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Authors: Donna Kauffman

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BOOK: Bad Boys In Kilts
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Her shoulders slumped a little more, but she finally looked up at him. Any other time, seeing such a hangdog expression on her usually sunny face would have bothered him, but at the moment, it just made his smile grow a little. After all, she’d only been here three weeks—how bad could the situation really be?
“I have no idea what’s going on with you and Kat, but trust me, she’s the most self-sufficient person I know. Given how bad you seem to feel about whatever it is, I’m sure your heart was in the right place. She’ll know that.” Of course, he had no idea what the hell he was talking about, but he hated to see Daisy torture herself. “Besides, Kat rarely lets anything defeat her for very long.”
“I just hope I didn’t make things worse.”
“What things?”
She suddenly pushed her stool back. “You know, you’re entirely too easy to talk to.”
Brodie chuckled. “Well, I am a bartender. But you’re not exactly spilling your heart out here, luv. In fact, it’s rather like pulling teeth.”
“If you were anyone other than you, I probably would be.”
He frowned, confused. It was a feeling he was getting entirely too familiar with.
“I could use an outside opinion, and you’d probably be the best person for a lot of reasons, which also makes you the worst person.”
He shook his head, laughed. “Females.”
Daisy laughed a little, too. “I know I’m making total hash out of this. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“I can’t say one way or the other since I still haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. But I’ve never been short on offering up an opinion on things I know nothing about, so if you can’t find one that suits you, feel free to come back by and ask me. I’ll do my best.”
She smiled, nodded, gathered her purse, then paused, looked at him. “You are a really good guy, Brodie. If Kat knows what’s good for her—” She shook her head and shot him a fast grin. “I really need to shut up now and just leave. The meddler in me must be stopped.”
He leaned on the bar, propped his chin on his hands. “You do realize you’ve gotten me quite curious. One of the reasons I like runnin’ Hagg’s is because I’m nosier than an auld woman. Which makes me a good listener, too, by the way.”
“I already know you are. Too good.”
“So ... ?” He let the offer dangle, and when she continued to linger and didn’t immediately take her leave, he nudged a bit more. “Tell me what all this is about between you and Kat. Just because I’m a good friend of hers doesn’t mean I can’t keep my thoughts to myself. I won’t mention this talk to her if you’d rather I didn’t. But I canno’ help if I dinnae know what’s wrong.”
Daisy sighed. Clearly torn.
“Why the dress and the new hairdo?” he asked, figuring they might as well get right to it and stop beating around the subject. “What was the point of it all? Were ye’ tryin’ to make her over or something? Because, you know, Kat isn’t much for frills and the like. Everyone here knows her and loves her for what she is. She doesn’t need all that. I mean,” he turned his palms out, not wanting to offend, “she looked wonderful, as I said, but it’s not her.”
“But you thought she looked good?”
“Sure. Pretty lass in a pretty dress—what’s not to like?”
“So you think she’s pretty?”
That made Brodie pause. “Of course I do—why wouldn’t I?”
Daisy lifted a shoulder. “Well, she plays with auto parts every day and spends a good amount of time every evening scraping grease out from under her nails.”
“She’s an ace mechanic,” he said proudly, “almost as good as Alastair. Has nothing to do with whether or not she’s pretty.”
Daisy sighed. “Men.”
Brodie laughed. “Why do I feel that we’re both talking at cross purposes here?”
“Probably because we are.” She tapped her fingers on the bar, a look of internal debate clear on her face. “I wish I knew you both better—I’d be better able to figure out how best to handle this.”
“How best to handle what?”
“You really find her attractive?”
Brodie sighed. “Aye, aye. Why is this an issue?” “You’ve known her forever. Best friends and all that. Have you two ever dated?”
Brodie’s mouth fell open. “No, of course not.”
“Why do you say it like that? You just admitted she was pretty. And though I’ve only been here a short time, I already know that you’re not shy when it comes to the ladies. Is it because you think of her like a sister or something?”
Brodie’s mouth was still hanging open. Was Daisy getting at ... what it sounded like she was getting at? Because that was simply too preposterous to contemplate. “No, I don’t think of her like a sister. I think of her like a best friend. I wouldn’t mess with that. She’s closer to me than almost anyone.”
