her chest and welling tears. ‘Just packaged a bit differently.’

Shannon washed her hands. ‘Well, I’m a beached whale.’

‘You’re not. You’ve got that alluring pregnancy glow.’

Shannon snorted. ‘That’s sweat. It’s so bloody hot in here. God, look at your waist. I had one of those once.’

‘And you will again. Besides, I saw Chris tonight. He can’t take his eyes off you.’

‘He’s a boob man and, I gotta say, pregnancy makes the girls shine. I might feel huge and unsexy, but Chris sees my boobs, thinks I’m a sex goddess and he’s hard and ready to go. Men are so deliciously uncomplicated, aren’t they?’

‘They really are.’ Tara forced a smile, trying to banish the image of Jon’s back facing her in bed each night, irrespective of her wearing serviceable cotton, sexy silk or nothing at all.

When she arrived back at the table, Jon was deep in conversation with Vivian Leppart. The deputy mayor was always beautifully dressed and accessorised no matter the occasion, including shopping at the hardware store. Tara had tagged her the best-dressed renovator in Boolanga. Always in high heels, Vivian was a sight to behold in plumbing supplies or dodging obstacles in the timber yard—nothing fazed her. Tara assumed this was how she’d established herself as a sought-after business analyst and troubleshooter in what was too often a man’s world.

Tara admired the way Vivian gave back to the community through her volunteering and the long hours she spent on shire work. Not all the women in town shared her admiration though, and often used Vivian’s style and fashion choices as an excuse to voice their negative opinions. Tara put it down to tall poppy syndrome.

As Tara rested her hands on Jon’s shoulders, Vivian gave her the appraising head-to-toe glance that was the specialisation of all competitive women.

‘Wow! That’s some dress,’ she said.

‘Thank you.’

‘You’re a lucky man, Jonathon Hooper.’

Jon nodded. ‘I’d be luckier if the shire installed decent lighting in the car park behind the store.’

Vivian’s face filled with sympathy. ‘I tried. Unfortunately, the majority of councillors thought the money would be better spent on other projects. The consensus was Boolanga’s not Melbourne.’

‘Yeah, well, it’s getting more like Melbourne every day,’ Jon said. ‘We’ve become a handy dumping ground for the refugees and drop kicks they don’t want.’

‘It’s certainly creating some challenges for us all.’

‘Challenges? Have you seen the graffiti in the car park and across the rubbish skips? My father ran the business for thirty years and never had a single break-in. I’ve copped three in the last year. It’s those bloody African kids—’

‘I think they’re from Somalia … or Sudan?’ Tara said. ‘Somewhere starting with S.’

‘Oh, there’s quite a few of those,’ Vivian said brightly. ‘Sierra Leone, Senegal—’

‘This isn’t a bloody trivia competition!’ Jon’s shoulders stiffened. ‘The point is, those kids are running wild in the dark and I’m spending money cleaning up their mess. The shire—’

‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ The MC’s voice boomed around the room. ‘Please take your seats. I know you’re all eagerly anticipating the announcement of which business has taken out this year’s big award.’

‘Tara, I’ve got the specs from the tiler. I’ll drop in and order them next week,’ Vivian said before returning to her table.

Both Tara and Jon took a big gulp of their drinks. In the late nineties, Jon’s father had won this award many times, but when Ian had handed the business over to Jon it wasn’t the shining star it had once been. There was more than one contributing factor, but a significant one was Ian’s drinking. The fact Hoopers Hardware, Timber and Steel was a nominee again was testament to Jon’s hard work.

Tara slipped her hand into his and squeezed. ‘Nervous?’

‘Little bit.’

‘You deserve this.’

‘The team deserves it. They work bloody hard, which is why I’m so angry about the light—’

‘As you know, the winners of each category compete against each other,’ the MC said. ‘So just in case you’ve had too much to drink, I’ll remind you of the nominees: Skyros Café; Hair With Flair; the Bendigo Bank; Hoopers Hardware, Timber and Steel; Boolanga Country Butchery; Toscani Builders; and Bandicoot Brewery. I’m sure you’ll agree all of them are worthy winners, but someone has to take out the gong. So, for best customer service, employee satisfaction, leadership, community responsibility and sustainability, the outstanding business of the year is …’ He fumbled with the envelope and withdrew the card. ‘Hoopers Hardware, Timber and Steel.’

Tara squealed and threw her arms around Jon’s neck. His arm crushed her to him and he laid a kiss on her lips reminiscent of their dating days. Her heart soared.

All too quickly, Jon was pulling away from her, shaking people’s hands and making his way to the podium.

‘Yes!’ He held the trophy aloft, his face lit with joy. ‘Not that I was competing with the old man or anything.’

Laughter ran around the room.

Jon cleared his throat the way he always did when he was about to say something serious. ‘Jokes aside, this is a special win. I’m not telling anyone here anything when I say it’s tough staying in business today. The drought, the water allocation issues, farmers and businesses facing bankruptcy, not to mention the ref—recent social changes in town. It all takes its toll. My team have done an amazing job and this win’s as much theirs as it is mine. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved through hard work and sheer bloody-mindedness.’

Tara kept her gaze fixed on her husband standing tall and handsome in his dark suit. It was like looking at a new man. No, that wasn’t strictly true. She knew this version of Jon—it was the passionate man who’d kept asking her out until she’d finally agreed to one drink, then one date, one weekend away, and then, on the eve of her return to Melbourne after three months in the district, she’d found herself saying yes to a marriage proposal.

Back then she’d been a city girl between cruise ship contracts, working in a summer job as the activities coordinator at

Вы читаете A Home Like Ours
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату