Danger in the Outback


Nicole Flockton

Who can you trust when danger arises?

School teacher Matilda Marchant arrives in Bunya Junction ready to leave her past, and an ex who won’t take no for an answer, behind. The challenge of re-opening the one-teacher school is just what she needs. Add in a house as part of the deal, and she’s packing her bags before the ink is dry on the contract. But when she arrives, the house is a mess and uninhabitable. Feeling misled, she runs straight into Drew Bradford, the town’s resident police officer.

Drew Bradford is restless. His friends are settling down, he’s the only police officer in town, and he’s thinking about relocating to the city. The last thing he expects is the way the sassy new teacher opens his eyes to possibilities he thought lost, especially when they discover a mutual love for all things home renovation. Purchasing the dilapidated house seemed obvious to Drew and as he and Matilda restore it to its former glory, they grow closer still.

But danger is coming. The man Matilda left behind doesn’t want to give her up and Drew will do anything he can to keep her, and the future he wants with her, safe.

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Chapter One

The sun beat down mercilessly on Drew Bradford’s head. It was January and summer was well under way in Bunya Junction, and while Drew was used to the hot weather in some respects, in other aspects he wasn’t.

He lifted his hat and wiped his sweaty brow. He would love to quench his thirst with an ice-cold beer, but as the town’s only police officer he only indulged in alcoholic beverages once a year or on special occasions—if he was lucky.

The last time he’d had any time off work—well, it was so long ago he couldn’t even remember.

He loved his hometown of Bunya Junction, but he was tired. Tired of being the only cop. Tired of not having a life outside of work. Tired of being alone.

Perhaps it was time to throw in the towel and go back to the city. At least there he would have time off. Backup. And a life. A life that might not be his first choice, but it had to be better than the one he currently had.

Drew pulled up his thoughts as he walked to his patrol car, after a fruitless search for Dottie Blackston’s cat. Searching for that feline had become an almost weekly task. Nine times out of ten the cat would turn up on his own. He had hiding spots that Drew had yet to uncover. He fired off a quick text to let her know he hadn’t spotted her darling boy, only to receive one back stating that the cat was curled up on her lap.

Of course it was.

He shook his head as he started the car. His life wasn’t that bad. He was his own boss. He didn’t have to answer to a superior who wouldn’t listen to him or take him seriously when he had points he wanted to get across—as had happened when he was a rookie in the city.

Yeah, that was a reason not to return to the city. Along with all the people.

The traffic.

The endless noise.

All the reasons why he’d left the city and returned home in the first place.

Plus, he didn’t want to leave Bunya Junction without a police presence. Not that the town was a hotbed of criminal activity, but if anything did happen the wait for an officer to come from the next largest town was too long for the citizens. By the time help arrived it might be too late.

He’d also been working with the outlying communities and had built up a good relationship with them. He enjoyed spending time getting to know them. Earning their trust and helping when they needed it.

No, as much as he was lonely and didn’t have that much free time, he couldn’t see himself back in the city. Yet the idea wouldn’t totally leave him.

Maybe he should try and see if he could lure another police officer out to Bunya Junction. He hadn’t had much luck in the past, but perhaps this time would be different. He would feel better if he knew he could make a move and know that Bunya still had an officer looking after them. Although, if he left wouldn’t he be leaving his replacement with the problem he had of being the town’s only cop?

Drew shook his head again. Now wasn’t the time to think about things like that. Not when his stomach was grumbling. Never a good idea to make life-changing decisions on an empty stomach.

He pulled into a space in front of the Bunya Junction pub, his mouth salivating at the thought of a steak sandwich and a drink.

The blast of cold air as he opened the door was welcome, along with the quiet buzz of conversation. Even though it was a Wednesday, the pub was busy. Drew waved at a couple of tables of locals as he made his way to the bar.

He took off his hat and laid it on the seat next to him just as Jonas Carruthers, the owner of the pub, came up to him.

“Hey, Drew. It’s a hot one today. What can I get you?”

How he wanted to say a glass of beer, but with him in uniform, and a lot of townsfolk nearby it wouldn’t be a good look.

“I’ll have a large cola and a st—”

“Steak sandwich. Coming right up.” Jonas reached behind him and grabbed a clean glass. “Anything exciting happening?”

Drew shook his head, a wry chuckle erupting out of him. “I just spent the last hour and half looking for Dottie’s cat only to find out that he was on her lap when I let her know I hadn’t found him.”

Jonas laughed and placed Drew’s drink on a coaster in front of him. “Dottie loves that cat. You’re a good sport to always look for it when she calls. Even when you know that it will always turn up at her house when it’s good and ready.”

