When a video of her calling happily ever after “a foolish fantasy” goes viral, marriage therapist Emma Castle is out of a job—and off to Scotland. The tiny town of Gandiegow is the perfect place to ride out the media storm and to catch up with her childhood friend Claire. But also in Gandiegow is the one man she hoped never to see again.
She’s successfully avoided Gabriel MacGregor since Claire and Dominic’s wedding, only to find he’s now the village doctor—and just as tall, dark, and devilish as ever. Claire and Dominic’s blissful marriage, however, is not what it used to be. Soon Emma and Gabriel find themselves taking sides even as the sparks begin to fly between them. Can Emma help her friends—or regain her career—as she struggles with her own happily ever after?
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PRAISE FOR THE KILTS AND QUILTS NOVEL
Also by Patience Griffin
céilidh (KAY-lee)—a party/dance
Hogmanay—the Scottish celebration of the New Year
Sassenach (Sass-un-nak)—an English person
The Quilters of Gandiegow
Quilting is the best kind of therapy.
Just as Emma Castle’s plane landed in Scotland, she pulled out her phone and viewed the incriminating evidence once again. Bollocks. The damned video had gone viral. Exactly as her boss back in Los Angeles—now her ex-boss—had feared. She still couldn’t believe it. Fired. Egghead Emma had been fired.
The video wasn’t a sex tape, which her parents certainly would’ve preferred over the reality of what was hitting the Internet. She watched the forty-eight-second clip for a third time. How superior her British accent sounded, how smug she looked, like she had all the answers. Those forty-eight seconds had irrevocably changed her future. Thirty years old and already a washout. Oh, bloody hell, what would she do now?
Well, that’s why she was here sitting on the tarmac—hoping to figure things out with her best friend, Claire.
As the other passengers pulled down their bags and left the plane, she stared out the window to what looked like midnight in the dead of winter. It was early evening, but a huge blizzard was brewing. An accurate metaphor for her life. She slid her phone back into her pocket.
Certainly I’m not the only marriage therapist in the world who doesn’t believe in happily-ever-afters.
But she was the only one to get caught on hidden camera telling a couple how it really was. As a Brit working in America, she’d learned a thing or two about this time of year. At the clinic, they’d called them the Thanksgiving crowd. A week before the turkey and the dressing, marriages were either exploding or imploding because of the approaching holidays. Emma had apparently cracked up right along with them, telling one of her couples how it all was going to play out. Unfortunately, she’d been caught on tape. Don’t waste your money. Marriage therapy serves one purpose and one purpose only: getting you through the inevitable divorce. In her defense, she’d only been telling her clients the truth. It was what she’d seen day in and day out.
She closed her eyes and laid her head back on the rest, trying to put the video out of her mind and trying not to imagine what her parents would say when they found out. Mum, the World’s Leading Sex Therapist,and Dad, Hollywood’s Marriage Counselor,would insist on having her professionally evaluated when the news reached them. But maybe then they would finally accept the truth. Emma wasn’t cut out to be a couples counselor, and her controlling parents couldn’t guilt her into doing it any longer. They’d have to find someone else to collaborate on their books and TV promotions. At times like these, Emma wished she had a sibling. Someone else to fulfill her parents’ expectations. But having a sibling would require her parents to at least be in the same country at the same time, not to mention the same bed.
When the aisle cleared, she hurried off the plane and searched the waiting crowd. God, she’d missed her best friend. She’d hesitated only a moment when Claire had invited her to come to Gandiegow. Running away couldn’t fix the predicament she’d gotten herself into, but it would give her a respite, and oh, how she needed a best-friend booster shot to help make things better. Then she could head to London to face Mum. Hopefully, by then, she’d have a few things worked out, maybe even a plan for what to do next.
Emma’s mobile rang; it was Claire.
“Where are you?” Emma scanned the faces around her. “Are you waiting at baggage reclaim?”
“Nay.” Claire paused. “I sent Gabriel to pick you up.”
“No,” Emma cried. The people around her turned and stared. At the same time, her mother’s voice rang in her ear: Losing one’s temper is not in a proper Englishwoman’s repertoire.
Hissing wasn’t, either, but Emma did it anyway into the phone. “For your sake, Claire, I hope you’re speaking of Gabriel the archangel and not the other one.”
Claire gave her attitude right back. “Don’t grumble at me. It’s not my fault your flight was delayed. You know how early I have to get up.”
“Why couldn’t your husband take the morning shift for you?”
Claire tsked. “The scones are my specialty. The restaurant depends upon them.”
Emma sighed heavily. “Yes, I know. But still.”
“Gabriel was a saint to offer,” Claire defended.
Yeah, right, Emma thought.
Her friend went on. “Is he there yet?”
“I don’t know.” Gabriel would be the perfect end to her perfectly horrible day.
“Buck up, Emma. You’re a grown woman. You can handle a few hours with him.” With that Claire said goodbye and hung up.
Emma’s temples began to throb. Claire was testing her patience as only Claire could do. Gabriel MacGregor was incorrigible, plain and simple. Claire knew she couldn’t stand being around him.
When Claire and Dominic had first coupled up, Emma had spent a fair amount of time in Gabriel’s presence. Dominic and Gabriel were inseparable, closer than most brothers she knew. Not biological brothers, but Gabriel’s father had taken Dominic in when he was orphaned.
Emma had visited Claire often back then and had been thrust into Gabriel’s path over and over. He’d made a lasting impression, but not in a good way. He had a way of flustering her that was very uncomfortable. For years now she’d successfully avoided him, making sure she had plenty of excuses at the ready if Gabriel was to be present. The last time she’d actually seen him was at Claire and Dominic’s wedding, ten years ago. He’d shown up late, roaring in on his motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket, leather pants, and an earring. Undignified and unrefined, especially for the occasion. Even worse, he had stirred something deep inside her she couldn’t name. Ten minutes later, decked out in a tux, he’d smiled at her, tucked her arm into his, and walked her down the aisle, best man to her maid of honor. He’d behaved appropriately during the ceremony, but then at the reception he’d flirted with all the bridesmaids and had taken most of them back to his room for a pajama party. Emma sniffed. Certainly no pajamas had been involved. And Egghead Emma hadn’t been invited, either. Gabriel MacGregor with his deep Scottish burr was a scoundrel—a rake.
