New HOPE

Sitting on the fence over looking the windmill, Kate watched the sun dropping over the end of the horizon. She loved twilight on Drovers and wondered where Jodi was in the world and if she was looking up at the night's first stars thinking of her too.

She smelled the fresh cut hay in the air and felt the wind whisper gently over her face as she turned to face the house.

The lights were glittering and bright, like a beacon of hope. A sign of life and love that lived there.

So many things had happened in such a short time, and life still went on.

Alex had discovered he had a half brother Marcus who had lived in the city. Jodi and Rob 'died' and Meg returned back to the city. Regan had left with her true love Lyle trying to make a new life together. Stevie and Alex had got married and all was looking very rosy for them. Grace was back at Drovers between the rodeo circuits and even Jasmine had dropped in for an extended visit to help with a big muster. Moira and Phil were involved in an on again/off again engagement, but were inseparable. Kate thought that Phil should actually sell up and move in because he had eaten at Drovers for the past 4 months. Taylor and Patrick were still friends and Kate only hoped Taylor realised that it was love that shone from his eyes whenever they were together.

The biggest changes seemed to happen to herself. She went to Africa after a professing her love to Dave and then she had come back to deal with Jodi's funeral. She went back to fight for Dave and their relationship, only to return home to Drovers alone a month later… The fight had been one sided as Dave had fallen so in love with his new job and country that an offer for a 5 year contract had been accepted. Kate had tried to fit in and find work but the thought of another 5 years with Dave travelling 3 out of 4 weeks in a month was too much. With broken dreams, Kate was welcomed back into the heart of Drovers, working as a partner to Stevie, when she received a mysterious share of Drovers. Not a big share, but enough for Drovers to be her real home. She moved into Jodi's room in the house and was beginning to make a new start. A new 5 year plan was now hanging on her wall and she had lots of goals and ideas to keep herself busy.

She only hoped that her heart would be able to make a new start too…

1/

Kate was mending the fence closest to the dam, when Riley rode up on his bike.

They had become good friends and Kate was well aware that her best friend had broken his heart. He had tried dating but found it was too soon, and when Kate had arrived back from Africa, Riley put all his energy into cheering her up and filling the gap left by Jodi.

He had even travelled with Kate to visit Nona and had declared himself guardian of her in front of Nona.

Nona had pulled Kate aside before they had left and told her that he was a lovely man, but be careful of her heart as he isn't the one for her.

'Nona, my heart isn't ready for a new love yet, and Riley is just my friend. Don't worry Nona, You will be the first to know when I am ready to look again.'

But now Kate was beginning to wonder if her heart would ever be fixed.

"I've got the wire and tape you needed Kate" Riley called out and gave Kate a start.

Wire and tape for my heart? And then realised that he meant for the fence.

"Thanks Riley, I appreciate you coming all the way out with those things. I can't believe that I ran out of them! Usually I am much more organised."

Riley looked at Kate intently. Yes not quite the organised Kate of old, but you are getting there, he thought.

"Are you up for the pool championship tonight at the Pub? I promise as much hot chips as you want if you cheer me on!" He pulled his puppy dog face and Kate snorted with mirth.

"Well as long as I can have as much tomato sauce as I want on them, then you have a deal. Who are you challenging?"

"Marcus. Thinks he is the king of the pool table and I think it is time he is taken down a peg or two. I knew you would be eager to cheer for me if I was playing him. You don't really get on do you?"

Kate pretended to gag.

"Get on; you've got to be joking. Marcus asked me out when I came back for Jodi's funeral and we just rubbed each other up the wrong way. We haven't managed to see eye to eye since and I try to avoid him as much as possible. Anyway, he has been so busy with dating ½ the population of Gungellan that our paths haven't really crossed."

Kate stomped over to the Ute to find the pliers and Riley rolled his eyes at her back. She was like a dog with a bone over the Marcus incidents and he was always amused when they got within 10 feet together. He couldn't wait to see what happened tonight.

"I'll pick you up at 6.30 and we will make a night of it"

"6.30 it is, I'll be ready Riley"

And Riley threw Kate a grin before driving back towards Kilarney.

Kate stopped to wipe the sweat off her face with sleeves of her shirt around her waist.

"Bloody arrogant Marcus. Riley better whip his backside tonight" and she laughed at that graphic thought.

2/

Kate was just brushing her hair through when Riley pulled up in his Ute. She laughed at how prompt he always was and how immaculately dressed he would be. He certainly knew how to fill out a fair of jeans and some of these tight t shirts were a nice sight too. She shook her head.

'A just friend, just good friends' was her new mantra.

But at least she could be proud of her good looking friend.

She followed the voices to find Riley talking in the kitchen with Phil and Moira. Phil was still a little uneasy around Riley after thinking that he was competition for Moira's feelings, and he had his arm possessively around her waist.

Riley was doing his usual Riley flirting trick and Moira was giggling and responding well.

"Hi all, I am ready if you are Riley?" She greeted the trio. "Are you two heading to the pub too?"

Moira shook her head, and then grinned secretively at Phil.

"Empty house tonight, I think we will be staying in. I want to show Phil the attics and…"

"Alright enough of that, it was time this pool player champion was at the pub warming up. Behave yourselves and don't get lost up in the attics"

Riley affectionately directed to Moira with a wink.

A blush did grace her face and she managed to reply,

"Yes dad. You behave yourself too. Bring our Kate home safe and sound"

And she grabbed Phil's hand and pulled him towards the stairs.

They could hear Phil start to say, "This time you are the ghost and I am the ghost hunter…." before Moira shushed him up.

Kate and Riley burst out laughing and then moved out to the Ute.

"I hope you bought plenty of money for my hot chips and sauce tonight Riley, 'cause I am one hungry woman."

"Yes ma'am, I have enough to keep even you satisfied tonight" waggling eyebrows at Kate.

Kate sat back and smiled. She loved this bantering with Riley. It made her feel special. She needed to laugh again and Riley was just the right medicine for that. She couldn't wait to see him in action tonight and hopefully take Marcus down a peg or two. Marcus drove her crazy for some reason and always treated her like a dimwit. Being treated like this, made her nervous and she normally ended up doing something silly in front of him. Only a few times she had bested him and she hoped to do it again soon. Riley besting Marcus was almost just as good though.

Riley found a park around the back of the pub and ran around and opened the door for Kate.

She laughed at this gentlemanly thing, but stopped when she saw who was watching from the veranda.

Riley followed her eyes and then took action, scooping her up into his arms and carrying her right up to the steps before gracefully placing her at the top.

Kate was laughing and blushing and looked up to greet Marcus.

"Hello Marcus. Ready to lose to Riley tonight."

Marcus looked at her with a smirk and then back to Riley who was standing behind her with his arm around her shoulder.

"More the other way around sweetness, but we will see. Should we have a bet on the side Kate? I lose and I will buy you both dinner out for 4 Saturdays in a row, and if I win, then you dear Kate Manfredi will have dinner with me in Fisher next weekend."

Kate gulped, "Dinner with you Marcus? I don't think so. Riley is going to win" and she went to move inside.

Marcus stopped her by grabbing her arm.

"Scared Sweetness? Surely if you are that confident of your man's ability, then this will be a sure bet for you."

Kate pulled her arm away, because it was tingling.

"For one thing, I don't belong to any man Marcus. And I don't want to become part of the Marcus Turner Gungellan Harem. But you are on and you will lose, and I enjoy 3 course meals so get ready to pay up!" and she carried on inside.

