Falgannon Isle, Hebrides of Scotland, present day
“So much is riding on this venture.” B.A. Montgomerie spoke her concern to the empty room. She blinked, her eyes strained from staring for hours at the website for Isle of Love.co.uk. Not satisfied with the results, she sat tinkering with the new homepage. She needed glasses. Another entry on her endless to-do list. Like most of those items, it’d have to wait until her next trip to the mainland. She shouldn’t keep pushing; she’d end up with a headache. Only, she so wanted the website perfect―the future of Falgannon rode on its success. Changing the html to narrow the width of the gold border, she stared at the results:
Ladies, tired of the stress of big city living? Fed up with men who only want one-night-stands and leave you with ‘the fuzzy end of the lollipop and a tube of toothpaste all squished out?’ Hate traffic jams, telemarketers calling at 8:00 a.m. and long queues at the grocery? Sick of noise pollution? Do you dream of romance―that special man wishing matrimony?
Consider a vacation to Falgannon Isle…a wee bit of heaven in the Hebrides of Scotland…where magic exists. Our pace is relaxed, the scenery majestic. The climate is mild since the isle is in the Gulf Stream. Summer twilight lasts forever…ideal for romantic walks. White beaches with tidal pools for swimming. Green hillocks to wander and explore. A Medieval castle, a stone ring and ancient Pictish ruins dot the hillsides. I cannot imagine a more romantic place, one as breathtakingly beautiful, that stirs the soul… spellbinds the heart!
Ladies, listen up! Falgannon Isle has 213 braw Scots lads eager to find a bride. You see, there’s a shortage of marriageable women on the isle. Yes, over two hundred males, ages eighteen to forty-seven, and all anxious to make your acquaintance!
Fill out this application. If chosen, you’ll receive airfare and expenses to our remote isle. You’ll have two weeks to explore the ruins, walk on the sands in the gloaming…maybe find that special man waiting for you to fill his heart. If you decide this life isn’t for you, well you’ve had a free vacation. However, I’m betting there’s a handsome Islander who can convince you to stay…forever.
Come for the vacation of a lifetime…remain for love…Click on our Bachelor Registry and see dozens of braw Scots lads impatient to welcome you to Falgannon.
Address queries to BAMontgomerie@Isle_of_Love.co.uk
B.A. smiled at the laptop’s screen, hope in her heart. Satisfied, she hit the FTP button to upload the page. The monitor suddenly switched to Page Not Found. “Bloody hell! Not again!” Used to the Net being slow on Falgannon, she reached for the telephone to check. “Dead. Grrrr…I’d sell my soul for the rare beastie broadband.”
“Any word yet, lass?” a voice called from the front of the store.
B.A. considered ignoring Callum since he’d already asked the same question five times in the past hour. In an irritating fashion, he began to beat a tattoo on the counter, saying he wasn’t going away until she answered. Shutting down the computer as she rose from the desk chair, she went out into the storefront. Redheaded Callum Mackenzie’s grey eyes blazed with anticipation, similar to a four-year-old peeking at presents on Christmas morn. Willing to stoop to a little mental torture, just to break the ennui of the late afternoon, B.A. pretended she had no idea what he wanted.
“What can I be helping you with, Callum the Bicycle?”
The odd appellation linked to Callum’s name stemmed from him running the bicycle shop. B.A. smiled at the island quirkiness. On Falgannon, it wasn’t the village oddball or black sheep whose name was coupled with a descriptive tag, but the whole bloody isle! Gravestones in the ancient churchyard illustrated this wasn’t passing eccentricity, but tradition born from necessity―or stubbornness. Currently residing on Falgannon―and driving her batty―were five Michaels, six Callums and eight Anguses, all with the last name of Mackenzie, Grant or Fraser. Adding in generations going back before King Kenneth I, it’s hard to keep them separated, so ages ago her islanders began tagging each Falgannonian with a ‘label’ to set them apart.
Callum’s face pruned with dismay. “B.A., one might infer you hate men the way you torment the male folk of the isle.”
Michael the Fiddle ambled up behind his cousin. Of course, on Falgannon―population 297―family lines were so tangled islanders joked it was possible to end up being a fifth-cousin to yourself! Michael hailed from the sandy-haired Mackenzies. Beautiful males, they reminded B.A. of a Byronic poet; their soulful grey eyes could lure a lass to stare at them for hours.
