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Joanna's Highlander-- Maeve Greyson
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Joanna's Highlander -- Jaeve Greyson

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Joanna's Highlander -- from Random House Loveswept

Present-day North Carolina sings with the passions of the Scottish Highlands as a fiery, time-traveling Celtic warrior takes a stubborn tour guide for a wild ride.
 
Haunted by lost love, Grant MacDara still dreams of tenth-century Scotland. Nothing can soothe his aching heart—until a sharp-tongued, redheaded beauty leads a tour of senior citizens through his family’s North Carolina theme park, Highland Life and Legends. Though she’s the polar opposite of the lass he left behind, Joanna Martin is the most irresistible woman Grant has ever met. But when he decides that she’s worth the risk of loving again, he tries so hard to hold her close that she nearly slips through his fingers.
 
Forced out of her job as a pharmaceutical sales rep by a conniving ex, Joanna is trying to make the best of her quiet new life. But one glimpse of Grant—who wields an ancient hammer like it’s just another appendage of his chiseled body—convinces Joanna not to give up on love. The one thing she can’t do is outrun her past as a loser magnet. And although Grant seems to be the last honorable man left on earth, this mouthwatering stud needs a crash course in twenty-first-century women before Joanna can trust him with her heart.

BUY: Random House

excerpt

MacDara Broch

Scotland
900 A.D.

Prologue

“Father said when he and The MacDara proffered our troth to the sacred Heartstone—” the trembling girl, sweet Leannan, Grant MacDara’s chosen love, flinched as if her words were too terrible to speak aloud. “He said…it didna warm. Not even when they laid their hands upon it and chanted our pledge a second and even a third time.”

Leannan clutched at Grant’s hands, staring up at him with such anguish, he ached to wield the goddesses’ hammer and slay the source of her pain. Leannan’s pale hands felt bloodless—cold as ice from the loch or even worse, colder than death.

“The goddesses willna bless our union, Grant. We…” Leannan bowed her head. “We canna marry, m’dearest one.” Her voice broke as sorrow overcame her. “And our babe will surely be stricken from my womb.” She barely swayed from side to side. A heartbreaking sob escaped her with a soft hiccup.

“I canna bear it, Grant,” she forced out between shuddering gulps of air. “I canna bear the thought of such a life but m’heart kens that I must let ye go.” She sadly shook her head. “Yer destiny doesna include me.”

The sacred Heartstone and the goddesses can just be damned and go straight t’whatever hell they wish. Grant Danann MacDara, second son of the goddesses’ druid clan, eased a hand free of Leannan’s desperate grasp and slid a finger beneath her chin. Gently, he lifted her face and brushed the whisper of a kiss across the trembling seam of her lips. “I dinna give a whit about the stone’s druthers or the goddesses.”

Building rage urged him to bellow but he kept his voice low and calm. He had to. For the sake of Leannan. And for the babe. He kissed her again and forced a tender smile. “All I care about is a life with ye and our child.”

He slid a thumb across her cheek, wiping away the wetness of her tears. He’d make this right. They didna need anyone’s useless blessing. “We shall always be together, dear one. I swear it.” He drew her closer and cradled her to his chest. “And our child will be born braw and strong, aye? Ye will see the truth of it, m’love. I swear it.”

He’d take Leannan away. Away to somewhere safe. He tightened his arms around her softly shaking body and pressed a cheek to the top of her head. Athair would be furious and Máthair would be ashamed but it couldna be helped. He was meant t’be with Leannan.

“We will build our lives elsewhere. I willna let ye go,” he quietly affirmed.

“We cannot,” Leannan whispered. “We must not go against the will of the goddesses.” She slowly pulled herself out of his arms and lifted her head. “We canna challenge the wisdom of the Stone.” She attempted a quivering smile. “MacDara blood flows in yer veins, dear one. We must heed the outcome of the rite or be cursed. Ye ken that well enough—or ye should.”

Muffled shouts and the warning blasts of the guard wall horns broke through the heavy shroud of doom filling the small torchlit room. Grant stiffened at the all too familiar signal that the men of the north had returned once again to attempt to take MacDara Broch. He grabbed Leannan by the shoulders and brought his face close to hers. “Bar the door behind me and keep hidden, ye ken? I’ll fetch ye once we’ve rousted the filthy bastards.”

