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Determined to find her estranged father, Caitlyn ventures into the rough, tough world of the South Australian opal fields. Instead of finding her father, she discovers a half-sister she knew nothing about and learns that her dad is a wanted man. Dale, a former city lawyer-turned-lapidary, is hiding out in Minagoona to protect his daughter. Caitlyn convinces Dale to work with her to clear her father’s name. No matter what, he’ll do his damnedest to keep her safe—even if it means exposing himself and his daughter to the men who want to kill them...
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When Caitlyn ventures into the rough, tough world of the South Australian opal fields on a mission to find her estranged father she instead discovers a half-sister she knew nothing about and learns that her father is missing and suspected of a crime.
Dale is a former city lawyer-turned-lapidary hiding out in Minagoona after death threats endanger him and his daughter. When Caitlyn approaches him for help finding her father, he’s reluctant, but attracted by her determination to right the wrongs dealt to her family. His sense of justice is very much like hers, but when his daughter’s life was threatened by men who wanted him to break the law for them, he fled to protect the child he loves.
Still the more Dale gets to know Caitlyn, the more he realizes he can’t let her go up against organized crime on her own—which is exactly what she proposes when she sets out to clear her father’s name. No matter what, he’ll do his damnedest to keep her safe—even if it means exposing himself and his daughter to the men who want to kill them…
"A highly satisfying read if you are looking for a more serious suspense with depth." - Incy Black, author of Hard to Hold
This was such an interesting read for me which started kind of slow, but before I knew it I was wrapped up in the story and looking forward to finding out what how it was all going to end. I think part of the slow start had to do with the fact that the setting was someplace I was totally... ...more
Caitlyn drives into the desolate opal mining region of Australia in search of the father who abandoned her twenty years ago. She wants to stop his financial problems from claiming her mother’s house. The first person Caitlyn finds in the tiny mining town is Max, a teen running a service station an... ...more
This is an atmospheric rather a fun, flirty read, and the pacing of the suspense, and the developing relationship between Caitlyn and Dale, reflects this. Set in the opal fields of Australia—original—there is a sense of distance and wariness, almost menace, which is intriguing.
A thoroughly entertaining book that will take you on a great adventure through the Australian desert. With fascinating characters and a fun suspense filled story this book is hard to put down. In search of her estranged father,Caitlyn sets off across the desert to his last known location. What sh... ...more
Showing 1 to 5 of 5
3.73 avg Goodreads.com rating
About the author
Claire Baxter writes contemporary romantic fiction of all lengths. Her short stories have been published in commercial magazines around the world, while her novels have been translated into 20 languages and have finalled in the Romance Writers of Australia Romantic Book of the Year Award, the Booksellers Best Awards, the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Awards and the Cataromance Reviewers Choice Awards. Claire grew up in England, but for more than 20 years has called Australia home. She considers herself lucky to live near one of the beautiful metropolitan beaches of Adelaide where she loves to walk and think up stories.
600 kilometres (375 miles) north of Adelaide, South Australia
Despite her mother’s dire predictions, nothing horrific had befallen Caitlyn on her drive through the South Australian outback, and she arrived at the road into the opal mining town of Minagoona unscathed. But judging by the wisps of steam escaping from the front end of the little hatchback, it had been a close call. As soon as she’d turned off the Stuart Highway, the temperature gauge had started to climb. Shoulders rigid with tension, teeth clenched, she drove through a landscape that ranged from dry lake beds and flat, featureless plains, to sand hills as red as a slab of raw steak sizzling in the afternoon sun.
Not somewhere she wanted to be stranded.
When the scenery changed from sparse salt bush to conical dust piles dotting the ground like giant anthills, she relaxed a little in the knowledge that the mullock heaps—cones of white soil where miners had been burrowing for gems—meant she’d reached the opal fields.
