Michael stretched, his shoulders and back crackling with morning relief. He squinted to block the sun streaming through shutters he rarely opened, and snaked his hands under the sheet, searching for her warm body. His deep disappointment at the empty bed confused him. He could sense his guest moving around beyond the room dividers. Scrubbing his head, he sat on the edge of the bed, then reluctantly pulled on a pair of boxers.
“Bloody hell.” His flat was strewn with clothes. “Did the suitcase explode?”
“Thank God you’re up,” Emma said spinning as she he held up two blouses. “What do I wear to tea?”
“Nothing.” He stumbled to the kitchen and mechanically made coffee.
“I think your mother might object. Your father and brother saw enough last night.” She bumped him with her hip.
“We aren’t going to tea.”
“Why not?” she asked backing away from his dark mood.
He waved his hand in a gesture encompassing her, them, the clothes-strewn furniture. “I can’t explain this.”
Emma felt a slight stab at the silent “mess” he’d left off the end of that statement, but forged ahead. “So don’t explain. Or do. It’s four days. It’s fun. It’s good sex.” He looked over his shoulder. “Great sex,” she corrected herself. “No strings. No expectations. And you’ll never have to worry about explaining me again.”
She was quickly losing steam as her commentary began to sink in. Michael almost flinched at each declaration. He spun on her.
“What ye wore on the boat was fine. We better hurry or Duncan will eat all of the lemon cake.” He only noticed as he passed her, when the delicate scent of her soap and shampoo touched his senses, that she’d been awake long enough to shower.
Mouth open, she watched him close the bathroom door. She touched her lips. They had been eager for his kiss and she felt the denial of it acutely. “Good morning to you too,” she mumbled to the closed door.
Michael splashed cold water on his face. He’d awakened to a raging need for her. Not just her willing body, but her beside him. Her casual, dismissive description of their situation had angered him. He looked at himself in the mirror. What the fuck is wrong with you?
“Michael?” She opened the door a few inches passing a steaming mug of black coffee without looking in or saying more.
When he walked out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later she was dressed and sitting on his sofa, purse and jacket on her lap, staring out the window. Her clothes hastily shoved back into the suitcase as if their departure was eminent. He would have kicked his own arse if he could.
The drive back to Loch Lomond was uncomfortable and quiet. Emma had appreciated his silence after the funeral. This felt like the silent treatment, and she wouldn’t do that. She’d done it for almost ten years, and refused to add four days to that tally. She cut her eyes over to him, forty minutes was testing her good humor enough.
“This technique always work for you?” she asked, folding her arms across her chest then immediately forcing them back down.
“What’s that?” Michael’s hands gripped the wheel.
“You know. The passive aggressive I didn’t want to go to tea so instead of offering a real explanation I’ll just pretend you’re not in the car thing.”
His turned his head. The muscle in his jaw tightened and his expression sent a shiver to her core. She didn’t even notice they’d crossed the bridge. She almost couldn’t hear him for the blood pounding in her ears. “I couldn’t pretend you weren’t on the planet.”
“Could’ve fooled me.” She hated the tremor in her voice and the tumble of emotions behind it.
Mary Wilson had her son’s flashing green eyes and dark hair. While scrupulously hospitable, she was wary of the guest coming to her home. She’d seen both sons wounded and did not look forward to watching another woman trample Michael’s heart so soon after the last. Duncan’s new wife was working a 12-hour shift at the hospital, which meant he was helping John disassemble a jet ski in the small machine shop beside the house. Both asked for their tea to be brought out.
Mary protested, “Michael is bringing a girl. You two will come in the house for a proper tea!”
“Mary luv,” John cooed. “She doesn’t strike me as one who will be too particular about her tea.”
“Yeah, Ma. Let her see us how we are,” Duncan said pantomiming wiping dirty fingers across his shirt.
“How ye are is covered in oil and set on giving yer brother a hard time.”
“Ma, I don’t think it’s me an Da ye have to worry about giving Michael a hard anything.” Duncan wiggled his brows, earning him a hard swat and the two men burst into laughter.
