Read Courting Carolina Online

Authors: Janet Chapman

Courting Carolina (9 page)

BOOK: Courting Carolina
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It had been traveling at such great speed that the momentum nearly drove the wolf’s nose into the ground as it stumbled to gain its footing, continuing up past him at a flat-out run and disappearing into the forest. Alec straightened to his knees in time to catch a glimpse of it heading up the mountain in the direction of the shelter.

He scrubbed his face in his hands—after using them to close his gaping mouth—then jumped to his feet and ran to where the whale—no, the wolf—had exited the water. His jaw dropped again as he stared down at the wet tracks that went from the dragging imprint of a broad belly and fins to paws clawing for purchase, then slowly lifted his gaze to where it had run into the forest. He swayed at the rush of blood draining from his head, and fell to his knees with a muttered curse.

Kit was an
ocean
wolf—an orca.

Which meant the woman he’d rescued
really was
a princess.

And he was a lust-blinded idiot standing neck-deep in the goddamned
magic
.

Chapter Five

They walked down to the boat at dusk without talking, Jane finally breaking the silence once he pushed them into the fiord. “Please don’t be angry with me, Alec,” she said as she hugged Kit to her on the front seat. “I didn’t tell you about the other man leaving before I escaped because it never occurred to me that it might be important.”

Alec stopped with his hand on the motor cord and blew out a heavy sigh. “I’m not mad at you, Jane. I’m just not being talkative because I still haven’t decided what this means for us—for you staying with me without letting anyone know you’re okay.”

“Is there some way we could get word to my father without revealing where I am? What about your uncle? Could Duncan help us?”

Alec looked her directly in the eyes and nodded. “Tell me your father’s name and how to reach him, and I’ll have Duncan get word to him.”

She mutely dropped her gaze, only to suddenly lift her
head again. “What if you take me to Turtleback Station and I call him myself?”

“If the authorities are already involved, or if your father hired professionals to find you, his phone is set up to trace calls. Even if you kept the conversation short, they’d be able to trace you at least to Maine. And considering two strange men were found dead in the resort’s woods, this would be the first place they’d check. And I’m only guessing here, but I’m thinking the moment your father discovers you were kidnapped, your two years of freedom will come to an abrupt end—with or without your cooperation.”

She hung her head again.

“Well, I hope Kit doesn’t get seasick,” Alec growled as he pulled the cord and started the motor. He put it in gear and sent the boat speeding diagonally up the fiord. Dammit to hell, why wouldn’t she admit who she really was? She’d been trusting him with her life and her damn
value
for almost two days, so why not her identity? Did she think he’d be so in awe of her father that he’d run up the mountain shouting he had her?

Christ, he was probably the only person in Spellbound Falls who wouldn’t know her on sight, likely because he’d been in Pine Creek whenever she’d been visiting.

Had she used the satellite phone while he’d been gone? Who had she called? Certainly not Mac, he thought with a stifled snort, because the princess would right now be bathing in one of the resort’s marble soaking tubs instead of heading to a lukewarm brook. He’d brought the phone, but hadn’t had a chance to check the call log yet, planning to do it while she was bathing.

Alec dropped the motor back to an idle so they could talk. “What about whoever made your IDs?” he asked, ignoring that her chin tilted stubbornly at his question. “Can you call that person and have him or her contact your father?”

“What do you mean, whoever made my IDs? I am Jane Smith.”

He snorted and sped up again. “Only for the last two
years,” he muttered loud enough to be heard over the engine. “You do realize that if this all goes to hell in a handbasket, I’m the one who’s going to be in the direct line of fire, don’t you?”

Her head snapped up again. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that just as soon as Daddy gets over the shock of your being kidnapped and then returned safe and sound and
intact
, he’s going to come after me.”

“But you saved me.”

“And then I kept you.”

Up went that chin again. “I believe I kept myself.”

