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Maximilian Oceanus arrives in Spellbound Falls just in time to save Olivia Baldwin from an overly aggressive suitor, only to find himself attracted to the beautiful, if rather aloof, widow. And although Mac has come to Inglenook to get a handle on fatherhood, his newly discovered six-year-old son has set his sights on finding his father a wife.Olivia, however, is busy getting Inglenook ready for its new season, so she doesn't have time to deal with her growing attraction to the dangerously seductive Mac. Besides, weird stuff seems to happen all around him. Take the fact that her seat belt keeps getting stuck in his presence, or locks magically open for him without keys, and that he seems to have a talent for sensing things. Never mind the three lost albatrosses walking down the road in the middle of the night. Since when are there albatrosses in Maine?But despite Olivia's resistance to falling under the sexy man's spell, Olivia is having trouble fighting her longing. Because she knows Mac is just the man to unlock the powerful passion deep within her. . . .
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Janet Chapman is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous contemporary and paranormal romance novels, including the Highlander series, the Midnight Bay series, and the Sinclair Brothers series.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Apparently Mark Briar wasn’t used to anyone telling him no, be it the girlfriend who’d just sent him a Dear John letter or some lonely widow he was magnanimously offering sexual favors to. Hearing the aggressive edge creeping into his voice, Olivia wondered what terrible sin she’d committed to be finding herself stuck in the front seat of a tired little pickup with the employee from hell. Not only did Mark keep trying to point out what she’d be missing if she didn’t come to the bunkhouse tonight, it appeared that her repeatedly gentle but firm refusals were making him angry.
Well, and the Dear John letter he’d crumpled into a ball and thrown at her feet after reading the more interesting parts to her. Added to that, his driving had gone from reckless to downright scary. What had she been thinking when she’d asked if they could use his pickup to go after the heater? If she’d taken ten minutes to pull the rear seat out of her van, she’d be in only half the mess she was in now; she might still be dealing with an angry young man, but at least the pine trees wouldn’t be speeding by in a blur.
Olivia decided that when they met the school bus, she and Sophie were walking the last three miles to Inglenook. “Look, Mark,” she said calmly, even as she checked the buckle on her seat belt, “it’s not that I’m not flattered by your offer, but I have a very firm rule about fraternizing with my employees.”
“Employee. You have one. So it’s not like anyone can complain the boss is playing favorites or anything.”
“When camp’s in session I have fifteen people on the payroll: seven who live at Inglenook—you, the cook, and several counselors—and eight locals who show up every day at the crack of dawn,” she said, getting a bit angry herself.
His eyes narrowed menacingly. “What about the campers? You got any rules about fraternizing with them?” He snorted. “Or is that how you fill up your single-father sessions year after year?”
Olivia counted to ten to keep from smacking the belligerent snot, wanting worse than anything to get out of this damn truck. “Ohmigod!” she shouted, pointing out the windshield. “Quick, pull off the road!”
Mark hit the brakes in surprise, then veered into a small gravel pit before bringing the truck to a sliding stop and shutting off the engine. “What did you see?” he asked, looking around.
Olivia immediately undid her seat belt and got out. “A moose just crossed the road in front of us,” she said, pointing toward the trees when he also got out. “And where there’s one, there’s usually more. Hitting an animal that size would total your truck.”
“I didn’t see anything.” His complexion darkened, his anger returning as suddenly as it had left. “You just made that up,” he said, storming around the front of the truck. “What in hell is it with you women, anyway? You think you can just dump me like yesterday’s trash to go after some rich guy just because he’s got a career and drives a Porsche?”
“Hey, wait a minute.” Olivia started walking backward. “I’m not your girlfriend; I’m your boss.”
“Not anymore, you’re not, because I quit.”
Well, that took care of that little problem. Now she just had to deal with being in the middle of nowhere with this idiot. Growing somewhat alarmed when he continued advancing, Olivia weighed her chances of making a run for it over convincing him she was considering coming to the bunkhouse tonight.
“Wait,” she said, holding up her hand to stop him. “I . . . um, you have to give me time to consider your offer, Mark. I mean, I’m not opposed to getting together with you,” she said, matching him step for step when he didn’t stop. “It’s just that you caught me off guard earlier.”
He finally stopped and looked around the small gravel pit, then back at her, his eyes growing suspicious again. “So what say we get a little practice in right now, to help you decide?”
Was he for real?
Okay, maybe running would be wiser. Olivia bolted for the woods, figuring Mark would probably beat her in an open footrace down the road. Beside, maybe she could find a stick and beat some sense into the idiot.
Only he caught her before she made it ten feet. She shouted in surprise when he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, and then yelped in pain when she stumbled to her knees and he landed on top of her.
For the love of God, this couldn’t be happening. He was just a kid!
