Courting Carolina

Janet Chapman - Author

ePub eBook | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101581377 | 304 pages | 28 Aug 2012 | Jove | 18 - AND UP
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In New York Times bestselling author Janet Chapman’s magical town of Spellbound Falls, anything can happen, even love that defies time itself…

While building a wilderness trail for a new five-star resort in Spellbound Falls, underachieving playboy Alec MacKeage rescues a beautiful woman who is being chased by kidnappers and agrees to let her hide out with him for a few days. But when those days stretch past a week, Alec finds himself fighting his attraction to the mysterious Jane Smith—despite knowing the woman isn’t who she claims to be. Then again, neither is he…

On the run from her own life, Jane is really Carolina Oceanus—and she’ll do anything to avoid the six ancient-minded men her father has brought to Maine to vie for her hand in marriage. But as the maddening competition heats up, Carolina realizes that she’ll have to come clean to Alec, the seductive loner who’s managed to capture her heart…

Chapter One

Alec heard the distinct rumble of thunder over the gush of the cascading falls and tossed his shovel onto the stream bank with a muttered curse before vaulting up behind it. He picked up his shirt and used it to wipe the sweat off his face, then turned to glare at the dark clouds rolling across the fiord toward him. “Go around!” he shouted, pointing north with his free hand as he wiped down his chest. But the storm gods didn’t have any sense of humor, apparently, and the hair on his arms stirred just as lightning flashed on a sharp crack of thunder. “Well, fine then!” he shouted with a laugh as he bolted toward camp. “Take your best shot, you noisy bastards!”

Alec slipped into his shirt when the wind pushing ahead of the storm took on an ominous chill, and lengthened his stride when he realized he was losing the footrace to the sheet of rain sweeping up the mountain. How had he been caught by surprise? There hadn’t been a cold front forecast to come through, or even any clouds in the crisp September sky ten minutes ago. Another crack sounded to his right just as the wind-driven rain hit with enough force to make him stagger, and Alec scrambled to catch himself with another laugh.

But he came to an abrupt halt at the sound of an unmistakably feminine scream, followed almost immediately by an enraged shout that was also human—and male. He held his breath through several heartbeats trying to discern its direction in the downpour, then took off at a run again, leaving the trail at a diagonal down the mountain. He weaved through the old-growth forest even as he wondered who was out here, as this section of the resort’s wilderness trail was closed to guests until he had all the footbridges and lean-tos in place.

Alec came to a halt again next to a large tree and lifted his hand against the rain as he quickly calculated his odds of saving the woman without getting himself killed in the process. The two brutes attacking her weren’t much of a worry, whereas the large dog racing up the mountain toward them might be a problem.

The woman gave another bloodcurdling scream as she bucked against the man straddling her, and twisted to clamp her teeth over the wrist of the guy kneeling at her head, pinning down her hands. The ensuing shout of pain was drowned out by a vicious growl as the dog lunged at the man on top of her, the animal’s momentum sending them both tumbling to the ground.

Okay then, the dog was on her side. Hoping it realized he was also on the woman’s side, Alec drove his boot into the ribs of the man she’d bitten, sending him sprawling into a tree just as lightning struck so close, the percussion knocked Alec to his knees. And since he landed next to the woman, he caught her fist swinging toward him, grasped her waist with his other hand, and lifted her to her feet. “Run! Up!” he shouted as he gave her a push. “God dammit, go! The dog and I will catch up!”

She hesitated only a heartbeat, but it was long enough for him to see the uncertainty in her eyes as she glanced at the dog before she turned and ran uphill. The guy he’d kicked lunged at her on the way by, and Alec leapt to his feet when he realized the bastard had a knife.

The woman scrambled sideways, crying out as she grabbed her leg and kept running. The man started after her again, but suddenly turned at Alec’s roar. Alec caught the wrist holding the knife and drove his boot into the man’s ribs again, twisting the guy’s arm until he felt it snap before plunging the blade into the bastard’s thigh. He then spun around when the dog gave a yelp to see it regain its footing and lunge again at the other man, this time going after the arm holding a goddamned gun.

Alec slammed into the guy, grabbing his wrist just as the weapon discharged. The dog tumbled back with a yelp, and Alec snapped the bastard’s arm over his knee, causing the gun to fall to the ground. He then shoved the screaming man headfirst into a tree, watching him crumple into a boneless heap before he turned and rushed to the dog that now had its teeth clamped down on the other man’s neck.

