The Dangerous Protector [NOOK Book]

Overview

Janet Chapman returns to the breathtaking Maine coast in Seductive Impostor the second novel featuring two passionate sisters . . . and the men who have what it takes to love them.

Willow Foster is committed to protecting Maine’s precious coastline. She’s equally committed to avoiding her one-time fling, Duncan Ross, the rugged Scotsman who’s got her hometown believing she’s the love of his life. But when Willow goes home to uncover the ...
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The Dangerous Protector

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Overview

Janet Chapman returns to the breathtaking Maine coast in Seductive Impostor the second novel featuring two passionate sisters . . . and the men who have what it takes to love them.

Willow Foster is committed to protecting Maine’s precious coastline. She’s equally committed to avoiding her one-time fling, Duncan Ross, the rugged Scotsman who’s got her hometown believing she’s the love of his life. But when Willow goes home to uncover the mystery behind a worrisome lobster catch, she learns that pub owner Duncan holds some mysteries of his own . . . and that taking a chance with her heart might open her life up to passion beyond her wildest dreams.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Coastal Maine serves as the appealing backdrop for this charming but cliched novel of romantic suspense from Chapman (The Seductive Imposter). When a lobsterman alerts state Assistant Attorney General Willow Foster to the presence of contaminants in Puffin Harbor, she begins a secret investigation. She's unofficially assisted by bar owner and former salvager Duncan Ross, whose offers of both marriage and passion she's been resisting since a one-night stand 18 months earlier. As the two explore both the corporate paper trail and the local seascape, Duncan reveals that he's actually a Scottish lord, while Willow is forced to grapple with her fear of commitment. The story's use of old-fashioned romantic conventions often seems silly in this modern context. Corporate polluters call their victims "Miss," while Duncan's sister's Internet lover arrives from New Zealand carrying family heirlooms to ask for permission to court. Chapman's mimicry of Duncan's brogue is also unfortunate, making him sound more like Popeye ("Can ya climb with yar splint?") than an aristocratic adventurer. This novel works best when it focuses on the timeless bonds between friends and family, community and place. Agent, Grace Morgan Literary Agency. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Chapman delivers an enjoyably sensual and suspenseful romance."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416506898
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 5/1/2005
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 57,072
  • File size: 419 KB

Meet the Author

A native of rural central Maine, Janet Chapman lives there in a cozy log cabin on a lake with her husband.  Three cats and a stray young bull moose keep them company.  The author of the hugely popular Highlander time-travel series, she also writes contemporary romances.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter Two

With the patience of a predator waiting for supper, Duncan leaned against the candy red SUV in the dimly lit parking lot, his arms folded over his chest and his feet crossed at the ankles in a pose that might appear almost languid to anyone who didn't know him.

He was soon rewarded by the sight of Willow climbing out the restroom window of his pub; one shapely jeans-clad leg appearing first, followed by a deliciously firm little butt, followed by another leg, until she was hanging suspended over the sill. Her sweater caught on a protruding nail as her waving feet searched for a toehold, and she suddenly tumbled down over the stack of firewood with a curse loud enough to be heard all the way across the parking lot.

Despite his dark mood, Duncan couldn't stifle a smile. It was a wonder she could even walk after putting first one foot in her mouth by spilling Rachel's secret, then cramming in her other foot when she'd blurted out that she wouldn't be home until late tomorrow morning.

That Rachel had told Duncan she'd heard Willow on the phone with an old high-school boyfriend earlier also didn't bode well for the sassy-mouthed little brat.

He was one second away from dragging Willow home -- kicking and screaming, if that's what it took -- and tying her to his bed and not letting her go until she agreed to marry him.

Duncan's smile widened at the image of her tied to his bed. He watched Willow creep toward freedom while looking over her shoulder at the front corner of the building. A cool ocean breeze was blowing her long, blunt-cut brown hair across her face, the hem of her heavy wool sweater was hiked up over one shapely breast, and there was a smudge of white paint on her left knee. She was also fishing in her pocket for her keys, obviously forgetting that she had the same bad habit as most of the citizens of Puffin Harbor and had left them on the floor of her truck.

Those keys were now tucked safely in Duncan's pocket.

Apparently satisfied that she had made her escape relatively unscathed, Willow started sprinting toward her truck only to finally spot him, swallow a gasp, and skid to a halt just four paces away.

Duncan continued to watch in fascination as her chin came up, her shoulders squared, and her large hazel eyes glittered with challenge. Still he didn't move from his insouciant pose, but simply stared back, not saying a word, and waited to see how inventive her lie would be.

Lord, he enjoyed her games.

She suddenly made a production of looking at her watch, holding her wrist toward the dim light of the streetlamp. "I'm going to be late, Dunky," she said with a hint of impatience, lifting one brow as her shimmering gaze returned to his. "Was there something you wanted?"

"Aye. You."

She smoothed her sweater back down into place, settled her hands on her hips, and shook her head. "We both know that's never going to happen."

"Never say never, counselor. It's a word that always comes back to haunt ya. Where are ya going tonight, Willow?"

"If it's any of your business, I'm going to visit an old friend I haven't seen since high school."

"All night?"

Her chin rose the slightest bit higher, and her hands on her hips balled into fists. "We'll probably have a few drinks, so I won't be able to drive home. And if I know his wife, she'll cook a breakfast so big I won't be able to walk away from the table, either."

"Ray and Patty Cobb separated three months ago."

Willow's hands fell from her hips. "They're separated?"

Her surprise wasn't fake, Duncan realized. She truly hadn't known. "Aye," he said quietly. "So tell me, did you call Cobb or did he call you?"

She took a cautious step back, though he hadn't moved so much as an inch, but then she stiffened. "How do you know I'm going to see Ray?" Her eyes narrowed. "And who told you he and Patty are separated?"

