Read an Excerpt
Holding her daughter’s hand, Rachel Granger stood at the baggage claim alongside the woman with whom they’d sat on the flight from Chicago to Glasgow. Rachel’s new friend, Cait Buchanan, was flying home, whereas Rachel was bringing her daughter to Scotland for the first time.
Rachel had been to Gandiegow, the small town on the northeast coast of Scotland, twice before. Once to marry her husband. And again to bury him. She glanced down at five-year-old Hannah, who looked so much like her father, Joe. Rachel had been avoiding this trip for the past three years, but it was time for Hannah to meet her great-grandfather whether the village of Gandiegow despised Rachel or not. Her spunky daughter was growing and changing so quickly that Rachel knew this year she had to pull herself together for Hannah’s sake. No more using work as her scapegoat to get out of going to Scotland, especially during the holidays. This year Rachel was going to give her daughter a Christmas. A Christmas with a real tree, gingerbread cookies, and a family gathering.
Cait stepped up to the luggage carousel. “There’s mine.”
“It’s huge. Let me help.” Rachel turned to her daughter. “Can you stay here and watch my things?”
She didn’t have to worry; Hannah would guard Rachel’s tote along with her own Frozen backpack like a loyal and headstrong soldier if anyone got near.
As the large suitcase approached, Cait laughed. “I always pack too much. I was only gone a week, but I brought three times what I needed.” She reached for the handle, Rachel for the wheels. Together they tugged it to the floor with a whoompf.
“I’m glad ye’re taking me up on my offer,” Cait said. “Especially since I’m heading to Gandiegow, too. What are the odds?” A green tinge came over her face and she grimaced. “Do you mind, um, watching . . .”
“Go,” Rachel urged. “We’ve got your luggage.”
Cait raced for the toilet sign while Rachel rolled the humongous bag over to Hannah. The few steps provided just enough time and space for apprehension to once again seep into Rachel. She wasn’t looking forward to staying in Gandiegow, but she’d come a long way from the twenty-four-year-old bride who’d walked down the aisle in the village’s church and then the young widow who’d laid a rose on her husband’s grave. The village hadn’t known when she’d been back for the funeral that she and Joe had separated and were heading for a divorce, but they’d spurned her just the same for bringing one of their own home in an urn.
Rachel rested Cait’s bag beside Hannah and sighed heavily, feeling much older than thirty. Death, responsibility, and parenthood could do that to a person.
“Mommy?” Hannah said. “Is Cait going to be okay?”
Rachel wrapped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “Yes. Cait will be fine.” Nothing seven or so months wouldn’t cure.
The way Cait had been downing saltines all through the flight, especially during the turbulence, made her pregnancy obvious. Rachel had experienced the same joy and anxiousness which showed on her new friend’s face.
Right when Rachel was beginning to worry, Cait reappeared—white, wrung-out, but with a small smile on her face.
“Sorry about that,” she said when she’d rejoined them. She studied Rachel. “So ye’ve guessed.”
“That depends on whether you want anyone to know or not.”
“The morning sickness is much worse this time. The doctor says it’s a good thing. But I haven’t told anyone. Not even my husband.”
Automatically, Rachel’s eyebrows shot up, but she got her reaction under control quickly. She wouldn’t judge. Cait’s relationship with her husband was her own business.
Her new friend bit her lip. “I don’t want to get his hopes up. I’ve miscarried twice before. It’s been hard on him because he travels a lot and he worries about me so.” She glanced at Rachel, hopeful. “So ye’ll keep my secret?”
“Mum’s the word.” She gave her a reassuring smile. Rachel knew a lot about secrets and keeping them hidden. She looked over at her daughter, who was singing the song “Let It Go” quietly to her doll.
Rachel shivered as the words of the chorus rang out, “The cold never bothered me anyway.” Yes, it was winter in Scotland, but it wasn’t the cold which bothered Rachel. It was what lay ahead in Gandiegow which haunted her.
Her luggage came around the conveyor, much smaller than Cait’s as they were only going to be in Scotland for a short while. Just long enough for Hannah to spend some time with her grandfather, Abraham Clacher, sing a few Christmas carols, and go back to the States at the beginning of the New Year. In and out without a worry or a fuss.
Rachel pulled their bags off the carousel as Cait’s cell phone chimed.