“Hey, come on!” he shouted over another sharp crack of thunder. He grabbed the dog by the jowls and pulled it away. “That’s enough,” he said, holding its head from behind so it couldn’t turn on him. “I know you’d like to see them both dead, but they’re not worth the hassle it’s going to cause us. Easy now, calm down,” he said loudly over the raging storm, guiding the dog uphill several steps, then giving it a nudge with his knee. “Go on. Go find your lady.”

The dog hesitated just as the woman had, its eyes narrowed against the rain and its lips rolled back, then suddenly took off in the direction she’d run and disappeared into the storm. Alec looked down at the man cradling his broken arm against the knife in his thigh, knelt to one knee, and drove his fist into his face. “Sleep tight, you son of a bitch,” he muttered, glancing over to make sure the other guy was still out before he also headed uphill at a run.

Only he hadn’t gone two hundred yards before he found the woman lying facedown on the soaked forest floor, the dog licking her cheek. Alec approached cautiously, crooning calm words loud enough to be heard over the pounding rain, and slowly knelt on the other side of her. He laid a firm hand on the dog’s raised hackles when it stiffened on a warning snarl. “You’re going to have to trust me, ye big brute. Your lady’s hurt, and I need to see how badly.”

He felt the dog—which he suspected was a wolf or at least a hybrid—tremble with indecision, and Alec slowly reached out with his other hand and touched the woman’s hair plastered to her head. “Easy now,” he said when the snarling grew louder, moving his fingers to her neck to feel for a pulse. He breathed a sigh of relief to find it strong and steady, and carefully rolled her over. “There we go,” he said, releasing the dog when it lowered its head and started licking her face again. Alec slid an arm behind her shoulders and a hand under her knees and stood up.

He carried her uphill until he came to the trail and turned toward camp. “No, heel!” he snapped when the dog stopped and looked back down the mountain. “They’re not going anywhere.” The animal fell into step beside him, and Alec repositioned the woman’s head into the crook of his neck to keep the driving rain off her face and blew out a harsh breath to tamp down his own anger. Christ, it had been all he could do to keep from killing the bastards himself when he’d caught them brutalizing her.

What was she doing out here? Had the men brought her into the wilderness to rape and kill her and bury her body? The nearest old logging tote road was six miles to the south, and the resort he worked for was over ten miles away on top of the mountain. But she’d been running up from the fiord—just a mile below his camp—which meant they’d probably come by boat.

Alec scaled the lean-to steps, then dropped to one knee and carefully set the woman on the plank floor beside his sleeping bag, keeping her upper half cradled against his chest. He slid his hand from under her knees, then had to shove the dog away when it started licking her again. “Nay, ye let me check her out,” he murmured as he smoothed the hair off her face—only to suck in a breath.

She was beautiful but for the angry welt on her pale cheek and the darkening bump on her forehead that ran into her hairline. Alec looked down at her endlessly long legs and saw the bastard’s knife had drawn blood. Realizing she was shivering violently, he started undressing her, but stilled in surprise again when he pulled her soaked blouse out of her pants and saw the dark bruise on her side. It ran over her ribs into her sheer blue bra, and he recognized that it was two or three days old. Filled with renewed rage, he carefully worked the blouse off her shoulders, only to find her arms also covered in small bruises, some of them appearing to be fingerprints.

It was obvious the woman had been struggling against them for several days, and he started rethinking his decision not to kill the bastards as he continued exposing the full extent of her nightmare. Feeling much like the storm raging directly overhead, Alec fought back the darkness that had been his life for eight years when he caught himself thinking there wasn’t any reason he couldn’t bury the men out here; quietly, efficiently, and with the calm detachment he’d once been known for.

The woman had been bound, as evidenced by the raw chafing on her wrists. He found more bruising on her legs when he carefully peeled down her slacks, and she was missing a shoe. Alec pushed the dog out of the way, lifted back the edge of his sleeping bag, and carefully set her inside it.

He pulled over his duffel bag and dug around until he found a T-shirt. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured as he sat her up and unhooked her bra. “But I’m afraid getting you completely dry trumps modesty at the moment.” He worked the T-shirt over her head, carefully slid her arms into the sleeves, and smoothed it down over her utterly feminine, rose-tipped breasts all the way to her thighs. He pulled her heavy mess of long, wet hair out of the collar and laid her down, then grabbed a towel hanging on the back wall of the lean-to and wrapped it around her head. Setting his jaw determinedly, he slid his hands under the T-shirt and carefully worked off her matching blue panties, but stopped when he reached the knife gash. “Damn,” he growled, pulling off the panties and tossing them beside the discarded bra. He tucked the sleeping bag over her upper half and opposite leg, then dug through his duffel for the medical kit.