Marcus watched her move inside, and Riley watched Marcus.

"Wow, she is a little spitfire when she wants to be! May the best man win!" and he reached over to shake hands with Riley.

Riley grinned at his competition.

"Depends on what you think the prize is mate" and then walked off to find Kate.

Marcus grinned to himself. He only hoped his pool skills were still up to scratch and he could concentrate on the game. Kate certainly flustered him sometimes, as he couldn't read her at all. They normally ended up fighting about something, and either one or the other of them storming off.

Hopefully tonight he may learn a little more of what makes Kate Manfredi tick.

3/

The tension was heavy around the pool table.
Kate and Stevie were sitting together on the barstools and Marcus, Taylor, Patrick, Alex and Riley were around the table. Alex kept blowing kisses over to Stevie and making cow eyes to her, only making Kate giggle.

Behind Marcus stood a gaggle of harem wannabes, all very typically in the usual uniform of short skirts and skimpy tops and heavy makeup.

Kate looked down at her tight jeans and midnight blue fitted t shirt and scowled. She couldn't see how the girls could wear that sort of stuff without getting sick. But she watched Marcus's eyes rove over the backside of the blonde and gagged. He looked up to catch her look of scorn and smirked at her raising his eyebrow in question.

Kate quickly looked away, red staining her cheeks.

Riley went to the bar to pick up the food called and delivered them back in front of Kate.

"There we are my Angel. All the chips and sauce you want remember." Running his hand down her cheek and tweaking her nose.

Kate laughed as she pushed off his hand, meeting Marcus's eyes over the top of Riley's shoulder and caught the look of curiosity and something else. She turned back to Riley and said as sexily as she could.

"Go get him Tiger, and show Marcus who is boss"

Stevie choked and spluttered on her beer and even Riley's eyes grew a little larger at the sound of her voice.

"Sure will angel. You just sit back so I can win us some dinners. Right mate, are you up to starting now or do you want some more of your fan club to arrive first."

Marcus smirked again, "I think these 4 little ladies will be enough support for me" and he turned and made a bow to them and turned around with a flourish as they mooched up to him.

He glanced at Kate's reaction but noticed she was looking around the pub, and felt a little silly encouraging these girls. He didn't really enjoy them hanging around him, he just liked people reactions to the attention from them.

He shook off the girls and went to choose his cue. He felt rather than saw Kate watching him. But each time he turned she was looking somewhere else or talking with one of their friends.

Alex had made his way over to Stevie and was enveloping her in a hug and whispering in her ear.

He felt a pang of envy, as that was something he wanted to find with someone. Grace came and went and the few dates he had with her, didn't have the spark. In fact any of his dates he had been on since reaching Gungellan didn't have any POW factor. What was he missing?

Riley won the break and sank 2 balls on his first shot. Marcus straightened up and concentrated on the game at hand.

The game continued very closely with both men well matched.

The giggling cheerleaders started to annoy both men, and kept the others amused.

Alex and Stevie were only half watching the game, as they snuggled and talked to each other. Taylor and Patrick had wondered off for a game of darts and that had left Kate to concentrate on the game. One of the bimbos Stacey had come over to 'chat' with Kate, but was really wanting to get closer to Riley.

Kate ended up growling "Hands off, he's mine" and she scampered back to the other side of the table. Riley smiled in relief to his friend.

Marcus had heard though, " I thought it was only my body you wanted Sweetness" winking at her and instantly getting her back up.

As he lined up the black ball, Kate moved over to beside Marcus and leaned over the table, making sure her t shirt pulled tautly over her breasts, and looking up with big doe eyes. "I am willing to share if you are Marcus" which caused the cue to move sideways and the white ball follow the black one straight into the hole.

Kate laughed and Marcus swore under his breath.

"One nil to Kate and Riley" she said marking her finger in the air.

Riley picked her up and swung her around, making her laugh and getting one over Marcus. "We did it Angel!"

All Marcus could do was fume quietly to himself. 'More like she- devil! Where on earth did she learn those tricks? And when did she grow breasts?' thoughts ran through his head and already a plan was hatching.

"Ok, you have won fair and square. Four dinners out for the both of you on me, starting tomorrow night at the Loaded Hog in Fisher. I will organise everything." And he acknowledged Alex and Stevie and then swept out of the pub with the gaggle of women trying to keep up.

Kate watched and smiled at the sight of them all elbowing each other to be the centre of attention.

"Yay for Riley. You did it dear friend." and Kate kissed him on the cheek.

"Don't give me that innocent look Angel, you definitely did the final winning move and someone is a little upset about it. I think this isn't over by a long shot."

"But we have got 4 free dinners paid for and Marcus has run off with his tail between his legs." Kate smirked.

"Yeah, but we haven't won the battle yet Kate."

"I know, but winning tonight is the start, and I will get you a beer"

And she went to the bar.

Riley watched her move away from him. He had almost felt sorry for Marcus tonight, because he had watched his reaction to Kate's moves and knew he wasn't as immune as he would make out.

Where did that leave him? And where did he want to be?

4/

Riley and Kate arrived just before 7.30 at the Loaded Hog, after a talkative drive to Fisher.

They walked into the entrance and looked at the old farm equipment that decked the walls and the old look wooden floors. Riley led her to the desk and they waited for the waitress to see them.

"Table for 2, under the name of Turner please"

The waitress looked a little confused, I've got a table for Turner, but it's a table for 3. Could that be the one?"

"Table for 3! What is Marcus up to?" Kate exclaimed before turning slightly and bumping straight into a chest. A hard muscular chest to be exact. She looked at the chest and then slowly raised her eyes to find Marcus's blue eyes looking back at her. Instantly she took a step back closer to the safety of Riley.

"Hey sweetness, how's it going? Sorry to hold you up!" Marcus said ever so sweetly.

"Sweetness? This is a dinner for Riley and myself. We won it fair and square and I didn't know the prize included the company of yourself. And heaven help us, your fan club isn't coming too? "

Kate was fuming as she looked around and Riley's dopey grin didn't help matters.

"But I am picking up the bill, so I thought I might as well eat the food too. And of course, who could resist your company sweetness!"

The waitress and Riley both watched this exchange with a grin and gave a knowing look to each other.

Kate crossed her arms and stood glaring at Marcus who looked amused.

She stamped her foot, and then moved off to follow the waitress to the booth.

The two men followed Kate, and Riley slid in beside her leaving Marcus to take the other side.

"Gosh look at these prices, I am suddenly feeling very hungry" Kate said slyly taking a quick glance at Marcus.

Busy looking at the menu, Marcus retorted,

"I enjoy taking a woman with an appetite out for dinner Sweetness. Order whatever you want."

Much to Kate's disgust, dinner went well. The well timed digs seemed to go over Marcus's head and Riley could only shake his head at his friend.

Marcus went to settle the bill, and Riley turned to Kate,

"Could you not just let the poor guy enjoy his dinner Kate. Here he is paying for all our meals and drinks and you harass him all night. I can't believe you could be like that Kate. Get over your problem with Marcus, or this is the last time I have dinner with you. I don't like how you have been tonight. I don't like this side to you very much at all! I will meet you in the Ute" and Riley got up and stopped for a moment with Marcus, shaking his hand before leaving.

Kate couldn't believe it.

Her eyes filled up with tears and she felt sick.

