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"Yo, Braveheart! Whoop! Whoo-"
Devlin Montgomery's head popped through the neck of his cambric shirt just in time for him to glimpse a pair of long legs flailing above a hedge. Then he heard a thunk and a groan.
Damn American tourist, he thought, striding over to make sure the Yank hadn't killed herself. And yes, it had to be an American-such an enthusiastic holler could only come from an American.
It wasn't human kindness alone that hastened his steps. Lawsuits and Americans went hand in hand, and the Strathcuddy Faire, a new entrant in the lucrative business of annual Highland games fairs, couldn't afford any litigious actions. Besides being bad publicity, it would cut severely into the purses awarded to the winners of the various contests, and Devlin Montgomery, who had every intention of winning several of those purses, badly needed the cash.
Dev looked over the top of the fence capping the yew hedge. A woman lay sprawled in the clover. Platinum blond hair tumbled about her shoulders, half covering her face. She was twisted at the waist, her long jeans-clad legs bent to one side and her arms thrown wide. The position drew attention to her bosom.
Dev sucked in a low whistle. It was a bosom well worth drawing attention to, and right now it was stretching the printing on a snug fitting, and garishly plaid, T-shirt that read "Sassy Lassie."
He suppressed a groan. God deliver him from tourists.
As he watched she spat a hank of silvery hair out of her mouth. He vaulted lightly over the rail, landing beside her.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Apair of eyes flashed and disappeared behind the curtain of hair. She moaned but made no attempt to straighten herself. His concern redoubled. "Miss?"
"Perfeclee fine," she slurred out.
Oh, yeah. Definitely American. Not an East Coast or southern native, though. California blonde?
Dev knelt beside her, carefully brushing some of the hair from her face. What he uncovered would have made a Viking papa proud. Wide cheekbones flared above a firm, clean jawline. Her nose was short, her lips were full and plush. True, the brows and lashes were darker than that which usually went with such a blond mane, but then there was no saying she was a real blonde. Especially that shade of blonde. She still would have made a Viking papa proud. Especially if the length of those legs translated into the height he suspected she owned.
"Can you move anything?" he asked.
"Courth...course I can, silly. I can move everything," she said, eyes still shut.
It didn't sound as if she were in pain, but maybe she just couldn't feel any pain. Maybe she'd broken her back.
"How do you know?" he asked worriedly. "Do you think you're moving things? Because if you do, you're wrong. Nothing's moving."
"I'm not that tanked," she said with a touch of asperity. Abruptly one hand rose and the fingers wiggled. "There," she said. "See?"
One eye opened a slit, and she peered up at him. Blue eyes. A blue-eyed maybe blonde. His breath hitched. Okay. So he'd once been a touch susceptible to that particular combination. He was older now, not so easy to impress. Ha.
"Braveheart! You're still here," she said in the happy tones of the pleasantly sotted.
"Yeah," he said. She'd dimpled as she said it, and he caught back a low whistle. She was as cute as a newborn giraffe. "Ah, can I do anything for you, miss?"
"Oh, yeah," she breathed, still gazing raptly up at him. "Speak Sean Connery for me."
"Ya know-'Ye seem to hae fallen on yer nut, haven't ye, ye great heeland coo?'"
Caught off guard by the atrocious and disarmingly canny impersonation, Dev broke into laughter. She couldn't be too badly hurt.
"There's a sport." She grinned foolishly, her eyes unfocused and sappy with expectation.
"Sorry. I don't do Sean Connery."
"Wish I could," she mumbled morosely, rolling her head to the side. Abruptly her dazed gaze sharpened. She darted a glance at him out of the corner of her eye, squirmed a little closer to his knee, and . . .
His eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to look up my kilt?"
Her head snapped back to its original position. Her blue eyes went round as she donned an abrupt and completely unconvincingly innocent expression.
"Well?" he prodded sternly.
"Maybe," she allowed and sniffed. "What's the big deal, anyway?"
Americans and their kilt fetishes. He brought his face closer to hers. "If you found out the Secret of the Kilt," he whispered dramatically, "you could never leave the country."
She snorted, but he noted that a wave of color had unrolled up her throat. He rose to his feet and held out his hand.
"Here. Let me help you up. Braveheart would never leave a damsel in distress." She hesitated, so he added, "Especially an American damsel. They sue if you don't meet their expectations."
"Hey. Scots aren't supposed to be sarcastic." She didn't move, just lay on her back.
