Highlander for the Holidays (8 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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“Okay, Miss Prickly Pringle,” he said with a smile, stuffing the sweater inside the bib of his ski pants. “Game on.”
Chapter Five
THE FARTHER DOWN THE NARROW DIRT ROAD KATY
MacBain drove, the more Jessie was tempted to pinch herself to be sure that she wasn’t dreaming. It had stopped snowing around sunrise, and the clouds had given way to a crystalline blue sky, the weak November sun causing the melting snow to glitter like diamonds. Pine Lake on their right was a stunningly dark cobalt blue with the gusty north wind pushing its massive waves into crests of brilliant white froth.
Oh yeah, if that unexplainably persistent brochure had captured her imagination, actually being here was fanning the spark it had ignited inside her into a bonfire. And if she hadn’t been completely sure about moving here, she definitely was now, as Jessie couldn’t remember ever feeling so alive.
Honest to God, the power was palpable.
“You two must have made quite an impression on Ian and Duncan last night,” Katy said, darting a smile at Jessie and then at Merissa in the backseat. “Because when Ian called me this morning not ten minutes before Duncan did, and I told them our cousin Megan and her husband Jack just asked me to sell their house out here on Frog Point, both men told me
not
to put it on the market until I showed it to you first. Actually,” she said, smiling at Jessie, “Ian threatened that if I didn’t sell you this house, he was going to write my phone number on the wall of the men’s bathroom at Pete’s.”
“Nice cousin,” Merissa drawled from the backseat.
Katy laughed. “I told him he was too late, because I snuck in not a month after Pete’s opened and wrote it next to the mirror myself.”
“How’s that been working for you?” Merissa asked.
Katy shrugged. “I probably would have gotten more calls if I’d left off my last name. Apparently there’s not a man living within fifty miles of Pine Creek who’s brave enough to ask me out.”
Merissa took hold of Jessie’s seat to lean forward. “Why?”
“Because they’re all afraid of my father and brothers and male cousins.”
Merissa flopped back with a snort. “You can’t get a date because everyone’s afraid of the
men
in your family? You’re funning us, right?”
Katy sighed, glancing over her shoulder at Merissa. “I wish I were. Tell me: Last night you didn’t find Duncan to be a tad . . . oh, let’s go with
overwhelming
, shall we?”
“Overwhelming is an understatement,” Merissa said with a laugh.
“So are you saying you don’t mind being hustled home at four thirty in the morning, wondering what just happened ?”
“He
told
you we spent the night together?”
“Oh, none of my dear sweet cousins would ever kiss and tell. I saw you headed to the resort in Duncan’s truck this morning.”
“You’re a real estate broker. What were
you
doing up at four-friggin’-A.M.?”
“I was going to my family’s Christmas tree farm to help with this year’s cutting. What, do you ladies think Douglas fir pitch is my perfume of
choice
?” Katy asked with a laugh. She darted a quick glance at Merissa again. “And although I could see you were smiling, you also looked like a deer caught in oncoming headlights. So, back to your question as to why I can’t get a date in this town. After spending time with my cousins,” she said, glancing at Jessie to include her, “what do you think the odds are that some guy is going to take an interest in me knowing they’ll be watching his every move? And you, Jessie, didn’t you find Ian to be old-fashioned and rather . . . proprietary? He certainly didn’t have any qualms about telling me where you should live.”
Jessie remembered he hadn’t had any qualms about telling her how foolish she’d been to go outside in her bathrobe and slippers, either. Or scolding her for putting a sweater on Toby. Or saying that she weighed too much—although she knew he’d been using that as an excuse for nearly dropping her because she’d been struggling. But she would have just died if he’d seen the scar on her collarbone or realized she had a malformed breast. She liked Ian, dammit, and didn’t want to scare him off before . . . well, at least not before he kissed her again. “He is rather bossy, I suppose.”
“They both are,” Merissa agreed from the backseat. “But then, I sort of have a thing for large alpha males.”
