The second in the Highland Games series, following Long Shot
Gleann, New Hampshire’s annual highland games always deliver the best of Scottish culture—rowdiness, rugby, whiskey, and unexpected romance…
Even though Shea Montgomery’s swanky bar and distinguished palate have made her a highly regarded whiskey connoisseur, she’s happiest bringing her favorite spirit to various highland games around New England. Her demanding ex made her wary of men obsessed with money and status, and she’s now more comfortable in the country than in the city. Still, when a gorgeous rugby player straight from Wall Street barrels into her whiskey tent, she’s tempted to change her mind…
J.P. Byrne went from poor beginnings to international high roller by using his charisma and wit, and holding fast to his dreams. A strong, independent woman like Shea is exactly what he’s looking for, only he has no idea how to prove he’s more than his three-piece suits—especially when he’s spent years doing just the opposite.
But as Shea and Byrne battle old demons, they discover together that the best remedy for past pain is a good, stiff shot of present pleasure…
About the Author
Hanna Martine has loved stories—particularly the romantic kind—since she was very young. She spent a decade working in an office, but has since dedicated herself to writing. She's the author of the Highland Games contemporary romance series, including Long Shot and The Good Chase, and the Elementals paranormal romance series, including Liquid Lies, A Taste of Ice, and Drowning in Fire.
Hanna has traveled to many wonderful places around the world, including the haunted Scottish castle in which she got married. Though she lives outside Chicago with her family, her heart will always belong to Australia.
Read an Excerpt
The Scots and Canadians spell whisky without the e. Therefore, the drink is Scotch whisky and Canadian whisky. Drinks distilled in other areas spell whiskey with the e. For example, Kentucky bourbon whiskey and Irish whiskey.
In this book, mentions of whisky refer only to Scottish bottles. Whiskey means either bottles distilled outside of Scotland/Canada or it’s a general term encompassing malted grain spirits from a mix of locations.
I need a hot guy in a kilt.
Shea Montgomery snorted a most unfeminine snort as she read the text that had just come through from her best friend, Willa.
Gently moving aside a box cradling some pretty divine bottles of Scotch whisky, Shea nudged back a flap of the white tent that would be her home for the day. Down an easy slope, out in the middle of a large, open field, a group of two-hundred-plus-pound men milled about, early morning sunshine on their faces, a brisk late-May breeze kicking up their kilts. Some of the men sat stretching on the grass, some rotated their arms in warm-up, some jogged slowly around the field’s perimeter.
The first throw of the Long Island Highland Games would go off in about two hours.
Smiling, Shea texted back to Willa: Funny, that’s exactly what I’m looking at right now.
Bring one back to the city for me.
Shea peered hard at the massive guys gathering inside the flag ropes. I take that back. Lots of kilts. None hot. Sorry.
Take a pic. Let me decide.
Shea laughed. I’m working. And no way to be stealthy about it when no one else is over there.
You are dead to me.
Shea tucked her phone into the back pocket of her black pants.
“Always good to start the day off with a smile. Right, Big Boss?”
Dean, her best employee at the Amber Lounge in Manhattan, stepped into the tent, rolling up the sleeves to his white button-down shirt. She so rarely saw him outside her bar—and in daylight, no less—that she’d never noticed how much silver there was in his curling black hair.
“Hopefully it’s a sign,” she said, blowing out a big breath. “Help me with the inventory, will you? The master list is right there.”
He read her the names of the bottles while she fingered the necks of each kind of Scotch whisky she’d curated for the day’s tasting, making sure each had made it from the Amber’s cellar to out here in Suffolk County.
When they were done, Dean stood back and admired her stash with hands on hips. He whistled in a high arc as he took in the bottles of port- and sherry-wood barrel-aged, and the twenty-seven-year-old single malt, and the eighteen-year-old blend.
“Nice choices,” he said. “Not exactly starting at the bottom, are you?”
Shea tossed an empty box underneath a billowing tablecloth. “Yeah, well, you have to pay a hundred dollars extra just to come in here for a tasting. It was made very clear to me I had to make it special.”
Dean’s eyes bugged out. “A hundred bucks? No shit?”
Shea pulled her long hair back into her trademark ponytail and glanced with chagrin out at the blue velvet rope delineating the entrance to her tent. She sighed, snapping a rubber band around her hair and letting her arms flop down. “No shit.”
In the distance sounded the day’s first bleat of a bagpipe, a little shaky at first, but then smooth and lovely as the piper warmed up and the notes took shape. Shea recognized the tune and it gave her pause, made her smile to herself.
This was why she planned to attend and do whiskey tastings—of Scotch and others—at so many New England Highland Games this summer. Because they reinvigorated her. Because they shaped her dreams of things outside the walls of the Amber Lounge. Because they brought back memories of Scotland. Because they recalled those days, so many years ago, when she’d actually begun to live.
It was a perfect day for the games. For the sun and laughter, for watching powerful, kilted athletes compete by throwing around heavy implements like the hammer and the caber. For lying back on your elbows and surrounding yourself with the heartbreaking, beautiful sounds of pipes and drums, telling history through song. For cheering on young folk dancers and obedient sheepherding dogs.
Even if these particular games had its nose up in the air as opposed to right down in the peat and heather where it should be, the reminders of her Scottish ancestry warmed her heart.
But alas, she would get to do none of the fun events. Today was about the whisky.
The white tent rippled and flapped around Shea and Dean as they skillfully set out short-stemmed tasting glasses and made artistic towers of boxes and glassware behind the makeshift bar. High, circular tables draped with white linen and tied with blue bows peppered the center space, with squatter tables and cushioned chairs set outside under a canopy.
And then there was the goddamn velvet rope.
Whisky shouldn’t be untouchable, relegated to only a certain level of social drinker, but that’s exactly what Shea and her bottles were today, hidden away in this too-fancy tent. No one could enter who wasn’t wearing the yellow one-hundred-dollar wristband. Laughable for a Scottish festival.
Shea just wanted to talk whisky, just wanted to serve what she loved. Not for the first time, she wondered if opening up such an exclusive bar had been an error in her development as a businesswoman. It clashed too much with her personality. Maybe she was better suited to running a corner pub with worn seats and scary bathrooms, but with the same access to amazing drinks. Take away the hoity-toity atmosphere, but keep the rare, good liquor.
Throughout the day, she tended to the few tasters who did manage to wander into her tent. During the long lulls in between, she gazed out at the heavy athletic field, watching the massive caber flipping end over end and listening to the excited announcer and the enthusiastic crowd’s applause. She ended up sending Dean back to the city to open the Amber.
