Ingrid Nickel doesn’t want to go into rehab. Again. She tried it once, but it didn’t work.
When she meets Lachlan Morrison, their connection is electric. She sees a handsome man, directing and challenging, who won’t be intimidated by a powerful woman like her.
He sees a woman whose bluster and sarcasm are a cover for something deep inside her that is badly broken.
The daughter of a grifter, Ingrid has grown up street-wise and lawless. Lachlan has rescued more than one creature whose bark was worse than its bite.
Will his stern, loving magic work on Ingrid?
Publisher’s Note: This steamy romance contains elements of power exchange. Although loosely part of a series, it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone.
Give Me Shelter
Ingrid sat in her car, peering through the slanting February rain at the brightly-lit house. She’d performed her first miracle of the day already by driving onto a ferry and enduring a two-hour sailing across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island. Part of that trip was on open water, no land in sight. For the duration of those terrifying minutes, she’d closed her eyes, reminding herself that no ferries on that route had ever sunk.
By the time the ferry docked, Ingrid’s hands were shaking. On her third attempt she had finally entered the correct destination into her GPS.
Forty minutes later she was parked in front of a Spanish style mansion overlooking Gonzales Bay. This home represented her last chance, her last place of refuge. She’d burned every bridge but this one.
As she sat, mustering the right amount of confidence and affection to greet her best friend Rachel, the front door flew open. Rachel’s husband Glyn Morrison appeared, a dark silhouette against the lights of the house. A tall, solidly-built man with salt and pepper hair, Glyn was the reason Ingrid rarely visited Rachel. His disapproval of Ingrid radiated now in the way he stood, fists on hips, chin slightly lifted.
Rachel came up behind him, with a spotted black and white dog squirming in her arms. Glyn shook his head, pointing at the house. Without a flicker of resistance, Rachel turned and went back inside.
Ingrid wondered what it would be like if a man controlled her like that, not that anyone had ever tried. They wouldn’t dare. She wasn’t the meek and mild type.
Her heart sank when the door closed behind Rachel. Now she’d have to deal with Glyn by herself. The man terrified her, which meant she needed another miracle to stop her from saying something outrageous to shock and awe him. She vowed to curb her tongue. She didn’t want to make things difficult for Rachel, her best friend. Her only friend.
Glyn picked up a golf umbrella from beside the front door, motioning to Ingrid to stay put. She turned off the car, pulled up the hood of her raincoat, and waited. As if he finally remembered she was going to be a guest in his home for more than a month, Glyn smiled as he walked toward her. Even though his even, white teeth sparkled and his dimples creased, there was little warmth in his expression.
In four long strides, he was at her door, holding the umbrella to shelter her.
When she slid out of the car, he brushed her cheek with a quick kiss. The bristle of his afternoon stubble scraped her skin pleasantly. At the trunk of her car, Ingrid reached for her large suitcase, but Glyn got to it first.
“I’ll take that, lassie,” he said, his Scottish brogue as thick as ever. He’d been in Canada for twenty-five years but every summer he returned to his coastal village to visit family. Those visits always freshened his accent.
Ingrid picked up her smaller bag, keeping her head down as they walked toward the door. The hem of Glyn’s kilt flickered in her eyes as she picked her way through the torrent of rain washing over the paving stones. The faint lime of his aftershave reached her. Not for the first time she envied Rachel’s marriage to this handsome, devoted man.
“How have you been, girl?” he asked as they hiked up the broad front stairs together.
“Rachel was disappointed when you didn’t join us for Christmas or New Year’s.” His tone was a rebuke. “I don’t like it when Rachel is unhappy.”
“I wasn’t well,” Ingrid said with what she hoped was a mind-your-own-business finality.
“I’ve heard,” he said.
Their conversation faded when Rachel threw the front door open. The dog she’d been holding, a Dalmatian–Cocker Spaniel mix raced past her to jig around Glyn’s and Ingrid’s feet.
