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Bad Boys in Kilts
By DONNA KAUFFMAN
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Donna Kauffman
All right reserved.
Chapter One"This place isn't big enough for the both of us." Kat Henderson wiped her hands on the already grimy rag hanging from a loop on her coveralls. She glared across the cobblestone square as Daisy MacDonnell flipped the OPEN sign over in the small stationery shop that sat catty-corner to the Hendersons' own motor-body repair business. "Call me Daisy Mac," Kat mimicked, remembering how Daisy—all perky American perkiness—had introduced herself several weeks back upon taking over the place for her late aunt, Maude.
Of course, if that sign in the window was the only thing Daisy was flipping in Glenbuie, Kat would have been first in line to welcome their newest resident to their small, eastern highland village. Every male in all of Tayside, it seemed, had been panting after the Yank since the moment she'd stepped out of that hired car.
"Come now," her father urged. "Enough of that. Hand me that wrench. This bastard is being a stubborn stick in the arse if ever there was one."
Kat absently handed over the wrench, her thoughts still on the American interloper.
"If you ask me, I say you go over and befriend the enemy," her father said conversationally, between grunts as he tried to loosen whatever it was that was stuck now. Given the condition of the old Cooper he was working on, it wouldn't surprise Kat if the whole undercarriage was permanently welded together with ancient axle grease and decades worth of dried manure. Only Hinky Thomas would think a Mini Cooper capable of being used as a farm vehicle.
"Make nice with her? Why on earth would I do something like that?"
"Do you a sight more good than standing here, shooting fiery beams of hell through her front door, that much I do know."
Kat muttered something under her breath, and reluctantly pulled her gaze away from Maude's shop. She took the wrench when he waggled it back up at her, then handed him a rag when he asked for one.
"You can't blame the lads for sniffin' about now, either," he went on. "Of course they're going to do a bit of ogling and the like. She's a might bit younger than most of the single lasses about town, yourself excluded. She's not hard on the eyes, and besides that, she's—"
"Fresh meat. I know, I know, you don't have to tell me."
Alastair Henderson rolled out from under the car and looked up at his only daughter. "I wasn't going to use quite that language, but aye, you've hit squarely on it with that observation. She'll be a challenge to them for a bit, then the dust will settle. More than likely she'll take up with one or the other, and all will return to normal."
"She can have all the rest of them, but why did she have to set her sights on—" Kat's rant ended abruptly as she spied the object of her lust strolling affably down the opposite walkway, stopping just in front of—"Och, the ruddy bastard! Already staking his claim. And in broad daylight, no less. Cheeky wanker."
"Such language. Yer sainted mum is surely rolling her eyes in the heavens, hearing you talk like that." Her father reached up and snagged the dangling tool from Kat's hand before she dropped it on his head, then rolled himself back under the car. "And I sincerely doubt he's in there doing anything other than chatting her up. Although God love him if he could swing something more at half past eleven in the morn—"
"Papa!" Kat kicked the trolley he was lying on with the toe of her boot. She scowled when he chuckled. "It's not funny. I'm in pain here. Your only offspring's heart is bleedin' and you're wantin' to raise a toast to the man's sexual prowess."
"What better reason to raise a glass, says I," he responded, completely unrepentant. "At least it gives the rest of us poor sods some hope."
Kat shook her head. "Incorrigible, the lot of you." Although she was certain Brodie Chisholm had had more than a toast raised to his prowess. Which was well documented in these parts. And those a bit abroad as well, if rumors were true. And they likely were. She'd known his charming self all her life, as well as most of the girls he'd spent time honing those skills with. None of whom had been her. Something, of course, she'd been fine with. After all, she was more to him than any of those backseat crumpets would ever be, and proud of it. She'd much rather be his valued friend and confidante than chance losing the special bond they shared for a brief peek at heaven.
Not that she'd ever had the opportunity to turn down the invitation.
"You wouldn't have us any other way," her father was saying. "Your mum would be quite disappointed in me for spendin' as much time alone as I have these past ten years and we both know it."
Kat had nothing to say to that, because her father was right. Her mum made him promise on her deathbed that he wouldn't wallow in grief and be a burden to their only daughter for the remainder of his days. In fact, what she'd said was, Find yourself someone to care about and do it before you're too grizzled for anyone to find ye'charming.
"And," he added, "she'd have no patience for the way yer still caterwauling about over Brodie Chisholm all these years later."
"Shh," Kat warned, looking over her shoulder. As if Brodie could actually overhear them from across the square. "I'm not caterwauling."
