Highlander for the Holidays (12 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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“Was there an accident?” he asked, glancing at Robbie and Alec as they swam toward the steps, Toby paddling after them in hot pursuit.
Could dogs smile? Because she’d swear she’d never before seen a look of such joy on Toby’s face. “Actually,” Jessie said, drawing Morgan’s frown to
, although it did soften slightly, “I felt so good after drinking your wonderful toddy that I got out of the lounge chair
all by myself
to go shoo those greedy jays away from the feeder. But I guess I wasn’t as steady as I thought and I fell in the pool, and Toby jumped in to save me,” she said, ignoring Morgan’s eyes narrowing. “But it seems Toby had forgotten how to swim, and I
swim because I sink like a lead balloon. Merissa was so distraught, Duncan had to carry her out of the solarium while Alec and Robbie and your son saved me and Toby from drowning.” She gave the now-incredulous man her best confounding smile. “I will say this for you, though: Scotch is definitely good for what ails me.”
And there it was: the barest hint of a grin.
Ian slid a hand under her knees and stood up, then stepped out of the pool before she even finished gasping. “Call your pet, Jessie,” he said, his voice sounding gruff as he headed for the lobby. “Alec, gather Jessie’s things and bring them to her room.”
Oh God, she couldn’t tell if he was appalled that she’d just lied to his father or trying to hold in his laughter. “What are you doing?” she hissed. “You can’t go traipsing through the hotel half-naked. And we’re both dripping water all over the place.”
He suddenly switched directions, only instead of heading for her wheelchair, the infuriating man strode right up to the three elder MacKeages. “Grey, Callum,” he said with a nod. “I’d like you to meet Jessie Pringle, formerly of Atlanta but now of Pine Creek. She bought Megan and Jack’s house this morning.”
“Miss Pringle,” Grey said, his sharp green eyes shining with amusement as he gave a polite nod. “Ye do realize that we measure snow in feet up here, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve been told that. You have a very lovely resort, Mr. MacKeage, and whoever designed your brochure certainly knew what he or she was doing.”
“That would be my youngest daughter, Winter,” Grey said, his smile turning proud. “She’s the artist in the family.”
“Ye might want to stop by her gallery in town when you begin to decorate your new home,” Callum said, his older but equally sharp green eyes crinkling with his smile. He also gave her a nod. “If there’s anything we can do to make your stay with us more pleasant, please let us know. Besides Scotch toddies, that is, as we’d hate to have to keep fishing you out of the pool.”
Wow, brain and brawn and
“Yes, thank you. I will definitely stay away from toddies. Well,” she said, pushing on Ian’s shoulder to get down, “if you gentlemen will excuse me, I think it’s time I went upstairs and changed.” She looked at Ian when he still refused to cooperate. “You can set me in my wheelchair now.” She patted his shoulder, smiling apologetically. “As I’d hate to see you throw out your back because I’m so heavy.”
Alec, who had just set her purse and catalogs and Toby’s gear in the wheelchair, suddenly turned away in a fit of coughing—which seemed to be contagious, as Grey and Callum also started clearing their throats behind their hands. Morgan MacKeage, however, just looked incredulous again.
And Ian? Well, he sighed hard enough to move her hair, and headed toward the lobby with her still in his arms. “Careful,
, as I’d hate to see ye get pricked on one of your own quills.”
Chapter Seven
“ I COULD HAVE KISSED MEGAN AT LUNCH YESTERDAY when she suggested I rent the house from her and Jack until we sign the papers,” Jessie said, wrestling a large piece of firewood down through the top of the woodstove. She closed the lid and adjusted the back damper like Megan had shown her, then brushed bits of bark off her pants. “Now you can help me start decorating before you have to leave.”