She sighed heavily. There would be no helping it. She’d be forced to spend the next several hours with him in the car, but thankfully, it would only be that. Surely his visit to Gandiegow would be over soon and she wouldn’t have to endure his presence in the small Scottish town for too long.
Emma stowed her phone and realized she was being stared at by an extraordinarily handsome man. Tall, dark, and devilish. A rake through and through. As a trained psychologist, she recognized within herself all the telltale signs of instant attraction. Her pulse raced, she involuntarily licked her lips, and she brushed her hair off her shoulders.
Then recognition hit. Dr. Gabriel MacGregor.
At twenty he’d been handsome and she’d thought him a man. But now she saw she was wrong. Dead wrong. He made the twenty-year-old Gabriel look young and wiry and inconsequential. This man had muscles filling out his long-sleeved polo, the breadth of an American football player, and the stance of a Scottish warrior. She did it again. Licked her lips. I’m in deep trouble.
He made his way through the crowd to her, not smiling, not happy to see her, either. In truth, she couldn’t blame him. She had been a pill at Claire’s wedding, but she had wanted everything to run smoothly for her friend’s big day. Emma might’ve crossed the line by scolding Gabriel at his tardiness. And she’d definitely given him plenty of attitude during the reception about his tart-iness. All those women, indeed. What could one man do with so many at once? From the novels she’d read—for pure research, mind you—she knew. Sex and lots of it.
“Do you have more luggage?” he said in his firm baritone burr.
It ran over her like warm syrup. No, butter. No . . . She fanned herself. She was incensed at her own visceral reaction. And he hasn’t given me a proper greeting. At least she could be civilized.
“Hello, Gabriel.” She felt her nose lift higher in the air. It might be misconstrued as snooty, but seriously, the man was six-three if he was an inch. She cranked her head back to inspect his face.
He gave her a one-sided frown and seemed to be inspecting her, too. But not her face.
“You filled out,” he said.
Instinctively, she put an arm over her breasts. Her cheeks burned. She started to give him a piece of her mind, but then she got angry with herself for letting him provoke her.
Defiantly, she put her arm down and stuck out her chest. “Look all you want. They expanded all on their own. Without surgical intervention.” Although her mother at one time had offered to pay for C cups if her nearly flat chest remained . . . flat.
Emma definitely wouldn’t lower herself and explain to Gabriel—a doctor who should know these things—that Egghead Emma had been a late bloomer. In almost every area, except intelligence.
“No reason to get your panties in a twist. I only meant it as a compliment.” He continued to feast his eyes on her.
She put her hands on her hips and glared back. “Are you done yet?”
“For now.” He gave her an unrepentant grin. Still the rogue.
“Yes, I have more luggage,” she said, answering his earlier question.
“Fine.” Without permission, he reached for her carry-on.
She grabbed his arm, stopping him. In the process, her fingers landed on an anvil-hard biceps. She yanked her hand away and snipped at him, “I have it. Thank you.” She tugged back her bag. “Your hands are filthy.”
As he glanced down at the grease under his fingernails, she took the opportunity to head off to the baggage reclaim, all the while giving herself a stern lecture. Getting grease off her Louis Vuitton luggage wasn’t the issue. He was a dog, and not the harmless type, either.
I can’t be attracted to Gabriel MacGregor. Not again. I just can’t. He was way out of her league. Besides, what self-respecting woman would want to get involved with a cad like him?
And those hands. His hands didn’t look like doctors’ hands—soft and delicate. He had the hands of an oil-rig mechanic.
She also noticed he didn’t wear a wedding band.
Of course, Claire would’ve told her if Gabriel had married, wouldn’t she? She’d told Emma when he’d suddenly gone off to medical school. Emma hadn’t believed it at the time, assuring herself that a do-nothing like him would certainly work in a grimy garage for the rest of his life.
Oh, dear. Her thoughts did sound priggish, didn’t they? But Gabriel seemed to bring out the worst in her. She’d treated him abominably back then, and she felt herself heading down the same path now. She would never be as serene and proper as her mother would like—all that etiquette training down the drain. Over the years, Emma had tried to be the person her mother wanted her to be, but she’d fallen short. She’d also fallen short of the person she wanted to be. But blast it, she was still trying to figure out who that person was.
With his long legs, Gabriel caught up to her. She automatically glanced over. He was all hard lines and pheromones.
“Why are you frowning?” he asked.
“I’m having a difficult time seeing you as a physician.” She probably should keep her sentiments to herself, but they’d always spoken their minds to each other, the truth flowing easily between them. Each of them giving the other more candor than Mum’s society friends would approve of. “Unless, of course, you use your title primarily as a way to pick up women.”
He frowned at her. “Princess, are we going to get off on the wrong foot again?”
“That depends on you,” she spouted. She did her best to sound assertive and unruffled, even though she felt unraveled and unsure. Seeing him didn’t help. And the past thirty-six hours had her more than a little battered and bruised. She’d been fired and displaced. If he could see inside her—see the real Emma Castle—he’d know she wasn’t such a snob. She didn’t have all the answers. In fact, he’d see how she was questioning every aspect of her life and every choice she’d ever made.