"I'm half French," he explained pleasantly.
"You don't look French," she said suspiciously.
"I know. I look like Braveheart. Of course, there is a slight matter of my having eight inches on Mr. Gibson."
"Oh? Where?" As soon as the words were out she clamped a hand over her mouth. Her fair skin flooded with an intense blood-orange color.
"Five," she mumbled into her palm.
"What?" Dev asked, confounded and bemused; the color of her eyes was exactly the color of the pansies growing untended beside his back door, and just as velvety-
"I had five Scotches at the Scottish tasting booth." Her gaze looked abashed above the gag of her hand. "I mean Scotch tasting booth!" She started giggling.
Five? Good Lord. No wonder the girl couldn't get up. Or even sit up, for that matter. He moved around to her head and squatted down, wrapping his arms under her arms and lifting. She hung like a sack of wet wool.
"Why did you have so many?" he grunted, heaving her to her feet.
Toni Olson squinted thoughtfully up at the blue, cloud-clotted sky, vaguely aware that the gorgeous Scot she'd spied earlier that day hurling a telephone pole around was propping her up. Why had she tasted so many whiskies? Because they were there, that was why. There and cheap, and she was on the last few days of a dream vacation-cum-business trip before returning to Minnesota.
She couldn't ever remember feeling so...so free. And delighted. It must be the clean air sweeping in off the sea, or being up in a real, live Scottish valley, or seeing her first guy in a kilt who wasn't either eighty years old or blowing into a bagpipe or both.
But when she'd seen this man, who was the culmination of every one of her lustful, Braveheart-induced fantasies, stride around the corner of the tent in nothing but a kilt, she'd reacted the same way her niece did every time Wally Szczberiak walked on the court for the Timber-wolves. She'd whooped. For the same reason she'd drunk all the Scotch: he was there.
He really was gorgeous, she thought, twisting around and grinning at her hero. More-than-Mel might have ridden from the pages of a history book, leading a horde of painted savages on some sort of heroic assault. He had a hard, square jaw, a cleft chin, and a firm, wide mouth. He had red hair, too, but not carroty red. It was dark auburn that fell in loopy curls on the back of his neck and went particularly well with his dark, coffee-brown eyes.
Added to all this masculine beauty was a body that shouted, "National underwear ad campaign." Tall, lean, lithe-if she hadn't had so much to drink she could have come up with more and better adjectives. She still could have if he hadn't put his shirt on. Too bad. Right now all she could remember was that his stomach was as corrugated as a mile of country road and muscles had bunched all over his shoulders, chest, and arms as he'd put on his shirt.
"Miss, are you sure you're all right?" he asked. He had her upright now and kept one hand on her shoulder while cautiously relinquishing his grip on her with the other.
"You look sort of goofy."
Some of the glow around More-than-Mel faded. Braveheart wouldn't have used a word like goofy.
"What say we get a spot of something in you to soak up the spirits, eh?"
Dinner and a date with Braveheart? Hot damn. "Hoo-kay," she said, turning around-oops. Mistake. The world caught up to her feet and kept moving right on by. She swayed, tilted, and began to pitch forward-
-and a strong hand curled around her waist. Without even a grunt this time, the gorgeous Scot picked her up and resettled her on her feet, facing him. She found herself staring at the tip of his nose.
It had been a long time since Toni Olson, onetime all-state center for the Edina girls' basketball team, had looked up to meet a man's eyes. She did so now and all she could think was that it was obscene that those lashes should have been wasted on a man.
"Begads, luv." The gaze traveling down her body was as slow as molasses, sending tingles along her skin. "I'm surprised you don't have a chronic nosebleed all the way up here."
The tingles stopped. Another comedian. "You seem to have adapted."
"Aye. But I'm a braw manly man, and you're just a-"
"Don't say it." If she had a penny for every would-be comic who thought it hilarious to call her a wisp of a girl-
"-pale American who can't hold her liquor." His black-brown eyes sparkled.
"Oh." Points to him for ducking the obvious. Points to him for still being here. Most men would have left her flat on her back burping Scotch and moaning. Not that she needed any help. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She was a practical, sensible Minnesotan.
She started to sway again. He grabbed her arm, steadying her.
"Can you walk, or should I carry you?" he asked.
Toni shot him a darkly suspicious glare. His expression was perfectly sober. He meant it. If she said the word, this poor man would risk condemning himself to a life of chiropractic care in order to carry her somewhere. She could just imagine what that would look like, all six feet one and one-half inches of her sticking out at odd angles as he staggered toward the fairgrounds gasping,
"Nah-uh. But thanks. I jes...I just need to walk a lil bit."