Leannan framed his face between her small hands and ever so tenderly kissed him. Her sad knowing smile nearly tore his heart from his chest. “Yer m’dearest love, Grant.” She paused and pulled in a deep breath then slowly blew it out. “Hear me, dear one. M’love for ye is deep as the sea and true as the stars—for now and evermore, ye ken?”

The finality and despair in Leannan’s voice terrified Grant more than any murderous intruders ever could. He resettled his grip on her shoulders and gently shook her. “Stay hidden. I’ll fetch ye soon. I swear it, aye?”

“Aye, love,” Leannan finally answered with a soft touch of his cheek. “Go to yer kin now. Protect the blessed stone.”

Grant yanked open the door then paused and looked back into the room. Leannan smiled again and nodded; her face aglow with such love and adoration it outshone the one blazing torch ensconced upon the stone wall.

I’ll ne’er see her again. The doom-filled premonition nearly choked him.

“Bar the door and wait for me, aye?” Leannan’s quick nod didn’t ease Grant’s feeling that his life was about to change for the worse. He closed the door and waited. The sound of the heavy oak beam falling in place across the threshold made him feel a bit better but the gnawing fear that Leannan was about to be lost to him forever refused to leave.

Shouldering aside a stone wall at the end of the hall, Grant ducked into one of the many secret passages leading out of the secluded maze of hidden rooms that existed under the main tower of the broch. He made his way to the center of the stronghold and hurried up the circular stairway to the sacred room, the room that housed the blessed Heartstone and the four weapons of the goddesses.

 The walls shuddered and dust fell from the rafters just as Grant reached the final door to the chamber. The faint din of shouts and steel clashing against steel several levels below hastened his steps. “They’ve breached the wall. I hear them in the corridor,” he warned as he pushed into the room.

His mother, Sarinda, her middle round and heavy with her unborn child, turned from the narrow window and nocked an arrow into her bow. “Aye, son. ‘Tis true.” She turned back to the window, took aim, and shot. “Yer father told Alec that the other clans will ne’er make it here in time to join their steel with ours,” she added while still watching the melee below.

Grant’s younger brother, Ramsay, pulled their mother away from the window just in time for his youngest brother, Ross, to slam a great bronze shield over the opening. Arrow pings and clangs of blades crashed against the metal as both young men leaned into the shield and held it fast over the window.

“They’re upon us for certain,” Ramsay shouted, baring his teeth in a determined grimace as he bore down and shoved a broad shoulder against the back of the shield. “And their numbers are greater this time.”

“Grant—yer hammer!” Alec, the oldest of the four brothers, heaved a massive weapon of wood and stone to Grant. The goddess hammer. Grant caught the hammer easily, wielding the lethal gift from the goddesses as though it were an extension of his arm.

He rushed to the window beside the altar where his father stood. The white-haired patriarch of the MacDara clan seemed oblivious to the invasion, wafting his gnarled and bent hands through the gray tendrils of smoke rising from a soot-covered dish nestled atop a heaping circle of glowing red coals.

“Where are yer damn goddesses now, Athair?” Grant shouted back at his father as he landed the broad head of the hammer square in the face of the Northman about to dive into the room through the window.

His father didn’t answer, just kept mumbling with eyes closed and face lifted to the three dripping candles hanging above the bronze brazier of smoking herbs.

Black acrid smoke seeped in from under the room’s only door. Arrow hits and the thud of the enemies’ blades rattled the heavy oak barrier until the hinges and bolts threatened to give way.

Grant’s brother, Alec, lifted his sword and backed toward the weakening portal. Grant knew immediately what Alec was about to do. Sometimes, ill-fated bravery and doomed courage were the best weapons against an enemy.

“Keep the Heartstone!” Grant shouted to his oldest brother then turned back to the window to kill a few more intruders with some doomed courage of his own. He stepped up on the wide stone sill, sweeping his hammer up and down the walls of the tower, easily dislodging the enemies’ shoddy scaling poles lashed together with ropes.