In the early afternoon, two couples ducked out of the bright sun and came in laughing. The taller husband, the one in a plaid, short-sleeved button-down shirt, was holding a set of stacked, empty beer cups. A Drinker, Shea pegged him, who’d come in here chasing the buzz. The other man, the one in a blue T-shirt, headed right for Shea, nodding as though they already knew each other. He was either a Hot Air—someone who thought he knew a lot about the good stuff—or a Brown Vein—someone who really did know.
Of the women, one wore a red visor that parked itself around her ears and extended far over her face. The other had a short, blond ponytail. Neither woman looked particularly interested in why they’d come in here, though all four people sported wristbands.
Shea spread her arms across the table and gave them all a welcoming smile. Didn’t matter why anyone came in, when it came down to it. They were giving the drink a chance, and educating newcomers was one of her favorite parts of her job. Sometimes that was the best kind of challenge, to win over someone who’d been skeptical—a Squinter—or someone who had cut their teeth on whiskey by sneaking their parents’ ten-dollar plastic-bottled swill bought at the corner bodega.
“So what do these get us?” Drinker waved his yellow wrist.
Always genial, always polite. “Tastes of three amazing whiskies and a walk-through of each, by yours truly.”
“That’s a big deal, my friend,” added the other man. To Shea he gave a deep nod, lips pursed. “Saw you on the History Channel the other night.” He didn’t mention which special.
“Really? That’s always great to hear. Glad you came by.” Perfected responses to almost every comment from almost every type of customer.
She turned to her artful setup of bottles beneath the large banner with the Amber logo, and swung back around holding a tray of glasses. She flipped each glass over and slid it across the white tablecloth with smooth, practiced ease. One glass, two, three, four—
A fifth yellow wristband appeared at the elbow of the blue-shirted man she was leaning toward pegging as a Brown Vein. This new wristband wrapped around an arm that was crusty with caked mud. The newcomer’s fingers and palm looked like he’d tried to wipe them somewhat clean, but black still clung under his nails. Shea followed that arm upward, which widened out significantly at the biceps. He wore a red-and-black-striped rugby shirt, soaked with the efforts of a recently completed match. His short, dark hair was sweat-damp and stuck out all over the place in a way that shouldn’t have looked good but did. His cheeks and forehead were sunburned, and he leaned his elbows on the table with drowsy ease, leaving mud smudges behind.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the wives nudge the other.
“Welcome,” Shea told Rugby.
“Hi,” he replied.
She nodded at his shirt. His perfectly fitted shirt. “How’d you do?”
“Thirty-five to seventeen. We were not the higher number.”
She winced. “Ouch. You at least get a try?”
“I did, actually.” He blinked and straightened, looking pleasantly surprised that she knew rugby scoring terminology. “You know the game?”
“You could say that.” She returned the tray to its place off to the side and set out the three bottles she was guessing this crew would like. The uninterested wives were throwing off Shea’s drink-matching radar, but she’d work with what she had.
She said to Rugby, “So what I’m hearing is that you need a drink.”
“Something a little finer than water, exactly.” Rugby let out a small laugh. He twisted one of the whisky bottles to read the label. “Whatcha got here? What does a hundred bucks buy—wow.”
“You know it?” Shea’s turn to be pleasantly surprised.
“Heard of it, yeah. So that’s why these things were so expensive.” He waved his wrist so the loose end of the yellow wristband flopped about. “Took out a second mortgage to buy one.”
The tall man in the blue T-shirt looked down his nose at Rugby and jabbed a meaty finger at the bottle in Rugby’s hand. “That’s made by a distiller in Scotland that still uses the original 1840 peat kilns to smoke the barley.”
Shea fought for a straight face. Hmmm, maybe this guy was more Hot Air than Brown Vein. He was correct, but who voluntarily spouted off that kind of information to a stranger?
“Impressive.” Rugby’s eyebrows shot up exaggeratedly as he pursed his lips at Shea. Hot Air didn’t get the subtle sarcasm, but she did and had to suppress another smile as she removed the bottle’s cap. Customer equality and all that.
Out in the distant field, the athletes were taking a rest between events. A small contingent of pipes followed a line of old men dressed in military kilts as they marched onto the grass, Scottish and American flags whipping in the wind. The pipes started up, a wave of music drifting into the whisky tent.
“No bagpipes, huh?” Shea teased.
“For shame. Leave my tent immediately.”
Rugby’s cringe twitched toward a wan smile. And in that moment she became distinctly aware that he’d been monopolizing her attention, with four other tasters to entertain. How’d he do that?
“Why are you at the Scottish games,” said Hot Air, who was tipsier than he’d originally appeared, “if you don’t like the pipes?”
Rugby plucked at his dirty and sweaty shirt. “I go where the team tells me, hit who they want me to hit. Run wherever there’s a goal line.” He turned back to Shea. “You like bagpipes?”
Glancing out at the small parade making its way around the field, she felt the cool, familiar glass of the bottle in her hand and replied, “I do. Very much.”
When her gaze drifted back to the five people standing on the other side of her table, Rugby was staring at her so hard she swore he might have been the source of all gravity.
“So,” he said, throwing her a bright smile that tipped heavily to one side, “do you remember me?”
That blinked her out of that weird trance. She remembered regular faces, especially those who repeatedly visited the Amber Lounge, but with so many tastings and traveling and hired events and interviews these days, transient people tended to dissipate from her memory.
Yet there was something familiar about him. Something about his off-center smile set against the tanned skin layered with sweat and specks of dirt. But she couldn’t place it right away, and she’d spent enough time away from the other four tasters.
She gave him one of her careful, noncommittal smiles. “I’m sorry. I don’t.”
A little cocky of him—but not quite obnoxious—to assume that she’d remember him based on one name. She didn’t.
“Just Byrne.” His smile widened, tilting even more to one side. Holy crap. He was far too easy on the eyes. She hadn’t dared to think that about any guy who’d stood on the other side of her bar since Marco, and look how that had turned out.
“Shea Montgomery,” she replied blandly, then turned to select a bottle. Too late, she realized she already held one in her hand.
“Yes. I know,” said Just Byrne to her back. And then he chuckled.
The sound of that laugh, soft and low, slid an invisible hand around the nape of her neck, took a featherlight hold, then dragged itself seductively down her back.
Oh no. This did not happen to her while she was pouring.
She shook it off because she had to and turned back around to face her tasters, meeting the eyes of everyone but Byrne. She poured a shallow tasting amount in each glass, starting at the far end with plaid-shirted Drinker and ending with Byrne, who nudged his glass a little closer to her.
“Last summer?” he prompted.
She made the colossal mistake of lifting her gaze, of getting a good, long look at his eyes. Powder blue with a dark navy ring around the edge. Gorgeous. Flirtatious. Really fucking dangerous.
“At the Highland Games up in Gleann, New Hampshire.” And now the dangerous eyes were smiling, too. “That cow wiped out your tent. Me and my team helped you clean it up.”
