Coming soon banner for The Grazier's Son with the cover of the book and a review quote saying "This is Australian rural romance writing at its finest."

With only ONE WEEK to go until The Grazier’s Son releases, I thought I’d whet your appetite with a sneak peek at the entire first chapter.

Go on, you know you want to read it!

Chapter One

In the end, the grave wasn’t hard to find. It lay in the shadow of the tallest, most ostentatious monument in the cemetery, as dark, plain and flat as its neighbour was lofty, light and gaudy. The slab sported a single ugly embellishment—a coarse brown block erupting from its polished granite surface. Where the epitaph should have read ‘Rest in Peace’ someone had stuck a clumsily engraved hunk of brick over ‘Peace’ to make the epitaph read ‘Rest in Hell’.

Shoulders hunched against the early morning cold and fists deep into the pockets of his leathers, Stirling brooded over it for a moment. Then, using the heel of his boot, he hacked at the block. The jarring impact travelled up his right leg and across and shot pain down his left hip. Yet another reminder.

He grunted and scratched his jaw. Whoever had put the block in place meant business. A chisel and hammer and a bit of oomph should do it. Next time.

If there was a next time.

He looked east, to where the fiery tip of the rising sun was creeping over the horizon and slinking rays across the cemetery. Thick cobwebs of fog hung sluggish in the hollows. Here and there, a few surviving manna gums were glazed in crowns of orange, while further afield, the grey-white fleeces of grazing sheep glowed like ghosts.

It was weird how beautiful he found this place of the dead. But in his experience, the most breathtaking lands were often the most haunted.

Stirling regarded the slab once more. Dougal Benjamin Kildare, a man he’d never met.

A man who was also his father.

He supposed he should feel something, except what? Sorrow? Anger? Regret? How could you feel anything for someone you never knew? And if the allegations were true, someone he wouldn’t want to know.

Except he did. Faults and all, Stirling wanted to know this man. Because maybe, just maybe, doing so might help him find himself.

Black and white scene break image of a man racing a motorbike

To his bemusement, there were quite a few cars about in Grassmoor, then Stirling remembered that this was the country. Most people weren’t like him, driven out of bed by pain or a churning mind. They rose early as a matter of course. He found a park in the main street near the same cafe where he’d scored an early dinner the evening before and reversed his road bike in. He swung his leg carefully over the seat, plucked off his helmet and headed inside.

Joanne, the proprietor, greeted him with warmth and a little surprise, while the pretty younger girl—Milly? Ellie?—eyed him beneath lowered lashes from behind the espresso machine.

He ordered the ‘big breakfast’ and asked for a pot of English breakfast tea instead of coffee. Milly-Ellie might be pretty, but he’d learned last night that she wasn’t much of a barista.

‘Back again,’ said Joanne, sliding the payment terminal towards him. ‘You must like it here.’

Stirling made a throaty noise that could have been interpreted as anything. He didn’t know what to make of Grassmoor yet, except that it was proudly tidy, had a few historic buildings, and so far seemed friendly enough. If you didn’t count the ‘Hell’ brick.

‘How was the motel?’


‘Busy day ahead?’


Joanne twitched with frustration at his blunt answers. Curiosity burned behind her eyes. Grassmoor was a small town tucked into the far western corner of Victoria. Everyone was interested in a stranger.

Stirling thought again about the ‘Hell’ brick and wondered which camp Joanne stood in. What did it matter? She could think what she liked. Stirling would make up his own mind about Dougal Kildare.

He waved off the receipt and headed for the same seat next to the front window that he’d chosen yesterday. He busied himself with his phone, checking emails and the news, his posture not inviting conversation. Not that he was likely to get any. Only two other tables were occupied. A couple in their thirties sat stiffly at one, gazes flinty as they tried to keep their argument hushed. An elderly man wearing a tweed coat and matching cap sat at another, making no pretence to hide his interest in Stirling.

Stirling smiled as he spotted a message from Olympia. He left it unopened, saving it for when he’d need cheering up later. There were others from friends, a couple more from acquaintances, asking how he was doing. A few tentative inquiries about when he might come back to work, and even more tentatively, if he would come back. His mum had sent an email too. Another for later.

Stirling rubbed at his hip, wishing he had a few painkillers to ease the ache.

