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Authors: Patience Griffin

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BOOK: Meet Me in Scotland
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When Gabriel started the Land Rover, she turned on the radio and chose a nice station with a soothing piano. He sighed loudly.

“What?” she said. “Need some head-banging music to get you going?”

“I don't mind a little classical music . . . if I'm going off to sleep. I'd like to stay awake and keep my wits about me. I expect we'll have an icy ride. Can't be too safe.”

Considering the auto had just been pulled out of the
ditch, she couldn't argue. She pointed to the radio. “By all means.”

He scanned the channels until he found a nineties pop station.

She stared out the window, certain the sun would come up soon. In the meantime, she worked at putting Gabriel MacGregor out of her mind. Being near him had stressed her sensibilities. The next person she planned to speak to was Claire Douglas Russo. And no one else.

Finally, the sun made a brief appearance before slipping behind the clouds. At least Emma could get a better lay of the land now. It was vast, desolate, and beautiful. Snow either covered or dusted everything, and she wondered what it might look like in the bloom of summer. Her ramblings helped her to further ignore Gabriel while he hummed and sang along. She couldn't help but notice that he had a nice voice, though.

Sometime later, when they came over a hill, Gabriel slowed the Land Rover and pointed. “Down there. Gandiegow.” His voice was laced with a harshness it hadn't had earlier.

The small village lay below, tucked into the curve of the sea under the rocky bluff. From this angle she could see the rooftops, most of them bright red with some gray ones scattered in between. Claire had told her there were only sixty-three houses in Gandiegow. Small by any standard.

“What a charming place,” she said.

Gabriel turned off the radio. “Aye, charming.” His sarcastic tone belied his true sentiment. One glance at him and she knew he'd put his armor on as if going into battle.

But she couldn't let herself care. They were here at last. Gabriel eased the auto down the hill and pulled the
car into a parking lot on the far side of the town, where eight other vehicles sat.

“Why are we parking here?”

“It's a closed community. No roads in the town, no vehicles past this point. We walk from here.”

Her arms stilled ached from yesterday after dragging her heavy luggage.

“Don't worry. I'll get your bags.” It sounded more like,
I'll do this one last thing. Then I'll be done with ye.

She shook her head. Since when did she hear deep Scottish accents in her brain?

“I'll take no argument from you today.” He stepped out and slammed his door.

“What's wrong with you?” she asked, getting out, as well. A gannet flew above them and cackled. The waves crashed against the seawall. And she waited. “What happened to Mr. Good-Humored?”

He unlocked the back and frowned at her. His lips parted, and for a second he looked like he might tell her. But then he glanced away. “Nothing's the matter.”

She chalked it up to him being tired. Maybe he hadn't slept well with her clinging to him like cellophane throughout the night.

“It's this way.” He pulled her suitcases out. “The restaurant.” He took off down the path.

The sidewalk had been shoveled and salted. The path forked and they headed toward the coastline with a long dock off to the east. She stared down the boardwalk at the buildings and cottages, which looked at if they were only inches from the sea. The first building they passed had a large sign that read
THE FISHERMAN
.

“What's that?” she asked.

“The pub.” Gabriel gestured down the boardwalk. “The General Store is that way. In case you need to buy some boots.” He shot her a pointed look. “And ye do.”

He stopped in front of a three-and-a-half-story white building with a sharp slanted roof with plenty of windows. “There's no sign yet, but they're going to call it Dominic and Claire's Pastas & Pastries.”

“Well, isn't this quaint?” Emma said.

“Not quite the savages you thought we were?” He raised his eyebrows at her.

“I get cranky when I can't have my morning tea.”

“Of course you do. You Brits are such an emotional lot.”

As he held the door open, Emma stepped inside, trying to think up a scathing comeback. And she almost missed it . . .

A pot rocketed across the room, banging against the wall just inches from Gabriel's head. “What the hell?”

