Highlander for the Holidays (6 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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Merissa pulled the blanket up over her face and made a snoring sound. “Go take Toby out to pee before anyone wakes up so they won’t see him wearing that prissy sweater,” she muttered. “I need my beauty sleep, because I’m afraid I agreed to see Duncan again tonight.”
Jessie stood staring down at her friend, remembering how Merissa had dragged her kicking and screaming—and more often than not, crying uncontrollably—out of her hospital bed, refusing to let her hide in that dark place in her mind. It had taken Jessie several months to realize their relationship had gone from nurse-patient to friends, and every day she thanked God for sending her such an angel.
Well, an angel who appreciated men far more than they appreciated her.
“Come on, Toby,” Jessie said, taking her room card out of her purse and slipping it in her robe pocket. She patted her leg when the dog just blinked at her from the bed. “Come on, Tobes. Don’t you want to see your very first snow?”
“Not if he has to wear that prissy sweater, he doesn’t,” Merissa said from under the blanket. “It’s bad enough some sadistic lout turned him into an
it
; you don’t have to finish emasculating the poor thing by dressing him in pink.”
“Go to sleep, Mer. I don’t think Duncan’s going to appreciate having you nod off in your beer this evening.”
“I’m not drinking around that man anymore,” Merissa grumbled from under the covers. “Because I’m afraid I also agreed to go for a moonlight horseback ride with him when I come back to visit you next spring.” She shot up with a gasp. “Ohmigod, can two people actually
do it
on a horse?”
“Probably not and live to tell about it,” Jessie said with a laugh, opening the door and stepping into the hallway. “Come on, Tobes, or I’m gonna go play in the snow without you,” she threatened.
“Tobias Pringle,” Merissa snapped in her nurse’s voice, pointing her finger at him. “Don’t make me come over there and drag you out of bed. Jessie, will you hide that damn sweater? He remembers it from when you made him try it on in the store.”
Jessie slipped the sweater inside her bathrobe and patted her leg again. “Come on, Toby,” she said excitedly, showing him her empty hands. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Merissa flopped back when Toby finally jumped down and trotted into the hall. “Don’t forget your cane.”
“I don’t need it. I’m just going to stand by the door and send him into the woods,” Jessie said softly in deference to the other hotel guests as she closed the door.
She took the elevator down to the floor below the lobby, assuming it was the service area, and then peeked in both directions when the doors opened. She stepped out, waving Toby to follow, and headed toward the door at the end of the hallway.
“I know it felt funny when you tried it on,” she said, pulling the doggy sweater out of her bathrobe. “But if you’ll just give yourself a chance to get used to wearing it, I promise you’re going to thank me this winter. And nobody’s going to laugh at—” Jessie stopped when she realized she was talking to herself, and turned to see Toby sitting halfway down the dimly lit hall. She pointed at the floor at her feet. “Stop acting like a petulant child and get over here, you big lug. It’s
snowing
out, and you haven’t grown a winter coat of your own yet.”
Hanging his head until his nose was nearly touching the floor, Toby slowly walked to her. Jessie immediately straddled his body and slipped the sweater over his head. “You don’t listen to Merissa; this is not pink, it’s
salmon
,” she explained, pushing first one paw and then the other through the leg holes. “And salmon is this year’s fashion statement for handsome, debonair men.” She kissed the top of his head and opened the door, then stepped out into the dusting of snow and glanced around to make sure the coast was clear. “Okay, this looks like the employee parking lot, and there’s the woods,” she said, pointing to the back of the lot. “Just do your business and come right back,” she said, holding the door with her hip as she hugged herself against the cold.
She finally had to give him a shove to get him going, as Toby wasn’t all that sure he wanted to actually
step
in the snow. He did start eating it, though. “Hey, cut that out,” she scolded, nudging his head. “Dr. Pace said it would give you diarrhea. Now go on, go pee.”
