Highlander for the Holidays (9 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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“But that in no way means he’s stalking you,” Katy rushed to say, sitting down on the stone hearth. “Ian’s just . . .” She shrugged, looking at Megan.
“He’s just being Ian,” Megan finished for her, patting her baby’s bottom when the infant stirred on her chest. “You tell him you’re not interested, and I swear that’ll be the end of it,” she said, giving Merissa a reassuring nod.
“Because more than being old-fashioned, all our men are noble to a fault,” Katy added. “And if one of them did happen to go astray, there’s an entire clan of men
and
women to put them back on the straight and narrow.”
“Especially the older generation,” Megan continued, “with Ian’s father probably being the worst of the lot. Uncle Morgan is the living definition of an atavist.” She shot Merissa a smile. “So you really don’t have to worry about your friend, because we all look out for one another here.”
Jessie was beginning to wonder if they really had blown into another century.
“That’ll teach you to be careful what you wish for,” Merissa said deadpan, handing Jessie a pill. “You just traded a sea of strangers for an entire
clan
of bossy men.” She looked at Katy and Megan. “Only problem is, I can tell you from personal experience that when Jessie gets a bee in her bonnet about something, she tends to forget she’s not ten feet tall and bulletproof. I actually spent over half an hour talking a physical therapist out of the janitor’s closet once after the guy foolishly told Jessie she was trying too hard.”
“The idiot was supposed to be helping me
walk
again,” Jessie defended, giving Merissa another heated glare, “instead of just getting myself in and out of a wheelchair.”
Ignoring her, Merissa shot the two women a smug smile. “So you ladies might want to warn all the noble men in your family—especially Ian—that Jessie Pringle is more dangerous than her dog.”
Finally realizing Merissa was so worried about leaving her here alone that she was trying to head off any potential threats, Jessie burst out laughing. “They said Ian was in Afghanistan, Mer. You think he’s going to be scared off by a woman with a cane and a dog?” She looked at Katy. “Ian’s a veteran?”
The real estate broker nodded. “And so is Duncan. All of our men serve at least one stint in the military.”
“Which branch?” Merissa asked.
“Whichever one appeals to them,” Megan interjected. She unzipped the pack on her chest and pulled out the squirming infant. “Duncan flew Black Hawks in Iraq, and near as we know, Ian served three tours in the Afghan mountains as part of some secret elite team.” She gave her baby’s plump cheek a kiss. “It’s about time you woke up, sleepyhead. I am
so
ready for you to eat,” she said as she turned around, looking for a place to sit down.
“Oh, here,” Jessie said, attempting to lever herself out of the chair. “Now I know why you kept this big comfy chair here.”
“No, don’t get up,” Megan rushed to say, sitting down on the floor to lean against the wall. She laid the infant on her lap and took off the chest pack, but stopped in the act of pulling her blouse out of her waistband. “You ladies don’t mind, do you?”
“Good heavens, no,” Jessie said. “What’s her name?”
“Sarah Dreamwalker Stone, after Jack’s mother,” Megan said, tucking her daughter to her breast under her blouse with a sigh. “But I call her his little coyote.” She nodded at the doorway her son and Toby had disappeared through. “And Walker is his little shadow. Katy, could you go check on them? It’s awful quiet in there.”
Katy jumped up from the hearth and headed into what looked like a short hallway just off the living area, only to suddenly stop and pull something out of her pocket. A flash went off, and then Katy walked back into the main room. “The little imp fell asleep, and Toby is cuddled up beside him,” she said, holding her cell phone down to Megan. She then walked over and showed Jessie. “That’s quite a pooch you’ve got there.”
Jessie smiled at the picture of Walker sleeping with one arm wrapped around Toby’s neck, her dog resting his head on Walker’s torso. “Oh yeah, Toby is fascinated by children. I think they bring out his protective streak.”