“Lucky me,” Merissa said, rolling her eyes as she slipped on her jacket. “Do you remember which store we bought that orange ribbon from? I’ll stop and tie a piece of it to a tree limb on my way to Greenville, so the movers will know where to turn this afternoon. Assuming this two-car town even shows up on their GPS,” she muttered, searching through one of the bags on the counter. “I hope you know I nearly choked on my salad when Grace MacKeage told us the nearest real grocery store is almost twenty miles away. And then she said you have to drive
miles to find an actual shopping mall.” Merissa stopped hunting and looked up. “Remind me again why you want to live here? Or didn’t you hear Grace also tell me the closest Starbucks is in
“We saw a nice bakery right here in town this morning,” Jessie said through a tight smile, getting tired of Merissa’s criticism. “And driving twenty miles in the wilderness isn’t the same as it is in Atlanta because there’s hardly any traffic. My moving here is working out perfectly, including my finding a nice house on the lake.” Jessie flapped her arms like a bird as she strode over to her frowning friend. “And look how quickly my inflammation went down. I swear my back hasn’t felt this good in years. This is a healing place for me, Mer,” she said softly, touching Merissa’s arm. “Can’t you see how happy I’ve been since we got here?”
“What I see is a woman who kissed the first guy she met, and suddenly she’s thinking with her ovaries instead of her brain.”
“This isn’t about Ian.” Jessie pointed at the windows. “It’s about Pine Creek, and the lake and mountains and
the people who live here. It’s about Katy and Megan and the moms. When do you remember ever being in the company of such genuine women?” Jessie took hold of Merissa’s shoulders when she started to protest. “Don’t you dare tell me you didn’t enjoy having lunch with them yesterday. It might have taken you a while to warm up to everyone, but by dessert
looked genuinely happy, too.”
Merissa shrugged free and buried her face in the bag from Dolan’s Outfitter Store. “The only reason they invited us to join them was to recruit you to help with their camp program next week.” She lifted narrowed eyes at Jessie. “And what in hell went on between you and
Libby out in the lobby? Don’t think I didn’t see your expression when she shook your hand. You turned pale and then your face got bright red.”
“I can’t say what happened, but I swear I thought I was having one of my mother’s hot flashes,” Jessie said with a laugh. She sobered, touching Merissa’s arm again. “But when we all walked into the restaurant afterward, I realized my back wasn’t killing me anymore. And you know what? It hasn’t hurt since.”
Merissa actually stepped away. “Are you saying you think Libby MacBain
your back?”
“No, I know that’s impossible. I’m only saying the inflammation is gone.”
“Well, of course it is,” Merissa snapped. “Along with pain meds, you’ve been taking a powerful anti-inflammatory for the last three days. Where in hell’s that ribbon?” she growled, snatching the feed store bag off the counter.
Jessie snatched it away from her. “Never mind the ribbon. Toby and I will go tie it on the branch. I feel like some exercise, anyway.”
“It’s almost a mile to the main road.”
“Which I intend to walk every day to get my mail. In fact, I’ll probably walk the entire two miles to town when the weather’s permitting.” She smiled at Merissa’s glower. “That way, instead of just physical therapy, I’ll be getting emotional therapy as well.” Jessie nudged Merissa toward the door. “Now go find that grocery store they told us about, and don’t come back until you have enough food to fill all my new cupboards. You remember the PIN for my debit card?”
Merissa stopped at the door to glower at her again. “If I get arrested for using a card that’s not mine, you’d better come bail me out. Greenville might be bigger than Pine Creek, but they probably still put thieves in stocks in the town square.” Her glower suddenly turned sinister. “I hope you have plenty of money in your checking, because I intend to buy one of everything.” She turned with a snort and headed onto the porch. “What am I saying? That probably won’t even fill one cart.”
Jessie went to the door to watch her friend get in her car and back out of the driveway. Waiting until the Volvo disappeared down the camp road, she dumped the contents of the bag on the counter with a heavy sigh, afraid her decision to slip into Ian’s arms in the pool two days ago not only had hurt Merissa’s feelings, but irrevocably changed their friendship.
