The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт
She was certainly qualified to teach. Overqualified perhaps for young children, though teaching the very young was an important job. She had a Bachelor of Arts diploma, plus Bachelor of Education and had begun studying part-time for her Master’s. The advent of Riley into her life had put that ambition on hold, at least for now. Saint Catherine’s, her alma mater, where she had taught History and Economics to Classes 10 and 12 had been sorry to let her go.
You’ll always have a place here, Marissa, if you need it. We won’t say goodbye, my dear. It’s good luck! And make sure I hear from you.
Marissa had every intention of keeping her promise to her long-time mentor, Dr Eleanor Bell, headmistress of Saint Catherine’s who had always tried to make life easier for her, bless her! The atmosphere at school had always been much warmer than that at home. No, not home. Sadly never that! It was merely the house where she had lived with her uncle, aunt and cousin Lucy after her mother had died until her first year at University when she had moved into a women’s college on campus; liberation and a whole lot of problems solved in one swoop; until she became aware of Riley’s existence. That had changed her course irrevocably.
Marissa shook herself out of her preoccupations and stood out of the ute, stretching her arms above her head, generally limbering up. Dusty bounded down from the back of the vehicle and took off for the wide-open spaces, startling a great flock of white cockatoos, their cheeky yellow crests raised in a broad crown as they rose into the air, filling it with their harsh protests.
‘Go for it, boy!’ Riley’s voice was slightly croaky as he called after him. Dusty cooped up for so long tore around the vast empty tract, full of joy at being able to exercise his well-muscled, sturdy body.
‘Get out and stretch your legs, as well, Riley.’ Marissa bent into the vehicle to pull a road map out of the glove box, taking a good look at Riley while she was at it. Riley was an asthmatic. That meant as his surrogate mother she suffered, as well. She always kept her eye on him without making it too obvious, watching out for the signs. The specialist she had taken him to after that last bad bout told her he would probably grow out of it around thirteen or fourteen. She prayed the doctor was right. She had his medication. They could never be without his puffer but so far so good. She was hoping the dry Outback air would be beneficial to his condition. There were many claims this was so. She wasn’t in the least surprised. The air seemed cleaner, brighter, more translucent than any she had ever breathed.
Riley obeyed her instantly. He was no trouble at all, no behavioural problems. Her father had brought him up well.
‘You okay?’ she asked lightly, gently squeezing his shoulder. He was small for his age, all fragile bones. Riley had lived a stressful life. She suspected there were many dark moments he hadn’t told her about, but somehow he had built up an inner strength and courage by the age of seven that often brought the smart of tears to her eyes. Her little brother—she had stopped thinking of him as her half brother—had made his way into her heart.
‘Sure.’ Riley smiled up at her with his radiant blue eyes. They were densely fringed by black lashes, increasing the impact.
‘You sound a little bit croaky?’ She knew how fast Riley’s condition could deteriorate.
‘Dry,’ he explained, touching his throat. ‘Don’t you worry about me, Ma. I’m fine. I’ll tell you when my chest gets tight. Can I have a drink?’
‘Of course you can. There’s cold bottled water in the cooler. I’ll join you. Better give Dusty a drink when he comes back.’
‘If he comes back,’ Riley hooted, running off to the back of the ute. He reappeared a minute later with two small bottles of water. He passed one to Marissa before pointing to the signpost. ‘Aboriginal names,’ he commented. Riley knew a good deal more about aboriginal names and people than the city-born Marissa. ‘Which way Wungalla do you suppose?’
‘Your guess is as good as mine.’ Marissa’s tone was laconic. She downed the cold bottle of water like it was the nectar of the gods. ‘From the lean on that post it could be back where we came from or a thousand miles down the track.’
‘This is a big country,’ Riley said proudly. ‘You’ll get used to it, Ma.’
There was that Ma again. Despite Marissa’s efforts to get Riley to call her by her full first name, he stuck consistently to Ma. She knew what it was all about. Riley had been desperate to find a mother figure. She was it. The Ma stood for Mum. From the reaction in the bush towns they had already passed through she knew people immediately jumped to the conclusion she was indeed Riley’s mother; another teenage pregnancy, another single mother probably on the run. A few times she had introduced Riley as her little brother but it was plain no one believed her.
Riley, of course, did nothing to help. If people wanted to believe Marissa was his mother, he was thrilled with that. She was everything he wanted a mum to be, as he had so poignantly told her. So that made her around fifteen at the time of conception, and around sixteen when she supposedly had given birth to him? In the normal course of events sisters or half sisters rarely took on the single-handed rearing of their siblings.
Going down on her haunches, Marissa spread the map out on the parched ground covered in heaps of bronze leaves. She couldn’t put it on the bonnet of the ute. The metal was hot enough to fry eggs. ‘Ah, here we are,’ she said, trying to sound the seasoned Outback navigator when navigating was way down her list of skills. At least she had made sure they carried plenty of water and supplies. ‘By the look of it Wungalla is a cattle station. A big one!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s about 150 kilometres northwest of the town of Ransom.’
‘Why do you suppose they called it that?’ Riley asked, half turning his head to keep Dusty in sight. ‘Doesn’t ransom mean money you have to pay a bad person to let their captive go?’
‘Amazing! Is there any word you don’t know?’ Marissa smiled up at him, feeling a rush of love and pride. Initially devastated by the fact she had a sibling she had never known existed, Riley was a huge plus in her life. She had never received much affection from Aunt Allison or her cousin Lucy. Riley had been ready to shower her with love from Day One. Come to that, their bonding was instant. Such was the power of blood.
Riley gave a guffaw that turned into a muffled sob, then a covering cough. ‘Daddy used to teach me lots of things.’
Daddy! Michael Devlin, one time brilliant corporate lawyer, deceased alcoholic who had ended his days in an Outback mission shelter.
Riley’s daddy, her father! How she had adored him. Pretty much like Riley who nearly eighteen months after their father’s death, still cried for him at night, trying to stifle his heart-wrenching sobs with a pillow pulled over his face. She cried, too, but the tears fell silently down the walls of her heart. She thought she had cried herself out years ago, but she had soon learned tears were eternal.
Motherless Riley, was a ‘thinking’ boy, a highly intelligent little fellow who had physically clung to her like a drowning child would cling to a life line from the very moment he had set eyes on her walking down the corridor of a one room bush school in the North Queensland hinterland. Marissa was family. He had recognised her without a single identifying word being spoken. Both of them looked like their father; the black Irish, blue-black hair, vivid blue eyes, and, in his children’s case, skin like porcelain. Riley’s likely fate at that time would have been to be taken into care.
Twenty-one years of age and she had found herself surrendering to her sense of duty and the memory of the great love she had borne her father before tragedy had come into their lives, ripping them apart. Though she had known at the time what hardship could lie ahead she had consented to taking on the raising of a child, another woman’s child, who had abandoned Riley and her much older partner, their father, when Riley was barely four. All efforts to find Riley’s mother after Michael Devlin’s death had ended in failure. It was as though the young woman, said to have Polynesian blood in her, had vanished off the face of the earth, leaving Riley an orphan. An orphan