But she’d thought about it later that night, after her disastrous—to her way of thinking—debut at Hagg’s, as she was brushing it out before bed. Maybe she was a wee bit vain, after all. Because she’d been forced to privately admit that, if she were honest, she liked having longer hair for reasons that weren’t entirely practical, too. Granted, she didn’t use it to her feminine advantage, but it made her feel somewhat more womanly, just knowing it was there. She was toying with the elastic bands holding the ends in place, and had just started to pull one off with the intent to unbraid it and fluff it out, just to see what kind of reaction she got from Brodie, when a tapping came at the door, making her squeal in surprise.
“What are you doing in there?”
“Hold your horses, for God’s sake,” she barked, feeling immediately foolish for her silly daydreaming.
She heard Brodie chuckle. “We’re not meeting royalty, Your Nibs, so come on.”
She decided she should be thankful for the interruption, as it had likely kept her from making a fool of herself twice in a twenty-four-hour period. “He’s your best friend,” she whispered at her boring, regular old reflection. “And that’s a good thing. Be happy with that and get a grip.”
“Nothing, nothing,” she grumbled, and opened the door, which always stuck, so she shoved at it, not thinking. It came suddenly unstuck, as it did sometimes, and slammed right into Brodie.
“Hey!” He grabbed at the edge of the door, stopping it short from smacking him on the nose, sending it bouncing back on Kat, who lost her balance. Brodie grabbed her elbow and pulled her forward again, letting the door go so he could grip her other elbow and steady her on her feet.
Kat’s pulse kicked into overtime. The very last thing she needed was Brodie’s hands on any part of her body, even something as innocuous and innocent as her elbows. Which didn’t feel so innocuous at the moment, or innocent. What they felt like was far too close to her breasts. Her suddenly tight and achy breasts. She felt his fingers dig into her flesh a little as she continued to stare at him ... and realized that neither of them was making any move whatsoever to disentangle themselves. His gaze remained steady on hers, those eyes she knew so well, that mouth she’d seen in every possible expression from a scowl to a hearty laugh ... a mouth she wanted so very badly to taste for herself.
Then, as if in a dream, he was releasing her elbow and lifting his hand toward her face. Unable to stop herself, her breath caught in her throat, and she felt herself leaning in, eager for his touch.
“Here,” he said. Was it her imagination, or was his voice a bit deeper, a shade hoarse? “You missed a spot.” He rubbed his thumb over her nose as her lips were parting in anticipation of him cupping her cheek, pulling her face closer so he could—
And then his words sank in and she felt her cheeks go hot with embarrassment. She jerked away from him and rubbed furiously at her face, wishing she could scrub off mortification as easily as a grease spot. “Thanks,” she said tersely. “Come on, I don’t have all day.” She went to push past him, but he stopped her by sticking his arm out in front of her.
“Hold on just a minute.”
“I don’t care if I have grease in every nook and cranny, okay? As you said, it’s no’ like we’re off to see royalty.”
“Just calm down and turn back around here for a minute.”
She did as he asked with a defiant lift of her chin, even knowing her face was likely still red. “By all means, Inspector. We wouldn’t want you embarrassed to be seen with me.” She was speaking nonsense and she knew it, but her pride was wounded—her own foolish doing, of course—and, at the moment, who better to take it out on than the subject of all her foolish fantasies? If he only knew what torture this was for her.
“Just calm down for a minute, okay? What is wrong with you, anyway? “
She huffed impatiently, more disgusted with herself than anything, but stood still. “What did you want me to see? With Papa gone, I shouldn’t be gone long.” Though there were clearly no other cars waiting to be serviced. She stood her ground nonetheless.
“I wondered where he was. I was going to ask after his injury.” He winked. “Let me guess. He’s over at Miss Eleanor’s café having breakfast with a side of flirtation.”
