“White Rock?” Her mouth gaped, partly because she was thrilled to hear that he wanted to return home, and the thought of him living there permanently gave rise to optimism that went beyond friendship. Whatever decision he had reached about himself and his career, she was irresistibly drawn to Walker, and had been since childhood. Of course, she’d not admitted that to him before he departed for London, because she hadn’t wanted to hold him back.
The corners of his mouth pulled upward.
“I’m thinking about buying a smallholding.”
Susanne was stunned.
“You want to farm?”
“I’ve been contemplating it for a while.”
“Really?” That came out more dubious than she intended, so she immediately went on, “Well, you’ve got farming in your blood, Walker, and you know as much about it as you need to. What sort of place do you have in mind?”
“Fruit. Maybe bananas.”
“How about pineapples?”
“Beaut idea! Know anyone in that business?”
“I might,” Susanne said, grinning. She listened intently as he talked about his plans, telling her that he wanted the satisfaction of working on the land, that he remembered how much he had enjoyed farm life at Mooraburra as a youngster, and how he yearned to return to the quiet idyll of the tropics.
“It’s time for me to put down roots of my own,” he said earnestly.
Susanne nodded with a full heart.
She could see it happening, and felt positivity on his behalf. Desire was attendant in her emotions, too. She’d been in love with Walker Patterson for quite some time. She had, however, assumed he would leave White Rock and her behind again, like he had all those years ago when they were teenagers, so she’d been careful to prune her feelings accordingly. It hadn’t been easy; Walker was the sort of man she could happily spend the rest of her life with: considerate, honest, funny, optimistic, and undeniably beguiling in his masculinity. She was aware that Walker was the One.
That month before Christmas when Susanne and Walker had spent so much time together had indeed been the happiest she’d felt for some years. Faced with the prospect of his departure, she’d been both accepting and frustrated. She might meet someone else, of course she might, but the thought of losing Walker again, of him starting a new life for himself thousands of miles from White Rock and settling in London, had been sadly anticipated.
Now, unexpectedly, it was as if her deepest-held feelings, previously so severely restrained, had a chance to blossom anew, bursting forth in her enthusiasm for Walker’s plan. On top of which, she realised his news would please everyone back home, including Jess, who got along with him as amiably as Susanne could have hoped for.
“I reckon you’ll make a great farmer, Walker. I wish you all the luck in the world.”
He gave her a look that was visibly more relaxed.
“Thanks. I’m glad you approve.”
The one unasked question she had in her mind, the query she didn’t dare give voice to, was whether the two of them had any chance of a future together. The chemistry felt right. Yet he’d not made a move that suggested he liked her as more than a friend. Was his visit to Dundee purely social? Possibly. Also, his interest in her and her mum’s investigative trip to Scotland was certainly real and he appeared fascinated when she told him about Euan and the sorrowful circumstances surrounding Jean and Nell’s migration.
“No wonder Nell didn’t talk much about it,” he remarked. “Her memories must have been so complicated. It’s a heart-rending tale, Susanne. Nell was obviously proud of her Scottish roots, but there were plenty of reasons for her to keep all that sadness firmly in the past, wouldn’t you say?”
“Definitely. Mum understands that now. We’ve both learned a great deal especially about the terrible conditions that people living in the mill tenements had to put up with,” Susanne said. “From what Mum and I have heard, there was evidently a lot of goodwill among the workers and neighbours in those days; people looked out for each other and helped one another as much as they could afford to when they saw someone was in desperate straits.
“I reckon that compared with conditions in those mill tenements, Euan must have decided that the orphanage was a cleaner, safer place to leave his daughters while he got his life sorted out. He couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen.” She frowned. “I suppose, in a way, he made the right and the wrong decision all at the same time. Maggie told us it was the fear of his children being perpetually held back by a life of poverty and hardship that had convinced Euan to give Douglas up for adoption, seek work at the shipyards, and entrust his girls into the care of an institution.”