Only that was the problem, B.A. knew too well. 213 unmarried males lived on her isle. The quandary arose because the only unwed ladies were Oonanne and Morag―but they didn’t count since they were gay―and the Marys―Mary Annis and Mary Agnes, sixty-seven-year-old twins. And herself. BarbaraAnne Montgomerie-Deshaunt―thirty-seven, widowed seven years, owner of Falgannon Isle. The one woman none of the males could court.
B.A knew if an Outlander asked any of the men why with such a dearth of women the lone eligible one wasn’t wooed, he’d get that prune face and a sharp retort, “Are you daft in the head, man?” She sighed. She was the Lady of the Isle, a title passed to her at seventeen upon the death of her grandmother, Maeve. The eldest female of her line had always ruled this tiny speck of an island, going back to Pictish times, and none trifled with their Lady. All manner of catastrophes befell the feckless lad who tried. Hadn’t Michael the Story warned of The Curse and its ghastly repercussions, a fate dire enough to ensure no male dare more than cast an admiring eye in her direction?
“What did B.A. say, Callum?” Michael shifted in his Reeboks as if ants infested his knickers.
B.A. slid her soft shawl about her shoulders. Autumn’s evening chill embraced the isle, the sun setting earlier each day. “Afternoon, Michael the Fiddle. Enjoy walking in The Soft last night?”
“Aye. I spotted you near Maulkin Tower in the gloaming.” Michael smiled at her with lovesick, puppy eyes.
Not vain, she knew men looked. But then The Curse never struck down a lad for admiring.
Callum gave him the point of his elbow. “Eegit, Herself is yanking our chains, are you not, B.A.? ‘Tis them Yank ways you acquired going to school in the Colonies corrupting you. Ashamed you should be.”
“Here now, our B.A. would do no such thing,” Janet Grant chided, breezing through the side door to B.A.’s left.
Toting a basket of gourds, the gorgeous redhead paused to flash a dazzling smile at both men. The cousins rushed to lift the counter’s trap to let Janet pass, bonking noggins with a crack.
B.A. shook her head, thinking the three visitors due shortly―the ones Callum inquired about every ten minutes―couldn’t arrive soon enough. Springtime these past six years was rough when a young man’s fancy turned to romance and there were no lasses to serenade by the light of the moon. Only, come autumn when nights grew longer, Falgannon males got quite cranky, envisioning spending those winter months alone.
Janet Grant, called Janet the Red―though island males sniggered bawdier nicknames behind her back―sashayed between the hormone-riddled Mackenzies. B.A. knew Janet was a born flirt. What woman wouldn’t relish being center of attention on an island of love-starved men?
Well, other than me, she thought.
“Our B.A. is too serious to pull a kitty’s tail,” Janet teased, arranging the gourds inside the glass case. A blast from the ferry horn caused Janet to jerk up and hit her head. “Och, Angus, you sad excuse for a husband, I may take a knife to you in your sleep.” Rubbing her scalp, she rushed to the window, observing the ferryboat pulling into harbor.
“Best up his insurance first.” Michael howled.
On Falgannon, Ferry docking passed as high entertainment, right up with watching Friday nights as Wee Dougie chased the old men―lovingly called the Morn, B.A. Club―around with his scooter after the cèilidh.
Janet gasped. “Look at that?”
On tiptoes, Janet leaned into the casement, her heart-shaped derrière wiggling in Marilyn Monroe fashion. B.A. knew that undulating pulchritude generally held the Mackenzies transfixed as vipers before a snake charmer…so to speak. However, with the promise of the arrival of ‘wild females’ muddling their brains, they nearly toppled Janet from her perch.
“Have the lasses come, Janet?” both males asked.
“Not unless you fancy them near giants and on the masculine side.” Janet practically purred, “Verra masculine.”
“What we dinnae need on this bloody rock…more men,” Michael grumbled.
Janet’s hip swishing―similar to a kitty in heat―tweaked B.A.’s curiosity. Obviously, they were getting visitors, just not the ones expected. Once in a Blue Moon, tourists found their way to her hidden isle.
B.A. leaned on the counter to glimpse the unloading ferry. She observed three men disembark and start up the steep hill. One was medium height with blue-black hair; the others were near giants and bright blond.
“Are the Vikings invading, Janet?” Michael bumped his hip against hers.
