Escape to Shelter Springs (PAPERBACK)
Escape to Shelter Springs (PAPERBACK)
A woman wanting freedom. A man determined to keep his family safe and secure. A marriage doomed before it’s begun…
"A shepherd's hut, twenty-four hours, a stranger..." It's not the perfect start to Gemma Winters' new life--another man is the last thing she needs after the suffocating control of her ex. But this man proves hard to resist!
Callum Mackenzie blames himself for his wife’s death—he should have taken better care of her. So, when a one-night stand with a beautiful red-head has consequences, he’s determined to make sure both she, and their baby, are looked after and safe. That means marriage and two people forced to face their deepest fears…
This emotional and suspenseful women’s fiction book will give you all the feels. Sit back, put your feet up and prepare to go on a journey with the Mackenzie brothers and their close friends as they fall in love. But don’t expect an easy road to their happy ever afters! There are intense emotions and unexpected twists and turns as these macho men fall for strong women with minds of their own!
If you love women's fiction with no explicit sex scenes, The Mackenzies series is a great fit for you!
A Place Called Home
Secrets at Parata Bay
Escape to Shelter Springs
What You See in the Stars
Second Chance at Whisper Creek
Summer at the Lakehouse Café
READ A SAMPLE
READ A SAMPLE
Gemma jumped out of the rental car, strode away from the river, up to the grassy knoll and looked around. Great. One day in New Zealand and she was spectacularly lost.
Despite being lost, Gemma breathed in the chill, fresh air and smiled to herself. She’d done it! She’d wriggled out from her boyfriend’s grasp and found herself a new life. Or she would have, once she’d worked out where she was.
Since she’d crossed the river, there had been nothing to see but mile after mile of tussock grass leading to mountains she knew to exist from the map, but whose snow-topped summits had been shrouded in heavy cloud since she’d landed. There was no sign of life, no sign of mountains and certainly no sign of the homestead Sarah had said she could stay in. She knew it was in the middle of nowhere, but this was ridiculous.
Gemma shook out the map and turned it around, trying to figure out where she was in relation to the wiggly contour lines. But a large drop of rain splattered onto it, making it instantly unreadable. It was quickly followed by others and she looked up in time to see the wall of gray cloud that had been hovering in the mountains all afternoon, rapidly descending on her. She leaped back into the car, switched on the light and tried to figure out where to go next.
Suddenly the palm of a hand slapped against the outside of the window. Gemma screamed as the same hand grabbed hold of the door handle. She tried to press down the lock, but her cold fingers fumbled with the button which slid from under her grasp as the door was yanked open.
“You need to come with me. Now!” The male voice was commanding and urgent.
What the hell? Had she been followed here? Had Paul tracked her down already?
“No way!” She tried to pull the door closed but a hand pulled her arm from the door.
“Come on! We don’t have much time.”
“Hey! Let go! I’m not going anywhere with you!”
The dark figure bent down then and she saw it belonged to a cowboy—or maybe not—this was New Zealand after all. She strained to see his face in the gray light, but his battered bushman’s hat was pulled low to keep the rain off his face. All that was visible was a strong jaw line covered with a day’s worth of stubble.
“Come on!” he repeated. “There’s no time to argue.”
“No!” She tried once more to pull the door closed but the man huffed, reached inside and slid one hand under her while grabbing her bag with the other and pulled her to him. She screamed and pushed her hands flat against his chest, trying to pry herself from his grip. But he was too strong. He picked her up and strode away. She screamed again, twisting in his tight embrace, and kicked him hard. He groaned but didn’t miss a step.
“Quieten down.” He slung her over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold and the air rushed from her body. All she could do was gasp for breath, all she could see was the rain, hammering into the soil, turning it into a sea of slick, gray mud, and all she could feel was the grip of his hands, tight around her legs. And all she could think was that Paul had found her and she was a dead woman. No one walked away from Paul.
Within minutes the man had stopped, opened the door of a Range Rover and tossed her and her bag inside, just as an almighty clap of thunder echoed around the wide valley. Before Gemma could move, he’d clicked a lock in the side of the door so she couldn’t escape and had jumped into the driver’s seat and roared off as if the devil was after them. She backed into the corner and looked around as she tried to regain her breath.
He glanced at her with ice-blue eyes as hard and cold as the land outside. “I won’t hurt you.”
“Then let me go.” Her voice sounded strangled.
“Can’t do that. We have to get out of here—now.”