Despite herself, Kat snorted a little laugh. They’d talked about her father’s recent fancy before, both of them enjoying the rather sweet, blossoming romance. “He turns six shades of red when I mention his attraction and wants nothing to do with anything I have to say about it, but he’s the first one to jump in with his opinions on how I should handle my lo—” She immediately stopped the instant she realized what she’d been about to say. And who she’d been about to say it to. That was the problem with lusting after your best friend. He was too damn easy to talk to and she was too damn used to telling him everything. Except, of course, that one thing. But he knew damn well she didn’t have a love life at the moment, so that would have been a might awkward... “He’s in Sudley, actually, picking up a shipment.” Better to stick with safe topics.
Brodie’s smile didn’t shift so much as a millimeter, but it seemed, to her anyway, that his gaze lingered on hers a moment longer than absolutely necessary. But instead of quizzing her on the obvious, he just took her arm and said, “I want to show you something. It will only take a few minutes.”
She closed the bay doors and followed him out of the shop, grateful he’d let the subject drop, determining then and there to keep her mouth shut and speak only in response to whatever it was he had to show her. It quickly became clear they were heading over to Hagg’s. “What do you need to show me at the pub?”
“Shh. Just be patient. I wanted your opinion before I got it, but I was at auction with Dylan, picking out a few things for Glenshire, and he was being his usual impatient, pain in the arse self, so I had to make a split-second decision.” He glanced at her and his eyes were all twinkly, like they got when he was really excited about something.
They entered the cooler, darker environs of the pub, which wouldn’t open to the public for an hour or two, at lunchtime. He pulled her through the tables in the front of the pub, around to the back and the door leading to the stairs up to the rooms above. His rooms.
Kat swallowed a groan. Of all the days ... She did not need to see that big, huge bed dominating the open loft bedroom that comprised the entire second floor of Hagg’s. A conversion Brodie had made shortly after taking over the place. He’d torn out the walls separating the second floor into three smaller rooms and created one huge room for himself. One part was set off as a living room of sorts, with an ancient, overstuffed brocade couch and huge ottoman, around which were stacked piles of books and magazines on every subject imaginable. There was a small counter with a toaster oven, a coffeepot, and a sink, with a shelf nailed over it holding the few dishes and utensils he needed. He had a full kitchen right downstairs in the pub, so saw no need to recreate one upstairs.
The only private area upstairs was the loo, which she happened to know he’d converted into an almost sybaritic paradise, complete with a six-foot-long, deep-sided, claw foot tub that he’d found during a rummage sale of the contents of a manor house, put on by a remaining family member too deeply indebted to keep the place an ongoing concern. Something the Chisholms knew more than a little about, as they all struggled to keep Glenshire afloat, which had been in the family for more than four centuries.
“So, how is Dylan coming along with the conversion of Glenshire to a bed and breakfast? Do you think you’ll be able to open for business soon?” she asked, trying desperately to look at anything other than the huge bed she’d so recently imagined him sprawled across. Naked, of course. The more she tried to block the image, the more detailed it perversely became.
“Slowly. He’s still grappling with everything that happened, you know. But it’s all coming around.”
Dylan, the oldest of the four Chisholm brothers, was the only one who had left the clan and the village, building a life in the city, in Edinburgh with his city-bred wife. Her sudden death had deeply affected the whole family, but none so much as Dylan himself, who finally returned to Glenbuie a changed man. While one of those changes had been his recommitment to the family concerns, no one was really certain if it was such a positive change in the long run given the other, less favorable changes grief had wrought in him.
As much as she wanted to keep Brodie talking about anything that would keep her mind off throwing herself on that bed and just flat-out showing him what had “gotten into her,” talking about Dylan was not the best way to go. He turned his back to her as he went to get a box off the small café table tucked alongside the wall next to the counter and sink.
With his gaze away from hers, she took full advantage of the opportunity to look at him with all the unabashed desire that had been building up for what felt like eons now. Maybe if she just mentally played the fantasy all the way through, she could get this constant ache for him to finally dissipate. At least a little. She’d just gotten done imagining pulling his t-shirt over his head and unbuttoning his jeans, backwalking him to his feather-down bed before bracing her palms on the broad expanse of his chest and pushing—hard—when he turned back to face her, a small, carved box in his hands.