The dog settled against the woman’s side and rested its chin on her shoulder, keeping a guarded eye on him. “You’re a good friend,” Alec said conversationally as he examined the wound on her thigh. “Ye can guard my back anytime you’re wanting.”

It wasn’t a deep gash that needed stitching, he was relieved to see as he carefully cleaned it with gauze then started placing butterfly bandages along the length of the cut. He dabbed it with salve and covered it with another piece of gauze, taping it into place before tucking the baby-soft leg into the sleeping bag.

“Had ye reached the end of your strength or is that bump on your head making you sleep?” he asked the unconscious woman, carefully lifting first one and then the other of her eyelids. Again relieved to see her pupils appeared normal and even, Alec sat down and took off his boots. He then stood up and started stripping off his own wet clothes as he studied what was definitely a full-bred wolf, its long guard hairs muted black over a soft pelt of gray, with piercing eyes of hazel-gold watching him from a broad wet face. “Aye, you’re a good partner in a fight,” he said as he shoved off his pants and boxers. “And I thank you for not going for my throat.”

The wolf’s brows were all that moved as its gaze followed Alec around the shelter as he dried off with another towel and slipped into clean clothes. He pulled the band off his wet hair, toweled it dry as well, then combed his fingers through the shoulder-length waves before tying it against the nape of his neck again. He crouched down and laid a hand on the woman’s forehead, gently smoothing her brow with his thumb. “She’s going to be okay,” he promised the wolf as he stood up and walked to the front rail of the three-sided lean-to that sat twenty yards up from the trail.

The storm was finally making its way north between the mountain they were on and the one at the end of the fiord, leaving in its wake an almost obscene silence but for the water gently dripping off the leaves. Alec glanced in the direction of the men and blew out a sigh, then walked to the rear wall and pulled down a small backpack. He placed a coil of rope inside, along with the resort’s satellite phone and the medical kit, and slipped the pack over his shoulders. He sat down and dug two pairs of socks out of his duffel, putting on one pair followed by his boots, then rolled to his knees and peeled back the bottom of the sleeping bag.

He slid off the woman’s socks—one of them shredded from her running in only one shoe—and covered her feet with his hands to take away some of the chill. He then slipped his oversized socks on her and tucked the bag around her legs before moving to her head. Alec reached inside the sleeping bag, pressed his palm just below her collarbone, and felt her steady heartbeat and even breathing.

“Ye stay here and keep warming her up,” he told the wolf, tucking the bag tightly around the woman before standing up, “while I go tie our two sorry friends to a tree and call the sheriff to come get them. And I’ll call the resort to come get your lady.” He grinned down at the wolf. “I hope ye like riding in a helicopter.”

Alec started to leave, but stopped when the woman suddenly moaned, and he turned to see her lift a hand from the confines of the sleeping bag when the wolf licked her face. He crouched down beside her again, laying a steadying hand on her shoulder when she tried to sit up. “Easy, now. You’re safe. No one’s going to hurt you.”

She pressed back into the pillow, confusion clouding the deepest green eyes he’d ever seen. “Who are you? Where am I?” she asked, her gaze darting around the shelter. She started to pull her other hand free, only to gather the oversized T-shirt she was wearing into her fist, her gaze snapping to his. “You undressed me.”

He nodded. “I needed to get you dry to warm ye up,” he explained, stifling a grin when her other hand moved inside the bag and she gasped. “Don’t worry, I kept my eyes closed,” he said with a wink when her emerald gaze narrowed, her indignation assuring him she was well on the road to recovery. “What’s your name, lass?”

She blinked up at him, saying nothing.

Alec shrugged and stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, then, I have some trash I need to deal with. I’ll call the sheriff and then the resort to have their helicopter come pick you up.” He nodded toward the wolf. “Does your tenacious protector have a name, at least? Because I’m thinking he deserves a few slobbering kisses in return for the way he ran to your rescue.”

She pulled the sleeping bag up to her chin, again saying nothing.

“Okay then, I guess I’ll be on my way.”

“Wait,” she said when he walked down the steps, making him turn back. She rose up on one elbow, causing the towel to fall off her hair. “I don’t . . . Could you please not . . .” She took a deep breath. “Please don’t call the authorities. I don’t want anyone to know I’m here.”