Could Ian have been right when he’d walked her to her room after dinner that evening—while Merissa and Duncan had gone for a walk in the moonlight—when he’d once again suggested that Mer was having a hard time letting her go? How had he put it—that nobody wants to get off a comfortable couch? And from what he and Duncan could see, Jessie was Merissa’s couch. Both men, apparently, believed Mer found it easier to focus on Jessie’s life instead of on her own, because . . . well, only Merissa knew what she was hiding from.
Jessie suspected it had everything to do with the guy in Chicago who’d broken Merissa’s heart six years ago, which had sent her running to Atlanta to lick her wounds. “What a mess,” she muttered, pushing aside the cakes of suet she’d bought for the birds and picking up the roll of orange tape. She then grabbed her new house keys and cell phone and walked to the row of pegs by the door to shove everything in her coat pocket. It was easy for Ian to say it was time to kick Merissa off her comfortable couch, but had
ever had his heart broken?
Jessie went to the woodstove and stared through the glass doors at the flames. “Still, six years is a long time to lick your wounds, Mer. Four years was about all I could take before I got tired of feeling like a victim.”
So, was she a terrible friend for abandoning Merissa or actually doing her a favor? Jessie sighed again, deciding only time would tell. “Okay, the big damper is closed,” she said, checking its position before eyeing the small knob on the opposite side. “And the little one is . . .” She pushed the small damper toward the back and stepped away, watching until the flames settled down. Wonderful, she thought as she headed to the pegs and grabbed her long wool coat. Despite Megan’s assuring her that the stove was designed to function unattended, Jessie was afraid she was going to burn down her new home before she officially owned it.
“Come on, Tobes. Let’s go explore our new neighborhood.”
Toby jumped up from his bed beside the hearth and trotted over to her. Jessie clipped on his leash and gave him a kiss on his big head. “I guess I’m not the only one benefiting from moving here, am I? Don’t think I haven’t noticed your manly swagger ever since your swim in the pool,” she said as she pulled on her gloves. “You’re not only feeling proud of yourself for conquering your demon, as Ian put it, but I can see how much you like having some male buddies.” She opened the door with a laugh. “Poor Tobes. Are you tired of dealing with nothing but estrogen for the last three years?”
Jessie gave one last glance at the woodstove to make sure it was behaving properly—not that she was certain what a properly behaving woodstove should look like—then grabbed her cane and stepped outside. She stopped on the porch and took a deep breath. “Take a whiff, Tobes. That’s what real air is supposed to smell like, with just a hint of wood smoke and the aroma of pine.”
She walked down the steps and out the brick pathway—a little sad to notice Walker’s wagon was gone—and started up the road. “What do you think, Tobias? Would you like for us to have a little boy of our own?” she asked, placing a hand over her belly. “The doctors said it’s not impossible for me to get pregnant again, just highly unlikely.” She dropped her hand with a snort. “But considering all the testosterone running loose around here, there’s a good chance I could get pregnant without even taking off my clothes.” Jessie winced and picked up her pace. Maybe Merissa was right and Ian’s kisses had started her thinking with her ovaries. Because the sad truth was, even though he’d only been gone two days, she already missed him.
She smiled, remembering his second kiss two nights ago after dinner. “Poor Ian,” she said with a laugh. “Did you see the look on his face, Tobes, when he realized he’d have to get down on his knees if he wanted to kiss me good night? And then his shirt got caught on the brake of my wheelchair and he popped a button.”
Meeting his mother yesterday certainly explained Ian’s matter-of-fact attitude toward people with . . . imperfections. Probably because other than having parents who ran a camp for disabled children, the man had grown up seeing imperfection up close and personal. When Sadie MacKeage had introduced herself to Jessie yesterday, the hand she’d extended had been badly scarred, as if from a fire. And if Jessie wasn’t mistaken, the tall, blue-eyed blonde had been wearing some sort of body sock under her jersey, as she’d caught a glimpse of it when Sadie had bent over to pat Toby.
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
8.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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