"Your sister just told me, while you were hiding in the restroom," he said with an indifferent shrug. "As payback, I suppose, for your so eloquently telling Kee she's pregnant."

Duncan saw her wince. "Rachel's not even sure yet," she muttered. She took another step, this one sideways instead of back, obviously hoping to work her way toward her truck door.

Duncan was on her before she could react. He caught her around the waist and lifted her up as he turned, dropped her down on the front fender of her truck, and settled himself between her knees so quickly that she had to grab his shoulders to steady herself.

He threaded his fingers through her hair and cupped the sides of her face firmly enough to warn her against struggling. She went perfectly still, her eyes widening in alarm.

Or was it awareness?

"Come home with me tonight."

"I can't, Duncan. And you know why." There was anger in her whispered response. And also regret.

"Then stay and help me finish my bottle of Scotch."

She slowly shook her head inside his hands. "I'll just find myself waking up in your bed again."

"Eighteen months is a long time to be celibate."

Her face under his hands flushed with heat, and her eyes shimmered defiantly. "What makes you think I've been celibate? I'll have you know I've had lots of dates in the last year and a half. Probably hundreds," she said, waving an angry hand over his shoulder.

"But not one of those dates ended in bed."

"How do -- Dammit!" She squirmed to break free and pushed at his shoulders. "Let me go. I have to go kill my sister!"

He ignored her struggles and covered her mouth in a kiss that was long overdue, holding her firmly as he tasted peat-dried barley malt mingled with her own sweet flavor.

She stiffened on an indrawn breath, her hands on his shoulders digging into his leather jacket. Duncan dropped his own hand to her backside and slid Willow forward, pulling her pelvis firmly into his. He groaned into her mouth, and with an aggression born of need, deepened the kiss, not backing down until he felt her shudder in response.

"Sweet heaven," he growled, forcing himself to come up for air. "Dammit, Willow, don't do this to us. You want it as much as I do."

She set trembling, delicate hands on either side of his face, and smiled sadly through passion-bright eyes. "You blew any chance for us eighteen months ago, Duncan, when you took me home, made incredible love to me all night, and then turned into a chest-beating caveman the next morning."

"It's troglodyte," he whispered, flexing his fingers on her hips. "I'm a troglodyte."

"Yes, you are," she whispered back, her own hands tightening on his face. "You're possessive, protective, and wonderfully physical, and you haven't evolved into this century. If I ever let down my guard with you, for even a minute, I'd find myself in more trouble than I could handle."

Duncan took her hands from his face and held them securely against his thumping chest. "But that's the very thing we have going for us, lass. Your own strength matches mine in a way that promises us a lifetime of passion."

"I'm not capable of making that kind of commitment, Duncan. Can't you understand that?"

"Aye," he said on a sigh, leaning forward and giving her mouth a gentle kiss. He pulled back slightly. "I've understood that from the beginning. Cancel your date with Cobb."

"I can't." She also released a shuddering sigh. "It's not even a date, really. I'm meeting Ray tonight because he has something to show me."

Duncan just bet Cobb had something to show her. "Then let me come with you."

She shook her head. "I can't. This is business."

"Attorney general business?" He canted his head. "Your sister said Cobb is a lobsterman. What's he got that concerns your office?" Duncan tightened his grip on her hands. "And why did you have to come here to meet him, and at night? All night, for that matter."

She wiggled to get free, and Duncan allowed her to shove him away and slide down off the fender of her truck. She turned with a snort and finally opened the driver's door. "This is exactly why we can't be together. I can't even have a simple meeting without you getting all possessive and protective. I've been doing my job for over two years now, and I've been doing it damn well without your help. Go tend your bar."

"I have a staff for that. I'm taking tonight off."

"You can't come with -- " She stopped in mid-sentence and reached inside her truck, picked up the bottle he'd set on the seat while waiting for her, and turned back with one brow raised in question. "Pretty damn sure of yourself, aren't you?" She returned her gaze to the bottle, lifting it toward the street light to read the label. "Rosach Distillery," she read out loud, looking back up at him. "It's the same name as your bar -- The Rosach Pub."

He took the bottle from her. "They're my silent partner."

"But I thought you bought and remodeled the bar with your share of the reward you and Kee and the others got when you recovered Thaddeus Lakeman's stolen art?"

"Aye, I did. But I also went into partnership with the Rosach Distillery."

After giving him an odd look, Willow reached into the truck again and reemerged with the small leather box that had been sitting next to the bottle. "What's this?" she asked, running a finger over the faded gold letters embossed into the top of it. "Who's Galen Ross?" she asked, opening the box.

Willow shot him a quick look of surprise, then lifted the tulip-shaped glass from the velvet and held it up to see the etching. "This is the glass I just used inside," she said, looking back at him. "It has the same crest as the label on the bottle. Who's Galen Ross?" she repeated.

"My father."

"You have a father?" she blurted out. She shook her head and smiled. "I mean, I know you didn't really crawl out of a cave, but I never thought of you as having a family. You never talk about them."

He tucked the bottle under his arm and took the box and glass from her, set the glass back in the velvet, and carefully closed the lid. "My father and I were supposed to share this Scotch when it came of age, but he died six years ago."

"I'm sorry, Duncan," she said softly.

He tucked the bottle and box under his arm. "Life happens" was all he could think to say.

"So that's why you know so much about whisky," she continued brightly. "Your father worked for the Rosach Distillery. Was he one of those...what do you call them? A noser?"

"Aye, Galen Ross had a legendary nose for blending whisky."

"And that's his nosing glass," she said, stepping forward and lifting up on her toes as she pulled on the sleeve of his jacket. "Thank you for sharing your special Scotch with me, Duncan," she whispered. "And for letting me drink from your father's glass."

She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and then turned and climbed into her truck. Duncan watched her grope around on the floor for her keys, then bend over with a muttered curse and continue her search in front of the passenger's seat.

