She stayed in bed for the rest of the day, not feeling a hundred percent even though she tried to hide it from everyone else. However, Anna easily saw through this and scolded her, making her stay inside with her while the others continued fixing floodgates. Truthfully, Kira was kind of glad since she felt like absolute shit; emotionally and physically weak.

She had dinner in silence as the others chatted around her, a tad awkwardly, and when she tried to go to sleep she just couldn't. Whenever she closed her eyes, the feelings of utter helplessness and terror came back to her. After trying for a few hours, she went to the kitchen for a glass of water. When she was standing at the big windows looking out into the darkness, she noticed the veranda light was on in the Shearer's Quarters. Hoping it was Tristan, she shoved her feet into her thongs and walked down there quickly.

It was.

He was sitting on the edge of the veranda, leaning against a pole with his legs swinging in the air. When he looked up and saw her, Kira lost her confidence immediately and twisted her hands nervously.

"I-I couldn't sleep," she forced out. "And I saw this light was on, so I thought you might be here, and you are, so… do you have any mosquito repellent?" she asked, thankfully cutting her ranting short when she began scratching furiously at a bump on her bicep.

Tristan smiled and held out a can of Aerogard to her. She came forward and grabbed it, spraying herself with it before perching down next to him awkwardly.

"Are you feeling better after today?" Tristan asked. The genuine interest in his eyes made her blush a bit and look away.

"Yeah," she mumbled, hating herself for feeling like this. "A lot better, actually."

"That's good."

They sat in silence as Kira slowly relaxed, watching the fox lights blinking on and off in the distance. She could faintly hear frogs croaking and crickets chirping and strangely enough, it was a soothing sound. Finally, she sighed, making Tristan look over at her again.

"I-I think you deserve a bit of an explanation," she said slowly, tracing a pattern with her finger onto the wood of the veranda.

"You don't have to—"

"But I do," she said, looking up at him. "I really do, since I've flipped out on you before and you were so wonderful to me today." She couldn't help but smile slightly when she saw the faint blush staining his tanned cheeks.

"Well, it's what anyone would've done…" he mumbled.

Kira rolled her eyes slightly at his eternal modesty.

"So I have a bit of a phobia towards snakes," she started slowly.

"I've noticed," Tristan replied with a sly smile. Kira gave him an unimpressed look, but tempered it with a smile. Then her mood darkened as she realised what she was going to divulge next. She'd never told anyone about this. God knows how awkward Courtney or Stacey would get if she ever said anything, but she owed this to Tristan. She trusted him wholeheartedly, too, and knew that he wouldn't treat her any differently.

"You see, the thing is…" She couldn't look at him so she returned her gaze to the fox lights. "My father was bitten by a snake. I watched him die."

Tristan was silent, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see his wide eyes and pale face. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no sound came out. Kira went on.

"It was a brown snake, one of the ones that you don't even notice when they bite you. We were out the back too – I'd…" she closed her eyes, "I'd made dad take me out in the Ute to see the new foals."
"Kira, that doesn't mean it's your fau—"

"I know it's not my fault," she said, slightly sharply. "It was a horribly timed accident," she added, repeating what she had been told by various psychologists for years. It had been difficult, almost too difficult, but she'd come to accept it. "But that doesn't exactly help my fear of snakes. Whenever I see one, I can't help but think of my dad on the grass, having a seizure as blood poured out of his eyes and ears and mouth and—"

"Kira, you don't have to tell me this," Tristan said in a strangled voice. His hand touched the side of her face and guided her to look back at him. "Thank you for telling me but if it is too much for you, you don't have to keep going."

"No," Kira whispered. "My psychologists always said that telling someone helped, but I never have before now. And they were all right – it does help." Her heart felt lighter, knowing that he now knew and she wasn't carrying all of it bottled up inside of her. He knew and he wasn't judging her. His hand grasped hers and she found the courage to keep on speaking. "The venom takes a while to act but when we finally noticed, it was too late. There was no mobile reception out there and the UHF didn't go that far just yet. I couldn't drive the Ute so I ran. I ran all the way back to the house but by the time we got out there, he was dead. Gone."

Kira couldn't stop the tears that had begun seeping out of her eyes but she prayed he didn't see them in the shadows. It was for naught though because of course, he did. His other hand reached out and brushed them away.

"I had no idea," he murmured. "I knew that he had passed away but I had no idea it was anything like this. Your mother never said a word."

Kira smiled brokenly. "Of course she didn't. That's the type of woman she is. She's… not so good with emotions."

That felt a bit too much like Kira for comfort.

Tristan showed no signs of being uncomfortable or even annoyed. Instead, his eyes were filled with compassion and his hands were soft where they touched her. They spread a warmth through her that was so unbelievably comforting. If she hadn't liked him before, she sure did now. Could he get anymore perfect?

