spread. “All this rich land is mine and the girls will be cooking dinner.”

Mary’s eyes were huge. “Do you mean this is all yours?” she breathed.

He nodded. “And it can be yours, too.” He looked at her. "When I saw you with your father I thought to myself, now there's a defenceless woman who deserves better. I forced your old man to call the odds and he lost.”

While she was at first delighted by the possibility of joining Jake, she also doubted her luck. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

He pointed at the house.

 “When you step inside you'll see I have a choice of any pretty girl I fancy…. but I picked you.”