Below, in the enclosed grounds surrounding three sides of the tower, a flutter of bright yellow and regal blue caught Grant’s attention. Such a precious vision of purity midst the dark filth of furs, helmets, and shields couldna be missed. His heart stopped and he held tight to the blocks surrounding the window to keep from losing his footing.

“It canna be,” he whispered to himself. He swiped hair and sweat out of his eyes, blinking hard to clear his sight. His eyes hadna failed him. It was her.

“Nay, Leannan. Nay!” he shouted to the stumbling figure below.

He stared at the familiar airisaidh draped about the head and shoulders of the only woman he’d ever loved as she faltered deeper into the crazed horde. Ominous red stains had seeped through Leannan’s clothing, squeezing all breath from Grant’s lungs.

A snarling woman of the North with her dagger raised bore down on Leannan, ripping the airisaidhaway from his love’s coppery hair just as she sagged down to her knees. The relentless warrior caught Leannan up by her braids, shouted something unintelligible, then slit Leannan’s fair white throat. His dearest love’s lifeless body sank into the bloody mud and the heartless marauder kicked her aside.

“No,” Grant rasped out, paralyzed by the gruesome sight. “No!” he finally shouted, then lunged off the steep ledge, hammer raised to take as many Northmen as he could straight to hell with him. He no longer cared if he lived or died. Only one thing mattered. Revenge.

The world exploded with bright light then all went black.

***

Voices. Women. And Alec.

Lying on his side, Grant rubbed his face with one hand, then forced his eyes open. What...where… He dug his fingers into the soft green grass, then slowly rolled to all fours and pushed himself up to his knees. Lifting his face, he squinted against the stark brightness of the clear blue sky then raised one hand, spreading his fingers against the touch of the cool refreshing breeze.

I must be dead. Good. The painful memory of Leannan’s murder was the last thing he recalled. Then renewed hope flooded through him. But if I’m dead, I can find her. Surely, the goddesses brought her here too. Grant forced himself to his feet and looked around.

He stood at the edge of a meadow adjoining a wood and if he were still alive in Scotland, he’d say it was early summer. Warm sunshine. Birds singing. His favorite time of year.

“I approve,” he said aloud. No one answered. No matter. The goddesses had finally done something right. This was a good Otherworld.

His parents and two of his brothers lay nearby. They all looked at peace, sleeping soundly among the rolling dips and hillocks of the long grasses gently rippling across the meadow.

I heard Alec. And women. Mayhap they can help me find Leannan. Grant tilted his head and concentrated, listening and silently praying he’d hear them again so he could find them.

A man’s voice. Grant jerked, facing the direction of the sound. That sure as hell wasna Alec.

He took one last glance at his sleeping family then hurried toward the wood. I must find Leannan.

A brilliant glow burned in the center of the large copse. A light so bright it looked as though the sun itself had descended from the heavens and nestled among the trees. Oak trees. Ahh…a sacred wood. Grant pushed through the underbrush, his spirits lifting ever higher as he plowed deeper into the grove.

This place had to bethe Otherworld. He’d be with his sweet Leannan through all eternity. He came up short as a blinding wave of light surged and stopped him at the edge of a clearing. He shielded his eyes against the powerful brilliance and bowed his head. It had to be the goddesses themselves.

“We have brought ye—our faithful servants and protectors of the stone—to a place where ye will be much safer. More at peace. We grew tired of the repeated attacks. There is no need for such violence.”

The orb of light echoed as though three females spoke in unison—each of their melodic voices perfectly pitched to enhance and complement one another. “And fear not—we’ll not be leavin’ ye here without proper guidance. We’ve chosen a fine advisor t’see ye well settled and ensure that ye thrive and guide our other druids of this time. Ye’ll find several druid clans are here, already well established, and at the ready to help ye.” Quiet laughter rippled through the glade like the tinkling of delicate bells. “You—our most beloved line of druids must not die away. Ye must lead the others once ye’ve learned the ways of this place. Prosper here. Multiply. Keep our stone safe for eternities t’come.”

