Brodie had been trying to get Alastair to put his hand back under the water so he could see just how deep the gash in his palm was. He paused, frowned, remembering now the reason he’d stepped back around the corner. “Are Kat and Daisy at odds over something?” Of course, they couldn’t be more different. But then, no woman was quite like Kat.
The American lass was open, cheerful to a fault, and exceedingly friendly. Partly, he’d felt, during the scant few times they’d had words, because she was eager to fit in with her new neighbors. And partly, he knew, because reading people was his business, after all; it was her nature to be bubbly. Nothing like her Auntie Maude, that was for certain. A more grim-faced woman he’d never had the displeasure of meeting. There had been a collective sigh of relief when the taxi ferrying Maude’s only blood relation came in from the train station and Daisy had turned out to be nothing like the auld bat, God rest her mortal soul.
Kat, on the other hand, though outgoing enough, was bold and brash, bordering on cocky. But no’ arrogant. The lass was quite able to back up any claim she made about herself and was quick to defend any in her acquaintance who needed defending.
She was also quick to extract retribution from those who’d done wrong.
Probably why he was a bit twitchy at the moment.
“It’s more than a flesh wound,” he said to Alastair, dragging his thoughts back to the moment. “You’re likely to need stitches. Why don’t I send Daisy off to Hagg’s to get Frampton here before he finishes off his first ale.” He grinned. “You wouldn’t want your stitches to be all crooked.”
He thought he saw Alastair pale a little at the last part.
“You’re not afraid of a little mending, are you?”
“ ’Course not.” He pried Brodie’s hand off of his. “Not the first time I’ve seen a little blood. Just get me something to wrap around it—I’ll be fine.” When he looked up and spied Brodie’s set expression, he relented. Slightly. “I’ll see the good doctor tomorrow, aye? We’ve cleaned it well enough. It’s hardly pumping out any fresh at all at this point.”
“That’s because you’ve got water running over it and it’s compressed. Lift one finger and it’ll be gushing again and we both know it.” Over his shoulder, he said, “We appreciate the help. Send Frampton here as soon as you find him.”
“Will do,” she said, with a cheery smile and an even cheerier wave.
He gave the same in return. It was almost impossible not to be cheery where Daisy was concerned.
“You might want to reconsider that hound-dog smile when Kat gets back here, lad. No use in rubbin’ her nose in it.”
“Anyone can plainly see yer moonin’ after our newest resident. No’ that I blame ye, lad, she’s quite a corker.”
Brodie was honestly surprised. “Mooning? Me? After Daisy?” He glanced back to the spot where she’d been standing, as if looking there would help him make more sense of things. What was up with the Henderson clan this fine day anyway? They’d both gone a bit starkers. “Did you have the exhaust running at any point today?”
Alastair scowled at him, as if he were being particularly dense. “The only brain that’s been clouded lately is yours. Right in front of your nose is where she is. Where she’s always been.”
“You’ve lost more blood than I thought,” Brodie told him. “Here.” He grabbed a clean wad of paper napkins stacked by the sink for drying hands. “Press this against your palm, and hold it tight. Daisy should be here any moment with Frampton. Why don’t we sit down until he gets here.” Not that Alastair looked particularly woozy now, but obviously he was more out of it than he appeared, given the gibberish he was spouting.
Of course, that didn’t explain the gibberish his daughter had been babbling on about earlier.
I should have never left the pub
, he thought with a slow sigh.
“I don’t need to sit down, I’m perfectly fine,” Alastair grumbled, just as Daisy stepped back inside the shop.
“Here we are,” she announced, ushering in the doctor.
“What have you gone and done to yersel’ now, Alastair?” Frampton was from Alastair’s generation and the two had not only grown up together in Glenbuie, they’d fought for the heart of the same woman. Alastair had won. But even though Maddy Urquhart Henderson—Alastair’s loving and devoted wife of almost twenty years—had gone to her great reward almost a decade ago, Ben Frampton had never quite forgotten or forgiven.
“It’s naught but a scratch,” Alastair told him, clearly not pleased to see the man. “I told them both there was no reason to drag you from your midday meal.”
“Better Daisy got him here to get you fixed up before Kat gets back and sees what you’ve done to yourself,” Brodie reminded him.
Alastair grudgingly held his hand out for the doctor and scowled over his bent head in the general direction of both Brodie and Daisy. “Thank you both for your concern, but I’m being tended to, so why don’t the two of you move on now, enjoy the rest of your day.” His grouchy countenance belied the ostensibly friendly words.
