Chapter One: Dreamtime I
The first time Cara slipped through the portal, her parents had been dead for just over a year. Their estate was settled. Her sister had the family home in West Vancouver. Her brother owned the Maui condo. Cara inherited the property on Salt Spring Island, exactly what she’d hoped for.
She moved to the island for peace and quiet. Most of all, she’d retreated to the island to grieve in private. She walked the woods for long hours, letting the rage and anger and raw wound of her parents’ death overcome her. She cried with abandon, howling at the injustice of their early deaths.
The best part of her remote property was the isolation. There was no one to tell her to get over her grief. There was no one to try to appease her with platitudes about how Dad and Mom went together and that was what they always wanted. They’d died flying their light airplane across the Rockies, a trip they’d done many times before.
Cara didn’t want to hear that they’d had good innings or taken known risks, that their luck had finally run out. She wanted her parents back. She missed the protective halo of their love.
Each morning she woke to the pain of knowing that she’d never see them again, the grief as crippling as ever. Then she’d pull on her hiking boots and walk to the point of exhaustion. It was the only way she knew to dull the ache.
One sunny spring afternoon she was so weary after a bad crying jag she didn’t have enough energy to hike up the steep hill to her cottage. She went into the old boathouse and lay on the sofa, pulling the quilt around her neck. Within seconds she was asleep.
She woke to a dusty floral scent, surprised to find herself lying on a lumpy heap of old sacks. She wore trousers cut from coarse wool topped with a thick sweater. Her jeans and sweatshirt were nowhere in sight. The strangeness of her attire along with the damp emptiness of the boathouse sent spider chills down her spine.
Disoriented by the change in her clothes and surroundings, lightheaded from weeping, she crept out of the cabin. She just wanted to get back home.
The forest was different, denser than it had been that morning. The path down to the water was little more than an animal trail. At the sound of a woman’s voice on the beach, Cara turned her head sharply. There had been no women around when she’d crossed the beach earlier. The boats that had moored in the bay over winter had pulled anchor and sailed off to enjoy the creeping warmth of the season.
Cara walked stealthily, placing each footstep as delicately as if she were picking her way through a minefield. Had someone snuck into the cabin, stripped it of its furniture, and changed her clothing? That didn’t make sense.
Hiding behind a huge tree near the edge of the beach, she saw a man in a brand-new army uniform. Not a modern army uniform but one from World War I. The soldier was tall with wide shoulders and narrow hips. He smiled, watching a young woman run down the beach toward him, arms outstretched.
When she reached him, he picked her up and swung her around as though she was a child.
“Frank,” she squealed at he threw her over his shoulder, raised her skirt, and smacked her knicker-covered bottom several times. “Let go, that hurts.” She laughed at her own weak protests.
The dampness that bloomed between Cara’s legs as she watched surprised her. Despite the fact that she didn’t know where she was or who they were, she hoped that Frank would bare the girl’s bottom and spank her then and there. She wanted to see more.
Frank set the young woman on the ground before wrapping her in a bear hug. “Who’s going to make you behave while I’m gone?”
“I don’t need anyone to make me behave.”
When the girl danced away from him, Cara saw her face clearly and her hands turned to ice. With her distinctive Inuit face, almond eyes, and full lower lip, the girl looked like her great-grandmother.
Amaruq stood on tiptoe and kissed Frank’s nose. Her thick black hair shone in the April sun. “Besides if I behave and you’re not here, you’ll just think I have some other fella making me toe the line, won’t you?”
Cara couldn’t hear what they said as they became a mass of moving limbs and locked lips.
Ages passed before Frank pulled away, digging into his pocket. He took out a small fabric pouch and shook something into his hand. Gold glinted as he held a locket up to the sun, dropping to one knee. “Amaruq Winnifred Adams, will you do me the honor of accepting this wee gift and giving me the promise to be my wife when I return from the front?”
Amaruq Winnifred Adams. Cara shook herself. This was her great-grandmother and the love of her life, Frank Salter McCrae, before he left for active duty.
Goosebumps rose on Cara’s arms. She had to be dreaming, imagining this. But what she saw was so clear.
If she was dreaming, would the sun be warming her face this way? Would she be able to smell the rich loam of the rainforest around her?
Terrified and fascinated, she didn’t move. She couldn’t.
She watched Amaruq hold the locket high as a delighted smile spread over her face.