But his grip was as strong as a man’s. Olivia tried shoving him away, but he stuck to her like glue; his fingers biting into her arms as he rolled her over to face him. The air left her lungs in a painful whoosh when he landed on top of her again, and she cried out when his mouth slammed against hers.
Okay, it was time to panic; they were in the middle of nowhere, she couldn’t seem to get control of the situation, and the idiot was flat-out attacking her! Olivia kicked at his legs and squirmed to push him off as she fought to breathe. Trying to jerk her hands free only ended up wrenching her wrist in his unbreakable grip, but she did manage to twist away from his punishing mouth.
“Mark! Stop this!” she cried. “You need to stop!”
“What in hell kind of camp doesn’t have girls?”
Olivia stopped struggling. Talking was good. If she could keep him talking, then maybe he’d calm down. “Th-there will be girls your age in town once college lets out,” she said, panting raggedly as his weight crushed her into the gravel.
“That’s more than two months away!”
Olivia shouted in outrage as she turned away from his descending mouth and put all her strength into bucking him off even as she drove her fist into his ribs. He reared up, his own shout ending on a strangled yelp as his weight suddenly lifted off her. Olivia rolled away, then stumbled to her feet, scrambling around Mark’s truck—only to run straight into another vehicle.
She stumbled back to her feet just as she heard Mark shout again and started running toward him when she saw a stranger drive his fist into Mark’s stomach. The boy hadn’t even doubled over when the man’s fist slammed into his jaw, tossing him into the air to land on the ground on his back, out cold.
“No!” Olivia cried, grabbing the stranger’s arm to stop him from going after Mark again. “Don’t hurt him anymore!”
The man shrugged her off and turned toward her, the dangerous look in his sharp green eyes making her take a step back. “Forgive me,” he said gutturally. “I was under the impression the bastard was attacking you.” He gestured toward Mark even as he gave a slight bow. “I will leave you to your little game, then,” he said, turning away and striding to his truck.
Olivia ran after him. “No, don’t leave! He was attacking me.”
He stopped so suddenly she bumped into him and would have fallen if he hadn’t grabbed her shoulders. And that’s when Olivia’s knees buckled, the magnitude of what had nearly happened turning her into a quivering blob of jelly.
Her rescuer swept her off her feet before she reached the ground. He carried her to a small mound of dirt at the entrance to the gravel pit and set her down, then shrugged out of his jacket and settled it over her trembling shoulders. But when he crouched down in front of her and started to reach toward her throbbing cheek, Olivia buried her face in her hands and burst into sobs.
“It’s okay. You’re safe now.”
“I can’t believe he a-attacked me. He . . . he’s just a kid.” She straightened to pull his jacket tightly around her as she took gulping breaths. “Oh God, I can’t breathe!”
“You’re safe now, madam.” He cupped her jaw in his broad hand, his penetrating gaze inspecting her face before coming to rest on her eyes. “You have my word: The bastard won’t ever hurt you again.”
Olivia leaned away from his touch and glanced toward Mark, trying to slow her breathing in an attempt to calm her racing heart. But finding that the two vehicles were blocking her view, she looked back at her rescuer. “He’s only a dumb kid, but I couldn’t stop him. H-he just exploded. I tried to be gentle but firm, but I . . . he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
She swiped at a tear running down her cheek. “I never should have hired him. If I’d listened to my gut and sent him packing the day he arrived, this wouldn’t have happened.” She wiped her eyes again, hoping a good dose of outrage would stop her from feeling like she’d just spent ten minutes in the spin cycle of a washing machine. “But not one other applicant looked as promising. Except that girl in Wyoming. She didn’t have any counselor experience, but I bet she wouldn’t have insisted I have sex with her—unless she’s gay.” Olivia covered her gasp with her hand. “Ohmigod, I can’t shut up!”
“Henry, come here,” her rescuer called over his shoulder.
The rear passenger door of the pearl-white SUV opened and a young boy got out. Olivia immediately tried to stand up, not wanting the child to see her like this, but the gentleman set his large hand on her shoulder. “Come here, son. This lady has just had a fright, Henry, and she needs comforting,” he said, gesturing at Olivia. “Sit here and hold Miss . . . what’s your name?” he asked, giving her a gentle smile.
She didn’t know if it was his smile that did it, or the fact that she needed to pull herself together for the sake of the child, but Olivia took a shuddering breath and released her death grip on his jacket. “My name’s Olivia,” she told the boy—only to gasp. “You’re Henry! And Mr. Oceanus,” she cried, looking at the man. “You’re arriving today!” She hid her face in her hands again, utterly humiliated. “Ohmigod, this is terrible. You shouldn’t see me like this.”
But when a small arm settled over her shoulders—the young hand at the end of that arm gently patting her—Olivia quietly started sobbing again.
That is, until she realized Mr. Oceanus was no longer crouched in front of her.