Duncan took her keys out of his pocket but said nothing, deciding to let the woman's frustration build -- even though he knew it wouldn't even come close to his own. He smiled when she suddenly stilled, his grin widening when she bolted upright, glared at him, and held out her hand.

He dangled the keys just out of her reach. "Take me with ya and I promise to be as quiet as a church mouse and not interfere in your work."

She climbed back out of the truck, stood directly in front of him, and stared up with a fierceness that would have worried the devil himself. "Do you trust me, Duncan?"

He relaxed back on his hips and folded the hand holding the keys under his arm holding the Scotch. "I trust ya not to lie to me about the important things," he said softly. "And I trust that ya know what you're doing when it comes to yar work. But I don't trust an old boyfriend not to have an agenda."

"Ray and I dated three months," she snapped, clearly at the end of her patience -- and seemingly not at all impressed that he trusted her. "I am not interested in Ray Cobb that way."

"Then ya shouldn't have any problem with my tagging along."

She shoved her hand out again. "You are not coming with me."

He held his own hand over hers, the keys locked in his fist. "Then agree to have dinner with me tomorrow night."

She actually stamped her foot, and Duncan realized she'd just barely restrained herself from kicking him. "I will not be seen on a date with you. It would only feed the rumors about us."

"Then we'll eat in. At my house."

She looked down at his leg, specifically at his shin, her mutinous eyes obviously judging her aim.

But she looked back up at the sound of her jangling keys as Duncan made them disappear behind the zipper of his jacket, to an inside pocket over his chest. And then her eyes widened when his hand returned not with her keys but with a pen. He stepped forward, the bottle and box tucked firmly under his arm, and took her still extended hand in his and started writing on her palm.

Just as he'd known it would, Willow's curiosity held her still as she tried to read what he was spelling out in small, bold blue letters.

"What does that say?" she demanded, pulling free the moment he finished. She held her hand flat, facing the light, and squinted down at it. "Potes currere..." She looked up and scowled at him. "Either you can't spell worth a damn, Dunky, or this isn't English." She looked back down and tried reading it phonetically. "Potes currere sed te occulere non potes."

Duncan winced. "Ya're slaughtering it, lass."

"What language is it? French? Latin? Stone Age gibberish? And what does it mean?"

He placed the pen back in his pocket, his hand returning empty. "You're an educated woman, counselor. Do what I did when ya wrote troglodyte on my palm two years ago. Look it up."

Her eyes glittering in the street light, Willow balled her hand into a fist and spun back to her truck with a muttered curse. She climbed in, slammed the door shut behind her, and tripped the electric locks. Then she reached up, pulled down the visor, and took out a hidden key. She shot him a triumphant smile as she crammed the key into the ignition and started the engine.

Duncan stepped back with a long-suffering sigh and turned to avoid the parking lot dust and debris shooting out from her screeching tires as Willow exited the parking lot with all the poise of a spoiled brat.

He was going to have to do something about her recklessness, Duncan decided as he loped to his car. He climbed into the right-hand seat, tucked the Scotch and leather box safely under the left-hand seat, fished his own keys out of his pocket, and started the fifteen-year-old Jaguar.

The engine rumbled to life with the distinct purr of a jungle beast, and Duncan slowly pulled out of the parking lot. But the moment he turned onto the road, he pushed the powerful engine through the gears, only easing back on the throttle when he caught sight of Willow's taillights.

Aye, he thought with another sigh. The game continued.

Not only was their game continuing, Duncan decided thirty minutes later, it was getting curiouser and curiouser.

He could have been watching a B movie for all the drama of the scene unfolding through his binoculars: the old fishing pier hugging the shore of the fog-obscured cove, the halo of one weak bulb from the scale house illuminating the two people standing hunched over a wooden crate, and the thick, desolate silence broken only by an occasional, distant foghorn.

He'd witnessed this sort of scene more times than he cared to remember, and Duncan's gut tightened at the thought of Willow being in the middle of this one. Cobb's personal interest in her was no longer a worry; it was the situation the man was getting her into that made Duncan break into a cold sweat. When state's assistant attorneys general met with men who wanted to show them something on a desolate pier at night, it usually meant trouble.

Big trouble.

Usually more trouble than one tiny woman could handle.

Duncan was back to rethinking his plan of dragging Willow home and tying her to his bed. He straightened from leaning over the roof of his car, tossed the binoculars onto the front seat, softly closed the door, and started down the steep hill toward the clandestine meeting.

He had no trouble keeping to the shadows as he carefully worked his way out onto the pier, his ears tuned to the silence around him and the soft voices ahead.

"How long has this been going on, Ray?" Duncan heard Willow whisper.

"They started turning up about seven weeks ago," Cobb answered just as softly. "Just a few at first, and only in my traps closest to the island. And it's not just the lobsters. Even the crabs look like this."

Duncan inched forward and peered around the end of the scale house, but he still couldn't see what Cobb was holding, since the man was standing with his back to him.

"Why call me?" Willow asked. "You should have contacted Marine Resources."

"I did. George White covers this part of the coast, and I told him exactly what I'm telling you. I even gave him some of my catch."

"And?"

"And he said he'd look into it, but that was six weeks ago. I called his office several times and they told me he's gone on vacation."

"That's a long vacation for a civil servant," Duncan heard Willow murmur as she looked back at what Cobb was holding. "What about the other lobstermen? Are they turning up the same thing?"

Cobb dropped what Duncan guessed was a lobster back into the crate and brushed his hands on his pants. "Yes," Cobb said, closing the crate and picking it up. "There's about seven other fishermen who usually set traps around the island. But we've all had to move them because we can't afford to keep throwing back our catch."

Cobb started walking farther out the pier, and Willow fell into step beside him. Duncan silently followed.

