Highlander for the Holidays (26 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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Jessie had learned some very interesting things about Ian since they’d started living together. For one thing, the man wasn’t just grouchy when he was hungry; he also got testy whenever the subject of Brad’s impending visit came up—specifically how she intended to spend her time entertaining her brother-in-law—as well as any mention of Roger. Ian also got a tad grouchy whenever Jessie was handling her walking stick, and he and Toby were no longer best buddies, it seemed, since the big lug had realized Ian was poaching his territory.
But they’d fallen into an amazingly comfortable routine, quite similar, Jessie was afraid, to that of an old married couple. They would ride home together from TarStone every evening, eat something she dug out of a can or the freezer, then watch a little television, go to bed—Ian boosting her onto the mattress while smiling smugly down at Toby—and get up the next morning and do it all over again.
Tonight, however, the boy campers were having their midnight swim, so Ian would be returning to TarStone around the time she would be entertaining her brother-in-law, as Brad had called her this morning to say he was just leaving Boston. He’d had to call Ian’s cell phone—she’d given him the number, since Roger did indeed have hers. He’d actually texted her—though she had no idea how he knew to send it to Ian’s number—to tell her how thrilled he was that she’d decided to give him her fancy, newfangled phone in exchange for the pot and wagon. Oh, and had she learned to cook up a fine, juicy roast yet?
Jessie had fixed the old goat by canceling her service plan, only to have to call her provider in Atlanta a second time and cancel it again when Roger sent all her phone’s pictures to Ian’s number, saying he thought she might like to have them. As soon as camp was over, she was driving to Greenville to get herself a new phone and giving Ian’s back, since he was using one that belonged to the hotel.
Jessie hadn’t yet broken the news to Ian that Brad was arriving this afternoon, because he and Alec and Duncan were up on the mountain with the older children and some of the fathers backcountry skiing. Apparently just about everyone in the clans took vacations from their regular jobs to volunteer with the winter session of Camp Come-As-You-Are, and the camp’s summer staff who could make it also showed up. The session was so popular with the families that the entire three-story, ninety-room hotel was full to bursting, with the visiting staff staying in the secluded rental cabins scattered across the bottom of the mountain. Most of the daytime activities such as arts and crafts took place in the massive ski lodge at the base of the trails, and weather permitting—which it had been so far this week—the campers and parents rode the gondola up and back to the summit house for lunch.
Jessie straightened from soothing her somewhat traumatized dog when she saw Duncan and Alec swoosh to a stop beside the deck and start taking off their skis.
“What in hell happened to you two?” Alec asked as Jessie walked over to them, having to all but drag Toby along with her.
“Somebody knocked over a plastic quart jar of paint,” she said, wiping her cheek with her dampened paper towel, “and when it hit the floor, it more or less exploded.” She laughed, bending to wipe the paint off Toby’s snout only to find it was already starting to dry. “And as you can see, Toby was in the direct line of fire. So I’m bringing him outside to roll around in the snow, hoping to make him less . . . green.”
Alex shot her a grin. “One of the hazards of arts and crafts and the main reason we work outdoors,” he said, nodding to include Duncan—who was
not
smiling.
In fact, the scowl Duncan had aimed at Jessie was heated enough to stop her in midlaugh. “What?” she asked, glancing down at herself and then behind her. “Is there a problem?”
“Well,” Duncan said, crossing his arms on his chest, “if I had to guess, I would say
you’re
the problem.”
“Excuse me?” She looked toward the ski slope. “Um . . . where’s Ian?”
“Up the mountain,” Duncan said, “
walking
down.”
“Why?”
Alec snorted. “Because that’s the only way to get down without skis.”
“Did he fall and break one of them?” she asked, only to take a step back when Duncan started toward her.
“No, I broke the both of them,” he said quietly. “And he’s damn lucky I used a tree to do it instead of his back.” Duncan stopped his advance when Toby stepped between them, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to scowl at her. “When we helped Ian move
his
bed into
your
bedroom Monday, we figured he’d at least become tolerable again, but it seems the problem has only gotten worse.”
