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COPPERS GIRL

 

Rosalie Henaghan

 

Quitting her job wasn't good enough

Frances was shattered when she learned the man she'd fallen for was already married. She broke off with him immediately—then decided to get so far away there'd be no danger of running into him again.

Through the help-wanted ads she landed a job on a sheep station in the wilds of New Zealand. There she met Ian Burnleigh—and soon found herself in danger of jumping from the frying pan into the fire!

 

His mouth felt like fire on her lips...

Frances pushed fiercely against Ian's chest. She was totally at a disadvantage, and she knew it.

"Umm," he murmured, unperturbed. "You look like some virginal offering to the gods, lying here in the moonlight."

"Well, I don't intend to be!" she retorted, struggling to sit up. But his arms imprisoned her, and she felt the warmth of his bare skin, still damp from swimming, as he pressed against her. "Don't touch me, Ian!" she commanded in desperation.

"Oh, lay off the untouched routine," he replied scornfully. "You were waiting for me, an open invitation. But as it happens—" he got to his feet and looked down at her"—you're a bit too blatant for me, anyway. Maybe you can get some other guy to oblige...."

 

CHAPTER ONE

‘The
last one sounded interesting. Read it again, please, Kathy.’

The speaker, a tall, slim figure, was brushing her hair. Apparently she didn’t notice the way the golden red curls sparkled; her hazel eyes were turned towards the floor where her young sister was spread-eagled, the evening paper in front of her. Kathy uncurled her long legs, held the paper out and declaimed, ‘Home Help, Landgirl. Must be able to fit in with lively family. Essential be prepared to help in household tasks. Pastoral and sheep experience preferred. Position for three months, December 1—March 1. Good wages plus keep. Write to R. & J. Marsden, Coppers Road R. D. Windwhistle.’

There was a brief silence as Frances and Kathy studied the advertisements in the Situations Vacant column.

‘What pastoral experience have you?’ enquired Kathy sweetly, an impish grin spoiling the words.

‘As much as you,’ chuckled Frances. ‘The only time I’ve been working in a paddock was the time I did that advertisement for the jeans and overall range A1 Sportswear put out. I remember I had to climb on to one of those enormous harvester machines and I was scared stiff!’ Deftly she pushed a decorative clip into her hair, barely glancing at the result. ‘It was a beaut photo, though, Harry Smithson’s a real artist with a camera.’

‘Hardly qualifies as pastoral experience! Still, Sis, you are a good cook. Tell you what, if you make me a gooseberry pie for tea, I’ll write a letter stating you’re a great cook.’

‘No deal!’ laughed Frances. ‘You’re, incorrigible, Kathy Elaman. Make one yourself!’

‘What me?’ squeaked Kathy indignantly. ‘Soil my lily-white hands?’

‘Yes, lazy one,’ answered her sister with an affectionate glance that took any sting from the words.

‘I suppose I could,’ Kathy put in thoughtfully. ‘Mum bought some frozen pastry the other day on special.’

‘That’s cheating. Mum likes to have that when she’s in a hurry.’

‘Hmmm. You know, that puzzles me. How can you use it in a hurry if it’s frozen?’

Frances smiled at Kathy, then placed a spot of highlighter accent above her eyes.

‘Wow, that looks great! I must try some too’.

‘Not with my make-up, you rascal. You’ve used far too much in the past with your wretched experiments and last time you didn’t put the tops back. Here, you can have this old lipstick.’ Frances threw a small blue tube towards the figure, who caught it delightedly.

Seeing her elder sister in such an approachable mood Kathy asked, ‘Why did you leave your job, Frances? You’ve been there since you were twenty and that’s four years ago. All you had to do was to look smashing.’

A grin remarkably like Kathy’s floated briefly across Frances’ face. ‘A receptionist has to do more than look smashing, Kathy. I had to run the switchboard, check petty cash and handle clients as well as letters.’

‘Don’t throw me that red herring. Come on, why did you leave?’

‘Sometimes, Kathy, a person should leave a job. You’ll find when you’re older that everybody has reasons for doing things which seem appropriate at the time.’