Chapter Three

E
mma stepped to the side as several people ran for the door, pushing past her to get outside. She saw Dominic glance to where the pot hit, but he didn't acknowledge either her or Gabriel. Instead he turned back to his wife, who'd lobbed it in the first place. “Claire, you've got to stop this.”

Wild-eyed, Claire threw a plate at him this time. It shattered against the wall. “You're the backside of an Italian mule.” She picked up a Goliath-sized metal spoon and slung it at Dominic's groin. “You always have to have your way.”

The spoon didn't meet its mark, but it did hit Dominic's crotch-protecting hand. “Dammit, Claire. That hurt.” He rubbed his knuckles.

She picked up a butcher knife and waved it. “Be grateful 'twasn't yere balls.”

Emma stepped forward, afraid Dominic might indeed be parted from his testicles. “Put the knife down, Claire.”

Recognition skidded across Claire's face. She withered, all the fire going out of her, as if someone had turned off the burner. The knife slipped from her hand, falling to the counter. “Emma,” she breathed, and ran to her.

As they embraced, Emma glanced over at Dominic.

“Crazy Scots,” Dominic muttered. “Always full of passion, but the wrong kind.”

Claire's head shot up. “Keep yere opinions to yereself, Dominic Russo. Just so we're clear, from this moment on, ye've been cut off. Ye'll not be enjoying my
scones
anytime soon.” She'd slung it across the room at him, too, saying it as if it was the most sexual thing in the world. She took Emma's arm and strutted for the stairs, that girl making sure her tail end stayed in Dominic's line of sight.

Emma saw the moment when
Oh, shit, what have I done?
crossed Dominic's face. He took in his wife's curvaceous body and his shoulders sank like a hungry man's with the proverbial feast being cleared away. Poor chap.

Emma followed Claire up the narrow steps. They didn't stop on the next floor at the grand dining room, but continued on up the next flight.

“What is going on with you two?” Emma demanded.

“Let's get you settled,” Claire said as she tromped up each stair.

“What about my bags?” Emma said.

Claire pulled out her phone. “Gabriel, bring up Emma's things.” She hung up without so much as a
please
or a
thank you
.

Claire went on. “Later, I'll show you around town.”

Emma grabbed her arm. “No. We're going to talk. You're going to tell me why you were launching the kitchenwares at your husband's head.”

“Dominic is a stubborn jackass.” Claire opened the door to a flat. They walked into a warm parlor, decorated a little shabbily in blue chintz, but it felt homey. Claire burst into tears.

Emma closed the door and hugged her friend fiercely.

“Oh, sweeting,” Emma said. “We'll work it out. We always do.”

“But you came here so we can fix
you.
Not my jerk of a husband,” Claire wailed.

“We'll just have to multitask,” Emma declared.

That won her a little smile, but it didn't last. The gravity of the scene from downstairs returned quickly, sobering both of them.

There was a knock at the door. Gabriel stuck his head inside. “Is it safe to come in?” He stared directly at Emma.

She stared right back, hoping he could read her mind. “Yes, come.” She wondered how much Gabriel, the rascal, had known beforehand about the Russos' problems.

Gabriel pushed the door all the way open and wheeled her bags into the parlor. He put his hands into his pockets, looking uncomfortable.

Despite Gabriel not warning her, Emma kind of felt bad for him in that moment. “Thank you for hauling my luggage up to the third floor. I don't think I could've managed it on my own.”

“No problem.”

She wondered if she should offer him something. A drink? A tip? Breakfast?
A right good kiss?

“I'm off.” Gabriel nodded his head to both of them and left.

Emma sat on the worn blue sofa and patted the spot next to her for Claire. “Come and tell me what's going on. You know I'll do anything to help.” But then she amended her offer. “Except give you marriage advice. I'm the last person in the world to counsel you about your relationship with Dominic.”

Claire pushed back her red hair. “There's nothing wrong with us that a good skillet to his head won't fix.”

“What do you want that he won't give you?” Emma asked.

“A baby.” Claire burst into tears, again. “We've been married ten years, Emms. Don't you think it's time? Every day, my ovaries shrivel a little bit more.” Claire put her hand on her abdomen. “Nothing more than dried-up raisins by now.”

