Rustic Charm ~ Chapter One

ReneeHammond-72dpi-1500x2000-3

Jake didn’t need to come to a complete stop to read the bold sign nestled at the end of his grandfather Tom’s driveway. Even as the last light from the sun faded to black, the offensive red lettering stood out.

He planted his foot down on the accelerator, controlling the car with ease as the back end flicked out and tyres slipped on gravel.

Rational thoughts escaped Jake as he drove the kilometre long driveway in record time. What had come over Tom? He’d noticed he wasn’t his usual self lately, but this didn’t make sense.

Coming to a stop, Jake didn’t wait for the dust to settle before he flung his door open and stalked up the path to the main house. Not bothering to knock, this as much his home as was his parents.

“Tom. Tom, you in here?”

Dark thunderclouds, echoing his mood, blackened the room. Turning lights on as he went, Jake didn’t care if Tom was resting. It was still early despite the premature set in of the night. Entering the lounge room, he wasn’t surprised to find Tom perched in his armchair.

“What the hell is going on? You’re selling the farm?” Jake didn’t see the point in beating around the bush. Tom never did.

“Sold actually.”

“Already? What about our plans? The Dexters?” Jake ran his hands through his hair. Turning away he closed his eyes hoping for clarity—or at least a sense of understanding—as Tom’s words penetrated and seeped deep within, clenching around the betrayal and loss of the future he’d counted on.

“Why don’t you get us a beer and have a seat before you give yourself a heart attack.”

No longer eager to discuss the looming for sale sign at the end of the driveway, Jake took his time walking to the fridge outside under the back verandah. Why Tom didn’t keep the drinks inside he’d never thought to ask. What did it matter now? The farm was gone and all the minor details he’d taken for granted sold with it.

The bottles clinked together as Jake reached out and grabbed two. Shutting the fridge door too hard, the contents rattled, but he didn’t open it to see if he’d caused any damage.

Twisting the cap off each bottle, he dropped them on the kitchen bench, and stopped to take a long swig, wishing he’d thought to grab a backup. He had a feeling this was going to be more than a one-brew story.

“A local snap it up?” Jake held the other bottle out for Tom.

“Thanks.” Tom lifted his beer, and shook his head. “Nah. Charlie Cooper. Rolling in dough too from what Alex tells me. Took care of everything over the phone without even looking at the place.”

“Typical. City money, and no clue about farming.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge the bloke. You were the one preaching about needing new stock in town.”

“I was talking cattle.”

“Well, you never know what he might bring.”

“It won’t be knowledge, and you know it. If he has so much money he’s probably too precious to do the hard yakka himself, and will employ half the town to do it for him. What’s the bet he doesn’t last the year?”

“Maybe. But, at least it’ll give some of our young blokes a job, so we don’t lose them to the mines.”

“Only until he gets bored and sells the farm, then what?”

“As I said before, hold off judging until you’ve met him.”

Jake glared at no one in particular. “Even you have to admit the city blokes don’t stick. Country airs too dusty, they lose all their tack.”

Tom shook his head. “We need new blood around here, how else do you expect this town to grow? Don’t want the rumours that we marry our cousins to become reality. Never know this city guy may have a daughter.”

Jake scoffed. “Not one I’d be interested in.”

Tom took a long swig, draining his beer. “Any local girls take your fancy?”

“I’m too busy to entertain dating. Besides, I have a future to plan.

* * *

Charlie was relieved when the three weeks settlement suited the previous owner. A tidy deal signed and settled on her terms was the way she liked to handle business. Although, she had to stop thinking of this purchase as anything more than the beginning of her new life, and the perfect opportunity to leave career driven Charlie hidden in the past. It’d been a long time since she’d been excited about doing something for herself. The anticipation of buying the property on a whim—having only seen a few photos on the net, and reading a real estate agents write up to support them—was like nothing she’d experienced before. A totally self-indulgent act she didn’t regret, despite thinking she might.

Driving through the town site of her new neighbourhood, Charlie scanned the streets of a town that could only be described as quaint, no other word seemed to sum it up. It was the opposite end of the spectrum from her up market house in the artsy and ultra-modern inner city suburb she loved, but no longer suited her needs.

