When her mother tires of supporting her during one halfhearted career pursuit after another, twenty-year-old Peggy Fisk is left with only one choice… to seek support from her father instead. He lives in Australia, but that fits just fine with her brand new plan for a career in nature photography. After running off two guides in her first month, however, Peggy is left with one last hope for a trip to the outback—a rancher-turned-bush-guide named Tripp Ruf.
Within seconds of laying eyes on Peggy, Tripp finds himself acting in the nick of time to prevent a snake bite. He is pretty sure things will only go downhill from there unless he puts his foot down and puts it down fast, and Tripp lets Peggy know that he will be the only boss on this trip. He also warns the beautiful, sassy American that careless behavior will earn her a sound spanking, but if her cute little behind ends up bared over his lap, Tripp fears that his biggest problem won’t be the dangers of the outback, it will be keeping his desire for her in check.
It isn’t long before Peggy puts Tripp’s word to the test and learns that a hard spanking delivered by a work-roughened hand is nothing to be taken lightly, but in spite of his strict discipline and his brash arrogance, Peggy grows more and more attracted to her rugged, handsome protector as the days pass. Can she dare to hope that her time with Tripp will leave her with more than just memories, or will it all end in heartbreak for the feisty American and the firm-handed Aussie?
The Gouldian finch was hopping from branchlet to branchlet on the big green plum tree, and Peg very nearly had her shot ready. Just an adjustment here, a twist there. She shimmied carefully along the gum tree branch she was observing from, getting farther out toward the leafy edges. Slow movement was necessary; scaring the finch off would be awful after she’d spent so much time following him through the bush. But he was a beauty, with gorgeous color block patches and bright black eyes. The perfect specimen of one of the last Gouldian finches in the wild.
The branch under her began to bow and one of the ever-present flies buzzed under her nose, but Peg steadied her equipment again, and had her finger poised when there was a loud crack and she and the tree limb went tumbling toward the ground six feet below. Landing with a resounding thud on her back, Peg felt her camera thump solidly on her chest, its pointy little edges and corners leaving bruises, no doubt.
Her breath was lost, but after a moment, she gasped. There was a tall shadow between her and the afternoon sunshine. Tall and mobile; tall and wearing a hat. She couldn’t see the man’s face because of the lighting, but she knew it would be dangerous. What was a man doing out here in the bush with her, miles from civilization?
After a moment of looking at her, he bent, reaching down his hand. It was a broad-palmed, tanned hand, work roughened, the nails short and slightly dirty. “Help up?” His Australian accent was common enough, here in Australia, but the timbre of his voice, low, dark, and maybe even a little sexy, gave Peg shivers. She stared at the hand.
“Ya all right, lady?” He could have invited her for tea and she wouldn’t have understood him. He spoke with a thick accent, and the words were clear enough, but his baritone voice and sudden appearance were about all Peg could comprehend at the moment.
Finally, after taking a deep breath, she shook her head, a tendril of blond hair poking her in the eye. She went to reach for the wavy strand, but suddenly the man spoke again, from all the way up there at his full height.
“What?” It was the first she’d spoken to him and her voice came out almost a squeak.
“Don’t bloody move. Don’t even breathe.”
He was reaching for something.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered, fear growing with each passing second. And then she saw the knife. It was a long knife, wide-bladed, and it looked extremely dangerous, with a single sunbeam glinting off the metal blade. “Oh, God. Don’t kill me.”
Peg was aware that ‘sheila’ was a common term for woman here, so she didn’t think he’d gotten her name wrong. How could he know her name, after all? They hadn’t set eyes on each other before. And that reminded her that she still hadn’t set eyes on him. She had no idea how to describe her attacker, if he let her live.