Multiply? The gut-wrenching realization that he was still alive pushed Grant to his knees. He rested one hand against the trunk of a nearby tree and fisted his other hand against the unbearable ache growing in his chest. This isna the Otherworld. Leannan is gone.

Grant bowed his head and closed his eyes. The unknown male he’d heard earlier spoke again from the other side of the blinding light floating in the clearing.

“I am Dwyn MacKay. Yer neach-teagaisg. The teacher who shall guide ye through the wonders of this new place.I am guardian and tutor to all the druids here. I shall see to it that the MacDara clan does well and continues their legacy to the goddesses and humanity as the protectors of the Heartstone—the sacred stone of hope and love itself.”

“And this place is?” Grant’s brother Alec asked.

“Twenty-first century North Carolina. Welcome to the future, m’lad.”

“Sons a bitches,” Grant whispered with a low growl. He shook his head against what he’d just heard then rolled back against the tree and slid to sit on the ground.

“I’d rather be dead.”

Brady, North Carolina
Present Day

Chapter 1

"Aww, come on. You can tell us. Those hooters real or store-bought?"

Ignoring a chorus of sputtering hisses and coughing coming from the table behind her, Joanna Martin calmly lowered her glass and placed it beside her plate without taking a sip. She’d artfully negotiated a lot of interesting questions when she’d been a pharmaceutical rep but no HR training in the world could’ve prepared her for this. Apparently, nothing but raw shameless audacity was key to surviving the tour guide business.

A weary, albeit nearly silent, sigh escaped her.They’d had such a pleasant stretch of normal chatter during dinner but apparently that short span of mild behavior from this particular group was now over. Of course, no question would shock or surprise Joanna after the last twelve hours spent in the company of the esteemed ladies of the Alverest Knitting Chicks Textiles Club, the latest group of senior citizens that her best friend Lucia had signed up for a five-day tour with Carolina Adventures.

Might as well grab the bull by the boobs. Joanna sat up straighter, arched her back and proudly posed the subjects of the conversation to the most flattering cover shoot angle. "These girls are all mine, Miss Annamae. Had them since the sixth grade."

More coughing and table pounding came from somewhere behind them. Sorry folks. Joanna sent up the silent apology without turning around to see who was choking to death because of her group’s conversation. She glanced around the table at the wily old ladies and shook her head. The peaceful little town of Brady, North Carolina that skirted the boundaries of the Scottish theme park, Highland Life and Legends, had no idea what they were in for with this bunch. These grannies are over the top. Thanks a lot, Lucia.

"Impressive," replied Georgetta Millsap, Miss Annamae’s best friend and partner in all things daring. She nudged a fleshy elbow into Annamae's plump side, then snapped her fingers within inches of Annamae’s nose. “You owe me a dollar. I told you they were real.”

Shifting to address the group in general, Georgetta raised both hands, slightly curled her pudgy fingers inward, and made twisting motions as though opening two jars of pickles. “You see, ladies…falsies are too round and perfect. Like plastic balls or balloons. Real tatas are always a little lop-sided. Look around the table. Not an identical boob among us."

Chairs scraped behind them. Glasses clinked and somebody wheezed and coughed as though they needed oxygen.

I’ve gotta get the check and get these women out of here before they kill somebody. Joanna raised a hand and motioned for Mary the waitress but the wide-eyed young girl almost broke into a run heading in the opposite direction.

"Georgetta, would you please lower your voice. I'm sure everyone in this county and the next county over would rather not hear your observations regarding the female physique." The impeccably neat club recorder for the ladies' sewing group, Miss Irene French, leaned in close enough for Joanna to get a pleasant whiff of the delicate rosewater spray the older woman used. "I am so very sorry, Joanna. Please excuse those two. I’m doing my best to rein them in but they’re just impossible."

Joanna couldn't help but grin. The group of old ladies had turned out to be bawdier and more likely to get into mischief than any demographic of tourists she'd researched when she'd left her job at the pharmaceutical company and offered to buy in—or debt in as it were—and help Lucia get the tour business she’d always dreamed of successfully launched.

Joanna glanced over at the lively, laughing Georgetta and felt a twinge of envy. I so wanna be Georgetta when I grow up. The thought powered her grin into a full-blown smile and the tension melted out of her shoulders.