She turned into the first driveway on the outskirts of town, marked by a green letterbox, the numbers long since faded. The large for sale sign bearing the bold red sold sticker was the only landmark to indicate she had the right place. An element of dread crept up from the pit of her gut, washing over the excitement to become a diluted sense of curiosity. She hoped the transition into her new home went as smoothly as the rest of her dealings to date.

Alex, the real estate agent, reassured her the house was in perfect order for her to move in, requiring very little maintenance. She couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. An aged man living alone, she didn’t know what to expect. Her own father, having suffered OCD, wasn’t the norm, or a good example to compare, as far from a farmer as could be.

Red dust spewed like flames around the new silver F-Truck she’d purchased two days before. Deciding the little red sports car, a gift from her father, was best left parked in the garage of her house in Subiaco.

Looking in the rear vision mirror, Charlie watched as the dust clouds billowed up like a flare announcing her arrival. A common sight, no doubt, but one she’d have to get used to along with the urge to cringe at not having a local drive through car wash, and residing to the fact she’d have to settle for the bucket and sponge method of cleaning. It wasn’t going to be the easiest, nor the smoothest transition, but she was up for the challenge.

The driveway was long, but not enough to prepare her for what waited at the other end. She’d been expecting Alex to greet her, and possibly Tom. After all she had offered him the use of the granny flat until he was properly sorted. It was the least she could do considering he’d accommodated all her requests. The welcoming party of six was a little overwhelming. Tom’s family she guessed. Maybe the welcome not so much as a farewell they’d yet to come to terms with.

Alex mentioned a number of times the sale being due to financial hardship, and the reason she’d bought it so cheap.

Charlie steered the truck to the edge of the gravel driveway and stopped far enough away to analyse the situation without appearing judgmental. Her father had drummed in the need to be prepared for every situation. Meeting the family so soon was not something she was prepared for.

The dark tint of her windows allowed her to steal a quick glance. Her assessment coming to an abrupt halt when her gaze settled on one of the men, who seemed to be looking anywhere but in her direction. “Mmmm, not bad,” she muttered. Taking a deep breath as she opened the door. Stiff from being in one position for too long, she stretched out her legs and climbed slid the distance to meet the ground, forcing a smile for the sake of first impressions.

“Charlie.” The suited guy, obviously Alex, extended his hand and grinned in welcome.

“Hi, Alex, nice to finally put a face to the name.” Taking his hand with a firm grip she turned her attention to the others. “I didn’t expect a welcoming party.”

“And d’ya think we expected Charlie to be a chick?” The taller of the men was the first to speak. Even his comment didn’t crack the stubborn frown each of them wore, as though something was very wrong about her being there, and being female.

Charlie shrugged, it wasn’t the first time she’d experienced such gender confusion, once again thankful for her obvious feminine attributes.

The awkward moment stretched too long, Charlie shrugged again. “Sorry if you’re disappointed.”

“We were long past disappointed before you stepped out of that fancy truck.”

Sexy and feisty. Charlie couldn’t help but smile, as his eyes ran the length of her body before meeting her gaze. She’d witnessed many men analyse her pint size, wrongly assuming they had the upper hand and she’d be easily managed and manoeuvered. But, then again, they didn’t know her father, or the lifetime she’d spent as his protégé. She suspected he’d strategically named her to give her the advantage of unpredictability.

When he didn’t back down, holding her stare too long, Charlie raised one eyebrow then turned to the elderly man. Closing the distance, she extended a hand. “You must be Mr. Kelly. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Tom, please. Pleasure’s mine Charlie, and welcome to your new home.”

“Thank you, Tom.”

Circumstances forcing him to sell his farm had her genuinely feeling sorry for him. It’d probably been a part of him for longer than she’d been alive. Judging from the grim expressions, they were all mourning the loss of what had her so excited. Although, the bargain price she had celebrated was no longer viewed in the same light.

Business was business, she tried to convince herself, but somewhere between city Subiaco and country Willow Brooke her joy downgraded to guilt. Her new truck, far too fancy to call a farm hack, added another layer.

Tom introduced her to his family who, having recovered from the initial shock of Charlie not being male, politely welcomed her to town.

Daniel, Tom’s older grandson, shook her hand. “Aahh, sorry about the chick comment.” His face coloured with a flush she’d not witnessed on a grown man before. “Catch ya later, the farms not going to run itself,” he muttered. With his hands jammed in his jean pockets and shoulders slumped, he walked toward a four-wheel drive without saying a proper goodbye.