‘Fobbed off again! Never mind, one day the mystery of the disappearing redhead will be solved.’ Kathy’s chuckle rang out at her dramatic pose.

It smoothed away the faint shadow that had darkened the lovely hazel eyes of her older sister. Kathy folded the paper again so that it stayed open at the ‘Situations Vacant’ column. Frances finished her makeup and studied it professionally. Her chin was a shade sharp, her nose too long, but she had learnt to minimise her faults and her eyes were lovely. One of her boyfriends had said they had reminded him of water rushing over stones, the colours changing with the light. The memory of the poetical boy-friend caused a smile, briefly showing the neat white teeth. The lips were soft and vulnerable, echoing the apparent fragility of the face. It was a surprise when she stood up to see the length of her. Looking at the fragile face, a stranger did not expect the tall lithe graceful figure that made Frances such a successful model. Her interests in squash and jogging and swimming had given her body a healthy, vital look.

She selected a flowing floral skirt in autumn tones, smoothed it on over her flat tummy, then eased herself into a new top. It was a cream lawn cleverly cut to emphasise her slim waist, the pintucked front fanning out over her breasts. Frances was not vain, but she appreciated clothes and delighted in wearing pretty garments. She tidied her room, meticulously straightening her make-up equipment, then picked up the paper.

Kathy was at her file of modelling photos and having selected one, turned triumphantly. ‘Found it! Anyone looking at that would think you’d spent your life as a hayseed!’

Frances looked at the photo. It had been taken last year in the summer against a background of golden wheat, the red harvester with its solitary blue clad figure showed up magnificently. The girl in the top seat was Frances, her long jean-clad legs resting lightly on pedals. The face detail was sharp, showing the large hazel eyes and the saucy mouth.

‘Right, that’s pastoral experience!’ chortled Kathy, doing a handstand in glee.

‘You’re a shocker, Kathy! It’s just as well I haven’t got one with sheep!’

‘Don’t you want to get the job?’ queried Kathy.

‘Of course! But not by being dishonest’ Frances said gently. Now that she had admitted it, the job sounded reasonable. Of course the family might be ghastly, but she would be able to form some idea at the interview. There was bound to be one, and considering the summer vacation of university, it could well go to an agricultural student. Still, she could at least try.

She took the paper and went down to her father’s study. It was only the work of a few moments to draft and then type out an application. She was about to seal the envelope when the doorbell rang and she knew that Jamie had arrived. Her mother’s voice called out, so she picked up the envelope and handed it to Kathy. ‘Kathy, please put a stamp on that and run it to the box on the corner.’

‘Sure thing.’ Kathy plopped the letter down, the top revealing that it was not sealed. ‘I’ll fix it,’ she said.

Frances joined Jamie, who was speaking easily with Mr and Mrs Elaman. They liked Jamie, having known him from babyhood. They knew Frances and he were just good friends and would never be any different. At the moment he was the only escort Frances would consider, and she would have been very annoyed if she had known that this date had been suggested by her mother. After dinner they went to a movie and Frances felt herself relax a little. Jamie was so easy and so understanding, she thought, such a contrast to John Brooker. Just thinking of John made her clench her fingers, making the knuckles gleam whitely. The only man she had ever met who could make her feel like a real woman, and he was married! Until she met John she had come to the conclusion that she was like a phoney store-wrapped Christmas present—all pretty glitter with nothing in the box. Well, at least she knew she could feel reaction to a man now. She remembered the day John Brooker had arrived at work. He was tall, good-looking and very charming. As soon as he had spotted Frances he had commandeered her as a guide. Work became a chance to see John, lunch an opportunity to talk, and nearly every night he asked her out for dinner. His charming smile eased his path, making his progress at work or with social occasions inevitable. Frances bit her lip as she remembered the force of his kisses and the lean attraction of his body as he held her, seeking her surrender—but some instinct held her back, making her withhold herself.

Thankfully now, Frances remembered the unknown telegraphist who had shattered her dreams. She had answered the telephone as she did hundreds of times a day. ‘Telegram for John Brooker’. It was her job to take messages when the bosses in the advertising agency were out. John was outlining a multi-media deal to a new client that morning. The thought flashed through her that instant.

