The motor repair shop was the only one in over a fifty-kilometer radius, so they managed okay. And okay was good enough for her. She was happy here, living amongst the same people she’d known her whole life. She’d never harbored dreams of being a big success somewhere else. She was quite content with her modest lifestyle and the security that came with knowing she belonged. She was well rooted to the land, the people, and the town itself, its past and its future. There was enormous comfort in knowing she was but one of a long line of Hendersons who had helped shape the course of Glenbuie’s history. And would continue to shape its future. Unless, of course, the line died out with her.
Her contentment ebbed, and her stomach knotted a little. Visions of Brodie, smiling and laughing as he served and sang with the townsfolk they’d both grown up with, swam through her mind. He was much like her in his beliefs, his feelings about life in Glenbuie, and his attachment to all that came with it. Why couldn’t he see how perfect it would be for the two of them to continue on together?
Of course, there was that wee problem of him not knowing she wanted him like that. But honestly ... “How bleedin’ hard is it for him to see what’s right in front of his charming devil of a face?”
“Kat? Is that you under there?”
For the second time that day, she startled badly. This time it caused her to yank hard on the wrench in her hand, which had the fortunate result of finally loosening the damn oil pan. Which led to the unfortunate result of gelatinous glops of crud plopping down on her face. “Jesus and Mary,” she swore, spluttering.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Daisy bent down as Kat shoved herself out from under the car, blindly reaching for the rag, any rag, within groping distance. Daisy grabbed one from next to the tool tray. “Here,” she said, pressing it into Kat’s hand. “I’m really sorry.”
Kat sat up as she scraped the greasy goop from her face and fringes of her hair.
“You have some there,” Daisy said, helpfully pointing to Kat’s ear.
Kat purposely didn’t look at her for fear she’d say something she’d later regret. Why was it that the one person who, without even trying, made her feel like some kind of cretinous grease monkey, had to see her looking, well, like a cretinous grease monkey. She supposed it could be worse. She could have showed up with Brodie in tow. Not that he hadn’t seen her looking her worst many times over, but at least on those occasions she had been spared the immediate comparison to Miss Sunshine Bright here.
“Right,” Kat finally managed. “Is there something I can do for you?” As far as she knew, Daisy had come to town by train and taxi and didn’t even own a car. So it was doubtful she was here on business.
“I, uh, I was wondering ... how is your father?”
Kat cocked her head. Daisy MacDonnell, nervous? Not that she knew the woman all that well, or at all, really, but in their brief acquaintance, Kat couldn’t recall her ever being anything but completely together, both in appearance and manner. “He’s grumpy and in general being a real baby about the whole thing. Nothing that I hadn’t expected. I sent him down to Hagg’s a few hours ago. I imagine he has a pint or two in him now and feeling quite fine. Which suits me, as I can get more work done that way.”
Daisy looked momentarily nonplussed by Kat’s lengthy response. Apparently she hadn’t been expecting such a frank answer to what had likely been a polite query and nothing more. Tough. Kat didn’t put a lot of stock in small talk or polite queries. Ask her something and she’d tell you what she thought.
When Daisy didn’t reply or, even better, wave her off and disappear, she said, “Anything else I can do for you?” Perhaps she was a bit more terse than absolutely necessary, but she had work to do, dammit. Any chance of making it to Hagg’s tonight was looking more remote by the minute. Although if Daisy was headed that way, Kat’s enthusiasm for an evening out dwindled rapidly. She had no actual plan in place for getting Brodie to notice her once she was there, mind you, but she wasn’t a complete idiot. Even she knew better than to play her hand while someone else held all the aces. She’d wait until the odds were at least partially in her favor. With grease currently dripping off her nose, it was a pretty safe bet that now was not that time.
“Actually, the real reason I came over here—not that I’m not interested in your father’s health, I am,” Daisy added quickly. “But as you know, I’m new to Glenbuie, and though I’ve met most everyone it seems, and you all couldn’t be more warm or welcoming, I, uh ...”
