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Scot of My Dreams

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Scot of My Dreams

  The Kilted Heroes series by Janice Maynard

  Hot for the Scot

  Scot of My Dreams

  Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.

  Scot of My Dreams

  Kilted Heroes

  Janice Maynard


  Kensington Publishing Corp.



  Lyrical Press books are published by

  Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018

  Copyright © 2016 by Janice Maynard

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

  All Kensington titles, imprints, and distributed lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotion, premiums, fund-raising, and educational or institutional use.

  To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.

  Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington Special Sales Manager:

  Kensington Publishing Corp.

  119 West 40th Street

  New York, NY 10018

  Attn. Special Sales Department. Phone: 1-800-221-2647.

  Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

  LYRICAL PRESS Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

  Lyrical Press and the L logo are trademarks of Kensington Publishing Corp.

  First Electronic Edition: May 2016

  eISBN-13: 978-1-60183-627-4

  eISBN-10: 1-60183-627-9

  First Print Edition: May 2016

  ISBN-13: 978-1-60183-628-1

  ISBN-10: 1-60183-628-7

  Printed in the United States of America


  For Pam, Rita, and Debbie of Three Sisters Hair Design. So glad we are friends!

  Chapter 1

  On the East Coast train…somewhere north of Edinburgh…

  I had done a lot of crazy things in my thirty-two years. But borrowing money against my business to make a month-long trip to Scotland was possibly the most reckless. It annoyed me that neither of my companions seemed half as frazzled as I was, not that I would ever let them guess I was flipping out.

  Hayley, love her heart, was in her element with maps and guidebooks and half a dozen lists, her mood beyond excited. Once a teacher, always a teacher. McKenzie on the other hand, was the picture of calm. Her manicure was perfect, her hair swung in a soft platinum-blonde curve at her shoulders, and the expression on her face was dreamy.

  I was frustrated that neither of my friends was taking my warnings seriously. I knew they were in for a big disappointment. They had both built this Outlander obsession to such a fever pitch that no trip to Scotland in real life would ever measure up. “Jamie Fraser is a fictional character,” I said. “Like Harry Potter or Jason Bourne. You’re not going to find him wandering around the Scottish Highlands waiting to sweep you off your feet.”

  Hayley looked at me with hurt, puppy dog eyes, but McKenzie only smiled. “I know that. I’m not delusional. But at least I have a whimsical soul. You wouldn’t know a romantic moment if it smacked you in the face.”

  I blinked, not expecting the insult. McKenzie gave the impression that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but she could bite when backed into a corner. McKenzie and I were about as different as two women could be. But we had begun our lives at the same daycare in suburban Atlanta, the one run by Hayley’s endlessly patient mother.

  Hayley intervened. “You’re both jet-lagged,” she said. “If you’re not going to enjoy the trip, at least get some sleep so you won’t be grumpy when we get to Inverness. I’m tired of listening to both of you.”

  I slumped back into my seat and sulked. We wouldn’t be so tired if McKenzie hadn’t dragged us out of bed early this morning. She’d wanted to make it to King’s Cross train station in time to get her picture taken with all the Harry Potter stuff. I was a fan of the kid wizard, too, but it wouldn’t have killed us to sleep in for another hour.

  The train racketed along, giving tantalizing glimpses of the countryside. We were sitting in the first class compartment thanks to McKenzie’s generosity. She’d grown up with money…lots of it. A recent bequest from her late grandmother’s estate had prompted this bucket list trip. We were all three madly enamored with the Outlander TV series. McKenzie decided we should travel to Scotland and seek out our own adventures, preferably with a kilt-clad hero involved.

  I was skeptical about the hero business. Guys like the fictional Jamie Fraser, even if they existed in real life, were about as rare as honest politicians. Since romance wasn’t a priority for me, my goal for this trip was to see if I had it in me to relax. I’d been working pretty much nonstop since I was fourteen, and the habit was ingrained. Hayley and McKenzie might have their own private agendas, but they hadn’t shared them with me at this point. Like Claire Randall, the gutsy heroine of the TV series Outlander, we were supposed to find our own gorgeous, chivalrous, modern-day Highlander.

  Hayley and McKenzie really believed it might happen. As far as I was concerned, it was a harmless fantasy.

  I tried to sleep, but I was too buzzed. Though my seat was plush, first class on the train meant little more than free WiFi and free food. The Internet was decent, the meals and snacks unimaginative. On the other hand, I had flown from Georgia to Heathrow on a jumbo jet, with a bed that reclined and an honest-to-God feather pillow and comforter, so I had no complaints. McKenzie’s generosity was legend. All I had to cover for the next four weeks was lodging and meals.

  I yawned. “Tell me again why we didn’t fly straight to Inverness?”

  “You know why,” Hayley said. She opened her notebook. “We agreed that since we can’t actually go back in time like Claire does in Outlander, this train journey will be symbolic of our desire to go off the grid for a month. No cell phones. No Internet. No Facebook. No Twitter. You agreed, Willow.”

  “Under duress,” I muttered.