Brodie decided maybe it was better after all to let the Henderson clan sort things out on their own. “Right you are,” he said to Alastair. “We’ll be taking our leave.”
Alastair waved absently in their direction with his good hand, his head bent and getting in the way of Frampton’s efforts to see the wound more clearly.
“Those two are quite the pair,” Daisy said as they exited the repair shop. “I sense some tension there.”
“Long history between them. But Ben is the only doctor we have, so they tolerate each other when necessary.”
Daisy nodded, looked like she was about to say something else, but thought better of it. “I appreciated you stopping by earlier. I hope you’ll reconsider what I had to say about promoting the pub, but I can’t thank you enough for passing along Reese’s business card. You know,” she added with a smile, “if his business card is any indication, he’s in dire need of my services.”
Brodie laughed. “The only Chisholm less inclined to spend a lot of time tooting their own horn than me is, well, any of my brothers, actually. But by all means, take your best shot. I’ll put in a good word for you.”
She put her hand on his arm. “Thanks, Brodie, I really appreciate it. I know I’m an outsider here, and I understand Maude wasn’t the easiest person in the world. I do truly appreciate how nice you’ve all been to me since my arrival. You’ve always gone out of your way to make me feel at home at Hagg’s, and that’s been really wonderful. I don’t take your hospitality for granted.”
“Och, we’re a pretty friendly bunch here. No need to get territorial, especially with a lass as fetching as yourself.”
Daisy blushed quite becomingly. “You Scots are quite the flatterers,” she said on a laugh. “I still think you should give some thought to my ideas.” She grinned. “I think we could make a great team.”
Brodie grinned back, then glanced beyond Daisy’s shoulder ... to where Kat stood, clutching a Plough’s bag to her chest.
fter spending the past twenty minutes castigating herself over her ridiculously foolish display with Brodie—what on earth had she been thinking?—it took less than twenty seconds for her to switch gears right back again.
She hadn’t but stepped around the corner for a few sandwiches, and he was already consorting with the enemy. Again! Make a good team, would they? No one made a better team than Kat and Brodie, and she had half a mind to tell Daisy exactly that. Then she looked at Brodie and the words lodged in her throat. Did he have any idea what kind of partnership Kat really wanted with him? What would he think if he knew?
Every single one of her insecurities came rushing in, swamping her, tying up her tongue ... and her stomach. Maybe she was a fool. Not for stating her intentions to him earlier, but for having them in the first place.
Daisy had noticed the direction of Brodie’s gaze at that point and turned to face Kat. Her smile was instant and seemingly sincere. Of course, she had no idea of the turmoil she was wreaking just with her very presence.
“Hi, Kat. I was just on my way to find you.”
She raised one highly skeptical eyebrow. “Really.” She couldn’t imagine why.
“Your father—” Brodie started, but before he could complete the sentence, Doc Frampton stepped around Hinky’s Cooper and came over to where the three of them were standing.
Her heart squeezed and her stomach clutched more tightly, but for entirely different reasons now. “What happened? Is he all right?”
“Ornery cuss, so he’s fine,” the doctor told her, scowling himself, as if at war between his Hippocratic oath and his personal ones where Alastair was concerned. Which, knowing full well the history between the two, he likely was.
Kat felt her lips twitch. She knew Ben took the feud quite seriously, but after all this time, she couldn’t help but think what both of them needed was to down a few ales together and let bygones be bygones. “What happened?”
“Cut on his hand. Needed a few stitches. He should come get them out in a week.”
Everyone standing there knew Alastair wouldn’t be darkening Ben Frampton’s door unless it was life or death, and even then, only if it wasn’t his own. So she juggled the sack of sandwiches into one arm and stuck out her hand. “Thanks, Doc. I’ll make sure he takes care of himself.”
“Ale’s on the house,” Brodie told him as Frampton gave Kat’s hand a polite shake. “Thanks for coming right over.”
Frampton nodded and was gone a moment later.