She knew she had been a real Cow to Marcus and Riley was right. She needed to apologise.

Marcus stood beside her, a look of concern marred his face.

"Are you alright Kate? Did you and Riley fight or something, cause if he's hurt you I will pound him for you!"

Kate stood and wiped her tears.

"He's mad at me Marcus. I owe you a big apology for being so nasty tonight. I didn't need to be such a cow. Lets face it, no wonder things didn't work out with Dave. Who wants to be with a petty mean nasty female."

Marcus burst out laughing,

"Cut out the dramatics Kate, you will find the man of your dreams before you know it. And tonight was fine. I enjoy being challenged and not being fussed over. You aren't like other women, and I can't work you out sometimes, but you would never be able to say I don't enjoy spending time with you. Let's call a truce for Riley's sake and try being friends" Marcus looked at her and held out his hand for a shake.

Kate placed her hand in his, noticing how big and calloused they were. A worker mans hands.

"Okay we will call a truce Marcus Turner but we might have to work on the friends part. Thanks for the dinner, I did enjoy it."

"You are welcome sweetness, now lets go find Riley and see if he has forgiven you and still giving you a ride home. We may need to get a room together at the pub if you are stuck here." Marcus said suggestively and then burst out laughing when Kate got the indignant defensive look on her face.

"Truce remember?"

"Yes a truce!"

5/

The tentative truce seemed to be working. Kate and Marcus were more tolerant of each other over the next week whenever they met up, although each couldn't resist at least a few digs at each other.

It was Friday night and everyone was meeting at Drovers for a BBQ to celebrate Stevie and Alex's latest news… a baby to be born the following January.

Kate and Moira had prepared food all afternoon and were putting the final touches to the dishes when the men all arrived.

Alex and Phil and Taylor had set lights all around the verandah and Stevie was sitting like a lady of leisure waiting for the food.

Stevie couldn't believe how much her appetite had increased and how tired she was feeling. Alex was playing the role of doting husband perfectly and every little while would stop and check on her and see if he could get her anything.

Apart from a little morning sickness, life was almost perfect.

Marcus arrived carrying a large gift and a large box of cold beer with Riley and Patrick both carrying other plates of dessert and small gifts. Kate called out hello to all 3 as she moved food onto the table and then sat down with Stevie, handing her a juice.

"You can have one beer when we do a toast, but that's all" she told her friend and Stevie rolled her eyes.

"Yes mum" and the two friends laughed.

Alex slipped next to Stevie on the loveseat and gently cradled her close to him.

"Hello again Mrs Ryan, glad to see you taking it easy. Now how about I get you and bub some dinner. I'm sure you haven't eaten for at least 20 minutes or so and I would hate for you to waste away"

Stevie hit Alex away, all the while asking for him to remember the pickles covered in icing sugar.

Kate watched her two friends and sighed. She missed being part of a team and partnership like that. She missed the contact and the banter and the love. But she loved that Alex and Stevie were so happy and that she was back to share all these special moments with them.

"Kate, earth to Kate, are you all right Angel?" Riley called out as he sat on the other side of her.

Kate looked up and touched Riley's hand.

"Just thinking how much I love Drovers and how this is really like home and being with real family."

Riley squeezed her hand and smiled back.

"I know just what you mean! Now how about we get some of that wonderful food I can smell." And pulling Kate to her feet, he led her over to the table.

Marcus stood back and watched Kate and Riley. Tonight he felt a little lonely. Stevie and Alex were feeding each other food, and Moira and Phil were whispering quietly to each other. Taylor and Patrick had snuck off for a kiss or two around the corner and that left Kate and Riley who seemed to have something special too. Whether it was just friendship or something more he couldn't quite work out.

Riley looked up to see a look of sadness on his friends face.

"Come on Mate, before Alex and Stevie eat all the steak. And Kate has made her lasagne too, so you are in for a real treat" and he stood back to make room for Marcus at the table.

"Looks great, thanks!" and Marcus smiled down at Kate.

"Is the lasagne safe or have you doctored it especially for me sweetness."

"You will have to learn to trust me Marcus, you called a truce remember."

"Well in that case, I will have 2 helpings of lasagne sweetness" and he smiled his dazzling smile at Kate.

Kate couldn't help returning the smile and Riley watched on amazed at the change between the two. He wasn't sure if he liked it that much.

The food disappeared fast after Moira and Phil did the main dishes, Kate and Taylor got out the dessert. There was a beautiful chocolate cake on one of the Kilarney plates and both girls couldn't resist a sneak taste.

"Wow this cake is fabulous, where did you buy it from Riley?" Kate asked her friend with a teasing glint in her eye.

"Its not mine Angel, Marcus made the cake and I bought the cheesecake"

All eyes moved to Marcus.

Alex just had to open his mouth.

"Good looking and he can cook what else could a girl want. Pity Grace isn't back to snap him up. But really Marcus you can tell us, where did you get the cake?"

Kate saw a quick flash in his eyes before he looked around,

"Don't believe me but I did make it. You should see the kitchen at Kilarney."

Alex wouldn't stop.

"More like one of your girl friends made it for you. You have enough girlfriends for a new cake each day of the week!"

Marcus turned so his face was in the shadow.

"Whatever Alex. Is this pick on Marcus week? And for your information, I aren't dating anyone. I told all the Mrs Turner wannabes that I was off the market. Now it must be time for the presents, I'll be back in a minute." And Marcus walked into the house.

"Maybe he is pining for Grace. We had better call her up and tell her to come back and rescue for Marcus's heart. I cant believe…"

Kate spun around and shoved her finger into Alex's chest repeated.

"Just shut up will you Alex and go and say sorry to your brother. He doesn't need all this crap from you least of all. You should be there giving him support, not throwing it all in his face, cause you have been in the same situation as he is in"

"Ouch Squirt you are hurting me with that bony finger of yours"

"Well just go and say sorry and we can continue the party"

"But…."

"No buts mister. Just go and find Marcus." And with a final poke Kate moved over to sit with Stevie.

"Stevie…" Alex whined.

"Kate is right, now off you go or you are sleeping with the Alpacas tonight Mr Ryan"

Alex dragged his feet, but went off to find Marcus and returned with him in tow and smiles on their faces.

"Goody, present time" Stevie squealed and clapped her hands together before ripping into the wrapping paper.

Marcus stood next to Riley.

"What happened to Alex? He came over and apologised but muttering about some bossy little witch."

"Our Kate is what happened Mate. Alex said some other things and she went for him and made him apologise. It was a bloody fantastic sight to see!"

"Kate stood up for me. Kate also known as squirt, Angel and sweetness. Kate who couldn't stand me a week ago" Marcus shook his head in disbelief.

Riley smirked,

"A lot can happen in a week Marcus, and Kate does have a heart of gold and doesn't deserve to be hurt again"

"But why are you telling me?"

"As I said a lot can happen in a week, and Kate is a very dear special friend of mine. If she gets hurt, you get hurt. Understand?"

"I won't hurt her, but she's not interested in me. She has made that quite clear."

Riley slapped his back.

"Give it a week Marcus, our Kate isn't as immune as she and you both think"

"But I thought you and Kate were….."

"We don't feel the same way and I want her to be happy."

"What is all this secret squirrel stuff you boys are talking about?" Kate asked as she approached the men.

"I'm just making sure Marcus was up to coming out to dinner again to foot the bill. What do you think Kate?"

