Authors: Nikki Logan
“So we have to take that into account.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Like a scientific variable?”
He laughed. “If you insist on deromanticizing it, sure.”
There was nothing romantic about the way he was keeping his emotions hidden from her. “I thought we were talking about attraction, not romance,” she challenged.
He raised his glass. “Spoken like a true scientist. Actually, we were talking about kissing.” He leaned farther toward her. “But since you mention it, yes, let's talk about attraction.”
“Lust.” Kate straightened up and faked confidence she was far from feeling. “It's straightforward enough. I can practically feel the norepinepherine doing its job.”
He smiled. “And what job's that?”
She kept her face impassive. “Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Inability to think clearly.”
Burning need to crawl right over this tableâ¦.
Green eyes blazed into hers. “I'm doing that to you right now?”
The air sucked clean out of her body. “Iâ¦umâ¦ We were talking theoretics. It's good to understand these things. Keep them in perspective.”
“Or what?” His eyes blazed into hers. “Seriously. What's the worst that could happen? Where's the law that says we can't just enjoy each other while it lasts?”
The implication bristled. Was any kind of more meaningful relationship so unlikely? “There's a lot at stake.”
At last, his eyes sobered. “True enough. Have we done much damage already?”
Damageâ¦ “Nothing irreparable.”
It was after a long, lazy baby shower heralding my friend's second-born that she first described to me the stunning, oceanfront farm property she grew up on and the colony of New Zealand fur seals that also called it home. It really set my mind buzzing about how anyone could bring themselves to leave such an idyllic place, and that led me to ponder how a young boy who really wasn't rural material might feel about the expectation of inheriting such a grand place. I wondered if a boy like that might reject his heritage and move all the way to the city rather than face the truthâthat he might just not be much chop as a farmer!
The perfect girl for that man, of course, would be a sleek city professional with a penthouse and a minipoodle. So, naturally, I gave him a rough-around-the-edges biologist with a passion for stinky, surly fur seals, who wanted nothing more than to get back on the land she loves. And then I threw in a tense property dispute to really mix things up.
Well, no one said love was supposed to be easy, right?
I hope you enjoy the visit to Western Australia's far south coast and spending time at Tulloquay with Kate, Grant and the motley bunch of fur seals. They really are a most misunderstood creature.
I'd love to hear from you if you enjoy
A Kiss to Seal the Deal.
May love always find you,
www.nikkilogan.com.auâA Romance with Nature
lives next to a string of protected wetlands in Western Australia, with her long-suffering partner and a menagerie of furred, feathered and scaly mates. She studied film and theater at university, and worked for years in advertising and film distribution before finally settling down in the wildlife industry. Her romance with nature goes way back, and she considers her life charmed, given she works with wildlife by day and writes fiction by nightâthe perfect way to combine her two loves. Nikki believes that the passion and risk of falling in love are perfectly mirrored in the danger and beauty of wild places. Every romance she writes contains an element of nature, and if readers catch a waft of rich earth or the spray of wild ocean between the pages, she knows her job is done.
For the real McMurtrie family and for the Cape Saunders colony of New Zealand Fur Seals.
To my friend, Kate, whose research formed the basis of the background for this story.
Her family farm sits on a stunning peninsula on the South Island of New Zealand and is home to abundant wildlife, including a colony of seals, as depicted in this story.
Grant snorted. Since when had any part of Kate Dickson's dealings with his father been respectful? She and her travelling band of greenies were single-handedly responsible for crippling Leo McMurtrie's farm. And for his death that had followed.
The town might believe old Leo had had a dicky heart, but there were three people who knew otherwise: Leo's best mate the mayor, the town doctor and Grantâthe only child who had found his father in the front seat of his idling vehicle. It hadn't even run out of fuel yet.
Kate Dickson's letter was still open on Leo's kitchen bench-top. Grant had left it, and everything around it, untouched until the doctor had made his declaration and the funeral was over.
He ran his eye over it now.
Negotiate the buffer zoneâ¦ Protect the sealsâ¦ Limit farming activityâ¦ Regretfullyâ¦
First respect, now regret.
What was respectful about hounding an old man into letting you onto his land and then putting the wheels in motion to have tight conservation restrictions slammed on twenty-eight kilometres of his coastline? About repaying a favour by screwing over the man that had given it to you? Kate Dickson called herself a scientist, labelled her work research, but she was nothing
more than a bleeding heart with her eyes on making a name for herself.
At his father's expense.
The irony that he found himself in his father's corner for the first time now, only after he was dead, that their only common ground should be beyond the grave, didn't escape Grant. Or was it that he just hadn't been willing to appreciate his father's perspective while he'd been alive and so staunchly defending it?
He balled the delicate handwritten letterâwho wrote by hand these days?âand erased the irritating Kate Dickson from his conscience. Then he let his head fall forward onto the hands that fisted on his bench top and took a shuddering breath.
And then another.
A shrill call made him lurch; he snatched up the phone before thinking. âMcMurtrie.'