"It must've been a hard time, with both of you grieving," he said.

Kira sighed. "It was, but instead of doing it together she sent me off to Sydney. Don't get me wrong, I got over my bitterness a long while ago, but still… I don't know. I don't even know what I'm trying to say," Kira huffed.

Tristan smiled and tugged on her hand until she scooted over so she could lean on him. Despite his body being nothing but hard muscle and no fat, it still felt like heaven to Kira, leaning against him. She laid her head on his shoulder and played idly with his large, callous-ridden hands. They were quite rough to touch but he had been so gentle with her all day. Where had this side of him been all this time?

"I know it was hard," Tristan said after a few moments of silence. "But thank you for telling me anyway. And I take back what I said earlier."

Kira frowned, suddenly worried. "What? What are you talking about?"

"About you not being as tough as Katrina," he said, brushing a soft kiss over her hair. Her eyes slid shut in pleasure. "I think you could be tougher."

Kira couldn't help but finally fall asleep with those words in her ears and a smile on her face.

OOO

Tristan didn't treat her differently after their talk. At all.

It was actually a huge relief for Kira, who had been stressing over if he would step on eggshells around her. But he didn't. He acted pretty much in the same way that he had for weeks, but maybe a little gentler. Which was nice. What was not nice was that he refused to talk about the kisses they'd shared. She tried to bring it up a few times but after a while, she just gave up. It wasn't like her at all to give up so easily, but she didn't want to go back to where he gave her snappish, one word answers all the time.

But she wouldn't let herself pick apart her strange relationship with Tristan too much, since it was Christmas today, and thinking about Tristan a lot made her depressed.

She'd spent a whole day in town a few days ago picking out presents for everyone. She'd even bought some horse liquorice for the young boys and girls. She was definitely giving extra to Nacarat and none to that devil horse Napoleon. Tristan had tried to tell her that he was so spirited because he was gelded late, but that didn't stop Kira from not liking him.

Kira had been helping Anna out in the kitchen all of yesterday and this morning to be ready. Some of Anna's neighbours were coming over for the day as well, so the amount of food was ridiculous. They'd cooked the ham yesterday and just put a mammoth turkey into the oven. They had three different salads, a bowl filled with potatoes, and even a platter filled with prawns and oysters. Kira felt a bit suspicious of the prawns, since they were nowhere near a body of water, but her mother had assured her they were fine.

But all that food was just for lunch/dinner. For breakfast, they had platters filled with croissants, ham, jam, cream and mangoes. Kira couldn't wait. The last few Christmases she'd spent with her friends, and that usually involved just getting drunk and going out to a few clubs. Although she'd never admit it to anyone, she couldn't help but feel excited to spend today here with her mum, Tristan, Jake and Katrina.

Well, she was excited until the neighbours showed up. They were nice people, all smiles in their Akubras and other country get up, it's just that they brought that devil goat Wobbly, with the two dislocated hip bones.

And if that wasn't bad enough, Blondie-the-Townie-Snob/Tristan's-Ex was there.

Confused? So was Kira, until Anna cheerily explained that blondie was the neighbours' niece.

Great.

Kira spent the breakfast sitting with Katrina as they both glared holes at Lucy – blondie – talking to Tristan.

"You coulda given me a bit of warning," Kira grumbled to Katrina.

Katrina groaned. "I knew she was their niece but I didn't realise that they'd bring her and her family along!"

Kira watched as Lucy shot her a sly look before turning back to Tristan. She couldn't help but smile slightly.

"I don't think she likes me, Katrina," Kira said.

Katrina laughed. "Are you kidding? Of course she doesn't! She's been semi-glaring at you this whole time and you did cut in the middle of their dance at that Christmas party."

Kira shrugged. "Haters gonna hate. But… she better not be hogging Tristan the whole time," she grumbled. Katrina shot her an amused, too-knowing look. Kira pointedly studied the breakfast buffet.

"Well, we better do something about that," Katrina said, and Kira looked over at her in time to see the slow smile spread across her face. Kira stared at her for a moment until a matching smile spread across her face as she understood. Together, they both stood up, got some more food from the buffet, then settled themselves on either side of the ex-lovebirds. Blondie, no Lucy, stopped suddenly in her chatter and stared at them both blankly.
"Hi, I don't think we've met, I'm Kira," she said, holding out her hand (because people in the country shook hands), "Anna's daughter."

Lucy was slow to react. "I, uh, think I saw you at George's Christmas party?"

"Really?" Kira exclaimed, feigning shock. "I was there, but I don't remember seeing you!"

Kira excelled at being a bitch. Usually, she didn't attack someone unprovoked because that just wasn't her style. But she was jealous, and she wasn't afraid to say it. In her head, that is. She'd never admit that to Tristan because she'd never hear the end of it and it would swell up his ego to a gargantuan size. The fact of the matter was that Lucy was encroaching on her territory and her and her gorgeous hair needed to back off.

