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If you’ve read my last few posts, you’ll know that His Brand Of Beautiful began with a meeting of Tate Newell and Christina Clay on May 24; then a wedding on Saturday June 1. Yesterday, my H&H flew north to Binara, Tate’s family’s cattle station and today, Christina wakes to find herself deep in the South Australian outback with the prospect of a horse-riding station adventure in the days to come.
‘Binara’ is a fictional cattle station located east of the Oodnadatta Track, south of the Northern Territory border and west of very beginnings of the Simpson Desert. I modelled it loosely on Todmarden Cattle Station in South Australia’s vast arid north.
Hubby and I travelled through this area in 1999, during our Around Oz trip. We camped for a week down the length of the Oodnadatta Track, making a few forays inland off the track, along the way. I remember the wedge-tailed eagles; the different browns and golds of the landscape back then, all with the backdrop of red rock and sand. It must be so different now. Flooding rains through central Australia have filled Lake Eyre in recent seasons, sparking a whole inland sea ecosystem up there and an ocean of green.
For my ‘Reading in Real Time’ post today, here’s an excerpt from the start of their horse-riding sojourn.
“You’ll hold him steady, won’t you, Tate?” Christina had one boot wedged in the near stirrup. The other hopped on the mounting block at the side of a honey-coloured horse.
“He’s a ‘her’, a mare,” Tate said. She could hear the smile in his voice.
“You’ll be okay, Christina,” Shasta called from the verandah where he and Bree had stopped to see them off. “Sunshine is about as scary as a rocking-chair and even more comfy.”
“I’ll remember you said that.” Grabbing a handful of white mane in her left hand, Christina got ready to impersonate a flying sack of potatoes.
Then adrenalin alone almost propelled her into the saddle.
Tate’s palm cushioned the plumpest part of her left thigh. She felt each finger outlined through the thin skin of the borrowed jodhpurs, five rods of warmth, the longest two trespassed onto the swell of her bottom.
“On three okay?” Tate said. “One. Two.” She felt his muscles bunch. “Three.”
Please God, don’t let the pants split.
The earth moved. There was a chestnut gelding tied on a lead rope to the back of Sunshine’s saddle and Christina narrowly avoided collecting its nose with her boot. She landed across the mare’s back, straightened then tugged at the teal-coloured shirt that had got caught beneath her.
Her left boot slipped from the stirrup.
“This side has to go up too, mate,” Shasta called.
Tate tightened the stirrup leather on the near side, the broad brim of his hat floating near her hip. He cupped his hand around her calf and helped slot her boot into the stirrup to check its length. She hoped Shasta and Bree and anyone else watching would mark the pink stain in her cheeks to excitement over the ride ahead and nothing to do with the way Tate’s fingers made her pulse fly.
Sunshine shifted weight. Tate walked around the mare and Christina felt his fingers close around her right calf. He moved her leg out of his way, hauled the leathers higher then slid her foot back into the stirrup.
“How’s that feel?”
“Here.” He passed up a helmet. Their fingers touched. “Do you need help with it?”
The thought of his knuckles brushing her throat made her squeeze the saddle between her thighs. Sunshine’s ears twitched.
Christina cleared her throat. “Thanks. I’ll manage.” She clicked the catch into place and picked up the reins.
“Heels down, Christina,” Bree encouraged from the second step. “Hands down, too. And keep your hands together. Good. That’s better.”
“Hey. No coaching,” Shasta said.