If Kira thought the second day would be easier, she was deluded. Her body ached. She didn't exactly have many muscles – she'd lived the life of a college student these past three years, which meant late night binge eating, drinking, beaching and partying. Muscle wasn't really needed for any of those activities. Her arms hurt so much she could barely hold them above her head – she wasn't going to be much use today. She'd thought that maybe today would be a slow day, hoping that it would be, but all that hope was for naught. So while Katrina was once again playing with the pretty ponies all day, Kira had to follow Tristan around. Which, to be fair, wasn't that hard of a job, since she'd gotten over his complete and utter stupidity yesterday and he was hot as anything, but today they were spraying weeds.
That's right. She had to walk around a paddock with a spraying unit on her back all day.
"Spraying all that thistle in the back paddocks. Kira, darling, sometimes I swear you don't listen," Anna chided.
"No, I heard you fine," Kira snapped. "I was just wondering if you were sure you wanted your only child to die of heat stroke. How is your legacy going to be carried on if I'm lying dead in the thistles?"
"I have a spare Akubra if you want it," Katrina suggested from where she was fiddling with a UHF. What was she even doing? Probably sticking around to get malicious glee out of Kira's suffering.
"I'm not going to touch one of those hats with a ten foot pole," she sneered. Although Tristan's Akubra looked damn fine on him. "I have my cap and that's country bumpkin enough for me."
Anna huffed. "Oh Kira, you're so dramatic. You won't die of heat stroke – I've got a water bottle in the freezer for you."
The fact that Anna had thought ahead and had cared enough to do that touched Kira's heart, enough that she left the house with only a few more grumbles and no tantrums. That didn't stop her from whining in the car though.
"This is the stupidest job ever," she declared as they bounced along the dodgy dirt road again. Sometime between dinner last night and now, Tristan had realised that she wasn't angry anymore, so had stopped stepping on eggshells around her. He was back to being cranky, so he just grunted in reply.
"Where's Jake?" When she'd woken up this morning, he was nowhere to be found. He was a lot better to make conversation with, even if he didn't look half as gorgeous as Tristan did. Plus, she'd probably find out more about Tristan from Jake than from the man himself!
"Gone home. He'll be back tomorrow to move some cattle."
Kira's eyebrows shot up. Okay, so maybe she hadn't thought about it overly much, but she'd kind of assumed that both of them lived here pretty much full time.
"Does that mean that you go home often?" Because she'd certainly miss his pretty face. There wasn't much else to look at around here, besides grass. And trees. And hills.
"A bit," was his only reply. So Kira was pretty much back where she started – with a silent and angry Tristan.
"Do you have a farm you need to take care of?"
He frowned. "No."
She faintly remembered him saying something about losing a farm.
"So you live in town?"
"You have your own house?"
"What does that mean?"
"I share with my father."
Kira snorted. "Aren't you like, 30 or something? And still living with your father? I'm fairly sure the technical term for that is 'failure to launch'."
"I'm twenty-six," he snarled.
Huh. Only five years older of her, that's fine.
Tristan's jaw was clenching, drawing Kira's eye to the beautiful cut of it. He was clearly angry and Kira remembered what had happened last time he'd been this cranky with her, so she shut up. Apparently, his father was off-limits.
After passing through several paddocks where Kira had to keep jumping out to get the gates, the Ute stopped.
"We're spraying weeds on that?" Kira cried. 'That' was the steepest hillside Kira had ever seen. Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration – she'd seen pictures of Mt Everest, after all – but it was damn steep. And covered in thistles. Her mother had told her to wear long pants and offered up those ugly jeans again, but Kira had instead put on her exercise tights. They only went to just below her knees, however.
Tristan ignored her, of course, getting out and grabbing both of the spray packs from the trailer. He handed her one before strapping his own on. Kira watched and then reluctantly copied. The thing was heavy in her hands but once strapped on her back, wasn't overly bad. This just reminded her of grade nine camp, where the school thought it would be fun to make them do a bushwalk across all these huge hills, with their week's worth of supplies on their backs.
"I already calibrated yours when you were inside complaining to your mum, so all you have to do is point and shoot. At the roots, that is."