“But you don’t think of her like a sister,” Daisy repeated.
“No. At least, not in the way you mean. I think.” Now he was really confused. And starting to be very sorry he’d pushed his nose into this business. Especially as it was becoming increasingly clear it had something to do with him. “Maybe we should both reconsider our meddling ways,” he muttered.
Only Daisy apparently heard him and smiled. “You’re probably right.” She leaned across the bar. “So I’ll just leave you with this, and you can do with it whatever you want.”
“Do whatever I want with what?”
“The fact that she finds you attractive, too. And she definitely doesn’t think of you as a brother.”
Chapter 5
H
onestly, she really did need her head examined. One minute she’d been giving Daisy MacDonnell the evil eye, and not ten minutes after her rival had extended the olive branch of friendship, Kat was pouring out her frustrations and desire for Brodie, carrying on about how she wanted him to look at her the way he looked at Daisy. Or any other woman.
To her credit, Daisy had laughed and taken the news a whole lot better than Kat might have if the opposite had happened. It helped that the only part of Brodie she wanted to get her hands on, or any other man in Glenbuie, for that matter, was his publicity business. She’d come to town ostensibly to take over Maude’s shop, but in fact, she was hoping to bring her skills and talent as a marketer to the local shopkeepers.
After listening to Kat bemoan her lack of feminine wiles—she still couldn’t believe she’d done that and had decided to blame it on the aftereffects of a very long day, far too much of which had been spent brooding over Brodie—Daisy had confessed that back in the States, she’d been known as something of a matchmaker amongst her friends. And though she didn’t claim to know Kat or Brodie all that well, it had appeared clear to her that there was definite chemistry between the two, and that maybe all Kat had to do was get him to open his eyes and notice her in a different way. She said that most men didn’t appreciate subtlety and suggested that perhaps it was time to take a more direct, more blatant path to getting his attention. It was all about marketing, really, according to Daisy.
Hence one of the more embarrassing moments of Kat’s life. My God, she’d never be able to show her face in Hagg’s, or anywhere else in town, for months after her little stunt last night. What the bloody hell had she been thinking? A dress, makeup, her hair hanging all over the place? Could she have looked any more ridiculous? They were probably still laughing it up at her expense.
Sure, sure, there had been that wee moment when Brodie’s look of shock had worn off and he’d actually given her a once-over that at any other time in her life she’d have swooned over. But she’d immediately realized that if the only reason he was noticing her like that was because she’d had to tart herself up, then she didn’t want him. Marketing be damned. But it was the truth. She knew right then that the only way she’d have him was if he wanted her for who she was.
And the only thing he wanted from the Kat Henderson he knew was a hot game of take-no-prisoners darts and a shoulder to occasionally lean on when times were tough. A friend. That’s what he wanted. A friend.
She wanted him as a friend, too. She also wanted him naked, sweating, and hot for her.
“Jesus and Mary, I need a drink.” A shame it was barely half past eight in the morning. She’d been hiding out down here since dawn, when she’d given up any hope of sleep. Mercifully, her father had gone off to Sudley shortly after daybreak to pick up supplies and wouldn’t be back till dusk. So she’d escaped his far too keen eye ... and any chance he’d hear about her entrance into Hagg’s last eve.
She’d already finished up Hinky’s car, and now she was in the office, going over the books and paying the bills. Likely as not, he’d hear about it the moment he got back, but she at least had the remainder of the day to find her balance. She supposed she should be thankful Glenbuie was too small to support its own newspaper. She could only imagine the headlines:
MECHANIC TRIES TO WIN THE HEART OF PUB OWNER BY FLAUNTING HER BITS AND PIECES ALL OVER TOWN.
Not that the village needed headlines. Word would have spread by now. Laughingstock was what she was. Though honestly, she could handle the rest of the townsfolk giving her a hard time. The only part of the whole thing that really bothered her was that Brodie was likely laughing right along with them. Not that she could blame him. After all, if someone else had pulled that kind of silly stunt, she’d be right next to him, leading the chorus. Served her right to be the butt of every joke. Stupid, stupid idea.
The things a woman did for love. And the possibility of hot sex.
