Read Meet Me in Scotland Online
Authors: Patience Griffin
“Here's the thing.” Claire sighed heavily. “I need a little sex advice. Or ideas. Something new for Dominic to sink his teeth into.”
“Too much sharing,” Emma reminded her.
“I know ye're not a prude, so stop acting like one,” Claire said. “I need help.” She sighed heavily again, motioning to her whole body. “Dominic is the only man I've slept with in more than a decade. Surely there's something new in sex I haven't tried yet.”
“Plenty of diseases,” Emma offered.
“Ye're not taking this seriously. You've had tons of lovers. You must have something up your sleeve. Some new tricks.”
. Emma cringed. She didn't even have any old tricks with the minuscule amount of experience she'd had beneath the sheets. The truth was, she was a big
fat liar. And for good reason. With Mum the world's leading sexpert, who could blame her for lying about her sexual exploits?
Starting when she was fourteen, it seemed like her mum had hounded her daily about celebrating her womanhood and doing
. At fifteen, to get her mother off her back, Emma gathered a bunch of sordid details from an erotic novel and regaled her mother with a make-believe sexual encounter with the captain of the cricket team. Unfortunately, Mum decided to tell the story on the next episode of her talk show to point out the importance of young girls embracing their sexual identities. Thank goodness she'd kept the boy's name out of it.
After that Emma felt she had to keep lyingâeven to Claire, who seemed to look up to her because of her “maturity.” Eventually, Emma had tried to erase the lies by having casual sex, but the experiences had fallen way short of her partners' expectations and her own. If only now she could take back every tall tale.
“Emms, you can't let me down,” Claire begged.
Emma shored herself up, thinking about her past clients. “If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that sex is not the end-all.”
“Bollocks,” Claire said. “It's the great communicator. The only way to get and hold a man's attention. It's the one thing men truly care about, too. You're the one who told me that.”
More crap Emma had spewed. “I was wrong,” she admitted. But she couldn't admit to the rest, not now. She had to keep the focus on Claire. “Men care about a lot of things that we don't give them credit for.” She thought for a second. “Like respect.”
“I respect Dominic,” Claire defended. “He just doesn't respect that I want to have a baby now.”
“Backing Dom into a corner when he's clearly against
it isn't the way to show him respect.” As Emma said this, she felt unnerved. She was no longer a marriage counselor, but she could be a friend. She reached over and touched Claire's arm. “I saw the restaurant's ledgers. You can't afford a baby right now. Can you in good conscience press Dom? You and I both know how finances can stress him out. You told me how upset he got when he sprained his arm and couldn't work for a few weeks. Remember?”
“Things got a little tight, but we were fine,” Claire argued.
Emma tried from a different angle. “I think he's under more pressure here. You two have always worked for others. This is your first time as the proprietors. Have you considered what it might do to Dominic, as a man, if the restaurant fails?”
Claire harrumphed and clutched the steering wheel with the force of vise-grips. “You don't understand what I'm going through.”
But Emma did. Time was against them. They were both thirty and the clock was ticking. A constant thud that never went away. The good news for Claire: She was married and Dom loved her. Emma, on the other hand, had zilch. No one. No prospects. No leads. No nothing.
Emma's only consolation was her mother's voice ringing in her head:
Children serve no purpose until they are of the age to contribute to society.
She doubted her mother's “wisdom” on so many levels. But in this one instance, Emma let her words serve to curb her own appetite for wanting a child. She was tired of talking of babies with Claireâa brick wall on the subjectâand was happy to sit quietly for the rest of the trip. Especially since her friend was clearly angry with her.
When they got to Inverness and parked, they were both still in a lousy mood. Emma followed Claire down
the sidewalk and watched as her friend's spirits lifted the closer they got to the intimates shop.
Before they opened the door to A Slip of the Tongue, Emma grabbed Claire's arm. “I'll be across the street having coffee.” She gave her an imploring gaze.
Claire shook her head determinedly. “Fine. A great friend you are, making me do this alone.” She made it sound like Emma was letting her down, when in reality Emma didn't have the stomach to help Claire let Dominic down.