Olivia shot out from under Henry’s comforting arm. “No, you can’t hurt him!” she shouted, rounding the vehicles in time to see Mr. Oceanus hauling Mark to his feet.
“He’s just a dumb kid.”
“Go sit in my truck, Olivia. I merely intend to have a little discussion with him.”
“Not in front of your son, you’re not,” she said, grabbing his arm. “Is this the sort of man you want Henry to see you as?”
Still holding Mark by the scruff of his neck, Maximilian Oceanus turned his lethal green eyes on her. “If you mean do I want him to see me as the sort of man who won’t let a bastard get away with brutalizing a woman, then yes.”
“And just what are you teaching him by beating up a defenseless kid?”
“I would hope I’m teaching the boy that he has a duty to rescue a woman who’s being attacked.”
“But you did that already,” she said, keeping her voice low so Henry wouldn’t hear them. Good Lord, Trace Huntsman hadn’t been kidding when he’d told Olivia that his friend didn’t have a clue how to deal with his newly discovered son. “Henry saw you rescuing me, but it’s equally important that he also sees you acting in a civilized manner toward my assailant.”
He arched a brow. “Would you prefer I let Henry watch you make this bastard wish he’d never been born?”
“I’m not going to beat up Mark!” Only Olivia wondered if that wasn’t amusement making his eyes so vividly green now. “Look, Mr. Oceanus, this—”
“I prefer you call me Mac. And if by acting civilized in front of my son you are suggesting I do nothing, then I suggest you and Henry go for a little walk. You have my word: I will wait until you’re out of sight to have my little discussion.”
That had to be amusement, because he couldn’t possibly be serious.
Mark finally stirred, letting out a dazed groan as he started to struggle against the iron fist holding him upright by the throat. And even though Olivia knew firsthand how strong Mark was, her rescuer didn’t even acknowledge the boy’s struggles other than to send Mark into a fit of choking coughs by tightening his fingers.
“Please let him go, Mac,” she pleaded, her shoulders slumping as she pulled his jacket tightly around her. “I—I just want to meet my daughter’s bus at the turnoff and go home before I fall down.”
The sudden concern in his eyes disappeared the moment he looked back at Mark. “If I catch you within fifty miles of Spellbound Falls after sunset today, I will kill you. Understand?” he said ever so softly. He twisted the boy to face her. “But first you will apologize.”
His eyes nearly popping out of his beet-red face, Mark made a strangled sound and tried to nod. “I . . . I’m sorry,” he choked out.
Mac released him so suddenly that Mark fell into a listless heap on the ground, and Olivia didn’t even have time to gasp before her rescuer lifted her into his arms.
“Henry, open the front door of our truck,” he said, striding to the SUV and setting her inside. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. “Your lip is bleeding,” he said, handing it to her. “Where is the turnoff you spoke of? You said you wish to meet your daughter.”
She took the handkerchief from him and shakily dabbed at her mouth. “It . . . it’s another couple of miles up the road.”
He nodded and closed the door, then opened the door behind her. “Get in and buckle up, son,” he said, closing the door once Henry climbed in.
But instead of walking around to the driver’s side, he strode back around Mark’s truck. Olivia started to go after him, but the door wouldn’t open even after she pushed all the buttons on the handle. She was just about to start pounding on the buttons when a small, surprisingly firm hand clasped her shoulder.
“Father will be civilized,” Henry said, giving her a nod when she turned to him. “I believe he’s just making sure the bastard understood his instructions.”
“You heard what we were saying?”
“I have very good hearing.” He patted her shoulder. “You can get over your fright now, Olivia; Father won’t let that bastard hurt you again.”
She twisted around in her seat. “Henry, you can’t keep calling him a bastard; it’s a very bad word.”
His eyes—as deeply green as those of the man who’d sired him—hardened in an almost mirror image of his father’s. “Is it not appropriate to use a bad word when referring to a bad person?”
Good Lord, he even talked like his father!
But Trace Huntsman, a military buddy of Olivia’s late husband who lived several hours away down on the coast, had told her that Henry had come to live with Mac only a few months ago, after the child’s mother had died. And that up until then the two had never met, as Mac hadn’t even known Henry existed.
“How come you call him Father instead of Dad?” Olivia asked.
Henry’s tiny brows knitted into a frown. “Because that’s what he is. He calls me son and I call him Father.” His frown deepened even as his face reddened. “And please forgive me, for I believe I’m supposed to call you madam, not Olivia. My mama would be quite upset with me if she knew I was calling a lady by her Christian name.”
Olivia smiled warmly. “And what’s your mama’s name?”
“Cordelia. But when Father speaks of her, he calls her Delia. My last name used to be Penhope, but now it’s Oceanus.” He went back to frowning again. “Only Father is also thinking of cha...
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