“I should go see to him,” Kat said, motioning to the back of the garage. “He’ll be like a lion with a thorn for a few days, I imagine. You know what a baby he is when it comes to things like this.” She was bordering on babbling, and she knew it. Brodie likely thought she’d lost a marble or two after her speech in front of the shop earlier. And who knew what Daisy thought of her? She shouldn’t care. But a part of her wondered, nonetheless. The insecure part that was standing there in grease-stained coveralls, hair in ratty braids, nails torn and ragged, not so much as a swipe of makeup on her face. While Daisy stood there looking every bit as cute and perky as her namesake. Effortlessly so. She wondered what it would be like to have the kind of natural beauty that so easily turned heads, and the quiet confidence that came along with it.
Kat had plenty of confidence about a lot of things regarding herself, namely when it came to her abilities and skills. But when it came to things like appearance and attractiveness to the opposite sex, that same sense of self deserted her completely. Sure, she cleaned up okay, all things considered. She wasn’t a total grease monkey. Before going to Hagg’s for an evening of billiards, darts, and Brodie, she’d scrub herself clean, rebraid her hair, put on a clean pair of dungarees and a fresh shirt. But that was as girly as she got. No need to pretend otherwise, after all. She knew everyone far too well, and they her. What would be the point?
Aye, there might have been a moment now and again when she’d indulged in a makeover fantasy—hallucination was more like it—but when it came down to it, she had zero inclination to so much as paint her nails, much less her face. She was a take-it-or-leave-it type when it came to any sort of cosmetic enhancement. For the most part, she chose to leave it. Her feeling had always been that if she had to slap on layers of goop in order to get a man’s attention, it wasn’t worth getting. Men didn’t have to go to all that trouble. They shaved, brushed their teeth, and combed their hair. She was willing to do that much.
Standing there now, in the face of Brodie’s easy good looks and Daisy’s perky perfection, however, she began to have second thoughts about her stance on all things cosmetic. Brodie liked girly-girls. Well, to be fair, Brodie liked all kinds of women. His head could be turned by an infectious laugh as easily as a pretty face. It was one of the things she liked best about him, that he judged people for who they were and not what they looked like. And yet ... when he looked at her, she doubted he saw anything resembling a desirable woman. He just saw good ol’ Kat. One-of-the-boys Kat. Best-buddy Kat.
“I, uh, I’d better get inside and make sure Papa isn’t doing anything he shouldn’t be,” she stammered, suddenly feeling out of her element and hating it. This was her town, her people, her place of business. It was ridiculous to feel like an outsider in any manner. “Thank you for taking care of him, I appreciate it,” she told them both, and meant it, but wanted nothing more than to get as far away from them as possible. Not waiting for a response, she clutched the sack of sandwiches more tightly in her fist and went inside the shop, leaving Brodie and Daisy standing there looking confused by her abrupt departure.
“Go ahead and make a good team,” she muttered. “See if I care. God, you’re such an idiot, Kat. To even think you could get him to—”
She jumped when Brodie put his hand on her arm. The sack bobbled dangerously, clanking the soda bottles together that were tucked inside. Brodie moved easily to take the bag from her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you heard me.”
“What?” she said, knowing she sounded testy beyond reason and that he’d have no way of understanding why. But there wasn’t much she could seem to do about it. Hell, after her little performance earlier, God only knew what he was thinking. At the moment, she just wanted to crawl into the nearest hole and hope he eventually forgot all about today. Maybe Daisy could take his mind off of it. The thought made her scowl deepen.
He lifted his hand from her arm, palm out in a placating manner. “Nothing. I—I just wasn’t sure—” He broke off and cocked his head, his typical teasing smile nowhere to be seen. A sincere look of concern colored his expression instead. “Are you okay? You seem all jittery or something today and ... well, and I don’t know. Just not you. Alastair seemed a little off with me today, too. Is everything okay?”
“He thinks he’s invincible and hates it when life proves him otherwise. I wouldn’t take it personally.” It took what was left of her control, but she held his gaze directly and did her best to sound like her normal self, praying he wouldn’t push this further. “I’ll come around later, after we close up, and let you beat me at a round of darts. Okay?”
His expression didn’t change, and she found herself holding her breath. Why-oh-why couldn’t things be easier? Staring into those beautiful hazel eyes of his, eyes she knew almost better than her own, knowing they reflected a soul that was just as beautiful ... she wished she could have fallen for almost anyone else. Anyone other than her best and closest friend.
“Okay,” he said, his voice a shade on the gruff side. “But there will be no letting me win. You’ll have to beat me fair and square.” His lips quirked just a little, and that twinkle of mischief lit up his eyes. It was no wonder women couldn’t resist him. Lord knew she couldn’t.
