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Some Like It Scot
By Donna Kauffman
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Donna Kauffman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGraham MacLeod needed a bride.
Not that he wanted one. But there were extenuating circumstances.
"How about Bitsy?" Roan said, clicking away on his computer keyboard, resulting in a steady stream of photographs parading across his monitor.
Graham did not want to know what site his friend was on, much less who any of those women were. He was hardly going to choose a mate from a website catalog.
Roan barely paused on any of them more than a second or two, then kept clicking, while faces kept flashing.
Graham turned and looked out the office window, wanting no part of any of it, truth be told. He should be out in the fields, running tests, checking the fresh growth. Not wasting time on some four-hundred-year-old wild goose chase.
Roan took a short break, sighed, and plowed his fingers through his hair, then went back to tapping keys, a resolute expression on his normally genial face. "I mean, there is that unfortunate skin condition, and I'm no' too certain she'll be willin' to leave the family homestead, carin' for her great auntie's cats as she does." He paused briefly to shoot a wry smile in Graham's direction. "Not to mention carting her over the threshold might take the wind out of your sails a wee bit."
Graham glanced over at him. "Bitsy is your cousin. Have a care."
"She's routinely pulled pranks on us since we were wee lads," Roan reminded him. "And no' the gentle, affectionate kind, either, if you recall. I still bear the physical scars. Just last week she thought it would be the height of amusement to con Henrietta into addin' a heavy starch to my laundry. The laundry in question was my boxers."
Shay snorted from where he sat at the other desk, across the room. "So you're sayin' your cousin gave you a stiffie?"
"That's no' amusin', Shay, no' in the least," Roan shot back.
"And he wants to marry her off to me," Graham said to Shay. "With friends like that-"
"It's a friend like me who's going through all the trouble of helping you out in the first place, don't forget," Roan said. "I wouldn't have suggested her, but she's the only available McAuley lass of age left on the island."
Graham turned fully back around. "That canno' be true."
Roan laughed. "Ye've less than four hundred of us to see after, perhaps twice as many sheep, but I'll bet you know the sheep's lineage better than your own. You spend far too much time out in the fields, running tests, measuring soil-"
"Probably sending longing looks toward the sheep," Shay interjected, but was studiously going over papers when Graham shot him a dark look.
Roan laughed. "Perhaps I should send them a warning. You've been quite the hermit far too long."
"Veritable monk," Shay added, distractedly. "It's not natural."
"Yes, well, as you both are fully aware, given you face similar circumstances, the list of available companions on Kinloch is a rather short one past blood relatives of one sort or another."
"Aye, but we're not tied to a clan law that forces us to marry one of them in order to carry on our work," Roan said, not remotely put off by Graham's deepening scowl.
"Nor are you tied to only finding a suitable McAuley on this island," Shay reminded him. "Which is why God made ferry boats. Perhaps you've heard of them, big seafaring vessels that can transport a man to the mainland-and heaven-in a matter of hours."
"He only goes to the mainland for science and farming symposiums," Roan reminded Shay. "And a veritable smorgasbord of sweet, young flesh to be found at those functions, I'm sure."
"Actually, I think horn-rims on a woman are rather sexy," Shay said, pausing in his reading as if to give that matter serious thought.
"Only as you're sliding them off her, so she canno' see you so clearly," Roan joked. "Blurry up your bits a little. 'Things are larger than they actually appear, darlin', and all that."
"He's really no' that amusing after all, is he?" Shay said to Graham in that flat, dry manner that was distinctly his, before going straight back into the stack of legal documents he was poring over.
Graham gazed at his two closest friends. He and Roan McAuley had been best mates since they'd both been in nappies. Shay Callaghan had popped up during their seventh summer, when his mother dumped him on Kinloch to be raised by his father before leaving for parts unknown. It had come as a particular surprise to Callaghan senior, as he hadn't known he was a father until that fateful day. The three youths had muskateered up pretty much immediately, and had been quite the reckonable force ever since.
As young men, they'd left their tiny Hebridean island, heading to university on the mainland-Graham in Glasgow, Shay and Roan in Edinburgh-each in pursuit of very different dreams. But fate's quirks had eventually brought all three back to their rustic, rural home, where they remained, each with a vested interest in bettering the life for their fellow clansmen and islanders.
They were an odd mix. Shay, always the pragmatic, levelheaded one, was the natural born mediator and solver of problems. He'd become a barrister, just like his father, though their relationship had always been a rocky one. Aiden Callaghan had been gone close to six years, an early heart attack taking him far before his time, leaving Shay, freshly minted degree in hand, as the most recent Callaghan man to handle all matters of legal import, for the Kinloch residents, as his forebears had done for centuries prior.
