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Authors: Debra Lee Brown

Northern Exposure

BOOK: Northern Exposure
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“Who put you in charge of my life?”

“You did, the second you stepped onto this reserve.”

Ouch.

She couldn't argue. She knew that, regardless of her own choices or actions, Joe Peterson felt responsible for her as long as she was on his turf. He was more than ready and willing to “take care of things,” as he'd put it.

And in the end, that was what she feared most of all.

That was why she hadn't told him about the other incidents, or about the man in the dark clothes she'd glimpsed near the train two days ago.

Joe's rugged good looks, the obvious physical attraction between them, his strength of character, the concern he tried, but failed, to mask behind that stony expression of his…all of it, taken together, set off cautionary alarms inside her.

It would be far too easy to lean on a man like him, to let him take over, make her decisions, solve her problems for her. But she'd done that once already, and with disastrous results….

Dear Reader,

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What a Man's Gotta Do
is the newest from Karen Templeton, reuniting the one-time good girl, now a single mom, with the former bad boy who always made her heart pound, even though he never once sent a smile her way. Until now.

Kylie Brant introduces THE TREMAINE TRADITION with
Alias Smith and Jones,
an exciting novel about two people hiding everything about themselves—except the way they feel about each other. There's still TROUBLE IN EDEN in Virginia Kantra's
All a Man Can Ask,
in which an undercover assignment leads (predictably) to danger and (
un
predictably) to love. By now you know that the WINGMEN WARRIORS flash means you're about to experience top-notch military romance, courtesy of Catherine Mann.
Under Siege,
a marriage-of-inconvenience tale, won't disappoint. Who wouldn't like
A Kiss in the Dark
from a handsome hero? So run—don't walk—to pick up the book of the same name by rising star Jenna Mills. Finally, enjoy the winter chill—and the cozy cuddling that drives it away—in
Northern Exposure,
by Debra Lee Brown, who sends her heroine to Alaska to find love.

And, of course, we'll be back next month with six more of the best and most exciting romances around, so be sure not to miss a single one.

Enjoy!

Leslie J. Wainger
Executive Senior Editor

Northern Exposure
DEBRA LEE BROWN

Books by Debra Lee Brown

Silhouette Intimate Moments

On Thin Ice
#1188

Northern Exposure
#1200

Harlequin Historicals

The Virgin Spring
#506

Ice Maiden
#549

The Mackintosh Bride
#576

Gold Rush Bride
#594

A Rogue's Heart
#625

DEBRA LEE BROWN

Award-winning author Debra Lee Brown's ongoing romance with wild and remote locales sparks frequent adventures in the Alps, the Arctic—where she has worked as a geologist—and the Sierra Nevada range of her native California. An avid outdoorswoman, Debra loves nothing better than to strand her heroes and heroines in rugged, often dangerous settings, then let nature take its course. Debra invites readers to visit her Web site at www.debraleebrown.com or to write to her c/o Harlequin Reader Service, P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269.

Chapter 1

A
flash of camouflage through a stand of spruce, gunmetal reflecting afternoon sun. That's what had caught his attention, and was the reason he now found himself out of breath, scrambling up a hundred-yard stretch of loose volcanic scree toward a ridge topping eleven thousand feet.

This was not how he'd planned to spend his Sunday.

He sized a muddy boot print and considered that tracking a man was a hell of a lot easier than tracking an animal, especially over rugged terrain. Dead easy when the target was as green as this one obviously was.

A bald eagle circled overhead, checking him out. There were nests in the area, but those didn't concern him, not today. He paused and watched as the majestic bird dipped out of sight below the jagged tree line flanking the scree field.

The storm that had been building all morning had come to a head. Dark clouds slammed together in the sky above him. A whiff of ozone cut still air. Not unusual for late August. He resumed his climb, picking up the pace. When he topped the ridge and the sky opened, letting loose a torrent of rain, his effort was rewarded.

Twenty yards below him his prey crouched on a slab of basalt jutting into space over a thousand-foot drop-off. The man was as small as the muddy boot print had indicated. Dressed in khaki, a baseball cap pulled backward over his head, he looked
wrong,
somehow. Certainly not what he'd expected.

Then again, it was hard to tell much about him from this distance. Freeing the forty-five holstered at his hip, he picked his way carefully down the loose rubble.

Wind shrieked up from the canyon below, eddying wildly, forcing rain into horizontal sheets that changed direction without warning and threatened to knock him off balance. He was drenched in seconds.

His target fared no better. The man used his hands for balance as he edged farther out onto the precipice. As the distance between them was swallowed up, the man's intention became clear, and his own suspicions were confirmed.

A black case, the kind used to house a high-powered rifle, held his attention as he negotiated the last few feet and stepped silently onto the wet volcanic slab where the man now crouched dangerously close to the edge.