Joanna gave Irene's thin blue-veined hand a reassuring pat and winked. "No harm. No foul." She took the paper napkin out of her lap and tucked it under the rim of her dessert plate streaked with what was left of the dark chocolate lava cake that was going to add at least two miles to her daily run this evening. Time to get these feisty golden-agers delivered to Brady’s Bed and Breakfast and tucked in for the night. “You ladies good on the itinerary? Everyone have their copy?"

The rosy-cheeked vice president of the sewing club sitting directly across the large round table from Joanna, leaned to her right with one costume jewelry encrusted hand shielding her brightly lip-sticked mouth. Eyes dancing, she whispered something to the nothing but business, big-boned woman beside her. High-pitched hissing spiked with breathless chuckles that mimicked the bubbly enthusiasm of a newly uncorked bottle of champagne effectively camouflaged whatever she was telling the president of the group of rowdy women.

"Secrets at the dinner table are rude, Frances," Irene said, rapping her butter knife sharply like a warning bellagainst the edge of her plate. “Miss Joanna asked us a question. I think we should all be good enough to grace her with an answer. Does everyone understand our schedule for the next few days?”

Hazel Abraham, the recipient of Frances's covert conversation, leaned far to the right until her chair creaked in protest at the shifting of her generous weight. Long square face locked down in an intense scowl, she peered at something just past Joanna's left shoulder. Slowly, she adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses, then finally straightened in her seat and nodded. "I believe you’re onto something there, Frances." She turned and fixed Irene with a look that had to be a pre-agreed upon signal among those in the club then barely flicked an arthritic finger in Joanna's direction. "I need to visit the lady's room. Don't you need a visit too, Irene?"

A chorus of "I do's" echoed around the table, all seven of the elderly ladies sounding off as though answering roll call at the bingo hall.

Irene barely shook her head, thin lips moving in what had to be silent prayer as she rolled her eyes and slowly rose from her seat.

An ominous shiver tingled up Joanna's back, starting at her tailbone and ending in the tiny hairs at the nape of her neck. Now what were they up to and how could she get this tour of Highland Life and Legends back on track?

"We won't be long," Georgetta announced as chairs scraped backwards and the liquid in the half-empty glasses littering the table shimmied back and forth with every bump as the ladies rose from their seats.

Georgetta's smile was a little too bright for Joanna's comfort. The older woman pointed at the table and winked. "Now, you just wait here, sweetie. When we get back we'll make sure we're all up to snuff on the itinerary—okay?"

"Okay," Joanna agreed weakly. What choice did she have? She had the distinct feeling that the Alverest Knitting Chicks had just called an emergency meeting in the Brady Townhouse Café's restroom and she was the topic.

The ladies, ranging in age from Annamae's young sixty-five to Hazel's mature eighty, toddled single file through the maze of mostly empty tables in the café. Heads bobbing, and speaking to each other in low tones, every damn one of them stole a glance back at Joanna, then smiled at something or someone behind her, before disappearing through the restroom door.

What the hell are they looking at? Joanna swiveled around and hugged the back of her chair with one arm.

Seated at the table in the corner behind her, quite close behind her in fact, was some of the best scenery that the Scottish theme park had to offer, at least as far as Joanna was concerned. The MacDara brothers—three of them anyway.

When did they come in? Joanna quickly adopted a relaxed, not a care in the world attitude and feigned looking at the tour bus through the café window on the other side of the men’s table.

Wedged around the small table was the youngest brother of the bunch, Ross, then the next brother in their birthing order, Ramsay, and then Grant, the one Joanna adored flirting with but had dubbed “look but don’t touch” because of the fact that she didn’t want to risk losing the temporary contract with Highland Life and Legends that she and Lucia had managed to snag—especially not over a man.

