The next day I awoke with a hangover to end all hangovers. I groaned and rolled over in bed. “What hit me?” I muttered.
“That would be the final glass of Mr. Ferguson’s Irish whiskey,” Fin’s voice called up from the ground floor.
I groaned and flung the sheets over my head. “Remind me never to do that again.”
“Would you care for a pick-me-up or something else?” he asked me.
“What’s a pick-me-up?” I asked him.
“Another glass of the whiskey to make you forget your hangover,” he explained.
I shuddered. “No. What else you got?”
“My mother’s old recipe of rose tea with ginger,” he replied.
I cringed. “I don’t like tea that much.”
“Which do you prefer? The tea or the hangover?” he countered.
“What about suicide?” I returned.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he teased as I heard him rummage around in the kitchen. “Funeral experiences are rather high on the islands.”
“A lack of space.”
I sighed and flung aside the bed covers. “All right. For the sake of that six-by-two plot of dirt I’ll take the tea.”
I slunk down off my perch and shuffled to the couch where the cushions welcomed my butt with a soft bounce. Fin soon arrived with a steaming cup of tea. I took the drink and inhaled. The smell was sweet, and a quick sip confirmed it.
I licked my lips and my eyes widened. “This is pretty good,” I complimented between sips.
“I’m glad you like it,” Fin replied as he took a seat beside me.
I took another drink and looked around. “How did I even get back last night? I don’t remember walking.”
“I carried you,” Fin told me.
I blinked at him. “All the way back?”
He nodded. “All the way back.”
I winced. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to make such a fool of myself, and especially in front of your friends.”
Fin’s eyes twinkled with mischief as he smiled at me. “I rather enjoyed it, though I regret to inform you that Miss Ferguson isn’t too fond of your company.”
I snorted and sprayed tea into my face. Fin dug into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief which he handed to me. I wiped the dribble from my nose and chin. “Thanks. I think that’s the understatement of the year.”
“Perhaps I might invite her to another picnic so you two might get to know each other better?” he suggested.
I shuddered and put the tea cup on the coffee table. “I think I’d rather learn to swim.”
“I might teach you,” he offered.
I shook my head. “I’m afraid it’s quite useless. Water and I are destined to be adversaries, and any attempt at changing the status quo will only end up with me counting the seashells at the bottom of the ocean, and I can’t hold my breath for that long.”
“Perhaps if I helped you count them?” he teased.
I smiled. “I’m sure you float like a cork in the water.”
“Near enough,” Fin admitted as he leaned back against the couch.
“I bet you learned before you could walk,” I teased as I fell back with him.
He laughed. “My father would be glad to hear that from you. He taught me when I was three.” His smile faltered as he swept his eyes over the quaint house. “He loved this place very much.”
“Is he. . .gone?” I guessed, not able to say the dreaded ‘d’ word.
Fin nodded. “Aye, three summers ago. That’s when I inherited the island, as my father and his father and his father before him.”
A twinkle slipped into my eyes. “And his father was one of those notorious viking lords who pillaged and raped and burned?”
Fin grinned. “Not in that order, but from the stories I heard he was quite the wild one. Apparently he won the island in a bet that involved the day’s catch.”
“What would have happened if your ancestor had lost?” I wondered.
“He would have lost his boat and probably his life when he came home to tell my grandmother about the wager,” Fin answered.
I winced. “Maybe the viking side of your family isn’t on the paternal.”
He laughed, a great noise that rang up to the rafters and came back to us like a falling star. “I wouldn’t doubt the like. She was formidable.”
I leaned back and eyed him with careful scrutiny. “I can see the resemblance.”
A sly smile slipped onto his lips. “I hope not so much that I don’t have my looks about me.”
I rubbed my chin and narrowed my eyes. “I don’t know. . .turn your head to one side.” He did as I asked. I climbed onto my knees and studied every wonderful crevice and smooth inch. “Now the other.” Fin again turned.
“Like what you see?” he teased.
“It’s passable,” I quipped as I dropped back into my seat.
My hand slipped a little on the cushion and bumped into his. Fin grasped my fingers before I could move and a pleasant warmth shot through me, and it wasn’t from last night’s moonlighting as a professional drinker. I couldn’t stop the blush that traitorously accented my cheeks, and I found I couldn’t look away from his beautiful eyes as he stared into mine.
“Beth, I. . .I have something I want to tell you,” he revealed.
I found I was holding my breath, waiting in anticipation for him to reveal the secret desire in his mind. However, a knock on the door roused us. I jerked my hand out of his and turned away, but not before I saw a look of disappointment in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered as he dropped his hand into his lap. “I didn’t mean to-” A persistent knock interrupted his apology. He sighed and walked over to the door.
Captain McAllister was our caller, and he held an envelope in one grizzled hand. He tipped his hat at Fin. “Some mail for you, laird,” he announced.
“Thank you, Captain,” Fin replied as he took the mail.
“Will there be being a reply?” the captain wondered.
Fin smiled as he opened the envelope. “Just as soon as I find out what the news is about.” He pulled out a letter and read the contents. A smile brightened his face. “There’s a reply. Let me write it down.”
“I’ll be coming back this away in a few minutes. The Breathnachs also have a letter,” the captain commented.
“Very well. I’ll be ready,” Fin promised.
The captain tipped his hat and walked away. Fin shut the door and turned to me. “How well do you dance?” he asked me.
“As well as the next three-legged dog,” I commented.
Fin chuckled and strode over to the fireplace. He pocketed the letter and lit his pipe. “There’s a chance to practice this evening, if you’re a mind to.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Practice how?”
“I’ve been invited to a shindig on the mainland. It’s from an old family friend, and I don’t dare refuse the invitation,” he explained. He tossed the match into the fire and took a couple of puffs before his eyes fell on me. “What do you say?”
My head pulsed. I clutched my temple and slid down the couch until my chin lay on the top of the table. “Just as long as I don’t have to drink anything but water.”
“That I promise you,” he swore.
“And don’t expect too much. This old three-legged dog isn’t good at learning new tricks,” I warned him.
He chuckled. “I won’t expect too much.”
I wiped away some of the tea that had dribbled down onto my lap and a sudden thought made me sigh. “I can’t go.”
He frowned. “Why not? Surely it’s not because you’ve grown a leg.”
I shook my head. “It’s not that. It’s just, well, I don’t really have anything to wear.”
Fin grinned that grin that warned me of some coming mischief, and probably at my expense. “Then we will just have to have a June day of it.”
I blinked at him and looked around for a calendar, sure that the mentioned month was past. “A June day?”
“I’ll explain on the boat,” he promised as he took my hand and pulled me to my feet.
The sudden altitude made me sway and he caught me in his warm, strong arms. I looked up and found that his eyes sparkled with mirth and warmth, enough to make me have some mischievous thoughts of my own.
“Or we could stay here,” he suggested with that sly smile of his.
I felt like the chicken trapped between the fox and the wall of the hen house, but the hangover brought me back to reality with a sharp rap. I winced and clutched my head. “Whatever we do, please tell me that the hair-of-the-dog technique isn’t involved.”
He laughed and looped his arm through mine to guide me toward the door. “We’ll just have to see what remedies the captain has on board.”