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I wasn’t looking forward to Her Outback Rescuer, a Harlequin by Marion Lennox from 2012. I like independent women who don’t need to be rescued, especially by busy billionaires. But there was nothing else in the laundry room, and I must read something in a bubble bath, so I dove in, and had a great read.

Maybe it was the train. The story starts on the Ghan Railway, a train that runs across Australia over four days and three nights. There’s something very romantic and exotic about cross country train travel, and a crowded dining car is a perfect and natural setting for a chance encounter. Billionaire Hugo Thurston and his outgoing grandmother Maude sit with two sisters, Amy and Rachel. Maude recognizes Amy as a retired dancer from a company she and her late husband supported, and friendly conversation follows.

Hugo notices that Amy is discreetly diverting small bits of meat to her purse. Intrigued and amused, he quietly cuts a small piece of his own steak, wraps it in a napkin, and passes it to her under the table. He’s a keeper – a playful gentleman – and their immediate sharing of secrets establish them as a good couple. The rest of the story is just confirming this.

That night, someone on the train reports Amy’s dog, and, desperate to hide it, she rushes to Hugo’s posh suite, still in her pajamas. Hugo cooperates beyond her expectations. When the conductor arrives to check on the reported dog, Hugo and Amy are disheveled and partly undressed, and Amy looks like she was just enjoying a passionate kiss. Which she was.

Hugo’s a gentleman, but he’s not interested in romance. He’s trying to decide if he should leave the army to run the family business, and after witnessing his parents’ lives in the spotlight, he’s reluctant to live in the public eye. He’s even more reluctant to subject a partner to that. Amy’s not looking for romance either. She’s had a relationship fail, and she’s looking forward to a little time to rest, recover, and establish herself in a new career in a new town.

However, Hugo and Amy enjoy each others’ company, and their relationship is encouraged by Maude and Rachel. Once off the train, Rachel and Amy had plans to stay at a hostel for a few days, but Maude insists they stay with her and Hugo at the family estate.  Hugo and Amy eventually and maturely decide the circumstances are appropriate for a genuine lover’s tryst, with no expectations. It is very discreetly described.

The only remaining question is whether this relationship will last. She’s unsure about his willingness to commit, and he’s unsure if she is willing to endure the media spotlight.  Hint – she worked in theater.

In many respects the story is over the top. We’ve got the random meeting on a train, a fake lovers’ tryst, an overtly matchmaking grandmother, the rescue of a baby animal, assorted personal tragedies, a socially conscious mining CEO, a hero who flies a helicopter to a private picnic location, a heroine skilled in martial arts, and a school for special children.

Despite all these unrealistic and cliche elements, and more, the author makes them seem perfectly natural. Maybe it works because the various tragedies are not milked for pathos, they’re just bad things that happened and make good things more appreciated. Maybe it works because the entire tone is slightly unrealistic, as opposed to unrealistic plot elements set in and contrasted with “the real world.” The story reminded me of the screwball romance comedies of the 1930s.

Title and dog caper notwithstanding, Amy isn’t rescued. She demonstrates lots of  independence, and doesn’t need Hugo’s money or attention. They’re just nice to have. I’m curious to see how her sister makes out in the sequel.

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