Highland Fling

Katie Fforde

St. Martin's Press

Highland Fling
Chapter One
 
 
'I gave you a home, for goodness' sake!' said Henry.
Jenny put her suitcase in the boot and slammed it shut. 'I think if you cast your mind back, Henry, you asked me to move in with you several months before I actually did. And then I found out that what you really wanted was a housekeeper!'
'You were homeless at the time, though.'
'I had had to sell my flat. It's hardly the same as living on the streets.' She frowned. She didn't want to argue with Henry just as she was going away. 'Let's go and have a cup of coffee. I don't need to set off just yet.'
Henry followed her inside, and watched as she ground beans and set up the machine. Jenny would have preferred a quick cup of instant, but real coffee was one of Henry's things, and now wasn't the time to try to convert him to the other kind.
'I just think,' he said, as she set down the large, thick dark green and gold cup and saucer before him and added a homemade biscuit to the saucer, 'that you should put family commitments before your - your ...'
Jenny's good intentions about not having a row were stretched. She sipped her own coffee, thinking it tasted bitter. 'It's a business, Henry. Not very large, but important to me. And it's your family who've got cousins coming over from America, not mine.'
'Practically the same thing,' he muttered into his shortbread.
Jenny was tempted to waggle the large ring-shapedspace on her bare left hand to point out that they were neither married nor engaged, but she didn't, because she suspected he wanted them to be more than she did. His family did consider her part of theirs, but she didn't make the same assumptions. There had been many reasons why she had gone to live with Henry, including her feelings for Henry at the time, but since then she had begun to wonder if the deep fondness she felt for him and his domestic dependence on her were really enough to sustain a relationship.
'Why do you have to go this weekend? Wouldn't next week do?'
'I told you. My client wants me up there now. I've already delayed going because of your parents' anniversary party last weekend. I can't afford to lose him, Henry; I haven't got that many clients.'
'You could go out and get a job, like normal women do.'
Jenny was tempted to ask why, if he wanted the sort of woman he considered normal, he was living with her? But instead she said, 'I could, but I don't want to. I want to work for myself and control my own destiny. I'm not going to be at the whim of some bloody management consultant or accountant ever again, thank you. Besides, it's convenient for me to work at home. It means I can do the cooking and collect your suits from the cleaners.'
He totally missed the sarcasm. 'It seems only fair - after all, if you're at home all day ...'
'Make up your mind, Henry. Either you like me working from home, or you want me to get a proper job. Like "normal women" do.' To Henry, a normal woman had streaky blonde hair, was a size ten and dressed precisely as the fashion magazines dictated. What he'd ever seen in her slightly below average height, dark hair and less cutting-edge dress sense, she had never quite worked out. Cynically she decided it was probably something todo with her breasts, which were more ample than being a size ten would allow.
'What I don't like is you shooting off to Scotland on the whim of a man you haven't even met! It's ridiculous! Why can't he do his own dirty work? It's nearly winter, for God's sake!'
'Because he's abroad! Which is why he uses my services. He hasn't got a base here and needs an assistant. And it's only October.'
'End of, and it'll feel like winter in Scotland, believe me. And "assistant" is only a fancy word for "secretary" you know. You may like to call yourself a "virtual assistant" but no one's ever heard of them. You won't be able to stick it. You'll be back here within the week. You're far too soft to sort out a business in trouble. You'd want to keep on all the workers as pets.'
Jenny ignored this last bit to avoid losing her temper. 'Luckily people who need them have heard of virtual assistants. And if a lot of my work is secretarial, at least it's honest labour and doesn't put anyone else out of a job. Anyway, this won't be just secretarial work, will it? He's trusting me to go and look at a failing business and report back. You could view it as a promotion.'
'He's using you, Jenny.'
'Yes, and he pays handsomely for the privilege! You should be pleased for me, Henry, not carping! It's loads more money and I've got a chance to really build up some capital.' Now wasn't the moment to mention that she wanted the capital as a deposit so she could move into a place of her own.