Frank cleared his throat nervously. “I didn’t have time to get to the city to buy you a ring. This was my grandmother’s. It’s the most precious thing I own. I want you to have it, along with my promise to come back and be your husband. If you’ll have me.” The last words, spoken quietly, almost drowned in Frank’s Scottish brogue.
“Yes, Frank McCrae. I’ll marry you. I will wait until the end of time for you.” Clutching the locket tightly, Amaruq threw her arms wide.
Frank swept her into a hug, embracing her passionately. As Amaruq pushed into his arms, her head against his check, her features knit with sorrow at saying goodbye.
When she lifted her chin to look at Frank, her expression changed to one of determined courage. In that moment Cara knew that Amaruq loved Frank, would always love him, no matter what the future held. Amaruq was strong enough to wait for him or face the pain if he didn’t return.
Cara slunk back to the boathouse, curled up on the pile of sacks, and closed her eyes. The image of Amaruq’s brave face filled her dreams. When she woke, seconds later, the boathouse was warm and freshly painted. She was curled up on a soft sofa with her favorite pillow, back in her century and time.
That wonderful, troubling dream, her secret vision she’d share with no one, was the start of her healing process.
For the first time since Cara’s parents died, the chokehold of heartache loosened. She was the great-granddaughter of the courageous woman whose dream of marrying Frank never came true.
Cara could be brave like her foremother. She would learn to live with her loss. The time to mourn was over. It was time to get back to her neglected art. To the precious gift of the life that awaited her.
Chapter Two: Keep Out
Five years later
Cara kicked her shoes into the pile beside the front door. Warmth was seeping through the house even though it had been empty for days. Her best friend Dawn had visited that morning to feed the chickens and Cara’s cat Juno.
Cara read Dawn’s note as she set her suitcase on the kitchen floor. I had a dream about you last night. You were in danger. There was fire and heat. A tall, dark man. Let’s talk soon. xx
Cara chuckled. Dawn was always reading tarot cards, staring into tea leaves, and stargazing. She’d been predicting a dark stranger in Cara’s life since they first met, years before.
After more than a week on the mainland, Cara was less convinced than ever that Dawn’s predictions would come true. Vancouver, with its population of over two million people, offered the best hope for her to meet a tall, dark man but nothing even remotely like that materialized. She and her sister had gone to plays and art shows where precious few of the attractive, available men played for her team.
Poor Dawn. Now she was enhancing her predictions with visions of danger? She needed a holiday. Badly.
Cara filed Dawn’s warning in the back of her mind and scooped up her backpack of art supplies. The old boathouse at the bottom of the hill was calling her. She walked briskly across the yard, inhaling deeply, forcing the fresh forest air deep into her lungs. The city was no place to live. Her ears still rang from the noise of the traffic and construction.
Her acreage, at the end of a long dirt road on Salt Spring Island, was the best place on earth.
She strode past the barn that housed her studio and picked her way through a well-worn path in the hedge that separated her place from the forest to the north. The moment she stepped into the woods, she froze. Something had changed.
Tense with anticipation, Cara listened. Faraway on the water’s edge, a kingfisher chittered but the forest was silent. On such a sunny spring day, birds should have been singing their mating songs. They should have been darting from tree to tree in a frenzy of nest building.
Closing her eyes, she counted to five. She exhaled slowly. When she opened her eyes and squinted into the dense trees, she saw a small flash of red in the shadows of the forest.
With clenched fists, she walked toward it. The rusted barbed-wire fence that had been trampled into the ground for generations had been wrenched out of the dirt. It was nailed to a post so new it still smelled of pine tar. A red No Trespassing sign was stapled to the top of the post. Cara tried to rip it off, but the sign’s plastic form flexed in her hands, refusing to budge.
Swearing, she walked back to the barn and emptied her backpack. Wire cutters, a large screwdriver, and leather gloves took the place of the sketchpads and pencils. As an afterthought, she packed her good camera. If some squatter was trying to lay claim to her forest, she was going to have a record of it.
It took less than ten minutes to cut the wire and open the trail again. Having done that, she walked the fence line, a hundred yards or so in both directions. She found ten more No Trespassing signs. She ripped the staples out of them before tucking the evidence into her pack. Breathing hard, more from anger than exertion, she finally found her way back to the steep track that led to the water. Just beyond the fence line she saw another sign, posted ten feet up the side of a towering evergreen.