Tea wasn’t what Emma expected. It was more along the lines of a cold cuts brunch, plated in the house and shared at a table in the shop as the three men stood over the engine.
Mary watched the young woman watching Michael. Despite the tension she’d noticed between them when they arrived, it wasn’t enough to keep their attention off one another. She smiled when he smiled. Blushed when he laughed with his brother and father. Mary’s keen eyes didn’t miss his stolen glances at her either. Or the way he’d touched her every time she was within his reach.
“Michael said you’re divorced.” Emma’s attention snapped away Michael to his mother.
“Was he unfaithful?” she asked, unashamed of her intrusion.
“Not that I know of.” Emma studied the contents of her cup.
“Abusive? Drugs? Homosexual?”
Emma laughed, but Mary saw the unhealed pain in her eyes. Sharing the details with dear friends was rare. Sharing with this woman was unnaturally natural. She twisted the napkin around her finger as she spoke.
“He bed me. Then wed me. Then ignored me for nearly ten years until he saw the moving van in the front drive. By the time I had found the courage to actually move out…” Emma’s voice faded and she shrugged.
“Your heart wasn’t his any longer.”
“Exactly,” Emma said. Mary squeezed her hand.
Michael watched the exchange. When the pain crossed her face he shot a look to his mother, quickly realizing she was the source of comfort not pain. Something in him warmed with the idea of his mother, mothering Emma.
Later in the kitchen, Mary pulled him aside. “I know you’re a grown man. But be careful luv. ”
He cut her off with a disarming smile and a big kiss on the cheek. “Doona worry Ma. It’s a fling. Emma’s funny, nice to look at and a good shag.” Mary swatted at him with a tea towel. “I’m just having fun.”
Emma fought back the tears as she heard her own words cutting like a knife. She’d paused in the hall not wanting to intrude on the mother-son moment, and to listen to the conversation not intended for her. She spun and rushed out the back door, hoping to get control of herself before anyone saw, accidentally letting the door bang closed as she went. Mary’s ears perked up.
“I wasn’t only talking about your heart. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were having a row.” She looked at him knowingly. “Lovers, even four day ones, don’t pretend not to be watching each other like the other was Christmas dinner.”
Michael found her beside the garden shed, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffled. “I know I said this was just a fling. But…I guess I was pretending it was more. It felt like more.”
He wrapped her in his arms. “It is more Emma. I don’t know what exactly. I don’t want to waste four days trying to figure it out.”
She tiptoed to reach his lips. He dipped to taste her sweet mouth. Their arms tightened around the other. Tongues danced. Bodies molded together. Soft mews and low rumbles revealing the desire flaming between them.
“Mind our own business!” Mary shoved the family away from the back window and into the front sitting room. “Watch your game.”
Michael cupped her cheek, wiping away the last tear with his thumb. “I have a surprise for you tomorrow.”
“It’s a surprise,” he laughed as her face lit up.
“I am not going through the alphabet again.” Emma furrowed her brows.
“Trust me. You’ll love it.” He pulled her tight against him, kissing the top of her head.
She felt him against her stomach. “It’s going to be a long drive home.” She trailed her hands over his chest, wriggling a finger between the buttons to twirl the soft hair.
He smiled down at her. She didn’t catch her slip. “Home” echoed in his ears. “I’ll speed.”
The silent agreement was sealed. Indulge the fantasy. Pretend their days weren’t numbered, ever mindful of each passing hour. The mist in Emma’s eyes as they said good-bye to the family touched him. John told her to be sure and come back when the wind was right for the sails. Duncan assured her his wife would be disappointed she wasn’t able to be there. Mary almost made her sob, hugging her tightly, kissing her cheek, blinking back the damp of her own emerald eyes.
As soon as he had the rover in gear, Michael took her hand. When he did let go, she leaned over to lightly caress his cheek, trace the line of his jaw, his ear and comb her fingers through the sprinkling of salt and pepper at his temples. He couldn’t resist touching her either. Letting his fingers slide through the loose curls, feel the soft skin of her neck, so sensitive to his kiss. She turned her head to kiss his fingers, flicking them with her tongue. He groaned, roughly passing his thumb over her lips.