“Sure and all, you’d expect to see those two in hats with horns.” She giggled.
B.A. smirked, knowing Janet probably pictured herself ravished by the Barbarian Horde―the horns on hats not the ones on her friend’s mind! Untying her apron, B.A. stepped to the other side of the counter, almost hearing the redhead’s thoughts―wonder if he’s that big all over?
Near her age, B.A. adored Janet, the bride Angus fetched from Ireland six years ago, but pondered if their marriage would last. She doubted it, not with The Curse having the isle in its grip. Down at the pub, the duffers comprising the Morn, B.A. Club ran a pool on how long she’d stick it out on their bucolic island. Janet surprised everyone staying this long. B.A. feared her fun loving friend would grow bored and run off with a lad tired of island life.
“St. Columba,” Callum exclaimed. “They’re reversing a Range Rover off Ferry.”
“Where the Vikings think to drive that juggernaut?” Michael pushed his cousin aside to look. “They’d make a circle of the isle in three shakes of a stick, then what? ‘Tis daft.”
Janet winked at B.A. “Typical males―if they cannot have a lass to ogle, a car will do.”
“I thank you not to insult me, Janet the Red.” Michael sniffed, though his eyes remained glued on the car.
B.A. spied Wee Gordie Grant―so called because he was eleven and had no trade with which to link his name―dash up the hill toward the general store, carrying the alarm of the Viking invasion. Brass bells over the door chimed, heralding the lad’s arrival. He knocked into Callum, panted, “Pardon me, Janet the Red,” then continued on to crash into the counter.
He blurted, “You see, B.A.? Angus the Ferry unloaded a machine! Did you order one, B.A.? Can I go driving in it with you?” and thirty other questions.
Callum rapped the top of the child’s head. “That’s for calling me Janet, eegit.”
B.A. watched the racket outside escalate. The Morn, B.A. Club piled out of the Hanged Man to witness Falgannon under siege from Viking raiders, first time in 743 years. The Escape Artists―five foxhounds, fugitives from the kennels―got into the act, yapping and jumping in the air for attention. This drew the Marys and their tubby tabby, The Cat Dudley. Willie the Writer, Robbie the Butcher and Innis the Thatcher brought up the rear of the impromptu parade. Wee Dougie Mackenzie puttered up on his scooter, riding ovals about the procession, the two-cycle engine’s irritating noise the perfect touch to the three-ring-circus. The hullabaloo caused the cat to slap the hounds as if the whole affair was their fault.
B.A. chuckled at the antics of her islanders and their delightful ability to turn the mundane into high camp. The Vikings’ invasion was doomed facing that formidable welcome!
Walking behind the counter, B.A. reached for the aspirin bottle by the register, shook out two, hesitated, and added a third. Sometimes being the owner of an isle where the inhabitants reveled in their madcap, Brigadoon ways really called for that third aspirin. She twisted the top on a Pepsi and washed down the tablets. Keeping an eye on the hubbub cresting the steep hill, she strangled when she spotted the black-haired man at the center of the group.
For a suspended heartbeat, she thought she saw Evian.
Hope rose, a vision playing through her mind that Evian had somehow survived the plane crash. Picked up at sea by Norwegian fishermen, he’d been unable to recall who he was and it’d taken all this time to regain his memory. As her heart swelled with longing, the crowd drew closer and parted. She saw the man full in the face―the face of a stranger.
In that breath she lost her husband a second time.
Too much to absorb, she slammed down the Pepsi and fled to the backroom. Leaning against the wall, she tilted her head back and closed her eyes against waves of emotion so strong it was crippling. The pain hadn’t been this bad for a long time. In the early days after the crash, she’d been this gutted. Over time, she survived by wrapping her heart in cotton and getting through one day at a time. Only…sometimes she was so lonely.
Minutes passed before the droning in her head receded enough to hear the crowd making the welkin ring on the store’s porch. Naturally, the Outlanders would stop here. A private isle, no one landed on Falgannon without registering with the Harbormaster. Foolishly defying The Curse, Davey the Harbor had abandoned the job to go wife hunting in Edinburgh. The task temporarily fell to her. Swallowing raw emotions, B.A. gathered the tattered ribbons of her composure and strode to the storefront as the bells chimed, ballyhooing the Vikings’ arrival.