“You can’t be serious,” he said, scaling the steps to crouch down beside her again. “Your family must be going out of their minds looking for you.” He touched her bruised wrist. “You’ve obviously been missing for several days.”

“But nobody knows I’m missing,” she whispered, clutching his arm. “Please, could you let me stay here with you for a few days, just until I get my strength back and can decide what I need to do?”

Was she serious? “Hell, woman, for all you know I could be more dangerous than the bastards who had you. You don’t know a damn thing about me.”

“I know you didn’t hesitate to save me from two armed men.”

“The wolf took care of one of them,” he snapped, standing up. Why in hell was she asking him to stay? Was someone still after her? Or was that bump on her head making her delirious? “What’s your name?”

Her gaze lowered. “Jane.”

“Jane what?”

“Smith,” she said, her cheeks darkening with her obvious lie.

“Well, Jane Smith,” he muttered, walking off the platform again. He stopped and looked at her. “We’ll discuss your staying when I get back from dealing with the trash before it crawls away.”

“You could just kill them,” she said quietly, “and bury their bodies under a rock.”

Okay then, he must be delirious, because he’d swear she’d just asked him to commit murder. “No, I can’t,” he said just as quietly, “because then I would have to kill any witnesses.”

She didn’t even bat an eyelash. “I won’t watch.”

At a complete loss as to how to respond, Alec strode off—only to stop when she called to him again. “I have a couple of bags,” she said. “But I had to leave them when I realized the men were gaining on me. Could you get them for me, please?”

“Are they full of gold? Stolen art? Drugs?

“No,” she said, startled. “They’re full of my clothes.” She reached behind her and gave the wolf a shove. “Kitty knows where they are.”

Alec closed his eyes. “Please tell me ye didn’t just call that noble beast Kitty.”

“And could you feed me when you get back from dealing with the . . . trash? I haven’t eaten for three days.”

She was a rather bossy victim. “I’ll see if Kitty and I can’t hunt down a squirrel or two while we’re at it,” he said, turning away to hide his grin and jogging down the trail before she thought of something else she’d like him to do—other than commit murder and find her clothes and rush back and feed her.

Oh, but he was tempted to let her stay, if for no other reason than to keep himself entertained for a few days. That is, until he remembered her battered though otherwise flawless body and felt his groin grow heavy. Hell, spending even one night in the same lean-to as the beautiful woman would likely test the noble intentions of a saint, much less a man who’d been all alone in the woods all summer.

Alec followed the wolf into the forest from where they’d emerged onto the trail earlier and tried to remember when the last time was that he’d been so immediately captivated by a woman. Especially an obviously high-maintenance princess who’d given him a fictitious name, who didn’t want anyone—including her family—to know where she was, and who woke up from a nightmare and started issuing orders.

He found the men right where he’d left them, the only problem being the bastards were dead. Hell, one of them was actually smoldering, as was the exploded tree he was crumpled against. The other guy was riddled with shrapnel, a large piece of wood so forcibly driven into his chest that it was sticking out of his back.

Alec crouched to his heels and rubbed his face in his hands, then stared at the men in dismay. This ought to be interesting to explain to the sheriff: two fried corpses that upon closer examination would show cracked ribs and broken arms and a knife wound, and also a discharged gun nearby. Oh, and a battered, not-missing woman in his sleeping bag going by the name of Jane Smith, who also happened to have an illegal pet wolf named Kitty.

Speaking of which, where was Kitty?

Alec scrubbed his face again, undecided what to do, then suddenly stilled. Well hell, it wasn’t his fault these two idiots had chosen this particular piece of wilderness to settle their differences, was it? In fact, he could think of several scenarios for their being out here, from a drug deal gone bad to a botched smuggling trip to . . . to an execution interrupted by a thunderstorm that had killed both executioner and executee.

As for the beautiful princess in his sleeping bag . . . well, what princess? He could let her stay a few days to get back her strength, then run her down to Spellbound Falls in his boat in the middle of the night, hand her a few dollars, and kiss her saint-tempting mouth good-bye. After all, he used to make his living orchestrating damage control—on damage he’d caused, usually. In fact, he’d been so good at it that he’d had to leave the game before he’d irrevocably damaged himself.

Alec went over and started carefully rifling through their pockets, only to come up empty-handed. He didn’t find a wallet, money or loose change, or even any lint—which meant they weren’t going to tell him what was going on any more than the woman was. But just as he started to stand, he noticed the odd-looking burn mark on the smoldering bastard’s shirt, unbuttoned a couple of buttons, and pulled away the material.