"And that means we've started crowding each other," Cobb continued, stopping beside the gently bobbing roof of a fishing boat. "We're on the verge of starting a trap war."

"A trap war?"

Cobb snorted. "You know how territorial fishing gets. And we can't afford to just pull our traps, so we have to move into other areas," he explained, setting down the crate. "After I called and asked you to come down, I set some traps around the island so you could see for yourself what I'm talking about."

"And the sick lobster are only coming from this one place?" Willow asked. "They're not turning up anywhere else?"

"No. Other than an expected mutation and the occasional blue or harlequin lobster, all's normal."

The tide was low, and Cobb stepped onto the ladder that ran down to his boat, slid the crate onto its deck, then turned and faced Willow at eye level. "I run almost nine hundred pots from June to October, and about three hundred in winter. I've been fishing for over ten years, and I've never seen anything like this."

Duncan could just make out Cobb's smile as the man held out his hand. "Come on, Willy. It'll be just like in high school, when I used to steal my old man's boat and a bunch of us would head out to one of the islands for a party."

Dammit, he was not letting Willow get on that boat. Duncan silently moved forward, preparing to rush her, when the beam of a powerful light suddenly cut through the fog, scanning shoreward from the water in a sweeping arc.

Duncan stepped back into the shadow of several stacked crates and listened to the muted chug of an engine approaching at idle speed. The searchlight stopped on Willow as she stood on the pier, its beam also catching Cobb in silhouette.

"Hey The Corncobb Lady," the man in the approaching boat hollered. "That you, Ray Cobb?"

Duncan watched as Cobb quickly helped Willow down to the deck of his boat and rushed her into its wheelhouse. Then he climbed back up the ladder and moved down the pier to intercept the boat coming in.

"You're out late tonight, Gramps," Cobb said, leaning over to catch the roof of the other boat as it gently edged up to the pier. He took the rope handed to him and tied it off on a large post. "You have engine trouble?" he continued, moving back to help the old man up the ladder.

"Naw. I anchored myself off Pregnant Island and had a nap," he said with a chuckle. "Next thing I knew, I woke up and it was dark. Already radioed the missus, so she ain't worried none." Gramps leaned around Cobb, eyeing the younger man's boat. "Who you got there, Ray? I thought I recognized her."

Cobb moved into his line of sight. "Just a friend."

The old man squinted up at him. "You should be working on winning Patty back, not fishing new waters." He suddenly stiffened. "Willow Foster," he said, starting toward Cobb's boat. "That's who I recognized, damned if it ain't."

"Go home, Gramps," Cobb said gently, crowding him away from his boat. "It's not Willow Foster."

"I sure hope to hell not," the old man said, stopping and looking up at Cobb.

Duncan slid deeper into the shadows, since the men were only ten feet away now.

"I hear that huge Scot over to Puffin Harbor already got a claim on her," Gramps continued. "He owns The Rosach Pub, and I hear he used to be a...what you call them? A fortune soldier or something. Ayuh," he said with a nod. "Word is he's trying to take up with that Foster girl, but she ain't making it easy for him," he finished with a cackle. He pointed at Cobb's chest. "You mind whose traps you're pulling from. That Scot ain't no one to mess with. Go back to Patty."

"I'm trying," Cobb growled. "But she's being stubborn. She says I take her for granted or something."

Gramps glanced toward Cobb's sleek-lined, crisply painted boat, then cocked his head at the young man. "Maybe you should spend more money on your house than you do your boat, boy. Homes are important to women." He puffed up his chest. "I've kept the same missus and the same boat for near forty-six years, 'cause I spent my earnings on whichever one was complaining the loudest at the time."

"Maybe I'll do that," Cobb said, urging the old man toward land. "And you should get home before Mildred locks you out."

That said, Cobb jogged back to his boat, untied the ropes with quick efficiency, jumped onto the deck, and had the engine started before Gramps even got moving.

Duncan gritted his teeth in frustration, inching around the crates as the old sea salt finally walked by muttering something about the foolishness of horny toads.

By the time Duncan was able to move down the pier, Cobb's boat was already disappearing into the fog -- and Willow Foster was standing on deck, waving back at Duncan.

Copyright © 2005 by Janet Chapman

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First Chapter

Chapter Two

With the patience of a predator waiting for supper, Duncan leaned against the candy red SUV in the dimly lit parking lot, his arms folded over his chest and his feet crossed at the ankles in a pose that might appear almost languid to anyone who didn't know him.

He was soon rewarded by the sight of Willow climbing out the restroom window of his pub; one shapely jeans-clad leg appearing first, followed by a deliciously firm little butt, followed by another leg, until she was hanging suspended over the sill. Her sweater caught on a protruding nail as her waving feet searched for a toehold, and she suddenly tumbled down over the stack of firewood with a curse loud enough to be heard all the way across the parking lot.

Despite his dark mood, Duncan couldn't stifle a smile. It was a wonder she could even walk after putting first one foot in her mouth by spilling Rachel's secret, then cramming in her other foot when she'd blurted out that she wouldn't be home until late tomorrow morning.

That Rachel had told Duncan she'd heard Willow on the phone with an old high-school boyfriend earlier also didn't bode well for the sassy-mouthed little brat.

He was one second away from dragging Willow home -- kicking and screaming, if that's what it took -- and tying her to his bed and not letting her go until she agreed to marry him.

Duncan's smile widened at the image of her tied to his bed. He watched Willow creep toward freedom while looking over her shoulder at the front corner of the building. A cool ocean breeze was blowing her long, blunt-cut brown hair across her face, the hem of her heavy wool sweater was hiked upover one shapely breast, and there was a smudge of white paint on her left knee. She was also fishing in her pocket for her keys, obviously forgetting that she had the same bad habit as most of the citizens of Puffin Harbor and had left them on the floor of her truck.

Those keys were now tucked safely in Duncan's pocket.