Caitlyn pulled off the road as soon as she spotted a service station, but peering through the car window, she didn’t like her chances of finding a mechanic. No one had come out to greet her, and the small glass-fronted building appeared to be deserted. Another vehicle was parked at the pumps, but its driver was nowhere to be seen. Seemed a strange place to leave it, but then, what did she know about life out here in the desert?
She climbed out of the car, feeling every one of the kinks in her spine after five hours of driving. She stretched her cramped muscles then headed for the door of the building and tried the handle. Locked. Through the dusty glass, she could see a small counter, a desk, a chair, filing cabinets, and piles of paper against the walls, but no sign of life.
She stepped back from the door. It wasn’t like any city station she’d ever used. Where were the soft drinks? The ice cream? The chocolate? She sighed. Right now she’d settle for a mechanic to take a look at the overheated engine. Would the car even start again? She eyed her mum’s pride and joy as she walked back toward it. And if it didn’t, what would she do next?
At the sound of angry voices, she froze. Both male and female voices. She swung around, her gaze zooming in on one of the corrugated iron sheds that stood further back on the dusty block of land. That had to be where the voices were coming from. When she heard a slap, she flinched. The high-pitched squeal of pain that followed it made her want to march in there and tell the jerk what she thought of wife-battering wimps, but she wasn’t used to breaking up fights. The most violent thing she’d ever done was beat an egg.
More shouting. She picked out two male voices, and one female. Maybe not a domestic dispute then, but the knowledge didn’t solve her dilemma. She couldn’t pretend she hadn’t heard, and she had to at least try to help the lone female or forever feel bad about it.
She jogged to the shed. One of the large sliding doors stood partially open, and flattening herself against it, she peered around the edge. At the far end of the workshop two young men held a third by the arms.
No, not a young man, but a skinny teenage girl in oil-stained overalls. The girl struggled, flinging out her legs in wide arcs. When one of her attackers twisted her arm behind her, she let out a scream followed by a string of swear words. The other guy kicked the girl’s legs out from under her and she fell to the ground.
Shit, shit, shit.
A rusty exhaust pipe, complete with muffler, lay against the wall, just inside the workshop. Caitlyn darted across, picked up the pipe and ran toward the trio. With a ferocious swing, she caught the first guy smack on the side of the head. He fell back and gaped at her. She swivelled on her toes and swung the pipe at his mate, but he sidestepped and grabbed the end of the pipe, jerking it from her hands.
She held her breath, her eyes on the pipe in his grip as he lifted it like a baseball bat.
“Kyle, no!” On her feet now, the girl aimed a wrench at his head.
The brute dodged the blow, and the wrench missed, landing on his shoulder instead. He bellowed in pain. Caitlyn caught the exhaust pipe as it fell from his hands and poked him hard in the stomach with it. When he doubled over she said, “Get out!”
He staggered from the workshop, clutching his stomach.
The girl held the wrench above her head, glowering at the guy on the ground. “Piss off, Terry.”
He half-crawled, half-slithered out of her reach, then scrambled to his feet and followed his mate.
When the roar of a revving engine faded to a murmur, Caitlyn looked at the girl, frowning at the torn overalls. “Are you okay?”
The girl’s chin wobbled and her hands shook as she flattened the torn edges of the fabric against her skin. She nodded before looking up at Caitlyn. “Thanks.”
“No worries.” Caitlyn pointed at the dent in the muffler. “I hope no one intended to use this.”
The girl grinned. “Was bloody good the way you whacked Terry with it. Don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t.”
Caitlyn grimaced. “I can hazard a guess.”
The grin vanished. “Yeah, well, so can I. Shitheads.”
“We should call the police before those two get much further away.”
The girl shook her head. “Nah, not worth it.”
Caitlyn frowned. “Are you going to let those morons off? It’s a crime, you know.”
The girl lifted her chin. “Hey, I have to live around here. Anyway, who are you? Where did you come from?”
“I’m Caitlyn. I live in Sydney, but I’ve driven up from Adelaide today.”
The girl tilted her head. “On purpose?”
