Authors: Kate Snowdon
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2013 by Kate Snowdon
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published 2013
eBook released 2013
Cover Designer: Linda Callaghan
ISBN 13: 978-1-59493-314-1
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For Gerry. Would you believe it?
Many thanks to Bella for accepting this book in the first place and to Karin for her welcoming cheerfulness and much-needed advice. Also to my editor for her patience, despite scaring me to death with the work I had to do to hopefully make this book an enjoyable read. My thanks also go out to Fiona for reading every word I wrote, a very brave woman. And to Linda, who did the dishes that night.
About the Author
A teacher once asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Unlike my friends, I didn’t have a clue and thought I couldn’t go far wrong if I followed in my parents’ footsteps. “Actress,” I replied. Then came the inevitable sigh from the teacher. “Kate, that is not a proper job.” I liked the idea, but after my one and only performance, I knew it wasn’t for me. I’ve come up with many ideas since then, some more successful than others. Waitress to assistant hotel manager, farmer to zoologist and out of desperation, thinking I really needed to settle on something, nurse, then on to my present position in clinical research. Fortunately though, despite my teacher, I didn’t curtail my need to try different things, otherwise I wouldn’t be on the writing adventure I’m now on. And I certainly wouldn’t have made it from England, via Wales to Scotland, to the place that has provided me with so much outdoor and relaxing pleasure. In truth, I hope I will never know what I want to be when I grow up.
Reaching the bottom of the wooded hill Jess Brewster unhooked the gate and gave a contented sigh. She had walked that path for thirty-five years and had never tired of the changes each season brought. Stamping the snow off her boots, her pace became an easier stride as she headed through the gate and down the narrow lane toward the village. Covered in a thin patchwork of snow, slush and ice, it was a contrast to just a few days ago when it was all snow. Smiling, she admired the surrounding countryside that was her home. It wasn’t difficult to understand the allure for winter walkers, climbers and skiers, looking at the pure white mountains surrounding her. Jess, although well qualified to navigate them as a trained mountain rescuer, preferred the lower hills and glens in winter, with their more diverse landscapes, trees and wildlife. She left the rugged open mountains to the warmer times of the year. Today the mountains would be very popular. The sky was blue with not a cloud in sight and Jess could feel a little warmth on her cheeks from the sun.
She looked up the lane and watched as the birds chased each other in and out of the bare hedgerow and green-tinged trees on either side of her. The freezing, wintry feel of just a few days ago was definitely breaking into spring, though only barely. The biting breeze that had been a constant this winter still remained, especially along the lane that acted like the perfect wind tunnel. Jess pulled her hat lower over her ears and her scarf up over her mouth.
Black Loch, a fair-sized body of water and the halfway point between the gate and Jock’s Bridge, on the edge of the village, had been frozen for almost two months. She was pleased to see it not looking white in parts, an indication it was beginning to thaw. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long before the bright yellow flowers of the primrose, could be seen clinging to its edges.
Looking back to the top of the wooded hill, she could just about make out one side of a lodge. It was the only time of year, before the larch grew their needles again, that you could see Woodland Lodges from any distance. It comprised of twelve lodges in total and they had been full throughout the season. Most years there would be a little respite in November and February, but the abundance of snow this year had kept the visitors coming. The lodges had a reputation for first-class accommodation and excellent access for many outdoor pursuits. Nobody went away from their holiday disappointed.
The current success of the business though, had been severely overshadowed by her uncle’s illness. The diagnosis of stomach cancer, late last summer, had led to surgery, chemotherapy and then radiation. The radiation had been the worst part of the treatment and Uncle Jack had been glad to see the last of it. Her large, robust uncle, full of energy and enthusiasm for life, had suffered. He had loathed feeling so unwell and useless, but the last three weeks had seen him improve on a daily basis. Jess hoped his now thin and frail frame would strengthen. She strode happily toward the village.
Things are definitely looking up.