  McKenzie snickered. “You’re bitchy when you’re tired.”

  “And you’re even more annoying than usual,” I drawled. Even though we’d all known each other as toddlers and children, McKenzie’s parents had pulled her out of public school when we were nine and enrolled her in an elite private academy. My own situation had taken a nosedive about that time. Fortunately, even though we were separated by circumstance, Hayley’s mother had insisted we all keep in touch at least occasionally. Then about seven years ago, McKenzie and Hayley and I reconnected via Facebook and managed to resurrect a friendship that was as solid today as it had been when we were learning cursive and how to multiply six times eight.

  I would walk through fire for either of my two companions, but I was not at my best at the moment. All I could think about while a headache jackhammered its way through my skull was that I had abandoned my finally-breaking-even hair salon to fly across the ocean and pursue an idea that was unrealistic at best.

  Our plan was to stay together tonight at the hotel adjacent to the train station in Inverness. Then tomorrow morning, we would all three go our separate ways. I’d feel better after that, because there would be no witnesses if I decided to have a tiny little meltdown.

  Hayley tapped the notebook where she had underlined the final piece of our plan. “And remember: every night at nine o’clock, or as close as we can make it, we’ll turn on our phones and check for any emergency messages from each other.”

  I nodded.
“I won’t forget.” I could see that McKenzie was worried about Hayley. McKenzie knew I had street smarts, but our schoolteacher friend possessed a naïve streak a mile wide.

  McKenzie was Hayley’s opposite in almost every way. She was sophisticated and extremely well traveled and always willing to try something new. Fashion and adventure came easily to those with plenty of money in the bank. Truthfully, though, even if I won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, I’d still a blue-collar girl from Georgia and not a fraction as exciting as McKenzie.

  With all that cash, it wouldn’t be surprising if McKenzie were a pampered diva. But she wasn’t. The truth was, I adored her. She probably didn’t know how much. I tended to keep my deepest emotions under wraps. Life was safer that way.

  I loved Hayley, too. At the moment, though, I was panicky and wishing I had never agreed to this mad scheme. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, eyeing the passing scenery surreptitiously through lashes that were tipped in sapphire mascara.

  Inverness couldn’t get here soon enough.…

  Chapter 2

  Although McKenzie could be bossy, I had to admit her attention to detail was admirable. We no sooner had left the train station than we found ourselves on the doorstep of our hotel for the night. She’d picked a winner. It was so close we didn’t even need to call a cab.

  It was probably a good thing it wasn’t necessary to walk any distance. Poor Hayley was in danger of falling asleep standing up. While McKenzie checked us in, I studied the lobby. It was elegant and slightly shabby, but in that genteel European way that American hotels couldn’t match. Despite my exhaustion, I felt a fillip of excitement.

  By the time we dragged our bags upstairs, it was all we could do to take turns in the tiny bathroom and brush our teeth at the small sink in the corner of the room. Hayley volunteered for the rollaway. That left the two single beds for McKenzie and me. I pulled back the covers on mine and flopped facedown on the mattress.

  Seconds later, McKenzie’s voice dragged me back from the verge of sleep. “I’m glad you both came with me,” she said.

  “Me, too,” I muttered, trying to pummel my pillow into a more comfortable shape. “I’m sorry I was in a bad mood earlier. I really am excited. But are we absolutely sure we want to split up?” I was worried about Hayley, and though I would never admit it out loud, I was a little intimidated by the idea of traveling alone in a foreign country. The farthest from Georgia I had ever been was a weekend trip to the Smoky Mountains.

  The room was mostly dark. Hayley’s drowsy voice carried across the small space separating us. “We have to,” she said. “If we’re really going to be on the lookout for our own Scottish heroes, we need to be independent. A cluster of three women isn’t likely to attract the attention of an available Scotsman.”

  “Unless he’s into ménage a trois,” I joked. The idea of Hayley in a threesome was too funny for words.

  Her tone was snippy. “Your math skills suck,” she said. “And I don’t know the French word for four. Go to sleep. We don’t have to say goodbye yet.”

  McKenzie was suspiciously silent. I wondered what she was thinking. A soft snore from her direction told me she had gone to sleep with a clear conscience. Hayley soon followed suit, judging by her regular breathing. Which left only me to stare up at the ceiling and wonder if I had made a huge mistake.

  * * *

  The following morning, I paid for my sleepless night. My roommates were up at first light, their bodies still on Eastern Standard Time. I should have been as well, but instead, I pulled the pillow over my head. “Go to breakfast without me,” I begged. I could tell it was gray and rainy outside. The perfect day to lie in bed.

  Unfortunately, I found no sympathy from either one of my friends. Instead of arguing with me directly, they proceeded to make so much damn noise that I had no choice but to roll out of bed and splash water on my face. They stood by the door to the narrow hallway, almost visibly counting the minutes until I was ready.

  “Fine,” I said. “I’m up. I’m dressed. Let’s do this.”