Roan, on the other hand, was the one with the ready wit and easy charm. Inventor, dreamer, and electronics genius, once he'd found computers and the Internet, there had been no stopping him. While Shay kept the peace, Roan was often called upon to use his droll and easygoing nature to keep his more serious and focused compatriots from growing too stodgy and dour.
Graham was a scientist by nature and degree. He was happiest when he was out in the fields, and the only technology he cared about was the kind that would help him nurture the unique Kinloch flaxseed crop that his clansmen's entire economic existence depended upon. In addition to being a scientist and a farmer, he was, and had been for several fortnights now, the laird of the MacLeod clan, as well as current leader of the dual clanship-with the McAuleys-that comprised the citizenry of Kinloch.
Or he was until the autumnal equinox, anyway.
At which point he needed to be married to a McAuley, or the leadership would pass to the other side. In this case, it would put them into the hands of a man who didn't even reside on Kinloch, who very likely wasn't even aware of the daft ancient island law, much less his possible pending inherited title.
"Do you really think all this is necessary?" Graham asked, yet again. "Ualraig was single for as long as most everyone on the island can remember. I don't recall them nudging him to tie the knot after my dear grandmother departed."
"But it was precisely because he had wed your dear grandmamma when he became laird and leader, that it wasn't a concern," Shay noted. "No' a legal one, at any rate."
"But how legally enforceable is a four-hundred-year-old marriage pact? Surely there isn't a man, woman, or sheep, for that matter, who sincerely wishes me to stop moving forward with our crop growth. We've turned things around substantially in the years since the blight, and in the past three we've seen significant progress, but no' enough as yet to guarantee the rest of us won't be fleeing to the mainland to look for new livelihoods. We've already lost people more than we should have, though I can hardly blame them. But if we're to ultimately survive, we need-I need-to keep pushing and doing whatever it takes to get us back to one hundred percent growth. Hell, seventy-five percent would allow us to take advantage of our full market potential. We can't promise that right now, so we have to turn new interests away. We're at sixty-two percent. Sixty-two! With winter howling at our backs. We've no time for silly games."
Graham waved a hand at Roan's laptop, which might as well be umbilically attached to the man, he was never separated from the damn thing.
Roan headed the island board of tourism-which was actually just Roan and auld Liza MacLeod, who came in thrice weekly to do minor bookkeeping and the odd secretarial job. But he also took care of marketing Kinloch Basketry, which was the far bigger and most important job. The unique artisan baskets were woven from the waxed linen threads made from the rare, if small, flax crop that grew on the island.
There was no denying it had been Roan's marketing genius and "big-picture strategy," as he'd called it, that had moved them from merely selling their one-of-a-kind baskets in the U.K., to competing in a global marketplace ... and competing quite famously.
Much like Harris tweed, which had been borne on one of their sister islands, theirs was a cottage industry-literally-that single-handedly kept the island economy afloat and, like its tweed weaving counterpart, could continue to do so for generations, if not for one wee problem.
"If we don't grow the flax, we can't weave the bloody things! That is where my energies should be directed," Graham said. He paced Roan's small office, trying to stay calm in the face of the ridiculousness of it all, but losing the battle handily. At barely thirty-one, he'd already worked too hard, for too long, taking up where Ualraig had left off, fighting the foul whims of Mother Nature. They were all working hard, and the stakes were bloody damn high.
The blight that struck their island home close to a dozen years back had made it a struggle to take full advantage of the increased interest Roan's online marketing campaign had brought them. The impact on the wee island's economy had been so severe, at their lowest points, it had looked as if the centuries strong MacLeod-McAuley clan alliance might finally be forced to a sad, ignominious end.
But Graham's hard work and dedication to finding solutions to the ongoing struggles they faced by growing a unique crop on such unforgiving land was beginning to pay off. Harvest percentages were climbing-slowly-but the increase was constant, with no decline at all for the past three growth cycles. With enough consistency, they could accept more contracts for their baskets. There was real hope, and his clansmen knew it and supported him wholeheartedly. Not that he wanted their gratitude, but due to the situation at hand, surely now that he was clan chief in full, they weren't going to hold him hostage to some centuries-old, outdated tribal law.
Shay cleared his throat. "I've studied the original documents until my eyes are crossing, Graham. I'm sorry to report that I don't see any way around it."