The SUV revved loudly as it moved up over steep ground away from the river. She barely heard her words of protest above the hammering of the rain on the roof and the spinning of the wheels as they tried to gain traction in the mud.
Suddenly he slammed on the brakes, turned to her and pushed up his hat. For the first time Gemma saw his face properly. Her first impressions were confirmed. He was just like the country around them. The bone structure of his face was strong and powerful, his expression as unforgiving and impressive as the mountains that ringed the huge valley. She shivered and pressed herself back against the door.
His eyes flickered over her face. “Look down there.”
Gemma had no inclination to take her eyes off him. “Why would I do that? Give you another chance to attack me? I’m not going with you, I’m not going back to him.”
He shook his head. “What the hell are you talking about, woman? Just look down there.”
Her heart hammered, but as she continued to stare at him, she felt strangely reassured. Perhaps this man wasn’t one of Paul’s men. He didn’t appear to be like his sort. She didn’t get the feeling he was.
“Just look,” he repeated.
She nodded slowly, let out a tight breath and peered through the window, down to the river below. “At what?” She rubbed the condensation off the window just in time to see a wall of water descend the river. It spilled over the banks, washed away the bridge she’d just crossed, scooped up her hire car and swept it along the valley. “Oh…” She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She cleared the window of condensation again and took another look at the place she’d been standing only minutes earlier that was now flooded by surging gray water. “My car! My things… Oh. My. God! What the hell was that?”
“A fresh. It’s been raining in the hills for days. One was due any time.”
Gemma sat back, stunned, her eyes fixed on the receding car, bobbing black on the gray surge of the river, as it disappeared into a watery landscape of cloud, mist and rain. Her heart still thumped from being manhandled by a stranger, but her fear had now changed into the shock of having narrowly escaped death.
“What am I going to do? All I had in the world was in that car.”
“It’ll wash up downriver somewhere. We’ll find it later, but not now.” He slipped the SUV into gear and accelerated up the uneven slope once more.
“But we have to. We have to go and look for it.”
“We’re on the wrong side of the river for town. I crossed the river to get to you. Now the bridge’s gone, the nearest passable crossing is a day away.”
As they took off into the unknown, Gemma fixed her shocked gaze on the wet, gray world, revealed by the regular slap of the windshield wipers. The vehicle skidded, and she held her breath as it found its grip and pulled itself up a steep bank.
“But surely you must live nearby. We can go there and phone for help.”
“Not this side of the river, I can’t.”
“Then what the hell are we going to do?”
He shifted the SUV into first gear. “Find shelter.”
She pressed her palm against her forehead, willing it all to go away. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. She’d come here to find freedom and everything—nature and man—was conspiring to trap her again.
“You mean there is somewhere we can go?”
“The river will be impassable for at least twenty-four hours. But there’s an old shepherd’s hut, not too far away, which I keep stocked for emergencies.”
A shepherd’s hut, twenty-four hours, a stranger. The words played over and over in her mind like a nightmarish chant.
“Well, I’m guessing this sure counts as an emergency.”
“I reckon. What the hell are you doing out here anyway?”
She chewed her lip with indecision. She hated lies but she couldn’t risk Paul finding her. If she was going to pose as heiress of Blackrock she may as well start now. She and Sarah had decided Gemma could get away with using her own name as the owner’s identity was hidden behind a screen of companies. Only the Auckland lawyers knew the truth and it was more than their reputation was worth to reveal it.
“I’ve just landed from the UK. My family used to live here a long time ago. Thought I’d check out my family history.”
“Strange place to do it.”
“Strange family by all accounts.”
“Aren’t they all?”
“So what were you doing out here?”
“Checking on stock. Just as well, otherwise you’d be gone.”
Gone. She closed her eyes tight. She would have been, too. All this way to find a new life and it had nearly ended before it’d begun. “Thank God for stock.” She took a deep breath and looked at him. “Thank you. I thought you were crazy, I thought you were going to attack me.”
His eyes were narrowed and his mouth clamped tight in concentration as he swung the car around, avoiding rocks and potholes as best he could. Her eyes lingered on his lips, firm yet quite full. Soft even. He glanced at her and she swallowed and turned back to the window. She was suddenly acutely aware they were quite alone together—no one around for miles.
“No. On both counts.”
“I’m glad about that, since we’ll be spending the next few hours together.”
“Put your seat belt on.”