"Oh, joy," Kira mumbled. Tristan directed her so they were on pretty much opposite sides of the paddock, going back and forth to halfway, climbing the hill slowly. It was torture. The sun was beating down and, once again, she was sweating like a pig. Her hair was sticking to the back of her neck but this time, she'd foregone the easily heated gumboots in favour of her running shoes. It was so quiet too, with no car sounds or planes flying overhead – just the rustle of trees, the sound of her breathing and the occasional moo or whiny. She wished she'd brought her iPod out with her, so it wouldn't be as mind-numbingly boring as it was now. She couldn't even stare at Tristan's beautifully formed body, since he was so freaking far away. And so she had to content herself with staring at the red cows as they moved closer and closer, eventually nosing around the trailer of the Ute for hay.
She couldn't help but crinkle her nose in disgust. They were pretty disgusting creatures, especially with all the poo slopped down their bottoms and the backs of their legs.
Later, she was three-quarters of the way up the hill when she collapsed on her back, the spray unit propping her up yet digging into her painfully.
"What are you doing, Kira?" she heard Tristan call, but she didn't open her eyes.
Instead, she flung her arms out and yelled, "I'm dying! Just let me go in peace!"
She didn't hear anything back from him so she just lay there as the sun burned her arms and her lower legs, which were covered in scratches from the thistles anyway. After a while, she heard the crunching of footsteps and looked up to see Tristan standing there with her drink bottle in his hands. She grabbed it, right away putting the still-cold bottle against her cheek and sighing, eyes sliding shut.
"Oh, that's so good," she moaned. "You're a legend, Tristan."
She cracked open an eye and – maybe it was from the sun – but she swore she saw a trace of pink across his cheeks. Deciding to pretend it was because of her, she smirked. He ignored her, taking a long drink from his own bottle. Kira watched in almost hunger as his throat moved, exposing all that lovely golden skin. It helped that he'd unbuttoned the top of his shirt, so she could just make out the tops of some defined muscles. Oh, how she wanted to run her fingers down that… imagine what he'd look like with his shirt off!
"Are you even going to drink any of that?" Tristan asked, making her eyes snap up to her face. He might've caught her checking him out, but she was completely unapologetic.
"Don't rush me," she said, as she unscrewed the cap and began guzzling it down. She hadn't realised just how thirsty she was! And she owed her mother a huge hug for having the forethought to put the bottle in the freezer overnight – the icy cool water was heaven, sliding down her throat. She splashed some on her wrists and neck, to help cool her down. She sighed in contentment as finally, the sun didn't seem so bad.
"Alright, time to get back to work. We gotta get this section finished before lunch."
"Wait, you mean there's more sections?"
A faint smile danced around the corners of his lips, making her drool just a tiny bit.
"Weeds don't just inhabit one tiny section of the farm, Kira," he drawled.
She threw some water at him in reply, which he almost tripped over his feet trying to dodge. This put her in a good enough mood that she stood up, gave her bottle back to Tristan, and began the monotonous job of weed-spraying again.
The next day, she felt even worse. This time, it wasn't just her muscles that hurt – although her back muscles were all pulled, thanks to that stupid spraying backpack. This time, her head pounded. And when she looked in the mirror, she saw that her face was bright red, as well as the bottoms of legs and her hands. She even had a vee on her chest from the shirt!
"Oh, my god," she moaned, tilting her head from side to side in the mirror. "I'm getting more and more country every day I'm here!"
Once she was dressed, she strode out to the kitchen, saying, "Mum, look at my skin! I'm so red! And I think I have heat stroke or something, my head is pounding worse than a red wine hangover."
Anna tutted as she looked over Kira. "Honey, you didn't put any sunscreen on did you? At this rate, you're going to have skin cancers popping up all over your body! I told you to put on sunscreen, didn't I?"
Kira grudgingly admitted that she did. "Well, do you have any Panadol and aloe vera around this place?"
Anna already had the pills in her hands, placing them in front of where Kira was sat at the table with a glass of water.
"I saw the state of your legs last night – you can go into town with Tristan and Katrina and go buy some more suitable clothes, so you stop taking mine."
Kira grimaced at the thought of spending time with that snarky cow Katrina, but lightened up when she realised Tristan would be along for the ride.
"Shot gun!" Kira called as she flung herself into the front seat of Tristan's 4WD. Katrina looked miffed as she stopped and headed to the backseat instead.
"How old are you again?" she muttered under her breath, but Kira had good ears and heard it. She twisted in her seat and cocked an eyebrow at the other girl.