'You're just being suckered, Jen. He's getting a management consultant on the cheap.'
Jenny scowled at him. He knew the words 'management consultant' would get her going. 'I am not being suckered. I am my own boss. I can stop working for him at the press of a button.'
'You're soft-hearted and impulsive. Look at the way you gave that beggar all your loose change on the way back from the paper shop this morning! You might as well throw your money away as give it to someone who'll just go and buy drugs with it!'
'I don't call that being impulsive; I call it being compassionate! Just because you would die rather than buy a copy of the Big Issue doesn't mean we all have to be the same! Now I really think I should be off. I want to get at least halfway today. It's a long drive.'
'A drive you don't have to be doing. Don't worry about washing the cups; I'll do them.'
Jenny stared at Henry, wondering how or why she had ever got involved with him. Then he smiled, and his hair flopped forward and she remembered, he reminded her irresistibly of Hugh Grant.
She went over to him where he stood pouring coffee grounds down the sink. 'Let's not quarrel when I'm going away.' She kissed his cheek.
He pulled away from her. 'Goodbye, Jenny. But I really wish you'd reconsider.'
Jenny sighed. Hugh Grant would have thought of something witty and affectionate to say, something that might make her stay. 'I'm sure your mother will be able to entertain the American cousins perfectly well without me. I've given her my apple pie recipe.'
He didn't answer her, so she took a last trip to the loo, put on her coat, and then checked that she'd got everything.
By the time she'd reached the motorway, she'd stopped feeling guilty and sad for leaving Henry, and just let herself enjoy the sense of adventure. She was escaping from her solitary life for a little and was going to be doing some hands-on work. It was a challenge and she relished it.
 
 
It was the following afternoon, and seven hundred miles later, when Jenny, near her final destination, stopped at a tartan-painted mobile refreshment van, endearingly called 'The Homely Haggis', and asked for a cup of hot chocolate. Still annoyed with Henry, she had vowed never to drink coffee again.
The pretty, enormously pregnant young woman pushed the polystyrene cup across the counter. 'There you are. And there's your change. Ow,' she added, as Jenny took it, and put her hand to the small of her back.
Jenny hastily put the hot chocolate back onto the counter and stared anxiously at the woman. 'You're not going to have your baby now, are you?'
The woman laughed. 'Oh, no. I shouldn't think so. I'm not due for another fortnight. That was just a twinge.'
Her Scottish accent seemed to add to the air of cheerful optimism that surrounded her. She had a lot of chestnut hair swirling round her head and a wide, smiling mouth, and now she picked up a cloth and wiped the counter. 'They say first babies are always late.'
'Do they? I don't know anything about childbirth except what I've seen on television.' Jenny bit her lip. 'Which means babies only come when there's not an ambulance or a doctor within a hundred miles, and have to be delivered by someone who has no idea what to do. Like now, really.'
The woman laughed again, unconcerned that they were in a lay-by in, what seemed to Jenny, a very remote corner of Scotland. 'And have you noticed? They never take their knickers off? Seriously, though, I know we're isolated up here, but there is a GP in the next village.'
'Which is only about fifteen miles away. I came through it. Hardly any distance at all,' Jenny smiled sipping her hot chocolate.
'In these parts fifteen miles is practically next door, so no need to worry.' The woman, bored with her condition, turned her bright eyes on Jenny. 'So what are you doing inthis neck of the woods, apart from having a warming drink? I know the heather's still out, and the midges are more or less over, but unless you're a walker or a mountaineer, we're a bit off the tourist route. There isn't a shop selling models of Nessie for miles.'
Jenny hesitated. There would be no keeping anything secret, not in an area so far away from the rest of civilisation that a new face would always be cause for speculation. She'd have to say something. She adopted an open expression. 'I'm visiting Dalmain House for a while.'
The young woman became even more interested. 'Oh? Friend of the family?'