Instinctively Gemma began to frame words of objection. She hadn’t traveled ten thousand miles to be ordered around, controlled—that’s what she’d come here to escape from—but the car suddenly struck a ridge and it flew into the air before landing with a sharp bump.
“Just do it.”
She didn’t need telling again.
The storm intensified. Rain descended like steel bullets and lightning sparked the leaden sky. Thunder crashed around them, hardly settling before enveloping them in a fresh roll. Gemma wedged herself in the seat, trying to stop herself from being thrown around as they lurched over rough tussock towards higher ground. At last they slowed and he swung the car through a narrow opening in a small copse of gnarled, wind-battered trees in the midst of which an old cob cottage stood.
“This is it.”
She turned to him at the same moment as a flash of lightning silhouetted his profile. He didn’t look human in that eerie light. His face could have been hewn from granite. It was so strong, so hard, unfeeling. Then the moment passed and he was out of the vehicle and lost in the stream of rain that washed over the windows. She grabbed her bag and jumped out into the mud after him. Head down, she stumbled across the small yard onto a narrow verandah and slapped right into him. He threw the door open wide and pushed her inside. The wind slammed the door closed behind them.
She shrugged. Where should she begin? Lost? Frozen? Terrified?
“Good.” He opened the door once more, obviously taking her silence for the affirmative. “I won’t be long.” The door slammed shut behind him, leaving Gemma alone in the strangely quiet cottage. She stepped into the gloom and looked around. Her heart sank. A shepherd’s needs were obviously minimal as there was little in the hut except a bed, table, two chairs and a stove—all in the one room. A half-open door revealed the edge of a bath. She heaved a sigh of relief.
Before she had time to explore further, a gust of wind blew into the room as the man entered, his dark form outlined by the lighter iron-gray of the sky outside.
“I guess you haven’t found the lamp yet.”
He nudged the door closed with his foot, dropped a pile of logs on the floor and strode through to the rear of the small hut.
Gemma relaxed as the hiss of gas ignited and the small flame grew as he replaced the shade. As he brought the lantern to the only table, she opened the potbelly stove and peered inside.
“Get the fire going, will you? I’ll get some more wood.”
He disappeared outside once more and Gemma heard the thud of logs being shifted against the rear of the cottage. She opened the lid to the stove, dropped a few logs in and sighed. This wasn’t exactly what she’d envisioned as she and Sarah had devised Gemma’s plan of escape. She struck a match and dropped it on top of the logs. As the man re-entered the room, the spark bloomed momentarily before immediately dying.
“What the hell are you doing, woman?” He dropped the second armful of logs onto the floor and took off his coat, the rain pooling on the bare wooden boards.
“Trying to light a fire.”
He withdrew the logs from the stove and tore off some of the outer bark and twigs to make kindling. “Something you’ve never done before, at a guess.”
“You guess right. Not much call for lighting fires in London.”
“Perhaps you should have stuck to London.” He shot her an irritated glance. “Saved us both from an uncomfortable night.”
Gemma looked away, suddenly aware that he was right. If it weren’t for her, he’d no doubt be happily back at his home by now, wherever that was. “Hey, I’m sorry. But, I’ve done with London. I’ve come to New Zealand looking for something different.” The truth. That felt better.
He turned away from the weak flame that had just caught in the stove and looked at her then, as if for the first time. He didn’t look at her like any of the men she’d known before. This was no sly assessment. He checked her out openly. She imagined he’d do the same for any stock he’d buy. He glanced down at her sodden jeans that clung to her legs, and then up, over her wet fleece before his gaze came to rest on her hair that had escaped her beanie. There he stopped, for a moment too long. She lifted her hand to her hair and pushed some wet strands off her face. Her movement seemed to break the spell and he turned away.
“Well,” he said slowly, “something different all right.”
She frowned. His words, that should have been a simple reply to her comment, were uttered slowly, thoughtfully, as if he meant something else entirely. She watched as he turned his attention back to the fire, opening the damper and coaxing the flames higher until they engulfed the kindling, before dropping in one of the smaller logs. He took off his hat and tossed it onto the table, pushing his hands through sun-streaked hair before turning back to look at her again.
Attraction bloomed from somewhere deep within, making her heart pound and heat spread throughout her body. She looked away quickly, confused. She’d never had such an instant reaction to someone and she didn’t want one now.
“You’d better get yourself out of those clothes. You’ll find some towels in the cupboard.”
