Published by Escape Publishing on November 15th 2016
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Travis Bailey may as well be Wongan Creek. His family has farmed canola for generations, and he sometimes feels like he holds the community together with his bare, dirt-stained hands. Between caring for the farm, his orphaned niece and his elderly, ailing neighbour, he doesn't have time for himself. He doesn’t have time to fall in love.
Social worker Heather Penney is living on borrowed time. When her mother died of Motor Neurone Disease, she took the initial blood tests and now nothing is guaranteed, let alone a future with a family and a home and a child. Wongan Creek, and its resident protector, might be getting under her skin, but she can't afford to get attached.
But even as a new mine revitalises the small town, old secrets threaten resurface, and Travis and Heather find themselves fighting to save the farms and the futures of Wongan Creek's long-time residents—and possibly their own lives.
This is a lovely read that brings the rural setting of a small Australian town vividly to life and two unlikely people together, while perfectly capturing the strong ties that the characters have to the land and the struggle that they face as it undergoes the inevitable development that comes. But as with small towns, some secrets stay murky until something catastrophic forces them to come to light.
I loved Travis Bailey and the heavy sense of responsibility that he has tried to shoulder from the start. The mystery and the slight suspense surrounding Heather Penney, his niece’s lineage and his twin’s death that Juanita Kees adds to the story gives it a shimmering layer of depth and excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time while reading a ‘rural romance’ so to speak. And even if I scoffed at Heather’s cowardly act at the end (whose grovelling felt too easy), I still found Kees’s pacing excellent, the scenes building up to the climax (which isn’t really as explosive as it is) feeling like a tightening noose that I almost dreaded. There are twists and turns in the plot which surprised me right up until the end, yet Kees wraps it all up quite nicely that is quite worthy of a Hallmark movie.