Author’s Note: I’ve not only added a new chapter, but I’ve updated and increased the length of Chapter 16, so feel free to check that out!
I whipped my head to him with my mouth agape. “We were invited to a wedding?”
Fin’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “Didn’t I tell you?”
“My Laird!” The shout came from a short, husky man in a trim vest and pants. He had a long gray beard that stretched down to the middle of his broad chest, which was almost as broad as his smile. “What a pleasure to see you!”
Fin smiled as they shook hands. “The pleasure is all ours, Mr. Craig. I wished to see the beautiful bride.”
Craig puffed out his chest and grinned, but there was a hint of sadness in his eyes. “And you won’t be disappointed, My Laird. My little Fiona has blossomed into a most beautiful girl, and I’ll sorely miss her company.”
“What about me, Da?” a man, younger than Craig but with his husky figure, spoke up as he joined us.
“I’ll just have to make do with you, Tate, but you’re not the man your sister is,” Craig teased before he returned his attention to Fin. “My Laird, do you know my son, Tate?”
“We’ve met before, some five years ago,” Fin acknowledged as he heartily shook hands with the lad. “It was at the beach and he was showing off his swimming.”
Tate laughed. “You have a good memory, My Laird, but you’re too kind. You’ve left out the part where a wave nearly swallowed me, and I swallowed half the sea in it.”
“Your coming out resembling a drowned rat certainly caught the attention of all,” Fin teased.
“But where are my manners?” Craig spoke up as his eyes fell on me. “Who is your lovely lady friend, My Laird? She’s a beauty to behold.”
“Gordon Craig, this is Miss Elizabeth Conroy,” Fin introduced me.
Craig took my hand and pressed a fuzzy kiss on the back. “A pleasure, my lady! Quite a pleasure!”
“Da!” another young man shouted from the long lines of table loaded heavy with food. “We can’t find the ladle to the punch, and we can’t have a wedding without punch!”
“Look under the blasted table!” Craig shouted, eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd that kept streaming in to the backyard.
“Da!” The call came from a third young man who stood beside the arch under which the bride would be married. “There’s a break in the arch!”
“I’ll get that,” Tate offered as he bowed his head to us. “If you’ll excuse me,” and he left to join his brother.
Craig slid a hand through his graying hair and shook his head. “I’ll be missing Fiona greatly.” He shook himself of his melancholy and stood straight. “But if you’ll be excusing me, My Laird, there’s matters I must be attending to.”
“Don’t let us keep you,” Fin replied, and with a bow of his head Craig scurried off.
“How many sons does he have?” I wondered as I looked around at all the wagging beards and finely dressed women.
“Five, and a single daughter,” Fin told me as he looped his arm around my waist.
I whipped my head up and my cheeks turned a cherry-red color. “What are you-”
“We’re in the way,” Fin explained as he moved us to the side. A flock of people walked past us and joined the burgeoning crowd. “We should find a seat.”
“If there are enough seats,” I mused as I compared the crowd to the chairs.
Fin’s mischievous smile reappeared. “You could always sit on my lap.”
“I’ll risk standing,” I retorted.
“Not a bad idea,” he returned as he guided me over to the far side of one column of chairs.
From our vantage point we watched the seats filled, mostly by large flocks of people who packed into the backyard by the dozens. As the church bells struck the noon hour all the chairs were filled and many more like us had taken positions around the edges. Music began, and the myriad of voices faded away as everyone turned to look up the aisle, including the handsome man under the arch with the good father.
The back door to the house opened and a beautiful young woman with long tresses stepped out. She carried the bouquet of heather that I had seen Father MacTaggarts holding earlier. Her long train was held up by two young girls, and two flower girls led her down the aisle to her starry-eyed husband-to-be.
“She’s beautiful,” I breathed.
Fin leaned down and his whispered words brushed over my ear. “Not as beautiful as you.” I turned my face away from him to hide the blush on my cheeks.
The ceremony was beautiful, and loud honking noises came from the father who sat at the front with the many brothers. As the couple kissed such a whoop and holler arose from the large crowd that the plates on the tables rattled.