The bottle slipped from her fingers. Just an inch or two, but it made a graceless clink on the table. She did remember him now. How he’d tried to openly flirt with her the first night after his team had won the tug-of-war competition, and then more subtly the next day after that damn loose cow had destroyed hundreds and hundreds of dollars of good whisky.
She also remembered that she’d been briefly intrigued by him. Extremely reluctantly intrigued, but intrigued nonetheless.
That damn crooked smile layered a boyish tint over his confident, intense focus on her, and she suddenly realized that his sojourn in here and all his amusing comments weren’t entirely about the whisky.
Good luck with that, buster, she wanted to say. I don’t ever date tasters.
“Oh yeah.” Cool as the breeze, that was Shea. “Didn’t you guys win the tug-of-war?”
“So you do remember.” The way he said it, all drawn out, was packed with suggestion.
He was acting way too encouraged, like their witty banter would actually go somewhere. She shrugged. “That’s about all I remember.”
She turned her back on him and stepped to the center of her tasters, then poured herself her own tiny glass.
“So you do, like, a lot of these things?” slurred Drinker down at the end.
“You mean the Highland Games?” she asked, and when Drinker nodded, she replied, “Last year was my first doing the tastings. Got a couple more this summer.”
“Lot more people up in Gleann,” Byrne said, looking around her empty tent with an odd, thoughtful expression. Gleann’s tent last year had been nonstop, from open to close.
“I am grateful for each and every taster,” Shea replied carefully.
“But you wish there were more people?” he asked, meeting her eyes again.
“I always want to share whisky.” God, she was starting to sound like a brochure. Throwing on a smile, she returned her focus to the two couples. “Are we finally ready to drink, folks?”
Drinker held up the small, squat, stemmed glass. “Why not the flat-bottom glasses? What do you call those again?”
“These are better for nosing the whisky,” Shea replied. “Here, hold the base like—”
She didn’t mean to look over at Byrne again. Habit, really, to take in everyone at the tasting table, to make sure she had their attention and that they each knew they were important to her. Hot Air was grasping the glass underneath, resting the bowl in his palm. But Byrne had the base balanced lightly in his fingertips. Correctly.
She ripped her stare from him and focused on the couples. “Hold it like this.” She showed them how to hold the base of the glass and not grip the bowl like a Viking. “What we’re going to do first is nose the whisky three times, each time slightly longer than the last. One second, two seconds, three seconds. I’m going to count. Why don’t you all watch me as you do it.”
The women shared a glance and laughed, and Shea wondered how many of those empty plastic beer cups had been theirs.
Shea lifted the glass to her face, inserted her nose, and inhaled.
The couples followed suit and displayed pretty much the range of reaction she’d expected. Everything from I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit-Let’s-Drink, to Ew-This-Is-Disgusting, to dramatic, chest-pounding coughing because she’d inhaled too deeply and too long. Hot Air’s expression said that this was nothing he hadn’t already known.
And then there was Byrne. Nose in his glass for about a quarter second longer than was necessary. Powder blue eyes lifted just over the rim. Set solely on her.
Did he think he was the first guy to give her The Eye from the other side of the bar? This flat surface in front of her was No-Man’s-Land. Quite literally.
“Should be different the second time, now that you got the shock of the alcohol out of the way,” she heard herself saying. “It should be sweeter.”
The corner of Byrne’s mouth twitched, a hint of that crooked smile, then he buried his nose in the glass again, exactly matching her movements. Concentrating. This time not looking at her. Black lines of dirt had settled into the deep grooves of concentration along his forehead. He must be a few years older than her, maybe midthirties. He wore his years extremely well.
Stop it, stop it, stop it.
On cue, Hot Air started spouting off to his companions a list of all the things he smelled in the whisky. While there were never any right or wrong suggestions to specific scents or notes—whisky was an entirely personal experience—he was messing with Shea’s rhythm.
“And the third?” Byrne asked Shea, cutting into Hot Air’s thesaurus recitation. Hot Air shut up.
“On the third nose,” Shea said, “you should smell some fruit, going deeper into the intricacies of the glass.”
Her tasters followed her actions.
“Byrne! You done in there yet? Come on, let’s go!”
Byrne swiveled to the sound of the chorus of male voices. Outside in the sun, the rest of his team, muddy and disheveled in red and black, beckoned to him. No other rugby players wore yellow wristbands.
Byrne acknowledged them with his glass, then took a perfect taste of what Shea had poured.
The brown liquid disappeared slowly into his mouth. His jaw worked it over for a good four or five seconds. Biting it, chewing it. Savoring it, as it should be done. Then he swallowed it back, his throat working.
Exactly like how she was about to instruct her newbies.
Byrne lifted his eyes to Shea without a hint of pretentiousness or flirting. “Excellent, thank you.” Then, with a nod to the other four tasters, he left her tent.
She watched him go.
He had a long stride, masculine but oddly graceful. A leisurely confidence to his gait, contrasted by the clumps of turf stuck to the bottom of his cleats. He was built exactly how a rugby player should be with those ridiculous legs—tanned and thick and strong, with a distinct pronunciation of his quads. Might as well have rugby player tattooed down the side.
Goddamn it. In her mind she held one of those giant cartoon mallets and was whacking herself on the head.
Outside, the rest of Byrne’s team had moved on except for one guy with a stocky build and longish blond hair. Byrne gave the other guy a “just a minute” gesture and disappeared in the opposite direction of his team.
Shea shook her head of his image and poured the next whisky for the couples, answering their questions about the Speyside distillery and the mashing process and what the years of aging on the bottle meant.
Then Byrne ambled back into view. Just a red-and-black-striped figure in her periphery at first, but her stupid brain demanded she look out through the tent flaps again, and so she did, beyond annoyed at herself. Distantly she thought she heard a nearby clearing of a throat, but she couldn’t rip her stare away from Byrne.
His friend had drifted out of sight, but Byrne didn’t seem to be looking for him. Instead Byrne went down the grass slope to where two couples, possibly in their forties, had spread out a blanket along the flag rope just outside the athletic field. The hammer toss was going on, but Byrne ignored the event and instead tapped one of the women on her shoulder. He gave her that incredible, crooked smile.
Toast. That woman was toast.
But then all four of the strangers were listening to Byrne say something, nodding up at him enthusiastically.
Byrne reached into the pocket of his rugby shorts and pulled out four yellow wristbands. One of the men reached for his wallet, but Byrne waved him off.
Shea gasped. Why on earth had he done that? Four hundred dollars. Four hundred dollars! Not to show off or to try to impress her, she hoped, because tossing around money was the absolute wrong way to do that.
To be generous, maybe? But still, four hundred dollars on whisky, given to complete strangers? Who was this guy?
As the two new couples slapped on the wristbands and stood, folding up their blanket, Byrne headed in the direction his team had gone. As he passed by the whisky tent, he turned his head and instantly found Shea. Caught her staring.