“Bingo,” he murmured, taking his knife out of its sheath. He cut the leather cord and peeled the medallion off the charred skin before buttoning the guy’s shirt back up and standing.

He studied what appeared to be an ancient coin of some sort as he walked to the other man and crouched down, used the tip of his knife to snag the cord around the bastard’s neck, and lifted another medallion out of his shirt. He sliced the cord then held the coins beside each other, frowning at the identical symbols crudely stamped into what he suspected was bronze, before turning them over to see writing in a language he didn’t recognize.

Okay then; these weren’t telling him anything, either, since he didn’t have a clue what the symbol was. Could it be the calling card of some criminal organization? Or judging by the men’s plain, almost crude clothes, maybe a cult? Or for all he knew, these two bastards could be members of an arcane fraternity he’d heard about a few years back that got its jollies pulling elaborate international crimes, and Jane Smith could be nothing more than the innocent victim of a pledge prank that had gone bad when she’d escaped.

Alec shoved the medallions in his pocket as he walked a short distance away, deciding to keep them secret until he got more pieces of the puzzle to put together. He sat down, slipped off his pack, then reached in past the now useless rope and medical kit and pulled out the satellite phone—because the resort owner and his boss, Olivia Oceanus, had decided cell phones ruined the wilderness experience for her guests and had talked her wizard husband into blocking reception in the resort’s backcountry. He dialed 911, dutifully reported the accident he’d stumbled across—because he really didn’t want to bury the problem under a rock—and gave the dispatcher the coordinates. He also gave his satellite phone number, saying the sheriff could give him a call when he arrived so Alec could lead him to the bodies.

He shoved the phone back in his pack, then started walking the area looking for wolf and smaller shoe tracks in the scattered patches of mud. He erased them all the way up to where she’d collapsed before he backtracked through the scene and headed down to the fiord, again leaving only the tracks the men had made. He eventually found where they stopped—or rather, had started—at the inland sea’s high tide line; the problem being that he didn’t find the boat they had to have used to get here. He saw only his boat, which was pulled into the trees and turned over, its motor stowed beneath it. He looked out at the fiord, wondering if the storm’s waves had set their boat adrift. But if the men had been chasing her, then there should be two boats floating out on the water instead of none. That is, unless she’d escaped the moment they’d stepped ashore and the storm had sunk their boat.

Alec faced the looming mountain at the end of the fiord and frowned. He knew the water was over two thousand feet deep in the unnatural waterway, and that the underground saltwater river ran up from the Gulf of Maine before it continued north all the way to the St. Lawrence Seaway. The twelve-mile-long fiord had been added to Bottomless Lake when an earthquake had pushed several mountains apart two and a half years ago, at the same time turning Maine’s second largest freshwater lake into the new Bottomless Sea—all compliments of Spellbound Falls’s resident wizard, Maximilian Oceanus, who also happened to be Olivia’s husband and Alec’s other boss.

None of which explained how Jane and Kitty and the two dead men had gotten here. But at the moment he honestly didn’t care, as he had damage control to see to, a woman to hide—and feed—and two bags to find. He’d found her missing shoe when he’d followed their trail down, making him realize that she’d traveled over half a mile wearing only one shoe.

Which meant Jane Smith was one hell of a tough princess.

Alec gave a sharp whistle then waited, and smiled when Kitty—Christ, he needed to find a better name for the noble warrior—silently stepped out of the woods less than forty feet away. “Well?” he asked, lifting his hands in the universal gesture of question. “Did ye find your lady’s bags or not?”

The wolf trotted to the overturned boat and scratched at its gunwale.

Okay then, he guessed that settled that mystery. Jane had stashed them under his boat, which implied she’d had enough lead on the men to take the time to hide her bags. Correction: Her luggage, Alec discovered when he pulled out two heavy satchels.

Oh yeah, the lady was definitely high maintenance.

He shoved the wolf away and opened the smaller of the two bags and started pulling out . . . girly stuff. Toiletries, mostly: a silver brush and comb and mirror set, two ditty bags full of makeup and lotions, some pretty expensive perfume, then an iPad and an iPod, and a . . . She’d brought an alarm clock on her great escape?

But on closer inspection, he saw it was also a sound machine. Honest to God, the label said it had fifty digital recordings to lull you to sleep, including a waterfall, a heartbeat, thunderstorm, nighttime woods, ocean surf—complete with seagulls—and the gentle sound of a crackling fire, just to name a few.