Apparently satisfied that she had made her escape relatively unscathed, Willow started sprinting toward her truck only to finally spot him, swallow a gasp, and skid to a halt just four paces away.

Duncan continued to watch in fascination as her chin came up, her shoulders squared, and her large hazel eyes glittered with challenge. Still he didn't move from his insouciant pose, but simply stared back, not saying a word, and waited to see how inventive her lie would be.

Lord, he enjoyed her games.

She suddenly made a production of looking at her watch, holding her wrist toward the dim light of the streetlamp. "I'm going to be late, Dunky," she said with a hint of impatience, lifting one brow as her shimmering gaze returned to his. "Was there something you wanted?"

"Aye. You."

She smoothed her sweater back down into place, settled her hands on her hips, and shook her head. "We both know that's never going to happen."

"Never say never, counselor. It's a word that always comes back to haunt ya. Where are ya going tonight, Willow?"

"If it's any of your business, I'm going to visit an old friend I haven't seen since high school."

"All night?"

Her chin rose the slightest bit higher, and her hands on her hips balled into fists. "We'll probably have a few drinks, so I won't be able to drive home. And if I know his wife, she'll cook a breakfast so big I won't be able to walk away from the table, either."

"Ray and Patty Cobb separated three months ago."

Willow's hands fell from her hips. "They're separated?"

Her surprise wasn't fake, Duncan realized. She truly hadn't known. "Aye," he said quietly. "So tell me, did you call Cobb or did he call you?"

She took a cautious step back, though he hadn't moved so much as an inch, but then she stiffened. "How do you know I'm going to see Ray?" Her eyes narrowed. "And who told you he and Patty are separated?"

"Your sister just told me, while you were hiding in the restroom," he said with an indifferent shrug. "As payback, I suppose, for your so eloquently telling Kee she's pregnant."

Duncan saw her wince. "Rachel's not even sure yet," she muttered. She took another step, this one sideways instead of back, obviously hoping to work her way toward her truck door.

Duncan was on her before she could react. He caught her around the waist and lifted her up as he turned, dropped her down on the front fender of her truck, and settled himself between her knees so quickly that she had to grab his shoulders to steady herself.

He threaded his fingers through her hair and cupped the sides of her face firmly enough to warn her against struggling. She went perfectly still, her eyes widening in alarm.

Or was it awareness?

"Come home with me tonight."

"I can't, Duncan. And you know why." There was anger in her whispered response. And also regret.

"Then stay and help me finish my bottle of Scotch."

She slowly shook her head inside his hands. "I'll just find myself waking up in your bed again."

"Eighteen months is a long time to be celibate."

Her face under his hands flushed with heat, and her eyes shimmered defiantly. "What makes you think I've been celibate? I'll have you know I've had lots of dates in the last year and a half. Probably hundreds," she said, waving an angry hand over his shoulder.

"But not one of those dates ended in bed."

"How do -- Dammit!" She squirmed to break free and pushed at his shoulders. "Let me go. I have to go kill my sister!"

He ignored her struggles and covered her mouth in a kiss that was long overdue, holding her firmly as he tasted peat-dried barley malt mingled with her own sweet flavor.

She stiffened on an indrawn breath, her hands on his shoulders digging into his leather jacket. Duncan dropped his own hand to her backside and slid Willow forward, pulling her pelvis firmly into his. He groaned into her mouth, and with an aggression born of need, deepened the kiss, not backing down until he felt her shudder in response.

"Sweet heaven," he growled, forcing himself to come up for air. "Dammit, Willow, don't do this to us. You want it as much as I do."

She set trembling, delicate hands on either side of his face, and smiled sadly through passion-bright eyes. "You blew any chance for us eighteen months ago, Duncan, when you took me home, made incredible love to me all night, and then turned into a chest-beating caveman the next morning."

"It's troglodyte," he whispered, flexing his fingers on her hips. "I'm a troglodyte."

"Yes, you are," she whispered back, her own hands tightening on his face. "You're possessive, protective, and wonderfully physical, and you haven't evolved into this century. If I ever let down my guard with you, for even a minute, I'd find myself in more trouble than I could handle."

Duncan took her hands from his face and held them securely against his thumping chest. "But that's the very thing we have going for us, lass. Your own strength matches mine in a way that promises us a lifetime of passion."

"I'm not capable of making that kind of commitment, Duncan. Can't you understand that?"

"Aye," he said on a sigh, leaning forward and giving her mouth a gentle kiss. He pulled back slightly. "I've understood that from the beginning. Cancel your date with Cobb."

"I can't." She also released a shuddering sigh. "It's not even a date, really. I'm meeting Ray tonight because he has something to show me."

Duncan just bet Cobb had something to show her. "Then let me come with you."

She shook her head. "I can't. This is business."

"Attorney general business?" He canted his head. "Your sister said Cobb is a lobsterman. What's he got that concerns your office?" Duncan tightened his grip on her hands. "And why did you have to come here to meet him, and at night? All night, for that matter."

She wiggled to get free, and Duncan allowed her to shove him away and slide down off the fender of her truck. She turned with a snort and finally opened the driver's door. "This is exactly why we can't be together. I can't even have a simple meeting without you getting all possessive and protective. I've been doing my job for over two years now, and I've been doing it damn well without your help. Go tend your bar."

"I have a staff for that. I'm taking tonight off."

"You can't come with -- " She stopped in mid-sentence and reached inside her truck, picked up the bottle he'd set on the seat while waiting for her, and turned back with one brow raised in question. "Pretty damn sure of yourself, aren't you?" She returned her gaze to the bottle, lifting it toward the street light to read the label. "Rosach Distillery," she read out loud, looking back up at him. "It's the same name as your bar -- The Rosach Pub."

He took the bottle from her. "They're my silent partner."