She quickly ducked her head, blindly grabbing for the third and final bottle, but not before she was blasted by the full impact of that crooked smile, far too bright in the sunshine.
That smile promised a lot. Things she hadn’t allowed herself—or been afforded—to think about in a long, long time. Things that hit her right where she hadn’t been touched in an embarrassing number of months.
It disturbed her greatly, to be disarmed while in uniform, so to speak. It disturbed her even more that the man who’d done it was a taster—quite possibly a Brown Vein—met while she was working, and apparently in possession of some kind of money. No-nos, all around.
He wouldn’t win.
He had to know that even though he’d caught her staring, and even though she’d looked away like a shy virgin at a bachelor auction, it didn’t mean that he’d gained any sort of ground with her. She had strict personal rules to uphold, a hard-won reputation to maintain, and a business to keep at the top of the New York scene.
But when she looked up to tell him all that with her cool, disinterested expression and Stay Back eyes, Byrne was gone.
That one sip of sweet, hot, golden whisky spread out and tingled its way through Byrne’s body. He wanted more, plain and simple, but it had been pretty clear that what he wanted wasn’t exactly available.
That was a damn shame.
The day had started out with the stress of the workweek still lingering in his system, until he’d hopped into the van with the rest of his rugby team, tightened the laces on his cleats, and jogged out onto the pitch, so very ready to get physical. Every play, every scrum, every hit, knocked out a little chunk of the shit he’d had to deal with this week—the intense kissing of asses, only to lose the business in the end—so when the clock wound down today and Manhattan Rugby chalked up yet another loss, he didn’t care. The game had done what it was meant to do for him, and he’d walked off the field feeling high.
Shea Montgomery had been merely a bonus. A delicious whisky chaser.
He’d been meandering through the Highland Games, trying desperately to outrun the screech of those god-awful bagpipes, when he saw the whisky-tasting tent. The names Amber Lounge and Shea Montgomery had given him a good slap across the face.
Shea. The gorgeous, intriguing whisky expert he’d met last summer. He recalled briefly trying to track her down after their chance encounter with the cow up in Gleann. But then life and work and general crap had gotten in the way, and she’d slipped from his mind for a whole year.
How on earth could that have ever happened? After enthusiastically paying a hundred dollars and stepping into her tent, seeing her standing tall and confident and utterly beautiful in front of a line of sparkling brown bottles, he really didn’t know.
Then she’d shot him down, bringing the total number of bullet holes she’d given him to two, because he seemed to remember standing in front of her firing squad up in Gleann last year.
And yet . . . just now he’d caught her looking.
Now Byrne swam against the crowd as he tried to make his way toward the parking lot that jutted up against the back of the whisky-tasting tent. A lot of people seemed to be making their way over to the big field where some seriously huge guys in plaid skirts were trying to swing some sort of ball on a short pole across the grass.
“There you are. Finally.” Erik was standing at the taillight of a sweet blue Tesla, tapping at his phone. “Was about to call. George is ready to leave without you.”
“Sorry.” Three lanes over, the van the team had rented sat idling with its side doors thrown open, George’s thick body stuffed behind the wheel, the rest of the team wedged in the back. “Wanted some whisky.”
Erik peered over Byrne’s shoulder, and Byrne also turned, if only to see what his friend saw. Of course it was Shea, perfectly framed by the waving flaps of her tent, standing with her hands spread on top of her makeshift bar, laughing with the four people sporting new yellow on their wrists. Her long ponytail, nearly white in its paleness, swung down her back.
“Uh-huh.” Erik threw Byrne a side eye. “So what was with the wristbands?”
Byrne shrugged. “It was a great setup and no one was inside. Was a shame to let all that good whisky go to waste.”
He’d loved Shea’s enthusiasm, her clear knowledge, and her patience and love for talking to tasters. More people deserved to experience that. He remembered how packed her tent had been up in Gleann. He wanted that again for her.
Erik slapped Byrne’s arm. “Hey, don’t suppose you’d want to stick around with me? Hire a car to take us back later?”
Someone started up on the pipes again and Byrne shuddered. “No. Why would you want to stay?”
“I don’t know. I kind of love this. Feels a little like home.”
“But you’re German.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m liking it here. I could have a couple of beers, you could try to romance the whisky chick again. Looks like some sort of band is starting up soon?”
Byrne squinted at the stage on the other side of the athletic field. More bagpipes. No fucking way.
“This really isn’t my thing, man. Sorry.” Normally Byrne was game for anything Erik wanted to do, but this? Besides, Byrne was champing at the bit to get back into the city.
Erik spouted something in German—he tended to do that when he got too excited or upset or frustrated—made a dismissive gesture to Byrne, and then stomped off toward the van. Byrne wove through the cars after him.
After he packed himself into the van, Erik cried out, “This thing was great! Fantastic idea, George.”
“We got our asses kicked.” Dan, at shotgun, sneered into the windshield. He took a sip from a flask and stashed it back into his bag. Byrne cringed.
Erik ignored Dan, as usual. “Why aren’t we staying and drinking every keg they have?”
Being the last one into the van, Byrne got squeezed into the crappiest, tightest spot in the very back. Though the air-conditioning was on full blast, the odor of sweat and mud and general man pretty much ensured they wouldn’t be getting back their security deposit.
“Gotta get home for dinner tonight,” George said. Several other guys muttered their similar situations. Byrne and Erik and Dan were the only single guys on the team.
Byrne pulled shut the doors, George threw the van into gear, and the Manhattan Rugby Club rolled out of the Hamptons, heading back to the city.
“So you guys played a Highland Games last year?” Erik turned around in his seat to face Byrne.
“George suggested it,” Byrne said. “He’s from this small town up in New Hampshire that was trying to revive their games or something. One of his high school buddies called and begged that we come up and play. So we made a guys’ weekend out of it.”
“That was fucking fun,” George said.
Byrne nodded, remembering playing with a hangover. “Winning that case of whisky in the tug-of-war was worth it.”
“And that bartender was fucking hot,” George added, making Byrne shift and the rest of the players nod like bobbleheads.
A string of German spewed out of Erik. He was practically bouncing in his seat. “Why don’t we do that again? Find some more Highland Games, play some tourneys, make a couple of weekends out of it. Shit, it’s not like we’re in it for the competition or anything.”
“Speak for yourself.” Byrne lightly smacked the back of Erik’s head.
“Well, you’re the only one who can actually play,” Erik added, to a chorus of loud indignation and the tossing of various dirty, rank articles of clothing.
“Anyone else up for that?” George asked from the front, eyeing the van through the rearview mirror. “I’ll see what other games are going on, find out which ones have rugby tourneys, throw out some locations and dates? We can get out of town for a day or two, pound some dirt and then some beers?”