“And yet you usually dump them after only two dates,” Jessie drawled. “Right about the time the testosterone hangover hits you between the eyes.”
“Exactly,” Katy said with a laugh. “The very thing that draws us to manly men—namely their strength and confidence—also drives us crazy.”
Merissa gave a heartfelt groan. “The deadly combination of brawn and brain. Maybe we’d be better off going after only the brawn.”
“Nope,” Katy said, braking to a stop. “Trust me, that doesn’t work, either. And neither does going after only brains.” She shut off the engine. “Which has me seriously considering joining a convent. Here we are, Jessie,” she said, leaning forward to gesture out the side window. “There’s your new home.”
Jessie’s heart started thumping so hard it hurt as she stared at the tan-colored, Cape-style house sitting not a hundred feet from the lake, nestled beneath towering trees. There was a porch running across the entire front, the steps lined with pumpkins leading up to a bright red door decorated with a wreath of woven vines. Several mounds of leaves littered the lawn, some of the piles looking as if they’d been jumped in by the owner of the small wagon abandoned on the moss-covered brick walkway.
“It’s perfect,” Jessie whispered, getting out—only to grab the door when a sharp pain shot through her lower back, making her legs nearly buckle. But still, she couldn’t take her eyes off the vision of perfection in front of her.
Oh yeah, in this house on this lake, surrounded by these mountains, was
exactly
where she needed to be.
“Jessie?” Merissa asked, scrambling out of the truck. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m okay,” she murmured. “Look at it, Mer. It’s perfect. Why are they selling it?” she asked when Katy came around the front of the SUV.
“They built a new home farther up the lake,” Katy explained, “and got moved in not a moment too soon. Megan gave birth to a little girl a couple of months ago, and she and Jack just finished getting this place ready to sell.”
The front door opened, and a woman wearing an infant carrier on her chest stepped onto the porch just as a toddler bolted past her. “Auntie Katy!” the boy shouted, scrambling down the steps. “You come to buy my house!”
“No, Walker,” Katy said, scooping him up in her arms with a laugh. “I’ve come to
sell
your house to this lady.” She gave him a noisy kiss on his cheek. “So I hope your bedroom is spanking clean.”
“It’s
empity
, Auntie.” His gaze moved to Jessie. “You got a little boy? He can have my room, ’cause I got a new one now.”
“Nope, no little boy,” Jessie said, shaking her head. “But I have a dog that might like your room.” She signaled for Toby to jump out of the backseat. “His name is Toby.”
Walker’s eyes widened and his grip on Katy’s neck tightened. “He’s awful big,” he whispered. “Does he like little boys?”
“He does,” Jessie assured him, carefully bending to take hold of Toby’s leash and slowly straightening. “In fact, he’ll even shake hands with you.”
Walker immediately started wiggling to get down. “I want to shake his hand.”
“Sit, Toby,” Jessie said, positioning Walker in front of the dog. “Hold out your hand and say hello,” she instructed as the boy’s mother rushed toward them. “Don’t worry,” she assured the obviously concerned woman. “I know he looks big and scary, but he’s a cupcake around children.”
“Hello, Toby,” Walker said, holding out his hand.
Toby dutifully lifted a paw and set it in his tiny hand, and Walker giggled when the dog licked his fingers.
Merissa handed Jessie her cane, her eyes focused intently on her. “You’re in pain,” she whispered tightly.
Using the cane for support, Jessie unclipped Toby’s leash and signaled that he was free. “Why don’t you show Toby around your beautiful yard,” she told Walker.
“We can look at the house tomorrow or the day after,” Merissa said, still eyeing Jessie as Toby and Walker headed for the nearest pile of snow-covered leaves.
Jessie held out her hand to the homeowner. “Jessie Pringle. And don’t worry, I’m not leaving here without a signed purchase agreement.”
The woman gave a warm laugh. “Megan Stone. And I have to say, you just one-upped me. At least I got
inside
before I offered to buy it from the previous owners.”
