“He’s not an Englishman! I told you, he’s a Scot!”
Gayle gave Brianna a look, clearly suggesting that her friend was crazed.
“Scotland’s part of England; I looked on the map.”
“Scotland’s part of Great Britain, not England.”
“What’s the difference?” Gayle stuck her head out and craned around the pillar. “Why are we standing back here? He’ll never see us.”
Brianna ran a hand over her hair to smooth it. They were standing behind a pillar because she wasn’t sure she wanted him to see them. Not much help for it, though; disheveled passengers were beginning to trickle through the double doors, burdened with luggage.
She let Gayle tow her out into the main reception area, still babbling. Her friend’s tongue led a double life; though Gayle was capable of cool and reasoned discourse in class, her chief social skill was babbling on cue. That was why Bree had asked Gayle to come with her to the airport to pick up Roger; no chance of any awkward pauses in the conversation.
“Have you done it with him already?”
She jerked toward Gayle, startled.
“Have I done what?”
Gayle rolled her eyes.
“Played tiddlywinks. Honestly, Bree!”
“No. Of course not.” She felt the blood rising in her cheeks.
“Well, are you going to?”
“Well, I mean, you have your own apartment and everything, and nobody’s going to—”
At this awkward moment, Roger Wakefield appeared. He wore a white shirt and scruffy jeans, and Brianna must have stiffened at the sight of him. Gayle’s head whipped round to see where Brianna was looking.
“Ooh,” she said in delight. “Is that him? He looks like a pirate!”
He did, and Brianna felt the bottom of her stomach drop another inch or two. Roger was what her mother called a Black Celt, with clear olive skin and black hair, and “eyes put in with a sooty thumb”—thick black lashes round eyes you expected to be blue but that were instead a surprising deep green. With his hair worn long enough to brush his collar, disheveled and beard-stubbled, he looked not only rakish but mildly dangerous.
Alarm tingled up her spine at the sight of him, and she wiped sweating palms on the sides of her embroidered jeans. She shouldn’t have let him come.
Then he saw her, and his face lit like a candle. In spite of herself, she felt a huge, idiotic smile break out on her own face in answer, and without stopping to think of misgivings, she ran across the room, dodging stray children and luggage carts.
He met her halfway and swept her almost off her feet, hugging her hard enough to crack her ribs. He kissed her, stopped, and kissed her again, the stubble of his beard scraping her face. He smelled of soap and sweat and he tasted like Scotch whisky and she didn’t want him to stop.
Then he did and let go, both of them half breathless.
“A-hem,” said a loud voice near Brianna’s elbow. She swung away from Roger, revealing Gayle, who smiled angelically up at him under blond bangs, and waved like a child going bye-bye.
“Hell-ooo,” she said. “You must be Roger, because if you’re not, Roger’s sure in for a shock when he shows up, isn’t he?”
She looked him up and down with obvious approval.
“All that, and you play the guitar, too?”
Brianna hadn’t even noticed the case he had dropped. He stooped and picked it up, swinging it over his shoulder.
“Well, that’s my bread and butter, this trip,” he said, with a smile at Gayle, who clutched a hand to her heart in simulated ecstasy.
“Ooh, say that again!” she begged.
“Say what?” Roger looked puzzled.
“Bread and butter,” Brianna told him, hoisting one of his bags onto her shoulder. “She wants to hear you roll the r’s again. Gayle has a thing about British accents. Oh—that’s Gayle.” She gestured at her friend in resignation.
“Yes, I gathered. Er…” He cleared his throat, fixed Gayle with a piercing stare, and dropped his voice an octave. “Arround the rrruggged rrrock, the rrragged rrrascals rran. That do you for a bit?”
“Would you stop that?” Brianna looked crossly at her friend, who had swooned dramatically into one of the plastic seats. “Ignore her,” she advised Roger, turning toward the door. With a cautious glance at Gayle, he took her advice, and picking up a large box tied with string, followed her into the concourse.
“What did you mean about your bread and butter?” she asked, looking for some way to return the conversation to a sane footing.
He laughed, a little self-consciously.
“Well, the historical conference is paying the airfare, but they couldn’t manage expenses. So I called round, and wangled a bit of a job to take care of that end.”
“A job playing the guitar?”
“By day, mild-mannered historian Roger Wakefield is a harmless Oxford academic. But at night, he dons his secret tartan rrregalia and becomes the dashing—Roger MacKenzie!”
He smiled at her surprise. “Well, I do a bit of Scottish folk-singing, for festivals and ceilidhs—High Games and the like. I’m on to do a turn at a Celtic festival up in the mountains at the end of the week, is all.”
“Scottish singing? Do you wear a kilt when you sing?” Gayle had popped up on Roger’s other side.
“I do indeed. How else would they know I was a Scotsman?”