As every other player clapped or voiced their hearty approval, Byrne let his head drop back and gave it a good couple of bangs on the headrest. This was it. This was how he was going to die. Death by terrible musical instruments.
“Byrne?” A punch to his chest. “You in?”
“Ow.” Byrne straightened, laughing and wincing at the same time. The whole van was looking at him. It really was true; the team didn’t have any shot at competition without him. It was as much about not letting them down as needing to be out on the pitch, toes to the dirt, fingers around the ball, shoulders to another guy’s body. If he wanted stiffer competition—and oftentimes he did—he could always try out for the bigger traveling teams, but it was the guys involved in this van who made it a day worth living.
“Yeah.” He sighed. “Yeah, I’m in. But if you make me wear a fucking kilt I’m out of there.”
Rousing shouts went up, mixed with some extrafine cursing, so it wasn’t until he felt the vibration in his shorts pocket that he realized his phone was sending him a notification.
Pulling it out, his heart stopped at seeing the colored bubble on-screen. Then the organ stumbled back into beating, racing, as he swiped the screen and opened the email app.
This could be it. What he’d been waiting for, trying for, for years.
The sounds in the van descended into ball-busting and general bullshit, rehashing the match from play to play. It all faded into nothing as the private email account came to life on-screen. The inbox showed a blue 1. Byrne held his breath.
Spam coming in on an email account he used for only one very specific purpose, to send messages to only one other very specific email address.
Expanding his cheeks, he blew out all the air he’d been holding inside. No other emails in the inbox. Not that he’d been expecting one. He hadn’t gotten a response in nearly five years.
Didn’t mean he was going to stop trying. The most important people in his life needed this, depended on this. So did he.
Only one person in the Contacts folder. He tapped the address and started a brand-new email. It had been a couple of days since he’d sent one.
Elbows crunched awkwardly into his sides, he typed a short and to-the-point message, careful not to use the same subject or text so as not to get shuffled into their spam folders.
He closed the email the same as always: “Please let me know if and when the property becomes available.”
He hit Send.
No one had ever accused him of giving up easily.
* * *
The delightful people Byrne had sent into her tent finally left, a little buzzed, a lot happy, and with napkins scrawled with the names of several price-friendly whiskies stuffed into their pockets. Now that the entertaining hour was over—and since no other tasters seemed to be wandering in—Shea was left to wonder again about her muddy, rugby-playing benefactor.
As she wiped off the bar, her phone chimed with a text.
Still in bed. Willa.
Still? It’s 3, Shea thumbed back.
Dying for a kilted man to bring me Gatorade and ibuprofen.
A big laugh bubbled out of Shea’s mouth. There was one hot guy, but no kilt.
That’ll do. Send him over.
Hmm, Shea did not know how she felt about that. About just handing over Byrne to her man-eating best friend.
Still working, Shea replied.
A figure appeared at the tent entrance, fuzzy and indistinct in Shea’s peripheral vision. Funny—and horrible—how she recognized the shape and stance and general oily presence of the man she deliberately hadn’t seen in four years. Not wanting to, but knowing she had to, she looked up to confirm what the shiver down her spine had foretold.
Oh fuckity fuck, she furiously typed to Willa. It’s Marco. He’s here. FUVCKKKK.
Quickly she shoved the phone back into her pocket like she was in high school and not thirty-two years old.
Marco said something to the old man checking wristbands at the entrance, clapped the elderly volunteer on the back with an expansive grin, and then stepped over the velvet rope to come inside. Because such rules had never applied to Marco Todaro, oh no.
He took his time crossing the empty tent. Shea didn’t move, refusing to come out from behind the bar for him. Though she was standing in her place of work, where it was easy to become who she needed to be, her ex-husband’s unexpected presence threw everything out of whack, and she hated it.
“Hi, Shea.” Marco’s smile was blindingly, falsely white.
“Hello.” She would be civil, cordial. “You look”—orange—“tan.”
He seemed so pleased she noticed. Gross.
“Greece,” he said. “Remember that yacht off Santorini?”
Yes, she did remember. And no, she didn’t want to. She crossed her arms. “What’re you doing here?”
He did that thing she’d grown to hate: cocking his head and making a face like she’d been the one to do the confusing thing, that her emotions and actions were wrong, and how dare she not realize this?
He spread his arms, and in one hand he held the program for the games. “Saw your name in here. Came to do the gentlemanly thing and say hello.”
“No, I meant what are you doing here, at the Highland Games? You never used to let me be involved in stuff like this, and now here you are.”
He made an indignant sound. “That’s not true.”
It was very true. She’d always wanted to get involved with the New York City Scottish Society, but every time an event had come up and she’d expressed interest in going, he’d book something else for them to do. Something obnoxious and lavish on the opposite side of the globe. Santorini, for example. Then there were the many, many times he’d taken it upon himself to make or cancel her other private social events based on whether or not he approved, or whether or not they would advance him in the New York scene.
And she’d always gone along without argument. Stupid girl. Stupid, spineless, clueless little girl.
But she wasn’t that person anymore and, she supposed, when it came down to it, she had Marco to thank for that.
“You know,” he said, using that syrupy, direct eye contact that had swept her off her feet as a twenty-two-year-old bartender, “I really did just come in here to say hello, see what you’re up to.” He swept a gaze around the tent. “Surprised to see you here. You don’t belong behind the bar anymore. Don’t you have employees?”
He would never understand her, what she truly wanted, why she’d left him. She sighed and let her arms drop to her sides. “Why did you really come in here, Marco?”
“Uh.” He actually had the acting chops to look sheepish. “I miss you?”
“No, you don’t.”
“It’s been a few years. Maybe I came at things between us the wrong way. Maybe things have changed.”
“Nothing’s changed. Believe me.” At least not with him. The man had sprung from an average childhood, but his sprint up the world’s real estate development ladder had wrung out his humanity.
“Shea.” As he shook his head at the ground, she noticed he had a hell of a lot more silver in his hair. He would be in his early fifties now. “Listen. When you’re done here this evening, why don’t you come over to my place? We could have a quiet drink as old friends. I built a new house over in Sagaponack.”
“Ah, I get it now. You got dumped.”
“No. That’s not it.”
But the slack of his mouth told the truth.
“She’s coming back,” he added hastily.
“Of course she is.” Shea laughed and turned to her precious bottles, the lovely things that had given her courage and purpose, and had finally allowed her to ask for the divorce. “New houses on the beach. Yachts in Greece. Those things don’t impress me, Marco.”
“They used to.”
She whipped around. Stared him down. “I was young and dumb.”
The sheepishness and humble pie died. Just vanished from his face. His posture straightened and tightened. “You know,” he said, “Shea Montgomery served on ice doesn’t taste very good.”
“That’s because you don’t like strong drinks. You like them all watered down.”