"Sure," he said offering his arm, and a nicely muscled arm it was, too.
"You have very nice manners for a Scot," she said graciously.
"We Scots are known for our good manners."
"No, you're not," she replied matter-of-factly.
"No?" He definitely sounded amused. What had she said that was so funny? "What are we known for then?"
"Kilts," she replied, pleased with her insight. "And Scotch. And thistles. Mel Gibson-"
"Mel Gibson isn't Scottish!" he said, sounding indignant.
"Don't be such a stickler," she answered. "He looks good in a kilt. Almost as good as you."
She tripped, but he caught her against his hip. He had big, strong hands. Her heart started pitter-patting with teenage lust. And she wasn't a teenager. Far from it. She was twenty-five. She pulled her thoughts back to the matter at hand and caught sight of his strongly muscled calves.
"You got nice legs," she said sincerely.
"Back atcha." He really sounded amused now. She grinned, inordinately pleased with the offhand compliment.
They'd made their way to one of the tented booths crowding the side of the gaming field. Amiddle-aged man with huge, red muttonchop sideburns snored in a chair behind a counter. More-than-Mel picked up a scone from a plate balanced on the edge of the counter and handed it to her before filling a paper cup from the pitcher of lemonade beside it. He put it in her free hand.
"Eat. Drink. I'd add 'Be merry,' but I think you're already there."
She complied, chomping off a third of the biscuit. It was hard and salty with way too much baking soda, nothing as good a Patisserie Margot's. But she was a guest. "Yum."
"Birdie makes the best scones in Scotland."
Toni mumbled noncommittally around the dry crumbs. Poor More-than-Mel if he thought this was what a scone was supposed to taste like. Her hero dropped a couple coins into a tumbler with an "Honor System" placard taped to it. Not surprisingly, it wasn't exactly overflowing.
"Where's Birdie?" Toni asked.
"Birdie wouldn't be caught dead at a Highland fair. She disapproves of them on principle."
Birdie probably wouldn't be caught dead admitting to making those scones. Toni sure wouldn't. She took a sip of lemonade. It was watery. "She doesn't have anything against making a buck off the tourists though."
"Of course not. She's principled but practical."
Toni nodded with grudging understanding. In spite of having spent every last dime on T-shirts, treacle pudding, and tartan throws on her way to picking up her prize pooch before heading back to Grim Reality-aka Hopkins, Minnesota- she considered herself acutely practical.
Avoice distorted by a bullhorn and distance called out for the next set of contestants to take the field for the hammer toss.
"Hey," Toni said, peering up at the gorgeous Scot. "Am I keeping you from something important like dancing under a flaming sword or something?"
He bit his lip. "Nah," he said seriously. "I heard they scratched the limbo from the program."
"Oh." She smiled.
"Look," he said. "You can't get behind the wheel in your present state. Let me drive you to your inn."
She shook her head fervently. "No. I couldn't ask. You'll miss the hammer heave or whatever it's called."
"Hammer toss, and I've already competed in my weight class."
"Ah!" she said, liking the picture her imagination conjured up of this man bronzed and gleaming with non-smelly sweat, flinging a manly-sized hammer yards beyond his puny competitor's range. "Did you win?"
"Didn't even place."
"Well, there's probably some other sport you need to be here for."
"Rugby. But not for a couple hours. Where are you staying?"
"I know it well. It's only five miles or so up the road. I'll drive you there and trot on back here in plenty of time for the kickoff."
She frowned peevishly. Somehow she'd gotten the idea that if she made all the appropriate noises about not imposing on him and he made all the appropriate noises about it being no trouble, they'd eventually end up back at the inn eating haggis in the moonlight and gazing soul-fully into each other's eyes. Or engaged in other, equally interesting, pastimes.
Apparently he hadn't shared her vision. He was just being polite.
"So where's the auto?"
She jerked her thumb in the direction of the car lot. "There."
She wasn't sure she wanted to go back to the inn just yet. She'd been having a grand time. Scotland was everything she'd dreamed it would be-except for the food.