‘I’ll take the message for Mr Brooker,’ she said.

The telegraphist read it out and mechanically Frances took it down. ‘House sold; cash, baby and I on our way. Flight 594 Wednesday. Love you, darling, Amanda.’ Routine demanded she read it back. Calmly she asked for a copy to be delivered later. She wrote her note of it and put it on John’s desk. Somehow she had gone on working, her mind repeating to herself—he’s married, he’s married, he’s married. It wasn’t until the observant Mr Denby, the art executive, came by that she had been released. He had always had a soft spot for the gorgeous tall redhead at the front desk. He assigned one of the typists to cover for her and took Frances off to a nearby coffee house.

When they returned to the office an icy calmness had settled on her. She had repaired her make-up, glad that her model’s knowledge helped her to disguise her feelings. Pride had helped her to greet John with apparent casualness on his return. When he had asked for messages she had been able to tell him that she had already left them on his desk. It had been much harder to tell him that she would not go out with him again. Finally she had grabbed her car keys, purse and coat and fled, glad that it was already after hours.

Routinely she had driven out of town, glad she was forced to concentrate on the heavy traffic. Finally she turned off the main road and followed a side road leading to the river. She pulled the car over to the side, shaded by the bright green leaves of the weeping willows lining the banks. The quietness of the river contrasted with the dull hum of traffic. A few curious ducks edged forward hopefully for crumbs, then realising the stillness of the tall, red-haired girl, paddled idly back to their own pursuits. A scent of rhododendrons and azaleas pervaded the air, catching her attention, finally bringing her back to herself. After a time of solitude she braced herself to go home. It had been a bad few moments telling her parents that night. They, too, had liked John and his easy charm. Now they were hurt because their firstborn had been hurt. Sensibly they had kept Frances occupied so that when Monday came the emptiness of her heart was just a slow dull ache.

The days passed. John was obviously rattled, but he had just landed a contract worth several thousand dollars, so his tenseness was easily explained.

On Wednesday he had told Frances that his wife was arriving and he would be unavailable in the afternoon. He had said it briefly, then shut himself in his office until lunchtime.

On Friday he had asked her to have lunch with him. His cool behaviour staggered Frances and she indignantly rejected him. There had been no grain of comfort in knowing she was doing the right thing. Later that afternoon she was on duty when a well-dressed, lovely young woman carrying a small baby came into the office, and she had not been surprised when she had asked to be shown to John Brooker’s office. ‘My husband,’ she had said so softly and with so much love that Frances was touched in spite of herself. Somehow Frances had politely wished her happiness in settling into a new city, then shown her into John’s office. Strangely enough her feelings had turned to anger with John and she saw him suddenly as facile and selfish.

That weekend she had just finished a game of squash with Jamie when John came, up to her. Not wanting a scene, she had climbed into John’s car, determined to leave him with no doubts about her feelings. He had driven out to the beach, and Frances had noted the sharp way he had held the wheel and the tension in his face. Even so she had been totally unprepared for the force of his feelings. His passion was sincere and he told the horrified Frances that he wanted to divorce his wife. Frances told him in no uncertain terms what she thought and he had driven her home in icy silence. Her silent scorn had made her exit possible. Deep inside was growing the conviction that John Brooker wanted challenge and the more he was refused, the more he would desire.

The following week at the office had been intolerable. John seemed to be demanding more of her time, claiming that the three other typists were incompetent loons. This was patently untrue, but he reduced the poor girls to such a state they found it difficult to work. Only with Frances would he be willing to work. He asked the chief if she could be solely his secretary and Frances had been horrified. The gleam of possessive triumph on his face had only been shaken by Frances’ refusal to take the position. However, she seemed to be doing an increasing workload for him. With her feelings in tatters she doubted if she could hold firm against the blandishments and charm being used so constantly. The memory of the loving face of John Brooker’s wife was a reproach she could not allow herself to forget. Reluctantly she had made her decision. She had handed in her notice and worked out her leave as calmly as possible. John had ranted and raved so much she had felt sickened by his behaviour.

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