"Sounds okay, as long as he is buying the drinks as well and I don't have to drive."

"That can be arranged Sweetness!"

Kate couldn't help but turn and stand with hands on her hips, "And stop calling me Sweetness!"

Marcus and Riley both laughed and Kate left them to it.

She was looking forward to dinner out again but she wasn't going to admit to anyone.

6/

Kate, Riley and Marcus all drove together into Fisher for their meal the following night.

Kate had dressed up a little more, wearing her good black dress and high black boots with heels. She enjoyed wearing the boots as they gave her a little more height and she felt good wearing them.

She couldn't help but notice both Riley and Marcus give a second glance to her when she went out to meet them and she liked feeling like a woman. She felt like she had battled so much with Dave to be noticed, and here it was happening naturally. Nothing could spoil the night for Kate now.

The chatter in the Ute, covered all sorts of topics including Marcus's cooking skills.

"The cake was to die for Marcus, are you sure you haven't had secret chef training somewhere else" Kate said to tease Marcus.

"Sounds like you are hinting for me to come and cook you dinner Sweetness!"

Kate couldn't help but tartly reply,

"Get over yourself Marcus, I am not hinting. No way would I hint. I mean I know you can cook cake, that doesn't mean you can cook dinners as well. No I am definitely not hinting at all, and…"

Riley came to the rescue.

"Kate, he is only joking. We know you are too blunt to hint like that. You aren't that sort of girl!"

"What do you mean, not that sort of girl? Are you saying I am blunt?"

Kate looked to her friend with a shocked expression.

Riley couldn't believe he had put his foot in it so badly.

"well what I am trying to say is ….."

"What Riley is saying is, everyone who knows you, knows that you are direct and say things in black and white. People like that because you don't play mind games and confuse people." Marcus interjected saving Riley.

All the time thinking 'except you seem to confuse the hell out of me'.

"Oh, okay, that's alright then. I don't believe in pussyfooting around anymore. Life is too short to worry about the what ifs, well that is my new motto anyway."

Riley sent a quick smile of gratitude to Marcus and then swiftly changed the conversation to the new brumbies he had found out the back by the dam.

Dinner was fine, and Riley was busy entertaining his friends with stories from his Army life. Kate had enjoyed the food, the drinks and the company. She was starting to appreciate Marcus's dry sense of humour and how he asked lots of questions to learn new things.

"Glad to see you enjoying yourself Sweetness. It's been a good night." Marcus grinned as he watched Kate intently

She smiled shyly.

"Yes thanks for the great dinner. You are quite good company…..for a Mr Heartthrob!"

"Mr Heartthrob?" he asked tilting his head and smiling slyly.

"Yeah, well you know, all those girls hanging onto your every word. Wearing those clothes to get your attention and all that other stuff they've been doing!" Kate flushed at the thought

"You have been taking a lot of notice Kate, I didn't think they would bother you so much!"

"Why would they bother me Marcus? You can date anyone you want. I just thought you had better tastes than that."

Marcus moved closer to Kate, looking into her eyes and then over her face to her lips and back.

"Let's just say my tastes have changed, and maybe those girls were just a distraction until I got what I really wanted"

Kate felt a sudden lack of air.

"And what do you really want Marcus?" she asked in a whisper.

"Kate, I want ….."

And then Riley strode over to the table, grabbing Kate's jacket and purse.

"We have to go guys. I have just had an emergency call from Moira. Alex and Stevie and Phil are on their way to the hospital here in Fisher. Something is wrong with the baby and Stevie. I've already paid so we can go straight there and meet them."

Kate and Marcus stared at each other for a moment and then jumped up to follow Riley to the Ute.

The moment was suddenly gone, and both Marcus and Kate were left to their own thoughts on the trip to the hospital.

It was going to be a long night.

7/

Phil was in the waiting room when they reached the hospital.

"Any news" was the first thing Marcus and Kate said together.

Phil shook his head.

"I was told just to wait here. They have taken Stevie through to a surgical room. I drove them here, but now I have to get back to Drovers and let Moira know what's up. Call us as soon as you here anything ok?!"

Kate gave Phil a hug and both Riley and Marcus shook his hand.

"Thanks Phil"

And they took a seat on the hard plastic waiting room chairs.

The hospital was quiet for a Saturday night and time went slowly.

Marcus started to pace up and down, and Riley went off to find coffee for the 3 of them.

Kate zoned out, the thought of Stevie and the baby being in danger made her feel very scared.

"Sweetness, Sweetness, Kate what is wrong"

She looked up to see Marcus crouched down in front of her holding her legs steady.

"I am so scared for them Marcus. Stevie and Alex and the baby don't deserve this. They have to pull through"

Marcus pulled her up into his arms and held her close.

"It will be okay Kate. Any child that has the combination of Stevie and Alex blood will be a fighter."

Kate thought she felt a kiss to the top of her head. She must have imagined it.

"Thanks Marcus, I needed that. It's just so hard waiting."

"Sorry if I'm interrupting but I've found you both some coffee" Riley pointedly said, raising his eyebrow at their position.

"Ohh" Kate faintly said as she took a step back.

"Thanks for the coffee. I sure need the caffeine."

Not making eye contact with either male, Kate walked to the other side of the room, reading the posters.

Riley and Marcus glared at each other before sitting a few seats apart.

Half an hour later Alex walked through the doors from the surgical department. All 3 jumped up and Alex smiled a relieved smile at them.

"Hey guys, things are going to be alright. Stevie started to bleed and then had some bad cramps so Phil got us here as fast as he could. I owe that man! They took Stevie straight into surgery and discovered that some placenta was trying to pull away from the uterus. This was because she had been a little too active on the horse and overdoing it. It also is because she is carrying triplets, and will have to have plenty of rest and feet up time. If she does that, then all should go well. Imagine that, we are going to have 3 babies at once. My Stevie doesn't tend to do things by halves you know."

"Congratulations for you both and I'm so glad Stevie is safe and well" Kate said and then to her horror, burst into tears.

Riley took the comforting role and hugged her, wiping away the tears.

"Its okay Angel, things are going to be fine."

Marcus gave his brother a manly hug.

Kate calmed down when she suddenly thought of all the things that would needed to be organised.

"I won't be back to Drovers for a few days Kate, so you have to organise everything. I will try and get back to do the sale on Wednesday but until then I'm sure Riley and Marcus will work with you to manage all the work between Drovers and Kilarney."

Kate, Riley and Marcus all nodded in agreement.

"I'll bring you back some clothes and things for the both of you tomorrow Alex" Marcus added and then grinned at his brother. "Triplets? That is so awesome."

Alex headed back to Stevie and Kate, Riley and Marcus headed home in the Ute. Kate listened to them talk quietly but soon drifted off in the backseat.

When they got to Drovers, Riley and Marcus saw she was fast asleep.

"What a precious sight" Riley said.

"Very precious" Marcus agreed, and Riley looked at Marcus more closely curious about his tone and expression.

"Well someone should carry her inside to her bed!" Riley suggested and Marcus nodded.

"I will" and he gently scooped Kate up into his arms and carried her inside.

Kate snuggled into the warmth of Marcus's chest and gave a contented little sigh.

Marcus tightened his hold and enjoyed the feel of Kate. She was so light and delicate for someone who was so tough and strong. He couldn't believe this tiny wisp of a woman could make him feel so many things at once.