“Sure.” She plucked off her soaking beanie and tossed it to one side. She shook out her hair and turned to find him staring at her.
“You have red hair.”
Her confusion deepened when she saw his expression. She nodded. She had to keep it light. “Yeah, the original ginger, that’s me. Ginger and very wet hair.” He shook his head, frowned and turned away. “Look,” she sighed. “I’m cold. I think I’ll go and have a shower, if that’s okay.” She unzipped her fleece.
“But,” she smiled patiently, “I’d like one now.” She plucked at her saturated clothes.
He stood up. She wished he hadn’t. Her eyes were on a level with his chest, visible through the open neck of his shirt. She swallowed and lifted her chin to meet his gaze. It was equally determined. There would be no argument. He was obviously used to getting his own way. But not this time, not with this woman. She’d had enough of being ordered around.
She took a step closer to him, trying to hide the flutter of nerves. “And why not?”
“Because we’ve got no hot water until the fire’s warmed it. Shower later, but you need to get out of those clothes now.” His gaze traveled the length of her body.
Her skin tingled and she folded her arms across her breasts, suddenly aware of how her wet clothes revealed the flood of sensations that swept through her.
“You should find whatever you want in the cupboard,” he added.
“Right.” She opened the cupboard and pried open the lid of a huge chest. “Is there anything you haven’t got in here?” She pulled out a towel and continued to explore the chest. “Spices, biscuits, caviar, pasta, whisky.”
“I could do with a glass of that now.”
She passed him the bottle and some glasses, grabbed the towel and padded over to the bathroom, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind her.
“You’d be better off stripping in front of the fire. You’ll freeze your butt off in the bathroom.”
Rather a frozen butt than an exposed one, she thought. “I’ll survive.”
“Then there’s the mice.”
Gemma stopped dead in her tracks. “Mice?”
“Sure. Why do you think I keep everything in the chest?” He twisted off the lid and poured two generous glasses of whisky before passing one to her.
“Mice?” she repeated. The chills that ran down her spine had nothing to do with her soaking clothes.
“Yep. They can’t get into the chest but the rest of the place is fair game.” He gave her a wry smile. “Especially the bathroom.”
Gemma sat down quickly. She hated mice. Hated them. From their soft furry bodies to their long slithering tails. She looked up at him suspiciously. Was he having her on? Trying to get her to strip in front of him?
“The rain could bring them inside in droves.” He passed her the glass of whisky.
“You’re doing this on purpose.”
He shrugged. “Get changed in the bathroom if you want to.”
She took a big gulp of her whisky and coughed as it hit her throat before igniting a fiery trail down to her stomach. “I think I’ll pass on the mouse-infested bathroom.”
“Come over here by the fire and I’ll get us some food. You like pasta?”
“Yes. Love it.”
He extended his hand as she approached the stove. “A bit late, but I’m Callum Mackenzie.”
She took his hand. “Gemma Winters.”
“Gemma Winters.” He rolled the syllables around his mouth as if he was tasting them. “So, Gemma Winters, why choose the Mackenzie country to explore your family tree? Why not Christchurch library? They have electricity there, I believe. Heaters even.” He grinned for the first time and she melted.
“Seriously, why here?”
She looked at him suspiciously. She was in for a long night. She didn’t want to bare her soul. She didn’t want to tell him her life story and she couldn’t face telling any more lies. “It’s a long story.”
“We have a long night ahead.”
“Tell me about you first.”
He shrugged. “Sure. I’m from here—born and bred. This is my country.” He downed his whisky in one gulp and took both glasses to refill them, topping hers up with the hot water that had just boiled on the stove.
“I guessed you were. You look like you belong here.”
“Just as you look like you belong in London.”
She shook her head. “Not any more. I’ve been left a house here somewhere by a distant cousin. It’s called Blackrock. Doesn’t sound inviting and I haven’t found it yet. But whatever’s it’s like will be fine with me.”
“Blackrock,” Callum repeated, frowning.
“Yes, do you know it?”
“Yep. You must have passed it before you crossed the river. I’m not surprised you didn’t see it—it’s lost amongst the trees now. It’s pretty derelict and it’s not livable.”
“I don’t care what state it’s in, I’m living there.”
His lips tightened thoughtfully. “You’d be better off letting the house fall down and selling the land. Won’t be of any use to you in the middle of nowhere.”
Gemma hesitated. Sarah had told her she wasn’t able to sell the land because of the house. It was some bizarre condition of the will. “How do you know about the caveat on the will?”