“W-what problem?”
“You, Jessie,” Duncan growled. “You’re the problem. Before he moved in with you, the man was merely a menace, but for the last three days Ian’s been a ticking bomb.” He smiled, and not very nicely. “So I finally detonated him today, and I must say I’ve never enjoyed myself more.”
“Jessie,” Alec said a bit more civilly as he walked up beside Duncan. “We don’t . . . It’s not that we think . . .” Two dark flags appeared on his wind-chapped cheeks and he sighed, looking at Duncan.
“Are you or are you not sleeping with Ian?” Duncan growled.
“I really don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Oh, but it is our business,” Duncan softly countered, “because a sexually frustrated man is a danger to anyone within striking distance. So when ye go home this afternoon
alone
, I suggest you spend your evening figuring out how to fix the problem.”
“I’m not the problem; he is,” Jessie whispered, feeling her own cheeks turn as red as their ski parkas. She glanced up the mountain, then back at them. “And why am I going home alone?”
“Because it takes quite a while to walk down from the North Slope without snowshoes,” Alec explained.
“But he’ll be back in time for the midnight swim, won’t he?”
“You better hope he isn’t,” Duncan said, shaking his head. “Or we’re likely to gang up and drown him.” He then sidestepped around her—or more specifically, around Toby—and headed toward the lodge. “Fix this, Jessie,” he said over his shoulder.
“You really do need to fix this, lass,” Alec softly repeated, also sidestepping, but then hesitating. He smiled, and it was a much nicer smile than Duncan’s. “I can’t tell you how glad Duncan and I were when Ian asked us to sneak off and help him move his bed on Monday. I swear, this is the first time since he enlisted that I’ve seen my brother acting so . . . well, you’re good for him, Jessie. No one else would admit this to you, but we’ve all noticed Ian’s been in a downward spiral this last year. But since you arrived and caught his eye, he’s been acting more like the man I grew up with.” He grinned. “Well, except maybe a wee more intense.”
Jessie reached out to stop him when he started up onto the deck. “Are you also in line to take over running TarStone, Alec?”
“Aye, all us boys are,” he said with a nod.
“And do you
want
to run the resort?”
His gaze traveled up the ski trails, then to the hotel, and then the lodge before returning to her. “TarStone is in our blood, Jessie, and will be until the day we die. We leave to attend college and then go fight whatever war needs fighting at the time, and some of us even try to move on, but the mountain eventually calls us home. So to answer your question, yes, I will step up when the time comes, just as Ian and Duncan and the others will.”
“But what if you didn’t want to?
Could
you do something else?”
He shook his head. “There is nothing else; TarStone’s hold on us is just too powerful.”
Toby gave a frantic whine and nudged Jessie’s leg, and she looked down to see him shivering. “Ian said Toby will grow a winter coat,” she muttered, backing toward the parking lot, “but it’s not happening very fast. Thanks, Alec, for telling me about Ian. I . . . I’ll see what I can do to fix the problem,” she finished, quickly turning away before he could see her blush.
But she suddenly stopped and turned back, having learned over the last few days exactly how this clan thing worked. “Alec,” she called just as he was about to enter the lodge. She gestured toward the mountain. “It’s too bad Ian’s going to be back so late, because I know he’s been looking forward to meeting my brother-in-law.” She glanced at her watch. “And Brad should be arriving any minute now.” Jessie shrugged and started walking backward again. “I guess I’ll just have to take him to Pete’s for drinks by myself.” She turned away to hide her smile, and waved over her shoulder. “Have fun swimming with the heathens and hellions tonight.”
Chapter Fourteen
JESSIE TOOK HER TIME BUILDING THE FIRE IN HER WOODSTOVE, stopping occasionally to smile at Toby lying on his bed and glaring at the kitchen, then looking over her shoulder to smile at Brad cooking supper. But those smiles were nothing compared to the little heart thumps she got every time she remembered the scene in TarStone’s parking lot about an hour ago.
