Authors: Cassidy Cayman
“I think your fine looks won’t be permanently damaged,” she said.
He really was good looking. He knew it as well as she did, and let her sarcastic comment go, not offended at all, but she felt a mild pang at taking a jab. She didn’t know why his certain brand of handsome made her go stupid. He was ridiculous, but she did like to look at him.
“Do you know what year it is?”
She winced at her choice of question. She’d only meant to make sure he wasn’t truly addled, but had just opened the door for him to harangue her about Catie. She was going to pass out from all the sighing she was doing today.
His eyes brightened and she knew she had to distract him quickly. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out a slab of bacon. “I know what will restore you. How about I fry up a little revenge?” she asked.
“Aye, I’d love some, thanks. And we can talk about Catie while it’s cooking.” His self-satisfied smile told her he knew exactly what she’d been up to with the generous offer.
With a grimace, she pulled out a pan, stuck cooking another breakfast and discussing the very thing she wished to avoid at all costs.
“Shane, I’ve told you I don’t know precisely how it’s done.” She spun around to avoid his cajoling smile. Because in the mood she was in, she was highly susceptible to being cajoled.
“Ye dinna think ye could find out? I feel like ye could, ye’re so crafty.”
Ugh, flattery now? She slapped several slices in the pan and held it up to show him. He nodded at the package and she added a few more. He kept silent while it crackled away and when she slid the plate across the bar to him, he merely quietly thanked her and started eating with vengeful gusto.
“Sam’s cousin Lila has a little crush on you,” she said, hoping to offer him a salve for his broken heart.
His eyebrow shot up and he laboriously swallowed his mouthful of bacon before answering. “She’s sixteen.”
“That’s only a year younger than Catie,” she said, stopping mid-scrub of the pan and cursing herself for her absolute stupidity. She needed to shut up, kick him out, and go take a nap with all the ways she was failing to distract him.
He blinked at her, which she took as a supreme effort on his part not to roll his eyes. “Sam and his brother would pummel me if I was inclined to show any interest in wee Lila. Which I’m not.” He cocked his head to the side. “Do ye have a class? Let’s watch talk shows if ye dinna.”
“Are you slacking?” she accused.
“I’m recuperating from a head wound.”
She laughed against her will and pulled the small television from the cabinet and switched it to one of the tawdry daytime talk shows. The second she was comfortably settled on the stool across from him, he attacked.
“I’m determined to find out how to do it,” he began, reaching over and holding onto her wrist so she couldn’t escape.
She knuckled the back of his hand and he released his grip. “Even if I found out how they do it, there’s no guarantee it would work for you. And you wouldn’t survive five minutes in the past.”
“How do ye know that?” he asked, rubbing his hand. “I wake up early. I’m a hard worker, and not overly addicted to modern conveniences.”
She snorted, pointing at the telly. “No, not at all.”
“Och, if it’s available, why not? But I could certainly live without.” He put on a puppy face. “I miss her,” he said, biting his lip.
“Does that work on a lot of people?” she asked bitterly, not wanting to admit it was working on her. She had to look away in fact, damn him.
“A fair few,” he said. “Are ye close to graduating, then? Ye never seem to leave the grounds anymore.”
She was in too dismal of a mood to accuse him of stalking her, and she shrugged. “I don’t see the point. I guess I’ll catch up somehow, eventually.”
“Ye should finish, even if ye dinna get a job in the field. It had to be expensive, and ye’ll end up regretting wasting all that money, and time as well.”
“Thanks, mum,” she said, pushing a still warm chocolate chip muffin at him to shut him up.
His words were true, and all the more painful coming from him. If Shane Brodie was spouting words of wisdom at her, she’d sunk really low. She didn’t know what had happened to her over the last year. Since she was thirteen years old, she’d wanted to be a nurse. She planned to move to London and get a job, then decide whether to stay there or continue on to America. Either way, she wanted to live the bustling urban professional life in a big city. A place where people had more fascinating stories to tell than how they took the long way when the bridge got flooded, a place where no one got kicked in the head by a pig.
