Authors: Peggy Webb
Tags: #animals, #whales, #romantic comedy, #small-town romance, #Southern authors, #Alaska, #romance ebooks, #investigative reporters, #romance, #Peggy Webb backlist, #the Colby Series, #Peggy Webb romance, #classic romance, #humor, #comedy, #contemporary romance
Copyright 2011 Peggy Webb
Cover design copyright 2011 Kim Van Meter
Copyright 1989 by Peggy Webb
All rights reserved
He missed the noise. He missed the hustle and bustle. He even missed the smog. Jim Roman had landed in Greenville, Mississippi, exactly forty-five minutes earlier, and already he felt the need to be back in San Francisco. He was like an addict, he thought. The big city gave him his fix.
It was only May, but it was hot as hell. He flipped a switch on the dashboard of the car, the one that said air-conditioning, but wasn’t surprised that nothing happened. When he rolled the window down, he could hear the ominous clinking and clanging that indicated his rented car probably wouldn’t make it over the next hill, let alone to the Donovan spread.
Swearing and sweating, he nursed the car along. Three miles down the road, it shuddered and drew its last breath. He got out and lifted the hood, although he didn’t have high hopes of repairing anything. He’d never been good at mechanics.
He jiggled a few wires that looked loose and gave the battery cable a smart tap with a rock he’d picked up from the road. Nothing happened except that he got grease on his hands. He surveyed his surroundings. There was nothing but green pasture as far as the eye could see. It was great country if you were a cow, but he had his heart set on finding a telephone. At that moment he’d be willing to bet that nobody for miles had ever heard of Alexander Graham Bell. He’d often read of the backside of nowhere, and now he was there.
He mopped his face with his handkerchief, then pulled a hand-drawn map from his hip pocket and calculated how far he was from his destination. Five or six miles, he thought. Maybe he could walk it if his loafers would hold out.
“I’ll get you for this, John Searles.” With a muttered oath he set off down the road.
Hannah Donovan raised her .300 Magnum to her shoulder and sighted along the barrel. The shot cracked in the still air as she picked off a soup can. She pulled the bolt back, shucked the spent shell, and fired again. Another can bit the dust. Handling her bolt-action rifle with expert ease, she got off another three shots in rapid succession.
Suddenly she felt movement beside her legs. The husky that had been sitting at her feet whirled around and raced across the pasture. He was a blur of gray as he leapt into the air and brought down his quarry, a man about the size of a half-grown grizzly.
“Hold him, Pete.” She raced behind her dog, arriving only seconds after the big man had hit the ground. She planted her right foot on his chest and pointed her gun at his crotch. “You’re trespassing.”
The man on the ground chuckled. “You shoot trespassers around here?”
When he laughed, she instinctively knew he was harmless, but a longtime habit of caution kept her hand on the gun. “Only if provoked.”
“They told me all about southern hospitality. I never expected to encounter
. Do you mind pointing that gun somewhere else? I’m partial to that part of my anatomy.”
Still holding her gun against him, Hannah looked at her captive. He was big and rugged and handsome, if you liked the dangerous, slightly scarred type. His nose looked as if it had been broken at least once, and there was a faint scar that began in the part of his auburn hair and angled down to his eyebrows. The cleft in his chin saved him from being formidable—that, and his lips. They were sensuous and knowing. They looked as if they would kiss a woman so that she’d know she’d been kissed.
She found herself staring at his lips.
“See anything you like?”
She could have shot him. “What are you doing on this property?”
“Do you mind telling Old Yeller to get his fangs out of my face? I can’t think while I’m staring at death.”
The low-throated growling stopped, and the dog she’d called Pete sat down beside her as docile as a lamb.
“Nice. You must be from
Hannah bit back her laughter. It wouldn’t do to let this fast-talking stranger get the upper hand. Nobody ever got the upper hand with her, and she wasn’t about to let that change now.
The man started to sit up, but she nudged him in the crotch with the gun. “It’s loaded.”
He quirked his eyebrows. “I always keep it loaded. It comes in handy sometimes.”
Hannah’s merriment spilled over. She threw back her head and laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks. She unbreached her gun, then leaned down to offer her hand.
“Any man with your sense of humor can’t be all bad.”
Ignoring her outstretched hand, he propped his arms behind his head and grinned up at her. “I’m not sure I trust you, Annie Oakley.”
“I’m not sure you should. I’m a crack shot, and my dog Pete will go for the jugular if I give the command.”
“Sounds as though I’m a hell of a lucky guy to still be alive. Is everybody in Greenville like you?”
She grinned. “No. Some are worse.”
“My cup runneth over.” He sat up and eyed her dog. “What’s dog language for ‘I’m friendly, don’t bite?’”
“You’re safe as long as you behave.”
He studied her from top to bottom, taking his time. Hannah found his gaze maddening.
“You make a man want to misbehave.”
“Don’t. I’d hate to have to use this rifle.”
“It happens every day on the streets of San Francisco.”
“You’re from San Francisco?”
“Yes. The name’s Jim Roman.”
“The syndicated columnist?” The famous investigative reporter, she thought. She’d read his column. He was a hard-hitting, ruthless crusader against crime and corruption. The West Coast Warrior he was called.
“One and the same.”
When he stood up, he towered over Hannah, which was not an easy feat. At five-ten she looked most men straight in the eye. She tipped her head back so she could look into his eyes. They were the warm brown of a teddy bear’s fur, and right now they were bright with amusement.
“I do apologize for accosting you with the gun. Where I live, dealing with poachers is an everyday occurrence. Pete and I act on reflex.”
