We reached the edge of the light created by the torches and the doors flew open. Out came the parents and in front of them rushed Ophelia. She flew down the gravel towards us with arms stretched wide open.
“Fin!” she cried out. She embraced him in a tight hug he was unable to return because his arms were pinned to his sides.
“Good evening to you, too, Miss Ophelia,” he returned.
She separated them and wrinkled her nose. “Not that tonight, Fin. Please call me Ophelia.”
“MacLennan, it’s always a pleasure to see you,” Mr. Ferguson greeted him.
Fin smiled and bowed his head. “Tonight the pleasure is all ours. I look forward to your variety of beers.”
Ferguson laughed. “As do I. I’ve been saving a half dozen unopened bottles just for such an occasion.”
Mrs. Ferguson sidled up beside me and looked me over. “How are your injuries, my dear?”
“Quite well, thank you,” I replied.
Ophelia grasped Fin’s hand and dragged him away from her father and towards the house. “Come, Fin. Supper’s ready.”
Ophelia led our little group into the house. The dining hall was long and majestic, with a tasteful touch of tapestries on the aged walls and a thick wooden table on which to dine. There was room to seat twenty people but only five places were set.
“You must excuse Joshua. He’s a little upset over the shooting earlier today and won’t be coming down for dinner,” Mrs. Ferguson explained.
Mr. Ferguson frowned. “The boy has no gumption. He should come down to dinner or starve.”
His wife gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. “My dear! Remember we have guests!”
“I remember them as well as you, but I won’t take this sulking,” he insisted. “Fetch the boy or he starves.”
Mrs. Ferguson frowned, but whisked herself from the room.
Her husband sullenly turned away from where she exited the room and smiled at Fin. “You might be a finer teacher for our son, MacLennan. I think the old general doesn’t have much patience for a boy’s foolish whims.”
Fin smiled and shook his head. “I haven’t as much experience as the general.”
“You’re not about to tell me you, the champion of the Shooting Club of the Isles, hasn’t enough experience for my son?” Ferguson countered.
“I remember your last shooting contest very well,” Ophelia cooed as she led him to the chair beside herself. “You were perfectly marvelous, and how dashing you looked in your shooting outfit!”
“And you didn’t miss a shot!” Ferguson added as he took the chair at the head of the table.
I held back, unsure whether to wait for the young Ferguson and mother or to take a seat. Fin drew out the chair on his left and smiled at me. “This will do until a plate is brought.”
Ophelia didn’t look the least bit pleased, and that pleased me just fine as I took a seat beside Fin. She swooshed into her chair with the daintiness of a delicate flower and raised her chin ever so slightly as her haughty eyes glanced across Fin and at me. “I hope the silverware won’t confuse you,” she commented.
I looked down at the wide assortment of spoons, forks, and knives. “What are we having?” I wondered.
She shrugged. “Oh, just the usual fair. Roast duck and trout with some salads and a dessert.”
“And the antipasta and pasta,” Ferguson reminded her as he patted his ample stomach. “Just the thing for an empty stomach.”
“Here we are!” Mrs. Ferguson called out as she and a sullen young man entered the room. Her son was even more portly than his father and his dark, beady eyes stared at all of us with a mix of disdain and boredom. “Isn’t he the handsomest young man you ever saw? Begging your pardon, Lord MacLennan.”
“I am getting out of the ‘young man’ years,” Fin pointed out.
“Shouldn’t you be thinking of taking a wife soon, MacLennan?” Fergsuon wondered.
“If the right one comes along,” Fin returned.
Ophelia battered her eyes at him. “What a lucky woman she would be! Lady MacLennan! What a sweet sound!”
Ferguson leaned back and stroked his chin. “You must earn quite a bit, being a laird of this house. I know how much you take in from us, and I must say this place costs a sight.”
“But it is a wonderful place,” Mrs. Ferguson spoke up as she brushed back some of Joshua’s ragged blond hair. “Joshua loves it so.”
Joshua waved his mother’s hand away and glared at her. “I like London better. We should have taken a flat this year. My friends all did.”
Ferguson frowned. “A flat in London! I could buy a small island for the price of renting one of those!”