She put the focus back on him to take the focus off herself. It helped her feel less uncomfortable. She raked her eyes over him unabashedly. Doctors were supposed to be old and nerdy. Doctors were supposed to instill a sense of calm and trust. Doctors were not supposed to conjure up all sorts of vivid images of a steamy nature. Yes, she could definitely imagine Dr. Gabriel MacGregor in his lab coat, playing doctor. Just the thought sent a warm nervous tingle zipping through her veins, throwing her limbic system into a tizzy. Gads.
It rankled that he, a former grease monkey, had made something of himself. Her only claim to fame was that she’d succeeded in becoming a huge failure. But she couldn’t let him see how vulnerable she felt. No doubt he’d take advantage of it. She had to admit that he had every right to fling back one of her past sermons into her face. It’s time to become an actual adult and contribute something to society. The amount of bull she’d dished out regularly to him in their younger days was embarrassing. Especially since, by anyone’s standards, she was the screwup now. What had she ever done for society? Help people end their relationships?
At the baggage carousel, she intended to corral her own luggage, but she’d packed too heavily. In the end, Gabriel stepped in and hoisted her bag off, acting as if it was nothing more than cotton balls in his surgery. “Saint Gabriel,” she muttered under her breath.
He raised a superior eyebrow at her. “Thank you is the proper response. Has Ms. Manners forgotten how to comport herself?”
Him and his bloody burr.
Yes, she should’ve taken the high road and been grateful. But he made her forget she was supposed to be a lady.
With a huff, she pulled up the handle on her bag.
“What’s in there, by the way?” He pointed to her rolling suitcase. “It weighs at least ten stone.”
“Books.” She would make no apologies. She’d packed as many books as clothes, planning to use reading as her escape from her disastrous life.
“Psychology books?” He frowned at her. “Certainly not your parents’ books.” His frown deepened.
“If you must know, they’re novels.” Books with happy endings. True, she didn’t believe in happy endings, but she needed a dose of unreality right now. She’d had enough of the real world—its misfortune and misery.
“Well, we’d better get a move on. There’s a winter storm blowing outside,” he offered. “I was afraid you might be diverted to London. But you made it just in time.” He looked up at the board as the announcement came over the loudspeaker: All flights were canceled.
As they hurried through the terminal, she couldn’t stop peering over at him. He was so damned good-looking. A proper English deb did not swear, not even in her own thoughts, but once again Gabriel had her behaving quite horrendously.
“Emma,” he said impatiently, “why are you staring?”
“I . . . uhhh.” She sounded like an imbecile. Had his hair always looked this enticing? Enough so that she wanted to run her hands through it? She wondered if Gabriel was in a relationship.
“Well?” he said impatiently.
“Well, what?” She felt stupid for zoning out.
He frowned at her as if disappointed she couldn’t keep up.
“Listen,” she countered back, “I’ve been traveling for the past twenty-four hours. Cut me some slack.” She’d been in America far too long, adopting some of their terrible language habits.
“Fine. Slack cut,” he said.
She knew a few things about Gabriel. She’d met his father, the Reverend Casper MacGregor, at Dominic and Claire’s wedding. He had officiated and they’d had a lovely chat afterward. Gabriel was raised in the Church of Scotland—Presbyterians. Which didn’t exactly mesh with what she thought of him. Emma had been raised pragmatically—Mum insisted that religion was for those who needed it. Her parents had no need. They had money, fame, and high-profile careers.
Emma felt like they’d been trekking for miles through the terminal. Maybe she’d been rash by not allowing Gabriel to help. Her arms felt like deadweight, tired from maneuvering both her carry-on and the checked bag behind her.
Before they stepped outside, Emma stopped to button her suit jacket. But when she left the terminal, she found her effort was in vain. It was bloody miserable—cold as freezer frost. Wind blew up her long pencil skirt and froze both her legs and her nether regions. Her lined suit jacket couldn’t keep out the cold, either, as the snow whirled all around them. “This is quite an adjustment,” she hollered above the wind.
“Which? The cold weather or the darkness?”
“Both,” she answered.
“The Highlands are extreme, Princess. If you think the short days are something, wait until the endless summer nights.”
“I don’t plan to be here that long.” She pulled her scarf more tightly around her neck, clung to her cases, and hurried along.
He led her to his ancient Land Rover.
“The same auto you had ten years ago?” She wondered if he still had his motorcycle, too.
“Aye. I recently restored the interior.” He unlocked her side of the car. “Get in.”
Even though she was cold, she waited at the back with her bags.
He opened her door. “I said, get in. It’s freezing.”
“Just open the back.” She was stubborn. She intended to prove to Gabriel she wasn’t the pampered princess he thought she was.
He came around to the back and unlocked it. She started to lift her bag.
“Here, I’ve got it.” He reached for her luggage, as well.
A small tug-of-war ensued. Determined to win the battle, she yanked as hard as she could, but the handle broke, sending her backward into the snow. If she’d thought it was cold before, she was mistaken. Instantly, she became crushed ice cold from head to toe.
He offered her his hand to help her up, but she swatted him away.
“I’ve got it.” She stood and shook the snow out of her hair. When she bent over to get her carry-on, Gabriel started brushing snow off her bottom.
“What are you doing?” She leapt away from him. “Stop!”
“I’m just trying to help.” He gave her a grin and one more brush.
“Just get the car going,” she yelled.
“You get in first.”
“Fine.” As she huffed to the passenger’s side, Gabriel threw her bags in, none too gently. When he slid into his seat, he had an nasty old blanket in his arms and moved to wrap it around her.
“Don’t,” she cried, scooting away from him. “What is that smell? Dog?”
“I don’t know. Someone must’ve left it in the back when they borrowed the Land Rover.” He tried again to wrap her in it, this time grazing her shoulder.
“Stop, Gabriel.” She pushed it away.
“Listen, Your Majesty, if you don’t raise your body temperature, you’ll be in a heap of trouble. You’ve heard of hypothermia, haven’t you?”
“I’d rather freeze to death than be asphyxiated by that smell.”