"We'll simply overturn it, then, right? As clan chief, don't I have a wee bit of say in how the island laws are maintained? Surely-"
"According to what was written, the law was purposely created so that no individual clan chief could abolish it," Shay explained. "Its sole purpose was to keep the clans united against-"
"The insurgency on the mainland, which, I might remind you, hasn't been an issue for quite some time. Just what are we protecting ourselves from, by forcing the sitting chief to legally bind himself to the other clan by marrying it?"
Shay held him under a steady regard. "We're a wee spit of land located not only a fair distance from our mother land, but also from the rest of our sister islands, all situated between us and its bonny shores. We've no cause to have ever been the stronghold we've succeeded in being, for any amount of time, much less centuries of it. Clearly the pact has done what it set out to do. It has worked. I dinnae believe it matters, Graham, that the wars that provoked its evolution have ended. Look at the American constitution and how it has managed to guide a country to power, despite being written so long ago that the creators of the document couldn't possibly have foreseen how it would be applied in times such as the ones we live in now. And yet," he added, mildly, "they seem to be doing okay."
Graham lifted his hands, then let them fall helplessly at his sides. "I understand the sentimental reasons why everyone wants to hew themselves to the auld rituals. But it's no' practical any longer, to force my hand, especially in something as sacred as marriage, all to appease a ruling that we no longer need abide by to survive. What we need to do to survive is to grow the flax, increase our industrial output. If we're going to focus on sentiment, then let it be the pride of the fact that we create the most intricately woven, beautifully artistic, unique baskets in the world. It's history, it's art. It's the-"
"Harris Tweed of craftsmanship," Roan finished with him, then sighed. "We've heard the speech, Graham."
"Then you already know that it's that very history we should be embracing, and working toward maintaining, to keep us a thriving island stronghold. Not worrying about whether the MacLeod laird has taken a McAuley bride within some ridiculous and entirely nonsensically determined period of time. I don't believe in it and I refuse to follow it."
Graham thumped Roan's desk with his fist to underscore his words, though Roan barely raised a brow at the action, despite it being well out of character. "I'll take it up in a town meeting if need be. Gain a consensus vote. Surely if everyone says aye to abolishing the thing, it must be rendered no longer legally binding. We could rid ourselves of it and get back to focusing on what's important." He smacked the desk with both palms, then pushed off and strode across the room to look out the front window and down the main lane of the village. "There will be no sham wedding on Kinloch." He turned back to face his friends. "I have your support in this, am I right?"
Both Roan and Shay continued to stare at him for several long moments, before finally looking at each other.
"I'll expand the search to the mainland," Roan said.
Shay nodded. "I'll write up the banns that are to be posted as soon as an agreement with the bride has been reached."
Graham looked at them both incredulously. "Did ye no' hear a word I just said?"
"We did," they both said in unison, neither one so much as pausing as they continued going about whatever it was they had to go about to see Graham lawfully wed to an eligible member of the McAuley clan before the end of the autumnal equinox. Being as it was mid-August, that was little more than a month away. Giving him roughly forty days to find a bride.
Heaven help them all.
"I'm going to call the town council," Graham stated, not giving up just because the two men he regarded as brothers had already done so. "In fact, I'm going to call an island tribunal. If we get a consensus then, as far as I'm concerned, legal or no', that's all the support I need to continue on and be done with this wild goose chase."
"It's no' just a consensus, Graham," Shay told him. "It has to be one hundred percent. They all have to say aye."
Graham spun back around. "Really? So there is a solution! Why didn't you say so? I'm certain I can and will have that. Who would say nay?"
"I can think of a few," Roan said. "Like Dougal. And auld Branan, for certain."
"They're not the only elders who will hold out," Shay agreed. "They love you, no doubt, but they'll stick with tradition."
"Even over what's best for the island? If we let someone else, an outsider no less, come here and begin making decisions regarding our well-being-surely even the oldest resident wouldn't chance that."
Roan shrugged. "Perhaps they think you'll persevere with your crop management whether you're laird or no'."
"What if I have no say in the matter? What if this"-he turned to Shay-"what's the bloke's name?"
Graham turned back to Roan. "Iain. What if this Iain has other ideas about our little island industry? He's never so much as set foot on our soil much less worked it with his own hands. Who knows what he'd decide to do. We can't risk that."
"He may not even want it," Roan reminded him. "In fact, he probably won't. Who would?" He looked to Shay and grinned. "We're no' exactly the Fortune 500 of inheritances, you know."
"He'll probably be begging you to take it over." Shay agreed, then leaned back in his seat and folded his arms. "Besides, if he wants to be laird, he'll have to honor the marriage pact law as well."
Excerpted from Some Like It Scot by Donna Kauffman Copyright © 2010 by Donna Kauffman. Excerpted by permission.
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