Now it all seemed unrealistic, especially when she’d researched leasing fees for London flats. She’d never leave Castle on Hill, she’d end up married to Shane’s older brother, work in the tiny clinic in the next village, and help out at the inn Shane’s parents owned on holidays and weekends.
A tear rolled down her cheek and landed on the edge of the muffin plate. She pushed it away and wiped her eyes before Shane noticed.
“Are ye crying, Mel?” Shane asked, standing up and coming around the bar to take her elbow. He led her to the cozy chair by the fire as if she were a sad granny and crouched down in front of her. “What’s wrong? Did I set ye over the edge? I’m sorry if I did.”
“It’s not you,” she sniffled. “I’m having a quarter-life crisis.”
“That sounds too trendy for ye to have. And ye aren’t even old enough.”
“People always say how mature I am for my age, perhaps I’m ahead of the game,” she said.
He sat back on his heels and studied her. “Aye that’s true,” he said, nodding. “Ye’ve always been so reliable and sensible—”
“That’s fine, thank you,” she interrupted, as it seemed he would drone on forever. Somehow hearing the good qualities she used to have made her feel worse.
“A real goody two-shoes, our Mellora is. Oi, mind my injury” he said, dodging her half-hearted attempt to thump him in the head. “But seriously, what’s up with ye?”
It felt like an avalanche was coming down on her. She’d been skipping her classes for so long, she really feared she couldn’t make up the work at this point. She hated disappointing her parents, and wasting the money they’d given her the last two years. Her dreams were crumbling like pie crust and the worst part was she couldn’t bring herself to care.
“Ye look miserable,” he said. “And I know misery from the mirror. What can I do to cheer ye up? I know ye wanted to laugh at me earlier, so feel free.”
She looked at him, smiling helpfully up at her, the silly green band-aid peeking out from beneath his messy hair. It was almost the same shade as his eyes. This wasn’t right at all. He wasn’t supposed to be showing concern, he was supposed to be hounding information out of her. She felt like she might erupt in a volcano of angst. There didn’t seem to be one thing in her life that made her happy anymore.
Out of habit, she fished the pewter cross she wore on a long chain out from under her sweater and rolled it between her fingertips. Shane held out a bite of his muffin, but she shook her head. What was she, the dog, being offered pity scraps? Narrowing her eyes at him, she leaned back in the rocker and thought about the last time she’d really had a good time. It had been on the late night drive with Oliver. He was a suave, cosmopolitan Londoner. Tall, with good manners, entertaining her with lively stories and his plummy English accent…
“Say something, Mel, ye’re making me nervous.” Shane leaned forward and grabbed her knees.
She jumped guiltily, and abruptly stopped her dreamy train of thought. The handsome and charming Oliver Cliffstone was not hers to think about in such a manner. He was possibly Catie’s fiance by now, or even husband, with the way the Fergusons had seemed so eager to marry her off. Thinking about that gave Mellie a clenching feeling in her chest, and pushed aside the fact that it felt like disappointment and regret.
Catie had seemed genuinely interested in Shane during her time here, and even though she’d chosen to go back with Oliver, she’d gone back largely due to Mellie’s meddling. What if she had an alternative to Oliver back in her own time?
“You’re handsome and charming,” she said without thinking, making Shane take his hands off her knees in a hurry, and causing her face to heat up when she realized she’d said it aloud.
“Ah, thanks?” he said, his eyes widening. “Did ye want to make out or something?”
She laughed despondently and pressed her foot into his chest, knocking him onto his ass. “No, numpty, I do not. But I’ve decided to help you. I’ll try and find out how to do it.”
He scrambled to his feet and pulled her into a hug, actually lifting her off the floor and twirling her around. His happiness was infectious and she found herself grinning along, excited for him.