“Suit yourself.” He started the car and cranked up the heat. He glanced over at her. “You should probably take off your gloves and blow on your hands.”
“Great medical advice,” she said.
“Hey, I’m here to help.”
She covered her nose. “Then put that blanket away. Better yet, throw it in the garbage. I can’t handle the smell all the way to Gandiegow.”
“Sure, Princess.” He hopped out, taking the nasty blanket with him.
She wanted to tell him she wasn’t a princess; she was a debutante. Big difference. A princess was a princess. A deb had to be introduced into society, which, in Emma’s case, had been a lot of work.
She looked out the window, wondering what took so long. Gabriel was sweeping the snow from the windshield, rear window, and mirrors, but it seemed to be gathering quicker than he could remove it.
When he got back in, he rubbed his hands together. “Brrr.”
Emma’s teeth chattered a little, but she needed reassurances. “Are you sure we’re going to make it to Gandiegow?”
“Aye. We’ll do fine.” He patted the steering wheel. “Her engine is newly rebuilt and she’s purring like a kitten.”
“So, the car’s female?” She expected him to make a lewd comment, something about all sweet rides are. Or maybe she’d been too programmed by her mother; naughty talk was a huge part of Mum’s Take Back Your Orgasm program. Emma glanced over at Gabriel. With all that masculinity oozing off him, his specialty was clear—Meow.
He gazed through the windshield up at the sky, which was white with blizzardlike snow. “It’s damnable out there. How’s your body temperature?”
“I’m fine.” But sitting next to him made her nervous. “How long will it take to get to Claire?”
“In this weather? I don’t know. We’ll have to take it slow. Just sit back and relax.”
Not even possible.
“Don’t worry, Emma,” Gabriel said, misreading her uneasiness and shocking her by using her name. “I promise to get you to Gandiegow safely.”
Then he did the weirdest thing; he reached out and dusted the last of the snow from her shoulder.
She sat there, stunned. He looked a little embarrassed himself. He jerked his head forward and put the car in gear. Without a word, they made their way out of the airport. The streets beyond were relatively empty and even the highway had little traffic.
After a time, she felt safe to secretly peek over at him. Mr. Perfect handled the auto with ease, his large hands resting on the steering wheel, his uneasiness of a while ago gone. Maybe she’d imagined it. When they slid a bit on the curvy roads, he stayed calm, even then exuding confidence. His medium-length coffee dark hair was perfectly styled to fit his perfect head. When he was younger, his hair had been long and wild and out of control. He’d tamed it and it seemed to suit him now. The only part that spoke of rebellion was the beard stubble. But it wasn’t a full rebellion, like he hadn’t shaved in days. No, he must have trimmed it carefully this morning. Emma ached to run her hand over it to see if it felt prickly or soft or maybe a little of both. She turned away and shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Are you all right?” Concern pinched his eyebrows together.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?” The look he gave her made her feel vulnerable. “Did they teach that compassionate look in medical school?”
The doctor shot her a scowl.
Much better. That she could deal with. They drove on for several more miles, but she couldn’t help sneaking another peek at him.
He sighed heavily. “Emma, ye’re staring again.”
She turned back to her window but saw only darkness. “It’s just that,” she said quietly, “you’ve filled out, too.”
* * *
Did Gabe just hear Emma Castle turn his own words back on him? Shocking. So Miss Priss did have a little spunk. From his dealings with her before, he figured she was crammed full, from top to bottom, with her mama and papa’s brand of snobbery. He’d seen Emma on the television recently, standing like a statue beside her famous parents while they’d peddled their books. Books I wasted time reading. Books that were pure rubbish. Relationships were more than manipulations, power struggles, and Kama Sutra sex.
Ah, hell, he shouldn’t judge. It had taken him years to figure out that he wanted more than a nice ass in tight jeans. But now that he had, he was ready to settle down and find himself a warmhearted Scottish lass.
Gabe shifted uncomfortably in the driver’s seat and turned on the radio. Usually, he was as easygoing as the next guy. But something about Emma Castle knocked him sideways. She was the one woman in the world who could make him feel off his game. It wasn’t her beauty; he was bored with attractive women. Hell, back in the day, he’d cornered the market on gorgeous birds—blondes, brunettes, and redheads. He was looking for something more.
Out of nowhere, he found himself speculating . . . What color is Emma’s hair? He glanced over. Cinnamon?
He swerved and muttered under his breath. What was wrong with him? Cinnamon! For Pete’s sake, he wasn’t a romantic. Sure, he could play the role to get a woman back to his flat—which he’d done many times—but still. Cinnamon! He almost reached down to make sure his balls were still intact.
But he had turned over a new leaf. No longer the hound dog of his youth, playing fast with the girls, or the rogue of his twenties. Now that he was thirty-one, he was ready for a real relationship. Not marriage per se, but something with more commitment than the string of one-nighters or two-nighters he’d enjoyed since his school days.
He glanced at Emma again on her side of the Land Rover. At Dom and Claire’s wedding Emma had been much too uptight to have any fun. He’d tried to get her to loosen up, but to no avail. The more she’d given him her look of disapproval with those big evergreen eyes of hers, the harder he’d tried. In the end, he’d given up and overcompensated by taking a handful of women back to his room. He didn’t stay, but returned downstairs to drink alone at the bar.
“Is the heat set all right for you?” he asked.
“Fine,” she clucked at him with her full, enticing lips.
The conversation died once again. He wondered how long she planned to stay in Gandiegow. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be too long.
Headlights appeared in front of them through the snow-induced whiteout. Gabe pumped the brakes to keep from hitting the car, but in vain. His Land Rover kept sliding toward them. He turned the wheel to avoid the crash, but his maneuver had them skidding into a ditch. Instinctively, he extended his arm to hold Emma in place. It registered that he pressed against her incredible breasts, but only for a moment, before they hit the far side of the embankment. Bam.
