Seduction and Sacrifice(6)

By: Miranda Lee

She would never know now. That she was certain of. Jon Smith had not shared the existence of the opal with anyone, even his daughter. He'd dressed her in second-hand clothes and accepted food hand-outs rather than ran with his precious prize.

Oh, yes, he'd been a mean man.

Suddenly, she was sorely tempted to show Ma the opal and ask her advice, but people had long stopped showing valuable finds around Lightning Ridge. Greed and envy did strange things to even the closest of friends. So

she kept her own counsel and said, 'Yes, he was mean. But he was my father and he could have been worse.'

'You'd find excuses for Hitler,' Ma scoffed. 'How are you set for money?'

Once again. Gemma resisted the temptation to confess all to Ma. 'There's a small parcel of opals Dad saved that I can sell,' she admitted. 'Other than that I've got about twenty dollars left out of the housekeeping, three hundred dollars savings in the bank, and the money you're going to give me for the truck.'

'Which I brought over with me,' Ma said, and pulled a roll of money from the pocket of her dress. 'Don't tell the taxman but I did rather well with my fossicking this year.'

Gemma laughed. 'I won't breathe a word.'

'So when are you off to Sydney?'

A nervous lump immediately formed in Gemma's throat. My God, the furthest she'd been from Lightning Ridge was Walgett, a whole forty or so miles away. Sydney was another world, a big frightening exciting world! But wild horses wouldn't keep her away. Not now. Sydney held even more attractions than ever. Her mother had been born in Sydney. Maybe she had relatives there. Maybe she could find them.

'As soon as I can get myself organised, I suppose," she said, her resolve deepening.

'Mr Whitmore's due in town day after tomorrow if you want to sell those opals. He'll give you a fairer price than most. Don't take his first offer, though, haggle a little.'

Gemma frowned. Her father hadn't liked Mr Whitmore for some reason, had refused to have anything to do with him, saying slick city buyers couldn't be trusted.

'Dad used to sell his opals to Mr Gunther,' she said hesitantly.

That old skinflint? Look, I know he came to the funeral today and Jon might have been able to bully a fair price out of him, but he'll try to fleece you blind. You listen to me, love, and try Byron Whitmore. A fairer man never drew breath. Just go along to the Ridge Motel any time next Friday and ask for his room.'

'All right. Ma. I'll do that.'

'Good. Now you can get me a beer, love. It's bloody hot today.'

Gemma rose to get her visitor a beer. There were still several cans in the small gas fridge and a full carton leaning up against the far wall. If there was one thing her father never stinted himself on, it was beer.

'So tell me,' Gemma said on returning to the table and handing the beer over, 'what's this Mr Whitmore like?'

Ma snapped back the ring top on the can and gulped deeply before answering. "Byron?' She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. 'A big man. Around fifty, I'd say, but he looks younger. Thick wavy black hair sprinkled with grey and the most wonderful blue eyes Very handsome. Too old for you, though, love. He's married as well, not that that seems to bother some men once their wives are out of sight.'

Gemma's eyes rounded and Ma gave a dry laugh. 'You are an innocent, aren't you? Better wise up before you go to Sydney. City men live fast and play fast, and they have an insatiable appetite for lovely young things with big brown eyes and bodies like yours. Still, I don't think you need worry about Byron Whitmore. He's a man of honour. A rare commodity indeed!'

Ma made Sydney sound like a huge dark forest full of big bad wolves. Surely it couldn't be as bad as that! Besides, no man would get to first base with her unless he was good and decent and kind. Maybe no man would ever get to first base with her, she worried anew.

That experience years ago had scarred her more than she realised. She'd thought she'd shunned boys up till now because they bored her. Now she interpreted her lack of interest in the opposite sex as a very real wariness.

But was it a wariness of the boys themselves, or her own inner self, incapable perhaps of responding to a man in a normal, natural way? Dear God, she hoped that wasn't so. For if it was, how was she ever going to be happily married and have children of her own?

'Don't you believe me, love?' Ma said. 'About Mr Whitmore?'

'What? Oh, yes, Ma, I believe you. I'm sorry. 1 was wool-gathering.'

'You've had a long, trying day. Look, come over around six and I'll have a nice dinner ready for you. And bring your nightie.'

Gemma's eyes blurred. 'You're so good to me.'

'What rubbish! What are neighbours for?'

But Ma's faded blue eyes were a little teary too as she stood up. Gemma vowed to write to the dear old thing as often as she could from Sydney. And she would come back to visit. Often. It was the least she could do. If that black opal was worth what she thought it was worth, she'd be able to fly back in style!