The Cat Dudley in the lead, three men came through the door, dodging The Escape Artists as the yapping hounds circled through their legs and tugged at their pant cuffs. B.A. sniggered, surprised no one tripped due to the animal brigade’s antics.
And yes, it seemed the Vikings had landed. The two taller men were stereotypical Norsemen. With long, white-blond hair and a rugged face that’d see women fall at his feet, the first towered over everyone. A ruddy cast touched the complexion of the second, with waves of straw-blond hair framing his handsome face. His blue eyes flashed in mirth as he spotted Janet staring at them in the same manner The Escape Artists would a steak.
Their virile perfection left B.A. unmoved. She judged both as healthy males, but no more emotionally involving than sizing up Campbell Grant’s blue-ribbon bull.
It was the third man―the one with the raven-black hair―who drew her eyes. If a Viking, he had Black-Irish blood in him coming through a female stolen in a long ago raid. Both blonds stepped to either side of the aisle to let him pass, a gesture of deference. Almost a head taller, they were physically dominating, but he was the power. B.A. sensed this clearly as if both men had gone down on one knee in obeisance. With a panther’s grace he strode to the counter, then bent to set the Louis Vuitton duffle on the floor. B.A.’s breathing clutched, girding herself to confront the invader. Dizziness buzzed in her blood.
Then he raised up, meeting her stare...and everything stilled.
Not a blue of any shade, his eyes were pale green―warlock eyes―capable of freezing with the arch of his black brow. Lifting her chin, B.A. fought a frisson as they locked on her. Aware of the moggie pussyfooting on the countertop, he ran his hand along its spine.
The gesture triggered images within B.A., of that hand upon her body, stroking in the same sensual magic. A premonition? She blinked, loath to recognizing the prospect.
She was right―he was a bloody warlock!
The Cat Dudley arched under his hand, turned and head-butted his elbow for more pets. Turncoat, B.A. thought.
Security came in the fact the stranger looked nothing like Evian, B.A. assured herself as she appraised him. Quite healthy, no middle-age paunch hid under the expensive silk shirt and black leather jacket. Though probably in his early forties, most would judge him a decade younger. The lines bracketing his mouth gave him away, hinting at someone who’d lived longer and seen disappointments, hardening him.
Long black lashes were unblinking over the penetrating eyes. A feral stillness about him conjured the image of a panther, so beautiful, so compelling. She itched to reach out and stroke him as he did the cat. Self-preservation stayed her hand, fearful he’d strike in a wink. Outside of wavy blue-black hair, little about the invader evoked the memory of Evian. Her tension should ease seeing this man didn’t resemble her dead husband; once more, she was safe, buffeted by the cocoon the island provided. She didn’t have to feel, didn’t risk her soul. How could any man reach through the wall she built for protection?
Inexplicably, alarmingly, this man did. He unnerved her, put her on the defensive. An air of mystery, of calculation, swirled in the jade eyes. Her fae sense whispered a warning his coming to the isle had something to do with her; he’d change her world if she permitted it. Din from the crowd abated as they watched the invader and ‘their B.A.’ locked in a staring contest. It bordered on droll for neither of them to break the ice and speak first, but strangely, she held back, waiting…watching.
His right brow arched, conceding this round. “I’m searching for B.A. Montgomerie. Is he about?” Lilt of the Irish touched the deep melodic voice, sending shivers up her spine.
Twitters rippled through the crowd over his error. A tattletale, Wee Gordie opened his mouth to correct him. Callum grabbed the child’s shoulder and placed a hand over Gordie’s gub to silence the jabber-box.
The Viking leader turned to each side, looking at the grinning villagers―again that cold air of assessing. Returning to B.A., his gaze narrowed on her, shocking her to discover those ice-green eyes were capable of heat. They raked slowly over her face, the gold hair fanning about her shoulders, down to her breasts and then lower in a scorching fire before traveling back to lock stares. Appraisal finished, he watched her as if he knew things about her, secrets, things she loathed to admit, dared her to admit. The well-formed lips parted in his panther’s appreciation, his jungle arrogance saying he’d put his mark on her.
The impact of this man hit her senses―hard―reaching past her guard. Her traitorous body roared to life. Breasts heavy, tips sensitive, without glancing down she knew the thin silk of her gold blouse outlined the crowns of her betraying nipples. Lifting her chin, she tugged the shawl about her as a blanket of armour.
“What might you wish with B.A. Montgomerie?” she inquired.