He considered her with the flat stare she’d done such a great job of forgetting. “I’ll never get why you changed.”
“I know, Marco. And that’s the sad part. Enjoy your new house.”
His nostrils flared. “I will. Enjoy your . . . bar.”
Bar said, of course, like she owned a whorehouse.
“I will. Because it is mine. And it’s more than you ever let me have.”
He opened his mouth to defend himself, to say something awful like I let you have everything. I gave you everything, but she held up a hand to inform him of its pointlessness. Because when she’d left him, she’d made it a point not to take a dime from him. He had nothing to throw in her face.
“Have fun at the rest of the games,” she said as pleasantly as possible, knowing full well he wasn’t going to stick around now that she’d shut him down. He’d come here specifically for the hunt. To him, she’d only ever been a conquest, a trophy.
As expected, Marco turned and left.
* * *
Byrne toggled his keys, duffel bag, and laced-together cleats in one arm as he let himself into his apartment on East 84th. The door swung shut hard behind him, and he let everything drop in a heap. Little chunks of dried mud skittered across the slate tile in the foyer. He got out the broom and dustpan from the closet and swept everything up, so that Frances, his housekeeper, wouldn’t shake her finger in his face. She probably still would, but then she’d make him cookies and all would be well.
The adrenaline from the rugby had worn off on the long ride back into the city, and now the dizzy tiredness and sore muscles started to settle in. Not for the first time, he wondered how in the world professional athletes in their midthirties survived doing this to their bodies every day. Aging sucked.
In the bathroom, he stripped off the stiff, stinking rugby clothes—sorry, Frances—and tossed them in the hamper, then turned on the various knobs to start the overhead rain nozzle in his walk-in shower. He stood under the soothing spray and thought about the day. By the time he’d scrubbed off the dried sweat and mud and stepped out, pulling a towel around his waist, he had a pretty good hankering for some more whisky.
After reaching into the glass-front cabinet for his razor and shaving cream, he decided against shaving. He wasn’t planning on going out that night anyway. A rare, blissful Saturday night, free of having to entertain one client or another. As he pulled his hand out of the cabinet, he caught sight of the little yellow toy caboose sitting on top. A pang of warm wistfulness shot through him, and then he closed the glass door.
Going into his closet, he flipped on the switch, and rows of lights illuminated the cherrywood nooks that stored all his clothes. Frances had gone to the dry cleaners, he noted, the section with all his suits looking fuller than usual. With supreme satisfaction, he walked past the suits and the carefully pressed shirts and hanging ties. Not for another thirty-six hours would he have to think about which tie went best with which shirt, and for what client or meeting, and what that particular combo said about him. And thank fuck for that.
Instead he went for the splintering, crooked dresser stashed way in the back. The top drawer stuck as he wrestled it out, but he’d been opening it so many years that he knew its secrets. He removed his favorite pair of shorts and a Wharton T-shirt and pulled them on.
After a brief stop in the second bedroom, which served as an office—no crises had popped up on the computer he used for work, just a reminder of a late Sunday night conference call to Hong Kong—he padded out to the kitchen and found the only bottle of whisky he had. An intensely peaty one that he’d been sipping from on the rare occasions he drank at home.
Tonight seemed to call for it, however.
He brought the whisky and his phone over to where his laptop sat on the glass-topped coffee table. The sun was lowering, cradled in the tops of the buildings on the Upper East Side. No matter how much his job tended to drain him, he’d never tire of the view it had afforded him.
He stretched across the large coffee table and straightened the little green toy train engine resting in its center, then he flopped backward onto the couch.
His phone jumped, buzzed, lit up. George. A mass text to all of Manhattan Rugby.
OK. Rhode Island has a games with a rugby tourney next weekend. Competition looks loose. Who’s in?
Byrne cracked his neck, then took a good earthy mouthful of the whisky, thinking too late about what Shea had said about nosing the glass first.
His phone danced with immediate positive replies going around the group, and then one text sent directly to him. From Dan.
When are we going to get real competition? We’re better than this.
Byrne scrubbed his face. Leave the team if you want. I didn’t force you to join. He’d said it to Dan a million times.
No response. Then Dan’s affirmation came through, sent to the whole club. They had enough to field a team, and Byrne was already planning to bring along earplugs. Thinking about his workweek to come, he’d need a good day on the pitch, a good weekend away from the city.
Curiosity got the better of him. He opened his laptop and searched for “Rhode Island Highland Games.” Next weekend’s event popped up with a list of all the attractions.
His phone rang, Erik’s name flashing on the screen.
“What’s up?” Byrne said.
“Need your help to get into Portrait this week. Last-minute visit from a big fish and I gotta make it count. Can you call in a favor?”
“Sure.” Byrne made a note to call the head of the restaurant group that owned Portrait, one of his clients. “You out for Rhode Island? Didn’t see your name pop up.”
“Yeah. Sorry. Looks like you’re stuck with Dan.”
“I’ll survive.” Byrne tapped his laptop screen. “There’ll be whisky there again. Might give it another taste.”
Erik chuckled. “Really? You didn’t mention how the drink went today.”
Byrne hissed through his teeth, remembering Shea’s open demeanor until he’d tried to flirt. “Not so good, I’m afraid. Kind of got knocked to the dirt.”
A pause. “Let me tell you a little story.”
Byrne smiled, in spite of himself. “Here we go.”
“There once was this German guy who believed everything his American roommate told him. This was back when the German first came to the States in college, when he was young and naive and not nearly as dashing as he is now. Anyway, the American told the German, who had a girlfriend he was crazy about, that American girls loved beef jerky. And that they loved men who made their own beef jerky.”
Byrne was already laughing.
“So the German researched online how to make beef jerky, and he ended up with a bedroom strung with drying meat and no more girlfriend.”
“The moral of the story?” Byrne could barely get the words out, he was laughing so hard.
“To not try too hard, or else it looks desperate.”
“Or maybe not to listen to your friends.”
“I don’t know about that. That was damn fine jerky. I miss it.”
“Not the girl?”
“Just telling you to read the signs.”
Byrne’s laughter finally petered out. The little clock on the top of his laptop screen caught his attention. “Oh shit, I gotta run. Expecting a phone call.”
“That’s right, it’s Saturday. Tell the lovely Caroline hello.”
“I will. See ya.”
“Beef jerky!” Erik yelled, and Byrne hung up.
Not five minutes later, right on schedule—Saturday at six thirty—the phone rang again. The picture on the screen showed a dark-haired woman with a round face holding a baby, the little girl only days old. Never failed to make Byrne smile.
“Hey, sis.” He sank deeper into the leather couch, propping up his feet on the table in front of the toy train engine. “How was your week?”
