COLLEGE student Cindy is nursing a broken heart for the first time. Rather than propose as expected, her boyfriend of two years has just prioritised Harvard law school ahead of their relationship, leaving Cindy mortified and alone, the only unattached member of her southern California group of friends.
Her solution? Filling her days with the company of a visiting Australian grazier creates an exciting distraction – but when after only a week of mid-summer bliss Murray Parnell is due to return to his family’s property, Cindy realises she does not want to lose him. Instead, on impulse, she agrees to go with him as his bride and the pair marry in a hastily arranged Las Vegas ceremony.
Young, idealistic and swept up by the romanticism of an imagined life abroad, Cindy is barely out of her teens when she arrives at Kingsley Downs, an apparently prosperous sheep station on the plain that stretches between Deniliquin and Hay. The landscape is dry, but any similarity to Palm Springs ends there; the Parnells’ sun-bleached, bare, dusty paddocks could hardly be more different from the celebrity-studded, mountain-ringed desert hideaway in which Cindy has been living with her aunts and cousin.
In the Riverina her only real company is her father-in-law’s housekeeper, a mother-hen figure who does her best to settle Murray’s new wife into her role as a budding country matron.
Mr Parnell senior is less welcoming. Barely speaking to Cindy, he makes his disapproval of her obvious.
He is not without his reasons, however. Behind the gruff behaviour lurks a shocking mystery – one Cindy soon recognises and becomes determined to solve. Despite her best intentions, however, unforeseen consequences unfold and soon the Parnells’ future is in jeopardy.
In her 25th year as one of Australia’s leading novelists, Di Morrissey interprets the essence of rural Australia perfectly.