Central to Nowhere

lust-dust Central-to-Nowhere D-J-BlackmoreAdam O’Rourke considered he knew all there was to know about horseflesh. From pastern to forelock, gallop to trot. He’d been in the saddle before he had been able to walk, and right now he wished he understood as much about women as he did about saddling a mare.
Adam scratched the stubble on his jaw. He saw that Candy hardly knew how to mount a horse. The girl he had thought to employ for the summer as a jillaroo had no more knowledge regarding the equine persuasion than he did in setting a perm.
He watched as she grabbed the reins in hands that trembled like the willows that lined the creek. She sat awkwardly in the saddle. Sweat had trickled down her back to leave its damp handprint on her shirt, and he guessed it wasn’t because of the heat. It was nerves, plain and simple.
Her gaze flickered towards him. The brim of Adam’s Akubra shaded his eyes from the blue of the southern hemisphere sky as his eye took in the saddle. It was a brand new western job that had more conchos than a pensioners’ purse had ten-cent pieces.
Adam took stock of the saddle Candy said she had bought at Tamworth. He didn’t think she’d be able to heft it to the tack room, never mind lug it through customs on her way back to the States. A plain old stock saddle from his stable that had settled as many seats as a Keith Urban concert would have been the ticket, but this girl appeared to like fancy.
‘Candice, you need to sit in the middle of the saddle. You’re way back. Wriggle down a bit.’
‘Candy.’
Adam controlled the urge to roll his eyes. He had never been able to ascertain if candy was a chocolate bar or a lolly, never mind a name. It wasn’t for the fact that it was close to forty degrees already, but that he was just downright peeved that the woman was wasting his time.              She’d never make a jillaroo. She’d be lucky to make it back home with all her rhinestones intact along with her dignity, because right now she wasn’t doing very well. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the palm of a bronzed hand and pushed his hat back on the crown of his head. He made an ascending motion with his hand. ‘Now, put your feet in the stirrups and lift up.’ Candy looked at him askance. He gestured to her seat. She craned back to check her jeans as though she might have sat on something unpleasant by mistake. Adam’s sigh was a whistle through clenched teeth.
‘What did you say?’ She was blushing to the roots of her hair. Adam had the strongest hunch that it was because she didn’t have any idea what he expected her to do. “Calamity Jane” was all but a catastrophe. He had been a fool to have looked at her profile picture with more interest than he had in assessing her capability to work. Impatience was rearing its head, and Adam had to struggle to keep the gate closed on rising irritation.
‘Put your feet in the oxbows and stand up to check the length of the stirrup leathers.’ She stood up as requested, legs straddled so wide in the enormous saddle that her petite legs could barely cover the distance. Who in the world had measured the saddle for her
anyway? Obviously not the staff at the saddlery. She had probably just picked the prettiest one and said, I want that one, Mister.
‘You’ve got to hold the reins.’ He caught a belligerent look.                                                                                                  ‘I’m chemically blonde, not naturally blonde.’
It’s no good getting caustic with me, Missy.
He could see that frustration and lack of knowledge were getting the better of her. As to the colour of her hair, her intelligence or lack thereof, it hadn’t even entered his head. Yet when he thought about the ridiculous notion she had had to work at mustering cattle, Adam knew he had every right in doing just that.
Standing upright in the saddle, Candy leaned over the neck of the horse. She made an awkward motion to grab at the dangling reins. Adam stepped forward to issue caution an instant too late, because just then the mare shook herself with irritation at the flies, and Candy lost her balance and pitched sideways and headlong into red dust and boots.
She looked up at Adam. Her gaze traveled from his Ariats upwards. She was dusted in red ochre from head to toe.
‘You spooked my horse.’
Adam shook his head. ‘I came over to grab the reins!’ He looked to the horizon as if for answers, and then back to the dishevelled girl at his feet. He meant to ask if she was alright. Instead he heard himself posing a question.
‘You’ve never even been on a horse before, have you?’
Candy flushed, swished a pale mane of hair off her shoulder and stood up. He put out a hand belatedly. She ignored the gesture and Adam folded his arms and set his feet a little more squarely on his land.
‘You’d be better off starting with pony club.’
He supposed he came across as rude. Still, he was only speaking the truth. Candy pressed her lips firmly together and he wondered whether she was tempted to pull him back with some nasty bit of southern slang her momma might have told her he deserved. Her hands pressed on hips in an attitude that Adam didn’t like the look of. Adam found himself backtracking.
‘It’s good that you’re keen, but you’re here as a help, not a hindrance. If you want to cut your losses, it’s probably not a bad idea at this stage.’
‘I’ll sleep on it.’
Obviously she wasn’t reading between the lines. He needed to make it clearer. Go home.
‘I’m sorry, but I run a business, not a kindergarten.’ He almost wished he hadn’t had to say that. Almost.
‘And I’m not here to be insulted.’ She spun away.
‘Horses and cattle are powerful animals. Sometimes they do stupid things. It’s too easy to get hurt when you don’t know what you’re doing.’
He watched her tend an impossibly long fake looking fingernail with care. She looked up at him eventually, putting her hands behind her back. But long fingernails or clipped, she wasn’t right for the station.
‘I came a long way to work here.’
He threw up his hands. ‘I thought you knew horses!’
‘I do. I’ve had lessons.’
‘When you were five?’
‘Are all you country guys short on manners?’
Adam was getting a little bit hot under the collar, and the heat wasn’t to blame. He watched her saunter away without a word, before looking away from the appealing swagger in her step. It was just backside bravado, and he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with it.
A bell sounded from the big house and Adam sighed in relief. She turned back with a questioning look on her face.
‘Time for smoko.’
Candy’s brows rose. ‘I don’t smoke.’
‘Morning tea.’ He walked past, dismissing her.
‘Amen,’ he heard her say.
Adam pulled up short, took a steadying breath and went in the direction of the kitchen. If some belle from the Bible belt thought that she was going to make a long hot summer even more work, then she had better think again

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