Highlander for the Holidays (10 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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“What makes you think I’m on pain meds?”
“Oh, maybe those overbright eyes of yours,” he drawled, “or are ye just that excited to see me?” He sobered when she snorted, and touched her foot to get her to look at him when she picked up her catalogs and notepad. “I don’t understand, Jessie. Ye seemed able to walk just fine this morning when you left the lobby with Merissa.”
Two flags of color darkened her cheeks as her gaze dropped to her lap. “I was fine. But over the course of the day my lower back muscles inflamed and now they’re putting pressure on my . . . on an old injury. I’ll be back to normal in a day or two.” Her chin lifted. “It’s not like I’m an invalid or anything.”
“Yes, I believe you mentioned that this morning.” He nodded at the catalogs. “So is shopping your true medicine of choice, then?” he asked, kicking his smile up a notch when her eyes narrowed. “Because I feel I should warn you that even on a good day, delivery trucks have a hard time negotiating the Frog Point Road.”
Those expressive eyes of hers went from defensive to surprised. “You already know I bought your cousin’s house?”
He laughed and stood up. “Welcome to small-town life, lass. Anyone within fifty miles of Pine Creek who
doesn’t
know you bought Megan and Jack’s house is either gone on vacation or dead.” He picked up his swim bag and walked up beside her to blatantly read her list, where she’d written
long johns
,
turtleneck
,
fleece scarf
,
wood rack
, and
bird feeder
. “If you’re shopping for winter gear, then I suggest you also order a pair of ice creepers that fasten over your boots. Smooth down your quills, little
gràineag
,” he said with a chuckle when her chin lifted again. “You won’t be the only person in town wearing creepers this winter.”
“What’s a
gra-neeg
?”
He pointed at her lap. “And you can cross that bird feeder off your list, because I intend to get you one as a housewarming present.”
“But I don’t—”
He bent at the waist to bring his face level with hers. “Say thank you, Jessie.”
“Thank you,” she muttered, only to suddenly blow out a heavy sigh. “Look, I’m sorry for acting so grumpy today, okay?” she said, giving him a derisive smile. “But at least now I know you come by your bossiness honestly. When your father walked by and caught me trying to get out of my wheelchair and onto the lounge chair, he strode in here like a house on fire and picked me up before I could stop him.”
Ian squatted on his heels beside her. “I’m sorry, Jessie. I’ll have a talk with him.”
She set her hand on his arm. “Please don’t. I know he was only trying to help, and I’d hate to hurt his feelings. It’s just that . . . well, it’s important that I do things for myself.” She nodded toward her legs, her grip on his arm tightening. “I’ve spent the last four years working my tail off to go from being totally helpless to finally being independent again.”
“Is that why you’ve come to Pine Creek? You believe moving so far away from everyone will prove you don’t need their help? Or are ye trying to prove it to yourself?”
She started to pat his arm, only to stop in midpat and softly snort instead. “I
believe
I’ve done that already. Now it’s just a matter of making everyone else believe it. Go on, go for your swim,” she said, waving him away as she picked up her pen and notepad, “while I finish medicating myself with shopping.” She pointed at the patio when Ian straightened back to his feet. “But just so you know, I want a bird feeder just as big as that one and a large bag of whatever birdseed the resort uses.”
“Would you like me to have a little talk with all the birds as well, and tell them to head down to Frog Point?”
“Oh yes, I’d like that,” she said, her smile so sassy that it took all of his willpower not to kiss her—that is, until she pointed out the window again and scowled. “But when you do, you tell the blue jays and those big gray and black birds that they are
not
invited to the Pringle feeder. There, did you see that?” she hissed, pointing the pen like a sword. “Those big bullies keep driving off the little chickadees and finches. And then they scatter the seed while stuffing their mouths so full, it’s a wonder they can even fly.”
“What?” he said in mock horror, not even trying to hide his amusement. “Ye think because the jays are big and bold that they don’t deserve to eat?”
“They’re being gluttons.”
“Nay, Jessie. They’re being jays. And see,” he said, pointing at the patio under the feeder. “The mourning doves wouldn’t get any seed if not for them, because doves are ground feeders.”
