From the New York Time bestselling Janet Chapman comes this delightful tale of a young woman who's had enough of men...until she meets her spectacular new neighbor. Legend has it love is carried on the rising mists of Spellbound Falls, and not even time-traveling highlanders are immune to its magic...
Birch Callahan has seen the trouble men can cause. After witnessing her mother's four marriages, Birch now runs a women's shelter and doesn't want a man in her life. But there's something about her neighbor, Niall MacKeage. Birch can't figure out how the cop can be so big and gruff and yet so insightful and compassionate--and sexy. Or how she's falling for a man who acts like someone from the twelfth century.
Niall knows that Birch is attracted to him, even if she seems to distrust all men. Yet he also knows she has a secret--something that drives her to place herself in harm's way for the women of her shelter. Niall would gladly rush to Birch's side to protect her from harm, but with their secrets standing between them, he'll have to reveal his own truth if he wants to keep her...
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.
Praise for the novels of Janet Chapman "Heartwarming...Readers will enjoy the enchanting town and characters."--Publishers Weekly
"Readers will be enchanted...a story filled with wit and tenderness."--Booklist
"Janet Chapman can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary while making even the most outrageous situation feel real. These are just two of the many, many reasons why we love this author. And her Spellbound Falls series, chock full of sorcerers, time travel, single parents and needy in-laws is the perfect vehicle for showcasing Chapman's amazing talents."--RT Book Reviews
"Janet Chapman is a keeper."--Linda Howard, New York Times bestselling author
"Spectacular and brilliant."--Romance Reviews Today
"Absolutely enchanting."--Romance Junkies
Chapter One Despite knowing the orcas and sharks inhabiting the inland sea were under strict orders not to harm humans, Niall put more power to his strokes when he felt something brush against his leg--because, hell, he wasn''t completely suicidal. An idiot, maybe, for taking a moonlight swim, but he figured he''d rather face a killer whale than go chest-to-nose with a pint-sized spitfire determined to drive him crazy. Birch Callahan hadn''t been on the job a week before she''d started telling him how to do his job; the only problem being that as chief of police, Niall was fairly certain that didn''t include stirring the good people of Spellbound Falls into more of an uproar. He really couldn''t arrest a man for being a penny-pinching grouch, and even if he could, it wasn''t like he had a jail into which he could throw the poor bastard. But if he caught wind of Mrs. Grouch poisoning her husband again . . . well, maybe sitting in some sturdy wooden stocks in the town park would cool off the couple. He''d have to check if public punishment was legal in this century. Not that there was anything private about the Kents'' domestic little war. Niall stopped swimming and listened to the steady breathing off to his right, then silently sank below the surface when he spotted the broad head coming toward him. But remembering he wasn''t suicidal, he resurfaced well behind the dark mass of solid muscle and fangs to see his pet swimming in circles, its head craned out of the water as it searched the moon-bathed swells with obvious alarm. "Hey, pooch," he whispered, causing the huge Chesapeake to whip around with a startled snarl. "Ye worried a shark might mistake you for a tasty harbor seal?" he added with a laugh, heading for shore when the dog started paddling toward him. But not about to bite the hand that fed it, Shep merely powered past with a grumbling growl as Niall settled into an easy pace and let his mind return to his pint-sized problem. For a woman who supposedly had enough university degrees in human behavior to be running Spellbound Falls'' new Crisis Center, Birch Callahan didn''t seem to know when she was being played. If Noreen Kent was being abused by her husband of forty-six years, Niall would place himself in those stocks. He still wasn''t sure how wanting a new cookstove had turned into a full-blown war between the couple, much less how it had escalated into the townspeople taking sides. But hell, Logan was still unsteady on his feet from his bout of food poisoning, even though Noreen swears she hadn''t deliberately undercooked the now-infamous dinner. As for showing up at the women''s shelter and claiming she feared for her life after Logan shot the offending stove point-blank with both shotgun barrels . . . well, Niall couldn''t arrest a man for destroying his own property, considering his wife hadn''t even been home at the time. Noreen was a drama queen, and Birch was only feeding the drama by publicly siding with the seventy-year-old woman. That Birch had personally escorted Noreen back to the scene of the crime to gather some belongings only further proved Niall''s point that the spitfire had more passion for her job than common sense. All of which was why, upon finding himself a bachelor, Logan was now eating three meals a day at the Drunken Moose--ironically spending more money than the cost of a new stove--although the poor bastard was dining alone as of late, since he apparently couldn''t operate a clothes washer any more than he could work a toaster. Niall stopped swimming again when he heard Shep''s excited barks mixed with the shouts of their neighbor, then powered toward shore with a groan of defeat at the realization he was going chest-to-nose tonight after all. He waded onto the beach and ran up the lawn, but broke into a grin when he saw the tug-of-war taking place in the driveway he