Craig stood up and raised his hands. The crowd silenced. “I’m very glad to be welcoming you all to my dearest Fiona’s wedding. There’s food to be had, the like of which you won’t find anywhere else, and if you’d all lend a hand to move these chairs we’ll be having dancing soon.”
The seated leapt to their feet and soon the chairs were moved. The grassy ground was level, helped by the trampling of so many shoes. Three bagpipes were produced from out of thin air and the pipers started out with a quick, lively tune. Those of a different mind crowded about the tables and were served by a dozen of the womenfolk.
Fin stepped in front of me and offered me his hand. “May I ask for this dance?”
“Only if you don’t want to be able to count to ten with your toes,” I warned him.
He smiled. “I’ll take the risk.”
I watched a dozen couples dance expertly along with the tune and winced. “I-I really don’t know how to dance-”
“Then I’ll teach you,” Fin offered as he took my hand and drew me onto the ‘dance floor.’
We faced off with each other and lined ourselves up with the other dancers. The music quickened and Fin did a quick skip over to me where we locked bent arms and he turned me in a circle. The other dancers mimicked our play and I couldn’t help but smile at their gaiety. Then Fin spun me toward one of the other male dancers who took me in arm. I nearly crashed into another guest, but the man knew what he was doing and spun me back to my grinning Fin.
“Excellent!” he complimented me.
I didn’t have time to yell at him before I was sent on my way to another dancer. On my return to Fin he grasped my hand and that of another guest, and with four of us in a line we skipped through another group of people. We joined hands in a circle with another four and spun around, breaking apart after a short while and returning to the single-partner spin.
By the time the dance was over I was busy, but my heart fluttered at the wonderful music and the wild laughter of these friendly folk. I plopped down in my seat all smiles and Fin joined me.
“What do you think of the ceilidh?” he asked me.
“Kay-lee?” I repeated.
“The traditional Scottish dance,” he explained.
I watched a new group perform and had to resist the temptation to clap to the beat as others were doing. “It’s nice.”
Fin leapt to his feet and took my hands in his. He pulled me up and grinned. “Enough to do it again?”
I laughed. “Enough to do it again.”
It was a whirlwind of roaring laughter, fast dancing, and calls for more food. Amid such frolicking the day was well-spent, and when the sun set behind the hills lamps were lit to keep the party going. At some point the bride and groom slipped away, but their disappearance didn’t stop the revelry.
By the time I staggered into an empty seat the hour was well into the night and my tender feet were sore. I removed one shoe and rubbed the sole of my foot.
The proud father plopped himself in the chair beside me and sighed. “A mighty fine night, is it not?”
I looked up at the twinkling stars and couldn’t help but feel a bit of contentment. “It is, and your daughter was so very lovely.”
Craig puffed out his chest. “She was, wasn’t she? But might I say that My Laird and my lady make a mighty fine pair of dancers. I would wager there is hardly anyone here to compare.”
I laughed. “It isn’t because of me. Fin deserves all the credit.”
Craig leaned close to me and tapped the side of his nose. “It takes two to make a perfect dance, my lady. A bird does not sing so sweetly if his mate is not around.” There went my cheeks again, resembling the color of poinsettias in full bloom.
I jumped when a voice spoke up close behind us. “There you are,” Fin mused as he joined us around the front. “I thought the night had taken you away with it.”
I rubbed my sore foot and winced as a muscle twanged. “It will have to carry me all the way back to dreamland.”
Craig slapped his knee and let loose a guffaw. “By god, but you two make a wonderful couple!”
I shook my head. “W-we’re not really a couple. I mean, we’re not going steady or anything like that.”
“More’s the pity,” Craig scolded me as he stood. “But if you’ll be excusing me, I have some food to help clean up.” He waddled off to the remains that lay on the tables.
Fin took the now vacated seat and looked me over. “You okay?”
“Just a little stiff,” I told him as I slipped my shoe back on. “But I’ll be glad to collapse into my bed.”
“We can’t do that.”
I blinked at him. “Do what?”
“Go back to the island.”