It wasn't a straight shot to the bottom of the canyon, he remembered. Jagged rocks protruded from the cliff face all the way down, providing a natural
staircase for animals. But no man, to his knowledge, had ever attempted the climb.

The rock was slippery, and the rain an icy torrent that pummeled him from every direction as he edged out behind the intruder. They were both soaked to the skin. He paused, a stride away, to swipe a hank of wet hair from his eyes.

Something wasn't right.

Khaki,
he thought, tightening his gaze on the man's narrow shoulders. Khaki from head to toe. The target he'd been tracking for the past two hours had worn camouflage. He was sure of it. Predator gray, flecked with green and brown, perfect for their surroundings.

Lightning flashed as a bone-white hand shot toward the black case.

“Hold it right there!” He leveled his weapon. The man whipped his head around, and he found himself staring into clear blue eyes gone wide with shock.

A
woman's
eyes.

Thunder cracked behind them in a detonation so powerful it threw him off balance. He pitched forward, scrambling for purchase. The woman jumped back, realized her mistake, then grabbed his shirt to keep from slipping over the edge.

It was no good. She screamed as she went over. He hit the rock hard, prone. Just in time, he dropped the gun and caught her wrist.

This kind of thing wasn't in his job description.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught another movement, one he'd expected. Below them, on another basaltic slab, a rare woodland caribou leaped clear of the impending danger their presence forewarned.

The woman's cap blew off, jerking his attention back to their predicament. A tumble of blond hair whipped violently in the wind, framing her heart-shaped face. She gazed up at him in mute terror. He watched as her whole life flashed before her eyes.

A heartbeat later he pulled her up and rolled with her to safety. She was on top of him; they were both drenched. Lightning shattered the sky around them, rain beat down in sheets. She'd nearly killed them both, but all that registered was how warm she felt. Warm and soft.

“Wh-who are you?” Her voice was thin and shaky, her face inches from his. He stared at her, silent, as water dripped from her trembling lips onto his mouth.

After a quick fantasy about her with him in a dry place that was anywhere but here, he came to his senses. “Game warden,” he clipped. He rolled her over, pinning her under his weight. “You're under arrest.”

The terror in her eyes vanished. Confusion replaced it, then rage. “Get off me!”

“No.”

She fought him, but knew it was useless. He outweighed her by a good eighty pounds. Straddling her, he gripped both her wrists in one hand, pinioning them over her head, then retrieved his gun.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Fear returned to her eyes. “Let me go!”

“Woodland caribou are protected. Poachers are prosecuted.”

Rain beat at them. Another clap of thunder rent the air. The storm was a good one. He liked storms.
They made everything clean again, absolved nature of her sins. Too bad it wasn't that easy with people.

She blinked through a hank of dripping hair that obscured part of her face as his words sank in. “Poachers? You mean you think I'm a
hunter?

“Don't play me, lady, I'm not in the mood.”

“Where is he?” She tried to get up, but he wouldn't let her. For a moment he thought she meant the man he'd seen earlier through the trees. Then she twisted around, her gaze sliding to the narrow protrusion of rock where the caribou had stood.

“That bull's long gone.”

She swore. It surprised him. She didn't look like the swearing type. “It's your fault. If you hadn't—hey, wait a minute!”

Ignoring her protests, he dragged her, one-handed, away from the edge, propped her against a boulder, then motioned with his gun toward the black case. “I suppose you're going to tell me that's not a rifle.”

She looked at him as if he were crazy. “That's what this is about?” She nodded at the case. “You think I'm a hunter and that's a rifle.”

“A poacher,” he corrected.

She sucked an angry breath, and he was suddenly aware of her small breasts pushing against the wet fabric of her shirt. She caught him looking, and abruptly crossed her arms over her chest.

“Open it.” She nodded at the case.

“I intend to.” His weapon still trained on her, he knelt in front of the case and flipped the latches. What he saw inside didn't register.

“That's right,” she said. “It's a tripod.”

A
tripod?

He swiveled toward her and gave her a good once-
over. Her clothes were new. Even wet, the khaki pants still had creases pressed into them. Her boots were new, too, but not the knapsack he noticed wedged under an overhang next to where she sat glaring up at him.

“I'm a photographer.”

“The hell you are.” He didn't like being wrong. He was never wrong, not about something like this. Instinct told him she was lying. “Hand it over.” He motioned with the gun toward her knapsack.

Another crack of thunder made them both jump. She stared at his forty-five. “Please put that away. I'm not a criminal. And shouldn't we get off this rock? We're awfully exposed up here.”

She was right about that. Lightning flashed, closer this time. He fumbled, one-handed, with the knapsack, got it open and checked the contents. Film, leather canisters of varying lengths, and a heavy, professional-looking camera.

“It's a Nikon F4 with a motor drive, in case you're interested. The canisters have lenses in them. I told you, I'm a photographer, a wildlife photographer, on assignment for my magazine.”

Her fingernails were polished in soft pearlescent pink, her eyebrows neatly plucked. She didn't even have a tan.