He lay her gently on her bed and turned on the bedside lamp. The soft glow let him see enough to take off Kate's boots. He covered her up and then bent and gave her a kiss on her forehead.

"Night, night Sweetness" he whispered and then left for the kitchen to leave a note for Moira.

Kate rolled over and murmured "Night Marcus" in her sleep, leaving her to dream about life on Drovers after the invasion of triplets.

8/

Kate was exhausted but pleased with herself about keeping on top of all the jobs at Drovers. The last few days had been very busy and extremely hard, missing both Stevie and Alex, but the troops rallied together and even Phil had turned up to give an experienced hand. She had seen a little of Riley and Marcus when they would check in on her, but they also were flat out at Kilarney.

She found her favourite chair on the verandah and quietly watched the day finish around her. Sipping a beer, she contemplated her decision to come back home to Drovers and knew she had made the right choice.

'Dave, the man of her dreams! Thinking about him, hurt less and less and she could remember the good times without feeling like crying each time. Maybe she could survive a broken heart.' She thought to her self.

"I'd pay a million dollars to find out what is making you smile Sweetness" a voice whispered and Kate jumped in her chair.

Marcus was there watching her with his usual smirk.

"I didn't think you had a million dollars left Marcus, isn't that why you needed Bryce's help with the race horse. Anyway these are worth twice that and then some!"

The sound of Marcus's laughter made Kate shiver.

"Sweetness, you would be worth paying a billion dollars for" and he sat down in the chair next to her.

Kate handed him a beer and blushed at the compliment.

"You're just saying that because you feel you have to, but I am getting over Dave you know, so you don't have to keep complimenting me."

Marcus just smiled again,

"But I like complimenting you Sweetness. I like doing a lot of things around you."

"Now we know you are definitely exaggerating! Hello this is Kate you are talking to, not another one of your bimbos or groupies. I can see right through your tricks and ploys Marcus Turner." Kate folded her arms with a huff.

"Tricks and Ploys! What tricks and ploys have I got Kate? You sound a little jealous if you ask me"

"Me Jealous" and beer sputtered out everywhere and Kate started to choke. Marcus slapped her on the back, and Kate quietly said thank you.

"Why would I be jealous Marcus?"

"Maybe Sweetness, you really want me, but are scared of the competition"

"Competition? What competition?"

"So you are admitting that you have been watching my dates and feel…"

Kate jumped up.

"I don't feel anything Marcus, and certainly not for Casanova like you" and she stormed off inside.

Marcus just watched her walk away from him. 'Good one Turner! You certainly know how to charm the ones that count, NOT'

He heard slow clapping and turned to watch Riley walk up the steps.

"Mate you certainly blew that chance"

"You don't have to tell me, I just can't get it right. One step forwards and two steps back. It could be a new dance called the TurnerManfredi."

Riley laughed

"At least you think it's funny" Marcus said and then had to laugh .

"Maybe I should just give up and stick to Bimbos and groupies"

Riley pulled a face.

"Bimbos and Groupies what a horrible way to end your life. Look I've known Kate a little longer than you, and if I've learned anything, Kate likes romance but she also likes to be in control where she feels most safe. Find a way to get to her through those two things and you will be alright."

"Thanks Riley, you are a good friend."

"I'm a good friend to the both of you, so remember tread carefully around my friend's heart, or I may remove yours."

"Message received loud and clear Mate" and the friends wandered off home together.

9/

Alex brought Stevie home on Saturday, and she was put straight to bed on Doctors orders until she was stronger. Marcus and Patrick had come over earlier and moved Stevie and Alex's entire bedroom downstairs to the study and moved the study upstairs until the babies were born.

Kate had gone to check the dam, avoiding Marcus moving furniture at Drovers, but did get back to greet Stevie and Alex. She gave Stevie a quick run down on what jobs they had done, but stopped when she saw how tired she looked. She watched as Alex swung his wife into his arms and carried her up the steps and inside. Turning around, she caught Marcus watching her so she turned the opposite direction and walked off quickly.

Marcus watched the swing of her hips and her plait bouncing down her back and smiled. 'What a woman'

Kate had tried to come up with different excuses to get out of the 3rd free dinner, but Riley insisted that she needed to come and if she didn't then he wouldn't go to Adelaide with her.

She was a little surprised when Riley picked her up and Marcus wasn't in the car. She didn't want to ask, and Riley didn't say anything, but by the time they had got to Drovers letter box Kate couldn't stop the question.

"Where is Marcus?"

Riley smiled at Kate

"Just us tonight Kate dearest, Marcus has other plans!"

"Other plans, is he on a date?" Kate tried to keep her voice light, but felt a pang of anxiousness waiting for the answer she dreaded.

"He told me at lunchtime, that he wouldn't be eating with us tonight as he had other dinner plans." Riley patted her hand gently.

"He probably has a date with one of the groupies. Probably that horrible Stacey Brown from the Chemist. I knew he couldn't resist her for long."

Kate crossed her arms and huffed again.

Riley laughed.

"He can date who ever he wants to Kate. If Stacey wants to go out with Marcus and he wants to see her, it is going to happen"

"She is such a bimbo though Riley. I thought he might have some taste. Did you see her leopard print dress last time we went out? I cant believe it."

"You are sounding a little jealous Kate, are you sure you don't like Marcus yourself?"

"Are you kidding? he is arrogant and egotistical and treats women like dirt and always says stupid things. I wouldn't date him if he was the last man on earth."

"Kate, I think you are protesting too much. If you think carefully about it, maybe you like Marcus more than you think you do. He is a nice guy and would make a certain person I know very happy." Riley watched Kate's reaction.

Different expressions fleeted across her face, until she got the stubborn look.

"I don't think so Riley. I don't think Marcus would be interested in me at all. He is more a short skirt, long legged, big boobed man if I ever knew one. His reputation is worse than yours. Lets just stop talking about him and enjoy our ?"

Riley knew that stubborn look wasn't going to get him very far, so he let the topic drop and started to tell Kate about his latest brumby.

Kate listened half heartedly to him talk, as Marcus's face flashed into her mind. She squeezed her eyes tightly and he poofed away like a popped bubble.

She knew that she enjoyed his company but wouldn't admit that for all the tea in china and he certainly had a very nice body. His muscles rippled in all the right places and he certainly had a 6 pack to be proud of. One day she had noticed him working without a shirt and saw a sprinkling of fine blonde hair leading down into the top of his jeans. He certainly was a hunk… I wonder if his big hands mean…..

"Kate! You are zoning out on me. Sorry if my story bores you."

Kate looked at Riley with a guilty look.

"Sorry Riley I was just a feeling a little tired"

" I thought you must have been feeling hungry because you got a funny look on your face and then licked your lips" Riley laughed.

"Oh well, oh ok, maybe I was thinking about what I would like on the menu" she said hoping to persuade Riley.

"But you must be thirsty too, because you muttered something about wanting a 6 pack like that. I will let you have a beer at dinner you know"

Kate flushed red. She turned away from Riley and was relieved to see them pulling into a carpark.

'I am going to have a good time' she chanted to herself and then realised how silly she was being. Grabbing Riley by the arm, she walked inside with a smile on her face.

They were seated in a secluded area with other tables for 2. This was a new restaurant and Kate looked around at the classical décor.

"This is really nice. Pity Marcus is missing out"

Riley just nodded in agreement.

The waiter came and they ordered their drinks.

"Now that was a beer for you aye Kate? Or was it a 6 pack?"