Drew grabbed the glass. “The one time I don’t, the cat will have really disappeared, and Dottie will be inconsolable.”

“As I said, you’re a good sport and we’re lucky to have you here.” Jonas tapped the bar top. “I’ll go put your order in.”


Drew took his glass and headed to the table closest to the exit with a view of the main street of the town. If anything happened he would see it from this vantage point and be able to spring into action.

“Hi, Officer Drew! How are you?”

He smiled when he saw Jayne, Jonas’s niece, standing beside his table. He looked around to see if he could see her mum, Yolanda, and spied her at a nearby table. She was sitting with Pandora, Jonas’s wife, along with their daughter, Ruby, and Jayne’s little brother, Michael, or as they affectionately called him MJ. He must have missed them when he first perused the room, although they may have been out the back talking to Michael, Yolanda’s husband and the pub’s chef.

“I’m good, Miss Jayne. How are you?”

Drew pushed down the stab of jealousy and envy over his friends and their happy marriages and families. He always imagined that he’d have that by now, but he was thirty-four and it hadn’t happened. Finding a single woman who he hadn’t gone to school with, and knew everything about, was another challenge of living in a small town.

“I’m good. I’m excited to start school. Mummy says there’s a new teacher starting, too, so I won’t be the only new one.”

“That’s exciting. I’m sure you and the teacher won’t be the only new people.”

“Uh-huh. I gotta go.” And she was off before he could say anything else to her.

He watched as she made her way back to her mum. Yolanda looked up and waved at him, and he returned the gesture before turning his attention back out the window.

A new teacher being appointed was news to Drew. He’d been aware that the town council had put a call out for someone to fill the position a while ago but, like police officers, not a lot of teachers wanted to relocate to a small town in the middle of rural Australia—no matter how pretty the town and surrounding area was.

For the last year the local primary school kids had been bussed to Waratah River for school. A system that had worked, but Bunya residents had wanted their kids to go to a school within walking distance, not have to take a long bus ride. The gossip going around town was that the council had included accommodation and a yearly generous bonus on top of the regular department salary to try and entice a teacher to the area.

Drew couldn’t blame them for wanting to get a teacher to town. He’d gone to the local school and had loved every minute of it. He could understand why the parents in the community wanted their kids to experience what they’d had growing up. Not to mention be home before the evening got away from families.

He hadn’t heard that they’d found someone, though, and he should have. The council should’ve let him know, so that he could run a background check. It was all well and good to get someone to Bunya, but if the new teacher had a past that they were running from, then that wouldn’t be good for the community, or the children.

He’d call in at the council offices before he went back to the station and check that they’d done everything necessary to vet the candidate. He was sure they would’ve, but it annoyed him that they hadn’t come to him.

Perhaps the teacher had a current police clearance and didn’t need him to do one. Regardless of whether they did or didn’t, he’d get their information from the council and do a check himself.

Satisfied with the plan, he sat back and relaxed for the first time since he’d walked through the door.

“Here you go, one steak sandwich. Do you need anything else?” Jonas placed the plate in front of him. Drew’s stomach grumbled as the aroma of cooked meat and fried onions wafted towards him.

“Nope all good.” He was about to dive in when he paused. If anyone knew what was going on around the town it would be Jonas. “Actually, before you go, what have you heard about the new teacher who’s going to be starting soon?”

Jonas crossed his arms. “Not much, just what Yolanda told me. Apparently, the council found a suitable candidate and sent an email to all the parents with primary-school-aged kids that they could now enrol them in the local school instead of Waratah River.”

“Okay, thanks.” Drew took a bite of his sandwich, signalling that he was done with his questioning.

Maybe that was the reason why the council hadn’t come to him yet; the decision was new. Still, it didn’t change his mind about popping in to get the information firsthand from the staff. Better to cover all bases and be prepared.

He finished his drink and sandwich quickly, eager to get back to the station so that he could begin his investigation.

Matilda Marchant looked at the house in front of her and then at the address on the email. Yep, she was at the correct place all right. Only she wished that she could turn around and drive all the way back to Melbourne, because she wouldn’t put her worst enemy in this place.

The garden was so overgrown that she would need a hacksaw to get to the front door. The roof looked like it had seen better days. Through the greenery, it looked as if the paint was peeling from the wooden posts on the front verandah. If the outside looked like this, then what the heck did the inside look like?

This has to be a mistake.

There was no way this was the accommodation that had been promised in the job advert.

Perhaps she should’ve questioned the council members of Bunya Junction a bit further. Conducting the interview over Zoom had seemed like a great idea, considering she lived in a different state from where the job was situated. It saved time and money for her to have to fly to Sydney and then drive to Bunya Junction, but perhaps she should’ve made the effort and sucked up the costs.