Kat had to bite her tongue to keep from mentioning that it had been the men warmly welcoming her more than anything, but then as Kat was one of very few single women left in Glenbuie within a decade of their age group, that probably would have sounded a bit too much like sour grapes. Then she noticed Daisy was twisting her fingers together, and concern for her fellow man got the better of her. “Is something wrong? Did something happen at your shop? You seem a little ... unnerved.”
Daisy laughed a bit unevenly, and Kat couldn’t help but notice that even her nervous laugh was melodious. Figured.
“No, nothing like that. It’s just, from the short time I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that there aren’t too many of us here in town.”
Daisy blushed. “Young, single women.”
“Well, I appreciate you pointing that out to me.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. God, I’m so screwing this up. I wasn’t meaning to offend, and I know I don’t even know you, but I was just thinking—hoping, really, I guess you could say, that, well ...” She broke off and laughed again, only this time it was more solid, if a bit self-deprecating. “Jesus, I sound like a flighty dimwit. I’m not usually so off my game—it’s just that you’re a little intimidating, and it’s important to me that—”
intimidating?” Now it was Kat who laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”
Daisy blew out a sigh and let her shoulders slump a little. “I am totally blowing this. You see, I was going to come over earlier today, when I saw you leave to go out for some lunch, offer to go with you, so maybe we could spend a little girl time together, get to know each other. But then I saw you and Brodie and I didn’t want to interrupt anything. And then your dad cut his hand and, well—” She broke off, shrugged. “It was probably silly of me. I just—I mean, I love it here and I am really enjoying everyone in town, but I guess I was hoping maybe we could—”
“Be friends?” Kat was still trying to digest the possibility that Daisy was nervous because of her. It was to laugh, really.
Daisy nodded, smiled a little. “Ridiculous hope, maybe, since you’ve lived here forever and probably aren’t in the market for new pals.”
“Nonsense.” Kat might be many things, but heartless in the face of someone putting themselves out there wasn’t one of them. She clambered to a stand and stuck her hand out, noticed the grease caking her fingernails, and quickly grabbed a rag instead. “I’m sorry. I’m a total mess here.”
“It’s amazing to me.”
Kat sent her a sideways glance. “What, that I’m constantly looking like something the cat dragged in, after dipping me in an oil pan? It’s rather difficult to fix cars without touching the greasy parts. Although, it’s possible, even probable that someone like you would find a way to manage it.” She hadn’t meant to make that last part sound so negative, really she hadn’t.
Now Daisy faltered. “What do you mean ‘someone like me?’ What I meant by amazing was that you’re a mechanic, and a very good one, to hear the people in town tell it. I can’t even change my own oil. Not that I have a car any longer to worry about, but when I did ...” She shrugged. “I was hopeless at even the most basic repair. So the fact that you can dive in there and have any clue what’s what ...” She trailed off and gave a self-deprecating shrug.
Kat felt her cheeks heat at the unexpected compliment. “I was raised with a wrench in one hand and a jack in the other. It’s in my genes, I guess. I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to dismantle an engine.” She stared at Daisy, and though she really hated to admit it, she found it impossible not to like her. Just a little. Kat admired someone who went for what they wanted, especially in the face of their own insecurities. Bollocks. This just complicated things even further.
“And what I meant with my earlier remark was that no matter the weather, rain or shine, you always look as bright as your namesake. It’s a wonder to me. I’m about as inept at that as you are at changing your oil.” She smiled in response to Daisy’s grin, surprised at how natural and good it felt. “Once a grease monkey, always a grease monkey, I guess.”
Daisy impulsively stuck her hand out, then shook it a little, waiting for Kat to put hers there. “Come on. Grease and all.”
Kat gave Daisy’s perfectly manicured hand a tentative shake, but Daisy grabbed hold and pumped it properly, then smiled when she held up her grease-smeared palm. “There, now we’ve sealed it. I can too get dirty.”
Kat laughed. “That only proves half the battle. I still don’t clean up well.”
“Oh, don’t be so certain about that. I bet your hair is amazing when you take it down. I always thought blondes had more fun.” She pushed at her own auburn, shoulder-length bob. “Mine is pretty boring.”
“Shut up. It falls in a perfect, shiny waterfall.” They both grinned, delighted by the easy banter between them. “And I never take mine down. It’s a pain when it’s loose.”