Alec tossed the machine onto the growing pile with a snort, then picked up one of the ditty bags again. “Let’s see what’s in your medicine cabinet, sweetheart,” he murmured, unzipping it. Nothing interesting, he discovered as he pawed through the tubes and containers of makeup. He found more of the same in the second bag. Hell, the woman didn’t even have aspirin. He picked up another small tubular bag and unrolled it to expose several clear pouches, about half of which were filled with jewelry. He unzipped one and pulled out a necklace, giving a soft whistle. Just the center stone—which was an emerald and definitely real—could feed a small nation for a year.

Okay then; Jane Smith was rich.

Or else a very expensive date.

He replaced the necklace and started to roll the tube back up, but stopped when one particular item caught his eye. He unzipped the pouch and pulled out the small packet and started to smile, only to suddenly frown when his years of training to notice even the smallest detail kicked into gear. That seemed a bit odd; why keep a condom with her jewelry instead of in her toiletries bag?

A nagging little warning alarm went off in his gut, telling him it just didn’t fit. He wouldn’t have thought anything of it if he’d found it anyplace else, but there was only one, and the woman appeared to be treating it like a precious jewel.

Alec placed the packet back in its pouch and rolled the bag back up, deciding to catalog the condom in the back of his mind along with all the other peculiarities about his beautiful guest that didn’t add up. He peered down into the satchel again, pulled out the tall boots lying across the bottom, but stopped in the act of throwing them to the side and looked inside one of them. “Bingo,” he said, pulling out a thin leather wallet.

He dropped the boot and opened the wallet, then sat back on his heels with another quiet whistle at the sight of no fewer than ten credit cards. He pulled one out; Jane Smith, he read. He pulled out another one and saw it was issued on a European bank. He fingered through the other cards until he found three driver’s licenses belonging to Jane Smith, who was five feet eleven and thirty years old, had lied about her weight he knew from carrying her, and who apparently lived in New York City—at a very uptown address—as well as Monte Carlo and South Africa.

Well, at least she was keeping her lies somewhat simple.

She had about a thousand dollars in cash in various currencies, the bulk being American. But no photos of family or anything of a personal nature other than a sales receipt for the boots—which she’d apparently had custom made in New York for the tidy sum of twenty-nine hundred bucks.

Hell, his entire wardrobe hadn’t cost three thousand dollars. Alec stuffed everything back in the wallet, shoved it back in the boot, then repacked the bag. He sighed, willing to concede that his hunting rifle had cost him several grand, so he supposed spending was a relative matter. He gave a quick glance at the sun to see it was nearing noon, then hauled over Jane’s other monstrous satchel and pulled back the zipper—only to have its contents explode free. “For the love of Christ, is there anything you didn’t bring?” He swiped a pair of purple lace panties off his arm, plucked the matching bra—noting the rather full cup size—off his thigh, and smiled.

Damn, he had a thing for sexy underwear.

Just as his mysterious guest did, apparently.

Alec drove his hand down through the clothes in the satchel, feeling around until he was satisfied Jane hadn’t brought anything practical to her kidnapping, like a knife or handgun or Taser or bazooka. Nope, she hadn’t even packed any hand grenades.

He stuffed everything back in the bag, then had to press his knee down on the damn thing to get it zipped closed. He straightened with a long-suffering sigh and stared in the direction of his uncle’s home halfway up the fiord on the opposite shore. Should he let Duncan know what was going on?

Probably not. A little over two years ago, Duncan had become a husband and instant father to four little heathens—which had turned into five exactly nine months later—and the man didn’t seem to be anywhere near to recovering yet. Alec decided he shouldn’t say anything to Mac and Olivia, either, as he didn’t want anyone making him turn over the order-issuing, straight-faced lying, beautiful gift the storm gods had seen fit to present him with this morning. Because, hey, he was just tired enough of his own company that he was actually looking forward to camping out with a princess. And all that really mattered was that she was safe, right?

Well, safe from anyone who might still be chasing her, Alec decided with a grin as he picked up her bags and headed toward camp. Because safety was also a relative matter, and he wasn’t making any promises to the storm gods or Jane about keeping his hands off her.

And he definitely wasn’t making such a foolish promise to himself.

As for Kitty . . . well, considering he’d survived being shot twice, blown up to hell and back once, and stabbed more times than he cared to remember, Alec figured the wolf would just have to get in line if it wanted a turn at him.

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