Acting as if he were walking on eggshells, Toby slowly made his way into the parking lot. Jessie gathered her robe at her neck with a laugh, wishing she’d brought her camera. “Damn, I forgot my cell phone,” she muttered, pushing the door open wider to keep Toby in sight. She looked at the outside knob to make sure it had a card lock and noticed the sign over the lock that said only employee cards would work.
Maybe she’d ask the front desk for an employee card so she wouldn’t have to traipse through the lobby just to let Toby out first thing in the morning. She’d only been able to book a room for two weeks when she’d called for reservations, because the entire resort was closed for a special event the middle week of December. When Jessie had told them she wanted to stay longer, the person she’d spoken with had explained there were several nice inns in town.
That is, unless the impossible happened and she bought a house by then. Maybe it was just good luck that Ian and Duncan had a cousin who was a real estate broker. Katy, they’d said her name was. Well, if for some reason Katy didn’t show up this morning, she’d ask at the front desk how to reach the woman.
“Toby?” she called, noticing he’d wandered out of sight. “Where are you?”
That’s when Jessie heard what sounded like heavy machinery rumbling down the mountain toward the back of the hotel. They couldn’t be grooming trails yet, could they? There were only two, maybe three inches of snow. She stretched out arm’s length from the door and saw headlights flickering through the trees. “Toby!” she shouted, realizing the woods were maybe fifty feet wide and that there must be a ski trail on the other side of them. “Toby! Get back here! Now!”
Jessie stepped back into the hall to look for something to prop open the door, but apparently the resort managers were neat freaks. She started undoing her belt to wedge it in the door when she heard Toby give a loud, excited bark. “Toby, no!” she shouted, turning toward the woods, only to spin back to see the door click shut. “Dammit,” she growled, heading into the parking lot at a run when Toby barked again. But she hadn’t taken three steps when her smooth-soled slippers went skidding in opposite directions and she fell, landing with a thud that sent up a cloud of fluffy snow.
Realizing Toby was headed toward the ski trail when she heard him give a series of excited barks, Jessie scrambled to her feet and started running, this time being more careful of her footing. She slipped again just as she reached the woods, and grabbed a tree. “Toby, come here!” she commanded, not knowing if he could hear her over the revving engine that was so close now, she could feel the ground shaking. So she started praying instead as she made her way toward the trail. “Please see him. Please see him,” she petitioned the driver, suddenly glad she’d bought Toby a brightly colored sweater. She slumped against a tree in relief when she saw the large, brightly lit, bulldozer-tracked machine suddenly halt and heard the engine slow to an idle.
A door opened and a man got out. “Toby?” the guy said, his hand outstretched as he walked toward the middle of the trail. The guy looked around. “What are you doing out here all by yourself, big man?”
He knew her dog’s name?
“Ian!” Jessie cried, pushing off the tree to go to him, only to fall flat on her face in the snow—which on this side of the woods was a hell of a lot deeper than two inches!
Chapter Four
“JESSIE!” IAN SHOUTED, RUNNING OVER AND DROPPING
to his knees beside her. “Aw, lass, what are ye doing out here?” he asked, carefully rolling her over and lifting her onto his thighs. “Hell, you’re not even
dressed
.”
Toby rushed up and immediately started lapping her face, and Ian pushed the dog away. When Jessie attempted to stand up, he tightened his hold on her even as he tried to imagine what she was doing out here in only her bathrobe and slippers. “What in hell are you doing out here?” he repeated.
“I’m walking my dog,” she snapped, scrunching the lapels of her robe to her neck and then elbowing him in the ribs as she tucked her arms against her sides. She took a calming breath. “I didn’t know there was a trail back here, and I certainly never expected machinery to be running at this hour.”
That said, she tried standing again, but Ian merely slid his hand under her knees and stood up with her in his arms.
“Wait. No! What are you doing?” she cried, wiggling and squirming so frantically that he slipped and nearly fell when she threw him off balance.
