- N. N. Light
Billabong Bend by Bestseller @JenScoullar is a Snuggle Up Readathon Pick #womensfiction #romance #gi
Title: Billabong Bend
Author: Jennifer Scoullar
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction
Can Nina protect the wild place she holds so close to her heart? Or will the man she once loved destroy it?
From the best-selling author of Brumby’s Run and Currawong Creek comes an evocative tale of love and loyalty, set in the heart of Australia’s riverlands.
For Nina Moore, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River is the most precious place on Earth. Her dream is to buy Billabong Bend and protect it forever, but she’s not the only one with designs on the land.
When her childhood sweetheart, Ric Bonelli, returns home, old feelings are rekindled and Nina dares to dream of a future for them both on the river. But a tragic death divides loyalties and threatens to tear apart their fledgling relationship.
This star-crossed rural romance sets Nina, a floodplains grazier, and Ric, a traditional cotton farmer, on a heart-rending collision course amid the beauty of northern New South Wales.
Shotguns boomed and boomed again, shattering the morning peace of the marshlands, startling the roosting nankeen night heron into laboured flight. What the hell? Nina lowered her camera and steered the little runabout towards the gunshots. There, in the distance, past the bank of river red gums weeping in the heat – a tinny with two men in camo gear, weapons raised. A succession of deafening blasts echoed off the water, drowning out her air horn as she powered towards them. The stench of gunpowder reached Nina’s nose and rage rose in her throat like bile. Damn them.
A mixed flock of wood ducks and teal were flapping away, well outside the fifty-metre range of an average shotgun. These were the most incompetent poachers she’d ever seen. As Nina drew near, they turned their heads at the constant blare of her horn. ‘This is private property,’ she yelled. ‘Get off my land.’ These wetlands belonged to her in spirit, just as she belonged to them.
One man was fat, and swigged from a beer can. The other man was taller, older, with a bushy beard. He sneered and played with his gun. ‘You’ve got a mouth on you, sweetheart.’
A movement caught her eye, something dark, floating in the water. The shadow took shape: a lifeless black swan. Nina uttered an anguished cry and slammed on the throttle. The man’s sneer turned to a look of alarm. He aimed high and pulled the trigger. Birdshot exploded overhead as she closed in, but fury made her fearless. Pelican’s heavy hull rammed them. The impact launched the men, weapons and all, into the water where they floundered, gasping for air.
‘You crazy bitch,’ screamed the fat man, as his hat floated away. .
She circled the poachers grimly for a bit, checking they could swim, then went after their tinny and towed it back. Using her bird-catching hook, Nina hauled their belongings from among the empty cans that littered the floor of the tinny, all the while keeping their boat just out of their reach. ‘Hey … idiots,’ she said, searching their bags. ‘You watching?’ – she checked their wallets –‘Brodie and, ah, Shane?’ An assortment of items sailed overboard to a chorus of threats and pleas: fishing rods, ammo, their lunch.
‘Oh, come on. Not my car keys,’ yelled the older man then added ‘please’ for good measure.
Nina paused ‘Brodie, Shane, …are you listening?’ The men trod water and nodded furiously.
‘It’s hard enough for birds to breed in this drought,’ she said. ‘Those ducks you fired on? They have young on the water, and now you’ve spooked them. If they don’t come back, their chicks will die of cold or starvation or get picked off by predators. And for each adult bird killed, you wound three or four with stray pellets,’ The dead swan drifted closer. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you the same sporting chance you gave the birds.’
Nina threw the keys skywards. The men swore and scrambled hopelessly to reach them. Seconds later, their wallets and phones made the same trip to the bottom of the river. Nina unhitched the tinny and nudged it towards them. ‘Next time’ – her voice was quiet with anger – ‘I won’t be so friendly.’ She waited until they had a hand on the side of their boat, then manoeuvred the Pelican away.
Her heart beat as loud as the engine as she wove her way upstream, through tangles of lignum and club rushes, skirting snags and overhanging branches. She didn’t often encounter poachers in the wetlands, but for every rat you saw there were fifty you didn’t. Duck hunting wasn’t legal in New South Wales, not without a licence from the landowner, and never in breeding season. She’d seen some terrible sights this summer. A flotilla of fifty orphaned cygnets seeking the protection of a single surviving swan. A platypus drowned in a banned fish trap. A family of frightened day-old ducklings bobbing sadly in the shallows, crowded around a hunter’s plastic decoy duck.
That story at least had a happy ending. She’d scooped the babies up in a net, taken them home and put them under a brooder lamp. Nina smiled to think of the peeping fluff balls, ducking and diving in the upturned dustbin lid that served as their pool. What kind were they? It was impossible to identify most waterbirds until they were fledged, and dozens of species called Billabong Bend home. She’d just have to wait and see.
Nina wiped the sweat from her eyes. Still early, and the air was already baking. The sun blazed down from a dome of flawless blue as it had done each day for months now. She slowed to manoeuvre the boat around a leaning river cooba that almost blocked the shrunken watercourse. She’d never seen water levels this low.
Nina detoured up Langley Reach, towards the mooring of Billabong’s homestead, keeping a sharp eye out as always. You never knew what rare waterbirds might be found in this pristine marshland. Soon the historic house appeared through the trees. With peeling paint and smashed windows, it stood like a blind sentinel above the river. She cruised around the abandoned jetty and frowned. The water was a floating carpet of vivid green, splashed with delicate purple flowers. This was worse than she thought. Water hyacinths were pretty, no doubt about it, but outside of their native Amazon they were also a curse, choking waterways. Somebody needed to clear out the weeds here. Somebody needed to clear out the poachers. Somebody needed to fix up the homestead. Nina took some photos, squared her shoulders and set her jaw. If she had anything to do with it, that somebody was going to be her.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Universal link: https://books2read.com/BillabongBend
November is a time to be thankful. What are you most thankful for this year?
I’m most thankful for my happy, healthy family and the privilege of being able to write stories for a living.
Why is your featured book worth snuggling up to?
Billabong Bend is a sweet romance set in Australia’s magnificent riverlands. Snuggle up with a book that transports you to a faraway place, putting you in the middle of a wilderness wetland, along with its unique birds and animals.
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Runs November 1 – 30.
Drawing will be held on December 1.
Jennifer Scoullar writes page-turning fiction about the land, people and wildlife that she loves. She has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. Jennifer lives with her family in on a beautiful farm in the mountains that was left to her by her father. Horses have always been her passion. Read her books now to discover why Jennifer Scoullar is one of Australia’s favourite storytellers!
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