"But I thought you bought and remodeled the bar with your share of the reward you and Kee and the others got when you recovered Thaddeus Lakeman's stolen art?"

"Aye, I did. But I also went into partnership with the Rosach Distillery."

After giving him an odd look, Willow reached into the truck again and reemerged with the small leather box that had been sitting next to the bottle. "What's this?" she asked, running a finger over the faded gold letters embossed into the top of it. "Who's Galen Ross?" she asked, opening the box.

Willow shot him a quick look of surprise, then lifted the tulip-shaped glass from the velvet and held it up to see the etching. "This is the glass I just used inside," she said, looking back at him. "It has the same crest as the label on the bottle. Who's Galen Ross?" she repeated.

"My father."

"You have a father?" she blurted out. She shook her head and smiled. "I mean, I know you didn't really crawl out of a cave, but I never thought of you as having a family. You never talk about them."

He tucked the bottle under his arm and took the box and glass from her, set the glass back in the velvet, and carefully closed the lid. "My father and I were supposed to share this Scotch when it came of age, but he died six years ago."

"I'm sorry, Duncan," she said softly.

He tucked the bottle and box under his arm. "Life happens" was all he could think to say.

"So that's why you know so much about whisky," she continued brightly. "Your father worked for the Rosach Distillery. Was he one of those...what do you call them? A noser?"

"Aye, Galen Ross had a legendary nose for blending whisky."

"And that's his nosing glass," she said, stepping forward and lifting up on her toes as she pulled on the sleeve of his jacket. "Thank you for sharing your special Scotch with me, Duncan," she whispered. "And for letting me drink from your father's glass."

She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and then turned and climbed into her truck. Duncan watched her grope around on the floor for her keys, then bend over with a muttered curse and continue her search in front of the passenger's seat.

Duncan took her keys out of his pocket but said nothing, deciding to let the woman's frustration build -- even though he knew it wouldn't even come close to his own. He smiled when she suddenly stilled, his grin widening when she bolted upright, glared at him, and held out her hand.

He dangled the keys just out of her reach. "Take me with ya and I promise to be as quiet as a church mouse and not interfere in your work."

She climbed back out of the truck, stood directly in front of him, and stared up with a fierceness that would have worried the devil himself. "Do you trust me, Duncan?"

He relaxed back on his hips and folded the hand holding the keys under his arm holding the Scotch. "I trust ya not to lie to me about the important things," he said softly. "And I trust that ya know what you're doing when it comes to yar work. But I don't trust an old boyfriend not to have an agenda."

"Ray and I dated three months," she snapped, clearly at the end of her patience -- and seemingly not at all impressed that he trusted her. "I am not interested in Ray Cobb that way."

"Then ya shouldn't have any problem with my tagging along."

She shoved her hand out again. "You are not coming with me."

He held his own hand over hers, the keys locked in his fist. "Then agree to have dinner with me tomorrow night."

She actually stamped her foot, and Duncan realized she'd just barely restrained herself from kicking him. "I will not be seen on a date with you. It would only feed the rumors about us."

"Then we'll eat in. At my house."

She looked down at his leg, specifically at his shin, her mutinous eyes obviously judging her aim.

But she looked back up at the sound of her jangling keys as Duncan made them disappear behind the zipper of his jacket, to an inside pocket over his chest. And then her eyes widened when his hand returned not with her keys but with a pen. He stepped forward, the bottle and box tucked firmly under his arm, and took her still extended hand in his and started writing on her palm.

Just as he'd known it would, Willow's curiosity held her still as she tried to read what he was spelling out in small, bold blue letters.

"What does that say?" she demanded, pulling free the moment he finished. She held her hand flat, facing the light, and squinted down at it. "Potes currere..." She looked up and scowled at him. "Either you can't spell worth a damn, Dunky, or this isn't English." She looked back down and tried reading it phonetically. "Potes currere sed te occulere non potes."

Duncan winced. "Ya're slaughtering it, lass."

"What language is it? French? Latin? Stone Age gibberish? And what does it mean?"

He placed the pen back in his pocket, his hand returning empty. "You're an educated woman, counselor. Do what I did when ya wrote troglodyte on my palm two years ago. Look it up."

Her eyes glittering in the street light, Willow balled her hand into a fist and spun back to her truck with a muttered curse. She climbed in, slammed the door shut behind her, and tripped the electric locks. Then she reached up, pulled down the visor, and took out a hidden key. She shot him a triumphant smile as she crammed the key into the ignition and started the engine.

Duncan stepped back with a long-suffering sigh and turned to avoid the parking lot dust and debris shooting out from her screeching tires as Willow exited the parking lot with all the poise of a spoiled brat.

He was going to have to do something about her recklessness, Duncan decided as he loped to his car. He climbed into the right-hand seat, tucked the Scotch and leather box safely under the left-hand seat, fished his own keys out of his pocket, and started the fifteen-year-old Jaguar.

The engine rumbled to life with the distinct purr of a jungle beast, and Duncan slowly pulled out of the parking lot. But the moment he turned onto the road, he pushed the powerful engine through the gears, only easing back on the throttle when he caught sight of Willow's taillights.

Aye, he thought with another sigh. The game continued.

Not only was their game continuing, Duncan decided thirty minutes later, it was getting curiouser and curiouser.

He could have been watching a B movie for all the drama of the scene unfolding through his binoculars: the old fishing pier hugging the shore of the fog-obscured cove, the halo of one weak bulb from the scale house illuminating the two people standing hunched over a wooden crate, and the thick, desolate silence broken only by an occasional, distant foghorn.

He'd witnessed this sort of scene more times than he cared to remember, and Duncan's gut tightened at the thought of Willow being in the middle of this one. Cobb's personal interest in her was no longer a worry; it was the situation the man was getting her into that made Duncan break into a cold sweat. When state's assistant attorneys general met with men who wanted to show them something on a desolate pier at night, it usually meant trouble.