“What magazine?”

In a cool gesture that screamed arrogance, she tipped her chin at him.
“Wilderness Unlimited.”

He knew it, and most of the photographers on staff. She definitely wasn't one of them. “Let's see some ID.”

He watched rainwater catch in the hollow at the base of her throat as she swallowed, flustered by his
demand. “I…left it back in my rental car. On that little road off the highway.”

“Yeah, right.”

The west road was six miles away, over rough terrain. He couldn't believe she'd made it as far as she had on her own. Maybe she was working in concert with the guy in the camo. He did a quick three-sixty, his gaze darting over the rocky landscape toward the tree line. Nothing.

“What are you doing here?”

“I would have thought that was obvious.” She blinked against the rain in the direction of the caribou's escape.

“This is a wildlife reserve. Woodland caribou is a rare species in this part of the state.”

“That's exactly why I'm here.”

She seemed way too sure of herself for a woman who, not five minutes ago, tumbled over the edge of a thousand-foot drop-off.

“Get up.” He slid his weapon into its holster, snapped the leather trigger guard, and hoisted her knapsack off the rock.

She got to her feet, and for a long moment they just stood there, sizing each other up. She looked even smaller standing. Five-two, five-three tops. Her blond hair was plastered to her head, her clothes soaked through. The temperature was dropping fast, and he realized she was shivering.

“Come on. Let's go.”

“Where?”

He relatched the tripod case and picked it up, pointing it in the direction from which he'd come. “That way. South.”

“But my car's back there.” She pointed west
along the barren ridge that ran for a mile or so, then dropped off into a long valley flanking the road, peppered with thick stands of timber and open meadow.

She was out here in a rainstorm with no jacket, no survival gear and no food. And a story he didn't believe. No way was he letting her out of his sight until he found out whether or not she was connected to the poacher he was sure he'd seen.

It was his job to protect the animals in the reserve against unusual disturbances. That included hunters, harebrained tourists, camo-clad mystery men and small, wet women with attitude.

“This rain could turn to snow. You'll never make it back before dark.” He glanced at the roiling sky. “My station's closer. Come on.”

She blocked his path, shot him a hard look that seemed comical, given her bedraggled state, and matter-of-factly relieved him of her tripod case and knapsack.

“Thanks, but I'll be fine. Besides, it's summer. This is Alaska. It doesn't really get dark until nine or ten.” She turned and started back up the ridge, doing a better job of negotiating the loose volcanic scree than he expected.

Stubborn, he thought. And damned attractive. He'd been out here a long time, a year. The only other women he saw on a regular basis were Department of Fish and Game co-workers, and he only saw them a few times a month.

He ought to just let her go. Maybe he
had
made a mistake. Maybe she was who she said she was. Still, something about her was off. He watched her as she climbed steadily up the dark blanket of bro
ken rock, and had the strangest feeling he'd seen her before.

He shook off the feeling, and scanned the tree line again for movement. Out there somewhere was another intruder, dressed head to toe in camouflage and toting more than a tripod case. Until he found out who
he
was, he wasn't letting Ms. Wilderness Unlimited out of his sight.

He let her get to the top of the ridge before he moved up behind her and looped a finger under her leather belt. It, too, looked new. He tugged.

“This way,” he said, and motioned for her to follow.

“I told you, my car's
that
way.”

He watched her as she slipped her arms through the straps of the knapsack, then redoubled her grip on the case. Rain ran in rivulets down her face. Her soaking clothes clung to her like a second skin. She was trim, athletic, fitter than he'd judged her to be from that first impression—the soft feel of her against him when she lay on top of him on the rock.

He moved his hand to the holster of his department-issue weapon. “Don't make me take this out again.”

She shot him an incredulous look. “You can't force me to go with you.”

“Wanna bet?” Two strides later he was chin to forehead with her, his hand closing firmly over her slim upper arm.

She looked him up and down, openmouthed, not the least bit afraid of him, appraising his wet uniform, her gaze flicking from his gold-tone Department of Fish and Game badge to his eyes. “What are you, some kind of wannabe cop?”

Now
that
pissed him off. “Lady, out here I
am
a cop. The only cop.”

She glared up at him. “It's Wendy.”

“Yeah, and I'm Peter Pan.” He plucked the tripod case out of her hand and pushed her toward a little-used game trail. “Move it.”

 

What a jerk.

The longer they walked, the angrier she got. Wendy stopped for a moment to readjust her knapsack, which had been digging into her shoulders for the past two hours. Her feet were killing her—blisters from the new boots—and her wet clothes chafed against her skin. At least the rain had stopped.

“Keep going.” Warden Rambo poked her in the back. “It's not much farther.”

“Good.” Not breaking her stride, she shot him a nasty look over her shoulder. When she turned her attention back to the trail, she was immediately
thwacked
by a faceful of wet spruce.

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