The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт
hamburger’s fine,’ Marissa said, settling back. A steak sandwich would have been better, or a ham and salad roll, but never mind. Many nights she had found a secluded spot where they could sleep in the back of the ute. Tonight she would ask Deidre if there might be room for them at the pub. It was easy to recognise Deidre was a woman of consequence.
The hamburgers when they came were everything hamburgers should be. The buns were fresh and lightly toasted on the inside, the beef patties topped with a cheese slice were extra tasty. There was also a slice of bacon, a thick slice of tomato, a sprinkle of little salad greens and a thick chunk of home cooked beetroot to give the beef a sweet tang. The accompanying mound of chips was cooked to perfection. Riley had his Tasmanian apple juice, Marissa a cappuccino with two freshly baked cup cakes while Riley polished off a large bowl of chocolate chip ice cream.
‘That was simply wonderful, Deidre,’ Marissa said, meaning it. ‘It hit the spot.’
‘It’s the best hamburger we’ve ever had.’ Riley rubbed his small stomach.
‘I thought you’d be pleased.’ Deidre beamed on them. ‘Why don’t you stick around for a day or two,’ she said to Marissa. ‘I’ll see if I can find out if any of the station folk are lookin’ for a governess. The school year is almost over, luv, but some parents like their kids to continue with their lessons right through. Gives ‘em a bit of an edge when they go away to boarding school. Reckon some governesses might be leavin’ and not comin’ back. Yah never know.’
‘That’s very kind of you, Deidre,’ Marissa said, marvelling at meeting such a helpful woman. ‘Would there be room for us at the pub?’
Deidre gave another one of her rich belly laughs. ‘I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, luv, but it’s the off season,’ she joked. ‘Pop down and settle yah selves in. Me brother Denny owns it. He’s a bit deaf, but he’ll hear yah if yah lucky or Marj might be around. Marj is his wife. Tell ‘em I sent yah. By the way I’ve got some tucker for yah dog. Best dog in the world, the Queensland Blue Heeler,’ she reiterated. ‘Mind you some of ‘em have a bad habit of nippin’ at yah heels. Hang on a minute and I’ll get a doggy bag.’
‘How much do I owe you, Deidre?’ Marissa called as the woman disappeared into the kitchen. So far Deidre hadn’t presented her with a bill.
‘Nuthin’, luv,’ Deidre responded when she returned. ‘It’s on me. I can see the situation is pretty grim for you and the lad.’
‘Truly it hasn’t come to that, Deidre,’ Marissa protested, more than ready to pay and producing her wallet.
‘I notice these things,’ Deidre said, waving the wallet away. ‘You can pay me when you land a job.’
It was the start of a long-standing friendship that began that very day.
HOW different everything looked after a good night’s sleep. Marissa stretched like a cat in the ray of golden light that fell through the upper-storey window.
I’ve a good feeling about this place, she thought. Maybe Destiny has drawn us here. Destiny had played the leading role in her life. She slid out of bed and padded across the polished floor to the open doorway of the adjoining room so she could peek in on Riley. He was still fast asleep, looking positively angelic. In a minute or so she would head down the narrow corridor to the bathroom to take a shower. Like Deidre’s café, the pub was spotlessly clean, but the rooms were very basic, fitted with a single bed—no doubles, no couples?—a wooden chair, a wardrobe and a small chest of drawers with a mirror above it. Neat lace curtains hung at the windows. There was a modest rug on the timber floor and centred above the bed, a touch of atmosphere in the form of a framed print of a caravan of camels crossing a fiery-red sand dune.
Denny and Marj, the publicans, a well-matched couple—he was deaf, she had a voice to round up cattle—acted like they had known them for ever. It had been arranged she and Riley would breakfast at Deidre’s place, obviously the hub of the town. ‘We’ll be comin’ towards the end of the rush hour then, luv!’ Marj had informed them, so she had better get a move on.
* * *
Deidre, her hands working on another clean apron, saw them seated and without asking what they would like hurried back to her kitchen.
‘I suppose it’s going to be another hamburger then?’ Riley commented hopefully, looking around at the other banquettes and tables. They were nearly all filled, mostly with station hands, truck drivers or travellers passing through.
‘I hope not,’ Marissa said, trying to act unaffected by so many male eyes on her.
‘Deidre is a really nice person, isn’t she?’ Riley said. ‘I’m sure she’ll find you a job.’
‘And she won’t let the fact all the jobs are taken deter her.’ Marissa smiled. ‘Are you hungry?’
‘Starving. And thirsty,’ Riley said. ‘This is such an adventure! Good thing Dusty likes Marj. Last time I saw him he was following her around.’
‘Just so long as he doesn’t nip her.’ Marissa made a little snapping movement with her fingers.
‘He wouldn’t be game.’ Riley giggled.
‘That’s what makes him such an intelligent dog.’
Breakfast was peach and mango juice followed by a small bowl of crunchy muesli with milk and a banana, and to top it off warmed pita bread stuffed with bacon and a poached egg. All in all a very substantial breakfast guaranteed to provide them with plenty of energy.
That’s if I can get up off the chair, Marissa thought, not used to eating so much. Once again Deidre refused to take payment so Marissa insisted she return when the breakfast session was over to help out in the kitchen. Riley could sit at one of the tables and do his lessons.
‘That’s really nice of yah, luv,’ Deidre said, regarding Marissa with a kindly, approving eye. ‘Meantime why don’t the two of yah take a walk in the park. You won’t see a more beautiful sight than them jacarandas. Wouldn’t have had ‘em only for Holt’s grandma, Mrs McMaster senior. She was the one who had the park set up. Some Pommy landscaper friend of hers planted them. The locals were ignorant of such things but Mrs McMaster is a real lady. Pommy, too, but we never held it against her. She was kinda like a lady General or maybe even Royalty around here. She told us all what to do and we did it. Course the McMasters are Bigtime. They own the town. Know how it came by the name of Ransom?’
‘Please, tell us, Deidre,’ Riley begged.
A male voice in the background yelled. ‘I was wondering if I could get my sausages and eggs, right about now, Dee?’
‘Keep yah shirt on. I’ll be right there,’ Deidre yelled back over her shoulder. ‘I’ll tell yah later, Riley, me boy. I’m fairly certain you don’t know what ransom means, but Mum will tell you.’
Marissa took Riley’s hand leading him out onto the footpath. ‘You’ll have to start calling me Marissa, Riley. People really do think I’m your mother.’
‘Yes, well, remember what I told you? You’re the most wonderful mother in the world.’ He leaned towards her and whispered, ‘My real mummy used to hit me. Once she knocked me really hard in the chest. I think I broke a rib. Daddy was so angry. He called her a poisonous little bitch!’
Marissa closed her eyes. ‘Oh, Riley,’ she moaned. ‘You’ve never told me that before.’
‘I don’t like to tell you anything bad,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘It wasn’t long after, Keile ran off.’
Marissa’s face went tight with dismay. ‘You tell me you don’t miss her, but do you, Riley? She’s your mother after all. You must tell me the truth. The truth is important between the two of us.’