The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт

The Nanny and the Millionaire - Линда Гуднайт

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had had a child with her.

      Tragedy had shattered Michael Devlin’s life, a life he had considered perfect and set him on his downward spiral; one from which he could never find the strength to pull out.

      ‘Suicide! That’s what it was!’ Uncle Bryan, her father’s brother had cried in great distress when finally they got the letter from the head of the bush mission, a Pastor McCauley, informing them of Michael’s death and the existence of Michael’s small son then in Pastor McCauley’s and Mrs McCauley’s care.

      ‘Gutless!’ Bryan’s wife, Allison, had added in her cruel judgemental way. Aunt Ally had no difficulty finding fault in others, but never in herself. ‘Michael had everything going for him, and he threw it all away! That child isn’t coming here, Bryan. I’m telling you that now. We took pity on Marissa and raised her. Don’t imagine for one minute I’m going to take on another one of Michael’s children. He should never have shacked up with that woman let alone made her pregnant. If they can’t find the mother, the boy will have to go into care.’

      Aunt Ally didn’t understand grief. She didn’t know much about the human condition. She had never fully understood how much her father had loved her mother. How much his life’s happiness was invested in her. Then again Ally had always been jealous of the beautiful Maureen, Marissa’s mother.

      Yet it was Uncle Bryan and Aunt Ally who had raised her after her father had taken to the road. Before doing so Michael Devlin had set up a substantial trust fund to take care of all her expenses and see her through University, but Aunt Ally always omitted to mention that fact as though ‘the raising’ had involved a huge financial burden on them. It hadn’t. Her father had seen to that part of his duty before he took off.

      Michael Devlin had been a man full of guilt and despair. He had lost his adored young wife in a car crash with him at the wheel. That made him in his own mind a murderer. Miraculously he had emerged with fairly minor injuries. Maureen had not been so lucky. Marissa would have been with them only as fate would have it she had been invited to a sleepover to celebrate a class mate’s twelfth birthday.

      Marissa, the survivor, had had to battle her terrible grief virtually on her own. The family had been devastated by the tragedy, but no one had possessed the gift of being able to offer wisdom and comfort to a child so violently and unexpectedly rendered a near orphan. Grief and guilt had consumed her father to the extent less than a year after the tragedy he had abandoned his glittering career and his child to go on his travels in a vain bid to save himself and his sanity.

       The way I am, my darling, I’m no use to anyone. You’ll be better off without me. At least for a while. But always know I love you.

      The while, they had all hoped and prayed would be no more than a few months had stretched into long years. Uncle Bryan, a senior public servant, was a good man who had conscientiously tried to do his best for her in difficult circumstances. The trouble was, his wife’s maternal streak was fully stretched rearing their only child, their daughter, Lucy. Bryan had loved and admired his younger far more brilliant brother, Michael, and truth be known he had always been more than half in love with Maureen, albeit in respectful silence. Lucy was two years older than Marissa. Marissa would not be alone.

      Well, that had been her father’s reasoning. Ten years later, not yet fifty, her father was dead from alcohol abuse. There had never been any real chance of his pulling himself together. Once he had enjoyed the perfect life with everything a man could possibly wish for. A beautiful, loving wife, a precious child, a high profile career, the grand home that went with it, the luxury cars. He had come back from time to time, suffering written all over him, telling Bryan and Ally they were ‘doing a fine job.’ Then he took off again, still hating himself for what he had done. Michael Devlin had been so unforgiving of himself he might just as well have committed murder.

      ‘So how long is it going to take to get to Ransom?’ Riley was asking, bringing Marissa out of her sad reverie. He bent to pat the exuberant Dusty who had briefly returned, huffing pleasurably, tongue lolling, brown eyes looking smilingly up at his owner, before haring off again into the wild blue yonder, making the most of his run.

      ‘We’re on the last lap of the journey.’ Marissa rose on her long legs, ruffling Riley’s thick, silky curls. He really was the most beautiful boy. How ever had his mother left him? Wouldn’t that have torn her heart out? Abandoning a small child already asthmatic with a desperately unhappy, unstable, alcoholic husband was negligence on the grand scale. ‘We’ll treat ourselves to a tiptop meal,’ she promised her gallant little brother.

      ‘Do you think they’ll have a burger bar?’ Riley asked hopefully. A burger was cordon bleu stuff.

      Marissa refolded the map. ‘I’m certain Ransom can rise to a hamburger with chips. Hey—’ she broke off, staring into the heat hazed distance ‘—is Dusty herding those kangaroos?’ she asked anxiously.

      ‘That’s what cattle dogs do!’ Riley, the little bushie, laughed aloud. ‘They even herd people.

      ‘But the kangaroos mightn’t like it!’ Marissa was torn between amusement and concern. ‘Dusty’s a forceful little devil. Whistle him back, Riley, before one of those roos gets good and mad and gives him a kick.’

      ‘It’s okay. Dusty knows all about cattle, and emus and roos,’ Riley said with some pride, but he did what he was told and whistled up his dog who came flying back towards them.

      By this stage of the long journey the bush town of Ransom seemed strangely familiar. They had passed through similar towns, towns that looked like they had been there forever and would remain unchanged until Doomsday. There was hardly a soul about. The broad main street drowsed in the all powerful sun … 4WDs, all with bull-bars, some of them spectacular, and covered in red dust lined the kerbs. There was a gas station, a huge open garage where a mechanic was working that obviously did repairs, a few shops, a one-man police station, a café, a community hall and the ubiquitous pub where two old-timers sat on a bench out the front. Opposite the pub was a small park, an oasis in the burnt ochre landscape.

      The founding fathers had done something remarkable. They had planted a dozen or more jacarandas that had thrived in the hot, dry conditions. It was late October and they were out in all their billowing, mauve-blue glory, some forty feet high and about the same in spread. Spring-pools of spent blossom decorated the ground at their feet, turning a small bush park into a dream of beauty.

      ‘Aren’t the trees lovely, Ma?’ Riley said, leaning against her, always hungry for the reassurance of her touch. ‘I never thought they’d grow way out here in the desert.’

      ‘They grow in the high dry deserts of their native Brazil,’ she told him, giving his thin shoulders a hug. ‘The dryer the year the better the show. You wouldn’t have seen jacarandas way up in the tropics where you came from, more likely the poincianas, the cascaras and tulip trees. Brisbane parks and gardens are full of them all. The jacarandas would be in bloom now, but we’re not missing them, are we? Someone has planted them all here. They really should be pronounced hakharanda—it’s much softer isn’t it?—like they do in Rio. Do you know where Brazil is? Brasilia is the capital, but Rio de Janeiro is the largest city and I’m told very beautiful.’ Every day she managed to get in some general knowledge, as well as taking time out for regular schoolwork.

      Riley was still studying the jacarandas with enchanted eyes. ‘Brazil is in South America,’ he answered, as though in a classroom.. ‘It’s really big and the people speak Portuguese.’ His tone changed into wistful. ‘Daddy was the best teacher I’ve ever had outside you, Ma. He started to teach me all sorts of things when I was really little, History and Geography, spelling and writing, as well as my sums. He made everything so interesting, but sometimes he got really sick and I had to stay with Pastor McCauley and his wife at the mission. They were so nice to me.’

      ‘They’re good, kind people,’ Marissa said, very grateful to the McCauleys.

      Riley nodded. ‘Mrs McCauley told me I was just about the smartest kid the mission school had ever seen. I knew tons of things

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