This was tricky. Jenny didn't want to admit she'd been sent to investigate the Dalmains' knitwear business by a client. On the other hand, she didn't want to claim friendship with people she'd never met, particularly when they were almost bound to hate her. She'd been more or less told by Philip Dalmain in his letter to pretend to his mother she was installing a new computer system, implying, by what he didn't say, that if she let on there was anything wrong with the mill his mother would either have hysterics and die of apoplexy, or throw Jenny out of the house. 'Not really.'
The young woman sighed. 'I may as well introduce myself. I'm Meggie Dalmain. I'm married to the younger son.'
This was a bit of a surprise. Jenny had been led to expect that the Dalmains were a fairly old, aristocratic, and, she suspected, snobbish family. She wasn't expecting to meet a member of it serving in a mobile burger bar. It was a cheering discovery. She held out her hand. 'Genevieve Porter, known as Jenny.'
'You're right,' went on Meggie, having shaken the hand and read her thoughts. 'They disapprove of me terribly. lain and I hardly ever go up there - only if we're summoned by the Matriarch, and only then because Idon't see why lain shouldn't see his family, just because of that old cow.'
This didn't exactly promise weeks of happy harmony and co-operation for Jenny, but she couldn't just turn tail when Henry had been so sure that was exactly what she'd do. 'The Matriarch?'
'The old lady. Fancies herself as the chatelaine of the castle, or she would if it was a castle, and not just a gloomy old house. She conveniently forgets that her own father wasn't exactly out of the top drawer.'
By training, Jenny was discreet, but Meggie Dalmain obviously had a lot on her chest, and any little scraps of information she let fall could be very useful. She gave an interrogative 'Oh?' It wasn't exactly prodding, but it gave the young woman an opportunity to unload if she wanted.
Meggie did want. 'Look, why don't you come this side of the counter? There's a couple of seats here. We can have a proper chat. It's not fair to send you up to the big house without giving you a bit of briefing. You've got time?'
Jenny nodded. 'I'm a bit early, actually, which was why I stopped for a drink. I didn't want to turn up before I was expected.'
Meggie nodded. 'Very wise. They wouldn't like it if you arrived before they were ready. They're difficult at the best of times, which, as I'm sure you know, these aren't.'
Jenny squeezed herself in through the door at the side. When she first agreed to do some on-the-spot investigation for her biggest client, she had cherished a little hope that a few weeks in the Highlands would be almost like a working holiday. And if it wasn't, at least it would prove to Henry that she was more than just a glorified secretary. Since the initial request she had done a little investigation, and the working holiday myth had dispersed, but pride would prevent her from leaving a second before her job was done.
Sadly, Henry had been right about it being cold inScotland. The trouser suit she was wearing, which in the Home Counties had seemed appropriately practical, had become less and less suitable the further north she drove, and her naturally curly hair was curling furiously in the damp. She felt crumpled and chilly, far from the efficient businesswoman image she'd tried to create. It had been early autumn yesterday, when she left England - now it was early winter; she'd have to buy some extra sweaters at the first opportunity.
'Have a seat,' said Meggie, squashing herself down on to the folding chair. 'If I get any bigger, I'm going to have to stand up all day.'
'I don't know how you manage. This sort of work is terribly tiring. I remember from my student days.'
'Well, I won't be able to for much longer - oh damn, actually, I really need to wee. Would you mind looking after things here while I go? The nearest tree is over there, which seems miles away when you're heavily pregnant. The baby is in an awkward place and whenever I sit down it squashes my bladder. Do you mind?'
'Of course not. It's not as if there are any customers.'
'Oh, er - I think you might find that Land Rover that's just pulled up has a customer in it, which means I'll have to walk even further, to where there are two trees. Damn.' Meggie squeezed herself out of the door and disappeared into the heather.
Jenny hardly had time to murmur 'Oh my God!' under her breath before a man walked purposefully up to the counter.
'A bacon butty and a cup of tea, please.'
