Authors: Jackie Ashenden
Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty — Frankie
Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty — Frankie
Welcome to the heart—and heat—of Australia…
They say that no one has secrets in a small town—these women prove them wrong.
Eight brand-new stories from some of Australia’s hottest writers in Australia’s hottest genre. From the bar stools of the local pub to the wide open plains of the biggest stations in the world, these tales travel the dusty roads to the heart of Australia and the women who understand how to work hard—and play even harder.
In the latest in the wildly successful Secret Confessions series from Escape Publishing, the women of Down & Dusty invite you into their lives—and their bedrooms.
Frankie has lost a lot to her stepbrother, Mac: her father’s affection, the family cattle station, her teenage daydreams. But Mac has never shown any interest in taking what Frankie wants to give: her heart, her soul, and her body. So Frankie has no choice. She can’t continue to live with Mac, loving him as she does, knowing he doesn’t want her in return. She has finally saved enough money to buy Mac out of the station and out of her life for good. But Mac has an offer of his own: one night together, and he’ll walk away. One night for full ownership of the cattle station. For Frankie, it’s an offer too tantalising to resist, an offer too dangerous to consider—an offer she can’t refuse.
Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty
1. Casey—Rachael Johns
2. Lucky—Cate Ellink
3. Kelly—Fiona Lowe
4. Brooke—Eden Summers
5. Clarissa—Mel Teshco
6. Skye—Rhyll Biest
7. Maree—Elizabeth Dunk
8. Frankie—Jackie Ashenden
Jackie has been writing fiction since she was eleven years old. She particularly likes to write dark, emotional stories with alpha heroes who’ve just got the world to their liking only to have it blown wide apart by their kick-ass heroines.
She lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband, the inimitable Dr Jax and their kids. When she’s not torturing alpha males and being mean to their heroines, she can be found drinking chocolate martinis, reading anything she can lay her hands on, posting random crap on Twitter, or being forced to go mountain biking with her husband.
To keep up to date with Jackie’s new releases and other news, you can sign up to her newsletter at
Thanks go to Kate Cuthbert for reading
and for asking me to part of such a great series. And to my agent, Helen Breitwieser, for getting me a Harlequin contract at last.
To the fabulous Rachael, for being such a cool chick to hang out with on this writing journey.
Frankie scrubbed her palms down the worn denim on her thighs, trying to get her thumping heart under control. She was standing just before the front step of Mac’s cottage, the great open bowl of the Queensland night sky above her head, and she felt kind of sick.
She probably shouldn’t have had those beers Lucky had pulled for her at the Milpinyani Springs hotel, but she needed something in the way of Dutch courage tonight. This was probably going to be the worst move in the history of creation, but shit, she had to do something.
Nearly a year had passed since her father’s death and her stupid stepbrother, bloody Mackenzie Hamilton, was still here. And what was worse was that he still owned half of Red Creek, the cattle station Frankie loved.
Before he’d succumbed to the cancer that had killed him, her father had promised her that the station would be hers. She’d grown up in the red dirt of this place, had the bloody stuff running in her veins. She loved this land, loved the life of a cattle farmer, and had great plans for extending the place. But what she did not love was having to share it with Mac just because he was the son her father had always wanted. And she did not love that she was in love with him, and had been for years, while he barely even knew she was alive.
Well, tonight things were going to change. She’d finally got enough money together, and she was going to make him an offer.
Tonight, she was going to buy him out come hell or high water.
The nerves in her stomach clenched tight.
It had seemed a good idea when she was talking to Lucky, but now? Not so much. But then that was a great reminder of why Mac had to go. He had the ability to tie her up in knots so tight she’d never get free. He always had.
She couldn’t manage the station with him around. She couldn’t do anything with him around. Having him here in close quarters was making her miserable, and he had to leave or else she was going to go out of her bloody mind.
She swallowed, gave her palms another scrub, then walked slowly up the wooden stairs to the cottage’s little porch.
A light glowed behind the glass in the front door. Great, so he was probably home at least. She lifted her hand to the brass door knocker.
Okay, so once she knocked, there was no going back. No wimping out. She’d have to start strong and go hard-out. None of the stammering or stuttering or blushing, or any of that kind of carry-on that always happened in his general vicinity. Basically, acting like a normal bloody adult was needed.
She could do that, couldn’t she? Jesus, she was twenty-six, not a silly little teenage girl.
Frankie slammed the knocker against the wood, the sound reverberating. Then she did it again for good measure.
There was no response for a moment, and a small part of her was secretly quite relieved, wanting to turn tail and go back to the main farmhouse. Forget all about this nonsense.
Yet another reminder that
response was the whole reason she was here in the first place.
God, she had to pull herself together.
A shape loomed behind the glass, tall and broad and male.