“Holy shit.” He turned toward her. “Are you okay?”
The dash lights put off enough glow to illuminate her wide eyes staring at him.
“What is bloody wrong with you?” She glared down at his hand, still pressing up against her breasts.
He jerked his hand away. “Are you hurt?”
She peered down at her chest as if he’d left his imprint.
He flipped on the overhead light, not giving a rat’s ass if she was angry with him or not. He had to know if she was okay. “Can you turn your head? Let me take a look in your eyes.” He’d made damned sure her head hadn’t hit the windshield. As evidence, his hand still tingled where he’d held her. But he wasn’t entirely sure she hadn’t impacted her side of the auto. “Humor me. I’m a doctor.”
She rolled her eyes and shifted toward him. “Fine.”
He looked in her eyes and her pupils looked good. He prided himself on his gentle touch and took extra care as he turned her chin. This little fender bender scared the shit of him. “If anything happened to you, Claire would kill me.”
“Oh, so you’re just worried about Claire taking the meat cleaver to you.”
“Stop taking everything I say the wrong way.” He scanned her body clinically from top to bottom. Or at least he tried to be clinical about it. “Anything else? Any other injuries?”
She rubbed her shoulder. “I hit my door a little.”
“Hell.” He leaned over her and pushed back her long hair to get better access. “Can you move it?”
She wiggled it around. “It’s fine.”
He gently ran his fingers over her shoulder, checking for a slight dislocation. Unfortunately, he got a whiff of her shampoo—apples? And of her—pure Emma. Too damned intoxicating. He tried to ignore it, but his pecker liked it. A lot.
“Ouch,” she said.
“Sorry. I’m trying to be careful. I don’t think anything’s broken or dislocated. But you’re probably going to have a bruise. We should get some ice on that.” He opened his door and shoveled some snow into his hand, squeezing it into a brick. He pulled out a clean handkerchief, wrapped the ice pack in it, and leaned over her, holding it on her shoulder.
Her cheeks got red. “I can do it myself.” When she took it from him, he noticed her hand trembled.
“Ah, Emma, we’re going to be okay.”
“I’m fine,” she demanded.
“You’re shaken up. It’s a normal reaction to a car accident. Even minor ones. The adrenaline floods the body and overloads the nervous system.”
“How come you’re not shaking?”
He shrugged. Then rubbed his arm.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Aye.” But his arm smarted where he’d braced it against the steering wheel so he didn’t hit the windshield.
“What are we going to do now?” she asked.
He looked out the window and searched for the slow car that had caused the accident. It was gone. “We’re going to get out of here. The Land Rover’s a tank.” When he put the vehicle in reverse, the wheels spun, but the tank didn’t budge.
“And now?” she asked.
“We’re going to call for a tow.”
They both reached for their mobiles. Seconds later, they found out that neither one had a signal.
“Plan B,” he said, pointing to the top of the hill. “See those lights?”
She looked, then turned back to him. “Yes?”
“We’re going to wait there until the Land Rover is pulled out of this mess. What do you say, Ms. Castle? Are you up for a little snow trekking?”
She bent over and frowned at her red heels. “I guess I have to be.”
“Wait here.” He jumped out, tramped to the back, and retrieved her bag. The snow was really blowing now and the temperature had dropped here in the countryside. He knew they’d better hurry up to those lights before they both slipped into hypothermia.
He climbed into the backseat, as the bag and he wouldn’t both fit in the front together.
She cranked her head around. “What are you doing with my suitcase?”
“You’re damp from tumbling in the snow at the airport, right? And I have nothing good to say about your skirt in this weather. To traipse up that hill, you’re going to have to be dressed warmer.” He unzipped her bag and a pair of blue silk panties fell into his lap.
“Gabriel, stop,” she said, panicked. She bent over the seat and reached for her bag. Then her eyes fell on her panties and she snatched them off his crotch, her cheeks turning bright pink.
But not before her fingertips accidentally brushed his cock. Oh, God.
“I’ll get my clothes myself.” She faced forward, reaching for the door handle.
He latched onto her good shoulder and anchored her to the seat. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not going out there, not without being properly dressed. I’ll turn your bag around so you can pull out what you need from where you are.”
“Fine.” She got on her knees and leaned over the seat.
Before he shifted the bag, he reached for a dry pair of her socks to stick in his pocket, but his thumb got hooked on a black bra.
Mortification once again swallowed her pretty face. She yanked her bra off his thumb. “You must stop handling my things.”
She was so embarrassed. And so bloody cute about it. He’d never seen this side of her before. She’d always been so exact, restrained. And critical of him.
It was bad form to enjoy himself at her expense. But to see her so out of her element . . .
Not the in-control Emma now.
He peeked over the top of her luggage. “Any sweatpants in there? You’ll need them.”
“Of course not. Do I look like an aerobics instructor?” She rummaged some more. “But I do have jeans.” She yanked black jeans and a blue sweater from her luggage.
“What about sensible shoes? Like heavy boots or at least wellies?” He saw other underthings—items he’d like to get a closer look at—but she pulled the lid away, blocking his prying eyes.
“No boots. I’ve been living in southern California, remember? Just heels, flip-flops, and tennis shoes.” She pulled out her sneakers and sat back down, speaking over her shoulder. “Close your eyes while I change. And don’t peek.”
He shrugged. “You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before.”
He closed his eyes but wasn’t making any promises. His imagination went into overdrive.
Isn’t that the way of things? As soon as a man decides he wants to live a more principled life, temptation is dropped into his lap. Literally. Her silk lace panties, lying there as they had, lit up his brain and other regions like high-wattage bulbs.
Sure, he was trying to change his past ways, but he wasn’t neutered.
He heard her shuffling in the front seat and grunting.