“That is an absolute crime. With your skin and those eyes ...” Daisy’s eyes twinkled. “Are you close to calling it quits for the night?”
Kat looked back at the Cooper and sighed. “No, but I think I will anyway.”
“Good!” Daisy surprised her by looping her arm through Kat’s. “My turn now.”
“Your turn what?” Kat asked, only hoping she didn’t sound as alarmed as she suddenly felt.
“To prove you clean up well. When we’re done, we’ll head to Hagg’s and let the crowd be the judge. Deal?”
Kat stood there, helpless against Daisy’s relentless enthusiasm. “Uh, sure. Why not?”
And somewhere between a long, hot shower and Daisy doing her hair, then helping her pick out something other than dungarees to wear, Kat completely forgot she was consorting with the enemy.
ne more, then I’m cutting you off for the night,” Brodie warned.
Auld Fife was one of Glenbuie’s oldest residents, and everyone knew he could put away a fair number of pints before debilitating any part of what remained of his senses. But Brodie didn’t want to spend the hour after closing time seeing Fife all the way to his cottage door. Normally he didn’t mind, but tonight he had other things on his mind. Most of them involving what was going on between Kat, Alastair, and, apparently, Daisy. And just where was Kat this evening, anyway? Neither she nor Daisy had shown up. Even without their earlier dart game challenge, Kat could usually be counted on to put in at least a brief appearance after closing the shop, if for no other reason than to give him a hard time and beat a hapless tourist at billiards. But here it was, almost half past nine, and not a sign of her.
Alastair had been all but nodding off in his ale an hour or two earlier, probably because he’d ignored Frampton’s warnings and taken a pain pill before Kat had exiled him over here. Brodie had fed him a bowl of Marta’s Thursday stew, then had one of the lads get him back across the street. Where, presumably, Kat had gotten him upstairs and into bed for some much-needed rest. Probably she’d decided to stick close for the night. Like most men of his acquaintance, himself included, Alastair wasn’t the best of patients. But then, neither was Kat. Nor, he imagined, did she likely make a particularly good nurse.
He grinned as he wiped down the bar. Perhaps it was just as well he steered clear of the Henderson clan for a wee bit. Let things settle back to normal. He still hadn’t the faintest clue what bee was in Kat’s bonnet earlier today. Women. Love them he did, but pretend to understand them? Not a chance.
He finished cleaning, then drew another ale for one of the few travelers in Hagg’s that night. He liked springtime. The occasional tourist wandered in, but mostly it was the townsfolk, all emerging happily into the sunlight after a long winter. He loved the settled pace of life in Glenbuie, the steady rhythm and flow, as dependable as the change of seasons. Tending bar might not seem the most aggressive career goal, but although the Chisholm clan holdings did require a good bit of effort by all four brothers to stay afloat, all of them were in firm agreement that happiness, not a fat bank balance, was the truest sign of success. By that measure, well, other than his oldest brother, Dylan, perhaps, they’d all achieved a great deal of success. And Dylan would find his way, Brodie was certain of it. Time had a way of healing even the harshest of wounds.
Looking around the pub, he felt such a peace within himself. Who would have thought it? The rapscallion Chisholm lad, an entrepreneur before the age of thirty, and a successful one at that. His own place, filled with all the people he loved most. Hagg’s was the heartbeat of the village, located right on the square. Everyone stopped in at some point, for a pint or two, maybe some of Marta’s stew or a hearty platter of fish and chips, followed by a game of darts or billiards, a bit of dancing when someone brought a fiddle. More importantly, they came to talk, catch up on the business of the day, share the triumphs and curse the failures. And Brodie was right in the midst of it, reveling in the thrum. He couldn’t imagine a finer place to be.
Just then the big oak door pushed open, letting in a sliver of lamplight ... along with the more cheerful sight of Daisy MacDonnell.
Brodie’s grin widened. Maybe there were one or two finer places a man could be after all. He hadn’t quite yet made up his mind about the newcomer, though some of Alastair’s comments earlier today had admittedly given him pause, but in the interim, there was no denying she was certainly a fair sight to look at. And nice scenery, in his estimation, was never a bad thing. Given the number of heads that swiveled in unison as she stepped into the darker environs of the pub, he wasn’t the only one. Which came as a surprise to exactly no one.