Jenny tried an endearing smile. Or at least, she hoped it was endearing. Without being able to check, she couldn't be sure it wasn't just making her look simple. 'I don't suppose you'd care to wait a minute? I'm not really in charge here, and - '
'I only want a bacon roll and a cup of tea. But I am in abit of a hurry.' He spoke with the authority of someone who was more accustomed to demanding wine lists and tossing credit cards onto plates than ordering fry-ups at his local greasy spoon. Although he was dressed as a walker, with well-worn outdoor clothing and a tanned complexion, he sounded to Jenny more like a business executive, a breed with which she was tiresomely familiar.
She decided to give it a go. How hard could it be, to cook a bit of bacon and butter a roll? Even Henry admitted she could cook. And it would be easier for Meggie if the kettle was on and the bacon frying when she came back from behind her trees.
It took Jenny a while to track down the bacon and still longer to work the cooker. What was Meggie doing? Please don't let her have started having her baby, squatting over the sphagnum moss like a Native American. Jenny's customer was regarding her with doubt and suspicion - possibly because a navy-blue trouser suit and silk blouse weren't de rigueur for short-order chefs. Well, it was his fault. He had insisted on placing his order. He wouldn't let her explain she was only a customer herself.
'Where on earth is the kettle?' muttered Jenny, louder than she had intended.
'What the hell is going on?' Her customer leant over the counter, peering at Jenny with disapproval. 'You may be new to the job, but surely you can make a cup of tea?'
'I'm sure I can, but as I'm only a passing customer, much the same as you are, I'm having to feel my way.'
'What do you mean? If you don't work here, what are you doing behind the counter?'
Jenny, who had at last located the kettle, and was grateful to discover that it had enough water in it for a cup of tea, shrugged and hunted around for matches.
'I was having a chat with the proprietor. She's gone off to go to the loo. I said I'd take care of things. She's being an awfully long time. I hope she's all right.'
'What could have happened to her?'
'Nothing, I hope, but she's extremely pregnant. You're not a doctor, by any chance, are you?'
'No.'
'Or, better still, a midwife? Even a student nurse would be better than nothing.' She felt the need to get back at him for mocking her attempts at tea-making. She'd put up with too much mockery lately.
'I'm a businessman, and I'm on holiday. And if you're not any of those things, and you can't make a mug of tea without help, what are you doing here?'
Jenny could easily have told him to keep his nose out of what didn't concern him, but it would be unprofessional of her to insult Meggie's customer. Something about him made her think longingly of Henry's sophisticated elegance. Henry would never do anything unexpected or untoward. This man had an energy about him, an untamed quality that was unsettling, and his voice had a timbre that was a hundred miles away from Henry's mellow tones.
'As I said,' she explained firmly, 'I was having a hot chocolate - '
'But why were you having it here?You don't look as if you're on holiday.' He gave her a quick glance up and down as if to check on this. 'Designer trouser suits aren't exactly leisure wear in the Highlands.'
Jenny resisted the urge to check that she didn't have too many buttons undone. 'Marks and Spencer's, actually, but thanks for the compliment. Would you like onions with your bacon, by the way?' She'd just spotted a string of them and wanted to distract him from asking too many pertinent questions. Her mascara was probably all under her eyes by now and her lipstick wouldn't have survived more than an hour.
'Yes, please. And you haven't answered my question.'
She could have gone on refusing to do so, but decided that mystery would only increase his curiosity.
'I've got a job in the area. Only for a short time, but I might buy a tweed skirt or a kilt, if navy worsted makes me look out of place.'
'So, where are you working?'
Now she was really tempted to tell him to mind his own business. It wasn't fair on the Dalmains for her to tell a complete stranger that she'd been sent from afar to pry into their business. 'It's confidential and it's not local. What about a tomato?'
'I see. Well, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to.'
'I know. So what about the tomato?'
'Yes, please. If you can manage that, of course.'
His curiosity and remarks about her appearance had been understandable if not acceptable, but this was a definite dig. 'I'm sure I can. How long would you like it boiled for?'
He frowned, took a breath, let it out again and shook his head. 'We seem to have got off on the wrong foot ...'
'Well, you have. I'm dealing with you with the tact and patience that are my trademark.'