“Need help with the zipper on that skirt?” He shouldn’t have offered, but tomorrow he’d go back to working on being a gentleman.
“I’ve got it,” she said in a strained voice.
He grinned at the images popping into his head. He did keep his eyes closed, though. For now.
He finally heard the zipper go down on her skirt.
Heard the sweater go over her head.
God, this is torture.
Heard her wriggle into her jeans.
He opened his eyes and found her big green eyes staring back from the visor mirror. He’d never seen eyes like hers.
“I knew it,” she said, her glare turning dark again. “I knew you would break your promise.”
“Sweetheart, I never promised you a damned thing.”
She huffed while pulling up the zipper on her jeans.
He grinned at her reflection. “Hurry up and get your shoes on. Our objective is the top of that hill.” He held up her extra socks. “You’ll put these on when we get there.” He shoved them in his pocket. He wished like hell he had a sled so he could drag her up the hill.
She gazed back at him. “What about you? Will you be warm enough? Your head is naked.”
“I’m a Scot. This is only a wee chill to me.” He gave her a confident smile, trying to assure her all would be well.
“What about the ‘brrrr’ back at the airport?” She’d imitated his voice. “Not so Scottish then, huh?”
He ignored her and pulled another jacket from her bag, holding up the flimsy material. “Seriously, Emma, what were you thinking when you packed? This isn’t heavy enough to handle a Highland summer breeze, let alone the winter.”
“I left in a hurry.”
He tossed the jacket upfront. “Put it on,” he said gruffly. They wrapped their scarves around their necks and headed out into the bitter weather.
He’d only taken two steps when Emma tugged on his arm.
“Did you lock the car?” she asked.
“There’s no need.” He patted his pocket. “Besides, the keys are tucked away and I’m not pulling off my gloves to retrieve them.”
“My belongings are in there,” she complained.
“For heaven’s sake.” He spun her around, pointing her in the direction of the lights. “March, Your Highness. I promise if the Abominable Snowman ransacks your baggage before we get back, I’ll be your personal mechanic for life. I mean it. Anytime, anywhere. I’m your guy. All right?”
“I don’t own an auto,” she grumbled, pulling away from him and huffing up the hill.
He trudged after her, muttering loud enough for her to hear, “The Sassenach would rather freeze to death than to be reasonable.”
As they got closer, Gabe realized the cottage was not the beginning of civilization as he’d hoped. The lean-to of a cabin sat all alone with only a copse of trees to keep it company. “Let’s see if anyone is home. There should be, with the lights on.” He took Emma’s elbow and helped her the last little bit, even though he knew she’d lecture him about it later.
Emma stopped, looking worried. “Do you think it’s safe?”
“Aye. Ye’re with me. I promise to take care of you.”
She rolled her eyes. He knocked on the door and waited.
An old man with a gray beard and the girth of a two-ton lorry answered. With a jolly laugh, he greeted them as if they were expected. “Come in, come in.”
Emma stepped closer to Gabe. He started to wrap his arm around her, but remembered himself. Surprisingly, she reached out and clung to his arm instead as they stepped into the small one-room cabin. There were a sink, a tiny stove, one rocking chair, a bed, and one pillow.
Gabe stepped forward and Emma dropped his arm. “We’re sorry to bother you, sir, but we’ve had a bit of a run-in with the ditch down the way.” He pulled off his gloves and stuck out a hand. “I’m Gabriel MacGregor.”
The old guy took it, belly-laughing some more. “And this is your missus.” He said it as if it were the truth and not a question.
Emma stepped up. “Heavens, no. We barely know each other.”
The old man cocked an eyebrow and tilted his head as if to let her know what he thought of the fib.
Gabe frowned at her as well. “Nay, we’re not married. May we stay by your fire while we wait for a tow?”
The old man chuckled again. “You think you’ll get a tow truck out here at this hour? In this weather?”
“But my friend is expecting me.” Emma pulled her cell from her pocket.
“I just finished making coffee and some oatcakes.” The man slipped his coat on. “Help yourself.”
“That would be grand.” Gabe got his cell out, too. “Do you have a signal, Emma?”
“Nay,” he said, frowning.
“No worries. Use mine.” The old guy pointed to an old-fashioned black rotary phone hanging on the wall. “It works, but I’m certain you’ll be stuck here for the night.” He grabbed his gloves. “Sorry I have to leave you, but I’m going out to sleep with Miz Flanders.”
Gabe and Emma shared a glance. Was this guy a wee daft?
The big man laughed again. “Oh, you two, she’s my prize sheep. She’s feeling a mite under the weather. Gotta give her her medicine every hour, the veterinarian says.” He picked up a vial from the table along with his mug of coffee. “There’s only the one bed and one quilt. But I’m sure you’ll manage.” He winked at Gabe.
As the man opened the door, snow flew in; then he was gone. When the door shut, the two of them were left inside, alone.
For a long moment, they both stared at the closed door. Then Gabe turned to the wall phone. “While I make that call, you”—he pointed to Emma—“get those shoes and socks off now.” He tossed her the dry ones. “Put those on and get warm by the fire.”
“You are the bossiest man I’ve ever met.”
She put her hands on her hips like she wanted to argue, but he assumed her cold feet convinced her otherwise. She slipped into the rocker by the fire and began untying her snow-covered laces.
He retrieved his auto card from his wallet and glanced at Emma as she slipped off the first shoe. When he picked up the receiver, he was relieved that there was a dial tone. As he placed the call, he turned back to her as the second shoe fell to the floor. “If you don’t hurry and get those dry socks on, I’ll come over and do it for you.”
She glared at him, but the person on the other end picked up and he turned away. Gabe explained the situation to the auto club, but it didn’t do any good. The earliest the tow company could get there would be in the morning. Basically, they insinuated he was crazy for suggesting otherwise.
He hung up. “Great.”