“I just love fuzzy knees,” Gayle said dreamily. “Now, tell me, is it true about what a Scotsman—”
“Go get the car,” Brianna ordered, hastily thrusting her keys at Gayle.
Gayle perched her chin on the windowsill of the car, watching Roger make his way into the hotel. “Gee, I hope he doesn’t shave before he meets us for dinner. I just love the way men look when they haven’t shaved for a while. What do you think’s in that big box?”
“His bodhran. I asked.”
“It’s a Celtic war drum. He plays it with some of his songs.”
Gayle’s lips formed a small circle of speculation.
“I don’t suppose you want me to drive him to this festival thing, do you? I mean, you must have lots of things to do, and—”
“Ha ha. You think I’d let you anywhere around him in a kilt?”
Gayle sighed wistfully, and pulled her head in as Brianna started the car.
“Well, maybe there’d be other men there in kilts.”
“I think that’s pretty likely.”
“I bet they don’t have Celtic war drums, though.”
Gayle leaned back in her seat, and glanced at her friend.
“So, are you going to do it?”
“How should I know?” But the blood bloomed under her skin, and her clothes felt too tight.
“Well, if you don’t,” Gayle said positively, “you’re crazy.”
“The Minister’s cat is an…androgynous cat.”
“The Minister’s cat is an…alagruous cat.”
Bree gave him a lifted brow, taking her eyes briefly off the road.
“It’s a Scottish game,” Roger said. “Alagruous—‘grim or woebegone.’ Your turn. Letter ‘B.’ ”
She squinted through the windshield at the narrow mountain road. The morning sun was toward them, filling the car with light.
“The Minister’s cat is a brindled cat.”
“The Minister’s cat is a bonnie cat.”
“Well, that’s a soft pitch for both of us. Draw. Okay, the Minister’s cat is a…” He could see the wheels turning in her mind, then the gleam in her narrowed blue eyes as inspiration struck. “…coccygodynious cat.”
Roger narrowed his own eyes, trying to work that one out.
“A cat with a wide backside?”
She laughed, braking slightly as the car hit a switchback curve.
“A cat that’s a pain in the ass.”
“That’s a real word, is it?”
“Uh-huh.” She accelerated neatly out of the turn. “One of Mama’s medical terms. Coccygodynia is a pain in the region of the tailbone. She used to call the hospital administration coccygodynians, all the time.”
“And here I thought it was one of your engineering terms. All right, then…the Minister’s cat is a camstairy cat.” He grinned at her lifted eyebrow. “Quarrelsome. Coccygodynians are camstairy by nature.”
“Okay, I’ll call that one a draw. The Minister’s cat is…”
“Wait,” Roger interrupted, pointing. “There’s the turn.”
Slowing, she pulled off the narrow highway and onto a still narrower road, indicated by a small red-and-white-arrowed sign that read CELTIC FESTIVAL.
“You’re a love to bring to me all the way up here,” Roger said. “I didn’t realize how far it was, or I’d never have asked.”
She gave him a brief glance of amusement.
“It’s not that far.”
“It’s a hundred and fifty miles!”
She smiled, but with a wry edge to it.
“My father always said that was the difference between an American and an Englishman. An Englishman thinks a hundred miles is a long way; an American thinks a hundred years is a long time.”
Roger laughed, taken by surprise.
“Too right. You’ll be an American, then, I suppose?”
“I suppose.” But her smile had faded.
So had the conversation; they drove in silence for a few minutes, with no sound but the rush of tires and wind. It was a beautiful hot summer’s day, the mugginess of Boston left far below as they snaked their way upward, into the clearer air of the mountains.
“The Minister’s cat is a distant cat,” Roger said at last, softly. “Have I said something wrong?”
She flashed him a quick blue glance, and a half-curled mouth.
“The Minister’s cat is a daydreaming cat. No, it’s not you.” Her lips compressed as she slowed behind another car, then relaxed. “No, that’s not right—it is you, but it’s not your fault.”
Roger shifted, turning in his seat to face her.
“The Minister’s cat is an enigmatic cat.”
“The Minister’s cat is an embarrassed cat—I shouldn’t have said anything, sorry.”
Roger was wise enough not to press her. Instead, he leaned forward and dug under the seat for the thermos of hot tea with lemon.
“Want some?” He offered her the cup, but she made a small face and shook her head.
“No thanks. I hate tea.”
“Definitely not an Englishwoman, then,” he said, and wished he hadn’t; her hands squeezed tight on the wheel. She didn’t say anything, though, and he drank the tea in silence, watching her.
She didn’t look English, her parentage and coloring notwithstanding. He couldn’t tell whether the difference was more than a matter of clothes, but he thought so. Americans seemed so much more…what? Vibrant? Intense? Bigger? Just more. Brianna Randall was definitely more.