Country girl Bethany Galloway has a single prerequisite when choosing a man. He must be someone her mother, Edna, small town Woodlea’s notorious matchmaker, disapproves of. Mac Barton ticks such a box.
Farmer Mac Barton has always known intriguing and beautiful Bethany has been off limits. Their families have been long locked in a feud over a cattle trophy. Then at the first of the autumn bonfires he breaks with family loyalty. A conversation with Bethany leads to the start of something more.
For Bethany, what she feels for Mac is real. Mac too has no doubts that Bethany is who he’s been searching for. But when Edna, and Mac’s father, unexpectedly approve of the clandestine relationship, trouble hits with the force of a winter storm.
Can a woman desperate to be her own person, and a man who refuses to be manipulated, find their way back to each other?
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On a miserable day there was only one thing that chilled Bethany Galloway more than being the daughter of a small-town matchmaker … having a broken heart.
She pulled her navy coat tight at her neck as the wind barrelled along Woodlea’s wide main street. Beside her the slender, bare branches of a plane tree swayed against the steel-hued sky. Wrapped around the solid trunk was a blanket made of vibrant wool and she stopped to touch the textured warmth of a knitted pink square.
A month ago the streetscape had been yarn-bombed in white to celebrate Cressy and Denham’s wedding but as winter tightened its hold the guerrilla knitters had draped the small town in swathes of colour. She lowered her arm and ignored the lump in her throat. Except the cosy and cheerful woollen creations didn’t make her feel like smiling. It was at Cressy and Denham’s wedding that her fairytale with Mac had ended. She’d finally understood how little of their relationship had been under their control.
She continued along the main street, her steps determined. She’d come to town to visit the grocery store, not to wallow. Tonight her mother would be at a meeting of yet another committee she chaired and Bethany wanted to cook her father a special dinner. As much as her mother had tried, it had been her quiet father’s unconditional support that had enabled her to survive the past weeks. His tight hugs, which had helped her weather teenage break-ups, still wielded the same healing power.
Wind again buffeted her and she sank her hands deep into her coat pockets. She’d soon be inside the warmth of the small town’s only grocery store. The beer-infused aroma of the Royal Arms had given way to the sweetness of the florist and gift shop and now all she could smell was the fresh bread from the bakery. While she once couldn’t wait to return to the bustling city streets of her boarding school days, the knowledge that she could walk the entire town in under ten minutes brought a sense of peace.
A car horn honked but she didn’t turn to look at the driver or take her hand out of her coat pocket to wave. The bush greeting hadn’t been for her. A long-held loneliness twisted inside. It didn’t matter that she’d been born in the red-brick hospital high on the hill or christened in the historic stone church; she didn’t belong. It also didn’t count that her mother was the town’s go-to person in a crisis or that the community would be lost without her—Edna Galloway was a woman best given a wide berth.
Bethany stopped to allow the door of the grocery store to slowly slide open. Her older brother Rodger had escaped the stigma associated with being Edna’s offspring. She hadn’t been so lucky. Even though she’d prided herself on not gossiping and on making sure she chose her words with care, she’d grown up under the assumption she’d turn out to be her mother’s daughter. The harder she’d fought to prove she wasn’t, the more she’d been labelled standoffish, moody and difficult.
Heated air bathed her and reminded her of where she was and why she was in town. She stepped into the store. It wasn’t her imagination that two cowgirls standing beside the fruit section stopped talking as she walked past to collect a red shopping basket. She assumed a detached expression. It shouldn’t still bother her that she felt like such an outsider in her hometown.
When she’d filled her basket, she went in search of her mother’s favourite breakfast tea instead of the chocolate she’d requested. Dr Fliss might be happy with Edna’s current cholesterol levels but it was a constant battle to keep her incorrigible mother away from the foods she shouldn’t eat.
The rumble of an unmistakable masculine voice caused her to freeze. The packet of tea she’d reached for slipped through her fingers and hit the floor with a dull thud. Not here. Not today.
Mouth dry, she bent to retrieve the yellow box. She’d hoped that whenever she saw Mac again the anguish of having to let him go wouldn’t still hold her hostage. Instead the pain that lanced through her was as raw as when she’d told him a month ago they couldn’t be together.
A pair of dusty boots walked towards her. As she straightened she realised the broad shoulders that stretched the red-and-navy rugby jersey didn’t belong to Mac. The tension twined around her temples loosened.
While many locals still confused Mac with his twin brother, she’d never made such a mistake. They were both blue-eyed with dark blond hair, but their differences were apparent in their expressions. Intense and serious, Mac’s smile was slow. Gregarious and charming, Finn’s wide grin was instant.
Finn stopped in front of her and didn’t hesitate to kiss her cheek. ‘Long time no see.’
As good as he looked and smelled when he’d leaned in close, it was only ever Mac who made her senses yearn. ‘It’s been a while.’
She summoned a bright smile despite knowing that every morning the mirror reaffirmed how pale and drawn she had become. ‘Good, thanks.’
Finn nodded. The empathy in his eyes revealed he wasn’t so different to perceptive Mac after all. Their father, Clive, might be known around the district as a tough and inflexible man, but both his sons took after their kind and compassionate mother.
‘How’s … Mac?’ She tightened her hold on the basket. Finn’s stubble reminded her how much she’d loved running her fingers over the whiskered edge of his twin’s lean jaw.
She looked away. The one-word answer would be an understatement. Even when his life was running to plan, focused and driven Mac was a workaholic.
She again met Finn’s steady stare. ‘Tell him I said hi.’
Her words slipped out low and quiet and she flinched at her weakness. They’d agreed to not contact each other so they’d have space to heal. Passing a message via his brother wouldn’t exactly be keeping to their agreement but she was powerless against the depth with which she missed him.
‘I will.’ Finn’s deep voice softened. She thought he was going to say something more but then he paused before asking, …