Authors: Teresa Reasor
Regan followed his lead and ignored the urge to lay her head against his shoulder. “I think the rest of the group is making sure the beer industry here is well financed. I’m sure my contribution won’t be missed,” she said her tone dry.
Quinn’s lips quirked in a smile. “Rob and Logan do their part as well.”
“Not so much. But I play my music here, and if that brings someone in for a pint or two, ‘tis good for the area.”
“And how long have you been playing the flute?”
“I took it up as a boy. ‘Tis easy to carry about and passes the time when we’re out to sea.”
“You play very well.”
He smiled. “Thank you.
“They were wrong.”
Quinn’s brows went up in inquiry.
As she watched the range of expression in his face, attraction, strong and insistent called to her. “Some of the others said you were all business and never smiled, but it isn’t true.”
“When I’m at work, I’m at work.”
“And when you’re not?”
He looked at her with the same focused concentration she had seen on his face while he played. Her heart drummed at her throat and wrists while her stomach did a slow slide. As he brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers, sweet, tempting heat settled in intimate areas of her body.
The music came to an end, yet they remained as they were.
Someone said Quinn’s name. A frown crossed his features and he turned to face the man on stage.
He nodded and turned back to Regan. “I have to go finish the set.”
She swallowed though her mouth was dry.
“Logan is a light hearted lad. He’s not in your league, lass.”
It took a moment for his change of conversational subject to soak in. A heart dropping disappointment struck her like a punch leaving an ache in the pit of her stomach. “So, you asked me to dance to warn me away from your brother?”
“No. I asked you to dance because I wanted to dance with you.”
She didn’t believe that. It had all been a con. What kind of man was Quinn Douglas?
He walked her back to her seat, his hand against her spine.
Sheary’s green gaze met hers and a smile stretched across the woman’s features. “I was wrong. He’s not all business.”
“Yes, he is,” Regan said, her throat tight.
The high clear notes of Quinn’s flute drew her attention again, and she looked toward the stage. Quinn’s dark brows drew together in concentration, and his lashes lowered. The introductory strain of the ballad he played sounded strangely familiar, and she leaned forward to rest her arms on the table. The smoke from the candle wafted upward blurring her vision. She blinked rapidly to clear it. The taper’s waxy smell was suddenly overwhelmed by the permeating scent of peat smoke. Regan felt hot and she gripped the edge of the table as a wave of dizziness narrowed her vision to a pinpoint of light and then widened. The room was no longer a pub but a hut.
Home, it was home.
She was there, but she was part of more, of someone else. The emotions clamped hard in her chest made it feel tight and full.
ada,fada,fad’ air falbh (Far away, Far Away)
Dh’fhalbh mo ghaol fad air falbh (My love has gone far away.)
Bring him back to me
Let him see through me
Let us never be apart.
Quinn opened his eyes as the full, throaty notes of a female voice capturing the beginning strains of the chorus he was playing reached him. He sensed the stillness of the room and tilted his head back to scan it. Regan stood poised next to the table where the rest of the students in her party sat. Her face shown white in the dim candlelight, her eyes focused not on him, but at some point just past him. The stage lights touched on her features bathing them in a strange yellowish light as if she stood close to a fire.
Even as he caught his breath to play the next note she had already begun the next line and he caught the rhythm of her words.
B’e ar cumhnant a rinn sinn (It was our covenant we pledged.)
Ge ‘be de a thachradh (Our lives to see this through)
B’ann le gras ‘s dochas (With gallantry and grace)
A leig mi beannachd dha (I bid my man adieu)
She sang the next stanza of the sacrifice of parting from her man so he might fight for his king.
Her tone grew husky and soft with the next lines.
I lay to rest the child
Who grew beneath my heart
My pain and grief abound
My days grow drab and dark
But still I hold him dear
And harbor in my heart
A knowledge that is clear
We will never be apart
A sob lay just beneath the words, grief alive in her tone.
Fada,fada,fad’ air falbh (Far away, far away)
Dh’fhalbh mo ghaol (My love has gone)
fad air falbh (Far away)
Bring him back to me
Let him see through me
Let us never be apart
As he played, Quinn heard the echo of another voice as though from a distant past, a memory, mirroring the Gaelic words that rolled off her tongue. Grief grabbed him by the throat and made it difficult for him to draw a deep enough breath to play. As the last note of the chorus ended he lowered the instrument to his side. She sang on without him, her voice a poignant cry in the dark.
I will wait forever for him
Look down on Loch Maree
I will never say farewell again
But hold him close to me.
So know my love is true
My guides man, my lord
I repeat my pledge anew
I am his forever more
No matter how far away, far away
He has gone,
I’ll be with him always,
Bring him back to me
Let him see through me
Let us never be apart.
As her voice died away, the air grew thick as if charged with static electricity. The silence of the patrons stretched on for a beat, then two before a tentative applause began to build to an exuberant level.
Henry touched Regan’s shoulder and she started. She looked up at him and Quinn read confusion in her expression as she looked around at the rest of the students. Henry grasped her arm and started to guide her back to her seat. She shook free of his hold, and backed away from the table with a shake of her head. Her eyes looked midnight dark as she swung around to face Quinn, a look of fear sweeping across her features. She turned on her heel and pushed past Dr. Fraser and one of the waitresses, and rushed toward the entrance.
His throat still clogged with emotion, Quinn shoved the flute into its case and fastened the lid. He had to catch her, talk to her. Leaving the instrument on the stand, he wove his way through the congested aisles and followed her.