The available men in Glenbuie and surrounding parts—although the attention being paid to their newest resident certainly wasn’t exclusive to the single lads—definitely outnumbered those who were already spoken for. Most often it was the occasional wandering traveler or busload of tourists who brought welcome respite to the gender drought the village had been suffering through over time. An actual permanent resident was both rare and welcome. For the most part. Brodie imagined there were one or two significant others out there who weren’t too happy to see their men’s heads swivel.
He smiled. He had faith, however, that home and hearth would win out every time. He felt a little pull inside his chest at the thought. Lately, he’d been wondering about that very thing. He had his brothers, and they were close enough, and Lord knew everybody in Glenbuie felt like family to him in one way or another. But there was something else tugging at him lately. He found himself watching the couples that came into Hagg’s more and more of late, how they laughed together, played together, sometimes even argued together ... and, ultimately, left together. He thought about that a lot as he climbed the stairs to his rooms above the pub each night, after closing up. Alone.
“So, what does a girl have to do to get an ale around here?”
So caught up in his reverie, he hadn’t realized Daisy was standing across the bar, an expectant smile on her pretty face. He’d also been so caught up that he hadn’t noticed the hush that had fallen in stages across the breadth of the pub. Those seated at the tables first, followed by those in the back, shooting pool or tossing darts.
“What?” challenged an irritable and entirely familiar voice. “Did I grow another head when I wasn’t looking? Rhys, you better snap your mouth shut before you catch a fly. And Conner, I believe you owe me a quid from that thrashing I gave your dart game last week, so the first round is on you.”
Brodie stood there, damp rag clutched loosely in one hand, a look of pure shock likely etched on his face. “Kat?”
The object of his attention, and everyone else’s, judging from the complete silence, turned and scowled at her apparent partner in crime. “See? I told you this was a ridiculous idea. Everyone knows I can’t pull this off.”
“I’d like to see you pull it off,” Fife shouted, his words slurred more from the toothless grin that accompanied the offer than the amount of ale in his belly. He raised his empty mug in her direction, finally breaking the extended silence as a riff of laughter skated through the crowd.
Daisy leaned closer to her compatriot and whispered none-too-quietly, “Well, it would help if you weren’t quite so surly about the whole thing.”
“Surly?” She turned to Brodie. “Am I surly? Never mind,” she added quickly, seeing his grin reappear. “And not a word from you about this.” She motioned to the brightly colored sundress she was wearing. And quite fabulously, if he did say so himself.
He nodded easily in response, knowing once he got over the absolute shock of seeing Kat Henderson in anything other than dungarees or coveralls, he would have a lot to say about it. All good, he was thinking.
“Besides,” she went on, “you’d be surly, too, if you had to dress up like this.”
“Oh, I imagine I’d be more than surly,” Brodie agreed, folding his arms. “I’m not big on dresses. I have the devil of a time finding ones that fit across my chest. I’ll stick with the occasional kilt.” He shot Daisy a wink. “My legs I don’t mind showing off.” He leaned over the bar and glanced down. “I’m just wondering why you’ve waited so long to show off yours,” he told Kat, much to the agreement of the rest of the pub patrons, if the sudden lusty cheer was anything to judge by. Instead of being flattered, however, Kat turned six shades of red and clutched Daisy’s arm.
“That’s it, I’m out of here. I appreciate the idea and the effort, really I do. But the last thing I need is a drink. My judgment is obviously already impaired beyond recognition.”
“Would you hush?” Daisy leaned closer then and whispered something in Kat’s ear. Brodie could barely make out what she was saying, but it was something along the lines of,
It’s working, you idiot. Isn’t this what you wanted?
Was what, what Kat wanted? And since when were Kat and Daisy bosom pals? Last he saw, Kat was staring daggers at the Yank. But before he had time to puzzle any of that out, Kat replied, “I don’t know what I want, but I do know I can’t go about it like this.” She gestured to the flowery shift she had on, then flipped at her hair. “Or this.”