"Funny ha ha Riley" and the friends laughed together.

Dinner was going well when Kate looked up to see a familiar face across the room.

"I thought you said Marcus was going out Riley. But here he is right now!"

Riley turned to look and smiled.

"He looks like he wont be joining us tonight. Look Kate, he is sitting with the new kindergarten teacher from Fisher. What was her name again? Lianna or something like that. I met her the other night and she is really nice. Not his normal type at all. This one he could take home to meet Bryce!"

Kate felt sick. This Lianna did look nice, in fact she looked beautiful, and being a teacher she must be clever and liked little children. Who could compete with that?

Kate looked down at her black pants and green shirt. She felt like an old school matron in comparison. God she felt so stupid to even think that Marcus could like her even as a friend.

All Kate's old insecurities washed over her.

"Riley I've got to go. I'm not feeling well" Kate's face was one of panic.

Riley grabbed her hands and rubbed this thumbs over hers.

"Hey, lets just stay and eat some more food and I have to have at least one dance with my friend before going home. Can you do that for me Angel?" Riley held Kate's gaze.

"Ok for you Riley" and she started to relax.

Riley kept the conversation light and funny and got Kate to smile a couple of times. She couldn't help but sneak glances back over to Marcus and watched as he and his date laughed and had fun together. Not once did Marcus look over to see his friends.

'Why would he want to look over anyway?' Kate asked herself.

"Come on Angel, lets have a dance now and then I can get you home," and Riley held out his hand to her.

"Okay Riley just one and then lets go home."

The band had started up over in a corner of the restaurant and the lighting dimmed.

Riley stood with his arms open and Kate stepped into them. He held her very lightly and gently moved her around the dance floor. Kate rested her head on his shoulder and followed his moves. She enjoyed dancing and loved the music the band was playing. She was glad she stayed. Riley was a good friend. She only wished sometimes she could feel more towards him.

Riley moved her away from him and spun her around and back then back into his arms. Kate laughed and Riley smiled down at her.

When Kate looked around at the other couples she noticed Marcus and that Kindy teacher right away. The teacher woman had her arms clinging tightly around his neck, and his hands were holding her bottom. She watched as their heads moved closer and closer together, and Kate couldn't help but shake her head. Just as their lips were to meet, Marcus looked up and straight into Kate's eyes keeping her mesmerised. She gave him a sad smile and then pulled on Riley's hand and moved off the dance floor.

"I need to go now Riley."

Riley had watched the exchange between his two friends and decided Kate had had enough for the night.

"Lets get you home Angel!"

The ride back to Drovers was quiet, with both of them thinking about their nights.

When the Ute stopped, Kate leaned over and kissed Riley on his cheek.

"Thanks Riley. You are the bestest friend"

As she went to hop out, he grabbed and tugged on her hand.

"Kate you are one of the most lovely woman I have ever met. I only wish things could be different between us, but I know you don't feel like that. Don't forget that okay?"

Tears came to Kate's eyes.

"I wish I felt…"

"shhh don't say anything Kate. I know! Try and sleep tight okay?" and he waited for Kate to shut the door before driving off.

Kate got herself ready for bed. She looked at the wedding photo of the bridal group and looked at Marcus and then Riley. How could she feel this way for one man, when there was another that she should have fallen for.

Dreams came finally that night with Riley and Marcus in a tug of war and the rope had a face. A face that looked like Kate's.

10/

Kate kept herself very busy over the next week. She got up exta early and set herself the hard jobs out on the property, taking food with her, so she could stay out late. She only had enough energy to shower and crawl into bed catching a few precious hours sleep.

Every time Riley or Marcus called in at Drovers, Kate was absent and even the others commented on how little they had seen her.

Finally on Thursday when Kate stumbled in to her room, she found Riley waiting for her.

He gave her his usual Riley grin and Kate gave him a tried smile.

"Hey Angel, heard you have been going like the clappers to complete all the jobs single handedly! What's up?" Concern showing on his face.

Kate flopped onto the bed, and then due to her overtiredness, burst into tears. Riley instantly took her into his arms and soothed her, whispering comfort and rubbing her back. Kate clung to him and cried until she was close to sleep.

Riley untangled himself and covered her up. He went to go when she rolled over.

"Don't go please Riley. Don't leave me like Dave!"

Riley moved back to the bed, kicking off his boots and slid under the covers with Kate. They reached for each other and he held her until they both fell asleep.

Kate had forgotten to set the alarm, and both she and Riley were sound asleep when Marcus arrived to look for the missing Riley.

"Kate hasn't gone out this morning yet Marcus. She must be sleeping in a little. Why don't you go and tell her breakfast is ready and she might know where Riley has got to." Alex suggested.

Marcus bounded up the stairs and quietly opened her door, stopping at the sight of Riley and Kate wrapped in each others arms.

Pain moved across his face and he shut the door and hurried back down stairs.

"Is Katie on the way down mate?"

"No she is a little occupied!" Marcus said as he slammed the back door.

Jumping in his truck, he took off to find space to think.

'And to think I thought Riley was my friend…'

He angrily brushed away tears that threatened, and as he did he didn't notice a stray sheep on the road. He swerved hard to avoid the sheep and ended sliding across the road and into the ditch.

'Kate' was the last thing he thought before he got a pain in his head and saw blackness.

11/

Kate woke to up to the sound of a door slamming. She looked around little disorientated because she was sure there was someone else in her bed.

'What happened last night?' she thought and shaking her head trying to loosen the memories.

Lifting up the blankets gently she bravely took a peak at the body next to her and was relieved to see them fully clothed.

'Thank goodness for that'

The body moved and rolled over and Kate feigned sleep again, until she felt them settle and continue to sleep.

She slowly opened one eye at a time and saw it was Riley asleep and that jolted her night before.

'What a relief' were her next thoughts making the much worse scenarios melt away.

Trying not to disturb Riley, she slipped out of bed and grabbed her working clothes and made to the bathroom to change.

She flew down the stairs and into the kitchen realising that she had overslept.

Alex was making a breakfast tray up for Stevie and grinned when he saw Kate walk in.

"Morning Squirt. Hope you had a good sleep in. You have been working like the demon over the past few days and I've got Patrick covering you this morning so you can enjoy your breakfast."

"Gee thanks Alex. I certainly must have needed that extra sleep." She then looked sheepishly at him.

"What's wrong Squirt?"

"Well don't get the wrong idea, but Riley is upstairs asleep. We are just friends and fell asleep together, so don't hassle him when he wakes up ok?"

Alex grinned even more.

"Yep, just friends. I understand. But didn't Marcus see Riley up with you when he went to wake you for breakfast?"

Kate's mouth dropped open.

"Marcus was here?"

"Yeah he was here about 15 minutes ago looking for Riley and I asked him to get you up for breakfast. He came back down and said you were occupied and then left. Yeah, he came back through and slammed the door when he left. He must have been mad that Riley was late for work."

"He said I was occupied? Oh god, he must have seen Riley and thought we had been, well we were, well we must have… Oh what a mess!"

Kate slumped into a chair and banged her head on the table.

Alex laughed at the sight.

"Come on Kate, it doesn't matter what Marcus thinks. Its not as if you like him…oh you do like him! Little Kate likes my little brother. I don't believe it. When did this happen?"