Much later, Claire showed up with three small bags and a satisfied grin. “The deed is done. We need to run to the grocery while we're here. I have a list.”
“All right.” Emma wasn't sure where the two of them stood.
“Get that look off yere face. We're still friends, Emma,” Claire said. “You just need to work at being a better one.” She took Emma's arm good-humoredly as they made their way to the car.
“You know good friends try to protect one another from making stupid mistakes,” Emma lectured.
But Claire only smiled, unable to hear the truth.
“Fine,” Emma said. “It's your marriage. I have no stake in it.” But that wasn't necessarily true.
At the market, Claire talked excitedly about her irresistible lingerie and how Dom wouldn't be able to keep his hands off her. “He did say one time, though, that the sexiest outfit I owned was me naked.” She went silent after that.
Emma could've pointed out the obvious but it would've only fallen on Claire's stubborn, deaf ears. If Dom refused to sleep in the same bed with her, then the
teddies and G-strings would be worthlessâmoney and energy wasted.
By the time they got back to Gandiegow and the
restaurant, it was dinnertime and Dominic had a few customers. Emma noticed Gabriel wasn't there to help. She did catch, though, the mischievous glance Claire shot her husband.
“Meet me upstairs later.” She gave him a wink. “I've something to show ye.”
When she disappeared, Dominic turned to Emma. “What's that all about?”
Emma went to the sink and stuck her hands in the dishwater. “I wash my hands of it.” And scrubbed a saucepan. After a bit, she went to the dining area and served the few customers that were left, and then finished the rest of the dishes. She said little more to Dominic, giving him space to concentrate on his business. She feared he had Claire's shenanigans on his mind, though, because the crease between his brows stayed bonded together. Emma focused on giving him her mental and moral supportâfor whatever that was worth.
When she'd done all she could do at the restaurant, she slipped out the back door, not sure what to do. Now that Claire had her sights set on luring Dominic back into the marriage bed, Gandiegow felt damned uncomfortable. She couldn't be in the next room while Claire and Dominic had wild, crazy sex. Emma felt lost and, yes, alone.
What have I gotten myself into?
She had no home anymore. She'd terminated her lease in Los Angeles with a hefty penalty. Her mother's house in London surely wasn't home; it hadn't been in a long while. Emma belonged nowhere. To no one.
She trudged along the path until she got to the boardwalk. It was after eight and her stomach grumbled. She wished now she'd sneaked in a bite at the restaurant when she'd had a chance. Besides the pub, the only place with the
lights still on was Quilting Central. She remembered the kitchen and decided to go there.
Only two steps later and she saw Gabriel come around the corner, carrying his medical bag. Her breathing involuntarily stopped.
“What are you doing out?” His breath was visible in the frigid night air.
She nodded toward Quilting Central. “Looking for food.” Her unruly stomach took that moment to grumbleâloudly.
He raised a questioning eyebrow. “What about the restaurant?”
“Don't ask,” she answered.
“Come back to the doctor's quarters. We'll have a bite to eat; then we can have that talk you wanted to have.”
She hesitated. He affected her in ways she didn't want to think about. Maybe being alone with him wasn't wise. Just then her stomach growled again.
They walked back to his place side by side.
“So, why are you out and about?” she inquired.
“Checking on Amy and her baby.”
Mentally Emma rolled her eyes.
Don't get me started on that baby.
She slipped and he caught her arm. She spun into him while he pulled her close. For a second her chest rested against his. Time warped into a still-life photo. Two lovers wrapped in each other's arms, staring into each other's eyes. The streetlamp provided the right amount of light in the dark of nightâas cozy as being under the covers with a flashlight, but this wasn't some child's play. And then, as if a blowtorch had set her blood on fire, her center melted and pooled in her nether regions. An area she'd completely given up hope on.
She started to reach a hand up to push his hair away from his eyes so she could see him better.
He pulled away, clearing his throat. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” she said stupidly.