Milly-Ellie arrived with his tea. ‘Ready for a big day in Grassmoor?’

‘Something like that.’

‘At least the weather’s nice.’ She laid out the pot, a cup and saucer and a mini stainless-steel jug of milk. ‘Are you here for business or pleasure?’


‘Oh yeah? Who with?’

‘It’s a what, not a who.’ He watched Milly-Ellie closely. ‘Westwind.’

‘Is that a farm?’

He nodded. She mustn’t be a born and bred local. Or maybe she didn’t care.

Stirling returned to his phone, deliberately tapping and swiping. The girl lingered a few seconds longer and took the hint.

His breakfast arrived ten minutes later. No smiles this time as Joanne hovered at the table with his plate. ‘Tilly said you’re visiting Westwind.’ She made it sound distasteful, like he was visiting an abattoir or a murder site.

‘That’s right.’

‘What’s Westwind to do with you?’

‘Everything.’ Stirling held her gaze steadily. ‘It’s mine.’

‘Yours?’ Her brows were so furrowed they almost joined. ‘How?’

‘I inherited it.’

His breakfast tipped precariously. A few mushrooms tumbled off. ‘But how?’ Joanne laughed, a brittle, forced sound. ‘Unless you’re Dougal’s …’ She trailed off as she registered Stirling’s expression.

‘Unless I’m Dougal Kildare’s son. Which I am.’

The man in the tweed coat and cap scraped his chair back.

‘Son,’ Joanne repeated. She looked at his face then at the plate and practically slammed it down. Sauce from the baked beans splattered his jacket. His sausages tumbled into the fried eggs, bursting the yolks. Yellow bled across the plate.

She said nothing, any word tightly shuttered by puckered white lips. Her breath whistled as it rushed through her nose. Stirling supposed asking for salt was out of the question.

‘Thanks,’ he said, using his paper napkin to wipe his front before opening it out and draping it over his lap. Only when he began chewing did she finally stomp off. The old man’s stare was like flint.

Stirling ate as he continued to read the news and toss occasional glances at the world outside. The rising sun mottled golden light over the town’s historic buildings. It was going to be a fine late winter’s day.

He finished his meal and pushed the plate away.

Tilly approached. No flirty friendliness, simply wide-eyed worry. She gathered his plate in silence, then glanced back at the counter and swallowed. ‘Joanne, um, she said not to come back again.’ She winced. ‘Sorry.’

Stirling nodded. He’d expected as much.

He rode to the motel and parked near the reception door. Shaun, the previously affable proprietor, stood rigid behind the counter, wearing an expression like a constipated cat.

‘I’d like to book another night,’ said Stirling, pulling his wallet from his jacket pocket.

‘No vacancy.’

Stirling cast a pointed look over the man’s shoulder to where the empty carpark could be seen through the window. Grassmoor had a population of around seven hundred, no tourism industry that Stirling knew of and, being miles from any major highways, little through traffic. The motel was tiny, ten rooms at most, and there’d been few cars the previous night. Stirling could see no reason why the proprietor would turn away good money.

But that was before he’d revealed his identity at the cafe.

He eyed the man. ‘Not one single room, you say?’

‘Nope.’ Shaun bared his teeth in what Stirling supposed was meant to be a smile. ‘Sorry.’

‘News travels fast,’ said Stirling. Joanne must have phoned immediately after their little confrontation. He repocketed his wallet. ‘I’ll drop the key in the box on the way out.’

Cleaning out his room took minutes. The Ducati came with everything a road bike needed and then some, but its paniers still had limited capacity. Stirling wasn’t bothered. He was a man of few possessions and used to travelling light. Besides the occasional painkiller, all he needed was some clean clothes, his laptop, toiletries and not much else.

He eased onto the bike and guided it out of the motel, pausing only to dump the key. Shaun stood in stony-faced sentry at the reception door. Stirling bet he’d watch for as long as he could, just to make sure he was truly gone.

A few turns later and he was on the road heading south to Westwind. Three kilometres out, Stirling checked his mirrors and the way ahead, and gunned it.

Controlled. Skilled. Fearless. That was him. His mettle forged from a career flying Blackhawk helicopters in the army along with five years choppering medical staff in and out of war and disaster zones for German-founded aid organisation Medizin in Krise. And the example of a socially minded mother whose favourite saying was ‘evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing’.