Big trouble.

Usually more trouble than one tiny woman could handle.

Duncan was back to rethinking his plan of dragging Willow home and tying her to his bed. He straightened from leaning over the roof of his car, tossed the binoculars onto the front seat, softly closed the door, and started down the steep hill toward the clandestine meeting.

He had no trouble keeping to the shadows as he carefully worked his way out onto the pier, his ears tuned to the silence around him and the soft voices ahead.

"How long has this been going on, Ray?" Duncan heard Willow whisper.

"They started turning up about seven weeks ago," Cobb answered just as softly. "Just a few at first, and only in my traps closest to the island. And it's not just the lobsters. Even the crabs look like this."

Duncan inched forward and peered around the end of the scale house, but he still couldn't see what Cobb was holding, since the man was standing with his back to him.

"Why call me?" Willow asked. "You should have contacted Marine Resources."

"I did. George White covers this part of the coast, and I told him exactly what I'm telling you. I even gave him some of my catch."

"And?"

"And he said he'd look into it, but that was six weeks ago. I called his office several times and they told me he's gone on vacation."

"That's a long vacation for a civil servant," Duncan heard Willow murmur as she looked back at what Cobb was holding. "What about the other lobstermen? Are they turning up the same thing?"

Cobb dropped what Duncan guessed was a lobster back into the crate and brushed his hands on his pants. "Yes," Cobb said, closing the crate and picking it up. "There's about seven other fishermen who usually set traps around the island. But we've all had to move them because we can't afford to keep throwing back our catch."

Cobb started walking farther out the pier, and Willow fell into step beside him. Duncan silently followed.

"And that means we've started crowding each other," Cobb continued, stopping beside the gently bobbing roof of a fishing boat. "We're on the verge of starting a trap war."

"A trap war?"

Cobb snorted. "You know how territorial fishing gets. And we can't afford to just pull our traps, so we have to move into other areas," he explained, setting down the crate. "After I called and asked you to come down, I set some traps around the island so you could see for yourself what I'm talking about."

"And the sick lobster are only coming from this one place?" Willow asked. "They're not turning up anywhere else?"

"No. Other than an expected mutation and the occasional blue or harlequin lobster, all's normal."

The tide was low, and Cobb stepped onto the ladder that ran down to his boat, slid the crate onto its deck, then turned and faced Willow at eye level. "I run almost nine hundred pots from June to October, and about three hundred in winter. I've been fishing for over ten years, and I've never seen anything like this."

Duncan could just make out Cobb's smile as the man held out his hand. "Come on, Willy. It'll be just like in high school, when I used to steal my old man's boat and a bunch of us would head out to one of the islands for a party."

Dammit, he was not letting Willow get on that boat. Duncan silently moved forward, preparing to rush her, when the beam of a powerful light suddenly cut through the fog, scanning shoreward from the water in a sweeping arc.

Duncan stepped back into the shadow of several stacked crates and listened to the muted chug of an engine approaching at idle speed. The searchlight stopped on Willow as she stood on the pier, its beam also catching Cobb in silhouette.

"Hey The Corncobb Lady," the man in the approaching boat hollered. "That you, Ray Cobb?"

Duncan watched as Cobb quickly helped Willow down to the deck of his boat and rushed her into its wheelhouse. Then he climbed back up the ladder and moved down the pier to intercept the boat coming in.

"You're out late tonight, Gramps," Cobb said, leaning over to catch the roof of the other boat as it gently edged up to the pier. He took the rope handed to him and tied it off on a large post. "You have engine trouble?" he continued, moving back to help the old man up the ladder.

"Naw. I anchored myself off Pregnant Island and had a nap," he said with a chuckle. "Next thing I knew, I woke up and it was dark. Already radioed the missus, so she ain't worried none." Gramps leaned around Cobb, eyeing the younger man's boat. "Who you got there, Ray? I thought I recognized her."

Cobb moved into his line of sight. "Just a friend."

The old man squinted up at him. "You should be working on winning Patty back, not fishing new waters." He suddenly stiffened. "Willow Foster," he said, starting toward Cobb's boat. "That's who I recognized, damned if it ain't."

"Go home, Gramps," Cobb said gently, crowding him away from his boat. "It's not Willow Foster."

"I sure hope to hell not," the old man said, stopping and looking up at Cobb.

Duncan slid deeper into the shadows, since the men were only ten feet away now.

"I hear that huge Scot over to Puffin Harbor already got a claim on her," Gramps continued. "He owns The Rosach Pub, and I hear he used to be a...what you call them? A fortune soldier or something. Ayuh," he said with a nod. "Word is he's trying to take up with that Foster girl, but she ain't making it easy for him," he finished with a cackle. He pointed at Cobb's chest. "You mind whose traps you're pulling from. That Scot ain't no one to mess with. Go back to Patty."

"I'm trying," Cobb growled. "But she's being stubborn. She says I take her for granted or something."

Gramps glanced toward Cobb's sleek-lined, crisply painted boat, then cocked his head at the young man. "Maybe you should spend more money on your house than you do your boat, boy. Homes are important to women." He puffed up his chest. "I've kept the same missus and the same boat for near forty-six years, 'cause I spent my earnings on whichever one was complaining the loudest at the time."

"Maybe I'll do that," Cobb said, urging the old man toward land. "And you should get home before Mildred locks you out."

That said, Cobb jogged back to his boat, untied the ropes with quick efficiency, jumped onto the deck, and had the engine started before Gramps even got moving.

Duncan gritted his teeth in frustration, inching around the crates as the old sea salt finally walked by muttering something about the foolishness of horny toads.

By the time Duncan was able to move down the pier, Cobb's boat was already disappearing into the fog -- and Willow Foster was standing on deck, waving back at Duncan.

Copyright © 2005 by Janet Chapman

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Love this book!