Rachel Cummings was finding the last few miles of her journey to Woodland Lodges stressful. The main roads had been clear and easy to negotiate but she had left those behind at the ruins of Duilach Castle. Reaching that particular landmark usually pleased her and always made her smile. The road ran right up to what was obviously a tower, and then curved its way around the perimeter of the site. It was if they hadn’t been looking up when they’d laid the tarmac. But the winding, narrow roads that followed, that indicated her journey was close to an end, were not welcome on this occasion. She was not used to driving in ice or snow and knew she was probably being overcautious. Usually, she would be giddy with anticipation at starting her annual, five-month retreat at Woodland Lodges. Today, she just wanted to get there in one piece. Normally she would be here from late May to October. This year though, her sister was getting married in August, so it made more sense to come a little earlier. She would then stay in New York, as there was a strong possibility she’d have to go to London later in the year. Rachel had developed a comfortable routine over the last six years, splitting her year between her home in the States and the lodges in Scotland. Another three or four weeks would be spent visiting her father and friends in the English capital.
As she passed through the last, very familiar village, her spirits began to lift, along with the tension in her neck and the stiffness in her fingers from gripping the steering wheel. She slowly took the Jeep around the sharp bend at Jock’s Bridge, toward the long stretch of road before the eight-mile, wood- lined track, up to Woodland Lodges. In the distance she saw a figure walking toward her, who moved over to stand on the snow-covered edge. In return, Rachel slowed and maneuvered her Jeep over to the opposite side of the lane. As she passed they waved to each other and to Rachel’s horror an arc of mud and slush flew up from the tires and covered the bystander from head to toe. She couldn’t have made a better hit if she’d aimed.
Jess cursed as the Jeep continued by. She glared at the retreating monster, spitting out muck and hopelessly brushing at the crud that covered her face and body. Then to her astonishment the brake lights went on, followed by the white reversing lights. The driver’s door then opened and a woman climbed out and gingerly walked toward her, excitedly apologizing. Jess just stood and stared, her sudden flash of anger gone as quickly as it had erupted. She was amazed that anyone other than a local would stop, and the woman most definitely was not from around these parts. She oozed class, style, sophistication and was definitely very appealing to the eye.
Rachel grew concerned. The woman had not moved or said a word. Maybe the Jeep had shot a stone at her, stunning her in some bizarre fashion or she was just waiting to throttle her. Rachel asked urgently, “Are you all right?”
Jess was grinning to herself.
That T-shirt in this weather really should have a hazard warning attached to it.
Her eyes had involuntarily moved over the driver’s body, noting that all the curves were in all the right places, and then her gaze had settled on the stranger’s nipples. The T-shirt clung to every contour. Her breasts were perfectly formed and an ample handful, but the reaction to the cold as she stepped out of the Jeep, produced those teasingly large nipples…
For goodness sake get a grip.
“Um sorry, yes, I’m fine thanks. I’m just amazed you stopped.”
Rachel frowned. “I beg your pardon?” She couldn’t believe anyone would think she would be so rude as to continue on her way.
“No, sorry, that’s not what I meant.” Jess was flustered. She blurted, to her dismay. “You’d better get yourself back to the Jeep, you’re obviously cold.”
Aware of where the woman’s eyes had rested, Rachel crossed her arms. A deep red blush flooded the woman’s mud-splattered face. All Rachel could do was smile. “With your trousers that wet you’ll freeze. Can I give you a lift?”
“No, it’s all right, thank you.” Jess indicated with a nod. “There’s a tractor heading our way and you’re pointed in the wrong direction.”
Rachel turned to look, a slightly panicked expression on her face. “Oh no.”
“Go on, I’ll be fine. The farmers around here are not known for their patience.” Jess smirked, as Rachel quickly moved toward her Jeep, tiptoeing once again to avoid slipping or getting her feet wet.
Mark shouted above the engine’s noise as he opened the cabin door. “Hi Jess, want a lift?”
“Thanks.” Jess climbed aboard the tractor with a struggle, fighting trousers and long johns that were plastered to her thighs.
Mark’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. “What happened to you? Don’t tell me it was that Jeep, I could have edged them into the ditch for you.”
Jess laughed and rolled her eyes. “Believe it or not she actually stopped to apologize.”
“Well that must be a first.” He looked her up and down with a grin. “Your face is covered in mud. Here, give it a wipe.” Mark tossed her a damp cloth.
She inspected it closely. “This clean?”
He chuckled as he started toward the village. “It’s only condensation from the windshield.”
Jess wiped her face. “You heading back soon?”
“I’m collecting some materials from Farley’s so I’ll only be about an hour. Want a lift home?”