“No, this won’t do at all. I don’t mind a little dinge, but this is ridiculous. They’ve given me the wrong address,” she muttered as she walked back to her full-to-the-brim car.

The moment she’d gotten the email confirming that she’d secured the position, she had packed up everything she owned—which wasn’t much, since her ex-boyfriend, Spencer, had taken most of the stuff she’d brought to their relationship—and put it in her car.

The relief that had consumed her when she’d crossed the border from Victoria into New South Wales had been palpable. She’d shed the cloak of fear and donned the cloak of a new beginning.

Except this new beginning was starting to look like a major mistake. But she would resolve it. If she had to stay at a hotel, or find another house to live in, she would because she wasn’t going back to Melbourne.

Typing the address for the council into her GPS, she resolved to sort out the error in her accommodation quickly.

The drive to her destination didn’t take long. She guessed that was one of the perks of living in a small town—nothing was far from anything else.

Once parked, she checked her reflection in her rear-view mirror. Yes, she looked like she’d been travelling in a car for eight hours—because she had. As much as she’d wanted to do the trip in one day, and it was totally possible, she’d taken her time and spread it out over two days by taking the coastal road. Moving to a small town in rural New South Wales meant she wouldn’t see much of the ocean for a while, so she’d taken the opportunity to fill her well.

While her current appearance wouldn’t be a great impression, she was beyond caring at that moment. All she wanted was a shower and a bed—in a nice house, not the one she’d stopped at.

Grabbing her brush out of her purse, she stroked it through her hair and pulled it into a high ponytail. A style she was going to wear a lot, she imagined, considering the hot sun beaming through her tinted windows.

In a matter of moments she was out of her car and into the coolness of the council building. The quiet was the first thing she noticed. Had they all gone home for the day? She checked her watch: it was four in the afternoon—on a Wednesday—surely they worked until five, like everyone did in the city.

If they had finished for the day, wouldn’t they lock the doors? Then again, most office buildings in the city were accessible for a couple hours after the official close of business.

There was only one way she could find out, and that was by going on a walk. She headed down a corridor to the left of the foyer. Lights blazed, so obviously someone was there.

The sound of voices reached her and she headed in that direction, stopping at a partially closed door.

“You should’ve told me you’d employed a teacher.” The tone and pitch was distinctly male and whoever they were, they were annoyed. And they were talking about her.

Matilda paused, waiting to see what else was going to be said.

Nothing good ever comes from eavesdropping, Matilda.

She ignored the old warning from her grandmother. There had been plenty of times she’d overhead conversations and nothing bad had been said. Then again, those conversations hadn’t been about her, as this one clearly was.

“Drew, you know how hard it’s been to find a teacher to come here. Ms Marchant was the first decent candidate we’ve had apply. Her experience is more than we could’ve asked for. She provided us with a current police clearance, good references—which checked out—and we offered her the job.”

Her chest puffed out at the other person’s glowing comments about her. But she wasn’t surprised that not many teachers had applied for a position out in the country.

Who would want to be stuck in a small town for the foreseeable future? If she wasn’t trying to put distance between herself and Spencer, would she have applied for the job? Maybe, maybe not. It didn’t matter. She was here now, and she was looking forward to the challenge of being the only teacher responsible for students ranging from kindergarten to year five.

“Basil, if anyone understands how hard it is to find someone to come here, I do. But I still would’ve liked to have done my own check. The safety of this town is paramount to me.”

“We’re extremely grateful for all that you do in keeping us safe, Drew. And I’m sorry that I didn’t reach out. As I said, her police clearance was current so I didn’t think it would be an issue.”

Who is Drew?

Was he the town police officer? It would make sense to Matilda that he was, considering all the talk about keeping the town safe and doing checks. It pleased her to know that there was someone close by, should she need it.

No doubt, the apprehended violence order she had taken out against Spencer would show up on a background check. At the time of her interview she hadn’t thought that was important, considering she was moving to another state. Maybe it was. Then again, it wasn’t like she’d put the town at risk. No way would Spencer follow her here. Besides, there was no way he could find out where she’d moved to.


Will the order still stand with me moving away from Melbourne?

God, another problem she needed to sort out. But she’d deal with that when she’d had some sleep. Right now she wanted her accommodation sorted out and Basil was one of the men who’d interviewed her, so he could sort it out for her.

Not giving herself the opportunity to talk herself out of it or convince herself it was a bad idea, she walked into the room.

“Hi. I’m Matilda Marchant, your new teacher. I’m here about the accommodation you provided for me. It’s completely unsuitable.”

End of Excerpt

Danger in the Outback is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-93-2

April 11, 2024

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