She’d just been wrapping Toby’s car blanket around him when Brad had driven into the resort, spotted her, and stopped right in the middle of the lane to get out and hug her so tightly that he’d lifted her off her feet. But he’d set her down just as quickly when Toby had growled at him from beneath his blanket. Oh yeah; green had been quite the appropriate paint for Toby to be covered in, as apparently the big lug was tired of all the males trying to poach her away from him.
But what really tickled Jessie was that she had seen Duncan and Alec standing on the deck watching Brad hugging her, then Alec running toward the resort’s machine garage only to see a snowmobile go racing up the chairlift path toward the summit not two minutes later.
Jessie figured Ian should be making his appearance any moment now. She hadn’t told Brad about him yet, but she hadn’t run into the bathroom and hidden all the obviously male paraphernalia when they’d arrived home, either. Still, she probably should break the news to him before Ian showed up, or she was liable to find herself having to deal with three angry males.
“You know, Brad, my life has changed quite dramatically since I’ve moved here,” she began, turning to sit on the hearth to face the kitchen.
“I can see that,” he said, shooting a smile over his shoulder before turning back to chop the asparagus he’d brought all the way from Boston. “You’ve purchased a beautiful house on a lake in Maine, traded your cane for a hiking stick—that you don’t seem to need anymore—and you . . .” He stopped chopping and turned to her. “And though I didn’t think it was possible, you’ve grown even more beautiful,” he said gruffly.
Oh God; she could see this wasn’t going to be easy. Jessie nodded demurely. “Thank you. But I also . . . um, there’s something I need . . .” She stood up and rubbed her hands on her thighs. “I’ve also met a man,” she said softly, hugging herself when she saw Brad stiffen. “A really nice man. He and his family run the ski resort, and we’ve grown rather close. Ian and I are . . . we’re—”
“You’ve been here less than three weeks, Jessica,” Brad interrupted. He smiled, waving the knife in the air. “You’re just infatuated with him. He’s a novelty; some rugged-looking ski bum,” he said, gesturing dismissively again. “You only think you’re attracted to him because he’s so different from the men you’re used to.” He laughed. “You might be able to take the woman out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the woman.” He turned back to the counter and cut open the bag of fingerling purple potatoes. “This part of the country might be beautiful to look at and visit, but I give you until spring before you start missing the buzz of the city. And work,” he said over his shoulder. “What exactly are you planning to do with all your time up here, Jessie?”
“I’ve already been offered a couple of local marketing jobs.”
“For what?” he asked with a derisive laugh, turning toward her. “Are you going to design newspaper ads for the bakery? Or that outfitter store we saw in town?”
“The ski resort wants to ramp up their European advertising, and there’s a wonderful children’s camp here that the owners want to market overseas. In fact, the reason you couldn’t stay at TarStone is that the camp’s going on right now; they take over the entire resort the middle week of December every year.” She gestured toward Toby, then down at herself. “I was volunteering there today, which is how we both got covered in green paint.”
“That’s very noble of you to volunteer, Jessica, but how exciting can it be to do arts and crafts with a bunch of kids? And then it’s only for a week, you said.”
“No, you don’t understand. It’s not a regular camp; it’s especially designed for scarred and disabled children. Oh, Brad,” she said, hugging herself again. “Some of those kids are missing arms or legs and some are so badly scarred that I . . . I ran into the bathroom the first day and burst into tears.”
He rushed over and pulled her into his arms, pressing her head to his shoulder. “You shouldn’t have put yourself through that, Jessica,” he softly scolded even as he rubbed his hand soothingly along her back. “It was difficult enough for you to go to physical therapy and see people like that, but
children
? Oh, Jess, why would you do that to yourself?” He set her away to clasp her shoulders. “Aren’t you afraid being around them will trigger one of your flashbacks? That’s why I persuaded you to get a private therapist two years ago, so you wouldn’t be repeatedly traumatized.”
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
7.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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