She glanced up at him and he stared straight ahead, his expression as stony as the rocks on the bluff above them. Immediately, cold seeped into her body and she felt mortified. She must've imagined the intimacy they'd just shared.
A few seconds later and they were at the doctor's quarters. He held the door open for her, and she wavered. Coming here wasn't a good idea. The air seemed to hum when he was around her and she didn't know how to handle herself.
“In or out, Emma.” His deep Scottish baritone gave away nothing of what he was feeling.
Two could play at this game. She put her reserved British emotions back in place and stepped over the threshold. The smell of beef met her nose, and her mouth watered. “It smells delicious.”
“Stew,” he offered. He sat on the pew at the bottom of the stairs and slipped off his boots.
The unusual seating gave her the perfect opportunity to land on a neutral subject. “What is the story behind the pew? Was it here when you moved in?”
“Nay. I brought it with me. It's from my grandfather's church.” He ran his hand over the polished dark wood before reaching down and pulling a pair of sock slippers from a box underneath. “Here. Put these on.” He frowned at her snow-covered sneakers. “Boots, Emma. You have to get some boots.”
“I promise. Tomorrow.” She pointed to the spot next to him. “May I?”
“Aye.” He scooted over.
Tentatively, she sat next to him. “So, you come from a
long line of pastors?” She glanced over at him. “Why didn't you go into the family business? I had to.”
A wave of anger or pain, she couldn't tell which, swept over Gabriel. If the war raging on his face was any indication, Emma had poked at a sore spot.
Quickly, she laid a hand on his arm to undo what she'd done. “Sorry. I didn't mean to dig.”
“It's okay.” He shoved his feet into a pair of moccasins.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She flinched.
How very counselor-like of me
Old habits do die hard
“Nay.” He pointed up the stairs. “Let's get our tea.”
She rose. “Yes. Let's.”
“You go on up. I'll be just a minute. I have to put this away.” He picked up his medical bag and headed toward the surgery.
She walked up the stairs and went into the kitchen. It hit her again, just like before: She loved it. It was the quaintest kitchen she'd ever seen. Yellow-checked curtains over a farmer's sink. A tiny red Formica drop-leaf table with matching red stainless-steel chairs. Open cabinetry with unmatching but charming plates, bowls, and mugs. Had Deydie and the quilting ladies decorated for him? Remembering the old woman's remarks about outlanders and outsiders, Emma decided no
She went to the stove to check if there was water in the kettle and turned on the burner. Like she owned the place, she lifted the lid on the pot and smelled the beef stew. “Yummy.”
Gabriel cleared his throat. “I'm glad I started it earlier.”
“Yes, me, too. Thanks for the invite to dinner.” Then she noticed what he woreâa Dr. Who T-shirt and jeans. “Your normal doctor attire?”
He looked down at his shirt. “It puts the patients at
ease.” He pulled down two teacups and saucers and sat them on the red tabletop. “So, you wanted to talk about the Russos?”
Emma took down a couple of plates. “Are these okay?”
“Fine,” he said. “About Claire and Domâ”
She stalled. “Not on an empty stomach.” She was so tired of Claire's irrational state of mind and being thrust into the middle. She looked up at Gabriel apologetically and shrugged. “Can't we just have a peaceful dinner? I need a break from them.”
“Aye, a break it is.” He leaned against the wall.
She kept her head down, fussing with their place settings, making them perfect, knowing he watched her.
The teakettle whistled and he seemed to snap out of it. “Do you mind taking care of that while I take care of the stew?”
“Not at all. Making tea is my specialty.” She walked past him and grabbed the kettle while he sidled past her and snatched up the ladle. A perfect dance, as though they'd worked in the kitchen together forever.
When they finally sat down to eat, a sense of contentment overcame herâsomething she hadn't felt since she'd arrived in Gandiegow. Or in a long time, for that matter.
Gabriel shocked the hell out of her by grabbing her hand and saying a quick grace. When he finished and glanced up, he didn't apologize for not warning her. “Force of habit,” he said.