The uncertain pause sounded long-distance. âMr McMurtrie?'
Grant understood the confusion immediately. âMcMurtrie junior.'
âOh, Iâ¦I'm sorry. Is your father there, please?'
A road-train slammed hard into his guts. The man who'd raised him had never really
for him and never would be now. âNo.'
âWill he be back today? I was hoping to discussâ¦'
Breathless. Young. There was only one female that he could think of who hadn't been at Leo McMurtrie's packed funeral yesterday, that hadn't brought a massive plate of country cooking for his orphan son. That would be oblivious to his death. His eyes fell on the letter. âMiss Dickson, I assume?'
âMiss Dickson, my father passed away last week.'
Her shocked gasp sounded genuine. So too the agonising pause that followed and the tightness of her voice when she finally spoke. âI had no idea. I am so sorry.'
Yeah, I'm sure you are. Just as you'd been getting somewhere
with your crazy plans.
If he made a sound, he would say exactly that. So he said nothing.
âHow are you?' she asked quietly. âCan I do anything?'
The country courtesy threw him for a second. This woman didn't know him from Adam but her concerned tone was authentic. That boiled him more than anything else. âYeah. You can keep your people far away from this property. You and your microscope brigade are no longer welcome.'
The voice sucked in a shocked breath. âMr McMurtrieâ'
âYou may have sweet-talked my father into letting you on his land but that arrangement is now void. There will be no renegotiating.'
âBut we had a commitment.'
âUnless your commitment is in writing, and has the words “in perpetuity” in bold print, then you have nothing.'
âMr McMurtrie.' Her voice hardened.
Here we goâ¦
âThe arrangement I had with your father was not just about him. It has the backing of the Shire Council. There's district funding attached to it. You cannot simply opt out, no matter how tragic the circumstances.'
Slamming the phone down was the most satisfying thing he'd done all week. It gave him an outlet. It gave him focus. Blaming someone helped; it meant he didn't have to blame the man he'd lost. The man he'd been estranged from for nineteen years.
Nothing Grant did could bring back the father he'd walked away from as soon as he'd hit legal age. But he could do one thing for himâthe thing his father had died wanting.
He could save the farm.
He could not run it. He was no more equipped to do that now than the day he had walked away from it when he'd been sixteen. But he could keep it ticking over. A week, a month, however long it took to get it ship-shape and ready for sale to
someone who could make it great. Probably not what his father had left Tulloquay to him for, but he'd never buckled to his father's demands before and he wasn't about to start now.
He'd never been farmer material growing up and Leo McMurtrie dying hadn't changed one part of that.
Kate Dickson had stood on this rustic porch one time too many, readied herself for this argument once too often. It had taken twelve solid months of negotiatingâalmost pleadingâfor Leo McMurtrie to agree to let her team conduct their three-year research study on his property. And now in the final, crucial year of operations she was right back where she had started.
Up against a lawyer, no less.
An hour on the internet had tracked down Leo McMurtrie's only son, Grant. He was some contract specialist from the city, and he was angry and still grieving, if his manner on the phone last week was any indication.
Hopefully the personal touch would do the trick.
She knocked on the freshly painted timber door then smoothed her hands down her best business outfit. Pencil skirts and fitted blazers weren't really her thing but she had two of them in her wardrobe for occasions just like this one.
The door didn't move. Kate glanced around nervously. Should she have called ahead or would he have just ignored that? Someone was home; she could hear the thump of loud music coming from deep inside the farmhouse. She knocked again and waited.
âCome on, McMurtrieâ¦' she mumbled.
When the son still didn't materialise, Kate tested the door. It swung happily open and the music-level surged.
âHello?' she shouted down the long hallway over the
of heavy metal. âMr McMurtrie?'
Cursing under her breath, Kate moved down the hallway towards the deafening noise. The smell of paint hit her
immediately and she saw old floral-patterned sheets draped over furnishings in the freshly coated rooms that she passed. The sheets struck her as incongruous on a property belonging to a man's man. Leo McMurtrie had been as tough as nails. Even once they'd finally come to an arrangement regarding access for her team, he'd still been as surly as a mule, with a sailor's vocabulary. The fact he slept on old-fashioned, floral sheets just didn't fit with the man she knew.
Then again, she barely knew him at all. Leo hadn't wanted to be known.
Lucky there wasn't an emergency or something. She tiptoed forward.
âWhat the hellâ?'
Out of nowhere, a solid-rock wall stepped out and slammed into her, sending her reeling backwards, a damp weight dragging on the front of her suit. Kate lunged for the paint bucket that tipped between them just as a pair of masculine hands did the same, and the two of them ended up half-crouched on the floor like a badly-gone-wrong game of Twister. But they did manage to right the bucket and stop any more paint from sluicing down onto the timber floorboards.
The second thing Kate noticedâafter subliminally absorbing the sensationally manicured pair of hands that relieved her of the bucketâwas the intensity of a pair of eyes the colour of sea grass. They blazed at her from under a deep frown.