    This and the other in the series are my favorite books out of a library of over 500! That sexy Scotsman is the best! Love his Alpha teasing nature, strong but still sensitive and protective of all the women. He's a wonderful surrogate father/uncle to Keenan Oakes daughter (other boook in series), and sensitive lover to Willow. Slowly he wins her over. I wish Janet would write another story about Duncan's brother coming back to Maine to start anotherr distillery in the famous Scot's family tradition. I would also love to hear more about Lukie and Duncan's sister. Read and enjoy a fantastic book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Enjoyable Romance

    Willow Foster is committed to protecting Maine's precious coastline. She's equally committed to avoiding her one-time fling, Duncan Ross, the rugged Scotsman who's got her hometown believing she's the love of his life. But when Willow goes home to uncover the mystery behind a worrisome lobster catch, she learns that pub owner Duncan holds some mysteries of his own...and that taking a chance with her heart might open her life up to passion beyond her wildest dreams.

    When a lobster-man, Ray Cobb, alerts Maine Assistant Attorney General Willow Foster to the presence of contaminants and dead lobsters in Puffin Harbor, she begins a personal and secret investigation. She's unofficially assisted by bar owner and former Navy-man Duncan Ross, whose offers of both marriage and passion she's been resisting since a one-night stand 18 months earlier. As the two explore both the corporate paper trail and the local seascape, Duncan reveals that he's actually a Scottish lord, while Willow is forced to grapple with her fear of commitment.

    Occasionally I like to mix it up and read a nice historical romance or some hot contemporary story. This was definitely a likable read, plus it's been sitting on my library shelf for years (yes, years!) unread. Right off the back, Duncan (aka Dunky) and Willow (aka Counselor) steamed up the pages with their chemistry. Duncan's made it clear his ready to take the next step while Willow is hesitant and basically goes the opposite directions every time a serious relationship talk comes up. They blend together so well from the beginning that it's hard not to enjoy them as a couple. Duncan moved to Maine from Scotland and opened a bar two years previously, while Willow is a local AG and works on cases non-stop unless she's visiting her sister, Rachel, in Puffin Harbor. Whenever Duncan and Willow see each other, they bicker, they flirt, they secretly share kisses and more . . . and now the whole town is placing bets on their wedding even though neither are officially together. Too fun! This was a quick read for me, maybe since it was a nice change from my normal reading style, and the mystery part to the story flowed smoothly throughout. Didn't feel rushed or bada-bing-bada-bang (abruptly finished) at the end, like some stories can be. Nothing Paranormal. Nothing Supernatural. Nothing Fantasy related. Just an easy HOT read . . . just what I wanted!

    Likes: I enjoyed the town's betting pool for when --or rather if the wedding between Duncan and Willow will take place and having the various citizens of the Harbor admit who (and how much) they bet on.

    Dislikes: There are definitely a lot of characters going on throughout the story and perhaps if I would have read Book #1 (The Seductive Impostor) first, I wouldn't have been confused trying to remember who was who.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    ANOTHER GREAT BOOK

    Its good to have a god romance that makes one feel better after reading it. As all so far of Janents are.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I loved this book. I bought it, read it, passed it to my sister, then to two of my friends. We all loved this book. Janet Chapman has an outstanding talent for making every girl wish she were a character in her novels. Who wouldn't love a guy tha

    t never gives up. No matter how crabby you are, no matter how messy you look, or how hard you push him away. He's breathtakingly handsome to top it off. What I wouldn't give to be just one leading lady in a Janet Chapman romance!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2007

    Not Up To Janet s Other Books

    I really enjoyed the first book in the Puffin Harbour series, but this one was disappointing. I felt the characters were not as plausable. And I didn't find the story as interesting (as the first). The plot was a bit flat, and dragged in spots.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2005

    Recommended

    I like the shock that Willow Foster receives when she finds out that Duncan was a 'Duke'. This was a very interesting story. Janet Chapman place the readers in the characters' emotions such as: fears, insecurities and the not knowing. I can't wait for the story of the rest of the gang.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2005

    Every book of Ms. Chapman gets better every time

    Wonderful book. A must read and buy. Janet Chapman's done it again. The character Willow and Duncan will keep you on your toes. Once you begin you can't stop. It took me 1 day to read. I can't wait for Ms. Chapman new book that come out in October 2005.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2005

    Couldn't wait for it to be over!

    I love Janet Chapman, but I think her editor let her down by releasing this book as is. It had great potential, but did not deliver in the story line or romance department. Her previous Highlander novels were wonderful. I'd save this particular reading for a 'garage sale' find.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fine romantic mystery

    Eighteen months ago in Puffin Harbor, Maine Duncan Ross and Willow Foster shared a blissful night together. He thought it was the beginning of a lifetime as he believes he found his soulmate; she catalogues it as a delightful one night stand fearing how deep she feels for the Scot. Duncan has all the townsfolk including her mother believing that they will wed soon once he persuades her to accept his offer of matrimony, but Willow avoids even coming home acting like the elusive butterfly eluding his net of love.--- However, as a Maine Assistant District Attorney Willow comes home when a lobster catch in the nearby waters proves contaminated. She, joined by Duncan, begins an investigation to determine what happened, who is responsible, and whether criminal charges should be filed. As they work the dangerous waters of corporate America seeking to identify the polluter, Willow realizes she loves her protector, but fears commitment.--- Contemporary readers will find THE DANGEROUS PROTECTOR is an intriguing but odd romantic suspense thriller that seems to combine historical courting elements into a modern day investigative tale. The story line is at its best when the lead duet working in tandem make inquiries including searching the money and paper trails. When the plot turns romantic, it feels strange as if the time and place was eighteenth century Scotland and even an Internet romance feels old fashioned. Still Janet Chapman entertains her audience with this fine romantic mystery.--- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted December 20, 2009

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