Taking his eyes from the road, he saw the telltale pebbles beneath her pink cotton blouse. Michael trailed his fingers over her breast, twisting his hand to feel the weight of it, teasing the hard peak. He continued further, kneading her thigh, feeling the heat and damp at the apex of her thighs. Emma’s hips tilted to grind against his hand. Her mouth was dry. Her breath came in shallow pants. Through heavy lids she saw his mouth parted, drawing deep breaths. She raised her left hand to touch the full bow of his mouth.
He left her body, grabbing her wrist, hungrily engulfing two fingers into his mouth, sucking and swirling his tongue over the sensitive tips. From the corner of his eyes he watched her press her knees together, moving them in response to the aching need in her core. He plunged his tongue between her fingers, flicking and nibbling, spreading them wide to accept his attention. Emma shuddered, she felt his tongue against her just as surely as if he’d been kneeling before her.
Reluctantly she pulled her hand away, mentally counting to ten. His breathing was as strained and ragged as hers, and they still had half an hour to go.
“Do you like football?” he asked.
“Huh? Oh!” Emma blew out a breath smiling at his clichéd attempt to discuss something benign and asexual. “I liked it in school. Friday nights are an event.”
“I meant real football,” Michael said with mock exasperation.
Emma laughed and nodded. “Ok, ok. I never played but watched my nephew play a few games. Are there actual rules or does everyone just chase the ball until the timer buzzes?”
Michael clutched his chest in pain. “You wound me!”
Turning to face him with her back against the car door Emma said, “Teach me.”
He took his eyes off the road long enough to give her a sizzling once over, and began with the basic positions and the role of each on offense and defense.
When he slipped the Rover into a parking space across form his flat she looked at her watch. “You weren’t kidding. Impressive time.”
Michael shoved the car into park and reached across the console to pull her to him, crushing his mouth to hers in a searing breath-stealing kiss. “Not fast enough.”
Emma leaned over and nibbled his ear, whispering. “Will you tell me where we are going?”
He laughed. “No. But I will give you a head start up the stairs.”
“I don’t need a head start. I have a decided advantage.” She cupped the swell behind his fly. “I don’t suffer from pent up desires. It isn’t healthy.”
He gripped her by the back of the neck. “I agree. So ye better run fast afore I’m forced to find my relief in the stairwell.”
“Can I watch?” She wiggled her brows, all the while caressing him intimately.
“No lass. This is audience participation.”
She giggled, kissed him quickly and jumped out of the car to make a run for the building. She was winded, waiting and victorious when he reached his door.
“I won. Now will you tell me?”
“No.” He opened the door for her.
Emma pulled her shirt over her head, guy style, not bothering with the buttons, tossing it at him. “I’m getting tired of hearing you say that word.” She backed toward his bedroom, kicking off her shoes.
“Then ask a different question.” He tugged his own shirt over his head, tossing both to the floor following her.
She paused and looked intently at him. “Will you make love to me Michael?”
Later, she agreed to fish and chips from his favorite shop down the street on the condition he bring her a fresh lemon to squeeze over it. He walked in just as she poured a very strong brew of tea into a pitcher of water, following with a generous addition of a simple syrup.
“Sweet tea. My lemons?” She held out her hands for the bag.
“Sweet tea?” He watched her pour the amber liquid over ice. “Earl Grey just rolled over.”
“You say that too?” She sipped loudly. “Or, Earl Grey is gonna jump outta his grave and snatch me bald.” He couldn’t help but laugh. She loved that sound. Picking a chip out of the bag, she popped it in her mouth. “It shouldn’t surprise me that a nation that fries candy bars knows what to do with a potato.”
They took their dinner into the living area. She with her tea, he opted for a beer, flipping channels like a pro.
“Oooh, go back. Go back,” Emma waved a fried potato at the TV.
“Ab Fab? You can’t be serious,” he said, leaving the show on.
“I love Pats and Eddie.” She stuck an extra-long fry between her fingers like a cigarette, curling her lip and imitating Patsy Stone. “Always time for champers and nibblie things.”
“That is very disturbing.” He stood, dropping a kiss on the top of her head before pulling a laptop out of the cabinet below the TV.