And her heart sped up the way it always did whenever he was around. The way it had done ever since her father had married his mother, back when she was sixteen. Back when her stepmother’s son had abruptly come back from the city to live in the rundown cottage near the main house, fixing up the place and helping her father around the property, slowly taking the place of the son her father had always wanted. The son
was desperately trying to be.
The door handle turned; the door swung open. And there he was, standing in the doorway, looking down at her, all six foot four inches of lean, hard muscle and tanned skin. Close cropped black hair. Clear amber eyes.
Beautiful was a term she didn’t normally use for guys, but there was only one word that could encompass the gloriousness that was Mac Hamilton and beautiful was it.
Yep, there was nothing about him she didn’t like. Apart from the being in love with him part. That sucked.
‘Francesca,’ he said, calling her by her hated given name and not by the nickname she preferred. But then that was Mac. He was always doing stuff to irritate her. ‘What’s up?’
The usual awkwardness flooded through her. She had no problems dealing with most of the guys who worked on the station, but Mac? Not so much. Whenever she was in his presence, she felt like she was still sixteen and in the throes of the biggest crush Queensland—shit, the whole of Australia—had ever seen. Embarrassing. And wrong. He was her stepbrother for Christ’s sake. Okay, so her father hadn’t actually stayed married to his mother for very long—a couple of years and the woman had ditched Milpinyani to go back to the Big Smoke. And there was the fact that Mac was much older than she was, and had always seemed less than interested in one awkward, sixteen-year-old tomboy.
It was still wrong and reason number fifty million why she had to get Mac out and make sure he never came back.
Frankie tipped her chin up. ‘Gidday, Mac. How’s it going?’
‘It’s going good.’ His long mouth quirked. She tried not to watch the curl of it. ‘You came over just to ask me that?’
Surreptitiously, she wiped her hands on her jeans. ‘Uh. No. Actually …’ She cleared her throat. Might as well just come out and say it. ‘I need to talk to you about the property.’
He didn’t say anything for a moment, just leaned his shoulder against the doorframe. He’d folded his arms across his impressive chest and she tried not to notice the way his black t-shirt stretched around his powerful biceps, the dark edge of his tattoo licking out from underneath it. It was a black panther among a stand of bamboo, lean and strong, prowling up his arm.
A bit like him really. Sleek and darkly powerful and …
really, really sexy
Shit. No to the sexy.
‘The property, huh?’ With a lazy movement, he pushed himself away from the doorframe. ‘I guess you’d better come in then.’
happy. The very last person he wanted turning up on his doorstep tonight was Francesca bloody Woodford, the bane of his fucking existence, with the glossy river of dark brown hair she always kept firmly in a bouncy ponytail, and the sprinkling of freckles across her pretty cheeks. And those big, beautiful, dark blue eyes, the ones that kept him up at night thinking about them.
And when he wasn’t thinking about her eyes, he was thinking about her small, high tits, perfectly packaged in the tight little t-shirts she wore. Or her long legs encased in dusty denim. Or the slender curve of her hips, the ones he kept imagining his hands running over …
Yeah, Francesca Woodford was getting to be a real problem.
So why he was inviting her in, when really he should be telling her to get out, was anyone’s guess. But he liked it when she came to the cottage to see him and he couldn’t bring himself to tell her to get lost.
Frankie—he called her Francesca purely to mess with her—bent to take off her heavy boots and then moved past him into the cottage’s hallway, trailing behind her the scent of the land he loved so much, dust and dry sun-baked earth, mixed with a soft, flowery feminine scent at odds with her tomboy appearance. Not that he’d ever thought of her as a tomboy. She’d always be a woman to him.
Well, maybe not always. But the day he’d seen her riding back to the house after an afternoon checking fences had cemented her as a woman forever in his brain. It had been raining and she was soaked through, her t-shirt sticking to her, outlining those beautiful tits, her hair a river down her back.
Christ, she’d been beautiful. He’d felt like he’d been hit over the head by a piece of four by two and even now, four years later, his head was still ringing from the blow.
Trying not to notice the sway of her hips, he followed her down the hallway to the little lounge area at the back of the house.
The room wasn’t much, just a couch her dad had given him, a coffee table salvaged from the pub, and a bookshelf he’d knocked up himself from some bits of wood he’d found in the barn. But it was his. And a shitload better than the crappy place he had been living in with his dad in the city.
Coming out here to be with his mother in Milpinyani had been the best thing that had ever happened to him. Here he had a job, a purpose, and it was the reason why he was still here even though his mum was long since out of the picture.
Frankie went over to the couch and sat down, her palms wiping down her jeans again, something she always did when she was nervous. Which was strange, as she’d never been nervous talking to him about the property before.
‘Beer?’ he offered.
‘Uh … yeah. That’d be good.’ She wiped her hands yet again, nibbling on her bottom lip with small white teeth, another nervous tic. A sexy one.
Fuck, he needed to stop thinking about her and sexiness.
Turning, he went into the tiny kitchen and tugged open the fridge, grabbing out a couple of beers and pulling the caps off.