Kat glanced through the sole window in the tiny office. The round patch of leaded glass was permanently hazy, but clear enough for her to make out the shop across the square. Daisy was up. Her curtains were pushed open. Kat had waited tensely to see if her newfound friend would make an appearance, or stop by the shop to discuss the previous evening’s events. But, as yet, there had been no sign of her today.
Kat had thought about going over there herself, just to make sure Daisy knew there were no hard feelings. She’d certainly known better than to try to be something she wasn’t. She’d just gotten caught up in the moment, and Daisy’s enthusiasm. It had felt kind of good, actually. For a few moments, anyway. Her gaze drifted down the square to the corner, and Hagg’s Pub. She wondered what Brodie was doing this morning. Probably sleeping in, as usual. Such was the lot of a pub owner. Her gaze drifted to the narrow, gabled windows above the bar ... and her thoughts drifted to images of what Brodie looked like, sprawled across that huge, heavenly featherdown bed of his.
Not that she’d been in it with him, of course. But she’d been with him when he’d bought it at an auction four years back. He was a big man, sixteen stone and just shy of a full two meters, and he’d bitched so often about his feet hanging off the bed he’d inherited from Hagg, that Kat had finally dragged him off to an auction in Inverness one weekend and made him open his tight fists long enough to see what a good investment a nice, big bed would be. She didn’t hold his frugal ways against him; in fact, she was quite proud of how hard he worked to contribute to the Chisholm clan coffers. It took a lot to maintain the family property, and Brodie was never one to demand much in the way of creature comforts.
But she would sure like to have him demand a few things of her in that big down bed of his. She imagined they could find all kinds of comfort, creature and otherwise, romping about in that oversized—
A light rap on the door made her jump guiltily and turn her attention away from the window and back to the books. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to find her doing anything resembling lusting after Brodie Chisholm today. Or any other one from this day forward.
So it figured, naturally, that the door cracked open and the devil himself poked his head in. “Mornin’.”
It was the lingering image of him sprawled naked across white linen sheets that had her flushing clear to her roots, but there was nothing to be done about it, so she brazened it out. “You’re up early.”
“Looks that way. Got a minute?”
God help her, he wanted to talk about her big entrance last night. What else would bring him here so early? “I’m, uh, doing the books, although I’d rather be doing just about anything else, so by all means, distract me.” Dear merciful heaven, that wasn’t at all what she’d meant to say. She really needed to shut up now. Distract her indeed. Could she be any more Freudian? Of course, she could quite happily give him a long list of things she’d like him to try. All of them featuring that bed of his as a backdrop. With her naked, writhing body as the centerpiece. The mere thought of which was guaranteed to keep her cheeks flushed for hours.
Brodie stepped inside the small office, filling the room and making it almost impossible for her to even pretend to concentrate on the columns of numbers in front of her. How had she let it come to this? She’d known the man forever—she should be able to keep herself in check. Except her mind would flash on that moment in the pub last night when he’d given her that inherently masculine once-over, making every inch of her body simultaneously tighten up and go strangely weak. She’d felt every inch the imposter and had panicked ... but none of that erased that instant where, just for a split second, anyway, he’d looked at her with the kind of male appreciation she’d never thought to see him direct at her.
She was going mad starkers, really she was. She wanted his attention, then panicked when she got it. And yet, even now the thought of having to jump through all those ridiculous hoops of girlishness just to secure that attention made her cringe. Wasn’t there a way for her to get him to notice her when she was just being her?
“Earth to Kat. You okay?” Brodie leaned down a little and tilted his head to the side so he could make eye contact as she studiously continued to pretend she had a clue what was written in the columns in front of her.
“Tops,” she said. “Just some of these numbers aren’t adding up.” Well, something wasn’t adding up, anyway, though it had little to do with their accounts. “I keep telling Papa he needs to list the parts as they come in rather than just when he uses them, but you know how hardheaded he is.” Which was total bollocks, but she had to make some kind of conversation. If for no other reason than to stave off the moment when he’d ask what the bloody hell had gotten into her yesterday. Which, surely, he was going to do.
“Want me to take a look?” He started to get up and reach across the desk.