“Oh, you know. Fine, I guess.” Her South Carolina accent contrasted with the sounds of the New York sirens outside. “I’m exhausted. Baby K is wearing me out. I have to drag her everywhere. It’s hard to get things done.”
Byrne gritted his teeth. What the hell was Paul doing while Caroline had to run around with a little kid?
“Got your pic earlier this week.” He looked up to the framed photo of the curly-haired toddler, which sat on his bookcase between the sci-fi hardbacks and the red toy train coal car. “Man, is she a cutie.”
“Thanks. And I got the box of books.” A sadness seeped through her gratefulness.
“Oh good! You’re gonna love the sci-fi series. The aliens are awesome, and the captain of the garbage freighter is so tough. Right up your alley.”
“A chick freighter captain?”
“Does she kick ass and have ten guys on the side and can just wander around the universe having adventures?”
“You know it.”
Caroline sighed dramatically. “Someday. That’ll be me.”
He loved making her laugh. It reminded him of when they were younger, taking turns softly reading chapters to each other out loud until Mom and Dad told them to conserve light, or until Alex threw something at them and growled at them to shut up. Then they’d close the battered, dog-eared paperback, stuff it into a crack in the wall that didn’t get wet when it rained, and lie in the dark, whispering about the characters they’d just read, guessing what might happen next.
No wonder fantasy and science fiction were always their favorites. Even in the darkest, craziest worlds, there always seemed to be hope rippling under the worst of circumstances.
“You don’t have to keep sending me books, J.P.,” she said. “I do live near a library. This may come as a shock to you, but books there are free.”
“I know, but that’s not the point.”
The point was to send Caroline things he knew she’d love. The point was to send her books she could sell to a used bookstore when she was done and get some money, or donate to a charity and get a little tax break.
The point was to help a beloved sister who refused any other kind of help he offered. She couldn’t rip up a box of books like she—or Mom and Dad—could rip up a check.
“Kristin loves the board books, too,” Caroline added.
“Good. I’m so glad.” He glanced into the kitchen, where, above the microwave, sat the last part of the toy train: the blue cow car with the broken sides. The little metal cows that went inside had long since been lost to time.
“How are they?” he asked, not having to define they.
Caroline pulled in a breath and heaved it out. “All right, I suppose. Mom’s quilting with the church, and Dad comes over to play with Kristin when she does it. He took a second job. Night janitorial stuff over at the high school.”
Byrne squeezed shut his eyes, his chest hurting. “I sent them a check when I sent you the books. Can you make sure—”
“I saw it.” She sighed as she said it, and Byrne knew exactly what that meant. “I can’t make them cash it, J.P.”
“And if I wrote you a check and told you to give half the cash to them and keep the other half for yourself?” He’d tried this avenue before. Didn’t hurt to try again. Not when he pictured the broken, second- and thirdhand furniture his family ate on and slept in.
Caroline said, “I think you know the answer to that.”
“I’ll come down as soon as I can,” he said, resigned.
“We’d love that.”
Boxes of books were great, but they weren’t him. He knew that. If he could package himself up and send it down to his family every month, they’d be ecstatic, but what he was doing here in New York for them was going to be even better. And soon he could tell them all about it. Soon he would be able to give them everything. He could feel it in his bones.
“Is that Baby K crying?” he asked, as the little girl squawked in the background.
“Yeah. I should go. Talk to you next Saturday?”
“I’ll be in Rhode Island, but absolutely. Call and I’ll make sure I’m available. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
And speaking of Rhode Island, just as Byrne set his phone next to him on the couch and reached for the whisky again, a new group text came through from George: No rooms anywhere in Rhode Island. Don’t worry, I got us covered.
That should be interesting.
Then George texted a photo of the most massive RV in existence. Pack your sleeping bags, it read. We’re going camping.
A week after seeing Marco, Shea still had a bad taste in her mouth that no amount of whisky chasing could cure.
Now she stood happily behind the tiny card table serving as her tasting station at the “Rhode High-land Games.” Cringe-worthy name aside, this event was exactly what she’d needed after a busy workweek topped off with late nights at the Amber.
The sun was setting on the Friday night opening party, and the intimate festival setup made for a cozy, fun atmosphere. Next to her table, the volunteers at the beer station were having a grand time sampling the cider and ale and were making for some interesting conversation. Across the main thoroughfare, people wandered in and out of the marketplace tents. Children giggled and squealed as their newly purchased wooden swords and battle-axes and shields clattered in play. Out on the athletic field, a reenactment of the valiant Battle of Bannockburn was taking place, accompanied by the soundtrack of bagpipes off to one side.
How could anyone not love the sound of bagpipes? Honestly.
Though she’d chatted up plenty of eager, fun whisky tasters there to enjoy the Friday night events before the fair opened wider tomorrow, the evening was almost over, and she was looking forward to food and rest.
“Just wanted to make sure everything was to your liking.” Ernestine, the games’ organizer, wandered over holding a plastic cup of cider. She looked a little sad-eyed with drink, even though her mouth was smiling, showing lipstick on her front teeth.
Shea grinned. “Absolutely.”
And it was. Not as lovely a setting as Gleann, New Hampshire’s mountains and valleys, but far better than the overdecorated, overpriced setup on Long Island. The diminished attendance in Rhode Island didn’t bother Shea one bit. In fact, she enjoyed everything more because of it.
“I just wanted to thank you for contacting me about having this whisky thing,” Ernestine said. She’d already thanked Shea earlier, but the woman looked like she was having such a good time it didn’t matter. “What a great idea! It’s been such a wonderful addition this year. Everyone who’s come over here has loved you. Loved you.” Complete with jazz hands and eyes rolled to the darkening sky.
The NYC Scottish Society had hired Shea for the Long Island games with strict specifications as to what they wanted, but coming to Rhode Island had been Shea’s own idea. Here she had more accessible Scotch choices, better pricing, and a casual, open vibe. Hell, she’d even worn jeans.
As the reenactment ended and Robert the Bruce was hoisting his sword in the air, the bagpipes crescendoed over the sound of scattered applause.
Shea pulled out her phone and dialed. “Hi, Dad! Guess where I am?”
He chuckled. “I have no idea. On second thought, I hear pipes in the background. Knowing you? Scotland.”
“Closer to you. Rhode Island. They’re having a little Highland Games and I decided to come up for the weekend.”
“Well, now how about that. Your granddad would be so pleased. And on his birthday, no less.”
Tucking the phone between her ear and shoulder, she started to gather up used plastic cups with one hand, tossing them in the nearby garbage can. “I know; that’s part of the reason why I came. He would’ve gotten a kick out of Robert the Bruce over there. Wait, I take that back. He probably would’ve stumbled onto the field and corrected formations and story lines.”
Her dad laughed, but it sounded a little thin. Shea had always gotten along with and understood her grandfather far better than his own son.
