‘Watercress!’ The bellow echoed not just in Cress’s mind but also throughout the cavernous area of Central Railway Station. That rich, deep baritone she knew, and loved, was calling her from the opposite end of the concourse. She was heading for the suburban trains, and he was here.
She should cringe at having her nickname shouted out like that, but bubbles of excitement rode her bloodstream. She stopped and searched through the crowd for Quin Fitzpatrick. Only he and her brothers ever used the stupid childhood nickname, and her brothers had all waved her off when she left Wagga Wagga hours ago.
Finally, she spied him and made a dash towards him. Her heavy kitbag and an overnight bag hampered her legs but when she reached him, she let them go and launched herself at his chest.
She’d do this to any of her brothers. Especially if she hadn’t seen them in ages.
Quin was similarly built to her brothers: tall, big chest and well-muscled shoulders. Nothing about this hug should feel different, yet it did. It always did. She took a few seconds to soak up the scent of Quin—musk, citrus and a hint of good honest sweat—and bask in the strength of his arms around her, his chest against her, and his face brushing her cheek. Then she walloped his shoulder. ‘Put me down this second. You’re making a scene.’
He laughed as he plopped her to the ground. For a moment she wished he’d let her slide slowly down his body, but she brushed away that longing. Quin Fitzpatrick was off limits. He was her fifth brother. She needed to keep him in that place or she’d never be in Sydney, never be able to have a crack at her dream.
‘I’m so glad to see you, Quin. I thought you wouldn’t be able to get away and I didn’t want to bother you with driving into the city to pick me up.’ Cress grabbed for the handles on her bags. ‘I hope I haven’t put you out?’
‘No, Watercress. Nothing like that.’ He took one bag before he slung his arm across her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. ‘I’m stoked you got picked for this side. I couldn’t believe it when Tris rang me.’ They began walking out the way he’d entered.
Cress still had mixed feelings about her brother organising Quin to take her in. Of course they’d organised it before telling her; before she’d even thought about accommodation. She shouldn’t have been surprised, but it left her living with the man everyone thought was like her brother, when she’d loved him her entire life.
Laughing to hide any other emotion, Cress elbowed him lightly in the ribs. ‘I’m awesome, why couldn’t you believe it?’
Quin shook his head, grinning at her with that same grin he’d given her from the moment she could remember him. The one that turned everything inside her into something that jittered and squirmed. ‘You still can’t just say thank you?’
Fighting the jitters, she poked her index finger just above his heart. ‘You still can’t say congratulations?’
His eyelids flickered momentarily and then he took a step back, pulling away from her reach. ‘Cressida Kennedy, congratulations on being selected to play for the Women’s Aussie Rules team, the Sydney Sirens.’
Beaming so big she thought the skin might peel off her face hadn’t yet become old. The same dopey grin appeared again. ‘Thank you, Quin. That means a lot.’
He hugged her again, tight and close, before pulling away. ‘Let’s get your stuff in the car.’ He waved his hand towards the exit.
Getting outside the terminal into the fresh air was, well, not exactly fresh, but better than the over-scented air she’d had for hours. Used to working outdoors, with machines, plants and animals, she wasn’t overly keen on cleaning product scent or air-freshener. The mix of fast food, burning coffee, and over-scented bodies wasn’t a great smell either. Here was traffic, pollution and that smoky, ozone train smell. They weren’t her usual smells either, but were as close to home as she’d be sniffing for a while yet.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ Quin said as he dropped her bag to the ground and popped the boot.
She wasn’t sure she would. ‘I can’t believe I have the opportunity to even try to get used to it. It’s still sinking in. I’d heard they were doing this comp but never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be asked.’ She tossed in her overnight bag and then swung the backpack off and slid that in, before Quin tossed in her kitbag. Once done, he slammed the boot.
‘Yes, you did.’
Staring at him, she wasn’t sure what he was talking about. ‘Huh?’
‘You may not have told anyone, but you dreamed it, Cress Kennedy. You’ve always had big dreams. Dreams bigger than any girl in Grong Grong. Probably bigger than any person in Grong Grong.’
She laughed. ‘Says you.’ He’d had the same dream and years earlier had left town for the city and the male team of the same club she was playing for. She hadn’t consciously followed in his footsteps; she just loved Aussie Rules as much as he did. And just quietly, was almost as good as him. Not that she’d tell him that. It was another secret she held close.
Abruptly stopping as she moved down the car, her hand rested on the metal as her brain replayed his words. Traffic created an incessant buzz, broken by the wail of a siren in the distance, and the cacophony of voices as people roamed past. Quin’s car bipped and the body shook briefly as the interior light flared and extinguished. It broke her from her thoughts and she hurried to jump in.
She brushed her fingers along Quin’s thigh, forgetting herself. His muscles contracted at her touch and she whipped her hand away, covering the touch by murmuring, ‘You remember my dreams?’
He didn’t start the car. He looked across and gave her a lazy smirk. ‘Easy task, Watercress. Mine weren’t much different.’ His eye roll made any romantic notions she’d harboured vanish.
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Does she dare pursue all her dreams?
Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.
Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.
But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too…