"I'm just resorting to the kindergarten tactics you seem to like to use – fair's fair, right?" Kira retorted innocently, smirking when Katrina did nothing but grind her teeth together. She wouldn't have gotten a chance to say anything anyway, as Tristan got in just then. The girl really needed to understand when she was outmatched and outclassed.
The drive in was boring, with Katrina and Tristan chatting most of the way since Tristan barely answered any of Kira's questions. Katrina seemed to be quite nice and funny, when she wasn't trying to get under Kira's skin. Maybe if she weren't so catty towards her, Kira would've liked to be her friend. Well, as long as Katrina understood what hygiene was. She had had a shower before they'd left, thank god, and was dressed in skinny jeans and a singlet, actually looking quite pretty with her brown hair down around her face.
Kira still hadn't worked out if this cleanliness was just a fluke or if she really did take regular showers.
Finally, they arrived in the town that Kira remembered passing through on the way here. It looked exactly the same as it did then: small. Boring. Old people. Lots of Akubras.
Definitely not her type of town.
They pulled into a park on the main street, which was actually kind of cute with these large trees shading it on either side. It didn't look like much of a ghost town, either, with a few sweet little shops here and there and quite a few people ducking between them and sitting at the cafes.
The three of them exchanged phone numbers in the car, then hopped out, with Tristan saying, "We'll meet back here in an hour and a half, okay? Then go from there."
"An hour and a half?" Kira repeated. "How am I supposed to get everything done by then?"
"Well you can keep shopping while we have lunch," Tristan answered irritably. He came around the front of the 4WD and his eyebrows rose when he saw what Kira was wearing. Okay, so she may have gotten a bit excited, even though she'd only been stuck on that farm for less than two days. She was wearing a summer dress with strappy sandals, bling-y necklace around her neck and bracelets down one of her arms. Her hair was also straightened to perfection. She did like to dress up, after all.
Tristan rolled his eyes at her, and Kira was a bit miffed that he didn't look the least bit interested in her. Maybe he was more interested in the scruffy, unhygienic, country-hick type. She looked between him and Katrina, but instantly dismissed it. She hadn't seen anything that would indicate that.
They parted ways and Kira made herself pass by a gorgeous little boutique to go to the nearest country clothing shop. Reluctantly, she bought a few pairs of R.M. Williams jeans and flannel shirts, taking absolutely no joy in it. She also bought some gumboots that actually fitted, but these ones were pink with white spots all of them. Much nicer than those big black chunky monstrosities she wore on the first day and much closer looking to the expensive pair of Hunter gumboots she had back in Sydney.
She then quickly zipped through the supermarket, grabbing some sunblock, aloe vera, avocados, and good quality Truss tomatoes. She couldn't stand the budget ones that her mother had bought. She could be so stingy sometimes.
When Kira finally rocked up at the car, hands overflowing with bags, Tristan did not look happy. Kira was too busy taking note of how, when he crossed his arms like that, his biceps bulged out. Yum.
"You're fifteen minutes late," he growled.
She gave him a surprised look. "Really? I thought I was later than that… huh, I did pretty well then."
She opened the boot of the car and placed all her bags in, asking, "Where's Katrina?"
"She's already at the café, ordering my food while I had to wait for you." Kira ignored his annoyed tone, standing up and putting her hands on her hips.
"Righteo, where's this café then? I hope they have some good salads there, I'm sick of eating so much bread."
Tristan stared at her. "You're not even going to apologise or anything? We organised a time and you were late – does that mean nothing to you?"
She rolled her eyes. "Alright, if it makes you feel better, I'm sorry for being late. Can we get to lunch now?"
"You're unbelievable," he snapped. "It's amazing that a woman like Anna could raise a girl like you."
Kira whirled around, suddenly angry. "What did you want me to say? No matter how I said sorry at that point, you wouldn't have cared! You're blowing this way out of proportion. And my mother hardly brought me up, she shipped me off to boarding school and an expensive psychologist years ago, so maybe you should go pick this fight with one of them." She really wished she could storm away just then, but she wasn't that stubborn and prideful. "Now, for the third time, where the hell is this café? I'm hungry."
Tristan's lips were pressed thin together in anger, but he huffed in frustration and whirled around, striding down the street. Kira followed behind, smiling in triumph. She loved it when she won the argument.