“Well, it’s not like I took a wrong turn and ended up here. I would have spotted my mistake after, say, four hours on the highway.”
“But you actually meant to come here? For real?”
“Yes. And now there’s a problem with the car, so I was hoping there’d be a mechanic here.”
“There is.” “Good. Will he be back soon?”
The girl walked to the door and looked out, narrowing her eyes at the hatchback.
She looked over her shoulder. “I’m the mechanic.”
“What? Because I’m a girl?”
“No, because you don’t look old enough to be qualified.”
Shrugging, the girl said, “I’m seventeen. I’m not certified, but I know what I’m doing. The only people round here are opal miners, and they don’t care about bits of paper as long as you know what you’re doing.” She pushed the partially open door all the way back on its track. “I used to hang around in here with a real mechanic, until he took off back to Darwin.”
“Was that your dad?”
“No, he’s not a mechanic. He just owns the business.” The girl reached for the other door. “You going to bring the car in or not?”
Caitlyn weighed up her limited options, then retrieved the keys from the pocket of her jeans.
Minutes later, the girl diagnosed a hole in the radiator.
“Great.” Caitlyn sighed. “I wasn’t planning to stay around.”
The girl straightened. “What did you come here for, then?”
“I’m hoping to find my father. Last we heard he was up here.”
“When was that?”
Caitlyn held her breath, then expelled it through pursed lips. “Must be twenty years ago.”
“Jeez. What makes you think he’s still here?”
Caitlyn shrugged. “Minagoona is the last place he was known to be, so it’s the logical place to start.” She really hoped he was. She wanted a chance to convince him not to force her mother out of the only home she’d known as an adult. He’d left her mum when Caitlyn was eight years old. He’d told her he would send child support, but he never did, and the family court couldn’t find him. Her mum had made all the mortgage payments, as well as paying for Caitlyn’s upbringing. If he needed money, surely he could raise it some other way and leave her mother in peace. He owed her that. “I’m hoping that if he’s moved on, someone will know where he went, and I can follow his trail.”
“Hmm. Well, good luck with that,” the girl said. “So, what do you want to do about the radiator?”
She didn’t have a choice, did she? “Can you order a new one?”
“Sure. We’ve got all the supplier details in the office, but we’ll have to do it tomorrow. Too late in the day now to phone them, and the satellite connection’s down again.” At Caitlyn’s blank look she said, “Which means no internet.”
“Right. I see.” She took Wi-Fi for granted at home. She had to remember that it was a different world here in the outback. “Thanks. I have to find somewhere to stay. How much further is the town? Will I be able to walk there?”
“I walk it all the time. It’s about a kilometre, I guess.”
“Will it be all right to leave the car here?”
“Yep. I’ll lock it in.”
“I still think we should ring the police about Terry and Kyle.”
“No.” The girl’s voice faltered as she grabbed a rag and wiped her hands. “I’ll be ready for them if they come back.”
Caitlyn suspected she wasn’t as tough as she was trying to sound.
The girl sniffed, dragging her sleeve across her face where it left grey streaks. “I’m not crying. I never cry.”
“I do.” She could cry right now.
It had been one thing after another lately, First, the break-up with her ex that had put her off men for good, then the call from her mother, distraught over the lawyer’s letter and begging for help, the row with her boss about her wanting time off that led to her quitting her highly-paid job, and now a broken down car. What else could possibly go wrong?
Scratch that, she thought. She did not want to know. “What’s your name, by the way?”
The girl tossed the rag onto the workbench. “Max.”
Caitlyn pushed a hand through her short hair. “Well, I’ll die if I don’t get a coffee soon, Max. Would your mum mind if we went inside for one?”
“My mum’s dead.”
Caitlyn gave herself a mental kick. “I’m sorry.”
Taking a key from a pocket in her overalls, Max walked out of the workshop. “You coming for that cuppa or what?”