Or that was what he used to be. What he was now, Stirling didn’t know. Maybe today he’d find out.

The road twisted through spectacular countryside. A land of crumples and corrugations, like a Scottish landscape painting that had been balled up then half-heartedly flattened again, leaving gentler peaks and troughs than the Highlands but with views no less stunning.

Each bend brought more beauty. Ancient, hugely girthed trees, bubbling creeks, verdant paddocks grazed by glossy cattle and bright, newly shorn sheep. Through his helmet filtered the sweet scents of an approaching spring. Of lush grass and growth and fertility, and nature shaking off the cold. With the passing panorama, the sourness of his morning faded.

The odometer clocked over another kilometre. Stirling slowed the bike, his heart thudding from the adrenaline rush of the winding ride and the first glimpse of the high stone wings that formed part of Westwind’s imposing entrance. A pair of double iron gates appeared. The word ‘WEST’ crafted in a self-important font was welded into the centre of the left gate, ‘WIND’ into the other.

The gates had been padlocked when he’d ridden out for a snoop the day before. He’d arrived late afternoon when the shadows were dark and stringy and the air cooling rapidly. His body ached from the long ride and Stirling had been looking forward to spending the night in the house. The solicitor taking care of the estate had organised a cleaner to tidy and air the interior and turn on the fridge. A couple of beers and a defrosting ready meal that he’d picked up from Hamilton on the way through had rattled in his paniers. Hardly a feast but enough.

His keenness had been short-lived. Though William Stoddart, the solicitor, had warned of the vandalism, the smashed finials on the villa’s welcoming staircase and graffiti splattered like blood across the pink-tinted stone came as a shock. Stirling’s fists had drawn tight around the handlebars, his anger throbbing more powerfully than the Ducati’s engine. William had called it ‘unfortunate’. For Stirling it was an outrage.

After a quick circle of the property, he’d sat on his bike staring at the silent house and surrounds and feeling like a trespasser, until finally, he’d wheeled the bike around and left. Westwind would still be there tomorrow when he wasn’t so fatigued and sore from the road. A proper meal and a good night’s sleep in a pub or motel would leave him less prone to the ghosts of his imagination, more able to fight if vandals revisited.

After this morning’s hostilities, he was definitely up for one.

Stirling dismounted and dragged the right gate open. Its hinges squealed their protest through the quiet morning and sent a couple of topknot pigeons flapping. He’d need to sort that out if he planned to stay for a while.

He grimaced at the stone wings, both pitted and pocked where some bastard had blasted them with a shotgun. He’d seen plenty of walls like that in his life, just not in sleepy rural Australia.

Stirling remounted and steered his bike through the gate. He rode carefully, dodging potholes and avoiding the thick grass sprouting high along the drive’s centre strip. The Ducati weighed over two hundred kilos and his damaged body wasn’t up to righting the bike if he accidentally dropped it.

Two stands of messy pines—that would probably go up like Roman candles if they were ever caught in a fire—lined either side of the avenue. Stirling liked them though. He liked the way they formed a secret tunnel, keeping the villa concealed behind a curtain of thick green and brown until the last moment.

He eased the bike to its slowest pace and crept round the final turn with his breath held.

The avenue split, the tree line spreading either side of the homestead to form a pine perimeter, and the drive rounded into a large carriageway with an ornate stone fountain in the centre.

Stirling circled once, twice, then once more for the hell of it. In the daylight, devoid of shadows and foreboding, Westwind glowed.

The thrill of it filled Stirling’s chest. His ribs pressed tight against his bike jacket, his heart thudding. How was it possible to feel such pride, such ownership, of something he’d never known existed? Yet here he was, doing laps like a teenager.

And all the time a stray soft wind kept whispering in his ears words which seemed, in his wanting, overwhelmed heart, to sound a lot like welcome home.

.Black and white scene break image of a man racing a motorbike

I hope you enjoyed reading this excerpt of The Grazier’s Son. To order your copy simply choose from the bookshops below:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK  | Apple Books | Kobo | Google Play | Barnes & Noble  |  Booktopia | Dymocks | Angus & Robertson | QBD Books | BigW

Or purchase a personally signed copy of The Grazier’s Son from my online store (Australian postal addresses only).


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