The heroine, Cassie Bowtell, runs a wildlife sanctuary and spends all her time, energy and money on the animals she cares for. The hero, Hart Huntingdon, is a handsome, charming and wealthy property developer, so the two lead very different lifestyles. Hart lives the good life, with his architect-designed homes, his expensive cars and his wardrobe of hand-made Italian suits. Cassie is a sweet, girl – plain and flat-chested with knobbly knees and frizzy hair. She’s no one’s idea of a romantic heroine, and she’s broke. Her old weatherboard cottage is falling down around her, her rusty ute is in desperate need of a service, and her clothes are all op-shop chic.
“Cassie had finished feeding the roos in the paddock and Sage still hadn’t turned up. She needed to find him. He’d cut his leg badly on a barbed wire fence a few days before and needed the dressing changed. The blind old wombat usually appeared when she set out the feed. He’d come ambling across the paddock, snuffling for something to eat. But there was no sign of him this morning. Sometimes he’d wander on to one of the adjoining properties, and wouldn’t reappear until twilight, but she had to track him down before then.She headed first towards Huntingdon’s land. It was Sage’s favourite foraging ground, but not for much longer. A few minutes later Cassie was searching down among the trees beside the creek when she heard a cry. A human cry. She turned sharply. It was coming from the other side of the property, near the old diggings. She heard it again, and this time she could make out someone calling ‘Help! Help!’ She began to run towards the sound.‘Hey! Over here!’She could hear the shouts, but there was no one around. She turned a full circle. Not even a tree for anyone to hide behind. Then it struck her; she lowered her eyes and there, fifty metres in front of her, was a hand waving out of a hole in the ground. Someone had fallen into one of the abandoned mine shafts. She ran over to the hole, looked down and saw Hart Huntingdon. ‘You!’ she exclaimed.‘Yes. Me. I fell in,’ he said testily.‘You don’t say! And I thought maybe you were down there looking at the possibilities of putting in a few hundred underground apartments.’‘Very funny.’‘Yeah, well, I think it’s funny that anyone would want to spoil this place, but that’s just me.’ She squatted down and inspected the hole. ‘Can’t you climb up yourself? You seem able-bodied enough to me.’ Whoops! Too much information. Didn’t want him thinking she’d been looking at his body.‘Yeah, but I’ve broken my damned wrist, I think, and I’ve twisted my ankle. I can’t haul myself up on one hand. Well, maybe I could drag myself up somehow, but not without doing more damage to this wrist. I’m going to need some help.’‘From me?’‘From anybody, but as you’re the only one here, then yes. I’m sorry to be a pain, but I came out here on my own and no one even knows I’m here.’Cassie raised a speculative eyebrow. ‘Really? So, let me see; you’re stuck down a hole right in the middle of your hundred acres, out of sight, out of earshot of anyone. No one knows you’re here. You’re injured, you’re helpless and you’re the man who’s going to totally destroy this environment and my way of life. Mmm . . . what should I do? Rush to your aid and let you live to wreck my life, or shovel a ton of dirt in on top of you?’‘Hilarious!’ he retorted. ‘You’re in a playful mood today, I see. But I’d rather you cut the comedy and got me out of here.’‘I’m just wondering how you could be so silly. Everyone knows this whole paddock’s riddled with disused mine shafts. They dug a lot of open mines around here. Hence the name Diggers Creek.’‘Thanks for the history lesson, and so timely when I’ve been standing here yelling for the best part of an hour, dehydrated and roasting in this heat.’‘Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you acquire land you know nothing about. Have you thought that some of your hundred future “boutique” homes might just disappear into a big hole one day?’‘All of this will be properly filled in before we even start putting in the roads and services.’‘Oh great – years of disruption and noise from construction machinery, and that’s before the hordes move in. I can hardly wait.’‘Look, can we debate this another day?’ He was beginning to sound thoroughly exasperated. ‘I’d really like to get out of here. Why are you here, anyway?’