“Show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” She set aside her greasy feast, jumping up to retrieve her notebook from the inner pocket of her suitcase. She sat cross-legged facing him. “Wireless?” He nodded. “Password?” She turned her keyboard towards him
“Red? I’m sensing a theme with you.” He reached over tapping out the password for her.
Michael sat nearly folded in half. Knees wide, the broadness of his back blocking her view of his screen. He could only see the metallic red top of hers. She checked her e-mail, laughing hysterically at the inside jokes from her friends she’d missed the last few days. He bit his lip to hide the grin, arranging the surprise he’d promised. Emma typed out a quick message, oblivious to his scheming.
Change of plans.
You won’t believe it.
I can’t make this shit up.
“Are you talking about me?” Michael asked looking over his shoulder.
“I am,” she blushed. “You are one hell of a story.” His printer binged to life. She looked curious as several pages poured out. “Now are you going to tell me?”
“Speak English please.”
“You finished?” His hand was closing her computer.
“Hey! You didn’t let me play with yours. Hands off.”
Michael waved the printed sheets just out of her reach. “If you can stop trying to get me back in bed for one minute, I have your surprise.”
She snapped her laptop closed. He set the papers in front of her. She read quickly, mumbling important words.
“Confirmation……two tickets…….Hermitage Castle.” He watched her face light up. She struggled to get up without dumping her computer on the floor. “Hermitage Castle! Michael, I can’t believe it.” She kept reading. “‘An awesome, eerie ruin, set in a lonely spot, Hermitage Castle has a history filled with intrigue, murders, trysts, torture, and treason.'” She threw her arms around his neck. “I love…this. Thank you. How far is it?” She searched the papers for a map.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” she yanked on his arm. “Listen to this. ‘The castle’s location – in splendid isolation amid Scotland’s wild Border country. The castle’s formidable presence – easily conjuring up in the mind’s eye the bloody struggles for control of the Anglo-Scottish Border that bedeviled the later Middle Ages.’ ”
He carried her forgotten meal to the kitchen. “I know. I read it.” Her excitement filled him with a joy he couldn’t remember feeling before. “It will take us two hours or more to get there.”
She twirled around, finally stopping with her back against his chest. Tilting her head up she asked, “How did you know?”
“You told me about Bothwell remember?” His arms closed around her. “I thought you should see his castle.”
The pages fluttered to the ground as she turned in his arms. So overcome with emotion she couldn’t speak, only hold him tight against her. He gently pulled away.
“What happened to the dancing twirling girl?”
“Michael, no one’s ever done anything like this for me before. Except maybe my parents.” She sank onto the sofa. “I really don’t know what to say.”
He knelt in front of her, holding her hands. “Thank you Michael.”
She held his face in her hands, memorizing every feature, every crinkle in the corner of his eyes, the tiny fleck of brown in the green of one eye, the soft pink of his lips. She brushed her mouth over his. “Thank you Michael.”
Emma had always believed that the very best sleep was found in the two hours after dawn or the alarm which ever came first. This morning was the exception. Michael rumbled when she slipped out of his grasp, but didn’t wake. An hour later he smelled coffee and eggs. He splashed water on his face before going into the kitchen. Drying his face, he looked at the changes to his once masculine and sparse bathroom. Her red dress hung on the door. On the ledge of the sink was a pink toothbrush holder. In the corner, on top of the laundry hamper was a small cosmetic case. A pink razor hung on the shower wall with suction cups. Most of all he noticed the light citrus and spice scent. Nothing overwhelmed or negated his presence. It seemed that there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.
In the kitchen she smiled and kissed him, setting a plate of eggs and toast on the table. “Coffee’s made. You eat while I finish my hair.”
“You aren’t eating?”
Emma jiggled her glass of diet coke, the ice tinkling against the sides. “Breakfast of champions. And you only had two eggs. Hurry they’re getting cold.”
“Wait.” He pulled her on his lap. “We can share.” Offering her the first forkful.
“I get to eat my eggs all the time.” She slipped away. “I’m just gonna fluff an’ twist my hair and get dressed. Then I’ll be ready.”