“Come here,” he said, eyes dancing with delight. “Look at this.”
For a short second, she was still in the fantasy ... and his eyes were dancing because of her. Of what he wanted to do with her, to her, in that soft, wonderfully decadent pile of featherdown and white linen. And, her body achy and tight, she moved across the room toward him, her gaze locked on his.
Wondering what he’d do if she told him exactly what she was thinking that very instant ... Or better yet, what if she just showed him ...
had no business paying anything close to what I spent,” Brodie told her, “but I couldn’t help it. The provenance on them was fascinating ... and I knew you’d be the one to understand why I had to have them. Actually, truth be told, you’re the reason I had to have them.”
Kat stopped right in front of him, but her attention wasn’t on the carved box, it was on him. She was looking at him like ... well, if he wasn’t mistaken, and when it came to women and this particular thing, he rarely was ... it looked like she wanted to eat him alive. In the way every man with a pulse wanted to be devoured.
Since the moment last night when Daisy had uttered her not-so-veiled hint about the reason behind Kat’s unusual behavior of late, he’d thought of little else. She hadn’t been all that subtle, but Daisy was new and didn’t know anybody in town all that well. He had to believe she’d been seeing things that weren’t really there. Except he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted her to be wrong. And then his little voice had played devil’s advocate, saying that maybe it took an outsider, with no preconceived ideas, to see so clearly what he’d missed all along.
That Kat Henderson wanted him. All of him.
Looking into her eyes now, he felt his body stir. Much as it had last night, lying right there in the bed behind her, as he’d thought back over everything that had happened yesterday, everything she’d said ... and realized that when interpreted through Daisy’s assumption, it all made far too much sense. In a Kat Henderson way, anyway. But because he did know Kat better than anyone, he realized exactly what she’d been getting at. She’d thought he wanted Daisy ... and for whatever reason, that had sparked her to put her thoughts and feelings for him on the line.
His hands tightened on the carved box. He’d told himself he was up at dawn this morning for the first time in ... well, ever, and off to see Kat because he was anxious to show her his new treasure, one he’d planned to show her last night before commencing to play their little challenge round. But he knew damn well he could have done that when she dropped by Hagg’s later, after work.
No, he’d been up early and across the square because he’d wanted to see her—needed to see her—to figure out once and for all if Daisy’s assumptions were merely those of a hopeful romantic ... or if there might be some truth to her amazing claims. The fact that his heart had been pounding since he’d tapped on Kat’s office door, his palms sweating like mad, and the fit of his jeans becoming a might bit uncomfortable behind his fly, were clear indications to the conclusions he’d drawn during the wee hours of the night.
Except seeing her had only seemed to complicate things further. She was irritable and jumpy around him now, and he honestly wasn’t sure what that meant. Or what he wanted to do. Well, that last bit wasna entirely true. He had a quite detailed list of what he wanted to do, each of them more shocking than the next. His gaze strayed from her, to the bed behind her, back to her ... and he cautioned himself to slow way the hell down, think with his head and not the part of him that was growing shockingly hard. Imagining Kat Henderson. Naked. In bed. His bed.
Was he crazy?
He jerked his gaze from hers, suddenly unsure about this whole thing. But now that Daisy had planted the damn seed in his brain, he couldn’t seem to shake it loose. Did Kat want him? Really want him? Because he’d come to the very real, stunning discovery that he wanted her, too.
She tapped insistently on the box, drawing him from his reverie. “So, are you going to show me or what?”
Irritable again. Now what had he done? And why the hell couldn’t either one of them just come out and ask the other about this? After all, they’d known each other forever. Talked about everything under the sun. Worst case is, she’d just laugh it off. Right? Crazy Daisy and her barmy ideas. No harm done. They’d just go right on being friends.
So why wasn’t he asking her?