Grant was also rumored to be a pain in the ass with a diva attitude but she’d never seen that behavior first hand. He’d been nothing but delectably charming every time they’d crossed paths and that had turned out to be pretty damn often over the past year and a half—not that she was complaining. But the ‘not touching’ part of the ‘look but don’t touch’ pact that she’d made with her conscience was getting more difficult to hold all the time. The only reason she’d kept her pact unbroken this long was because the frustrating hunk of sexy had never made a move. She’d toyed with the idea of being the first one to strike a match and start the fire but she’d managed to talk herself out of it for the sake of the business. He must have somebody somewhere else, she reminded herself for the zillionth time. Oh well…better off anyway. Contract is safe and my weak self-control is not the problem.

The only MacDara son missing from around the table was the oldest brother, Alec. Probably home with the new wife. Alec was CEO of Highland Life and Legends and had been married almost a year.

Joanna had first met all four brawny MacDara sons and their elderly father when she and Lucia had finally scored a much-coveted appointment at the theme park to discuss the business venture that could make or break their fledgling tour agency. The five MacDaras and their lawyer, an odd little man with a stare that could rival deadly lasers, had listened to Joanna and Lucia’s proposal then agreed to the terms and signed a trial “two summer season” contract for Carolina Adventures to bring groups of tourists for five day / four night stays each week at the Scottish historical theme park and Miss Martha’s Bed and Breakfast for a special rate. If the seasonal tours went well and turned out lucrative for all concerned, a more permanent, year round access to the park agreement would be renegotiated this fall. Carolina Adventures’ finances needed the permanent, year round deal. Badly.

While still their usual mouth-watering and kilted eye candy selves, the three powerfully built men seated behind her seemed oddly twitchy. All of them looked…guilty…sort of. Especially, her favorite, Mr. Damn-I-wish-I-could-touch-you. He’s so my type. Dark blonde, supposedly hard to get along with, and likely nothing but trouble. Grant MacDara. Yep. Perfect name for some top shelf male perfection. I’ve got a few wishes he can ‘grant’.

A delayed flicker of common sense smacked the back of her mind. Dammit. I know. Off limits. The dark blonde and big as a Viking god man was finer than any she’d met in a while but better safe than sorry. She’d play it smart and give this guy a wide berth—for the sake of the contract.

Besides. As attracted as she was to Grant, he had to be trouble. She always picked the wrong kind of guy and had endured enough malevolent male drama from her father and ex-fiancé to last a lifetime. It had cost her everything: family, finances, and career. She’d be damned if she ever put up with that shit again. I have learned my lesson.

Speaking of male drama, Grant’s face did seem unnaturally red—even under the dark gold dusting of the day-old beard that totally failed at concealing the sexiest little cleft in his chin and the dimple in his left cheek. Well…sexy or not, if Mr. MacHottie’s temperament matched the heat of his smoldering looks, she’d definitely screw their chances at a permanent contract if she got involved with him. Her mouth filters didn’t always stop her smart-ass remarks when she needed them filtered out and deleted the most.

Shit. I’m staring. They’re gonna think I’m an idiot. Joanna smiled and nodded at the men as though she’d just noticed them, hoping she didn’t look like a total ditz spinning around in her chair and staring at them like the nosy kid in church.

“Hi guys,” she chirped with a friendly wave.

The two younger brothers sitting snug with massive shoulder against massive shoulder on one side of the tiny table, smiled back at her and nodded their greetings. Opposite them, Grant fisted a large hand over his mouth, wheezed in a deep breath, then turned aside and coughed.

Coughing. The same coughing from earlier. Joanna grit her teeth and spun back around to face her own table. Well shit! Grant must’ve been the one hacking and spewing his drink everywhere when he’d overheard the “hooter” discussion.

Just lovely. He’d surely go back and report to the MacDara bunch that a group from Carolina Adventures had been disruptive…again. They’d had a slight run-in just two weeks earlier, when one of the couples in a younger age group had slipped away and been found in the MacDara’s private area at the strictly off-limits Castle Danu.

If the two trespassers had just been wandering around snapping pictures, Joanna could’ve easily explained away their actions as avid interest in the historically accurate structure. But the self-absorbed couple had decided that the secluded garden tended by CEO Alec MacDara’s wife, Sadie, was the perfect place to try and conceive their first child.

The memory of the resulting unpleasant meeting with the MacDara’s lawyer and the enraged CEO still stung, spurring Joanna to snap her fingers at the waitress who was still maintaining a safe distance on the other side of the dining room. “Mary! Could I please have the check? Now? I have to get my group settled in their rooms for the evening.”