High, barren moors and pine-shrouded mountains, purple heather and leathery burgundy gorse, the west of Scotland embodied the romance of a hundred Hollywood movies. She'd lunched on terraces overlooking shaggy Highland cows placidly grazing the banks of lochs- lochs, by heavens!-followed the paths purportedly traveled by cattle-thieving clansmen and border lords, quaffed tepid beer and gnawed on castle rock, toured the haunted ruins of a dozen abbeys, and today, on her way to Oronsay Kennels, stumbled on a real, live Highland fair.
No. She didn't want to go back to her inn. But she supposed if she insisted on staying now, she'd only look like a pathetic American, hanging around hoping to spend more time with Laird Luscious. Which was true, of course, but a girl had her pride.
"Come along then," he encouraged her. Heaving a resigned sigh, she allowed him to lead her to the parking lot, where she pointed out the tinny little Volkswagen van she'd rented.
He helped her into the passenger seat before going round and sliding in behind the wheel. He turned the ignition, and the beast grumbled to life. "Ach, love, I see you went all-out renting the sporty model."
She studied him suspiciously. The full effects of the scotch had begun to fade a bit. "Was that 'ach' for my benefit?"
He gave her a charming, heart-tipping grin. "Busted. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery."
Somehow she avoided making the obvious comment.
She would have been heartened if she'd known that Dev was biting his own tongue to keep from making a similarly cheesy remark.
He looked over at the tall, willowy Nordic princess, and he didn't want to play rugby. He wanted to stay with her and see what odd, funny, and disconcerting bits would next escape her lips. As long back as he could remember, he'd never ditched out on a rugby game. But if he didn't have a dozen of his mates counting on him to return, he sure as hell would now.
One thing was for certain; if the ride to the inn was half as interesting as the last half-hour had been, he'd be heading back to Strathcuddy Inn first light tomorrow. He pulled out of the parking lot. "So, darlin'," he said, trying to sound offhand, "might your driver ask your name?"
"Toni," she said. "Antoinette Olson."
"Part French?" he asked sardonically.
She shook her head. "Nope. In America you don't have to have an ethnic background to have an ethnic name. We're very democratic."
"So I've been told."
She hiccuped and blushed. When was the last time he'd seen a girl blush? She was lovely.
"My middle name is Chosposi," she continued. "It's Hopi for 'Bluebird Eye,' and before you ask, I'm not Hopi, either."
"Good God," he blurted out.
"Mother went to Berkeley," she said primly.
"It's a charming name. So...unexpected."
She nodded, sending the curtain of blond hair rippling. "Thanks. Tit for tat. What's your name?"
"Devlin Montgomery. Dev for short."
She gave a short guffaw that she immediately covered with her hand.
"What was so funny about 'Devlin Montgomery'?" he demanded.
"Nothing," she said, keeping her face turned forward. But her lips kept twitching with irrepressible humor.
"Well...come on! Devlin Montgomery? I couldn't have named you better myself."
"I must be missing something."
"Well, look at you!" she declared, giggling. "You look like you should be on a billboard advertising Loch Liquor or something. You know. The kind with a dark, craggy mountain looming in the background and you in the foreground, a bottle of whisky in one hand and a sword in the other."
"Sounds a mite hackneyed."
"Yeah. Well, that's my point."
All right, perhaps it had occasionally occurred to him that his name had a certain romantic quality to it. But what most interested him was her previous words. "And what do you mean, 'look at me'?"
She blushed again. He bet she wasn't nearly so forth-coming when she was sober. She blushed too easily and too readily to be in the habit of saying whatever came to her mind. And what an interesting mind it was. Malt whisky billboard, indeed.
"You must know you are gorgeous."
"Must I?" Sure, in the last five or six years he'd grown accustomed to a certain amount of female attention. But he still found it unsettling, as if any day he might wake up and discover his mum was paying the girls to do a bit of fawning.
He glanced at Toni. He bet this tall, stately creature wouldn't have spared him a passing glance ten years ago. Then he'd been nothing but a scarecrow with braces. He hadn't even gone to the local deb ball, and that in spite of the invitations that came with being the school's rugby captain.
She still hadn't answered. Probably thought he was fishing for a compliment, which he was. He wouldn't mind being fawned over by Toni Olson. He wouldn't mind doing quite a bit with Toni Olson, he thought.
"Are you ogling me?" she asked. But he had her mark now, and nothing that popped from between her lips was likely to catch him off guard.
"As it happens, I was."
"Oh." She opened her mouth, shut it, turned, and stared straight ahead again. He grinned.
"What? You can blurt out candid comments, but I can't?"
She swung around to face him. "That's not it," she said. "I was trying to decide if you were pulling my leg."