“That doesn’t mean they have to go around using their size to bully the others,” she muttered, shooting the jays an evil eye—which had Ian wondering if Jessie hadn’t been on the receiving end of a bully herself.
“I’ll have a talk with them, then,” he said with a chuckle, leaning down to give Toby a pat on the head—just barely restraining himself from giving Jessie a pat, too, before he headed toward the men’s changing room.
“Hey, wait,” she said, making him stop and turn. “You didn’t tell me what
gra-neeg
means. You said ‘smooth down my quills.’” She pointed the pen at
him
. “You better not have just called me a porcupine.”
He started walking backward. “My bossiness isn’t the only thing I come by honestly, but I believe I’ll let my mom tell you what a
gràineag
is.”
“When will I meet her?” she asked, raising her voice to carry the length of the pool as he neared the changing room door.
“I’m surprised ye haven’t already. I expected Mom to show up here within an hour of my telling her there’s a big-time advertising exec staying at the resort.”
“You
what
?” Jessie yelped. “Why would you tell her that?”
“Mom wants to start marketing the children’s camp overseas, so I suggested she talk to you.”
“But I don’t know anything about promoting a children’s camp!”
Ian decided he’d been wise to wait until he was on the other side of the solarium to tell her. “It’s not rocket science, Jess. The only requirements needed are that you like kids and know advertising.”
“But I told you, I’m on hiatus from work.”
Oh, he was a wise man, all right, because he’d likely be a dead one if he were still within kissing distance of that upturned nose. “I give you until mid-January when the snow’s halfway up your windows before you become bored to tears.” He pushed open the door with his back and shot her a smile. “And don’t worry, you’ll learn what you need to know about the camp when ye help my cousins take the young girls skinny-dipping,” he finished as he wisely disappeared into the men’s room.
 
 
WELL, SHE MIGHT HAVE A HANDFUL OF UGLY SCARS AND
be missing a small piece of anatomy, and her legs didn’t always want to cooperate, but at least Jessie knew there wasn’t anything wrong with her libido. She took advantage of the fact that the four men in the pool were all underwater at the same time and fanned herself with her notepad.
Was there some sort of magical elixir in the drinking water around here, like a naturally occurring growth hormone or something? Because honest to God, every male she’d met so far was well over six feet tall. Heck, she had estimated Robbie MacBain to be over six foot six before he’d dropped to his haunches beside her and introduced himself as Katy’s oldest brother. The gray-eyed, soft-spoken man had then welcomed Jessie to Pine Creek, told her she was smart for buying Megan and Jack’s house, and offered to send for his mum if she was needing a doctor—to which Jessie had sweetly thanked him but politely declined.
Then, not five minutes after Robbie disappeared into the changing room, Duncan had walked into the solarium accompanied by another giant appearing to be in his late twenties, who had longish dark blond hair and eerily familiar eyes. And after only a moment’s hesitation upon noticing her wheelchair, Duncan had introduced her to Ian’s baby brother, Alec.
Oh yeah, there had to be something in the drinking water if all that gorgeous brawn and old-fashioned brain splashing around in the pool was any indication. No wonder Katy couldn’t get a date; it would take either a very brave man or a suicidal idiot to mess with any female belonging to one of these . . . clans.
From what Jessie gathered, these particular clansmen were having a meeting, as she caught snippets of their conversation between bouts of a water game only they knew the rules to. It seemed the men were going over last-minute details of a week-long hunting trip that was to begin tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of three A.M., with everyone meeting at Robbie MacBain’s house because it appeared they were riding horses into the mountains.
Good Lord, she and Merissa had been blown clear into the
nineteenth
century.
Speaking of which, it appeared her friend’s little vacation affair was going to be yet another one-night stand, as Merissa would be back in Atlanta by the time the men returned from their trip. She only hoped Duncan broke the news to her gently, because she had a feeling Merissa really liked him.