"Alex what am I going to do. I think I like Marcus, but I certainly dislike him a lot of the time too. He drives me crazy. Now he thinks Riley and I are doing the dirty together and he will continue to date and probably marry the lovely kindy teacher Lianna who seems to be Miss Perfect."

Alex crouched down beside Kate and put his arm around her.

"Kate just go and find him and talk to him, before you marry him off to someone else. Us males can be pretty ignorant about the female species and we certainly can't read minds. Sometimes you have to hit us over the head with a mallet to get us to understand."

Kate gave Alex a hug.

"Thanks so much Alex. I will go and find him and tell him what I am not quite sure, but I will try at least. Stevie is lucky to have you Alex Ryan, you really are a big teddy bear aren't you"

"Teddy Bear?" Alex said very indignantly.

"I am all man and don't you forget it" he said pounding his chest like Tarzan.

Then from the distance you could hear…

"Hey Pumpkin, don't forget to bring me jam toast too?" from a bedridden Stevie.

A sheepish Alex replied

"Yes dearest heart I am on my way" and then turning back to Kate.

"Remember all man!" and grabbing the tray walked out to Stevie.

Kate couldn't help but reply with a laugh,

"Yes Pumpkin you are certainly all man."

She then left feeling a lot happier to look for Marcus.

12/

Driving along, Kate sang to the latest Rebecca Lavelle CD. She had a few of her CDs and could connect with her music on so many levels.

Kate had just rounded the corner when she saw a truck nose dived into the ditch. Two seconds later she connected the truck with Marcus and she felt her panic rise. She pulled up slightly back from the scene and put her warning lights on before running closer.

"Marcus, Marcus, are you alright" she yelled as she got to the door.

Looking in, her heart leapt to her mouth as she saw him slumped over the steering wheel.

Kate wrenched open the door and called his name out again. There was no response.

Kate tried to think back to College and what they did in first aid.

'Think Kate' she muttered to herself, trying to keep her cool.

She gently pulled Marcus back and held her head up to his face and heard him breathing. She looked over his face, and saw a deep gash at his temple that was still bleeding. She very carefully moved her hands down his arms and over his stomach and then down his legs to see if there was any other damage. His right arm was at an unusual angle but he showed no other signs of injury.

Kate looked around for something to make a temporary bandage from and finding nothing, ripped her shirt up in makeshift strips and tied them around his head. Marcus groaned at her hands moving his head, but stayed passed out.

Kate then grabbed herself phone and called an ambulance and then Drovers to get help. Marcus's breathing was very shallow and so Kate climbed in beside him and holding his hand, quietly talked to him, telling him how much she was 'in like' with him and hoped they could go out sometime. He gave no response, so Kate continued to babble and tell him about her life growing up.

Alex and Riley arrived about 10 minutes later and found Kate crying while holding Marcus.

"Hey Angel. You have done well. The ambulance will be here very soon, and we can get Marcus checked out." Riley said to his friend.

Kate looked up with sad tear filled eyes.

"He can't die Riley. I think I might love him"

Riley smiled.

"Of course you do Kate and he loves you too. Now let's get him fixed so that you can start dating"

Alex gently pulled Kate out of the car and told her that they were going to move him out.

She told him of his right arm and his bleeding head and he smiled gently.

"Go and get your blanket from the car Kate and then you can sit with him"

Kate ran to the car, and heard the ambulance siren in the distance. She felt relief at the thought that Marcus would be fixed very soon.

The ambulance pulled over a few minutes later and the paramedics helped Riley and Alex move Marcus into the back of the ambulance.

Alex climbed in with his brother and turned to Kate.

"Are you coming with us Kate?"

It took Riley gently pushing her towards the ambulance.

"Go on Angel, he will need you when he wakes up"

"Oh I don't know Riley."

"Kate, just go and take a chance."

And with that Kate jumped in beside Alex and sat holding Marcus's hand in the ambulance.

Riley watched the ambulance head off to Fisher, and then was on the phone organising Patrick and Phil to come and get both the vehicles left with him. He knew Marcus was in capable hands and with the two people that loved him most in the world.

He had jobs to do before he could make it to the hospital to check on his friend. He only hoped things worked out for his two closest friends he has ever had.

13/

Kate sat silently beside Marcus's bed willing him to wake up. The doctors had been in and out of his room and the last thing said was, "We now just have to wait"

When the ambulance had reached the hospital, Marcus was taken straight into surgery so they could mend his shattered arm. They were also a little concerned about the bang to his head, after stitching up the gash, but told Alex and Kate that it was a good sign, that Marcus was having a good sleep. Definitely a sign his body was trying to heal its self.

Alex had come in and out the room, between calls back to Drovers and Kilarney and kept an eye on Kate.

"Kate, why don't you sit next to Marcus and talk to him. You know the doctor said that he can hear us"

Kate shook her head.

"I can't Alex, I don't know what to say. I don't know if Marcus wants to talk to me. We haven't been actual friends you know." Kate looked back to Marcus with a very sad face.

"Kate, you and Marcus spark each time you are within 10m of each other. Whatever you are both feeling, it is obvious something special. Now get your skinny butt over here and make my brother better."

"But…"

"Not buts Kate, come and hold his hand and chatter like you do. Please do it for me" Alex said, pulling a puppy dog face.

Kate moved over to the chair next to the bed and gingerly picked up Marcus's cool hand.

"What shall I say Alex?"

"What ever comes to mind Kate, you are a woman and you were born to talk. So just start. I have to go and check on Stevie again and I will be back."

Kate looked back to Marcus. He was pale and cool to touch. He lay there so quietly with only the beep of the moniter to accompany his breathing.

She looked over his face, memorising every nook and cranny that made him Marcus.

'Now where to start' she thought.

"Well Marcus, you don't know much about me and I don't usually like to talk about myself but who are you going to tell. So just lie back and enjoy the tale of Kate Manfredi.

This story starts about 26 years ago, when a baby girl was born to Santina and Ricaldo Manfredi. They called their first born Caterina Viola Manfredi or Kate to her friends.

There were 2 more daughters born 2 years apart after Kate, Adrianna and Elena and the 3 little girls grew up with a loving extended family.

Kate was very close to her special Nonna and listened to the stories Nonna would tell about coming over as a young bride from Italy and how they started a farming life raising their family of 7 children including Kate's own father Ric.

When Kate's grandfather or Nonno died, Ric and Santina went back to work the farm with Adrianna and Elena. Kate was put into boarding school where she met the best friend a girl could ever find called Jodi Fountain.

Stories that Jodi told her and stories from her childhood, made Kate decide that she wanted to work on the land and so she set goals for herself from about 16 years old to make sure she got there.

She was quite a serious girl, but her friendship with Jodi seemed to give her more balance. During this time Kate fell in love for the first time with a young teacher called Daniel. This of course didn't continue much to the heartbreak of teenage Kate.

The two friends parted while Kate went to Agricultural College and Jodi returned to her home on Drovers Run. They kept in contact with a few sporadic letters but nothing much more than a few times a year.

It wasn't until Kate answered an advert for a farm hand that she was reunited with her friend and got to live with her again.

Kate settled down to life on Drovers after a few hurdles and worked hard. Over time she fell in love with a slightly older man called Dave who was the area vet and they became good friends. Kate watched Dave get involved in other relationships with the women around her, and she even had a couple of boyfriends herself, but her heart always belonged to Dave.

Finally when she thought Dave may have noticed her as a woman, he made plans to fly to Africa to live. Kate was again heartbroken and stood back to let him go and find his dream. But miracles of miracles, Dave couldn't live without Kate and came and took her with him to Africa.