"Not without an invite." He leered at her. "My mum raised me to be a gentleman."
Out of the corner of her eye he saw her swallow. Atad bit of an innocent, then, in spite of that eight-inch comment.
"I was rather hoping you might burst out with a hearty 'damn' at that particular juncture," he said.
"I like gentlemen," she replied. "I'd hate it if you turned out to be just another guy with notches on his bedpost."
He chuckled at the idea. "No worries there, luv. My bedpost is sadly unmarked."
"So you say."
"We can take the next turnoff, and I can show you," he suggested.
"No. I mean, no, thank you," she said, suddenly prim. But she kept stealing glances at him when she thought he wasn't looking, and the color in her cheeks stayed high.
"Another day, then." They passed through the village, and in a few minutes they were rolling into the Strathcuddy Inn's yard. A chicken squawked at their arrival, and a white cat scooted out from under a wooden bench beside the front door.
The sun was just kissing the tops of the mountains to the north. He got out of the car and went round to Toni's side, opening the door and holding out his hand. She clasped it gratefully, and he pulled her up and out. It was a unique pleasure to be able to speak to a woman without getting a crick in his neck. She was just the right height. Just the right height to . . .
He leaned in and kissed her.
His lips touched hers, and her world tilted right back out of orbit. He settled his mouth more firmly, putting his arms around her to draw her closer, steadying her, holding her upright. His kiss was firm and heated and hungry.
His muscular length tensed, his arms tightened, and the kiss deepened even more. Her thoughts spun, whirled, senses clamoring for attention. He drew back a little, their lips clinging sweetly, so gently, his polishing, coaxing . . . Her mouth opened.
His tongue slipped into her mouth and found hers. Little sparks shattered against the back of her eyelids. She sighed a surrender to pleasure as her hands slipped around his waist, bringing their hips into contact. With a deep urgent sound, he tipped her back, his strong arms supporting her, and bent over her, kissing her even more deeply, his fingers tunneling through her hair . . .
A lamb bleated nearby, penetrating her fast-fleeing thoughts. Lamb? Her eyes flew open. Lamb. Scotland. Scotch.
This wasn't Minnesota. Sure, she could take him up to her room and make love until the sun rose above the western edge of the Grampian Mountains. But he wouldn't be calling the next day. Or any day after, for that matter. He'd be a souvenir.
Or she would.
He felt her hands on his chest and then, suddenly, she pushed herself away, breaking off their ardent kiss. She braced her arms straight, her palms flat on his heaving chest. Her own chest was doing a fair amount of heaving itself, and her eyes were dilated, bright with trepidation and arousal. Abruptly he realized he was still holding her, pulling against her push. He released her.
Her lips looked full, bruised. Had he done that?
"What was that?" she asked breathlessly.
Chemistry, he thought blankly. He'd heard about but never experienced it, instant electrifying sexual attraction set to blaze by any contact. Even a simple good-night kiss. Good-night, not good-bye. It couldn't be good-bye.
"I don't know." He tried to make his tone light. "But I want to find out. How about you?"
He waited for her answer, willing her to say yes.
"I don't know," she said, her gaze searching his face.
"I'm leaving Scotland in a few days, and I have some business I have to take care of before I go."
He mustn't scare her, which is just what he was doing. He could see the uneasiness in her eyes.
"Let me write down my number," he said. "If you have time after you're done, please call me."
Dear Lord, did she think he was kidding? "Yes. Really. I'd love to . . . I want to . . . Geez. Why do you have to leave in a few days?"
"Plane ticket. Nonrefundable."
"I thought you were a gentleman." There was a little note of amusement in the breathless admonition.
"I am. Sorry. When? Two days? Three?"
"Damn it." He raked his hair back, casting about for some way to keep her in Scotland longer.
"Look, it's been a while since we left the fair," she said. "Your friends'll be expecting you."
Was she trying to get rid of him? "Da- Sorry." If she wanted him gone, he'd best go. He strode over to the van, rummaged around in the glove compartment, found a piece of paper, and scribbled his number down on it.
"You're right, of course. I'd best be off." He couldn't give her some hackneyed phrase. "It was fascinating meeting you, Toni Olson. I hope you call. Please do."
And then he did something that in the coming years he would look back on and be impressed by. He started down the road, and he did not look back. At least not until he was fairly certain the darkness concealed him. Then he did turn. But she'd disappeared.
Copyright (c) 2001 by Connie Brockway