Regan’s legs burned as she topped the rise above the dig and started down the bank toward the loch. Once the purplish expanse of water came into sight, she slowed her pace. It did no good to run; she couldn’t outrun the fear coursing through her. She stumbled around the rocky bank and bypassed the fence. Her shadow preceded her, distorted by the lights suspended along one side of the dock. She stopped when she reached the end of the planks and sank down on the wooden surface, her legs rubbery from exertion. Dragging air into her lungs in great, heaving gulps, she folded her arms around her knees to control her shaking. Tears burned her eyes. She lay back on the rough deck and covered them with her forearm, blocking out the dull glow of the light above her.
The experience had shaken her to her very core. She felt like a child again. She wanted to go home. She wanted to hear her father’s voice and feel the comfort and safety of her mother’s arms. Would they still love her knowing she was going crazy
? Like her real mother.
Would they still stand by her once they realized the defect her mother had lived with had finally reared its ugly head in her?
The hollow sound of someone walking on the dock had Regan scrambling to her feet. Her legs disjointed and clumsy, she grasped one of the metal light poles to steady herself. She turned to find Quinn Douglas standing five feet away, his feet braced apart, his thumbs hooked in his jean pockets.
“Are you all right, lass?”
Regan bit back a laugh. “No, I don’t think you could say that.”
He strode toward her, his movements decisive. When he grasped her arm, she jerked skittishly, her nerves raw with reaction. Tears threatened again and she lowered her face, avoiding the probing intensity of his gaze. She stiffened as he drew her against him and wrapped his arms around her.
“You’re shaking. It might help to hold onto someone for a wee moment or two.”
“Do you think?”
He breathed an oath. “You might try not being a smart ass for just a moment as well.”
She choked back another laugh, this one less laced with hysteria than the first. She buried her face against his shirt, her fists clenching the fabric at his back as she clung to him. He felt solid, strong, and smelled like peat smoke and soap, familiar. His hand cupped the back of her head as though he’d done it a hundred times before.
His fingers rubbed the back of her neck massaging the tension from the muscles there, his touch both soothing and erotic. The stiffness eased from her body and her breathing settled into a deeper less panicked rhythm. She shifted closer to him, the urge to nestle against him too strong to resist. The instant response of his body to hers rose between them.
When he tipped her face up to him and pressed his lips to hers, Regan caught back a sigh. His mouth, warm and soft, moved over hers in a gentle brushing movement that sent a tantalizing sensation of pleasure curling through her all the way to her toes. Her lips parted offering him more, but he raised his head to look down at her.
Feeling exposed, she rested her head against his shoulder, hiding her expression. Why had she allowed him to kiss her? Why was he playing with her? Why was she allowing him to? Because the feelings he inspired every time he came near her were so strong.
His voice rumbled beneath her cheek. “How did you know the song, Regan?”
The question sent her pulse racing all over again. “I don’t know.”
Her throat grew tight, and she shook her head.
Quinn resumed massaging her neck with his fingers. Her pulse grew slow and heavy. She loosened her hold on him and fought the urge to rub against him.
“You must have an ear for languages. You sounded like a native Scot singin’ in Gaelic.”
Beyond the phrases she’d learned from a class, she knew only a little of the language. What was she to tell him? How was she to explain what had happened? The sheer lunacy of the situation was beyond anything she could have possibly ever dreamed.
She wanted to burrow against him and block it all out. She wanted to share it with him, tell him what was happening. But if she did, he’d go straight to Dr. Fraser, and she’d be sent home. And the disgrace would follow her forever.
She forced herself to take a step away from him and folded her arms against the sudden chill the loss of his body heat created. Though her legs remained shaky, her control had returned.
Quinn’s gaze settled on her features, his expression expectant.
“I can’t explain it.” Her voice came out husky, and she cleared her throat. “I heard the melody, and I knew the song.”
Quinn retained a light grip on her arms, his green eyes sharp and searching.
“I’ve never even been to the pub before. Some of the others have, but I haven’t,” she said.
“’Twould have made little difference if they’ve been there or not. Tonight was the first time I’ve played the song since the lot of you arrived.”
“Maybe I’ve heard it on a tape or CD?”
He shook his head. “It hasn’t been recorded.”
“How do you know? Do you know every Scot ballad that’s been recorded?” She heard the desperation in her own tone and drew a deep breath to steady herself.
“No, lass. A good many, but not all. But I do know the ones I write, and I think I would know whether my own had been.”
She swallowed, the sudden resurgence of her pulse stealing her breath. God, this was impossible.
His frown grew intimidating, suspicion narrowing his eyes. “I’d be interested to know how you got into my room while you were aboard the ship.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t go into any cabin other than the one Rob took me to.”
His snort of disbelief was like a slap.
Had he been seducing her earlier for a purpose? Defensive anger coiled inside her and her face flashed hot. “I didn’t even know which cabin was yours. The only other places I went were the head and the galley.”
“How then do you explain writing the lyrics to it? ‘Twas a clever trick that. And you didn’t do half bad. I thought the part about burying the bairn quite touching.”
Reading the disbelief, the anger in his expression, Regan jerked free of his grip. She’d felt the crushing loss of sincere grief behind the lyrics as surely as it had been her own. “You’re a cold bastard, Quinn Douglas. How can you relegate it to just meaningless words? She lost her child. Her husband was gone, and she had to bury him alone.”
Regan grasped the short thick hair on either side of her head and pulled, frustration driving a reckless spike of impatience through her control. Damn him for his condescending, suspicious, arrogance.
“Her name was Coira and her husband’s name was Braden. You’re the native Scotsman around here, you figure it out.” Regan swiveled on her heel and walked away from him. She stopped at the end of the dock and turned back to him for one last parting shot, hoping to rattle his insufferable confidence. “Before you lay claim to it, you’d best do some research. It was Coira who wrote the song.”