“And I think it’s because their cute little faces are just the right height to lick,” Merissa said, standing beside Katy to see the picture. She looked around the large living room and kitchen before leveling her gaze on Jessie, then sighed. “Nothing I say is going to stop you from buying this house today, is it?”
Jessie merely shook her head.
Merissa handed Jessie her purse before heading to the opposite end of the living room. “Then come on, Katy. Let’s go check out the upstairs while these two settle on a price so I can see where I’ll be staying when I come visit.”
“It’s a solid, comfortable house and everything works,” Megan said once the women had disappeared up the stairs. “There are one large and one small bedroom and a bathroom on this floor,” she added, nodding toward the hallway, “with two large bedrooms and a bath upstairs. And we’re leaving the four cord of firewood stacked in the shed, as well as the walk-behind snowblower. Um . . . except you might prefer to hire someone to plow you out. We’ve been trying to decide whether or not to leave the hot tub,” she quickly rushed on, her cheeks turning pink as her gaze slid away from Jessie’s cane. “The garage is only a year old. It’s not connected to the house, but it sure beats brushing a foot of snow off your vehicle.” She gave Jessie a curious look. “When Katy called this morning, she said Ian mentioned that you’re from Georgia. You do know we measure snow in feet up here, don’t you?”
“I’m actually looking forward to it.” Jessie fussed with her silk scarf, feeling her own cheeks heat up. “Do you suppose I could hire Duncan’s crew to build a wheelchair ramp for . . . for in case I need it? Or maybe you could point me toward some other local carpenter?”
Megan looked down at her daughter, patting the infant’s bottom. “I’m sure Duncan would be happy to put his crew to work. This is the time of year his business starts slowing down, since he’s mostly into earthwork.”
“Have you and your husband settled on a price yet?”
Megan nodded even as she gave Jessie a sheepish smile. “The housing downturn hasn’t really affected lakefront property all that much in Maine.” She then took a deep breath and named a figure that started Jessie’s heart pounding.
“Seriously?” Jessie squeaked despite her best effort to hide her shock. But then she laughed. “Good Lord, you can’t buy a small condo in Atlanta for that.” She nodded. “Okay, then. You leave the hot tub, and I won’t even try to haggle you down.”
“Just like that?” Megan asked in surprise.
Jessie opened her purse and dug around inside it. “My father’s an architect, and he’s always told me that you can fix anything on a house except its location,” she said with a laugh. She pulled out her checkbook then dug around for a pen. “But he’d have a heart attack if he knew I was paying asking price and writing you a check on the spot, so let’s keep this our little secret when he shows up in . . .” She smiled. “I give him and Mom two days to be standing on my doorstep from when I tell them I am the proud owner of a beautiful house on a lake in Maine, which is why I’m going to wait until
after
I’ve moved in.” She opened her checkbook, but stopped with the pen poised to write. “Are you and your husband sure about this?”
“Oh yeah, we’re sure,” Megan said thickly, holding her daughter against her shoulder to close her bra and smooth down her blouse. “We’ve been worried that we’d have to heat two houses this winter.” She stood up and walked to the counter and started digging through her own purse. “I know we’ll both have paperwork to fill out and the lawyers will need to do their thing, but as far as I’m concerned, the house is yours.”
“So do I make the check out to you or to Katy’s real estate company?”
“Make it out to Jack and Megan Stone,” she said, walking back to Jessie. “We haven’t actually listed it yet, so I guess this is a private sale. But don’t worry, Katy and I will work out the commission.”
Jessie wrote the check and held it out to Megan.
Megan swapped it for the ring of keys she was holding. “You might as well take these now so you can come back and look around when you’re feeling better,” she said, tucking the check in her pocket. “You’re going to love it here, Jessie, because whether or not you realize it yet, you just bought a magical little piece of heaven.”
Chapter Six
THE FIRST THING IAN NOTICED WHEN HE WALKED INTO
the resort’s massive swimming pool solarium was his father sitting on the footrest of a lounge chair, talking to someone reclining in another lounge facing the panoramic view of Pine Lake. The second thing he noticed was Toby lying on the floor between them, wearing a rugged harness with a thick leather handle protruding from it. But it wasn’t until he saw the sleek, low-backed wheelchair that he truly grew alarmed.