Ingrid’s heart pounded at the thought of what Glyn might have heard about her. I can’t change that now she decided, filing her worry into the later box. She put on her best beauty queen smile, forcing herself to live in the moment, and sailed forth, determined to enjoy a happy reunion with Rachel.
“Ingrid!” Rachel threw her arms around Ingrid’s neck.
“Hey love, mind Ingrid’s wet things,” Glyn said in a stern voice. Rachel pulled away immediately, letting Glyn slide Ingrid’s coat from her shoulders.
Ingrid toed off her wet shoes. She set them on the drying mat next to Glyn’s combat boots and Rachel’s pink and grey joggers. The dog pranced around her, so she crouched next to him. With one spotted ear and another completely black one, he had a winning, soft face. Taller than a Spaniel but shorter than a Dalmatian, he reached Ingrid’s knees.
“Hello, Mr. Cotter.” Ingrid scratched under his chin. “We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we?”
Cotter leaned into her, making a low throaty sound of approval.
“You found the magic spot,” Glyn said, his voice unusually acid-free when he addressed her.
Ingrid stood, taking in the room she hadn’t seen for years. The large open room was stylish and homey at the same time. Furnished almost entirely in shades of grey and ivory, the light colors contrasted comfortingly with the dark storm raging on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked Gonzales Bay.
A blanket was thrown over the big chair nearest the fireplace where a wood fire blazed on the raised hearth. There was a cup and saucer on the coffee table beside a mess of newspapers. The slight disorder drew Ingrid in a welcoming way.
“Thank you so much for doing this for us.” Rachel took Ingrid’s hand and led her to the sofa.
In the kitchen end of the open area, Glyn had one hand on the fridge door. “What can I get you ladies to celebrate this reunion?”
“Bubbly!” Rachel hugged Ingrid.
Ingrid shook her head. “Not for me thanks. I’m dry these days.” She didn’t add: eighteen days, three hours and forty minutes without alcohol. She couldn’t let on that she was fighting the demon of addiction. Again.
“A cup of tea?” Glyn asked.
“Do you have any sparkling mineral water?” Ingrid didn’t like tea much and wasn’t going to say yes to whatever Glyn offered just to please him.
“Cotter is very happy you’ve come to stay,” said Rachel as the dog clambered up on the sofa, settling between the two of them. He laid his head on Ingrid’s thigh, which soothed her more than she expected. She’d always wanted a dog of her own but never felt responsible enough to adopt one. When Rachel e-mailed that she and Glyn were going to Australia for a month to visit their daughter Stephanie, aka Stevie, Ingrid asked what they were doing with Cotter.
Rachel wrote back that their usual house-sitter had just moved away, so it looked like Cotter would be going into a boarding kennel. That worried her a lot. Cotter was a rescue dog who suffered from separation anxiety.
Ingrid answered that if it would help, she could come over and house and dog sit while they were gone. She gave a carefully edited version of her life, explaining why she could make the offer. Saying she was exhausted from the last decade in real estate, she added that she planned to take a year off to figure out what she wanted to do with her life next. She’d be happy to start her year of reflection in their beautiful seaside home on Vancouver Island.
She didn’t mention the falling out she’d had with her business partner over an impaired driving conviction, along with a serious complaint from a major client. It hadn’t surprised her when Beverly Rosati had exercised the buy-back option in their partnership agreement. Ingrid had been forced into an early, unwanted retirement.
At forty-four years old, wealthy enough to never work again, Ingrid had no idea what she was going to do with the rest of her life. For the next three nights and two days, she wouldn’t think about it. She’d spend that time enjoying the company of the best friend she’d ever had while trying not to annoy Rachel’s disapproving husband too much. They’d invited her over before they left to allow time to show her how the media room worked, where the Wi-Fi router was in case of any problems, along with basics like intricacies of the security system and what Cotter’s daily regime was.