Caitlyn grabbed her bag from the car and joined Max outside, waited while she closed and locked the sliding doors, then followed her to the house. The front door led to what must have been a lounge room once. Boxes of car parts occupied most of the space, stacked between chairs and in corners. The small sofa and two wooden-framed armchairs looked like an afterthought.
In the kitchen, Caitlyn bit back an expletive at the sink full of dirty dishes, the surfaces covered in empty containers and food debris, and fixed her eyes on Max’s back as she went through another door.
A glance told her the bathroom was no cleaner than the kitchen. They were surrounded by a vast open space yet these rooms were smaller than any she’d seen in crowded Sydney. She sat on one of the vinyl-covered kitchen chairs while Max filled the kettle at the tap, holding it with oily hands.
As a professional chef, Caitlyn’s stomach churned at the sight.
Max made two black coffees, then cleared a space on the table with her forearm and put down the mugs. She pulled out the other chair and plonked herself down.
Maybe coffee wasn’t the best idea in the kitchen’s stifling heat, but Caitlyn wanted the caffeine hit. Needed it. She took a tentative sip. It was awful. She watched Max drum her fingers on the tabletop. “When do you think your dad will be back?”
“Dunno.” Then, her voice wobbling, she said, “I think something might have happened to him. He’s been gone for three weeks. He should have been back by now.”
“Oh, Max. Have you’ve told the police?”
“No.” She scraped back the chair and slouched lower, jamming her hands into her pockets. “Because if they find him they’ll put him in jail.”
This time Max didn’t wipe away her tears. “And then they’ll take the house and the business away. I won’t be able to fix cars any more, and… And I’ll have nowhere to live.”
There was no other family, then. What a bleak prospect for a teenager. “But why will the police arrest him? What has he done?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think he might have been…” Max’s voice dropped to a mumble, “stealing opals.”
Now Caitlyn understood. If her father was involved in illegal activity, Max had good reason to fear being left alone once the police found out. But by all accounts, opal mining was a harsh way of life and the miners a rough bunch. She doubted they’d react well to someone ripping them off, so maybe Max was right and something had happened to him.
Caitlyn sighed. Max needed help, but Caitlyn didn’t know what she could do. She couldn’t leave now, though. She’d worry about Terry and Kyle coming back in the middle of the night. “Can I stay here? I’ll sleep on the couch or something.”
“If you want. You can use my dad’s room. And tomorrow I’ll order the radiator, and then I’ll help you try to find your dad. What’s his name?”
“Bracken. Wally Bracken.”
Max’s face froze.
“What is it? Have you heard of him?”
She gave a small nod.
“Does he still live around here?”
Max sucked in a breath then blew it out again. “He’s my dad.”
Caitlyn stared, her heart pounding. “Are you serious?”
“You’re not having me on? Wally Bracken is really your father?”
Max shook her head. “I’m not. He really is.”
Caitlyn eyed Max’s red hair. Her father, she remembered, had red hair, too. His had been mixed with grey when she knew him, but it had probably been as red as Max’s in his youth. This changed everything. She’d come here to find her father for her mother’s sake, hoping to reason with him, but discovered she had a half-sister in the exact same situation. And, other than to help out Max, if Wally was potentially a criminal, did she even want to find him? Maybe she should forget about seeing him.
But if something bad had happened to him, she needed to know because he couldn’t sell her mother’s house if he was dead, could he? Her eyes wide, she said, “Were your parents married?”
“Officially, with a certificate and everything?”
Frowning, Max said, “Yeah. Why?”
“Oh, blimey, Max. My parents were never divorced.”
Max gaped. “Then, what does that make me?”
Shrugging, Caitlyn said, “My sister.”
The next morning, Caitlyn rolled over in the strange bed and studied her surroundings. The flimsy curtains did a poor job of blocking the morning sun and the room was already stifling. Did the lopsided wardrobe or the chest of drawers hold any clues to Wally’s whereabouts? She wouldn’t, as a general rule, poke about in someone else’s belongings but she’d never been in a situation like this before. A man was missing. Not just any man, but her father. And she had a sister. Holy cow.