“Come on Jake, we’ll give Charlie a hand with those boxes.” Mick, Tom’s son-in-law, told rather than asked his remaining son.

“That’s okay, it won’t take me too long. But thanks.”
“A waif like you shouldn’t be lifting boxes.” Mick winked, before proceeding to untie skillfully tied ropes.

Her father, Adam, may have seemed the indoors type but survival 101 extended as far as living off the land and learning to defend herself. With a gunshot accuracy of a constant ninety eight percent, Charlie appreciated the diverse training Adam demanded.

“I’m stronger than I look, but if you insist.” Charlie gesture toward the boxes, inviting them to unload if they so desired. “Thank you, I’ll make you coffee when you’ve finished, if you have time.”

Jake brushed passed her, but didn’t respond.

“That’d be lovely, thank you,” Carol said. Mick tipped his head, carrying a large box.

“If the boys are in a hurry to head back to work, Dad can give me a lift home.” Carol looked over to Tom, who smiled.

“Of course, why don’t you give Charlie a quick tour?”

“I’ll leave you with Tom and Carol, if you don’t mind, after all who knows the property better.” Alex passed Charlie a large wad of keys and held out the other hand for another handshake.

“Great, thanks Alex. I’ll see you around town, no doubt.”
“That you will, and when you see the size of the place you’ll understand why I’m certain of that.” He grinned, called out his goodbyes, and left.

Charlie, eager to have a look around the house she’d purchased, but was yet to see, followed Carol inside.

She couldn’t begin to image how difficult it must have been for Carol, having to say goodbye to the home she’d grown up in. The life long memories gathered, particularly those shared with her mother, Maggie, were coming to a close. Alex mentioned Maggie had died a few years ago.

The house was large. The décor a little dated, but tolerable. With a fresh coat of paint and the new furniture she’d purchased it would suit her until she decided whether it was worth renovating, or if rebuilding was necessary.

The plain white bathroom tiles and cream sandstone bench tops were a pleasant surprise. Maggie had obviously been a woman with taste. The neutral tones and cleanliness of the home was certainly not what she’d expected, and again the burden of guilt gripped, reminding her to suppress judgment.

Despite the size of the house, the tour didn’t take long.

“I’m sure you’ll want to have a proper look after we leave you to settle in.” Carol turned her head to look at Charlie who was following her to the kitchen.

Charlie spotted a large hamper on the kitchen bench, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a big red bow. “Oh, wow, is this for me?” She walked over to have a closer look at what was packed inside the wicker basket.

“Alex, he likes to introduce newbies to the local produce from their first day in town.” Carol laughed, and picked up the local newspaper he’d left folded neatly next to his welcome gift. “He’s a nice man, I went to school with him from the first day I started.” Putting the newspaper down, she peered into the basket. “Some of us don’t know when to leave, I guess.”

There was a hint of sadness in her tone. Charlie glanced at her, and noticed her expression brighten as soon as the door opened a moment later.

“Perfect timing.” Mick grinned, as he set her coffee machine down on the sandstone bench top, which Charlie was delighted to see remained a feature throughout the house. As did the white tiles and vinyl wrapped cupboard doors.

“Thanks, you’re right, it would’ve taken me much longer. Can I tempt you all to stay for coffee and cake?”

“That’d be great thanks, love. I put the bags from your front seat over there, closest to the kitchen.” Mick gestured with a nod of his head.

Charlie smiled, having known coffee would be the first thing she needed upon arrival, so came prepared. “I’m afraid we’ll have to make do with take-out cups, I have no idea what time the removalists will turn up.” Charlie pulled coffee pods, sugar and teaspoons from one bag, milk and a large plastic container from the other.

“Can I help with anything?” Carol walked toward the kitchen ready to assist as Charlie imagined was normal for a mother in such an environment.

“Thanks. There should be some plastic plates and serviettes in one of those bags. I baked a chocolate cake and oatmeal cookies last night, if you’d like to pass them around.”

Charlie set about making them each a cappuccino. “I hope I’m not keeping you from more important things.”

“Not at all, we’re due for a break anyway.” Mick watched her as she dropped the first pod in place, closed the draw, and switched the coffee maker to brew.

Jake rolled his eyes. “Be honest, Dad, you just want to see how well that tiny machine spits out coffee.”