Maybe for the same reason she hadn’t come right out and asked him. Because friends didn’t constantly picture their friends naked. Or because friends didn’t want to do the things to each other that Brodie couldn’t seem to stop thinking about doing to Kat. And her laughing off the suggestion wouldn’t stop the images flooding his brain. Or the burgeoning need filling him to the point of bursting. So maybe the harm had already been done. Thanks, Daisy.
He flipped the box open, banishing the thoughts, images, all of it, from his brain. They both just needed to get a grip. Find some common ground where they both felt comfortable. And that wasn’t going to be anywhere in the vicinity of his bed.
But he knew exactly where they could go. He lifted the box so she could examine its contents, never so thankful he’d had a weak moment and made this purchase.
Kat gasped. “Oh my God, they’re lovely.” She reached a tentative hand to very gently stroke the antique throwing darts. “How old are they? Hand-carved shafts, real feathers for flights. But the feathers look—”
“New. They are. I had them cleaned up and refitted with new points and feathers, but the shafts are the original carved wood. The points and feathers had probably been replaced numerous times over the years anyway, and both were half rotted away. It’s amazing the wood hadn’t suffered much, but it had been sealed with some kind of resin.”
“You had them refitted?” Kat looked at him like he was daft. “But that lowers their value, doesn’t it?”
Brodie just smiled. “I didn’t get them to look at, I got them to use.”
Kat’s mouth dropped open. “You want to throw them? But they’re at least—”
“Four and a half centuries old or thereabout. The shafts, anyway. They were reputedly made by a courtier to King Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn having given him a set, he supposedly had them commissioned for her.” Brodie winked at her. “Unfortunately for Anne, she lost her head before the gift was finished, and they were passed down to the courtier’s daughter instead.” He shrugged. “It could all be rubbish, of course, but that’s the story I was told. I did get documentation from the family dating them back to at least the late 1600s, but no actual proof of the royal connection. Still, they struck my fancy and I thought they would yours, too.” He handed her the box. “They were carved for a woman’s hand.”
She gasped again. “Brodie! I couldn’t.”
He just laughed when she pulled her hands away and pushed the box forward. “Go on. You’re the only one who appreciates the game more than I do. When I saw them, I thought immediately of you. Look at how slender the shaft was carved. I did pick them up, and despite the longer size, the balance is amazing for something made so long ago, without the technology we have today.” He pushed the box toward her. “I thought we could keep them here, on display somehow. But I wanted you to be the one to throw them.”
She took the box, her hands trembling a little. “I—I don’t know what to say.” She carefully eased one of the trio out of the velvet lining and balanced it in her hand. “Wow. You’re right. Amazing.” She slowly stroked her finger along one of the feathered shafts.
Brodie was shocked to feel his body harden further, as if she’d just slowly stroked him. Damn, but this was supposed to get his mind off of those kinds of thoughts where Kat was concerned. He glanced up at her face, but her attention was riveted on the dart.
“They are works of art, Brodie.” She looked up, caught him looking at her. Her lips quirked, but her cheeks pinked a little. “What are you smiling at?”
“You,” he said, thinking he’d always loved looking at her. Why hadn’t he ever thought of her any other way before? “You’re dying to give them a toss. Come on, admit it.” He groaned inwardly, thinking if she only knew what he was dying to toss. Her. Right onto that bed. “Why don’t we go downstairs right now and try them out?”
She looked at the darts, then back at him. “I still can’t believe you did this.”
He feigned a look of insult. “You implying I don’t ever do anything for you?”
“No, it’s just ... you’re careful with money. We both are. And this ... this couldn’t have come cheap. You said yourself you had no business buying them. I really shouldn’t let you—”
“But you will let me.” He took her arm and dragged her to the door, before he threw her on the bed and did things he could end up regretting the instant he was done. Though he was having an increasingly difficult time buying that particular argument. “And I’ll have ye know, I can be as impulsive as the next bloke.” If she only knew the impulses he was tamping down at that very moment.