“I’ll get the house book,” Rachel said. “I tried to think of everything you could possibly need to know, right down to where we keep our emergency supplies in case of an earthquake.” She left Ingrid sitting on the sofa, staring into the fire and stroking Cotter’s ears.
Ingrid shut out the thought of Glyn in the kitchen behind her. Savoring the warm shelter of that luxurious room, she contemplated how the tables had turned. The only person Ingrid had ever rescued had turned into her rescuer.
Ingrid met Rachel when they were both eighteen years old.
Rachel had been thrown out of home for staying out late, running up a huge phone bill, smoking weed, coming home drunk, and a number of other infractions, some real, some imagined.
Mostly she’d been thrown out because she’d fought back when her new stepfather tried to grope her. She’d left him with a black eye, but her mother believed his version of events over Rachel’s.
With two hours to get out, Rachel packed her bag. She shoved as many clothes as she could into a single suitcase, cleared out her meagre bank account, and caught a bus from Sudbury to Toronto.
Four days later, Ingrid found her sitting on a park bench in Toronto’s Hyde Park. At least that was the official story. Regardless of how they framed the truth later on, the simple fact was that Ingrid found Rachel weak from cold, hunger, and general desperation. Rachel’s suitcase had been stolen, all her money was gone, and she hadn’t eaten for three days.
When the slender blonde with her stylish clothes and thick, golden hair befriended her, Rachel eyed her suspiciously. Most of the people who had approached her since she got off the bus either wanted to sell her drugs or buy her body. Or worse. She couldn’t figure out why one person was being so friendly.
It was a rare moment in Ingrid’s life when she’d reached out to a lost soul. Ingrid’s momma was away for two weeks, leading a meditation retreat that was little more than a scam. Ingrid was alone, unchaperoned with nothing to do but make phony ID badges for the various charities they would pretend to raise money for, door-to-door, when Momma got back.
When Ingrid found Rachel in her greatest moment of need, she was bored and lonely. When she learned what Rachel’s situation was, she impulsively invited her home. That night Rachel slept in Ingrid’s momma’s bed. The next day, showered and wearing clean clothes borrowed from Ingrid, Rachel got a job as an office junior.
Then, in that way that blesses some people’s lives, one stroke of luck followed another. At the end of Rachel’s first week on the job, she met Glyn Morrison, a charming Scot with an accent so thick Ingrid could barely understand him. A month later Glyn and Rachel were living together. Within the year they had moved to the West Coast where they married.
From the day they met, Glyn displayed a protective, sometimes domineering, manner with Rachel. He seemed to know when she needed words of love and encouragement. He never forgot a birthday or special event. When he arrived to take her out on a date, he always brought flowers or chocolate.
If that wasn’t enough to feed any girl’s jealousy, Glyn Morrison exuded sexuality in everything he did, from the way his kilts swung when he walked or the way the muscles in his arms and legs rippled when he played basketball.
Twenty-five years on, Glyn and Rachel were still happily married. Ingrid’s jealousy of Rachel and longing for a strong man like Glyn was at fever pitch.
Ingrid stared into the flames of the fire, repeating to herself over and over I will not mess with Glyn. As if she had any need to stop herself. There was no way Glyn would even let her get started.
She broke out of her reverie as Rachel came back into the room.
“Here it is.” Rachel handed her a three-ring binder.
Ingrid opened it and started poring over the pages as Glyn arrived with a tray. He had a glass of champagne for Rachel and himself. He handed Ingrid a tall glass of water.
“Thank you,” she said, trying not to look at their drinks too enviously. Every cell in her body screamed for a taste, a single mouthful of that silky, bubbly drink, but she knew where that would lead her. A taste was never enough. A bottle was just a start for her.
“To old friends and friends in need.” Rachel tapped her glass against Ingrid’s.
“To the best friend I ever had,” Ingrid answered. When Glyn touched his glass to hers, she said, “To the best holiday ever.”