“Our ride is here,” she said. “I’ll wait for you on the other side of customs.”
The line for them was surprisingly fast and it didn’t take long to meet back up with her. As the little group wheeled their things through the doors, three people rushed toward Cait, and she tugged Rachel over to meet her friends.
“This is Ross Armstrong. His wife, Sadie. And Ross’s mother, Grace.” Cait smiled at them fondly.
Rachel remembered Ross and his mother—when she’d been to Gandiegow before—but had had little interaction with them. At least this visit was under better circumstances. Sadie, a brown-haired pixie from the United States, was a new addition and welcomed her warmly.
“Thank you for letting us hitch a ride.” Rachel had canceled her rental car when the plane landed. She only needed transportation to and from the small coastal town, as it was a closed community—no cars, no roads, only walking paths along the ocean and between the buildings.
“I’m glad it worked out,” Ross said. “We got a break in the weather. But a winter storm is coming in later tonight.”
“We were closing down the house here in Glasgow,” Grace explained. “My sister passed last month and I’m moving back to Gandiegow.”
Rachel already knew the particulars through Cait. Grace’s sister had died from complications of pneumonia, though she’d been dealing with MS for years. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” Rachel said, but cringed inwardly as the words came out. She’d been the recipient of that phrase too often.
Grace smiled at her kindly as one who accepted things easily. “Thank you. Glynnis is in a better place.”
Sadie took Grace’s arm lovingly, giving her a sad, understanding smile. They seemed closer than most mothers and daughters-in-law.
“Let’s get on the road. I’m anxious to get home,” Ross said.
As they drove to Gandiegow, Ross and Sadie filled Cait in on the gossip from the last two weeks.
When there was a break in the conversation, Rachel inquired after Abraham. “How is he doing?” She knew of his illness, only because when she’d called, he had a coughing fit while they were on the phone. She had no idea how long he’d been sick and how bad it was.
Ross glanced at her in the rearview mirror. “He’s the same ole Abraham. But if ye’re speaking of his health, he’s not well. He quit fishing about six months ago, which told the rest of us how serious it really is.”
“Oh.” More guilt. Rachel should’ve brought her daughter sooner to get to know the only grandfather she had.
An awkward silence came over the van for a few moments, but then Ross jumped in and filled it. “Mum, are ye going to be okay staying at the family cottage?”
Grace turned to Rachel, explaining. “I moved to Glasgow to help my sister a few years ago, leaving my lads to care for the cottage in Gandiegow. My eldest son, John, and his family live there now, and it’s time for me to come home.” She patted Ross on the shoulder as if to assure him. “I’ll be fine. So, Rachel, where will ye and Hannah be staying this time? Thistle Glen Lodge?”
“The quilting dorm,” Cait clarified to Rachel.
Cait had explained all about her venture, the Kilts and Quilts retreat, which had turned the sleepy fishing village of Gandiegow into a go-to quilting destination.
“I’m not sure,” Rachel answered sheepishly. Though she’d talked to Abraham two weeks ago, and he’d asked her to come and bring Hannah, she’d made no promises. She’d booked the flight and a hotel room in Glasgow to get her bearings. Yes, she wanted a family Christmas for her daughter, but had given herself an out. If she had second thoughts about going to Gandiegow, she and Hannah would have had their own special Christmas vacation at the Jury’s Inn in the big city.
But Providence had stepped in when Rachel had taken her seat next to Cait. Rachel had innocently told her of Gandiegow, having no idea Cait hailed from the village of only sixty-three houses.
“You can stay with me and my son, Mattie, in the big house,” Cait offered.
“That’s so kind.” But Rachel wouldn’t impose. “I think Hannah and I would like to stay at Thistle Glen Lodge. The way you described it, it sounds perfect.” She kissed her daughter’s head. “That is, if it’s okay. Do you have a quilt retreat going on right now?”
“One’s starting tomorrow, which is why I couldn’t stay longer in the US. But there’s plenty of room. Deydie, my gran, said we had to keep the retreat small as we’re so close to Christmas.”
“When will Graham be done shooting?” Ross asked.
“Graham?” Rachel said, more in disbelief than a question.
Suddenly, all the pieces clicked together. From the first moment, Cait had looked familiar. That’s where I’ve seen her. On the cover of People magazine, along with her famous movie star husband.