Fin chuckled. “I am afraid you’d find them a sight costlier than the flat, Mr. Ferguson.”
Ferguson arched his eyebrows and leaned forward to examine Fin. “You wouldn’t think about selling Eilean Dubhan, would you, MacLennan?”
“The thought has crossed my mind,” he admitted.
The word just blurted out of my mouth. I clapped my hand over my mouth, but the damage was done. Fin turned to me with a smile. “You think I shouldn’t sell?”
I dropped my hands and sheepishly shrugged my shoulders. “It’s a very nice island.”
His eyes twinkled as he studied me. “I’m glad you think so.”
I couldn’t help but notice the dark look from Ophelia before she turned to her father. “Father, the food is ready to be served.”
Mr. Ferguson straightened and coughed. “Ah, yes, of course. Let the feast begin!”
He clapped his hands and a parade of servants came out of the kitchen. They bore platters and plates of delicious food which was set before us with all the grandeur of a meal fit for a king. Joshua dug into the duck and puddings while his mother tried to coax him to eat some of the vegetables. Ferguson could barely contain himself as a platter of beers was set beside him.
Ophelia was all smiles as she scooted her chair closer to Fin and leaned against his arm. I couldn’t tamp down the touch of envy that arose inside me. My only consolation was that Fin eased himself away from her, albeit with a friendly smile.
Fin glanced at our host. “How are you liking this year’s stay?”
Ferguson popped open a bottle and poured the contents into a tall glass. “It’s capital, but a tad dull. All the interesting people appear to have booked their vacations in other parts of Scotland.”
“I must agree,” Mrs. Ferguson spoke up as a few servants entered with more trays in their hands. She picked up her napkin and set it in her lap. “It has been frightfully dull. No dinner parties or balls to speak of.”
“Perhaps something will come up, but what of the island itself?” Fin asked him.
“The only complaint I have is the fishing,” Mr. Ferguson spoke up. “It’s terrible around here. The fish either won’t bite, or they bite and run off with my bait.”
“You’ll have better luck tomorrow,” Fin encouraged him.
“Perhaps, but I doubt it,” Mr. Ferguson replied.
“Maybe Joshua would like to go with you tomorrow. He may bring you luck,” Mrs. Ferguson spoke up, partially addressing her son.
The sullen boy glanced up from his plate and frowned. “I don’t like fish,” he argued.
His father returned his ugly look with one of his own so they showed the resemblance to all of us around the table. “Your mother was just making a suggestion. You pout around here all day doing nothing and you’re as pale as a ghost.”
“Maybe if we weren’t here. . .” he grumbled.
“I for one am glad we’re here for one more family gathering,” Ophelia put in. She smiled and leaned against Fin’s arm. “And you’re timing is perfect, Fin! It’s almost as if it was meant to happen.”
“Yes, well, fate is a funny thing,” he admitted. His eyes flickered over to me and caught my in his impassioned gaze. “It brings together people in the most unlikely of circumstances and they find that they don’t want to a part of the mess.” My cheeks blushed and I glanced down with a sudden interest at my plate of food.
“Exactly! Just exactly that!” Ophelia squealed. She paused and glanced between us. I could feel her eyes bore into me, and I realized then that she would never invite me to any of her birthday parties.
Not unless the cake was spiked with arsenic.
“MacLennan, here we are jabbering when we haven’t even tried a sip of these beers!” Ferguson exclaimed as he looked over his shoulder at the kitchen. “Another platter of beers!” One of the servants bowed their head and scurried off to obey.
Ophelia wrinkled her nose. “I don’t see how you can drink that nasty stuff, Father.”
“One sip at a time, my darling dove,” Ferguson replied as another platter was brought in.
Fin cleared a spot between him and me. “What a pity, Ophelia. I had a mind to invite you to partake of some of my drink,” he mused as he turned to me. “You’ll have a pint with me, won’t you, Miss Conroy?”
I could see the look of fury in Ophelia’s eyes, so I smiled sweetly at him and pushed my glass toward him. “I’d be delighted, Laird MacLennan.”
I wasn’t delighted the next morning.