shared with the shelter. Aye, Birch might be driving him crazy, but it was more from lusting after the beautiful woman than wanting to throttle her. Shep finally ended the tug-of-war by simply snapping the broom handle in half, only to quickly grab up the bristled end and tear around the dooryard with his prize. Niall reached Birch just as she straightened from picking up what remained of the handle and plucked it out of her hand when she headed after Shep. "For the love of God, woman, do ye truly have no sense of self-preservation?" Birch rounded on him, even as she pointed at the small white dog peeking out from under the car parked next to the main house. "He was terrorizing Mimi again." She then pointed at Shep. "Next time I''m going to take a shovel to the amorous idiot." Niall speared the broken handle clean over the roof of his tiny cottage. "You don''t go after a powerful dog with nothing more than a broom." "I''m not afraid of a mutt that''s too dumb to even realize Mimi''s been spayed." Niall closed his eyes and tried counting to ten, but only made it to five. "Then I suggest you become afraid," he said softly so he wouldn''t shout. "Because a less understanding dog would have latched on to you rather than the broom." Birch reached in her pocket as she turned toward Shep, who had stopped running victory laps in favor of dropping his prize in front of Mimi. "Maybe a mouthful of bear spray will knock some sense into him." Niall plucked the small canister out of her hand and threw it past his pickup in the direction of the camp road. "Hey!" she yelped, rounding on him again. "I ever catch wind of you spraying Shep," he said, not even trying to disguise his anger, "and I will arrest you for cruelty." Her eyes widened in surprise, even as she took a step back. "I see. You refuse to do anything about an abusive husband, but you won''t think twice about arresting a woman for defending herself. Is that how the law works for you, Chief MacKeage?" She then muttered what Niall assumed was a French curse before he could respond, and spun on her heel. "I can see why this town needed a women''s shelter, if you and your stupid dog are examples of the male population." She suddenly stopped and turned to him again. "And I want you to start wearing a robe when you go swimming." "Excuse me?" "This place is a sanctuary," she whispered tightly. "And the last thing my residents need is to be traumatized by an all-but-naked man strutting down to the beach every evening and reminding them of the hulking brutes they''ve run away from." For the love of God, Logan Kent barely came up to his wife''s nose, Macie Atwater''s man was a pacifist, and the new girl, Cassandra, had run away from her slap-happy aunt. "Those traumatized residents?" Niall asked, gesturing at the four women lined up along the shelter''s porch rail, two of whom were smiling, one who was scowling, and--good Lord, Birch''s mother just winked at him. Niall smoothed a hand over his naked chest. "Are ye sure my size and lack of clothes is bothering them, Birch?" Obviously realizing she was the only one being bothered, Birch crossed her arms under her lovely bosom. "I told you I prefer you call me Miss Callahan." Niall made it all the way to the count of six and calmly said, "We''re on the same side, lass. I care about your residents as much as you do." "Then go arrest Logan Kent." "It''s not against the law to shoot a cookstove. Nor is it a crime," he added softly, in deference to their audience, "to call your wife an old windbag during an argument." The poor woman gasped so hard that she took another step back. "Verbal abuse is just as victimizing as physical." "What about relentless nagging?" he shot back, still keeping his voice low. "Is harping on a person until he explodes also considered abuse?" "It''s not the . . . That doesn''t mean . . . Mon Dieu, you are such a man." "Why, thank you for noticing," he said, smoothing down his drying chest hair. "You''re impossible!" she hissed as she turned and stormed off. "Then we''re even," he whispered. "Come on, Shep," he said when Birch kicked the broom out of her way and crouched on her hands and knees to retrieve Mimi. "I want you to start chaining that mutt," she called out as Niall headed to his cottage. "Or do you also have a double standard when it comes to leash laws?" Only able to guess what a leash law was, Niall turned to see Birch clutching the small dog to her bosom, her chin lifted in challenge. "A chained dog isn''t much help against an intruder looking to cause trouble for one of your residents. Why don''t ye try seeing Shep as your first line of defense instead of as the enemy?" She dropped her chin into her pet''s head of curly white fur. "Then make him stop terrorizing Mimi." "You don''t think terrorizing is a bit extreme to call a good-natured dog trying to get to know his pretty new neighbor?" Like his owner is trying to do, Niall refrained from adding. "If you''d give them some time together instead of always rushing to the rescue, you''d realize Shep is only wanting to play." Her chin lifted again. "Mimi was mauled by a large male dog when she was a puppy and nearly died. She''s perfectly fine with females and only gets snappy and defensive around huge males." Just like her owner, Niall decided. "I will keep better track of Shep," he said with a nod, heading for his cottage and breaking into a grin at her muttered thank-you--even as he tried to imagine all that spitfire passion in bed. * "Niall''s right, you know. If you would just spend some time with Shep, you''d realize he''s nothing but an overgrown puppy." Birch stopped searching for her can of bear spray and aimed the flashlight beam at her mother''s chest. "That monster is no puppy." "Shep''s barely three. Niall rescued h