This night, these games, made her feel close to Granddad again, but not in sadness over the fact that he was gone. More like a celebration of his life and all that he’d taught and given her. And he’d given her a great deal; she was reminded of that nearly every day.
“You’re still coming mid-July, right?” Dad asked. “For our games?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
“We’ll make up your old bed for you.”
Ernestine’s voice came over the shrill sound system, announcing an end to that evening and wishing everyone a pleasant sleep before the gates opened at nine tomorrow.
“I gotta run, Dad. Need to clean up and eat something before heading to the campground.”
“Shea.” And suddenly she was seventeen again, standing before her parents, telling them Granddad had invited her to live in Scotland the summer before college started. “You’re not camping alone, are you?”
She’d done so well not mentioning the whisky, and then she’d gone and let slip the thing about herself being a single woman sleeping among trees and bears and axe murderers. How silly of her!
“I’m fine. I’m thirty-two and I’ve camped alone before. Dozens of times.” That was a lie. It had only been the once—last year in Gleann—but it had turned out wonderfully. So much so that she’d gone out and bought all new equipment and had been looking forward to pitching her tent several times this summer.
“That doesn’t make me not worry.”
Excerpted from "The Good Chase"
Copyright © 2014 Hanna Martine.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Long Shot
“A smart and thoroughly enjoyable series debut for fans and newcomers alike.”—RT Book Reviews
“Realistic and hilarious.”—Harlequin Junkie
“An enjoyable read made even more so by the supporting cast interactions.”—Book Pushers
“Martine is just as good with her fantasy novel as she is with this contemporary novel. Very different from her Elemental series, Ms. Martine tackles a more realistic storyline…A light read that I highly enjoyed. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys Jessica Clare, Jennifer Probst, and Victoria Dahl.”—Under the Covers
“What’s not to love? Men in kilts showing off skills and serious muscles = melt!...A fun, light, and hot contemporary romance.”—That’s What I’m Talking About with Twimom227
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.5 Stars Reviewed by Angela and posted at Under The Covers Book Blog It was a Good long Chase for Bryne and Shea. Being adults pursuing a higher level in their careers, they never thought of having relationship at this point of their lives. As luck would have it, their paths keep crossing, giving them a chance at love. Bryne is a private banker professionally and a rugby player for fun though he’s good enough to be in that level. Bryne was not what I expected at all. He is more serious then I thought. He is very focused. Well, he has reasons to be. A baggage he just can’t put away and the very thing that holds him back from commiting…at least until Shea walks into his life. Just like Bryne, Shea has her own baggage that prevents her from any commitments except with her career. But can anyone really deny a man like Bryne?! It was only a matter of time. Shea, as a whiskey specialist intrigued me. I didn’t know this world even existed nor the art it came along with. I was very impressed with her career, enough to do some tasting myself. Bryne was certainly engrossed by everything she did. He took his time pursuing her but once he did, it was a very romantic courtship. Though this is not my fave, Hanna Martine wrote a very sweet story. I love the way she brought highland games and infused with modern themes. And there was this tent scene that was just sin. I just realized that Hanna Martine had recently published a novella for this series. At this point, I still recommend this book as stand alone but if you ask me which I would start with it’s always at book one. *ARC provided by publisher
The Good Chase is the second book in the Highland Games series, contemporary romances that incorporates the Scottish Highland Games played throughout the book and series as a whole. Shea Montgomery is a renowned whiskey expert, with a famous bar Amber, she also runs whiskey taster tents at the Highland Games when she can, it's through these games she makes the acquaintance of Byrne who is persistent in asking her out, her answer is always no until one day she tells him yes and they start to date, but what's keeping Shea from getting any closer to Byrne is the fact that he's very rich, after suffering through a marriage with a wealthy man, she vowed to never get involved with someone like that again, but there's just something about Byrne that draws Shea to him, and maybe it's because he's so completely different to her ex-husband and may have judged him unfairly, with both Shea and Byrne carrying pasts that affect their lives to this day, can they both let go and finally move forward with their lives together? I thoroughly enjoy this series, the characters are extremely likeable, the story lines are enjoyable and I love the inclusion of all the Scottish elements, I eagerly await the next book in the series. Highly recommended.
Hanna Martine does a great job with the second book in the Highland Games series, The Good Chase. Martine brings whiskey and rugby to the forefront in this contemporary romance about two people who have overcome a lot to get to where they are. Martine uses a bit of a Highland theme to get the ball rolling with this one and reader's who love all things Scottish will find this one irresistible. Martine's use of the whiskey industry in the story was ingenious and makes for a really interesting read. What I liked: I haven't read the first book in this series, Long Shot, but I was really intrigued with The Good Chase. Being of Scottish decent probably had something to do with that. I love stories that portray aspects of the Scottish people and homeland. The Highland Games is something synonymous with the Scotland and I was interested to see how Martine handled it. Usually, the any Highland Games held in America is similar but not exactly like the real thing. I thought Martine had her facts straight and she made the games seem like a place any reader would want to visit. As well as Shea's whiskey tasting tent. Shea's profession was certainly not what I expected. I loved it though. The background on the whiskey industry was interesting and full of unique facts. It added a certain finesse to the story. It cost quite a pretty penny to be able to taste the fine whiskey that Shea was providing and she made it a great experience for those who got the opportunity. I've never seen a whiskey tasting at any Highland Games I have been too, but I think it would make an amazing addition. Scotch whiskey, yummy! I liked Shea as a character as well. She has started a new life for herself after a marriage to a controlling wealthy man, who didn't see her potential. I liked the fact that she took a chance and did something she loved. She was a self made woman, so to speak and so was the hero, J.P. Byrne. He also came from humble beginnings and now had become a banker with enough money to help his impoverished family, but he didn't understand why they wouldn't take his help. His story was compelling and interesting. The chemistry between Shea and Byrne was electric. They had met before in the first book in the series, but the encounter didn't go anywhere. Shea has some strict rules when it comes to dating and Byrne had to take a chance that he might be the man to help her lower her barriers. He was persistent but not overbearing in his pursuit of Shea. He let chance encounters and situations dictate the pace and it worked for him. I was glad he didn't pressure her, that would probably have been the end of it considering her past. It gets a bit hot and steamy now and then, but Martine works that aspect of Shea and Byrne's relationship right into the story. It felt natural and flowed easily. You might need a good cold drink and a fan, because, these two are smoking hot together. Martine writes these types of scenes very well. She is descriptive without being crass and the reader will enjoy the balance between sexual and emotional moments. Bottom Line: I definitely want to go back and read the first book in this series. I really enjoyed The Good Chase and thought Martine did a great job with her knowledge of the Highland Games and the whiskey industry. It gave the book a high end kind of feel, but didn't seem pretentious. I liked the characters a lot and found several secondary characters that I hope enter the forefront in new books.