Alec wiped a hand over his jaw to hide his grin. Well, she had him there; he hadn’t exactly been keeping her tied up in his sleeping bag, now had he? And he much preferred her all stubborn and prickly to acting like a kicked puppy.

So okay then, he just had to figure out how to get them both out of this mess relatively unscathed. But he couldn’t really do anything until he found out exactly what had happened two years ago between her and Daddy—preferably from the person who cared enough about Jane Smith to have fabricated her a whole new life.

Because honestly, that person must have balls of steel.

Alec nosed the boat onto the gravel beach ten minutes later and decided they’d bathe down by the fiord instead of hiking up to the pool, as Jane’s limp had grown more pronounced on the walk to the boat and he was afraid she was more sore and tired than she was willing to admit. “You want me to check that cut on your thigh?” he asked as he helped her out of the boat. “The gauze can come off, but you should probably leave the butterfly bandages on a while longer.”

“I can take care of it.”

“Okay then, why don’t you splash around first and I’ll keep a lookout for two- and four-legged peeping toms,” he said with a wink, handing Jane her small satchel.

She arched a brow. “And who’s going to keep
you
from peeping?”

“You can,” he offered, waving toward a large boulder
down the beach. “I’ll be sitting right there in the open, and the full moon will allow you to see my back’s turned the whole time.” He lifted the backpack he’d brought for himself. “I need to call Duncan, anyway, to talk about tomorrow’s bridge delivery.” He nodded at Kit. “And your furry friend can stand guard on the other side. It’s okay, Jane,” he rushed on when he saw her looking toward the dark woods. “I won’t let any bears or bogeymen eat ye, lass.”

Up went that chin again. “I’m not afraid of bogeymen,” she said, turning and walking toward the babbling brook. She stopped at the small waterfall spilling out of the forest into a shallow pool, turned to face him as she dropped her satchel and slipped off her jacket, then very deliberately—with provocative slowness—started undressing.

Alec looked down at Kit looking up at him. “What’s the matter, the boat ride mess up your land-legs? Go on,” he muttered, giving Kit a nudge with his knee. “At least one of us wolves might as well enjoy the show.”

Alec walked down the beach, hopped up onto the boulder, and unzipped the backpack, then pulled out the phone. He turned it on, then held his finger to the call log button—but instead of pushing it, he looked up at Whisper Mountain looming into the nighttime sky. Did he really want to know who Jane had called? Because the moment he discovered the identity of her
friend
, he would have to wake up from his salacious dream and deal with the reality of a runaway princess whose father sane men feared and fools died at the hands of; the only problem being Alec wasn’t exactly sure which category he fell into. Because honest to God, he was tempted to simply forget who Jane really was—at least long enough to help her deal with her father once and for all instead of having her spend the rest of her life hiding from the dictatorial bastard.

Aw hell, who was he kidding? What he really wanted was to keep Jane until she was so soundly imprinted on his brain that he’d go to his grave hearing her musical laugh and remembering the taste of her lips and feel her body pressing
against his. He’d known her only two days, and already he was willing to throw himself in front of a goddamn bus to help her realize her
true
value.

Alec pushed the log button, took a deep breath and looked down, and frowned at the familiar number. Jane had dialed the Bottomless Mercantile & Trading Post? Had she called looking for Ezra? But the guy was over eighty years old. Sam, then? Had she been trying to reach Ezra’s son and Olivia’s father, Sam Waters? Alec hit the redial button and heard an equally familiar voice answer on the third ring.

“Trading Post,” Grundy Watts barked out. “We’re closing in twenty minutes, so talk fast, ’cause I got stuff to do.”

“Grundy, it’s Alec. I was wondering if a woman called there a few hours ago looking for either Ezra or Sam.”

“Alec?” Grundy said, his voice softening. “Well, how the hell are you, anyway? How come you ain’t been into town lately? You still owe me breakfast at the Drunken Moose, you know.”

“You filled that sea bass’s belly with lead when I wasn’t looking, you old cheat. Any idiot could see my fish was twice the size of yours.”