“What’s the matter?” Emma leaned over and pulled on the second dry sock.
“We’re not getting towed out.”
“The crews are stuck themselves. As soon as they can, they’ll come to us.”
“When is that?”
“Not tonight. Tonight you’re stuck with me.”
“Marvelous.” The frown she gave him said she’d rather take her chances with the old guy and Miz Flanders. She stood. “I’d better break it to Claire.”
He put his hand up. “You stay by the fire. I’ll call Dom’s cell phone. I don’t want to wake Claire. She has to get up early, remember?”
“Yes.” Emma plopped down in the chair. “The blooming scones.”
Gabe tskedat her, turned away, and smiled. He made the phone call and told Dom what was up.
When Gabe hung up, he saw Emma rocking in the chair with her hands in front of the hearth. With the fire as her backdrop, her cinnamon hair glowed.
He stopped breathing. The walls inched closer together. Suddenly the cottage felt too small and too cozy.
He cleared his throat. But his voice still came out husky. “You take the bed. I’ll sleep in the rocking chair.” The rocker wasn’t a high-back and would be uncomfortable as hell, but that’s what he got for offering to help out Claire and Dom. He gazed down at the stone floor, looking for a soft spot to lie on, but it would be too cold.
“I can’t let you do that,” Emma argued. “I’ll sleep in the chair.”
“No, I insist.” Given his past, he wouldn’t dare offer for them to share the bed. She’d consider it an assault on her sensibilities.
She didn’t understand, though, that she wasn’t his type—too high maintenance. Even if Emma Castle was naked and willing, she wouldn’t be able to coax him into doing more than sleeping. He was looking for a Scottish country lass, not a city woman. A girl who understood hard work and sharing the load. Not one with a maid who bustled around so she didn’t have to lift a finger.
No, Emma Castle was too much trouble, by far.
He stared at the uncomfortable rocking chair. Another sleepless night wouldn’t kill him. Last night, he’d delivered Amy and Coll’s first baby. A boy, seven pounds, one ounce. “I’ll take the chair and watch the fire.” He hadn’t seen any dry logs outside and there were only two left by the hearth. They were definitely going to get cold tonight.
Emma rose from the rocker and went to the small twin bed, which had been pushed into the corner. She stood over it, staring down, frowning. “Umm, I know this is going to make me sound awful, but you have to take the bed. I won’t be able to lie down on this.”
He walked over to inspect the bed, too. The quilt folded at the bottom of the mattress was pristine white with a few Red Cardinal blocks scattered about, perfectly clean. But the gray sheets pulled over the mattress looked like they’d never seen the inside of a washer. “I see what you mean. Not very sanitary.”
“Maybe we should go back to the car?”
“Too cold. We’ll have to stay here.” He looked over at the two logs. It wasn’t much, but it was better than the prospect of carbon monoxide poisoning. “I have an idea.”
He grabbed the quilt and spread it over the bed. “Here. Lie on this and I’ll tuck it around you.”
She looked pensively at the rocking chair and then back to him. “If you promise not to paw me, I have a better solution.”
“We can both use the bed like a divan. If we sit and lean our heads against the wall, we could get some rest. There should be enough quilt to at least wrap around our legs to keep us warm.”
Well . . . Gabe might have to adjust his perception of Emma Castle. She wasn’t just an upper-crust beauty; she had brains, too. Usually he admired a good brain, but for some reason he wasn’t happy that Emma might be more than what she appeared. “Then you won’t mind me sitting next to you?”
She gazed at the expanse of him like he would cop a feel if given half the chance. “I’ll suffer through.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said.
“As long as you keep your hands to yourself.”
“I assure you, that’s the last thing on my mind.”
She harrumphed, muttered something about an egghead, which made no sense,and busied herself adjusting the blanket.
“I didn’t mean that the way it came out,” he tried. She wouldn’t believe him that he was a changed man. She ignored him, the damage already done.
Then she produced an extra-long yawn, her eyes watering.
“How many hours have you been up?”
“Don’t worry yourself over it,” she said, suppressing another yawn.
“Pick your spot.” He went back to the hearth. “I’ll put another log on the fire.”
She put herself at the foot of the bed. He figured so she could make a fast getaway if necessary.
He glanced at his watch. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky. The tow company could surprise us and get here sooner than expected.”
“I do hope so.” She wrapped the quilt over her legs. “Gabriel?”
“Good manners dictate that I thank you.”
“For forcing me to change into warmer clothes.”
“Don’t mention it.” He stoked up the fire. “I should apologize for causing you to fall in the snow at the airport. Sorry,” he offered back.
“Oh yes, there is that.” She looked like she might take back her thanks of a moment ago.
He lingered in front of the hearth. Not for warmth but for working on pinning his newfound principles in place. But old habits die hard. He was alone with a beautiful woman, and he was going to share a bed with her. Granted, it was more like sharing a sofa, since they would be sitting up with their backs against the wall. But still. In the past, he wouldn’t have given a second thought to taking advantage of their cozy situation. He might’ve even gone as far as to believe it was a sign—that he was supposed to put the moves on her. But he was a changed man now. And, well, Emma was Emma. Not for him, that was for sure. He needed to stop visualizing her naked and tamp down the hard-on that threatened. She was not a potential mate—no matter how attractive she might be. Since they had to, the two of them would huddle together on the bed for warmth and nothing else.
He finished and wandered over to the bed. “Can I join you?” He kept telling himself to treat her like a sister. The only problem was, he’d never had one.
She scooted away from him, giving him plenty of room. He sat down and made sure he didn’t touch one cell on her body. He wouldn’t pull the cover over his legs just yet, either. She was already so skittish.
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, and he thought she might be going to sleep. He relaxed against the wall, too, deciding that being holed up here with Emma Castle wasn’t so bad. It gave him a respite from Gandiegow and his worries back there. It wasn’t easy fitting in to a small town. Emma shocked him out of his thoughts by speaking.
