William MacKenzie has always been protective of his Scottish village. When Moraig's economy falters, he has the perfect solution to lure wealthy Londoners to this tiny hamlet: resurrect the ancient Highland Games! But for this to work, William knows he needs a reporter to showcase the town in just the right light.
A female journalist might be a tolerated oddity in Brighton, but newly minted reporter Penelope Tolbertson is discovering that finding respect in London is a far more difficult prospect. After receiving an invitation to cover Moraig's Highland Games, Penelope is determined to prove to her London editors just how valuable she can be.
Penelope instantly captures William's heart, but she is none too impressed with the gruff, broody Highlander. However as she begins to understand his plans, Penelope discovers she may want more from him than just a story. She's only got a few days...but maybe a few days is all they need.
Fling (n.): “Vigorous dance” (associated with the Scottish Highlands), from 1806.
“Period of indulgence on the eve of responsibilities,” first attested 1827.
From the Online Etymology Dictionary
Moraig, Scotland, 1843
All the world hated a hypocrite, and William MacKenzie was no exception.
But today that trouser-clad hypocrite was his brother, James, which made it a little hard for William to hate him like he ought.
As James sauntered to a stop beneath the awning of Moraig’s posting house, his laughing gaze dropped to William’s bare knees and then climbed northward again. “If you’re trying to make a memorable impression,” he sniggered, “all that’s missing is a good breeze.”
“You are late.” William crossed his arms and tried to look menacing. “And I thought we agreed last night we would share this indignity.”
“No, you agreed.” James shoved his hands in the pockets of his trousers and offered up a shite-eating grin. “I listened and wisely withheld a formal opinion.”
William bit back a growl of frustration. For Christ’s sake, he knew well enough he looked like a fool, standing in the thick heat of early August, draped in the MacKenzie plaid. And there was no doubt he would be teasing James unmercifully if the reverse were true.
But today they were both supposed to look like fools.
And James had a far better set of legs.
As though summoned by his brother’s fateful words, a ghost of a breeze stirred the wool that clung to William’s sweat-moistened skin. He clapped a hand down over his sporran, ensuring the most important parts remained hidden. “You live in Moraig, just as I do,” he pointed out to his errant brother. “You owe it to the town to help me make a proper impression for the reporter from the London Times.”
“Oh, aye, and I will. I had thought to say something properly memorable, such as ‘Welcome to Moraig.’ ” James raised a dark, mocking brow. “And we shouldn’t need to put on airs. The town has its own charm.”
“Well, the tourists haven’t exactly been flocking here,” William retorted, gesturing to the town’s nearly empty streets. Hidden in the farthest reaches of Scotland—far enough, even, that the Atlantic coast lapped at its heels—the little town of Moraig might indeed be charming, but attempts to attract London tourists had fallen somewhat short. If William had anything to say about it, that was going to change, starting today.
The only problem was he should have said it a half hour ago.
He took off his Balmoral cap and pulled his hand through hair already damp with sweat. While he was willing to tolerate looking like a fool in order to prove Moraig was the perfect holiday destination for Londoners seeking an authentic Highland experience, he still objected to having to look like one alone. “We’ve an opportunity to get a proper story printed in the Times, highlighting all Moraig has to offer.” He settled the cap back on his head. “If you have an issue with the plaid, you could have at least bestirred yourself to put on a small kilt.”
James burst out laughing. “And draw attention away from your bonny knees?”
As if in agreement, a series of catcalls rang out from a group of men who had crowded onto the sidewalk outside the Blue Gander, Moraig’s inn and public house.
One of them held up his pint. “Lovely legs, MacKenzie!”
“Now show us your arse!”
William scowled in their direction. On another day, he might have joined them in raising a pint, but not today. Moraig’s future was at stake. The town’s economy was hardly prospering, and its weathered residents couldn’t depend on fishing and gossip to sustain them forever. They needed a new direction, and as the Earl of Kilmartie’s heir, he felt obligated to sort out a solution. He’d spent months organizing the upcoming Highland Games. It was a calculated risk that, if properly orchestrated, would ensure the betterment of every life in town. When David Cameron, the town’s magistrate, had offered to invite a reporter up from London, it had seemed a brilliant opportunity to reach those very tourists they were aiming to attract.
But with the sweat now pooling in places best left unmentioned and the minutes ticking slowly by, that brilliance was beginning to tarnish.
William peered down the road that led into town, imagining he could see a cloud of dust implying the arrival of the afternoon coach. The very late afternoon coach. But all he saw was the delicate shimmer of heat, reflecting the nature of the devilishly hot day.
“Bugger it all,” he muttered. “How late can a coach be? There’s only one route from Inverness.” He plucked at the damp collar of his shirt, wondering where the coachman could be. “Mr. Jeffers knew the importance of being on time today. We need to make a ripping first impression with this reporter.”
James’s gaze dropped once more to William’s bare legs. “Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt of it.” He leaned against the posting house wall and crossed his arms. “If I might beg the question . . . Why turn it into such a circus? Why these games, instead of, say, a well-placed rumor of a beastie living in Loch Moraig? You’ve got the entire town in an uproar preparing for it.”
William snorted. “Sunday dinners are enough to put this town in an uproar. And you know as well as I that the games are for their own good.”
Though, God forbid his nolly-cocked, newly married brother lift a hand in the planning.
Or be bothered to put on a kilt, as it were.
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Author Bio: A veterinarian and infectious disease researcher by training, Jennifer McQuiston has always preferred reading romance to scientific textbooks. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, their two girls, and an odd assortment of pets, including the pony she promised her children if mommy ever got a book deal. Jennifer can be reached at her website at www.jenmcquiston.com or followed on Twitter @jenmcqwrites.
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