  Downstairs, we joined the queue of guests at the buffet. I opted for dry toast and tea. I felt like I was coming down with something. Maybe a case of sheer cowardice.

  Hayley frowned at my half-empty plate. “Aren’t you going to try the haggis?”

  “Sheep organs and oatmeal?” I shuddered theatrically. “No, thank you.”

  We found an unoccupied table and sat down. No one said much as we ate. I think it was finally dawning on all of us that this was it. After this morning, we would be completely on our own. An entire month in Scotland.

  It was either the most exciting adventure imaginable or an enormous risk. Or maybe both. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself in the midst of a completely open calendar. Hayley had her charts and maps and travel guides. McKenzie glided through life with the confidence of the seasoned traveler. As for me, I had no choice but to take things a day at a time.

  I’d be more comfortable if I weren’t so worried about Hair Essentials. “I hope I still have a salon when I get back home.” I said it jokingly, but I was honestly stressed.

  Hayley patted my hand. “Your stylists are amazing, and you have a business manager, right?”

  “Yes, but Evelyn and I have butted heads several times during the last six months. She wants to update our computer system. I don’t think we can afford it. I wish I could buy out her share. We haven’t been a good fit.”

  McKenzie swallowed a bite of toast and patted her lips with a napkin. “How would you like me as a partner?”

  “Are you serious?” I gawked at her.

  She shrugged. “I have to invest my money somewhere.”

  I shook my head slowly. “I love the idea, but I’m contractually bound to Evelyn for at least another nine months. Besides, I don’t think I should mix business and friendship. I’m already uncomfortable about you paying for a big chunk of this trip.”

  “Oh, poo.” McKenzie wrinkled her perfect nose. “It’s only money.”

  Hayley and I exchanged a look. Money was only money when you had plenty of it.

  When we were mostly finished except for sipping one last cup of tea, McKenzie reached into her oversized Kate Spade tote and produced three small, tissue-wrapped packages. At a nod from McKenzie we each opened one. Inside we found oval silver boxes engraved with Celtic symbols.

  I curled my fingers around mine, already loving it. “This is an antique. Must have been wickedly expensive.” I often had difficulty adjusting to McKenzie’s casual generosity.

  “They’re snuff boxes,” she said. “Sterling silver and ram’s horn. Aren’t they cool? Even women dipped back in the day.”

  Hayley wrinkled her nose. “Surely you don’t expect me to take up dipping.”

  McKenzie smiled. “These are for us to collect mementos. Little bits and pieces to remind us of Scotland when we go back home.”

  I had a feeling that nothing on this trip would be forgettable. I thanked her anyway. “I don’t know what I’ll find, but I’ll keep my eyes open.”

  Soon after that, we stood in front of the hotel, trying to stay dry under the awning. I wanted to grab up my two childhood friends in a bear hug and beg them not to leave me. But that wasn’t my style.

  A cab pulled up at the curb to take McKenzie to the car rental place. She would be spending the month on the Isle of Skye in a small house where she would set up housekeeping. Hayley and I held bus schedules. My teacher buddy would soon be heading south to a village on the shores of Loch Ness.

  The driver loaded McKenzie’s many bags into the trunk, all the while keeping his eyes on the dazzling blonde with the long legs. McKenzie stepped into the car and gazed up at us with uncustomary soberness. “Remember Claire,” she said. “Be brave.”

  Before we could answer, she was gone.

  Hayley glanced at me, her face carefully blank. “I felt better when McKenzie was here to boss us around.”

  “We’ll be fine,
I said automatically. I stared across the street. “That’s my bus.” I picked up my suitcase and my backpack. “Do you want me to wait with you?” I was actually hoping she would say yes. “I could catch a later one.”

  “No,” Hayley said. “Mine will be here soon.” She hugged me. “You go. I’m okay.”

  I returned the hug clumsily, my hands full. “Have fun, Hayley.” I left her standing there. Climbing onto the 107, I found a seat and peered out the foggy window. She waved at me.

  The bus driver shut the door, and I was on my own.

  Chapter 3

  Fortunately for my wobbly stomach, I didn’t have far to go. I’d never in my life experienced motion sickness, but my emotions had settled firmly in my belly, leaving my chest hollow. I did my best to drum up the excitement I’d felt a few days ago. I was here. At last. In the Scottish Highlands.

  Gradually, as the bus wound its way through the charming town of Inverness, I found my balance. The next four weeks were going to the best of my life. I knew it. I had nothing to worry about. I was a mature, experienced business owner. I could handle whatever came my way.

  Through the rain-spotted windows, I tried to get my bearings, this time actual compass points instead of emotional touchstones. Once I was settled into my lodgings and had time to make a plan, I hoped to learn everything I could about this historic small city and the surrounding countryside.

  After making a dozen or more stops along the route, the bus finally pulled up at my destination. I had booked my stay at a youth hostel. The four-story, whitewashed masonry building with a red roof was a solid rectangle, not unlike a cellblock. Someone had tried to plant asters along the gravel path to the front door, but despite the rain, the flowers looked starved for attention.

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