She opened the wardrobe doors without getting out of bed. The room was so small she’d have to go outside to change her mind. A jacket, two pairs of trousers and three shirts. That was all. Except—she leaned back to see the floor of the wardrobe—a pair of old work boots. Which explained the smell. Either this was the pathetic extent of his wardrobe or her father had packed the good stuff and left the rubbish behind.
She dressed in the shorts and t-shirt she’d worn the day before and went looking for Max. Her sister was in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil.
“Do you want toast?”
Caitlyn flattened a hand on her stomach. When had she last eaten? “Yes, please. I’m starving. I’ll make it, shall I?”
“Go for it,” Max said.
While she dropped bread into the ancient toaster and Max spooned coffee into the mugs, Caitlyn said, “Do you know where your father—I mean, our father—was going when he left?”
“No,” Max answered too quickly.
“Are you sure?”
“I wasn’t listening.”
Caitlyn sighed. It was as though lying was the girl’s default mode. She’d hoped they’d gotten past that with the discovery that they were sisters. “You said you’d help me to find him, but it’s no help if you won’t talk to me. If you know where he was going, please tell me.”
Max took butter from the fridge and handed it to her. “There’s this man. He comes here every now and then. Whenever he comes, Dad goes out with him.”
“Did he go out with him this time?”
“Do you know his name?”
“I’ve heard Dad call him Chet.”
“Chet? Okay. That’s not much to go on, but it’s a start. What does he look like?”
“Dunno. I’ve never seen him. I know he drives a Kombi van because I hear the engine. Kombi van engines sounds different from any others. But he only comes after I’m in bed.”
“So you don’t hear what they talk about?”
“Not really, but—”
A blast from a truck horn interrupted her. Max dropped her slice of toast onto the plate, and headed for the front door. Following more slowly while she munched on her own toast, Caitlyn watched her lope toward the office.
“Morning, Red,” Max called to a white-haired man who was leaning against the office door.
“Morning, Max,” he said, moving away from the door so that she could unlock it.
Caitlyn strolled over to the office, observing through the window as Max took Red’s money. When he drove away in his ancient vehicle, Max left the office, but instead of returning to the house, she trotted toward the road.
“Where are you going?”
“To babysit. I do it for money,” she called over her shoulder.
“But you haven’t ordered my radiator yet.”
Max shrugged. “I’ll do it when I get back. I’ll only be an hour.”
An hour wouldn’t make a difference if the supplier still had time to include it in the day’s deliveries. “Okay, but what if someone else comes to buy fuel?”
Max just looked at her. “You’re here. You can take their money.”
“And if I hadn’t been here?”
“Then they’d come back later.”
Really? It definitely was a different world out here. Returning to the kitchen, Caitlyn found some dishwashing liquid and set to work on the stacks of dirty dishes. Max might be a brilliant mechanic—which remained to be seen—but she had a lot to learn about housekeeping. Still up to her elbows in suds sometime later, she heard a car horn. She hesitated before wiping the bubbles from her arms and heading out to the forecourt. A white police Land Rover stood there.
The driver’s door opened and an officer stepped out. “Who are you? Where’s Max?”
“She’s not here. I’m her sister.”
He grabbed the nozzle from the pump. “Since when has she had a sister?”
Loud cursing came from the back seat of his vehicle she peered in, and froze at the sight of Terry and Kyle. They wore handcuffs and Kyle had one arm in a sling, but they still managed to make obscene gestures in her direction. The officer yelled at them to be quiet.
She sucked in a deep breath and asked, “Are they under arrest?”
Queasy to think they might have assaulted another girl after leaving the servo, and that she could have stopped them if she’d reported the attack on Max, she stepped back. Another burst of swearing came from the car. Whatever they’d done, she hoped they’d be locked away for a long time.
Then she spotted the credit card the officer held out to her.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do that.” She waved at the card. “Do you have cash?”