“Claire.” Emma grabbed her hand and pulled her closer. “What can I do?”

Claire broke into a sad smile. “Hold Dominic down while I ravish him?”

Emma hugged her. “You've got plenty of time. You're only thirty. Lots of women have babies well into their forties.”

“But I'm tired of waiting. I want a bairn now.”

Everyone knew about Claire, how she'd been baby crazy her whole life. Cooking and baking—that was her job. The only thing she'd ever really wanted was to be a mama. When Claire and Dominic had married, Emma had assumed Claire would start popping out moppets nine months later. No one had thought they'd still be childless at this point. Emma had assumed something was medically wrong.

“Are you two capable? I mean, have you been checked?”

“Right as rain,” Claire said. “Dominic is as randy as ever. He has condoms stockpiled in every room of the flat.”

Emma's cheeks flared and she turned away. She couldn't let Claire see. She'd lied to Claire forever about her own sex life and now wasn't the time to come clean. It was one thing to make up a bunch of sex stories about herself, but it was a completely different matter to glimpse inside someone's real sex life. Something that had happened way too often to Emma as a marriage therapist.

“Dominic says we can't afford to have a babe right now,” Claire continued. “I think he's being ridiculous. Poor people have children all the time. Why should we be any different?”

Emma knew better than to offer money. Claire and Dominic had a stubborn streak that ran a kilometer wide when it came to what they considered charity.

“Well, sweeting,” Emma said, “I'm with you. I will be your
yes-friend
until the end of time. If you want to have a baby, I think Dominic should go along with it.”

Claire jumped up and paced the room. “That gorgeous, pigheaded Italian.” With each step, she got more wound up. “I'm finally back in my hometown. I'm ready, willing, and able.” She gestured wildly to the room. “Gandiegow is the perfect place to start a family. It's time. Right?”

Emma nodded in agreement.

“So what if the restaurant books say we don't have two shillings to rub together,” Claire added. “Love is all that counts.”

At that moment, Dominic dropped a platter or something; it could be heard all the way upstairs. Along with a litany of swear words, which reverberated through the ductwork. Claire slumped onto the blue couch, too. “What happens when love isn't enough?”

Seeing Claire crushed broke Emma's heart. She hadn't planned on hiding out long in Scotland, but she would have to stay for as long as Claire needed her.
Clearing the air with Mum and Dad will have to wait.

Emma put her arm around her friend and Claire laid her head on her shoulder.
Just like we're eleven again.

As girls, they'd bonded over being outsiders. Claire, the young Scottish lass from a small town, thrown into the hustle and bustle of London. Emma, left alone and adrift in her own famous family, to be raised by nannies
who revolved in and out of her life. That is, until Claire's mom, Nessa, had come to be their housekeeper and brought Claire, and a sense of family, with her.

Emma, though, had something to say to her best friend. “We need to have a serious talk about your temper, Claire. You know how it gets you into trouble.”

“I can't help myself,” Claire said.

Emma patted her arm. “You're going to have to try. You mustn't go waving knives around.” Not that throwing pots was much better. “Dominic could've gotten hurt.”

“I know. But he's just such a . . . such a
man
.”

“I know,” Emma said. “One more thing. I hate to point out the obvious, but how do you expect to get pregnant if you just cut Dominic off?”

“Oh, shite,” Claire sobbed. “I'm so tired. I wasn't thinking.”

“I know. Come. You need to have a lie-down.” Emma guided Claire down the hall. “I'll get you a cool washcloth for your forehead and you'll get some rest.”

The master bedroom had nothing but a full-sized bed and a dresser in it. Emma pulled back the covers and tucked Claire in. She found the loo, prepared a washcloth, and took it back to her.

“I'm glad ye're here with me,” Claire said.

Emma brushed back the hair on her friend's face. “Me, too. You rest. I'll go downstairs and see what I can do to get the kitchen cleaned up for later.”