Mary scurried over, a relieved smile plastered across her face. She quickly ripped four of the pages free from her dog-eared notebook and plopped them on the table in front of Joanna. “There you go. I’ll leave some mints up at the register for the ladies. I just opened a fresh box.”

“Thanks.” I’d rather have tranquilizers to knock these grannies out, she silently added as the herd of seniors made their way back to the table much faster than they’d left. Apparently, the trip to the restroom had filled them with renewed energy and from what Joanna could see also super-charged the ever present spark of devilry in their eyes. “All set, ladies? How about if we just go over tomorrow’s schedule at the B&B before you retire to your rooms. Okay?”

“Oh, we can’t go just yet,” Frances said, her fluttering hands and animated flitting back and forth around the table greatly resembling a hummingbird in search of the perfect flower.

Joanna dreaded asking but she had no choice. She smelled a setup and it reeked of rosewater and arthritis ointment. She took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever was coming next. “And why exactly can’t we leave now?”

“We have to find the case for Violet’s sunglasses,” Annamae said. “She thinks they must be under one of the tables. Thinks she dropped them.”

“What? I what?” Violet asked, one thin hand clutched to the lace neckline of her print dress with flowers so purple they perfectly represented her name. She peered around as though she’d just awakened from a trance. “Did you see me drop my glasses case?” she turned and asked Irene, confusion knotting her sparse gray brows.

“Course I did,” Georgetta interrupted as she rounded the table. “Matter of fact, isn’t that it over there?” Georgetta bent and vaguely motioned toward the floor under the MacDara men’s table. “Joanna, you’re closest and have younger eyes than the rest of us. Crawl under there and see.”

All three hunky Scots at said table grinned.

Seated with his kilt draped across his muscular thighs and the hem hitting just above his broad knees, Grant scooted his chair back, slowly planted both feet shoulder-width apart and held out a hand as if to usher Joanna under the table at his feet. What an invitation. That was one way to answer that age-old question about what a Scot wears under his kilt.

“By all means, lass. Have a go under there…if ye like.” Grant’s smile was bold and the glint in his eyes just dared her to take him up on the offer.

As much as she’d like to dive right in—or under, so to speak—Joanna controlled the urge to make the most of the opportunity. You are so off-limits.

That won’t be necessary, thank you.” Joanna fixed Grant with one of her most professional I could handle you any day looks. He fired back with the same come hither grin that had geared up the ache in her nether regions on more than one occasion. This situation called for serious damage control. “I’m sure Violette’s case isn’t under your table,” she added.

“No. It’s right there. See it?” Annamae said, bending slightly and motioning at the shadows.

I freakin’ give up. Joanna bent and made a quick sweeping glance under the table, struggling against the wicked urge to give Grant’s spread-eagled position a closer look. Big hands. Big feet. What could one little glance hurt to see if the rest of the package sized up? Oh my…

A hot ripple of appreciative dammit made Joanna swallow hard. She stood bolt upright and quickly shook her head. “Uhm…nope. All I saw was a napkin. I’ll tell the cashier and they can watch for it. If it’s here, I’m sure they’ll find it tonight while cleaning up and we can stop by tomorrow and pick it up.” We so need to get out of here.

“No.” Georgetta shook her head emphatically. “Violet won’t rest if she doesn’t have it. It’s right over there. Here—I’ll point it out to you.”

Too late, Joanna discovered she was no match for Georgetta Millsap’s well-aimed hip. A solid bump to the back of her legs and a firm shove to the small of her back sent her diving forward—not under the table but straight into Grant’s lap.

Her C-cup girls thumped hard against Grant’s muscular chest then her forehead popped his with a stinging smack. Nose to nose, her elbows on either side of his head, Joanna struggled to catch her breath and blink away the stars muddling her vision. Straddling one of his legs, Joanna floundered to get away. Son of a bitch, this is so not going well!I’ll lose that damn contract for sure.

Grant clamped both hands around her waist and lifted her into the air with a jerk that immediately halted her struggling. “Have a care, lass. Yer about to unman me with yer knees.”