“Business. My commitment was originally with Sean Montgomerie, but my solicitor wired of his passing in May. I must instead deal with his heir, B.A. Montgomerie. Wonder if you’d give me his directions?”
Go out the door, turn right and keep walking in a straight line is what she chafed to reply, meaning he’d walk into the bay. Then she wouldn’t have to deal with the panic he provoked within her. Forcing a smile, she struggled to ignore those challenging eyes.
“I’m B.A. Montgomerie.”
His brow etched surprise. “B.A. Montgomerie is a woman?”
Wee Gordie escaped Callum’s constraint and blurted from a safe distance, “Aye, she’s the Lady of the Isle like her seanamhair Maeve was.”
“Lady of the Isle? Is that similar to Lady of the Lake?” A smile twitched at the corner of his made-for-sin mouth. “Then you and I have matters to sort out.”
“And you are?” she queried.
He tilted his head, vouchsafing her another point. “Desmond Mershan. You’re expecting me?” He held out his hand.
B.A. stared at the long, magician’s fingers as if they were cobras. His polished manner triggered warning-bells within her, cautioning Desmond Mershan lied through those pearly white teeth―predator’s teeth. He knew precisely who she was. This man wasn’t stupid. Incisive, shrewd intelligence radiated through those pale eyes. That alone told her he wouldn’t come to Falgannon without knowing every detail about the isle, about B.A. Montgomerie. He strangely played out this charade. Lying. Why? B.A. attempted to shake that impression, but it lingered.
“You presumed wrong.”
Impatience flared in his expression, yet even that struck B.A. as having a thespian air. “Details were fixed at the first of the year with Sean Montgomerie, owner of the isle―”
“I’m owner,” she informed him, “have been for twenty years.”
The golden moggie stood and put his paws on Mershan’s chest, meowing for attention. The man shifted, trying to evade the pesky feline, but finally gave in and scratched its chin. “Affectionate animal.”
That drew guffaws from the crowd, prompting Callum to grumble, “Despite the wee beastie from Hell greeting you as a long lost friend, look up cantankerous in a dictionary, you’ll see a picture of The Cat Dudley for illustration.”
Blinking innocently, Kitty bumped the invader, reminding him to keep fingers moving. B.A. rolled her eyes in disbelief when he rumbled as though Mershan were 100% catnip.
“As I was saying, my arrangements were with―”
“I own Falgannon, not my grandfather. I’ve never heard of you or any arrangements.”
Gently pushing away the persistent cat, he smiled. “I’m exhausted, so are my companions. If you’d point us to lodgings, we’ll sort this out—say over supper?”
The piercing gazed traced over her with blistering sexual fire. Confident of acquiescence, he reclaimed the expensive duffle.
So the warlock was being charming? She almost huffed doubt. Supper? Those soporific eyes promised a meal―a bedtime story and breakfast! “No one lands on my isle without written permission. I’ve no idea what you―”
Reaching inside his jacket, he pulled out an envelope and sighed. “Permission to land, Lady of the Isle. While you get up to speed, I’d appreciate a meal and a bath.”
“Read it, B.A.,” Wee Gordie urged, only to be hushed by several islanders.
B.A. no more wished to accept it than she had to shake his hand. Maeve had taught her to be wary of a warlock, distrustful of accepting anything from him. More importantly, never to pass him any object he requested―especially salt―you’d give away a part of yourself, empowering his control over you. B.A. never met anyone who qualified as a warlock, but she’d bet Maeve’s silver torque she stared one in the face.
Watching the envelope drop to the counter, it took all her concentration to maintain the calm facade. Nerves raw, this man broke down barriers and sent emotions careening like balls in a pinball machine. The pale eyes mocking, he was aware of her fear. Worse, B.A. saw her response pleased him.
“If you’ll point my companions and me in the right direction?”
“It’s directions you need?” Devilment twitched at the corner of her mouth. “Start up Harbour Hill, turn right and follow the cobbled road. It takes you where you need to go.”
Tilting his head in thanks, a sexy smile tugged at his mouth. A mouth that conjured images of long, deep kisses. “I’ll see you later?”
Sooner than you think, B.A. vowed silently, ignoring what that smile did to her heart.
If he attached significance to snickers when he passed, he gave no indication. The three men started up the hill road, the silly dogs falling in, barking and bounding about them, followed by the putt-putt-putt of Wee Dougie’s scooter.