“No.” He returned the card to his wallet and swapped the wallet for his notebook and pen. “I’ll give you an I.O.U. and come back later.”
“That will work,” she said, accepting the note with a glance at the pump to check that he’d written the correct amount.
“You didn’t answer my question. How long has Max had a sister?”
Ever since she was born, she wanted to say, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to get the local law off-side by being facetious. “We’ve only just met. My father invited me up here to stay with Max while he’s away.
His eyes narrowed. “Where is he?”
“Um, Alice Springs,” she said, making up a destination on the spot. “He had to go there on business,” she said in a more positive tone. It wouldn’t do to give him reason to doubt her. “I’m Caitlyn, by the way.”
“Sergeant Peterson,” he said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I take it you’re not used to this type of work.”
“No.” She shook her head, but when he didn’t ask her what she did for a living, she chose not to offer the information. The less she said to him, the less likely she was to trip up and say the wrong thing.
Once his vehicle had disappeared into the distance, she went back to washing the dishes, all the time listening for customers. When, after nearly an hour, she heard one and raced outside, she was confronted by the sight of a dilapidated Ford and a driver whose stiff, scruffy beard looked like it was used to strain his food.
He still had the nozzle in the tank when a white truck pulled in and parked at the edge of the property.
Max jumped out of the truck and strode over to her. “I’ll take Ralph’s money, if you like.”
“Sure. Finished babysitting already?”
“Yeah. Ginny’s dad just had to do some work. That’s him. He drove me home.” She nodded in the direction of a short man with frameless glasses, who’d gotten out of the truck. He walked with a bad limp, Caitlyn noticed.
A sudden tug at Caitlyn’s shorts made her look down into the face of a little girl with white-blonde hair who was, she guessed, about three or four years old. “Hello.”
“I’m Ginny,” she yelled, before running around Caitlyn in tight circles.
Ginny’s father caught her hand and gave Caitlyn an apologetic smile as he tugged the little girl away. “Hey, Dale, this is my sister, Caitlyn, from Sydney,”
Dale did a double-take. “Pleased to meet you, Caitlyn. I didn’t know Max had a sister. ”
“Neither did I,” Max said.
With a warm smile he held out a hand and she shook it, noting the gleam of interest in his grey eyes as they met hers. He wasn’t good-looking—or at least, he wasn’t the type of man she usually found attractive—but there was something about his quiet, easy manner that appealed to her. Maybe she’d just had her fill of men with movie star looks and massive egos. Not that she was in the market for a man at all, obviously. She’d had a gutful of men and their games.
“Well, it’s great that you know now,” he said. “I hope you enjoy your stay. How long do you think it will be?”
“I really don’t know. My car’s broken down, so I have to wait for Max to do the repairs.”
“I see. She’ll do a good job. Don’t worry about that. She’s a car-whisperer.”
He smiled. Startling blue eyes, dimples and white, straight teeth—the combination was dazzling and sent shivers down her spine. Maybe she’d been wrong about him not being attractive. She clamped down on the idea before it could take hold, but couldn’t help returning his smile.
“Dale took me to the general store and gave me a ride home,” Max said, “because there was too much food to carry. Spent the babysitting money. Thought I’d better, what with having a visitor and all.”
“I would have given you money for food.”
“Oh, well. You can buy the next lot.”
“Deal. A police officer filled up while you were out. He wanted to use a credit card, but I didn’t know what to do with it. He’s coming back to pay.” She handed over the I.O.U.
“Michael Peterson.” Max nodded as she took the slip of paper, then her eyes widened. “You didn’t tell him anything, did you?”
“Of course not.” With a short intake of breath she said, “Oh, you’ll be pleased to know that he had Kyle and Terry under arrest with no help from me. I don’t know what the charge is, but it’s nothing to do with us.”
“What’s this about?” Dale said. “Have those two been causing trouble again?”
“Not for us,” Max said quickly.
Caitlyn pressed her lips together and avoided Dale’s gaze.