Reluctantly, he laughed. 'I realise that I should be grateful to you for even attempting to serve me - '
'But you're not,' she helped him out. 'You're too accustomed to giving orders and getting your own way without having to say thank you to anyone.'
He raised an eyebrow. 'Well, thanks for the character analysis.'
'A pleasure. And, unlike the bacon butty, it's free.'
'Well, I did at least get the character analysis. The bacon butty still eludes me.'
Jenny took a breath. It was annoying to be unable to deliver something so simple, but further protest would just make her look more incompetent. She was about to demand that the man go away and come back in half an hour when Meggie appeared.
'Ah, here's the proprietor,' Jenny said with relief. Very tempted to leap into her car and drive away in a shower of gravel, she felt obliged to check that Meggie was all right. 'Everything OK?'
'Absolutely. How are you getting on?'
'Well, I hope you're not planning to give her a permanent job,' said Jenny's customer. 'She seems totally unsuited to the work.'
Jenny frowned at him. He was being very unfair and now she couldn't leave without it looking like an escape.
'Really?' said Meggie, bright but dismissive. 'Why don't you go and sit down at one of the tables, and we'll bring it over to you?'
'Now why didn't I think of that?' said Jenny, as soon as he was out of earshot. 'He's been hanging around watching me and asking awkward questions and I haven't a clue where anything is.'
Meggie had taken out the bacon and added the onions. 'Oh, I don't know. You seem to have been doing a grand job.'
'I haven't done anything like this since I was a student. Several lifetimes ago.'
'Not that long, surely? How old are you?'
'Twenty-seven. How old are you, yourself?'
Meggie laughed. 'Twenty-five, and I'm sorry for being so nosy. I'm always getting into trouble for being outspoken. Rude, my husband calls it.'
Jenny laughed back. 'I wouldn't call it rude, exactly.'
Meggie sighed. 'lain says I can be as rude as I like when the business closes. Then it'll just be to him.'
'The business closes? That seems a shame!' The merry little tartan van suddenly seemed a haven in the gathering bleakness of the afternoon.
'Well, only for the season, in theory. The trouble is, if I close early, and I may have to because of this little bundle,' she patted her stomach, 'I may not get this spot next year.There's someone else after it, and it wouldn't be worth my doing The Homely Haggis if I had to travel any further to get to it.' Meggie sighed again.
'How much longer has the season got to run?' It already seemed quite late in the year for tourist-based businesses.
'Only a few weeks. Come December I'll close completely.'
'Isn't there someone who could do those for you? It seems a shame to risk losing the business because you're pregnant.'
'It does, doesn't it?' Meggie was pleased that someone understood her feelings. 'But I've tried everyone local and they none of them can.'
'I almost feel like doing it myself, except that I've just failed to make a bacon butty and a cup of tea and would obviously drive the customers away in droves.'
'You wouldn't, would you?' Jenny bit her lip. Meggie was looking at her as if she had seen her saviour in her tea leaves, and Jenny hadn't seriously been offering, more just making sympathetic noises.
'Well - '
'It would be so brilliant if you could. But would you be able to? It's only weekends and the odd fine evening, but you will have your other work.'
This was the moment to say, no, she wasn't offering, but she didn't. Henry's jibes about her being impulsive, and her own assertion that it was compassion came back to her. Why shouldn't she be impulsive and compassionate if she wanted? It was her life, and it might need a little light relief in it.
'I'm sort of tempted, partly to help you out and partly because it seems - fun.'
'Oh, it is! It's great! And it would only be for a short time. I reckon I could manage next summer, even with a baby, and lain and I need the extra cash.'
Meggie was looking at her in a very persuasive way.
'And you really can't find anyone else to keep it open for you?'
'I haven't been able to so far. Until you came along.'
'Meggie!'
'Perhaps you'd better tell me why you're going to Dalmain House. And how long you're likely to be visiting. But before you do, just take this over to your favourite customer. Tell him it's on the house as he's been kept waiting so long.'
