My jaw hit the trampled grass. “Why not?”
“Because the captain doesn’t sail this late and there’s no one else willing to take us over, either,” Finn told me.
“So we’re stuck here with no extra clothes and no where to sleep?” I asked him.
“Of course you’ve a place to sleep!” Craig shouted as he clapped his hands on one of our shoulders. My muscles twanged under his strength. “I wouldn’t think of letting such honored guests be left out in the cold, especially as there’s a storm a-brewing come tomorrow.”
Finn grinned. “Then do you have a few rooms for us, good sir?”
“Well, I don’t know about rooms, but I do have a spare up at the top of the house, if you two don’t mind sharing,” Craig informed us.
Finn turned to me and his eyebrows shot up. “What do you say to that, Miss Conroy?”
My face drooped. “I say I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“We’ll be glad of the room,” Finn assured him as he looked me over. “But first we’ll be getting a few things from my nan.”
Craig nodded. “Say hello to that proud woman, and tell her from me that we missed her sweet singing voice.”
“Singing!” someone shouted.
“We’re to have singing!” another joined in.
Craig furrowed his brow and turned to his rowdy guests. “What’s the matter with you all? We’ve had singing all day.”
There arose between the silence of reply and answer a sweet, melodic female voice. I didn’t understand the Gaelic words, but the woman sang with such a caressing voice that visions of church choirs and lonely islands passed through my mind.
I noticed something else pass through Finn’s expression and he pushed through the crowd in the direction of the voice. I followed and the way opened to reveal the singer seated close beside the band. It was Nana with Mary standing at her side. The old woman’s voice trembled with emotion as the sweet words drifted over the silent crowd. At the close of her song she bowed her head and such a roar erupted from the crowd that I had to put my hands over my ears to stifle the vibrations.
“Bravo!” Craig himself cheered as he stepped forth from the crowd clapping his hands above his head. “Bravo!”
Nana tried to keep her lips firmly pressed together, but a proud smile managed to filter through. “I couldn’t hear the cheering from my house and thought someone had died, so I came to see who it was.”
Craig laughed and clapped his hand on the back of her chair. “And glad we are to be seeing you, Miss Ella. We must thank your grandson for getting you out here, eh?”
She poked him in the gut with a pointy finger. “You did invite me.”
“And I’ll invite you again for anything, but only if you give us another song,” he teased as he swept his arm over the crowd. “What say you to that, fine folk?” A cheer rose up that nearly shattered my ear drums.
Nana inclined her head and slipped into another sweet melody. The words were still a mystery to me, but their meaning was not. It was a love song, and my heart swelled with the rise of her voice.
I jumped when Fin wrapped an arm around my waist and drew me against his side. His grandmother’s melodic voice played as background music as I looked from his hand up to his face. His twinkling eyes stared back at me with mischief, and maybe something more.
“Comfortable?” he teased.
I couldn’t help but blush under his intense gaze and I turned my attention to the far more interesting ground. “I-it’s nice.”
He chuckled and I could feel the vibration run from his body into mine. “I’m glad to hear it.”
We stood like that for the rest of Nana’s sweet song, and when she finished another roar of applause greeted her. She graced them with a smile, but wagged her finger at them. “Now you all get dancing and I don’t want to see those feet stop until the sun comes up!”
“Three cheers for that!” someone shouted from the crowd.
The dancing resumed, but without my sore feet to participate. Even that little bit of standing made them ache so much that I considered amputation.
Fin leaned down and whispered into my ear. “Ready for some rest?”
I lifted a leg and rubbed the bottom of my foot. “Am I ever.”
“My Laird, Miss Conroy,” a voice spoke up, and we found Mary standing behind us. She held up a large plastic bag. “Miss Ella thought you might be needed your clothes.”
Fin took the bag and bowed his head. “Give her our thanks, Mary, and a goodnight to you both.”
He took my hand and led me toward the large house. The party extended into the kitchen where the womenfolk turned out loads of drink and food for the revelers. We entered the front hall and it was like walking into another world, one without tons of people and only the muffled noises of their voices.
Fin looked up at the stairs to our right before he turned to me. “I’m sure we can help ourselves to any room and the others will get their own.”
“First come, first serve?” I guessed.
He grinned and gestured to the stairs. “Exactly. Shall we?”
I looked at the stairs and sighed. “One last hike before the collapse.”
“I could carry you,” he offered.