Toby lifted his head, his tail nub wagging his whole rump in greeting.
“Maybe my son will have better luck persuading ye,” Morgan said when he spotted him.
“Jessie?” Ian asked as he rounded the chairs to stand in front of her, making sure to hide his concern behind his smile. Christ, she was as pale as new snow but for the hint of red in her cheeks. “Have your legs gotten lazy on you this afternoon?”
“No, actually,” she said, her chin lifting as her unusually bright eyes locked on his. “I aggravated an old injury when I fell chasing after Toby this morning.”
“Which is why I was just telling Miss Pringle that one of our people can take Toby out for her in the mornings,” Morgan said, his voice unusually soft.
Ian could see how well that suggestion had been received, if the look in his old man’s eyes was any indication. He dropped his swim bag on the floor and pulled over one of the wrought-iron end tables in order to sit at the foot of Jessie’s lounge chair.
“And I was just thanking your father,” she said with equally evident frustration, “and assuring him that Merissa and I have it covered.”
Apparently deciding to ignore the edge in Jessie’s voice, Ian’s father folded his arms over his chest. “I was also telling the lass that we have a fine doctor here in Pine Creek, and that it wouldn’t be any bother for Libby MacBain to come take a look at her.”
“To which I explained,” Jessie said through her forced smile, “that I swore off doctors two months ago.”
Ian dropped his gaze to hide his consternation, tempted to walk away and let the two of them duke it out; because truth be told, he wasn’t exactly sure which one of them needed his support. Where Morgan MacKeage was legendary for his antiquated view that women needed looking after, Ian suspected Jessie Pringle could give the old highlander lessons in stubbornness.
Toby came to the rescue by standing up and trotting to the sliding door leading outside, where he stopped and looked back at Jessie and gave a soft whine—which Jessie answered with an equally soft groan. She gathered the catalogs and notepad off her lap and set them on the table beside her, then awkwardly started to get up.
Morgan touched her arm to stop her. “If your pet is needing to go outside, Ian can take him,” his father magnanimously offered. “Seeing how ye just spent the better part of ten minutes getting settled in that chair.”
“I’m sure your son has more exciting things to do than walk my dog,” she said, attempting to get up again—even as his father once again stopped her.
Uncertain if the fine sheen on her forehead was a sign that Jessie was in pain or merely the result of trying to keep her frustration in check, Ian stood up and went to the exit. “I believe Toby is capable of taking himself for a walk.”
“Wait,” Jessie said. “He’s wearing his harness.”
Ian opened the door and waved Toby outside. “He won’t wander far. Not while he knows he’s on duty.”
Ignoring the startled birds flapping away from the feeder that had been put up to entertain guests, Toby padded across the patio and down to the nearest tree, relieved himself, then immediately trotted back through the door Ian was holding open. The two of them returned to the row of lounge chairs, Toby flopping down on the floor with a doggy sigh, and Ian sitting on the table at her feet again.
Morgan stood up. “Well, for as much as I’ve enjoyed our visit, I’m afraid I need to be getting back to work. Ian, I’d like you to stop by my office after your swim.” He smiled at Jessie. “And since I can’t talk ye into seeing Doc Libby, maybe all you’re needing is a toddy of hot cocoa and fine Scotch to cure what ails ye. I’ll send one over, along with some snacks,” he said, giving her a bow before heading toward the lobby.
Ian touched Jessie’s foot when she started to protest. “Just say thank you, lass.”
“Thank you,” she called after his father even as she shot Ian a frown.
He chuckled, giving her shoe a squeeze. “Dad doesn’t realize you’re on pain medication, Jessie. And he’ll go to his grave believing a healthy dose of Scotch cures
everything
. Trust me; sometimes it’s simply easier to agree with him.”
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
7.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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