He poured himself the worst cup of coffee he’d ever tasted and loved it. “These eggs are great.”
Her head popped out of the bathroom. “How’s the coffee?” He mumbled a non-answer, sipping the brew and chasing it immediately with the last bite of eggs, carrying the plate to the sink. “Oh no.” She rushed to the kitchen. “I did it again didn’t I? Too strong? Too watery?”
He hugged her close. “It’s the best I’ve ever had. Trust me.”
“You really like it?”
“I love it. In spite of the taste.” Dodging her halfhearted swing at his arm. “I hope you’re through fluffing and twisting,” he said over his shoulder before closing the bathroom door.
She yanked it open as he dropped his boxers. “I am not through. You’ll just have to shower with an audience.” She fidgeted with her hair clip, watching his body move.
“Caught you looking,” he said with a grin.
“You caught nothing. I was shamelessly ogling,” Emma pointed to the shower. “Hurry I don’t want to be late.”
“It’s a few hundred years old. It’ll wait,” he said over the sound of shower spray.
Characteristic of both of them, the drive to Hermitage Castle wasn’t crowded with conversation. They quickly discovered that music was not a shared interest, which was for the best. Radio reception in the region was sporadic unless you had satellite radio. Remarkably, they never broke contact. In the absence of conversation their fingers entwined. Without a word they took turns caressing each other. When he needed both hands to drive hers moved up his arm. As she dug through her purse for a tin of breath mints, he gently curled the loose tendrils on her neck around his fingers. And every time the car was forced to stop, they would gravitate towards each other for a lover’s kiss.
The ancient gray castle appeared to spring out of the low rolling green hills.
“Michael, it’s beautiful.” Emma walked slowly toward the stone edifice, soaking in as much detail as she could. These were memories she meant to hold forever.
“Do you want to take the tour or explore on our own?” he asked.
“Have you ever been here?”
“No. It’s new to me as well.” She gasped in mock surprise. “Well, then, have you ever been to…” Try as he might, he couldn’t think of an American historic site.
“We aren’t talking about me. That castle was three hundred years old before my country even had a flag.”
“Let’s tour then. If it’s boring, we can go out on our own.” He took her hand and passed the sheet with their confirmation numbers through a small window to a smiling old man who seemed to be original to the castle.
“This is the room where we believe Queen Mary may have nursed James Hepburn back to health.” The tour guide swept past the large room, furnished with a four poster bed.
“Do ye think he kissed her in there?” Michael whispered in Emma’s ear.
She tilted her head to feel his scruff on her neck. “From what I’ve read, he kissed her anywhere he pleased.” Her face offered an open invitation.
With a quick look to see that the guide was moving on, Michael led her into a small alcove as the tour group continued down the cold stone corridor. He pulled the twist from her hair, letting it fall in unruly waves to her shoulders. Lust flashed in his eyes. Her heart pounded in her chest. The kiss began soft and slow. Tongues gliding over one another, savoring the silky warmth. Michael dropped his hand to cup her bottom, pressing her tight against him. She moaned feeling his desire between them. The soft cotton dress she’d worn tempted them both more than either expected. Breaking the kiss, he rested his forehead on hers.
“Would you like to walk by the burn?” She could only nod, afraid she might beg him to make her Queen Mary in Bothwell’s window.
The air outdoors was warm and fresh compared to the musty corridors of Hermitage.
“Is it cold?” Emma asked, leaning on him to slip out of her shoes.
“It’s June in Scotland.” Part of him wanted to give a stronger warning, the other part wanted to see if she would actually go wading into the icy stream.
“That isn’t an answer,” she laughed, hitching up hem of her dress and inching her way down to the water. She bit her lip to quiet the curse as she stepped into the painfully cold water. Too late now, she thought, wading in to her knees.
Michael watched her fight the cold, laughing at her own folly and stubbornness. A smile tugged the corner of his mouth. She often laughed at herself. He lo…no, not that, he reminded himself. He found that part of her wonderful. That was better. He could see the bumps on her skin and the seductive tenting within her bodice.