Rachel remembered bits and pieces of the article, the headlines announcing that the most eligible bachelor on the planet was no longer available—that he, in his mid-forties and sexy as ever, had married the thirtysomething Cait. Hearts had been broken everywhere. But that wasn’t the biggest shock. Graham had a grown son who had recently passed away, and he and Cait were raising his grandson.
How could Rachel have missed it . . . to have read the article and for it to have not registered that Graham was from Gandiegow? Her only excuse was that she’d just been trying to make it through day by day back then. “So Graham still lives in the village?”
Cait gave her an impish shrug. “When he’s not working on a movie.”
Rachel understood why her seatmate hadn’t shared about who her husband was. It must be hard being in her shoes. From the day Graham Buchanan’s biography was released, Cait’s life must’ve been turned upside down with the paparazzi, and the knowledge that women everywhere lusted after her husband. Rachel suspected it had been nice for Cait to have made a friend who didn’t know her husband was a BBC star.
“Yeah. Graham,” Sadie said, kind of dreamily. “My reaction exactly.”
“Hey, now, lass,” Ross said with mock hurt. “Yere husband’s in the vehicle with ye.”
Sadie patted him. “You’ve nothing to worry about. Graham only has eyes for Cait.”
Cait reached over and laid a hand on Rachel’s arm. “Sorry I didn’t say anything sooner.”
“I completely understand.”
Cait nodded and spoke to Ross. “Graham’ll be home Christmas Eve. He has a break between movies, though. It’ll be great for Mattie and me to have him back.”
Rachel wondered if Cait would tell him then about the pregnancy. Surely she wouldn’t keep it hidden from him for too long.
The conversation switched to Christmas, and Rachel turned inward, thinking more on her own turmoil than the joyous occasion they were describing. Hannah leaned against her and fell asleep. Rachel dozed, too.
She came awake as the van pulled down the hill toward the parking lot. Ross was talking on the phone.
“Good. We could use your help getting my mum’s stuff to the cottage.” He hung up.
Rachel gently woke Hannah. “We’re here, sweetie.” She glanced around at the familiar site of the bluffs looming out of the earth at the back of the village, and how the small houses sat precariously at the edge of the ocean—a quaint row of dwellings daring the sea to engulf them.
Ross parked the van and jumped out to help his mother.
Rachel felt stiff from the flight and then the long drive to Gandiegow. She slowly climbed out and then helped Hannah.
As she reached in to grab her tote, something on the walkway caught her eye.
No. Someone caught her eye. It can’t be! Strolling toward the parking lot, he looked so much like Joe. Tall, broad, with dark hair. But where Joe’s hair had been kept short, the better to peddle pharmaceuticals, his cousin’s long hair blew in the wind off the ocean. Six years had changed him. His features were chiseled, and where an easy smile for her had once existed, a stony frown had taken its place.
But he was as beautiful as ever and Rachel stopped breathing. Maybe he was a manifestation. But he kept walking toward them, while the voice in her head shouted loud and clear, What is he doing here?
“Mommy, are you all right?”
For the life of her, Rachel couldn’t stop staring at the man she never thought she’d see again. They all turned to look at her.
When he got close enough, he nodded in her direction. “Ye’re back.”
How could he have no emotion on his face? She was dying here.
“Hey, Brodie,” Ross said. “Grab a bag from the boot.”
What in the blazes is she doing here? Brodie Wallace couldn’t believe his eyes. It felt as if Ross had sucker punched him in the stomach because he’d said nothing when they’d spoken on the phone. Yet here Rachel Granger was standing in Gandiegow’s parking lot. The woman who had ripped his heart out. The only woman he’d ever allowed himself to love.
He reached into the back of the van and pulled out a suitcase.
Six years ago, when she’d arrived in Gandiegow, he wasn’t the only one toppled by the instant attraction between them. He knew she had felt it, too.
He grabbed another bag.
His cousin Joe had brought her home to Gandiegow two weeks before their scheduled wedding. Brodie was taken with Rachel from the start, which was no surprise. He and Joe had always gone for the same type of lass. Funny, smart. Even as lads, they’d competed, and Joe had always won. Whenever Brodie found a girl, Joe would swoop in and steal her away. Brodie understood. Joe was a charmer with the gift of gab, and women couldn’t help falling under his spell.