“Okay,” he said glancing between the two of them, “It’s clearly none of my business, but they’re bad news, those two. Max, I’ll put the shopping bags by the front door.”
“Great. Thanks for dropping me off.”
“You’re always welcome, and it was very good to meet you, Caitlyn.” He gave her another warm, crinkly-eyed smile before walking off, holding Ginny by the hand.
Max frowned. “What did Michael say about Kyle and Terry?”
“Nothing. Just that they were under arrest. Oh, by the way, I told him that Wally has gone to Alice Springs.”
“What did you do that for?”
“I made him sound like a responsible parent. I said he’d asked me to stay with you while he was away.”
“Right. Does that mean you’re going to stay here the whole time?”
“Until we find him, if it’s all right with you.”
Max shrugged as if it didn’t matter to her, but asked, “Do you want to learn how to take a credit card?”
Caitlyn followed Max into the office. After showing her what to do with the card when there was an internet connection, and what to do when it was down, Max went on to tell her everything else she needed to know about running the servo, which wasn’t much. When a car horn sounded, Max looked through the window. “It’s Michael. Do you want to process his card now that you know what to do? I’ll put the shopping away.”
Caitlyn sighed with relief when she saw the back seat empty, especially with Max home. She called Michael into the office and fumbled her way through the card transaction.
He tucked his wallet into his hip pocket. “How long are you going to be staying around here?”
“I don’t know for sure.”
“And how long will Wally be gone exactly?”
She eyed him warily. Had he been investigating since his earlier visit? “He didn’t say.”
He looked unconvinced, but gave her a nod and left.
A minute after he’d left, the door opened again. “What were you talking about?”
Caitlyn looked up. “He was asking about Wally again.”
Max gasped. “What did you say?”
“I know we’ve only just met, but you’ll have to start trusting me if we’re going to get along. I said that I didn’t know how long he’d be gone. He did seem a bit suspicious about that.”
“He’s always suspicious.”
“How about, because he’s the police?”
Caitlyn waved at a chair against the wall. “Look, sit down for a minute. I want to know as much as you.”
“What do you mean?” Max flopped into the chair.
Caitlyn sat in the chair behind the desk. “You know something about Wally’s disappearance, I’m sure of it. You said that you think he’s been stealing opals, but you didn’t say why you suspect it, and you were going to say something about Chet this morning when we were interrupted. Come on, tell me what you know.”
After fidgeting with the string she’d used to tie up her torn overalls, Max said, “I don’t know anything for sure.”
“But you do have a theory?”
She nodded. “I think him and Chet, they might have been nightshifting.” Her voice dropped lower on the last word.
“Okay. So, you think he has a second job?”
Max’s eyes widened. “A second job? Dad?”
“Isn’t that what you said? Nightshifting—that’s like moonlighting, right?”
“No. And keep your voice down.”
Caitlyn shrugged. “There’s nobody here.”
“Nightshifting is…” Max glanced around the office as if she expected someone to pop out of a corner. “Ratting.” When Caitlyn didn’t respond, she rolled her eyes. “St—” Another nervous glance around. “Stealing opals,” she whispered. “Going into other people’s claims at night to work them.” Folding her arms across her chest, she stared at the floor.
What had she stumbled into? It could mean a whole lot of trouble. She looked at Max digging a thumbnail into the chair’s frame and imagined her reaction if she said she didn’t need this and was out of here. Oh, Max would act all tough as if she couldn’t care less, but Caitlyn’s instincts told her it would be nothing more than bravado. Max was all alone here, and her father—their father—could be in deep shit, or worse. There was no way she could walk away now, no matter how much her sense of self-preservation wanted her to say she was out of there. Besides, she couldn’t go back to her mum with nothing to show for her dash up here. She’d promised to do whatever she could to stop her father selling the family home. She couldn’t go home and she couldn’t go to the police. She had no option but to look for their father and find out why he’d disappeared. She had to know whether he was alive or dead.
And if he was alive, she’d be tempted to kill him herself for what he’d put them all through.