Her hiking skirt allowed her a full range of movement as she used the stumps of the branches for foot and hand holds. She climbed it the same way she imagined the person who put the sign up must have. Dismissing the thoughts of a surveillance camera possibly recording her every move, she stopped level with the sign and hung on with one hand. With her free hand, she used the blade of the screwdriver to pry the staples out of the sign. It tore free, floating to the ground like an autumn leaf.
She stowed her tools before starting to climb down. When she was close to the bottom of the tree, she prepared to jump.
Suddenly a pair of strong hands gripped her waist and lifted her down, as effortlessly as if she were a bundle of bubble pack. A tall man in a flannel shirt with rolled-up sleeves spun her around to face him.
“What do you think you’re doing?” He held her in a vise-like grip by one shoulder. The muscles in his arms rippled.
Cara looked at his other hand, worried he might have a weapon.
He held the sign she’d just pried off the tree.
“I asked you a question.” His dark brown eyes flashed. He rubbed the day-old stubble on his chin. “Why are you taking down my signs?”
“Who the hell are you and why are you putting signs on my land?” She spat the words.
“Your land? And you are—?”
“Charlotte Eckford. I don’t own this land yet but the lawyers who are looking after old man McCrae’s affairs said I can have first right of refusal for it when it finally becomes available. My family have been trying to buy it for years.”
The stranger’s broad grin revealed teeth that seemed too white to be real. Humor replaced anger in his almond eyes. “Ah, a member of the famous Eckford family. Let me introduce myself. I’m Lucas—Luke—Jonathan McCrae, the only grandson and the sole heir to the estate of Leonard Edwin McCrae. The recently deceased Leonard Edwin McCrae.”
“Leonard died?” Cara frowned as that fact registered. It should have meant she could buy the property at last. Maybe she still could. She looked into Luke’s handsome face, beaming down at her. “You own this land now?”
“I don’t have the title yet, but yeah, as soon as probate’s done, it’s mine.”
“Did your grandfather’s lawyers tell you he had promised to sell it to me?”
“No, they said the Eckfords might be interested in buying it.”
“Do you want to sell?” Hope fluttered in her chest. Maybe he didn’t realize she was seriously interested in it.
“Yeah, I do. After I log it and subdivide that is.” He grinned.
“Subdivide it?” Her mouth turned chalk dry.
“That’s what I said.” His voice was rich like dark chocolate, warm and inviting, but his eyes telegraphed a warning. He moved slightly closer to her.
“No one from your family has even lived here. Not since…” Cara tried to remember the stories about her great-grandmother and Frank McCrae, Luke’s great-grandfather.
“Not since my great-grandmother died.”
“When was that?” Cara asked, knowing the answer to the question before she asked it. She probably knew more about Luke’s family history than he did. She talked to buy time, to collect her thoughts.
“Early 1950s? Long before I was born. After that it was only used as a summer getaway. Not very often either.”
“So why log it and subdivide it now? I could take it off your hands and you wouldn’t have to bother.”
“What do you care? It’s nothing but a lot of old trees. And it has already been logged once. Haven’t you noticed all the old stumps? It’s not like it’s an old growth forest or anything important. This is second growth. At least. Maybe third. I haven’t looked too closely yet.”
“Fuck you, it’s not important.” The threat of losing the forest, her only access to the old boathouse, sent ice through Cara’s veins. The idea of living next door to townies who came on the weekend with their chainsaws and dirt bikes and gangs of friends, all demanding high speed internet and paved roads, squeezed the air from her lungs.
Everything that was good and right in her world was because of the serenity on this small corner of Salt Spring Island. Land that should have been hers, lost through a tragedy one hundred years ago, was slipping through her family hands again.
“Don’t talk to me like that, please.” Luke’s voice low and authoritative.
“I’ll talk to you any way I fucking well please.”
He was six inches taller than her and at least forty pounds heavier. Cara didn’t care. She was angry at the No Trespassing signs. She was angry at the news that he wouldn’t sell to her. When he had the nerve to tell her not to swear, her temper detonated. Sparks of silvery hot rage popped in her peripheral vision.
She looked over his shoulder and gasped, as though something was behind him. When he turned to see what it was, she braced herself in horse stance, clenched her hand into a fist, and drove a hard punch into his gut. It was like pounding concrete.