Charlie grinned. The truth was out. She enjoyed the good-natured banter between them. Carol laughed and shook her head as she passed out morning tea.

“Sorry, I don’t have anything more substantial to eat.” Charlie handed the first cup of coffee to Carol who carried it to Tom.
“They’ll eat again when they get back to the farm if they’re hungry. We didn’t expect to impose on you so soon,” Carol said.

“No imposition, I’m happy to have company. I imagine it gets pretty quiet around here.”

Carol raised her eyebrows. “Too far for the boyfriend?” 
“No boyfriend.”

Charlie shook her head. “Just me.”
“Oh well, Dad will be here, but don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.”

“This is wonderful coffee, Charlie, good as any café,” Mike interrupted.

“Thanks. Pity I can’t offer you a chair to go with it.” Charlie shrugged, but hoped the delivery guys arrived soon, or else she’d be sleeping on the carpet of her bedroom floor.

“Nonsense, plenty of seating right here,” Tom said, settling on the floor with legs stretched out in front, crossed at the ankles and back propped against the wall. Everyone, except Jake, followed his lead.

Not wanting to stare, Charlie stole glances at Jake when she thought no one was watching, his gaze not wandering from the view of the land. The small crease of a frown, she glimpsed from where she sat, indicated he had a lot on his mind, her guess being the reality of the sale.

“So Charlie, do you know much about farming?” Mick, was the first to break the silence, and even managed to capture Jake’s attention who turned, awaiting her reply.

Having just taken a mouthful of cake, Charlie took her time chewing. She suspected they wouldn’t like, nor understand, her mentality of buying such a prime farming property when she had no intention of running it as they did. Swallowing whilst trying to think of an appropriate response, Charlie cleared her throat. “Actually, all I know of farming is that it’s back breaking work. Other than that, clueless.”

A slight frown, much like Jake’s, appeared on Mick’s face. “I’d be happy to teach you, that is if you’re not planning to hire someone to take care of the work for you.”

As generous an offer as Mick’s was, Charlie had no intention of ever taking on farm work. Open to most things, farming was definitely not one of them.

“I’ve considered a few possibilities, and the one I keep going back to is Tom.” Charlie turned her attention to him. “I didn’t buy this place with a burning desire to be a farmer, so you’re welcome to carry on and do as you’ve always done, as though I’m not even here.” Maybe it was premature offering such freedom to a complete stranger, but she already trusted him more than anyone she’d done business dealings with in the past.

“What’s in it for you? How much are you planning to charge him?” Jake snarled, accusation tainting his tone.

“Jake, enough.” Carol glared—a look only a parent could muster. It spoke volumes, and Jake remained silent.

“Nothing. I don’t want anything, certainly not money. I bought this property because I needed a lifestyle change, and I have plans for a small business involving the wooden barn I saw in one of the images on the Internet.” It took an enormous amount of control to refrain from snarling and glaring back at Jake, but she managed. “I’m in no hurry for an answer, Tom, have a think about it. If you want to continue farming, whatever it is you farm—”

“Cattle.” Jake threw in, still no friendlier.

Carol sent him another look.

“Sorry.” Charlie glanced at Jake, she didn’t want him off side before she’d even moved in. “To continue farming your cattle, the property is yours to treat as you always have.”

Tom looked uncomfortable. “I, um, I don’t know what to say.” He stumbled over his words, staring into his cup as he spoke.

“No need to say anything, you think about it and we’ll talk another time.”

“I know what to say.” Jake interrupted again. “There has to be a catch. What makes you think we trust you when you come in here and take our families land.”

“Umm…technically I bought it, and my offer was to your grandfather. I’m pretty sure he’s managed all his life without you making the decisions for him.”

“She has a point. It’s a fine proposition and Tom is capable of handling it from here, but Dan, he’ll be needing us back on the farm.” Mick stood, he was surprisingly agile for a man of his age, walked over to Jake and took their empty plates and cups to the kitchen. “You might not know much about farming, Charlie, but you make a fine cuppa and morning tea, appreciate it.”

“Anytime.”

“I’ll be along later,” Carol announced when Mick stopped at the door and turned to look at her.
He nodded once. “Nice to meet you, Charlie, later Tom.”

“See ya,” Jake muttered and followed his father, letting the door swing shut behind them.

Carol watched as they left. “So, Charlie, what do you say we show you around the farm?”

Available now on Amazon.

Renee x

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