Jessie wished Mer would stop looking so hard and just
pick
one. The woman had dated no less than five perfectly nice men this past year alone, but for some reason, whenever they started getting serious, Merissa suddenly got too busy to see them again. Jessie sighed and took her cell phone off the table to check the time, and saw she should probably take another med—or else start sipping the nowcooled toddy that had been tickling her nose ever since it had been delivered. She opted for the drink, figuring it couldn’t make her any more dopey than the pain pills did.
Only she flinched and ended up taking a large gulp when a deep voice just beyond her feet said, “Ye put that right back on the table. You know better than to mix meds with alcohol.”
Jessie sat up with a sputtering cough to glare at Ian resting his arms on the side of the pool, glaring back at her. “For your information,” she said in a strangled whisper, trying to catch her breath. Holy hell, there had to be more Scotch than cocoa in that mug! “I’m trying your father’s cure
for what ails me
instead of taking another pill.”
Three more heads rose out of the water, and three sets of muscular arms rested on the side of the pool, so that now there were four men glaring at her. That is, until Alec suddenly chuckled and pointed. “You’ve got a chocolate mustache.”
Jessie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, then very deliberately took another drink—and immediately started gasping for breath again. Okay, maybe she should find some other way to make her point, since all she’d proven was that she could make the four of them smile.
“Ye need to
sip
fine Scotch,” Duncan said, giving a pained expression as he looked at Ian. “Did I hear her say your father sent over that toddy?” He looked back at Jessie. “Have a care, then, if Morgan had anything to do with it, as there’s probably enough Scotch in there to make a horse drunk.”
Jessie decided it was time to call in reinforcements, seeing how she was woefully outnumbered. And she was including Toby on their side, as he’d gotten up and padded over to the men to solicit a few scratches behind his ear and a couple of pats.
“Hmmm?” Jessie murmured when Ian said something as she typed, HELP! I’M DROWNING IN TESTOSTERONE! and sent the text message speeding off to Merissa. She looked past her feet to find him scowling at her. “What did you say?”
“Can Toby come for a swim?”
“In the
pool
?” She glanced around the solarium then leaned forward. “Are you trying to get me kicked out of the resort?”
“We won’t tell if you don’t,” Duncan interjected, lifting out of the water enough to reach Toby’s harness buckle. “And being between seasons, this place is all but empty.”
“Wait. I . . . I’m not even certain he knows how to swim.”
“Then don’t you think you should find out?” Ian asked, taking off Toby’s collar, “considering ye just bought a house on the lake?”
Toby moved out of the men’s reach the moment he was free of his harness and collar and turned his big brown eyes on Jessie. “Go on,” she said, giving him the signal he was free. “Go play with your new buddies.”
Ian pushed off and started swimming toward the shallow end of the pool. “Then come on, big man,” he called out. “Come get in the water this way.”
Jessie nervously took a sip of her drink, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake. She wasn’t afraid the dog would actually drown, since there were four obviously capable men to rescue him, but she didn’t want Toby to be traumatized if he sank to the bottom.
Then again, Ian was right; she really should find out if the big lug could swim.
“How about you, Jessie?” Alec asked, starting to lift out of the water. “You want to come for a swim, too?”
Jessie squeaked in surprise and pressed into the lounge chair, uncertain if he was joking or not. But she was saved from finding out when Duncan pulled Alec back in the pool and effectively stifled his shout of surprise by shoving him underwater.
“Where’s Merissa?” he asked—even while still holding Alec down.
God help her, Jessie had no idea how her friend had survived last night, as Duncan’s naked chest and bulging muscles were making
her
light-headed. “She’s . . . um . . . napping. Let him up before he drowns, Duncan.”
Alec came up swinging but had no target, as Duncan was already swimming toward Ian and Robbie at the other end of the pool, where both men were trying to coax Toby down the shallow stairs. Jessie sucked in a worried breath as she watched her pet paw at the water, his whole body quivering with nervous energy.
Good Lord, Toby really couldn’t swim?
“Oh. My. God.”
Jessie turned to see Merissa standing with her hands covering her mouth and her eyes widened in awe. “Kinda makes you understand Katy’s problem of finding a date with these guys for chaperones, doesn’t it? Come sit down, Mer, before all the testosterone in here knocks you over.”
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
11.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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