That was when Brodie realized that, for once, Kat was wearing her hair down. He’d been so caught up with the dress ... and those legs ... Of course he’d seen it down over the years, but usually that was only when she was in the process of braiding it back up again. It was all shiny and wavy, tumbling over her shoulders and partway down her back.
“I like it,” he said to nobody in particular. Both women looked at him, and he shrugged a bit sheepishly. “The hair, I mean. And the dress.” When Kat’s eyes narrowed, he quickly added, “Of course, I liked your hair before, too.” Women. Damn, but he never knew what was going on in their minds. Here she went to all this trouble, but she was mad now that anyone was noticing? Like they wouldn’t have? Somebody explain that to him.
“See?” she told Daisy, as if his comment explained everything. “Honestly, Daisy, I really can’t do this. He’s all yours.”
“But I don’t want—”
Daisy’s protest was cut off when Kat made a beeline to the door, amidst a few catcalls, an appreciative whistle, and another toast from Fife. Brodie tracked every step of her departure, and was still staring, somewhat dumbfounded, for a full ten seconds after the door closed behind her.
“Well,” Daisy said at length as the pub activity finally returned to its normal level of chaos. “So much for winning new friends and influencing people.” She slid onto a stool and propped her elbows on the polished oak bar, sinking her chin into her hand. “I should have left well enough alone, but no.”
“Ah, she’ll be fine. She’s been acting a wee bit off lately for who knows what reason, but she’ll snap out of it. Don’t take it personally.” Brodie drew her an ale and slid it across the bar to her.
“Thanks. But I still feel stupid.”
“Maybe if you explain what that little experiment was all about I can sort it out for you. I know Kat pretty well. Better than most, actually.”
Daisy sipped her beer and seemed to think long and hard about his offer. Although what there was to think about, he had no idea.
“She looked good,” he offered. “If that helps.”
Daisy just took another long sip of ale. “I shouldn’t have meddled,” she said at length. “I mean, I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’m still getting my bearings. It’s just, it seems like there aren’t many single women my age and I thought maybe Kat and I might hit it off. I know we’re a bit different—” She stopped when he snorted. “See? I knew I shouldn’t have meddled.”
“I didn’t mean that in a bad way, but you two
different.” Earlier today, when Kat had seemed downright bristly, had someone asked him he’d have said those two would have made an improbable pair. But then it was back to that not understanding the whims of women thing. In his experience, stranger things had happened. And he sort of thought it was nice that Kat looked to be taking Daisy under her wing.
Though, come to think of it, maybe Daisy had been doing the under-the-wing taking. He grinned at that. No wonder Kat had been so prickly just now. She was hardly the type to let others dictate to her.
Daisy sighed, took another quaff. “You’re right, but we’re still women of a similar age, and so I thought it might be nice to get to know her better. Maybe our different backgrounds and life experiences would lend themselves to an interesting friendship. Or something like that. And it did, sort of. Briefly. We got to talking and I sort of talked a bit about my past, then she sort of unloaded a little, and the next thing I know I’m trying to help fix her up with—” She suddenly clamped her mouth shut, then studiously avoided his curious stare while finishing off her ale at an alarming rate.
She slapped the mug down on the bar and began fishing through her purse. “I should be going. I have a lot to do if I’m going to be contacting your brother with my proposal.”
“I haven’t said anything to him yet, but we haven’t talked since I saw you this morning.”
“No, that’s okay, that’s okay.” Suddenly she was in a big hurry to leave. Or, as she continued to avoid looking at him, get away from him.
Brodie laid his hand on her arm, stilling her frantic search for her wallet. “The ale is on the house.”
“That’s okay, I can—”
She stilled. “Okay. Thanks.” But she still wasn’t looking at him.
“What’s going on?” he asked quietly. Earnestly. “I really want to know.”
She said nothing, then finally blew out a long breath. “I so should have just gone straight upstairs tonight.” She dipped her chin further. “I promised myself when I came here that I would take things slowly, not get involved until I got a good feel for the town, the people, and here it is, only three weeks in, and I’m already embroiled in something that’s none of my business.”
Brodie heard the sincere redress in her tone, but found himself smiling a bit anyway. He nudged her arm with his hand. “Hey.”