“Who me?” she smiled up at him. “Nah, we used to spend our summers on a river. The camp had a pool fed by a natural spring. It smelled terrible, the swimming pool was always covered in slime, but I learned how to do a back dive there. ” She cocked her brow to make sure he showed appropriate appreciation. He did. “It was about this cold.”
Michael shoved his hands in his pockets. “I heard you talking to my mother.” She stopped her play, staring down at his reflection rippling in front of her. “How could he ever ignore you?”
“I suppose because I ignored me too.” She kicked at a stone beneath the surface. “It takes two to make it work and two to screw it up. Next time I won’t let my pride keep me quiet.” She held up a hand and he grabbed it helping her out of the water.
“Keep quiet?” He put an arm around her and led her sit beside a tree.
The sun wasn’t hot, but it was bright. She sat next to him and stretched her feet into the light. “I won’t wait until I’m miserable ever again.” She lowered her voice imitating her ex. ” ‘It’s never bothered you before’, won’t be used against me again. I know what I want now.”
He put his arms around her, leaning her back against his chest. “What’s that?” he asked as he pressed his lips to the top of her head.
Emma spoke without thinking – the desires of her heart so fixed she didn’t need to ponder the question of what she wanted. “Kiss me. Always. And I’ll never be too busy to kiss back. Ask me to dance at parties. Hold my hand in church. And while I value the unspoken thought as much as anyone, silence should never be a punishment. Things like that.” She shrugged her shoulders, trying to lessen the weight of the memory. “What about you? Anything you’d do different?”
His first thought was, pick a different woman. His second, this was not something he wanted to discuss. Instead, he laced his fingers with Emma’s. “I haven’t given it a great deal of thought.” She kissed his fingers, encouraging him. “My ex wanted things I didn’t think were important. But they were important to her so they should have been worth something to me. Instead I said nothing, did my own thing and left her to do hers, which ultimately included another man.”
She wondered how anyone could want more than Michael, but fully understood the devastation being left to “do your own thing” could do to a marriage. You’ve only known him two days. It feels like more – so much more, she thought as she turned her face towards his. Without hesitation, he leaned over and kissed her. Long, deep passionate kisses until he heard the soft sighs of her building passion.
“Have ye ever made love out of doors?” he asked. She was flushed. Her lips swollen from his kisses. His body cried out for her warmth.
“No. Have you?”
“Aye.” His hand slipped beneath the stream-dampened hem of her dress. “Now’s the best time of day. Before the midges come out of hiding.” He slipped his fingers beneath the cotton and silk barrier of her panties. She arched and moaned, her sensitive flesh already throbbing with want. He crushed his mouth to hers, his fingers working her into a frenzy. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! You are the softest woman.”
Her voice was barely a whisper, pleading with him. “Michael…”
Her hands snaked under his shirt, wanting nothing more than to feel his skin against hers. Within moments, he held himself poised over her, their clothes discarded beneath the tree. His body reached out for her. Her knees caressed his hips, gently drawing him closer. A grin spread over his handsome face as his body became one with hers.
“Watch out for the midges, lass.”
Emma looked down at the tiny red welts freckling her breasts, itching her backside, arms and thighs. “Midges huh? It could be worse, could be chiggers.”
”What’s that?” Michael scratched at his own spots as he drove.
“Nasty wee buggers,” she said, badly imitating his accent. “They like to bury themselves under the skin. You have to put nail polish over the wound. I prefer to use blue, but clear works.”
Michael scrunched his nose in disgust at the thought.
They stopped at the market for steaks, potatoes, pecan pie “fixins’” and calamine lotion. His eyes narrowed and she felt the temperature drop inside the rover as they pulled into a parking space. Emma wondered as she watched him stalk up the stairs ahead of her, looking around wondering what had caused this instant change in him. The muscle in his jaw flexed when he found his door unlocked.
“Michael, I’m looking for my aunt’s silver serving… Oh, you have a guest.”
A tall raven-haired beauty looked Emma over, obviously unimpressed with the disheveled midge bite covered American. Her pale blue eyes striking against her dark hair and lashes. Her mock surprise didn’t fool either of them since Emma’s belongings were in plain sight throughout the apartment.
“I’m Michael’s wife.”