Glyn nodded at that, saying nothing in reply. Rachel led the conversation. She flipped through the binder in front of Ingrid and pointed to the section on shopping. It listed their favorite stores, who had the best produce, who sold organic dairy and vegetables. It had addresses for three small independent shops where Ingrid could get an excellent coffee if she didn’t want to use the espresso machine. It listed emergency contacts: electrician, plumber, insurance broker.
Glyn mentioned the local butcher who sold grain-fed beef and other meats from humane farm environments. Both Glyn and Rachel talked about Cotter’s preferred walks. When they’d exhausted all the details in the house book, and Glyn and Rachel were on to their second glass of bubbly, Glyn nodded at Rachel. “Did you tell her about our tenant?”
“You have a tenant?” Ingrid hoped her voice didn’t sound strangled. She’d been secretly hoping that the basement suite might have been hers to rent once they were back from Australia. She’d hoped that by then she’d have proven herself to be a reliable and helpful person to have around. She’d hoped to approach the subject when they returned to find everything better than they’d left it.
She needed to stay away from the mainland for a long time and that suite had been empty for years.
When they built the house fifteen years before, they’d added the suite in case Glyn’s parents wanted to move to Canada and live with them. But his parents never took up the offer, so it had remained vacant ever since.
“My brother is renting it from us now.” Glyn gave a tight smile, as though he’d guessed Ingrid’s inner hopes and was pleased to thwart them.
Ingrid vaguely remembered his brother. He was even taller than Glyn with the same summer-sky blue eyes and deep, seductive laugh. She’d met him at Glyn and Rachel’s wedding. A newlywed at the time, he was love-struck with eyes only for his pretty bride, whose name Ingrid couldn’t remember.
“Lachlan?’ she asked. “Is his family living there too?”
Rachel smoothed an imaginary wrinkle out of her red woolen skirt. “Only Lachlan. No family. He’s a widower now. Mary died a few years ago. I can’t believe I didn’t tell you. Cervical cancer. Sorry. I should have said… he’s been keeping to himself most of the time since then.”
“No kids?” Ingrid’s interest meter ticked into life.
“No. Mary was never able to conceive. She’d had problems for years.” Rachel said, her voice soft with sympathy. She and Glyn had only one daughter themselves. It looked like their branch of the Morrison family was not an expanding one.
“Aye,” said Glyn. “They had a rough time but they were in love. Right until the bitter, agony-filled end. They used to keep an apartment over by Beacon Hill Park. After Mary passed, Lachlan couldn’t stand to go back there so we offered him the suite. He comes and goes as he wants.”
“Where does he stay the rest of the time?” Ingrid tried to sound politely disinterested, nothing more.
Glyn reached for the champagne bottle and refilled first Rachel’s glass then his. “He has a place up island near Cowichan Bay where he keeps a few horses. He’s a coastal pilot now. That means when he’s on the board, he has to be in Victoria or Vancouver to get to the pilot stations.”
“Where does he fly to?”
Glyn shook his head. “He’s a mariner. He pilots the ships that travel the fifteen thousand miles of coastline that we have in this province.” Glyn’s tone said ‘any idiot knows this.’ Ingrid nodded at the details, pretending she was vaguely familiar with how the marine world worked.
Glyn kept on with his lecturing tone. “No ship over three hundred and fifty tons is allowed into our waters without a pilot on board.”
Ingrid’s interest waned at the news that Lachlan wasn’t an air pilot with all the benefits that position suggested. Worse still, he worked on the ocean. She had no interest in that environment at all so she busied herself with Cotter’s ears again rather than let her face reflect her disappointment. Air pilots were kind of sexy. Sea pilots? She wasn’t so sure.
“You won’t have to worry about Lachlan,” Rachel said. “He comes and goes through his own entrance. We often don’t know whether he’s there or not.”
“But he’s in tonight,” Glyn said. “And we’ve invited him for dinner. It’s many years since the two of you met and because your paths may cross from time to time, we thought you should get reacquainted.”