“I still can’t figure it out,” she said with her eyes shut. “How in the world did you, of all people, come to be a doctor?”
He shook his head. “Aye, me of all people. Go to sleep, Princess.”
Within minutes, her breathing turned even. According to her, she’d had a rough twenty-four hours. Emma seemed to think everything would be okay once she saw Claire. But the truth was, Claire had her own problems, and maybe Gabe should’ve warned Emma. Told her she should’ve thought twice and gone somewhere else, somewhere out of the line of fire. Anywhere but Scotland.
* * *
Emma woke slowly, feeling rested and contented. Things were a little hazy. Where was she? Whose body did she cling to? Why did she take such comfort in the arms around her? Slowly she became aware of the location of her hand and what lay underneath. An erection.
She rocketed to her feet, fully awake, appalled at what she’d been doing. Had she been rubbing him? Certainly not, but her hand had been on his . . . on his . . . ohmigod, his crotch. She wiped at a bit of drool from her face and saw in horror that she’d left some spittle on his jacket, where she’d been cuddled up to him. “Bloody hell,” she muttered.
Gabriel came awake, looking dazed, too. “What’s the matter? Is the tow here?”
“No. Just a bad dream.” It was the truth. She couldn’t admit to snuggling with him. Although she suspected he knew, because he eyed her closely. She glanced at his crotch. Oh, why did I do that? Even more dismaying, his hard-on didn’t look diminished in the least. In fact it looked . . . bigger.
Her mother’s teachings about men in the morning were very clear. An erection in the morning is normal and should be expected. It doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily been stimulated by thoughts of you. But it also doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of his morning erection to get an orgasm. Emma had been fourteen and appalled by her mother’s info dump.
But Emma wasn’t fourteen anymore. If she had to admit the truth, she was a little curious about what he looked like. How he felt. And gratified she’d played some part in causing such a response in him, no matter what facts her mother had spouted. And she was . . .
She licked her lips. Turned on. Oh, God.
Emma peeked at Gabriel’s face and saw that the sadistic womanizer was blushing. Blushing. Cheeks red, sheepish look on his face. Why was Gabriel, the rogue, blushing?
“Emma, ye’re staring again.” He pulled the quilt over his manhood.
It was best to change the subject. She plastered on her politest smile. “What time is it? It’s still dark out.”
“It’s well past seven,” he said, apparently playing along with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.
“How about some tea?” she said.
He nodded. “Tea sounds fantastic. I wonder if the old guy has some.”
“Great. Why don’t you check and get it started?” She heard him mutter Princess under his breath as she flounced off to the bathroom. Hopefully, her drool on his jacket would dry before she came back.
She dawdled for quite a while in the restroom but finally had to emerge. “Is the tea ready?”
“Nay, just coffee. I hope you like yours black. I couldn’t find cream or sugar.”
“Savages,” she muttered. That’s what the Scots were. No tea. No cream. No sugar. “No, thank you.”
“Just as well,” he said. “There is only one mug, anyway.” He took a sip of his coffee and went back to the rocker with a pad of paper.
“What are you doing?”
“Writing the old guy a note, in case he doesn’t get back before we leave.”
“Thanking him for the use of his cabin.”
She felt stupid. Plus, she hadn’t anticipated that Gabriel knew anything about polite manners.
Just as he took another sip from his mug, there was a knock at the door. He went to answer it.
A young man with bright red cheeks and red hair stood there. “Dr. MacGregor?”
“I got you pulled out of the ditch.” Red handed him a clipboard. “Sign here, please. You’d better hurry and get down there. Your auto is blocking the roadway.”
Emma rushed to pull on her shoes, anxious to see Claire. And to get away from Gabriel. Even though they had a drive ahead of them.
Gabriel held her coat open for her. Another surprise. He could be a gentleman, too? Instead of stepping into it, she snatched it away from him. Not to be rude, but so she didn’t have to be beholden to him. After she slid into it, she headed for the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she got another little shock: Gabriel had folded the Cardinal quilt and righted the bed. More civilized than the man I remember.
He followed behind her but stopped when he got outside the door and looked around.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“I don’t see an outbuilding.”
“Then where did the old guy get off to?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the outbuilding is on the other side of the hill.” She turned back, and Red was halfway back to his lorry. She followed after him.
“I guess.” Gabriel caught up to her. “When we get to the Land Rover, make sure you switch into dry socks again.”
“Will you ever stop telling me what to do?”
“Bossy,” she said.
“Princess,” he shot back.
At the vehicle, Gabriel stuffed some bills into Red’s hand. The kid tried to refuse them, but Gabriel insisted. She got in and traded out her socks, shoving her soaked sneakers under the vent.
When Gabriel started the Land Rover, she turned on the radio and chose a nice station with a soothing piano. He sighed loudly.
“What?” she said. “Need some head-banging music to get you going?”
Excerpted from "Meet Me in Scotland"
Copyright © 2015 Patience Griffin.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Praise for To Scotland with Love
“A magnificent, triple-hankie debut written straight from the heart, by turns tender, funny, heart-wrenching, and wise. Prepare to smile through your tears at this deft, brave, and deeply gratifying love story.”—Grace Burrowes, New York Times bestselling author
“A wonderful, heartwarming story that will convince you of the power of love.”—Janet Chapman, New York Times bestselling author
“Griffin's style is as warm and comfortable as a cherished heirloom quilt.”—Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author of The Cupid, Texas Novels
“A life-affirming story of love, loss, and redemption. Patience Griffin seamlessly pieces compelling characters, a spectacular setting, and a poignant romance into a story as warm and beautiful as an heirloom quilt. . .The story will touch your soul with its depth, engage you with its cast of endearing characters, and delight you with touches of humor.”—Diane Kelly, author of the Tara Holloway series