The days that followed fell into a kind of pattern as she followed Tristan around: feeding the horses and cows that needed it in the morning; doing stupid, menial jobs with Tristan like painting or sweeping or repairing fences; then feeding or filling up waters yet again. It was boring yet exhaustive and her attitude towards the farm didn't change. It was dull and dusty and hot and sweaty and gross and she just plain didn't like it. It didn't help that whenever she trudged back into the house for lunch or dinner, she'd see Anna or Katrina or sometimes both of them, riding around on the young horses, putting them through their paces. They were Quarter Horses, so they weren't particularly elegant or anything like the dressage horses that she used to like to watch, but they were eager and sweet and a whole lot better than following Tristan around. Yes, he was gorgeous but he was so damn angry and silent all the time. She loved the dark and mysterious look but seriously, he had to perk the hell up. She loved gorgeous boys but she also liked to see some personality.
It was a week after the incident in town and they were finally breaking the monotonous routine.
"You mean I get to do something different today?" Kira asked sarcastically, as she finished her breakfast.
Anna shot her a sharp look, but kept going. "So we need to move those cows from the Hillside Paddock into the cattle yards. And we can't use the four-wheelers because of the terrain – Kira, you wouldn't happen to be able to ride a motorbike would you?"
Katrina snorted into her cereal at this. Kira shot her a dirty look.
"Of course I can't. What kind of person do I look like?"
Anna just raised her eyebrows, nonplussed. "I thought not. I'll put you on one of the old boys to ride, since we need every one of us out there."
An old horse? Christ, she hadn't forgotten to ride just because she hadn't done it in years. Surely it was like riding a bike. Or sex. It just comes back to you when you do it again.
It turned out that the 'old boy' wasn't quite what she was expecting. She was riding Moët, a horse that she remembered being broken in when she was still here. He was only eleven, but had never been sold since he was pigeon-toed. He was a beautiful coloured palomino though, the exact shade of the champagne he was named after. And he was hardly an old, dreary horse. She could already tell he was a bit dopey, but his ears perked up when she came and rubbed his forelock.
"Hey sweet boy," she murmured, smiling when he leaned into her hand. She was thrust out of her bubble when the stock saddle was plonked down heavily on the rail next to her, by Katrina.
"I hope you remember how to saddle a horse," the girl sneered, dumping the bridle on top of it before stalking away.
For once, Kira was robbed of her right to get the last word. To make herself feel better, she flipped the girl's back the bird. She did remember how to saddle – after a few tries, that is. She was leading Moët up to the ledge when Tristan came over.
"Here, let me help you get on," he said gruffly. Kira felt a huge smile spread across her face, but ducked her head to hide it. She pulled the cap down lower on her head, put her foot in the stirrup, grabbed the reins and swung on. Tristan held on to the other stirrup so the saddle didn't slip, since Moët was pretty fat from doing nothing but eating the rich grass and hay. Kira pulled her leg back as he did up the girth and shivered when his long fingers brushed against her leg.
"Can—" she cleared her throat, her voice strangely husky. "Can you do up my stirrups a few holes?"
Her breath hitched when his fingers again brushed against her inner thigh as he tugged the stirrup leather down. Her head was in a whirl and suddenly her foot was in the stirrup and Tristan was looking up at her. Was it just wishful thinking or were his eyes a tad bit darker?
"Um, that's good," she said, unnaturally hesitant. She didn't like feeling hesitant; she liked being assertive to the put of being aggressive. Tristan just stood there, fingers still on her ankle from where he had guided it into the stirrup. "So… the other one?"
Tristan jolted and Kira could barely contain her tiny smirk as he quickly fixed her other stirrup. Once he was finished, he walked away without saying a word, but Kira was still feeling victorious. So she was getting somewhere!
A/N: Remember, I love hearing everyone's feedback!
Thank you to my anon readers: all the unsigned on ones, tiinam and BlackRose.
And to answer one of the 'guests': yes, I pretty much am just focusing on this one at the moment, but hopefully it'll get me back into the swing of writing so I can concentrate on my others. This is my NaNo story, after all.
UHF – just another word for a walkie talkie
Quarter Horse – originally from America, they are fairly short and muscular, particularly in their shoulders. It is used mainly in rodeos or farm/stock work.