'Not that long! I was doing my best.'
'Just take it over. Then come back and get the tea. Please!'
With more than a little reluctance, Jenny crossed the shingle parking area. The heels of her boots, fine in Surrey, were too high for the Scottish Highlands.
'Here you are,' she said churlishly, putting down the plate. 'Meggie says it's on the house.'
He narrowed his eyes in a way that was both sinister and attractive at the same time. 'Would that be Dalmain House?'
Jenny suddenly felt her mouth go dry. 'What do you mean?'
He hesitated, just for a second, as if he was about to say something, but then thought better of it. 'Nothing. I just thought that's where you might be working, Dalmain House.'
'What on earth gave you that idea?'
'Well, aren't you?'
'It's none of your business where I'm working!'
She wobbled furiously back to the van. 'Bloody man! He's just tried to make me tell him I'm working at Dalmain House, and it's supposed to be a secret!'
'Oh, why? Does he take sugar?'
'Well, he's certainly not "sweet enough already".'
Meggie put a couple of sachets of sugar and a stirrer into Jenny's hand. 'I'd take it myself, only it'll make me want to wee again. But we need a talk.'
Grim-faced, Jenny marched back to the table, holding the mug of tea. 'There you are!' She put it and the sugar down on the table, noting with satisfaction that the sugar had gone on a puddle caused by a dip in the plastic.
'Thank you. Oh and, miss?'
'What?' 'Miss' seemed like the ultimate insult.
'You've got grease on your blouse. That won't make a good impression at the big house.'
Jenny nearly twisted her ankle as she whisked back across the car park. 'Oh piss off!' she muttered under her breath.
'It's no good asking me to run this place for you!' she told Meggie. 'I'd swear at the customers.'
Meggy shook her head. 'No you wouldn't. Most of them are sweeties. And they're so grateful! I really like this job. It's so easy to make people happy!'
Jenny sighed. She certainly couldn't say that about her job - at least, not the aspect of it that was occupying her now.
'I'll make you another hot chocolate and then tell you who's who up at the House of Usher. If you tell me what you're doing there, of course. Has Philip been fiddling the books?'
'I shouldn't think so, but that's not why I'm here.' Meggie raised a sceptical eyebrow and Jenny felt she might as well be as frank as she could be. 'I've been sent by my client to see what's going on in the business. I won't make any decisions, I'll just report back. But there's been no suggestion that there's been any fiddling.'
Meggie sighed. 'Pity. Philip's so much his mother's blue-eyed boy, it would have been nice if, just for once, he'd done something really wicked. But I expect he's just been his usual charming self.'
'Don't you like him?' If Meggie was willing to give her information, she might as well get as much as possible.
'You can't really dislike Philip. He's "awfully nice".' Sheput on an exaggeratedly posh English accent. 'But he's so lacking in initiative. He'd have made a perfect younger son. And my Iain, well, he'd have loved to get his hands on the family business.' Meggie sighed. 'So, do you work for the man the estate owes all that money to?'
Jenny licked her lips, slightly horrified that so much of Dalmain's business seemed common knowledge. 'It's not quite as straightforward as that. It's a syndicate which has invested in the business. I work for one of the members. Or I should say, one of the members is one of my clients.'
Meggie ignored this finer detail. 'But if the syndicate has invested money, it will have to be paid back?'
And at a crippling rate of interest, added Jenny silently. 'Eventually, yes. Not necessarily all at once.'
Meggie shrugged. 'They never tell Iain and me anything anyway. We just put two and two together and make a bit of gossip. So, what do you do, exactly?'
'I'm what's called a virtual assistant. It's like being a secretary only I never get to meet my boss, and I have several of them. People I work for, that is.'
'Sounds complicated.'
'It's not really. With the Internet it's so easy to communicate. I usually work from home but when my client' - no need to mention his name - 'asked me to come up here and look into things myself, I was tempted by the thought of being more hands-on. It needn't affect my other clients at all, and you can get lonely working from home all the time.' As well as being expected to do all the domestic chores, she added silently.