She glanced across the street, wondering what was going on behind that closed door. "I'm, uh, I'm merely looking out for the best interests of a good friend. After all, what do we really know about her other than she's Maude's great niece, come from America to start a new life. For all we know, she's running from a husband and a brood of children. Or ... or worse. Maude never spoke of her."
Her father rolled out just far enough to give her a look of reproach. "Maude never spoke much at all about anything in her personal life. Kept to herself, that one. And you'd do better to simply own up to your role in this and stop trying to pin it on some innocent bystander."
Kat huffed out a sigh. "Okay, fine. So I had kind of a crush on him that summer after I finished my sixth-year highers, before Mum passed, when we were, what, seventeen? That was over ten years ago. We were solid friends way before then and have been ever since. So, am I wrong to worry that he'll get caught up in some passing fancy with the American? Honestly, how do we know she's not here on some whim? Thinking it a lark to take on her inheritance herself. As if running a shop in a small highland town is a game to be played at."
"And you know all this about our newcomer because you've sat across from her so many mornings over tea?" Her father wasn't much for sarcasm, and even now, his words were laced with affection.
Kat's cheeks grew a bit pink. "I'm only sayin' that he might want to be a bit more circumspect, is all. Until we know what she's about."
"And I'm sayin' that it's a sad day when a Henderson wants something and doesn't go after it. I've the patience of a saint, which is a good damn thing considering this son of a bitching bastard is about clapped out and I promised Hinky I'd find a way to keep it going. But even I'm about out of patience with you on this matter."
"I didn't come running to you for advice now, did I?"
"I'm just sayin' that I don't know why you didn't play your hand when you were the only game in town. No, ye go faffing about until another woman shows up, making all the lads come sniffin' 'round, then ye start mooning over what might have been and lost chances and the like." He rolled out from under the car. "There are no lost chances, only missed opportunities. And you know what I always say about that."
"Opportunities are the chances you make for yourself," Kat repeated with him. She tossed the rag at him as he sat up.
Her father dabbed the rag to his forehead, blotting off the beads of sweat but leaving a bigger smear of grime behind. "You can pull the wool over everyone else's eyes, Kat-o-mine, but no one knows ye like your papa. You and I both know you've wanted Brodie Chisholm for so long that you grew comfortable with it, accepted it for what it was, thinking at some point perhaps you'd press for more. Now there's someone who might compete with you for that spot in his heart and suddenly you're all concerned, claiming you're looking after his best interests. All I'm saying to you is that for once, you might want to look after your own."
Her father was right and they both knew it. "You think I'm being silly." She gestured at herself. "But look at me, Papa. Daisy is as fresh and pretty as her name. I'm—"
"Solid as a rock and the best damn thing going in this town," Alastair answered automatically.
It was silly, but his instant and unwavering defense made her eyes water a little. She quickly recovered by glancing back across the square again. Brodie was in there right now with Daisy. And here she was, just standing in the shadows, watching. Knowing, as she'd always known, that this one would be like all the rest, just another passing fancy for him. Only this time she wasn't so sure. Daisy might not be a true Glenbuie villager quite yet, but she wasn't some tourist passing through town, either.
And Kat knew she wasn't the only one feeling the changes that came with time. Brodie came from a strong family, as did she, each of them with ties to Glenbuie that went back several hundred years. Despite his playboy ways, he'd want his own family someday. Had said so to her more than once, hadn't he? Of course it had been in that dreamy, can't-imagine-it-now kind of way, but the longing was there nonetheless. She understood it as she'd begun to feel that same longing a wee bit herself.
Her father was right about another thing, too. A Henderson didn't sit idly by and let others take what was theirs. Shamed as she was to admit it, it would serve her right if Brodie found the one who settled him down, and Kat hadn't done anything to let him know she fancied herself as that woman. It was supposed to be her. That it was always supposed to be her.
"Thanks, Papa," she said, "your defense is well noted and appreciated. It's only that I can't help but think he's had plenty of time to notice me in that way, and he's never once so much as hinted at it."
"Brodie Chisholm might enjoy playing as much as he enjoys laboring, but the lad is anything but an idiot. Hagg's Pub was never so profitable or popular when the old cuss ran it. Brodie's a scamp and a scoundrel for certain, but his heart is fully meshed with Glenbuie and all who reside here. It's that love and respect for his past that auld Finny Chisholm instilled in all his grandsons that makes Brodie good at what he does. Hagg's is now the heart and soul of this village because Brodie has made it the heart and soul of this village." He pushed to a stand and moved beside her. "Your heart runs just as deep and true, lassie. He knows that. It's why ye have that special bond between you that you do." He leaned down and bussed her forehead, then favored her with a wink. "You should have more faith."