Grundy made a
tsk
ing sound. “And you’re twice the size of me and you’re still pouting like a little girl. Pony up, MacKeage, and buy me breakfast.”

“Okay, next week,” Alec conceded with a laugh. “But only if you tell me if a woman called earlier looking for Ezra or Sam.”

Grundy snorted. “I swear I don’t know what the ladies see in that quiet bastard. Hell, the guy still gives me the spooks, even after he helped me out with my…um, little problem last year.”

Bingo. “Did she talk to Sam?” Alec asked, glancing over his shoulder to see Jane splashing around in the pool near the falls.

“No, he’d already left. And when she asked if his cell number had changed because she’d tried it several times before calling here, I told her he was unreachable this evening,”
Grundy said, his voice lowered in male conspiracy. “I think Sam got his social calendar screwed up and made two dates for the same night, as I saw him filch a bottle of expensive wine and a quart of strawberries out of the cooler before he left.” He sighed. “Only this lady sounded a bit young for him.”

Alec frowned out at the fiord. “Where is Casanova, anyway? He can’t very well entertain his women at home.”

“My guess is he’s up at Inglenook. I think he’s using the old groundskeeper’s cottage for his love nest.” Grundy snorted again. “It’s hard for a grown man to bring his girlfriends back to his daddy’s house. Although he might have done so tonight, since Olivia and Mac took Ezra with them and the kids to Midnight Bay for the weekend.”

“Okay, thanks, you old cheat. I’ll be in later next week to take you to breakfast.”

“Early,” Grundy said. “Before all the damn leaf-peeping tourists gobble up all of Vanetta’s cinnamon buns.”

“We’ll be at the door when she opens,” Alec promised with a laugh just as he hung up. He opened the call log again and scrolled down to see where Jane had dialed another number three times before finally calling the trading post, and then he sat staring up at the resort’s lights on top of Whisper Mountain. So, Sam was Jane’s
friend
, was he? Holy hell, the man didn’t have balls of steel; they were made of titanium if he was helping her hide from her father. “How are you doing over there?” Alec called down the shoreline. “You aren’t making the trout blush, are you?”

“The water’s too warm for trout,” she called back with a musical laugh—which sent several foolishly optimistic blood cells racing to his groin again. “Oh, Alec, this is heavenly. I could just soak here all night.”

“You have ten more minutes, and then it’s my turn.”

Her answer was another laugh, followed by a good deal of splashing.

Alec dialed Duncan’s home, only to have one of the twins answer on the second ring. “MacKeage Construction,” the boy said in a winded rush.

“That you, Repeat?” Alec asked, taking an educated guess. “It’s me, Alec.”

“Alec!” Jacob cried. “Are you calling on the satellite phone? Where are you? You coming to visit and bringing me more rocks? I looked up that shimmery one you brought me last week, and the gem book said it was laba…labri…tite or something.”

“Labradorite,” Alec clarified. “It’s named after the Labrador Peninsula in Canada, where it was first found. What’s the book say about its powers?”

“Magic,” Jacob reverently whispered. “And protection.”

“That sounds like a good stone to carry in your pocket, then. Although it’s probably not as powerful as the one Duncan gave you from his mountain, so maybe you should just add it to your collection. Speaking of my esteemed uncle, is he home?”

Alec heard muffled muttering, then, “Why is it you only remember ye have a phone when it suits
you
?” Duncan drawled.

“Because Pete and Clarence and I are a well-oiled team and only need hand signals. Where is Pete, anyway?”

“He flew back to British Columbia two nights ago when his wife decided to go into labor several weeks early.”

“Hell, is everything okay? Have you heard anything?”

“Yeah, mama and babies are doing fine. Pete, however,” Duncan said with a chuckle, “may not recover. The guy was a basket case when Clarence and I put him on the plane in Bangor, and when he called this morning he still couldn’t string a coherent sentence together.”

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