“Ah, you’re a scrapper, are you?” He recoiled sharply before closing the gap between them and wrapping an arm around her waist. The cedar and smoke scent of him filled her head as he planted one foot on a large boulder and deftly flipped her over his knee. “You need to learn some manners,” he said, lifting the hem of her skirt.
Cool air breezed across the top of Cara’s thighs as the blood rushed to her head. Her long hair hung down, coiling in the dried arbutus leaves beneath her.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she shrieked with outrage, kicking her legs and flailing her arms. He pinned her to his left knee, trapping her kicking legs under his muscular right thigh.
“Don’t you dare touch me!” she said, trying to right herself.
“You mean like this?” He smacked her panty-clad bottom hard. “Or this?” His hand fell on the top of her thighs. His hands felt as big as dinner plates and hard as wood. One smack followed another. When she reached back and swatted against the blows, he caught her wrists together and pinned them in the small of her back.
Cara’s breath whooshed out of her lungs at the sensation of being bent to his will. She forced herself to start breathing again as he smacked her bottom rhythmically and unrelentingly.
“Stop it!” she demanded, between swats. Luke ignored her. She barely caught her breath after one slap, when another followed. Conflicting sensations of desire and resentment churned as her bottom started to sting.
She was strong, but he was much stronger. She twisted and writhed but never enough to break away. After what felt like an eternity of spanking, the only thing registering on her consciousness was his hard hand raining down on her buttocks and thighs. Time, as she knew it, stopped.
The light pain started to sear and burn. Cara gasped for breath, unable to brace herself or physically or mentally between spanks. She held her breath after one smack but then another fell and nothing could stop the desperate moans that escaped her.
“That’s enough!” she begged as she fought to breathe.
Luke spanked her more, three blows to the same spot.
“Please, please, please stop,” she cried, unable to hold on to even the tiniest scrap of dignity and self-control.
“It’s enough when I say it’s enough,” Luke said calmly. He spanked on, wordlessly, until she hung with exhaustion across his knee. Only when she was limp with surrender did he stop and tenderly rub her buttocks. “You and I will get along much better if you mind your language and use your words instead of your fists.”
With that, he helped her to a standing position, brushing down the back of her skirt. A look of genuine tenderness flashed across his face as he smoothed her hair back over her shoulders. “That wasn’t so bad, was it, doll?” He voice was soft, conciliatory even.
Words failed her as she caught her breath. There was something about him that was vaguely familiar, as if they might have met in the past. Only she was sure she’d never met any of the McCraes before.
Placing a finger under her chin, Luke tipped her face up to look at him. His tone was businesslike again. “You got off lightly. I could have had you charged with trespassing and assault. Consider yourself lucky. A spanking is a small penalty when you think about it.”
“Screw you.” She tried to wrest away from him, but he held her wrist tight.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Eckford. My lawyer warned me that you might not like my plans for Grandpa’s land, but I didn’t think you’d resort to vandalism. Can we start again, as friends? See if we can work something out in a less hostile way.”
Cara rubbed her bottom, unsurprised by the desire burning between her legs. She’d always been fascinated by spanking, she’d even been spanked once in circumstances no one would believe, so her response to having her bottom warmed didn’t catch her unawares. If anyone had ever checked her browser history, they’d know that she wasn’t new to the idea, even if her personal experience with it was limited.
The sight of Luke’s strong forearms, along with his earthy smell, heightened her rising attraction to him. Damn him. And damn this feeling of déjà vu that said they’d met before. It made her spine tingle.
He grinned as she rubbed her sore backside, so she stopped immediately. Now that he had humiliated her, he thought he had the upper hand. She was prepared to let him believe whatever it took to buy more time.
She straightened her shoulders, holding out her hand. “My friends call me Cara—not doll or doll-face or sugar or cookie. I’m the sole owner of the place next door. I inherited it from my parents a few years ago.” She spoke quickly with a bit too much volume as though trying to hide behind a wall of words after her loss of face from the spanking. With an almost exasperated sigh, she said, “Now can we talk about my access to the boathouse?”
“The boathouse? What’s that to you?”
“I’m an artist. I’ve been using it as a kind of bird hide ever since I was a kid. I sit in there and watch the world go by. I sketch the birds, the water, the landscape. Whatever catches my eye.”