“Apology accepted.” He reached out and pulled her into his chest with a swiftness that caught her off balance. Pete remained seated, but his hackles went up. “I act on reflex too.” He tightened his hold so that she could feel the steady hammering of his heart against her T-shirt. His left hand cupped her face. “Now, suppose you tell me why a beautiful woman goes around pointing guns at friendly strangers?”
Her dog growled. “Stay, Pete.” She gave him the command in a soft voice. Jim Roman didn’t intimidate her: He challenged her. She hadn’t been challenged in a long, long time. “Are you friendly?”
“When it suits me.” His fingers brushed across her lips. “And it suits me now.”
His mouth came down on hers. The kiss was hard, demanding, and very expert. Hannah was shocked at the quick surge of desire that pulsed through her. She hadn’t been so aroused since before she broke off her affair with Dr. Rai Ghayami five years earlier. She’d have to be careful around this man, she decided. She nearly had let her passion for Rai ruin her. It had threatened her independence and her career. She’d vowed that it would never happen again.
Jim Roman ended the kiss as swiftly as he’d begun it. Hannah fought for the control that she prided herself on having.
“If that was meant as a demonstration of your friendliness, I’ll have to tell you, Jim Roman—I’ve had better.”
“I never let a challenge go unanswered.”
Those expert knowing lips were on hers again. She felt as if she’d been caught in the middle of one of the sudden storms that lashed Glacier Bay. She felt the raw power of the man, the brute strength, the violence, carefully leashed. And she felt the threat.
When it was over, she had to take a deep breath to get enough oxygen into her starved system.
“Nice, but personally I find whale watching much more interesting.”
Jim Roman roared with laughter. “A Siberian husky and a .300 Magnum rifle. I don’t doubt for a minute that a woman of your talents has a whale in this cow pasture.”
“This cow pasture happens to be Donovan property, and you’re still trespassing.”
“That’s the first good news I’ve had all day.”
“That you’re trespassing?”
“That I’m on Donovan property. My rented car broke down about a mile up the road, and I thought I’d take a shortcut through this pasture. I’m looking for Anna Donovan.”
“Anna is my mother, and I can assure you that she has no criminal connections. If you mentioned Mafia to her, she’d think it was a new recipe for Italian cake. What possible business can you have with my mother?”
“Then you must be. . .” He paused, searching his memory for what John Searles, his publisher, had told him. “Hallie? Don’t tell me I’ve besmirched the honor of the bride-to-be?”
“No. Hannah. Hallie and I are twins. You can rest easy. A kiss is the same in the South as it is in San Francisco, of very little consequence. As for besmirching anybody’s honor—you’ll get no chance.”
Hannah slung her gun over her shoulder with unnecessary vigor. She didn’t have all day to stand in the pasture and play words game with this outrageous man. She’d come all the way from Alaska to see that her sister’s wedding was handled properly, and she had things to do. Besides, the sooner she was out of Jim Roman’s company, the better.
“Another challenge, Hannah Donovan?” His voice was deceptively soft. She didn’t miss the flame that lit the center of his eyes or the determined set of his jaw.
“A warning, Jim Roman. Hallie’s wedding is a time of celebration for all the Donovans. I won’t let you or anyone else spoil it.”
“My intent is not to spoil the wedding but to report it.”
That news didn’t surprise Hannah. Her sister was marrying one of America’s wealthiest men. Whatever Josh Butler did made news. The only surprise was that Jim Roman was covering the wedding. It was certainly a departure from his usual work. “And your business with my mother?”
“She and my mother are old friends.” His hand snaked out and firmly gripped her chin. “As for besmirching your honor . . . that remains to be seen.”
Tiny charges of power pulsed through his fingertips to her chin, but she’d be damned if she’d back off. “Remove your hand.”
Keeping a firm grip on her chin, he chuckled. “You like to give orders, don’t you?”
“Be warned, Hannah. I seldom take them.” He let his fingers play over her lips before he released her. “And now, would you mind leading me across this cow pasture to the Donovan house?”
“You say your car is only a mile away?”
“We’re five miles from the house, and I have no Intention of being in your company any longer than I have to. Show me where your car is, and I’ll fix it so you can be on your way.”
“You’ll fix it?” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that?”
“Precisely. I’m a self-sufficient woman.”
“Frankly, I prefer soft and pliant women, but I suppose an independent, bossy woman would come in handy for such things as overhauling the car and repairing the television.”
“You’re an irritating, arrogant jackass.”
“Lead me to your car before I change my mind about shooting you.”
The car was less than a mile away, just over the rise in the pasture. Jim Roman led the way, apparently paying Hannah Donovan no attention at all. In fact, he was watching her with the trained eye of a man who sees everything and understands most of what he sees. What he saw fascinated him. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. With that dark glossy mane of hair and those clear blue eyes and a body that had been shaped to drive men mad, she looked as if she belonged on the movie screen.
A maverick breeze lifted her glorious hair away from her face. Jim appreciated the sight in silence. Hannah Donovan easily could be his dream woman, except for one thing, her damned independence. His ideal woman would be luscious like her, but she’d be content to keep his home neat and his bed warm. He couldn’t imagine Hannah mopping floors and ironing shirts. The man who asked her probably would get a bucket of water over his head and his shirts stuffed down his throat.
When they came to the rented car, he leaned casually against the hood. “Be my guest.”
To his amusement, she tackled the mysteries under the hood as if she’d been born with a wrench in her hand.
“Nothing much wrong except this little thingamajig here.”
His smile broadened at the sight of her trim little rear as she bent over. Greenville was looking better every minute. He’d raised hell with John Searles about coming, but it seemed there could be compensations. Hannah Donovan, for one. If he was any judge of women—and he was if his track record proved anything—there was quite a hellcat lurking under that independent exterior.