I snorted and grasped the railing. “I think I’ll make it-” My foot tripped over the first step and I nearly fell face-first onto the stairs. I didn’t even need to lift my head to see Fin’s expression. His smugness radiated off him. “I can still make it.”
“I’ll wait at the bottom for you to come down,” he teased.
I frowned at him and eased my way up the stairs. Success was mine and I turned to see him still standing at the bottom with a somewhat disappointed look on his face. I stuck my tongue out at him and lifted my chin before I waltzed down the upstairs hall. Unfortunately, a half dozen doors lined the passage and none of them screamed ‘guest room, please come in.’
“Need some help?” Fin quipped as he came up behind me.
“I won’t, but only after you tell me which one is mine,” I returned.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
A scuffle of feet came from the first door. A sly smile slipped onto my lips as I cast a side-glance at my companion. “Are you a betting man, Laird of Eilean Dubhan?”
He arched an eyebrow but graced me with his own wicked smile. “I have been known on occasion to satisfy that sin.”
I gestured down the hall at the doors. “Care to pick a door? Any door?”
“Ah, but what are we wagering?” he wondered.
I shrugged. “A buck?”
I wasn’t so thrilled with the twinkle in those eyes as he leaned closer to me and lowered his voice. “What about something more. . .personal?”
I blushed and leaned away from him. “L-like what?” Curse those dazzling eyes.
He leaned closer and I was forced to step backward. My back hit the wall and he set his arms on either side of my head, blocking any hope of escape. “What about. . .” he breathed as his lips brushed against mine. “-a pound?”
My face drooped and I glared at him. “Seriously?”
He drew away from me and shrugged. “It is worth more than a dollar.”
I rolled my eyes and returned my attention to the doors. “Just pick a door and we’ll see who wins. Then the winner can decide what they want.” I caught a flash of something in his eyes. “Within reason.”
“Very well,” he agreed as he stalked down the hall.
I followed, and together we listened for any more tell-tale signs of life from behind the closed doors. It wasn’t easy. The hour was getting late and anyone who had partied harder than us would be dead to the world, too tired even to snore. I leaned my ear against the nearest entrance and listened for any tell-tale snorts and grunts. Nothing.
A sudden sensation of being watched made me look down the hall. Fin knelt beside another door with his hand pressed against the floor. He looked up at me and grinned. I stuck my tongue out and moved down the row of doors until I found one that was as still as the grave.
Fin stood at his original door. “Ready?” he asked me.
I nodded. “Ready.”
He gestured to my chosen entrance. “Ladies first.”
Without turning away from him, I grasped the knob and pushed the door inward. A terrified scream came from the interior. I whipped my head toward the door and saw a half-dressed woman standing in the middle of the room with her nightgown covering her large form.
I leaned in and grasped the knob before I sheepishly smiled at her. “Sorry. Thought it was empty.”
“It most certainly is not, now shut that door!” the woman demanded.
I slammed the door shut and fell back against the nearby wall. My face felt like I’d set it next to an open flame. A soft chuckle forced my attention to Fin. He stood beside his door with that insufferable smile on his lips.
I glared at him. “Don’t say a word.”
He mimicked the act of zipping his mouth shut. “Not a word to another soul. Now if I might try my hand.”
Fin turned the knob of his own door and swung the entrance open. I walked over to him and leaned to one side to look into the room. It was empty but for a simple queen-sized bed, dresser, and nightstand.
He swept his arm into the space. “Ladies first.”
I tilted my head up and narrowed my eyes at him. “You knew which room was ours all along, didn’t you?”
His eyes twinkled with glee. “A bet is a bet.”
He leaned down and pressed our lips together in a soft but passionate kiss. The world and my surprise faded into oblivion as my body ignited with heat. I couldn’t help but groan, and his arms wrapped around me to deepen the caress.
A slight cough started us apart and I spun around to find another of the less inebriated guests standing at the landing. “Pardon me,” the grinning man apologized before he tiptoed up to one of the other doors and slipped inside.
I couldn’t look at Fin as I stepped inside our room. He followed, and a tension rose between us, especially after he closed the door behind us.
His soft voice drifted over to me. “Was I too forward?”
I covered my blushing cheeks with my hands and cleared my throat. “N-no, it’s just-well, you just surprised me.”
I could feel him step up behind me. “I’m sorry.”
I dropped my hands and straightened before I turned to him with a smile. “So, who gets the floor?”