“S-sorry,” Joanna said just as her hands slipped off the slick vinyl back of his chair and she buried his face almost ear-deep into the v-neck of her shirt that was currently stretched so low from its pinned state under Grant’s hands that the lace of her red bra framed his cheeks nicely.

 “Sh-h-it!” Joanna panic-rolled to the right, tangled both feet around Grant’s booted foot, then hit the floor. Hard. Inside, she was screaming, I’m going to kill those old ladies! Out loud, amazing even herself with her calm authoritative tone, she pointed toward the front of the café. “Hazel! Get everyone on the bus. Now.”

Strong hands gripped her shoulders, lifted her up from the floor, and steadied her to her feet. “Are ye all right then? Ye landed with quite the jar.”

Damn him. He would act like a gentleman. And that get-me-naked Scottish burr is gonna be the end of my self-control yet. She pulled in a deep calming breathing, praying that she was the only one who could hear her heart pounding. Double damn him. He smells so good—as usual. I’ve gotta get the hell out of here.

Joanna swallowed hard, forced a smile, and took a step back as she jerked her clothes back in place. “I’m fine. Thank you. Just fine.”

Grant gallantly dipped his chin with the hint of a smile that said he knew acknowledging her answer any other way might befuddle her even further. Glancing down, his brows suddenly drew together and he pointed to the floor. “Is this what yer seeking, lass?” Grant bent and retrieved a bright purple, rhinestone-studded glasses case from under his chair.

When in the ever-loving hell had those conniving old women planted that under the MacDaras’ table? Joanna knew damn good and well that Violet couldn’t have tossed her case that far from where she was sitting on the other side of their table. No way could she have managed a move like that without being noticed.

Joanna took the case from Grant and snapped open the lid. Sure enough. Embroidered in the silk lining were the letters V. W. Violet Woodard. Joanna snapped the lid shut and glared through the wall of café windows at the sleek black tour bus waiting outside. The bus’s windows were tinted so she couldn’t see its interior but it was a safe bet that there were seven old noses pressed to the windows trying to see how their little plan was playing out. If Lucia ever takes on another group of geriatric gangsters, I’ll kill her.

Joanna gave Grant her politest smile and her most apologetic shrug. They didn’t need this crap getting reported to the MacDara’s lawyer or Alec. Grant had always been the friendliest of flirts and had never acted like he’d get his kilt in a wad over the tour groups as quickly as his older brother did—but they couldn’t afford to take any chances. The MacDaras stuck together on all things business. The entire town of Brady knew that. She bobbed her head and seriously considered attempting an old-fashioned curtsy to compliment the weird archaic way Grant always talked. “Thank you—for all your help,” she finally said abandoning the curtsy idea. She’d probably end up on her ass again anyway.

She scooped her shoulder bag off the chair and shoved the case into it. “Again, sorry we interrupted your evening.” She blew out a weary sigh. “I swear I’ll do my best to make them behave during the rest of their stay here.” I think shock collars are the only thing that might work and Georgetta will probably rewire those and trash them in minutes.

“Dinna fash yerself, lass. I’m sure ye didna—” Grant shifted a step forward as he spoke, effectively snagging her and setting the hook with those damn blue eyes of his.

“Ye didna ruin his evenin’,” interrupted Ramsay with a sly wink and a raised glass.

“Aye,” Ross chimed in, raising his half full mug too and clinking it to his brother’s. “We all ken how the two a ye have been a sparkin’ after one another for o’er a year now. ‘Tis about time ye bothquit fannin’ such wee troublesome flames and set to tendin’ a full blown fire.”

Ramsay cleared his throat and lifted his glass higher. “Here’s to the sly battle-plannin’ of old hens! May our brother be thankful for the flock of cailleachs helpin’ him secure his match and settin’ him on the path to a proper wooin’.”

I’ve gotta get out of here. With her pride and her ass still stinging, Joanna ignored Ramsay and Ross’s toast and started backing toward the door. “Well...again…I’m sorry we disrupted your evening. I’ll be off now to get those hens tucked into the coop. Have a good night.”

Then she turned and ran.