“Jessie,” Merissa growled softly, looking directly into her eyes again. “Are you high on pain pills or something? You can’t just buy the first house you see.”
Jessie barely caught herself from reminding Merissa that they had both kissed the first men they saw last night. “No, I haven’t taken any meds yet. But I think I better take something now. Could you bring in my purse?”
“If you’re not feeling well,” Megan said, falling in step beside Jessie when she started up the brick walkway, “there’s no reason we can’t reschedule.” She smiled over at her. “I promise not to sell the house out from under you.”
Jessie took hold of the railing and slowly made her way onto the porch, having absolutely no intention of leaving until she owned this house. “I’m just a bit stiff,” she assured Megan. “I fell chasing after Toby this morning, and according to Ian, I now have to live with the consequences of going outside in my slippers.”
Megan stopped in the act of opening the door. “He called and said that if I didn’t sell you this house, he was going to tell my husband how I shamelessly used to bribe the boys to go out with me in high school.”
Jessie blinked at her and then at Katy coming up the steps. “Ian’s been threatening both of you into selling me this house? But why?”
“Because he’s Ian,” Megan said. “And when a MacKeage male decides he wants something, he’s not above using any means at his disposal to make it happen.” She chuckled. “And apparently Ian wants you living here.”
“But
why
?” Jessie repeated.
“Because he knows it’s a good house.”
“And also because he lives just down the cove,” Katy added, pointing past the end of the porch. “Well, his
stuff
lives there,” she said with a snort. “I think Ian sleeps on the mountain more than he does in his bed.”
Megan walked inside. “In fact, you can see his house from here, now that the leaves have fallen off.” She turned once everyone got inside and held open the door. “Walker, bring Toby inside and show him your old bedroom.”
Walker scrambled up the steps and bolted past them without even looking up. “Come on, Toby. I’ll show you where you’re going to sleep.”
Only instead of following, Toby stopped beside Jessie and pushed his nose into her free hand. She gave him a pat. “It’s okay, Tobes. Go play with Walker.”
Megan walked toward the wall of windows facing the lake. “Come sit down, Jessie. You can see most of the downstairs and the yard from here.”
“Could I get a glass of water?” Merissa asked, heading to the kitchen that was separated from the living area by a counter peninsula.
“Oh, sure,” Megan said, changing directions as she waved Jessie toward the large leather chair—which was the only piece of furniture in sight—nestled between the windows and a green enameled woodstove.
“No offense,” Merissa said, digging through Jessie’s purse, “but don’t you ladies think it’s a little creepy that a guy Jessie met only last night is so gung ho about her living just down the street from him?” She pulled out Jessie’s cosmetic bag, slung the purse over her shoulder, and started rummaging through the bag for Jessie’s pillbox. “Where we come from, that sounds an awful lot like stalking.” Merissa looked up when her only answer was silence and found Katy and Megan grinning at her. She grinned back, albeit sheepishly. “I know he’s your cousin and all, but from our perspective, you’ve got to admit it’s kind of scary.”
“Any scarier than leaving a bar with a guy you just met?” Jessie asked, glaring across the room at Merissa.
“Hey, Paula assured us the men were harm—” Merissa’s cheeks turned red and she winced. “Touché. But we’re not talking about me; we’re talking about
you
living in a strange town with only a dog for protection.” She looked at Megan. “How many of the homes on this road are year-round residences? This place appears kind of isolated.”
Jessie carefully lowered herself into the chair, giving a snort to cover her pained groan. “I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, Mother Merissa,” she said before Megan could answer. “And I’m pretty sure Ian has better things to do than stalk some woman he just met. He probably has half a dozen girlfriends and likely isn’t interested in juggling one more.”
“Actually, he doesn’t,” Megan said, walking over with a paper cup she’d filled with water. “In fact, you’re the first woman we’ve seen Ian take any real interest in since he came home from Afghanistan a little under a year ago.”
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
6.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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