He was strong, probably from all the hard farm work, and the way his palms pressed against her back gave her a bizarre electrical shock feeling. Alarmed, she chalked it up to her daydreaming about Oliver only a moment before, because there was no way she was attracted to Shane. She was just slightly unhinged now, and susceptible.
“Like I told you,” she reminded him, after she’d wriggled out of his grasp. “If I can find out how to do it, there’s no guarantee it will work.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “All we can do is try.”
She nodded, then stared at him. “What do you mean, we?”
“Ye’re coming, right?” He took her by the shoulders and leaned over, peering right into her eyes.
“Certainly not. Ye have to go with.”
“You must tell me your reasoning behind that.” She sat back down and crossed her knees and folded her arms in front of her.
Shane sat on the edge of the hearth and turned the arms of her chair toward him, then pulled it closer so their knees practically touched. She snorted at his blatant attempt to use his adorableness as a bargaining tool and he wisely ditched the blinky-eyed look from his face and got down to business.
“Well, ye liked that English prat, aye? If ye think about it, we might both come out winners.”
She continued to stare at him, carefully keeping her expression discouraging, but a tiny light kindled in her. She had liked Oliver, no matter how she tried to tell herself she hadn’t, or how wrong it was, she had liked him. And she was positive he’d liked her, too.
“I’m a distraction?” she asked, raising a brow with what she hoped looked like disdain. “Bait?”
He clapped his hands gleefully and then waved them in a rude figure eight gesture in front of her. “Exactly! Look at ye, ye’re so flipping hot when ye want to be. Ye wouldna just turn his head, ye could make it spin away from Catie.”
She silently cursed herself for blushing at his words, and kicked him in the foot. “Catie is my friend,” she said.
“Exactly,” he repeated, seeming even more delighted, as if she agreed with him. “That’s why ye should help her get with the right guy.”
“And that’s you.”
He nodded and leaned back, letting his self-assured smile be his final argument. Damn him. Why did she think this might work? And worse, why did she feel so eager to get started? Okay, so Oliver lived hundreds of years in the past, but other than that, he fit the bill of her ideal man to a tee. Posh Londoner, with a country home to keep him grounded, considerate and gentlemanly, serious and authoritative. She sighed, remembering how much he’d liked Catie, how much he’d gone through to get to her, and felt a rush of guilt and envy.
“Ah, ye want him, ye know ye do,” Shane said, jumping at her traitorous sigh.
There was no use trying to lie about it, the wicked lad could see right through her, and there was a strange comfort in being able to show her true colors without being judged.
“You’re like the devil on my shoulder,” she said.
He held his fingers behind his head like horns and started up with the puppy eyes again. She didn’t feel like wasting the energy to swat him and leaned back in the chair. A surge whooshed through her, excitement, eagerness, hope. Things she hadn’t felt in a long time.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll go.”
Evie collapsed onto the couch and put her feet in Sam’s lap. She’d got in so late, Magnus was already asleep, angelic in his footie pajamas, his little bottom in the air.
“I tried on forty-two dresses today,” she informed him, as he diligently set about massaging her aching feet. Even though she was exhausted, disappointed, and irritable, she couldn’t help but beam at him, she loved him so much. And the foot rub was amazing.
“Nothing?” he asked. “Is forty-two not the answer to life, the universe, and everything, then?”
She groaned. “It’s not the answer to what I’m going to wear to marry you, that’s for sure.”
“Why are we doing all this?” he asked, jumping when she kicked him with her free foot.
“You want both your children to be bastards?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face at his look of indignation.
“You know that’s not what I mean,” he said. “But why all the bother with the carriages and flowers and such? I never took you for that sort.”
She thought long and hard. On the one hand, of course she wanted the wedding of the century. Her love for Sam was so strong and huge, she wanted their ceremony to reflect that, but the planning was killing her. Something small and quiet seemed especially attractive after the day of failed gown shopping. Special and intimate, and Mags could still wear his miniature tuxedo, which he looked way too cute in. But then there was Piper.