Kat leaned into him, pressing her shoulder against his, but her gaze shifted back to the door of the stationer's shop. "I have faith in a lot of things," she said after a moment or two. But my ability to attract a man, especially one who is all man like Brodie Chisholm, isn't one of them, she thought, not putting her biggest fear to words. Knowing her father, she didn't have to, anyway. He was the only one who saw past the tough-as-nails, tomboy exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath.
Proving the truth in that, he gently chided her. "So go clean yourself up and walk over there and buy a card or something. Give you a chance to size up your competition, and something to use to get a little attention."
"Buy a card for Brodie? It's not his birthday and the closest holiday is months off."
Alastair sighed and looked up to the heavens as he shook his head. "Where did we go wrong, Maddy mine? Our girl has not a speck of the romantic fool in her."
"A fool is exactly what I'm afraid I'm going to make out of myself."
He was grinning broadly as he looked at his daughter. "Och, lass, where love is involved, you not only have to be willin' to risk looking the fool, you have to embrace the inevitability of it. Cupid forgives those who make fools of themselves for love, you know. As do the targets of his arrows ... if they're worthy."
Kat knew when she was beat. So she did the only thing she could do. She turned the tables. She snagged the rag from her father's hands and snapped it playfully, a devilish smile ghosting her lips. "So why havena I seen you at Maude's shop, buying a card or perhaps a few posies for Miss Eleanor?"
She had the distinct pleasure of watching her father's already ruddy complexion turn a far more serious shade of red. "What I do and who I do or don't buy posies for is my own particular business," he blustered, snatching the rag back and turning once again to Hinky's recalcitrant Cooper, which still awaited his magic mechanical touch. "Don't recall asking for your advice either," he grumbled.
"And there ye have it, my point exactly. But that didn't stop you—"
"I don't go mooning about over Eleanor Walth, day-dreamin' about things I'm too afraid to go after, when I'm supposed to be working."
Kat batted her eyelashes and folded her hands under her chin. "Would that explain why ye almost burnt the place down the other night then? When you forgot to take the water from the stove after a certain someone stopped in to see about getting her brakes fixed? A double entendre if I ever heard one, ask me."
"No one is asking you. And you can forget I ever mentioned anything. If you want to go on standing there and watching from the sidelines while that Yank snatches what you want right directly from under your nose, without even so much as making an effort after it, well, then I suppose you deserve the heartache you claim to be havin'. I'll leave you to explain in your prayers to your sainted mum, why you're content to let her see her one and only not so much as lift a finger to go after what she wants."
"Don't play Mum into this to distract me from my topic," Kat said, partly to tweak him and partly because his words now were having a far bigger impact on her than his loving defense of her had earlier.
"I'll stoop to whatever means necessary," her father said, wholly unrepentant. "How do you think we Hendersons come to still be here, three hundred and a quarter years after first setting foot into Glenbuie?"
Kat mouthed the words with him, so often had she heard them, then leaned over and bussed him loudly on his still-red cheek. "I'm going to head down to Plough's for some sandwiches. You want your regular?"
"When don't I?" he said gruffly, but then he tugged at one of her braided ponytails. "Bring me an extra orange cream while you're at it."
"When haven't I?" she shot back, glad they were back on even footing once again. She loved her father dearly, didn't know what she'd do without him, but he knew her all too well. And she knew she'd chew over his comments far longer than she'd chew on one of Plough's hard rolls. Which was saying something.
She went into the small washroom in the back and scrubbed at her hands, her thoughts already running back over their conversation as she let herself out of the side door of their corner shop a moment later ... only to bang directly into the subject of that conversation himself.
Chapter TwoBrodie grabbed Kat by her shoulders to keep them both from going down on the cobblestones. "Have to love a woman on a mission," he told her with a laugh, as she tugged free from his grasp.
"Aye. Going to Plough's."
He stepped aside and waved his arm in a courtly fashion. "Never stand between a woman and food, I always say."
"And you always say the sweetest things," she retorted, batting her eyelashes in a cynical fashion before pushing past him.
She took two strides before he snagged one of her braids and tugged on it, making her turn back. "What's wrong with you? A little engine trouble?"
She glared at him before flipping the braid over her shoulder, pointedly out of his reach. "You might say that."
Now he frowned. Had he missed something here? "Am I in trouble? You're not still fashed because Pitts beat you at darts the other night? Everyone has an off night—I told you that. And I know he's been a bit of a sod, gloatin' as he does. But I still say if you'd just listened to me, and balanced the weight further back on the—"
Excerpted from Bad Boys in Kilts by DONNA KAUFFMAN Copyright © 2006 by Donna Kauffman. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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