“Why do you come through my property to get there? Don’t you have your own path?”
“My land is impossibly steep. There’s a nice graduated slope through your woods that is an easier route.”
“There’s no road?”
Cara forced herself to stay civil. This stupid man had decided to destroy a forest that he didn’t even know. Did he even realize that he owned the boathouse? Let someone else tell him, she decided. Instead she’d explain the dull facts of life to him. “Did you notice that the road to my place and your grandpa’s isn’t paved?”
“So that’s the only road that comes out all this way and it stops at your property line. The only other access to the beach is by water. Lots of people moor in my… our… bay there because they know that no one can easily come along and tell them to move on. Now let me go.” She tried to wrench her wrist away, but his grasp was like steel.
“If I let you go, are you going to attack me again?” He grinned slightly, as if he was daring her to. Challenge fired in his almond-shaped eyes.
She studied him as though he was a model in a studio. Broad shoulders. A narrow waist. Faded jeans tucked into hiking boots. A handsome, chiseled face that hinted at his First Nations heritage.
Cara knew the McCraes, like the Eckfords, were all mixed-blood descendants of the early settlers. Luke’s great-grandfather Frank had married a full blood Tsawout woman a century ago, after Cara’s great-grandmother Amaruq broke his heart. Three generations later and Luke was a mix of his Scottish and Tsawout blood.
In contrast, Cara was a throwback to her Inuit great-grandmother, Amaruq. Of all the subsequent generations, only Cara was born with Amaruq’s sloe eyes, round face, and nut-brown skin. Her atavistic gifts also endowed her with Amaruq’s artistic talents, along with a hair-trigger temper.
Oh, yeah. Cara knew her temper was sure to lead her into trouble with Luke again. But not just now. She’d wait until he wasn’t paying attention. Then she’d hit him with lawyers and a stop work order, at the very least.
Their two families had been uneasy neighbors ever since Amaruq had broken Frank McCrae’s heart a hundred years before. Then the McCraes had stopped using their property and Cara’s parents had tried to buy it.
After they died, Cara took up the crusade of trying to buy the McCrae property. When old man McCrae went into hospice for end of life care, Cara had contacted his lawyers. They said they were putting a note on his file about her desire to buy the land. Whenever she was in Vancouver, she made a point of taking small gifts to those attorneys, to remind them of her interest.
She had it so clearly in her mind that the land would one day be hers, the news that Leonard McCrae had died and left no provision for her to buy it hit her like a broadside. Knowing that she might never own the land was far more painful that the spanking she’d just endured. Her breath faltered low and shallow. Her stomach lurched at the betrayal.
She’d been planning what to do with the McCrae property for years. First, she’d pull down the decrepit old house and restore the forest to its natural splendor. Nature would heal the rift that people had brought to the island.
Now this lug with his large, strong hands and lopsided come-to-me smile wanted to turn those precious acres into weekend retreats for bored rich people? She’d see him in hell first.
Cara brushed some pine needles off the hem of her skirt. “I won’t punch you if you promise not to spank me,” she said.
“I can’t promise that. Whether or not I spank you again is up to you. Touch my property. Cut my fence again. Take down one more sign and I’ll spank your bare bottom next time. Every time you decide to mess with me and what’s mine, every time you touch something of mine without permission, the punishment will get worse. Understand?”
He brought his face so close to hers that she could smell coffee on his breath. For a single beat, her body betrayed her. She wanted to give him anything he asked for and more. She resisted the urge to plant her lips on his wide seductive mouth.
He leaned back, raking her with his eyes in a way that sent cold shivers over her.
“Every time,” he repeated, his voice as hard as a hammer on steel. “Understand?”
She gave him a tiny smile and the most innocent expression she could muster.
He nodded, indicating that was enough for now. “Good. We understand each other. Now I hope we can be friends.”
He held out his hand. Cara stared at it for a moment. Half of her wanted to lift it to her mouth and suck his long, square-tipped fingers, deep and hard. The other half of her wanted to bite it. With effort she roped in both her good and bad impulses.
When she said nothing, he added, “Perhaps not friends.” His large, strong hand swallowed hers in a handshake. “But maybe we can do a deal and become good neighbors.”
She nodded, more meekly than she intended. He stared back at her for a second, as if he was waiting for her to say something else.
“I understand,” she said, bracing herself for the lecture she knew would follow.