Her heart was pounding, her palms were sweaty. It was ridiculous, letting him have this effect on her after all these years. And yet there was nothing she could seem to do about it. “I’m sure I’m up to the challenge,” she responded, a smile of her own threatening. It was hard to be around Brodie and not smile. Of course, he took her statement as typical Kat Henderson bravado, not the flirting banter she wanted it to be.
His smile grew to a grin that made the dimple in his chin deepen and the corners of his eyes crinkle. He needed a haircut, too, she noted absently, his unruly mop threatening to cascade down into his eyes. She wanted badly to reach up and push the tangle of dark curls off his forehead. Wanted to trace her fingertips across his lips. Her nipples went hard and the muscles between her thighs tightened in almost painful awareness. And she wondered just how shocked he would be if she told him what was going through her mind in that moment. How badly she wanted to trace that dimple in his chin with the tip of her tongue.
He pushed the bag of sandwiches back into her arms. “Better fortify yourself, then,” he told her. “You’re going to need all the help you can get. I’m feeling lucky today.”
If you only knew how lucky you could get
, she thought woefully. “Big talk,” she retorted, edging away from him, wishing like hell he’d either leave and let her get herself back under some semblance of control ... or rip the bag out of her hands and toss it aside before yanking her into his arms, pushing her up against the nearest wall and taking her right then and there. Now
would be lucky. “Save it for later,” she finished hurriedly, before turning tail and basically running away.
She’d made a big enough fool of herself for one day. She had no idea if she’d be in any frame of mind to go to Hagg’s later or not. At the moment, she just wanted to check on her father ... and get far enough away from Brodie so she could get her head back on straight. Not to mention various other clamoring body parts. She had to get a serious grip. And she had to do it soon.
Five hours later the only thing she’d gotten a grip on was the undercarriage of Hinky’s Mini. “Bollocks,” she swore as a huge glob of axle grease plopped on her forehead and oozed back toward her hair. At this rate she was never going to make it to Hagg’s tonight. She’d talked herself into and out of going at least a dozen times. It was already an hour past the time they usually closed up shop, but with her father out of commission for the most part—hard to be a mechanic with only one hand—she’d taken on his project, as they’d promised it to Hinky before the end of the week. Or her father had, anyway. It was a wonder the damn thing ran at all, but to Hinky it was like a recalcitrant child who needed a bit of coddling or bullying from time to time. The one time she’d suggested that he might consider getting a new car, he’d looked at her as if she’d suggested he murder his youngest child.
“Maybe I’ll do it for him,” she muttered, thinking there was no amount of bullying that was going to save this rusted hulk this time. But she was also every bit as stubborn as any blasted automobile, and she’d be damned if this one was going to do in two Hendersons in one day. So, with a deep huff, she blew her hair off her forehead—the parts that weren’t mired in axle grease, anyway—and redoubled her efforts. If she could just get this last part dismantled without the whole thing cracking up, she could start actually replacing parts and putting it all back together in the morning.
What felt like minutes later, she heard the tower clock across the square chime eight times. How in the hell had it gotten so late? At this rate she’d never get upstairs and cleaned up in any decent fashion. She snorted at her foolish anxiety. Like it mattered what she showed up looking like. It was just another evening at Hagg’s. Not a person there hadn’t seen her looking just like this or worse. Which was half the problem. She wondered if Brodie even noticed her appearance anymore.
It was early spring, generally the height of tourist season in Scotland, but Glenbuie wasn’t exactly a hot spot of activity. Yes, they were known to some degree for the Chisholm family whisky distillery, which had been actively producing the locally famous Glenbuie whisky for over two hundred years. But being located on the westernmost end of the Tayside region, they weren’t exactly in the whisky tour loop that annually brought tourists to the highlands in droves. And with no castle ruins of any repute nearby, Glenbuie had been more or less left to prosper on its own merits. Some time periods in history had proven better than others, and at the moment, they were just hanging in there, doing their best.
The distillery was still the main source of income for most of the townsfolk, either directly as employees of the family-owned company, or the indirect beneficiary of having a large employer located just outside of the village. More and more, the younger generation had migrated north to Inverness or south to Edinburgh, or even farther, to London and points beyond. Kat, on the other hand, was perfectly content with her lot in Glenbuie. There had been Hendersons here almost as long as Chisholms, who had held the clan seat for close to four hundred years.