B.A. rushed to the porch to watch. With athletic strides, they passed the postcard perfect businesses and homes. The cobbled road circled the isle’s southern tip, with the neat row of two-story, stone buildings lining the inner curve. Doors kept opening as her Falgannonians came to eyeball the Vikings and their bizarre entourage vanish around the bend.
Hurrying inside, B.A. went to see what the envelope held. Closest, Michael peered as if it’d pop open and a jack-in-the-box would spring forth. B.A. joined him in glaring at the envelope. She needed a long stick to touch it, make certain it was safe, maybe whack it a few times just to be sure. Sharing her sentiment, Michael snagged a pencil and poked it. B.A.’s mouth flattened in a frown as she snatched it away and lifted the flap. While her eyes scanned the photocopies, the shawl snaked down one shoulder.
Eyes alight with assessment, Callum leaned on the counter. “Interesting bloke, eh, B.A.?”
“As interesting as a panther on a leash. I should count my fingers to see if any are missing.”
“Oh aye, it’s easy to discern how uninteresting you found this Desmond feller.” Seeing the silk clad breast proclaiming her arousal, Callum and Michael exchanged knowing male glances, then burst into laughter.
Adjusting the shawl, B.A. stuck her tongue out at them. She couldn’t even summon a scathing retort, too distracted studying the copies of letters between Sean and Mershan.
Robbie the Butcher rushed in. “A wicked lass you are, B.A., sending them to trod the town circle. Another five minutes they’ll be returning. Quick, what’s it say?”
“Arrangements Sean set up last winter. The Vikings are to survey the land on the eastern slope.” She rattled the pages in the air. “Nothing was in the investment portfolio given to me upon Sean’s death. While I gave leave to invest the island’s money, I dunnae believe he’d undertake anything of this magnitude without my permission.”
The bells ting-a-linged, causing B.A. to glance up as Willie the Writer hurried inside. A beloved islander, he churned out bestselling cowboy romances set in the US West under the penname Willa Macgregor. A hoot, since farthest west he’d ever been was Belfast.
“A naughty lass you are, B.A. Villagers are rushing to see the excitement. Expect tempers when they discover it’s only a wee Viking invasion and not the Yank lasses come,” he cautioned.
The racket of Wee Dougie’s scooter grew audible in the distance as the crowd rounded the far bend, giving B.A. little time to gather her wits. She needed to ring her brother, the family solicitor; he’d know if this was legit or Desmond Mershan was a snake-oil salesman.
She reached for the wall phone, only Callum, Michael and Willie cried in unison, “Blower’s down.”
“Fuuuuu…dge.” She questioned, “Where’s Jock the Repair, MacGyver of the East? With the matchmaking project, we need to be online 24/7 not seven hours out of twenty-four.”
“He’s fixing Davey the Weaver’s washer-machine,” Callum answered. “B.A., since we’re discussing our sorry state of communications—the Yank lasses won’t believe we only have five phones on the whole bloody isle. Any chance of dragging the island into this millennium? Poor sweet things will probably faint when you say no cell-phones.”
“B.A., this Desmond feller won’t appreciate being sent on a tour of our downtown business district.” Robbie asked, “Who were you going to ring, lass?”
“My brother the solicitor. Moot now. These papers appear to be a contract between Mershan and The Montgomerie.”
“Contract?” several echoed.
“If it’s not a scam, Sean sought to turn us into an exclusive tourist spot. Mershan’s here to judge if it’s feasible to place a hotel on the isle’s eastern tip.”
The irksome putt-putt-putt increased.
“Look, it’s like a bloody May Day parade,” Robbie called from the porch.
B.A. came up behind the men, watching Mershan and his Viking bodyguards stalk down Harbour Road in determined strides, The Escape Artists rollicking about them. In the lead, strutting proudly, was The Cat Dudley, and yes, a large portion of the isle’s populace was now in tow. Eleven were on bicycles, while Ian and Brian Fraser rode on horses. Wee Dougie, on that blasted scooter, trailed after the islanders afoot, staying out of reach of everyone.
“The invaders approach,” B.A muttered drolly. She stood tapping the envelope against her chin while the din outside increased.
Cane clicking on the wood floor, Angus the Ancient tottered in, leaving the door open. “You’ve done it, B.A. That black-headed feller dunnae appear thrilled a’tall being butt of your joke, lass.”