“It’s common knowledge. The owner was eccentric with a grudge against people round here. Didn’t want it sold to anyone who might actually profit from it.” His mouth tightened more grimly. “Anyhow, what plans do you have for the place?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I need to see it first. If it’s in as bad a state of repair as you say, I’ll need to fix it up.”
“You’ll need money for that. Do you have any?”
She shook her head. “I’ll get a job.”
“Do you have permanent residency?”
“Not yet. I’m on a visitor’s visa, but my work doesn’t usually involve much paperwork.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m a waitress.” Or at least she had been before she’d met Paul.
“I’ll ask around for you.”
Gemma suddenly felt uncomfortable. He was looking at her in a different way since she’d mentioned Blackrock. “So, how long will this last—the storm, that is?”
“Hard to tell. Twelve to twenty-four hours. We’ll be here for a night at least.”
“Right.” She eyed the lone double bed warily.
He’d followed her gaze. “Uncomfortable with that?”
“Well, I just wondered... what the sleeping arrangements were going to be. Where should I sleep?”
He nodded to the bed. “In there.”
“But…what about you? Where will you sleep?”
“In there—with you.”
“Well, hang on a minute. I don’t know what you take me for but I’m not in the habit of sleeping with strangers.”
A smile flickered on his lips. “Perhaps you mistook my meaning. It wasn’t an invitation for sex, just sleep.”
“Er, right. Of course.” She guessed it wasn’t too late to learn that there were men out there not like Paul, men who saved her from disaster and who didn’t expect sex in return.
“You go ahead and strip while I make the bed.” Again the little tweak at the corner of his mouth. “I promise not to look.”
Perhaps he didn’t expect sex, but he was certainly enjoying the situation. She watched him closely as she pulled the huge towel loosely around her, clutching it with one hand while she peeled off the soaking jeans with the other.
Just the sight of him making the bed was enough to divert her mind from her predicament. His shirtsleeves were rolled up now the cottage was warm, revealing a haze of golden hairs on his tanned arms, covering the contours of his bunched muscles. And then there were his hands, large, strong and, she knew from experience, capable.
Somehow she managed to slip off her t-shirt and keep the towel in place. She threw it on top of her wet jeans. Then she looked down at her soaking underwear and across at Callum who’d found some pillows from a cupboard and had tossed them on the bed. Should she leave her underwear on? Soaking wet, she felt the chill of them in contrast to the warmth of her exposed skin. No choice.
She didn’t let her gaze leave Callum. She couldn’t—it was the only way she could make sure he didn’t watch her. But her eyes dropped from his face, noticing the way his shirt hung from broad shoulders and fell over his faded jeans, which were soaked where his coat had failed to cover them.
She kicked away her bra and panties, hiding them under the rest of her sodden clothes. She was naked now under the towel.
She watched as he flung the large duvet onto the bed. There was a control and restraint about his movements, made all the more impressive by his obvious strength. He didn’t look like the kind of man you’d want to get on the wrong side of. She knew his name now but he was still a stranger. She just hoped that by morning he would still be a stranger.
Callum sat back in the hard upright chair, took a mouthful of whisky, stretched out his legs in front of him and watched Gemma hop about, as she clutched a towel and shot him furtive looks. He probably shouldn’t have told her about the mice but he was glad he had. It wasn’t a lie exactly. Just because he’d never seen any, it didn’t mean there weren’t any. And to think all he had planned was a quiet night working on the accounts. What was that saying about an ill wind? Whatever it was, it was wrong.
The heiress of Blackrock. Perfect, in so many ways. She bent over to push the mound of wet clothes out of his sight and he grinned. There was something intriguingly innocent about her. She was trying to hide her underwear while at the same time pushing out her behind. He narrowed his eyes as he focused on her bottom, nicely rounded despite her slim figure. And her hair. She’d described it as ginger but that didn’t begin to describe the depth of color. It was like… His mind groped for words to describe what it was like. A copper beech in autumn? The tawny sheen of his favorite stallion after a brisk gallop? No, her hair wasn’t like dying leaves or a sweaty horse. He sighed. He’d never been good with words.
All he knew was her hair was just right—despite his life-long love of blondes—and she had curves in all the right places. That she was the new owner of Blackrock—land his family had coveted for two generations since his grandfather had lost it in a gambling session—only added to her attractions. It was going to be an interesting night.