And then he nearly stumbled again when he finally realized
why
she kept trying to reposition her unconfined breasts: She was afraid he’d feel her mismatched boobs. He started walking toward the hotel, giving her a threatening squeeze when her head clipped his chin in her struggles. “You will
cease
.”
She went perfectly still. “Did you just growl at me?”
The poor woman appeared so indignant that it was all Ian could do not to laugh. “Aye, and I’m about to toss you over my shoulder like a sack of grain if you don’t quit squirming.” As he’d hoped, the hollow threat certainly got her mind off her missing anatomy. He arched a brow at her glare. “What? City men don’t growl at their women?”
“Put me down. I can walk now that I’m in the woods,” she growled right back at him. “I’m not an invalid.”
Lord, she was beautiful when she was too angry to be self-conscious. “No, you’re merely an idiot for coming outside in your bathrobe and slippers.”
“Oh, I see what you are, Ian MacKeage; you’re one of those men who justifies using brute force whenever he thinks he’s doing it for a woman’s own good.”
He stopped. “Have you had experience with some of
those men
, Jessie?”
“As a matter of fact, I was married to one—for exactly
three months
.”
One more piece of Jessie Pringle’s puzzle fell into place. She’d been married—only not very happily or for very long, apparently. When she went back to furtively trying to reposition her breasts, Ian turned and started walking toward the snowcat, which nicely redirected her worry from herself to him again.
“Where are you going?” she squeaked, looking over his shoulder at the hotel, and then down at the ground—he assumed to get Toby to rescue her. “I told you I can make it from here.”
“You’re shivering.” He sat her on the rubber track on the passenger side of the snowcat to open the door. “And you weigh more than I thought.”
He clearly heard her gasp over the rumble of the idling engine. “I do not.”
She swatted his hand away when he tried to pick her up and set her inside, then turned and awkwardly scrambled in on her own. He gallantly helped by cupping her lovely backside, remembering how his dad liked to call his mom
gràineag
whenever the old man wanted to get a rise out of her, and Ian decided he also found prickly little hedgehogs to be quite beautiful when they were riled.
Jessie immediately sat down and gathered her robe closed at her neck, pulled the length of it over her pajama legs, and held her arms over her breasts—all while shooting him a beautifully riled glare hot enough to toast bread.
Toby placed his front paws on the track, looked up at Ian, and whined.
“What in hell are you wearing, big man?” he asked, staring down at the dog.
“It’s his sweater.”
“That’s a terrible thing to do to a noble beast,” Ian muttered, grabbing the sweater by the hem and pulling it up over Toby’s head.
“Hey, he needs that,” Jessie said as the dog reared back and pulled his legs out of the sleeve holes. “He’s from
Georgia
, and he hasn’t grown a winter coat yet.”
Ian tossed the sweater on her lap. “And he won’t grow one if he keeps wearing that blasted thing. Lean forward,” he said, picking Toby up and setting him in the cubbyhole behind the seats. He stepped back and gestured at the sweater. “You can’t ever put that on him, Jessie, if he’s running loose in the woods. It could easily snag on a branch and fetch him up, and he could strangle to death trying to get free. He shouldn’t even wear a collar or a work harness if you have one for him, if he’s loose. I’ve come across more than one cat or dog when I was hunting that had hanged itself on its collar.”
She clutched the sweater to her chest, looking so stricken that Ian was sorry for being so blunt. But she needed to understand the danger she’d put Toby in. “And why in God’s name would you dress him in
pink
?” he asked, hoping to get her riled again.
“It . . . it’s salmon,” she whispered, looking down at the sweater, which sure as hell appeared pink to him in the glow of the interior light.
He took hold of her chin to make her look at him. “I’m sorry for being blunt, Jessie, but I need you to understand how dangerous that sweater is. And you needn’t worry; Mother Nature will give Toby a winter coat soon enough.”
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
6.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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