They reached the first floor and Brodie flicked on the lights in the back of the pub where the billiard table and dartboards were. The rest of the pub was left in the early-morning dusk, the only light that which slid in through the cracks of the shutters on the windows.
She moved in front of him. “Okay, but it’s not even a birthday or special occasion or—”
He tugged her back around, so she faced him, keeping his hand on her arm. “Just seeing the look on your face when I opened that box made it all worthwhile. You’re important to me, Kat. I like making you happy.”
And as he said the words, he realized just how true they were. He did think about her all the time. She was a huge part of his day-to-day life. He talked to her about everything, looked forward to seeing her smiling face come in the door at the end of the day, got a major kick out of watching her banter with the locals and shark the occasional ballsy tourist out of his money. In fact, he couldn’t imagine life, as he knew it, without her. His goals, what was important to him, were much the same as hers. They both valued family, heritage, the villagers, more than anything else.
He had no idea why he’d never thought of her as a partner in every way before. Now he couldn’t seem to shake the idea that what he’d been looking for, waiting for, had been under his nose all along. And it had taken a blimey American lass to point it out to him.
The question now was what in the hell to do about it.
Just pull her close and kiss her? What?
Daisy swore that Kat felt the same way ... but standing right here, right now, he felt he was suddenly standing right back at the edge of that very tall cliff ... where one right step might send him soaring to the heavens ... but one wrong one would send him plummeting to his doom.
Too much at stake.
Then he looked at the darts. And an idea formed in his mind.
“We haven’t played for stakes in a long time,” he said, oh-so-conversationally.
“What?” Kat had put the wooden box on the edge of the billiard table and was lifting out one of the darts. “I can’t believe I’m handling such history,” she breathed, then glanced at him, such excitement in her eyes. “Are you saying you want to play for money?”
Brodie grinned as he leaned against the table and folded his arms. “Something like that.”
Kat arched a brow. “Something like what?”
“Go ahead and toss these a few times, get used to them, while I figure out what the stakes should be.” He already knew exactly what the stakes would be. He was about to play the biggest game of his life.
Kat stared at him for another long moment, then gave a half-shrug and turned toward the dartboard. “Okay, suit yourself. But be prepared to lose whatever it is you’re going to bet.”
“Now who’s sounding ungrateful?” he teased. “Buy a lass some antique darts and she gets all cocky on you.”
She was lining up her shot, getting accustomed to the design and balance of the longer dart body, but paused long enough to toss him a look over her shoulder. “You should know by now that I can’t intentionally lose at anything. So if you were trying to bribe me with these, just so you could say you finally beat me at darts—”
“Ho, now. I’ve beaten you at darts plenty of times.”
She smiled sweetly. “Name the last time.”
“Well, it was—” He had to pause and think about it. “You know, I honestly can’t remember.”
“Exactly. You got tired of losing to me, so you conveniently only join in when I’m shooting pool.”
“You can’t tell me I don’t beat you at pool.”
“Oh, you do, all the time. But at least I still give you the chance.”
“Are ye sayin’ I’m a poor sport about things?”
She let her shrug speak for her.
“Och. Bloody females.”
“Quit yer bellyachin’. I’m here to give ye fair chance to win back yer manly pride.”
Brodie motioned her to turn back to the board. “Go ahead, warm up. You’ll need it.” One thing they also had in common—they were both competitive. Neither liked to lose. Which, at the moment, he fervently prayed would work in both their favors.
“What are ye telling me, Brodie? Have you already practiced with these?”
“I can’t say how many hands have held those darts, but other than to admire them, mine hasn’t been one of them. I plan to throw my own.”
“Ah, now I see your angle. Think to outplay me with me usin’ unfamiliar weapons.” She smiled and turned back to the board. “We’ll see about that, we will.”
It felt good, knowing they could ride each other, tease and even taunt each other, and that beneath all of it was a foundation of trust and certainty that was rock solid. As was his body at the moment.