“Thank you,” Claire said. “I don't want to see Dominic right now.”

“I know.” Emma left the bedroom but didn't immediately go back downstairs to the restaurant. She grabbed a quick shower to clean up from her long travels and to wash any residual dog-blanket smell off her, too. Afterward, she stared out the window into the cloudy sky, combing her hair and wondering what she'd gotten
herself into. She wasn't a marriage counselor anymore. How exactly was she going to keep some distance and still be there for Claire?

Emma did a double take. In the center of town was a ship's mast.
A ship's mast?
She gave it a closer look. No, it was the white steeple of the church, jutting above the other roofs. It hadn't caught her eye before, but it did now. It stuck out.

With Emma's faux pas all over the Internet, her family would be even more in the limelight—and not in the fashion to which they were accustomed. Emma gazed upon the white steeple in the center of Gandiegow again and cringed. She was just like the steeple; she stuck out, too.

*   *   *

Gabe stood behind the restaurant's counter and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Well, that killed the lunch crowd.”

Dom made a noncommittal grunt as he finished picking up the last dirty dish.

Gabe wiped off the counter. “I don't want to sound like a hen, but do you want to talk about it?”

“Hell, no.” Dom shrugged his massive shoulders into his coat and snatched up the list. “I might as well get to Inverness and pick up the supplies now. Put a sign on the door when you leave. I should be back by three or four.”

“Aren't you going to tell Claire that you're going?

Dom glared at him from the doorway. “Stay out of it, Gabe.” He slammed the door behind him.

“If only I could.” Gabe wrote up a ticket, put money in the register, and grabbed two of Claire's scones. When he turned around, Emma was standing there with her hands on her hips. Her hair looked perfect—down, damp, and wavy—and she was wearing a white blouse and blue jeans. Tight blue jeans. This woman was a combination of uptight professional and hot lay.

“How long has this been going on?” she demanded.

He glanced down at his plate. “I assume you're
not
talking about my scone habit.”

“Did you know about their problems before you came here on holiday?”

He grabbed another plate, put one of his scones on it and laid it on the counter beside his. “Sit. I'll get water on for your tea.”

“So, you knew and didn't warn me that Claire and Dominic were warring?” She glared at him. “Aren't you going to answer my questions?”

He grabbed a bag and put the scones in it. “Even better. Let's go where we can discuss this in private.” He glanced up to gesture toward the flat on the third floor, like Claire might hear.

“Fine. I'll go grab my coat.”

While she went back upstairs, he washed up the plates, put his coffee in a to-go cup, and put a sign on the door that the restaurant wouldn't open again until dinner.

When Emma came back down, she had a frown on her face. “I hadn't given it any thought before, but where are you staying? Is there a hotel or something in town?”

“Nay. I'm at the doctor's quarters.”

“Hmm. That was nice of the doctor to share his place with you.”

“Aye.” He'd tell her, but not this minute. “Come.”

They took the path behind the restaurant and walked away from the sea, toward the bluff. Between the red postbox and a small cottage with a blue door sat a two-story cottage known as the doctor's quarters. The downstairs was dedicated to caring for patients, and the upstairs was the doctor's flat. Gabe opened the front door and pointed for Emma to take the steps.

She looked toward the surgery. “Is the doctor not seeing patients today?”

“He was away overnight.”

She looked around the entryway. “This is cozy.”

“Aye.” The walls were dark wood paneling, the floors dark wood, too. The cottage was more than a hundred years old and suited Gabe.

She pointed to the adjacent wall. “What a beautiful quilt.”

“Yes.” The quilt depicted trees and cottages in varying green and brown prints. The women's guild from his father's church had made it for him when he'd finished medical school.

“The handwoven rug?” she prodded, pointing to the earth-tone rug that had been here when he moved in.

“Not now,” he said.
What am I? A blasted interior decorator?
He pointed up the stairs. “The kitchen is that way.”

She glanced around once more. “I love this place. It feels like a home.”

BOOK: Meet Me in Scotland
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