Silence descended, causing B.A. to turn. Abruptly, the storefront shook with the force of a small blast. For a fleeting second B.A. wondered if they’d suffered an earthquake. But no, someone had slammed the door with such violence everything on the shelves rattled. Not seismic activity. Another force of nature.
He stood there.
Her stomach dropped. Maybe she had been a little abrupt in handling him. Well, it was his own bloody fault, setting off such frantic emotions within her!
“Och, now you’re in for it, B.A.,” Angus waved a shaky finger at her.
Mershan’s jacket was off, draped in the crook of his arm. Lasers of fury, the ice-green eyes targeted her, and despite sexual-tension crackling in the air, she was positive it wasn’t lust. Though his chest rose and fell, she noted it was in effort to control his anger not from the walk’s exertion. He hadn’t broken a sweat from the tour of the tiny village, showing his peak physical condition.
All the better to throttle you, B.A., her mind whispered as she battled the instinct to run.
“He’s right,” Mershan growled, “I’m not happy.” He dropped the bag and coat on the floor as if needing both hands free. All the better to wrap around your neck, B.A., echoed her brain.
Desmond took a step toward her. B.A. took one back. She feared no man, but for the first time in her life one rattled her. Frozen in a fight-or-flight response, it took seconds to recognize an odd creaking came overhead. Jerking her gaze to the ceiling, it locked on the old shark’s jaw suspended by a wooden peg from the rafter. Hung before she was born, it suddenly dropped, hurtling straight at them. She stood too stunned to move. With feline reflexes Mershan yanked her aside, shielding her with his body. Razor sharp teeth just missed them. Chunks of the brittle bone ricocheted into the pyramid display of soup cans, sending them dodging again. Twining around Mershan’s ankles, Dudley squalled when his tail was stepped on. Reverting to his nasty little self, he protested by sinking claws into Desmond’s right calf, then followed with his patented vampire-bite.
The man howled. The cat yowled. Cat dangling from his leg, Desmond danced over bone chunks and rolling cans.
B.A. knew Dudley had fixed in his brain the source of all evils in his kittydom originated with Callum. Thus, she wasn’t surprised when he released Mershan and launched that fat tabby body at the thigh of his nemesis, glomming on as Callum’s foot landed on a rolling can.
No time to regain footing, Desmond ducked to avoid Callum’s flailing. Callum, with the tabby hanging on, went flying backward. He collided into the off balance Desmond; both men and cat crashed into the five-tiered rack of the jars of sweets.
Dozens of glass containers shattered, flinging shards, jawbreakers and gumballs across the wooden floor. Everyone hopped to dodge the confections and glass. Hard candies acted like ball bearings, while cream-filled treats squished to a slippery goop. B.A. gaped in horror as Mershan skated on the jawbreakers, his feet flying into the air. Going down, he cracked his head against the floor.
To escape chaos, Dudley leapt to the countertop. He flopped down and stuck his hind leg in the air. With a sneeze of disdain, he started giving it a tongue bath.
For several heartbeats, B.A.’s mind reeled, waiting for the invader to get up. He didn’t move. No rise and fall of his chest was visible. Step-by-step, everyone made their way over to him and peered at his still form.
B.A. glanced up to see her villagers crammed against the bay windows and door; noses pressed to the glass, they resembled creatures from the X-files. With unabashed glee, they howled at the Marx Brothers antics inside.
Robbie shook his head in disbelief. “You have to admit, B.A., this is the most excitement we’ve had on the isle since the Floating of the Sheep last June, when we prepared them for sheering by tossing them into the creek to wash them.”
“B.A.,” Angus muttered deadpan, “you’ve gotten yourself in a pretty pickle. Gone and murdered the Viking leader. Ashamed you should be.”
Panic setting in, she knelt beside the almost too beautiful man―the man alarmingly still. “He isn’t dead,” she pronounced, her hands hovered just above Mershan, afraid to touch him. “I…dunnae…think.”
With a thespian wink, Angus shook his cane, a touch of farce to reinforce his idiotic statement. “Told Sean Montgomerie he should’ve beaten her regularly. He dinnae listen. Now she’s gone and kilt this feller. ‘Tis a sad day. Our Lady of the Isle is a murderess.”
“Oh, Angus, put a sock in it,” B.A. snapped, feeling her life suddenly spin out of control.
End of Chapter One
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