Lucy looked suitably miffed and a bit embarrassed, but unfortunately Tristan had caught onto what she was doing and sent her a glare. Kira just gave him an innocent look while Katrina grinned.

"So, Lucy," Katrina started, placing her chin on her hand. "What do you want for Christmas?"

Kira had to press her lips together tightly so she didn't laugh out loud. Lucy looked totally out of her depth.

"I guess, uh, I asked my parents for a new car… and a new eventing horse." She turned her attention and fluttering lashes to Tristan. "I was going to buy one of Anna's horses, you see, but Quarter Horses are just too stocky. I need a nice warmblood, sadly, or I'd come here first."

Katrina's eyebrows were up in her hairline. It was a bit awkward that Lucy was addressing Tristan about this, when Katrina was the one who breaks them in and works on them.

"I don't think that's right," she interrupted as Tristan opened his mouth while looking uncomfortable. "I just think you need to get the right breeding. We have a horse here, Sherlock, who has beautiful long legs that would make him a great jumper. With a bit of training in that direction, he'd be soaring over those one star jumps, or whatever they are."

Lucy was, once again, embarrassed, but this time Tristan wasn't glaring at Katrina. Instead, he was pretending to be engrossed in the Christmas tree they had set up yesterday. That was great fun, since Kira spent more time perving on Tristan than actually helping. They kind of expected that of her now, though.

"Oh, well, I hadn't realised," Lucy said. "I've always ridden warmbloods when I competed. My last horse was actually the granddaughter of an Olympic gold medal horse, Sultan's Jewel."
"So why would you want a new one then?" Kira butted in.

Lucy shot her a superior look and Kira finally got a taste of her townie snob attitude that Katrina complained about.

"Because," she said in a 'duh' voice. "Desert's Opal is getting too old for me and I want to turn her out to pasture. She can be a paddock mate to my miniature pony."

She had her own miniature pony? Now that was just weird as hell. And totally useless. She was beginning to sound more spoilt than Kira. Instead of a miniature pony, Kira had a potty calf that was later served up on their plates. She'd cried for hours. As much as she didn't like Lucy, she still hoped that wouldn't happen to her.

"Huh," Kira said. "Next time, I'll save you the trouble of explaining what you're talking about and just read your mind instead. Does that sound better?"

Tristan cleared his throat loudly.

"So who's up for a game of cricket after this?" he said quickly, since Lucy was going red and looked like she was about to punch Kira.

"I am!" Katrina said brightly. "As long as I get to bowl first."

Kira patted her belly that was almost croissant-shaped from the amount she had eaten.

"I've just gotta digest this for a few minutes before I even think of running around."

She hadn't played cricket in years but hey, it looked pretty easy and boring on TV. One person bowls, the other hits, and another catches. Easy-peasy.

Unfortunately, by the time they'd gotten out there, Lucy had shotgunned batting so Kira was stuck running around the laneway in search of the ball. Lucy wasn't very subtle. She hit small, easy ones towards Tristan and giggled when he easily picked up – surely admiring the play of his muscles when he threw the ball, like Kira was – but somehow managed to hit the massive ones towards Kira.

She was not appreciative. And at any second, the huge breakfast she ate was going to come up. It didn't help that she was wearing a pretty summer dress for the occasion and had to squat down to get the ball instead of bending over easily and flashing everyone.

When it was Kira's time to bat, it took her a few goes, but eventually she perfected her batting technique enough to hit Lucy straight in the stomach.

Katrina was crouched on the ground, head in hands as she tried to hold back her laughter and Kira had to calm herself down for a few seconds until she was sure she wouldn't laugh instead of talk.
When she got under control, she rushed over, saying, "Oh, lord! I am so sorry! I don't even know how that happened! I'm so horrible at cricket and oh my god, let's get you up to the house!"

Tristan glared at her, his jaw clenching and vein throbbing in his temple. Kira paid him no mind.

Two birds with one stone, Kira thought victoriously. Or, you know, two birds with one cricket ball. She'd taken her anger out on Lucy and was no longer stuck playing this game out in the heat, ruining her hair, makeup and dress with sweat.

Unfortunately, her plan slightly backfired when Lucy clutched onto Tristan as he checked over her and helped her up to the house. Kira watched them with a scowl until Katrina came up and clapped her on the shoulder.

"That was so great!" she crowed. "Did you see her face when she went down? Best Christmas ever!" she declared.

Kira cracked a smile when she turned to the grinning woman.

"That was pretty epic, wasn't it?"

"Hell yeah it was!"

OOO

A/N: Sorry for taking my time! And in case you didn't know, we call flip-flops thongs in Australia, hahaha