This was so unlike Kate to do something so spontaneous and she loved the feeling. Before she knew it, she was off on a plane to Africa and planning a new life with her beloved.

But sometimes life journeys take different paths and Kate came back to Australia alone. She had chosen to leave the love of her life and give him the freedom to live his dream.

Kate threw herself into her work and life again on Drovers. She had to deal with the loss of her best friend Jodi as well and Kate became a more mature person because of it.

Kate found a new best friend called Riley and was finally seeing that she had a real family on Drovers Run too.

One day a new man came to Kilarney looking for his family too. He was a handsome man, although very arrogant and teasing. His name was Marcus.

Kate and Marcus fought over everything and just seemed to generally not get on, but one day Kate realised that she was jealous of Marcus and all the girls he dated. He seemed to be interested in all the girls but her. She did try to be just friends but struggled to hide her feelings.

One day Marcus was involved in a bad accident and Kate was so afraid she was going to lose him. She sat with him and talked and wanted to share her love with him, but was too scared to say for fear of losing his friendship as well.

This special man Marcus, had given her heart new hope.

She decided to do as her best friend Riley said and take a chance."

Kate looked at Marcus. He lay there so quietly and she leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek and then lay her head on the edge of the bed and weeped.

After a while Kate realised she felt something move and then noticed that Marcus's hand was stroking her head. She sat her head up and and went to pull away when his hand grabbed hers.

"Kate, don't cry" a very husky tired voice said.

Kate stopped instantly and looked at him.

"Marcus, oh thank god you are awake. I should get the nurse. I should ring someone, I should get Alex. I should …"

"Stop talking and just sit back here with me." He gave her a small smile and she sat on the edge of the bed.

"Closer" the husky voice said again and she wriggled up beside him.

"Much better. Now before the nurse comes to poke and prod me, I"ve got two questions."

Kate's big brown eyes looked at him and she nodded.

"Are you involved with Riley?"

"No, he has become my best friend but that is all it can ever be. I don't feel like that for him"

"So you didn't sleep sleep with him last night?"

Kate looked shocked and then thought about how Alex said Marcus had gone looking for her at breakfast.

Groaning she said,

"No I have never 'you know what' with Riley and I don't ever intend to. He stayed last night and slept in my bed with clothes fully on. I was in my own clothes too. I hope you didn't think that we 'you know whated"

Marcus slowly nodded his head

"I saw you both together in your bed and thought 1 plus 1 equals 20. I was so jealous. I left and because I wasn't concentrating I crashed the truck."

"Oh Marcus, It was my fault. I am so sorry"

"Kate it was my fault okay, not yours and no more buts. But question 2 is, when I get out of here will you tell me the rest of the story of Caterina Viola Manfredi over dinner and other sorts of dates. I love the story and would love to help you write a few more chapters about Kate getting over this butthead Dave and falling madly and happily ever after with Marcus. If you would like to."

"Oh Marcus, I would love that." And Kate took a chance and pressed her lips to his.

"So I see that Kate has found some special therapy to help you get better Marcus old boy" said Alex from the door way.

Kate would have slipped off the bed, but Marcus's good arm kept her firmly beside him.

"Kate is my medicine Alex, and I will need a lot of her therapy for years to come."

"Years!" exclaimed Kate.

And both men laughed.

"Yeah, we tend to heal slowly if not for the love of a good woman" Alex told Kate.

The nurse came in and then called the doctor and the moment was lost.

Kate found herself leaving with for Drovers with Alex only after the firm promise of returning after dinner for a visit.

Kate did get another kiss from Marcus though before she left and he declared her his girlfriend in front of the nurse and doctor.

Kate blushed but enjoyed the feeling that came with the title 'girlfriend.'

As she sat in the ute, thinking about all that had happened she knew that it was take to take a new journey and chance with Marcus.

New hope for her life and a new love for her heart!

EPILOGUE

4 years later.

The traditional chocolate and chip night meant that at least once a month the Drover's women all sat around the dining room table sharing wine, chips and chocolate catching up with each other.

Stevie was sitting on the left of Kate and looking very pregnant again for the second time.

Twins this time, due in 2 months time – just in time for Valentines Day.

The triplets were almost 4 years old and Lizzy, Lachlan and Daisy certainly kept their mum and dad very busy.

Their big sister Rose had moved back to help out when she had finished at high school, and Kate was helping her get her Agricultural Degree extramurally. She was out tonight on a date with Damien, one of the hands that work at Kinsella.

Tess was sitting at the head of the table and had moved back to Australia about a year before. Nick and Tess and Claire and little Jack and Prudence born 9 months apart were living at Wilgul and both Drovers and Wilgul were running as one property. There was a paddock full of Alpacas as Tess transported a few breeding stock back from Argentina when they came.

Moira and Phil were still together, both sworn off re marrying but happily living together in the cottage. Of course Phil had revamped the whole cottage including installing air conditioning. They have been using Drovers as a base and travelling to different parts of the world promoting Gungellan Beef.

Grace got involved with Heath and moved to Kinsella 2 years ago. She and Heath were looking at adopting a child from China. Grace kept in touch with both Jasmine and Regan and they visited regularly when they travelled through the area.

Taylor and Patrick were engaged to be married the following year. It had taken them a year of dating off and on to realise that it was for real.

They had moved into the shearers quarters and with the help of the Drovers men were renovating bit by bit. Taylor had asked Phil to walk her down the aisle and they were happy to get married at Killarney.

Sitting on the other side of Kate was Jodi. Jodi and Rob returned back to Drovers 6 months earlier. They had moved about a fair bit before settling down in Scotland, but the weather made them homesick. That and the fact that they had a little boy called Sam.

After being given the clearance to return, they came back to settle back on Drovers.

Sam was 15 months old and had his father's curls and his mothers blonde hair and the nature of granny Meg. Meg visited when she could, but she and Terry were busy promoting their joint book about love surviving in a caravan.

Kate herself was content. She married Marcus 2 years ago, after 1 month of dating and a 23 month engagement.

11 months ago, they had a beautiful dark haired blue eyed daughter called Sophia May Turner, luckily a dream baby as anything else would have sent Kate's lists out the window.

They shared the main house at Drovers with Jodi and Rob, but have had the house extensively renovated so there were 2 completely separate wings for the families to use and then the main rooms to share.

Kate had a new lot of goals set, although they were for the whole family and revolved around family time together.

It was a fun night and when the clock struck 10 there was a knock at the door.

Alex bravely put his head around the door.

"Stevie love, its time to get you and the rugrats home. They are all strapped into their carseats ready, and now its your turn."

Stevie smiled at her husband as he pulled her gently from the chair and guided her through the door.

"Night everyone"

Slowly all the men folk came in after that to claim their women, until there was only Kate and Jodi sitting at the table.

"You know Stretch, I wouldn't change anything about my life"

"Me neither Squirt"

The two friends stood and hugged each other before walking out, shutting the door. Marcus stood at the top of the stairs, eyes sparkling as he saw his wife. He strode down to her and swept her up in his arms.

"Night Jodi, it is time Mrs Turner and myself go practice making a brother or sister for Sophia." And then climbed back up the stairs.

They heard Jodi and Rob laughing behind them and then Jodi squeal as Rob chased her into their room.

There was always new hope, and life at Drovers Run proved that!

THE END