She struggled for something else to focus on. Paint pooled at her feet, dripping wildly off her clothes onto the floor.
âDon't move!' Leo McMurtrie's son barked, blocking her passage with his body and placing the tin carefully to one side. It took him a few minutes to wipe up the worst of the mess at her feet with a series of cloths but, as fast as he wiped, she dripped. Paint thickened and blobbed off the pointed seams of the tailored fabric.
âGet that jacket off.'
Kate bristled at his autocratic tone but couldn't ignore the fact that her jacket had taken most of the paint and it was very clearly still streaming onto the floor. She stripped it off, bundled it up with no further concern and tossed it over to the growing pile of paint-covered rags in the corner.
Two sets of eyes went to her beige-stained skirt.
âThat stays on,' she said unequivocally.
His tight lips wanted to twitch but his scowl wouldn't let them. Kate saw it all play out on his face in the seconds before he masked it. He crouched before her and, without so much as a word, he hand-scraped the paint off the tight fabric of her skirt, off the thighs underneath that stiffened with surprise, reaching around behind her legs to hold her steady as he did it.
Kate stood compliant and mortified until he'd finished, feeling every bit like the child she'd worked so hard to grow out of. The girl who just did what others told her. McMurtrie junior straightened up and glared at her. Those captivating eyes were evenly set in an oval face framed at the top by short, sandy-blond hair and at the bottom by a matching two-day growth. His eyes perfectly matched the khaki shirt that flared open halfway down his chest and which revealed a gold band hanging by a leather thong around his neck. More sandy-blond hair scattered across his tanned collarbone.
His lips tightened further as he noticed the direction of her gaze.
Desperate to get things back on a professional footing, Kate pushed her thick hair back from her face and wedged her âgame on' glasses more firmly up her nose. She straightened as best a paint-covered woman could and held out her hand to shake his.
Too late, she noticed the slap of wet paint on her right handâ which meant it was on her hair and probably her glasses too. The hand dropped limply.
Nice one, Kate.
But the pragmatist in her whispered that what was done was done. Nowhere to go but up. âMr McMurtrieâ¦'
âNever heard of knocking?' He glared at her, unimpressed.
Her eyes narrowed. Maybe he wasn't grieving. Maybe he was just an ass most of the time. Like father, like son. Even if she'd come to feel great affection for McAss senior, he'd been pure hard work at the beginning.
âNever heard of a perforated ear-drum?' she shouted back, eyebrows lifted.
It was only then he seemed to realise that the stereo was still pounding out. He turned away and killed the sound with the flick of a nearby switch. It took her heart a few beats to realise it had lost its synching rhythm. When he returned, his shirt was fixed two buttons higher. The tiniest part of Kate mourned the loss of that manly chest.
âThank you,' she said, her voice overly loud in the new silence. âDo you always enjoy your rock at full blast?'
âBetter than drinking.'
Kate frowned. How were the two remotely connected? She took a deep breath and started again. âI'm Kate Dickson. I assume you're Grant McMurtrie?'
âYou must be top of your game with scientific deduction like that.'
She ignored the sarcasm. âYou haven't returned my calls.'
âOr my email.'
âSo I came in person.'
âI can see that.' His eyes drifted lazily over her paint-spattered blouse. âSorry about your suit.'
Kate shrugged. âI don't like it anyway.'
âThen why wear it?'
He stared at her, assessing. âWhat would you prefer to wear?'
âAh, that's right. Your seals.'
Kate quietly congratulated herself for getting things neatly back on topic. She had a lot to lose if this meeting didn't go wellâmore than just her project. âI need to continue my research, Mr McMurtrie.'
âThen you'll need to find another beach, Miss Dickson.'
âAll the early research was done here, I can't simply change locations. Neither can the colony I'm studying. They've been returning to that little cove for years.'
âI know. I grew up here.'
Oh, that's right.
A spark of excitement flared through her. âDo you remember the colony when you were a boy?'
His lids dropped. âI should. I spent part of every day with them.'
Kate froze. âNo. Did you?'
He stared at her overly long. âDon't get your hopes up, Miss Dickson. It doesn't mean I have any information for you and it doesn't mean I'm going to say yes. My answer is still no.'
âI don't need a reason. It's the beauty of Australia's freehold systemâmy land, my rules.'
Kate brought out her big gun. Her only gun. âActually, it's not.' His face grew thunderous but she pushed on. âTechnically speaking, it's not your land. Not yet.'
His eyes narrowed. âIs that a fact?'
âI've been told it will take six to eight weeks for probate and to settle the estate according to the terms of Leo's will. Until then, this farm still belongs to your father. And the contract stands.'
God, she hoped so. She'd had to have dinner with a loathsome octopus in order to get some certainty on that. His price for helping her.
The fury on Grant McMurtrie's face had her crossing her arms across her chest, just in case he reached right through her
ribcage and snatched at her heart with that big fist. He glared at her and it fluttered even faster.