‘I’m looking for a sick wombat. He’s gone walkabout. I’d say he’s wandered in here. But if you’re worried that I’m trespassing, I’ll just shoot off.’ She stood up and made as if to go.‘No!’ he cried. ‘Please, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. I meant that it’s lucky for me you happened by here.’‘Indeed. Or we mightn’t have found your desiccated body for weeks.’He gave a wry smile. A gorgeous smile.‘Okay, if you’ve had enough of a laugh at my expense, could you please help me out?’But she’d turned and walked away. He could hear her boots crunching on scree and twigs. ‘Cassie!’ he called out. ‘Miss Bowtell! Are you going to get help or what?’There was no response. Hart sighed and hunkered down in the hole. She wouldn’t leave him. She’d be back. Wouldn’t she?As Cassie hurried back to her place she realised she was still wearing her hideous mucking-out gear. The thought slipped into her mind that she really didn’t want Hart to see her like this. She immediately banished that thought and decided she’d better banish all the other wayward thoughts she’d been having about this man. Better not to start imagining things, or getting her ridiculous hopes up. Because that’s all she’d be doing. A man like Hart Huntingdon would never think of someone like her in that way. Sure, he was polite and he had been great about Mimi. But realistically, he would never even have noticed her if she hadn’t been part of the residents’ campaign. To him she was just one insignificant part of a damned nuisance.But then she thought back to that day at the market, when he saved William the rooster, and was so sweet, and, yes, attentive. For a fleeting moment she’d thought he liked her. She’d probably been wrong. She was probably projecting her own thoughts on to him. Cassie sighed as she threw her leg over the fence. Focus on the job in hand and get him out of that mine shaft, Cass. Don’t give him any inkling of the fact that even covered in dust and stuck down a hole, he’s still the most attractive man you’ve ever met.She went straight to the tool shed and began searching for a rope. It would be okay if she was actually doing something. Must focus on activity! Now, where was that bloody rope? It took her a while, but about twenty minutes later he heard a vehicle approaching, and the next thing Cassie was kneeling above the pit looking down at him, that brown kelpie right next to her.‘Tie this round your waist, or somewhere,’ she yelled throwing down one end of the rope.Hart grabbed it and dubiously inspected the dirty rope with its fraying strands.‘Do you think this will hold?’ he called up.‘It’s hard to say. It might snap and you might fall and break your neck, or back. We’ll just have to take that risk,’ she added cheerily.‘Thanks. Very reassuring.’ He fumbled to tie a knot with one hand, manoeuvring his elbow to work in place of his left hand.Cassie watched him struggle. ‘I’m trying to think of you as an injured animal,’ she told him. ‘I’ll give you the same attention I would a wounded wombat or kangaroo.’‘Oh, terrific! Great to know that. The good news is that I won’t bite, scratch or kick – even if I am tempted. Okay, I think this should do. Now could you please hurry up before I get fried in this heat.’She waved a hand at Banjo and the dog ran off and returned right away with a plastic water bottle in its mouth. Cassie passed it down to Hart and he drank gratefully.‘Clever dog.’‘Very. He’s never fallen down a mine shaft,’ she remarked as she walked away.She took her time tying the other end of the rope to the tow bar of her ute, making sure it would hold. Then she went back and called down to Hart. ‘Okay, I’m going to move the ute forward slowly. Hold on tight with that good hand and brace yourself with your feet against the wall of the shaft.’‘I know how it’s done,’ he said, irritated. ‘I’ve seen loads of cowboy movies.’She only smiled, climbed into the ute and started the engine. Very gradually she inched forward, watching in her side mirror as the rope went taut. Banjo was running busily between the ute and the shaft, barking encouragement. Then Hart’s head emerged above the hole, his face strained, red and sweating. Next his shoulders emerged; he pitched himself forward and used his elbows to get a purchase on the surface. Cassie inched forward one final time, pulled him clear of the shaft and Banjo let out a yelp of triumph.”
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