'I'm not sure Dalmain House will be able to offer much in the way of sparkling company, but there's always me.' Meggie laughed. 'While I'm here. What did you say your name was, again?'
'Genevieve Porter. Jenny for short.'
'I expect the Matriarch will insist on calling you Genevieve, if she doesn't just stick to Miss Porter.'
'I quite like Genevieve, actually. It's just a bit of a mouthful.'
'Well then, Jenny, or Genevieve, how about standing in for me here, while I'm out of action? For just as long as you're here.' Meggie's brown eyes were very appealing.
'Really, I'd love it in theory, but I'd be useless! Look what happened just now, with that man.'
'He was unusually difficult. And you wouldn't be useless if you had a little training. And you'll need somewhere to escape to. Dalmain House is like a cross between a museum and a funeral parlour, only not so cheerful.'
Oh God, don't say Henry was going to be right about this, as well as everything else. 'Really? Perhaps I should cut my losses and just go home ...'
'No, don't do that!' Meggie backtracked furiously. 'It'll be fine, I'm sure. And I will enjoy having you around. A little female company of my own age will be wonderful. You said you got lonely.'
Jenny laughed. 'Did I? But this place isn't exactly jumping at the moment, now is it?'
Meggie shrugged. 'Well, I know. And I've got a dreadful cheek to even suggest it. But you did sort of offer and you said you'd worked in a café.'
'Well yes.'
'The nicest thing about it,' went on Meggie, sensing that Jenny was tempted, 'is that people are always so pleased to see you. They've often come off the mountain' - she gestured to the heather-covered hill that swept on up towards the sky - 'walked for miles in the pouring rain. A hot cup of something is just what they're wanting and you provide it.'
'I can see that would be satisfying.'
'And there's no worrying about it when you go home. You've either sold lots of hot drinks and bacon butties or you haven't. You can just lock up and forget about it.'
Jenny sighed. She often found herself working very late,her brain still chewing things over. 'That does sound attractive, I must say.'
'And the mountains are famous. There are always walkers and hikers and things in these parts. Most of them are lovely.'
'That one wasn't.'
'The exception, I promise. And he was quite attractive. All the local men are spoken for and you'll need someone to have a joke with.'
Jenny laughed. 'So you think I should take over The Homely Haggis to pick up men, do you?' How would Henry feel about that?
'There are worse ways. Unless you're taken yourself?'
'I am, in a manner of speaking, but even if I wasn't, I wouldn't want to mix business with pleasure. There's no point in meeting a bonnie Scot I'd have to leave behind.'
Meggie shrugged. 'I thought you could do your job anywhere.'
'I can, but there's the rest of my life! I mean, no offense, but I'm from the Home Counties, and this is rather a long way away from Bond Street, isn't it?'
Meggie chuckled. 'Here, I'll give you my address and telephone number. If you're going to be around long enough and want to help me, you can give me a ring. Or if you don't, you can just come for a chat and a dram. I won't put any pressure on you.'
Jenny wondered about that. Meggie was obviously very determined. On the other hand, Jenny was genuinely tempted by the cosiness of the van. 'I'll let you know one way or another as soon as possible.' She paused. 'I would like to do it, in a way. Just to prove I can.' And not only to herself. Part of her, deep down and barely acknowledged, wanted to prove to that man that a bacon butty and a cup of tea were not beyond her, though why she should care what he thought, God alone knew.
'Good. Well, I can't ask for more than that.'
Jenny looked at her watch. 'I suppose I'd better be on my way. Do you think I should ring and say exactly when I'll be arriving?'
'How would you do that? Mobile phones are no use out here.'
Jenny made a face. 'God! How uncivilised!'
'Away with you! Do you need any directions?'
Jenny fished a crumpled bit of paper from her jacket pocket. 'There's a little road about a mile from here, and then up a long track to the left?'
Meggie nodded. 'That'll get you there. Good luck.'
HIGHLAND FLING. Copyright © 2002 by Katie Fforde. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.