Kat slapped her arms down on the book, keeping the perfectly added columns from his view, and pasted on a smile as she finally looked up. “I’ll figure it out. I guess I’m just not in the right frame of mind to do simple math this morning.”
Brodie’s lips quirked. “What are you in the mood for?”
Kat’s throat closed over. He couldn’t possibly have meant that to sound that suggestive. Could he? No. It was just her imagination, still in overdrive from the whole Brodie’s-bed-with-her-naked scenario she’d just been contemplating. What if she just assumed he had meant it that way and responded in kind? Would he pick up on it?
Or worse, would he laugh it off as some kind of joke?
Merciful Mary, but she could use a glass or two. And it wasn’t even nine in the mornin’ yet. Why couldn’t she be cool about this? Daisy would be cool. She’d smile and laugh, verbally spar and parry with him, making it all look effortless and adorable, because for her it would be. Kat had never felt so clumsy and awkward in her entire life.
“Can you take a short break?”
“Huh?”
Brodie just smiled and shook his head. Shoving his chair back, he stood and extended his hand. “Come on. I want to show you something.”
She looked at the hand reaching for hers and wished with all her might she’d never started thinking of Brodie Chisholm as anything other than a friend. Because so help her God, all she could do was look at his broad, strong hand, with those long, dexterous fingers of his—a hand she’d held hundreds of times with nary an improper thought—and yearn for him to put it just about anywhere on her body.
Flustered and knowing he must be wondering by now if she’d gone completely ’round the bend, she glanced down, pretending she didn’t see his hand, and slapped the book shut. “Uh, sure. No problem.” She noticed the black grime coating her hands from finishing up Hinky’s car earlier and curled her fingers inward. “Just let me—” She’d been about to say freshen up, but that sounded ridiculous. She was also wearing grime-covered overalls, and she doubted Brodie intended for her to rush upstairs and change clothes, though she had a sudden, intense desire to do so.
Not the sundress—she wasn’t that far gone, but at least something less ... grungy. It occurred to her that her wardrobe didn’t extend much beyond that. The dress had been Daisy’s. “I need to scrub a layer off,” she mumbled. “I’ll be right back.” She scooted out from behind the desk and did her best to skirt past him without brushing any part of her body on any part of his.
With his freshly shaved face and just-washed mop of hair still damp and curling about his head, wearing loose jeans and a faded green Hagg’s Pub t-shirt, he looked handsome and clean and so damn good. It made her feel even grungier.
“Don’t worry about that, it’s not—” But Brodie’s protest fell on deaf ears, as she’d already hurried through the open bay to the small washroom on the opposite side of the shop floor.
Kat closed herself in, then braced her hands on the tiny porcelain sink. “Get a grip, lass. Yer losin’ yourself here.” She lifted her head and stared at herself in the mirror. Her hair was parted and plaited as usual. There was a smudge of grease across her nose, along with a giant blotch on her jaw. Great. She scrubbed at each one with the back of her hand, which only made them worse. Sighing, she turned on the spigot and grabbed a hand towel from the pile stacked on the small shelf above the loo.
As she was scrubbing her hands and face, she found herself toying with the idea of unplaiting her braids. It wasn’t the same as putting on makeup or a dress, neither of which was comfortable for her. But hair was hair, right? She wore it in twin braids because it was functional, allowing her to lie flat on her back beneath a car without there being a lump under her head and neck, as would be the case with a ponytail or single braid. She’d really never thought much about it beyond that. Until yesterday.
Daisy had gone on and on about how lovely she thought Kat’s hair was, what a pretty shade of blond, how thick and naturally wavy it was when she’d insisted Kat wear it down, wondering out loud why Kat still wore it in braids after work hours.
Kat supposed that was because it was still functional. She liked to play billiards, throw a dart or two, and having her hair out of her face made it easier to play, all of which she’d told Daisy. Who had promptly asked her why she didn’t just cut it off then, wear it short. Too much bother, Kat had immediately replied. Her hair grew like a weed and she hated going to get it cut. It was long enough, hanging past her shoulders, that she could trim the ends of the braids when they showed signs of fraying and splitting, and it was an easy enough matter to trim her own bangs.
BOOK: Bad Boys In Kilts
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