It wasn’t every day you watched a World War Two Soviet fighter plane make its way up the main street of a small highland town. To be fair, it was wingless and secured to a flatbed lorry at the time and not flying over the cobblestone road. Still, the sight was definitely out of place in among the crooked old white houses that made up the high street. Nor did it blend in with the green hills and blue loch that gave the town of Invertary its picturesque setting. In fact, the aircraft was such an oddity, in a town where oddities were commonplace, that it’d brought everyone out to watch the spectacle.
“So, she’s really come home then?”
At his younger brother Darach’s words, Brodie MacGregor grimaced. “It would appear so.”
“And she has the plane she went off to find.”
“Aye.” The self-same plane that was responsible for ending his marriage.
“I hear tell she’s a rocket in the sky. Can fly pretty much anything you put in front of her.”
Brodie cocked an eyebrow at his brother. “Where exactly did you hear that?”
“A wee bird told me.” The dickhead grinned. “Must make you feel like a complete arse, seeing as you told her she’d never make it as a pilot or find one of the planes her granny used to fly. In fact, some might say you had egg on your face from being so bloody arrogant in the first place.”
“If some were to say that within my hearing, it would be the last words they uttered.”
From the mocking smile on Darach’s face, it was clear he wasn’t intimidated by his brother’s threat. Idiot. Even though Darach had a couple of inches on Brodie, and some army training under his belt, the numpty still thought he could take him in a fight. Brodie knew better. Unlike Darach, he never pulled his punches with his brothers. It was the only way he’d managed to survive growing up as the middle child of seven boys.
“Did she give you a heads-up she was coming back?” Darach asked, lifting his chin toward the cab of the truck, where Brodie’s ex-wife sat behind the wheel.
“A letter from her lawyer.”
“So, she’s still pissed at you, then.”
“You could say that. I was charged for the postage.”
Darach burst out laughing. “I always liked that girl.”
Aye, and so had Brodie. Liking Katya was never the problem—living with her was.
As the truck sped past, he caught sight of Katya’s face as she stared straight ahead. And just like that, his jeans became uncomfortably tight while his stomach did a backward somersault. Almost ten years since they’d parted ways, and all it took was one glimpse to make him want to bed her. It came as a brutal blow to his ego to discover his Katya addiction hadn’t waned. And he’d just bet she would laugh her head off if she ever found out.
Darach elbowed Brodie to get his attention. “Does it bother you that she’s still calling herself MacGregor?”
Sure, it’d been a slap in the face when she’d kept the name and dumped the man, but he could hardly blame her. MacGregor was preferable to Savage any day of the week. In fact, he’d often wondered if one of the reasons she’d been so eager to marry, despite them both being barely legal, was just to get rid of her family name.
But then, there were easier ways to achieve that than taking on a MacGregor.
“Do you think she heard about your plans?” Darach mused as they watched the plane disappear over the crest of the hill at the top of town.
“I’d be surprised. Her family doesn’t exactly live on this planet most of the time. Even if they heard the gossip, it probably didn’t register.”
Darach grinned widely. “Have to say, I kinda miss the family dinners we had when you two were together.”
Yeah, it was hard not to smile at those memories. Brodie caught his brother’s eye, and they both said, “Delia Savage’s dramatic monologues!” And burst into fits of laughter.
“But seriously.” Darach wiped at his eyes as he sobered. “What are you going to do if she has plans for your land?”
And just like that, all the humor in the situation was sucked right out. “I’ll do what I have to.” Both their names might be on the title, but he’d been the one tending the land for the past decade. Katya hadn’t set foot on it since she’d walked out on him.
“Eh, I hate to point this out, big brother, but you don’t exactly have a lot of options. Unless you split the land down the middle.”
Aye, that wasn’t going to work. Their plot of land was a long, narrow rectangle, with the best views lying on one of the shorter sides. Even if they halved it, neither of them would take the back section with the crappy views. And you couldn’t split it lengthwise, because they’d both end up with a strip that was too narrow to be of any decent use.
“She’ll just have to see reason.” Brodie folded his arms over his faded blue plaid shirt.
Darach nodded. “Because Katya’s well-known for her ability to see reason. Like when you told her to do exactly that, right before she left you.”
“This is different.” It had to be. “We’ve both grown up since then. Surely now, we can act with civility toward each other?”
“The letter from her lawyer seemed really civil.”
Brodie glared at Darach as he wondered for the millionth time why he’d been cursed with six smart-arsed morons for brothers. “Are you trying to help here?”
“Mainly, I’m trying to ensure I get a ringside seat for whatever happens next. I know it’s going tae be helluva entertaining.” He mimed an explosion, with sound effects.
“Entertained dickhead. One whose sister-in-law has just returned to town and is about to drive my brother insane.”
“Ex-sister-in-law,” Brodie corrected.
Darach slapped a hand down on his shoulder. “If you’d wanted her to be my ex-sister-in-law, you should have divorced her. Calling her your ex-wife doesn’t make it so in the eyes of the law. Although, I’ll admit, saying she’s your estranged wife is kind of a mouthful.”
“I couldn’t divorce her. You know that.” As did Katya.
If he wanted his dream house, he needed the land Ben Baxter gifted them on their wedding day. And the only way to keep it was to stay married. The gift came with the stipulation that if they divorced, the land reverted to the Baxter Family Trust. Out of his grasp forever.
Along with all the dreams attached to it. Because there was no way in hell he could afford to buy a piece of land like the one they’d been given and afford to build his dream house on it too.
So, no, he couldn’t divorce Katya. Not without giving up on all of his dreams. And seeing as one of those dreams had walked out on him a decade earlier, all he had left was his house.
“I’d better get going,” he said as he straightened away from the wall he’d been leaning on. “I want to be there when she gets to the property.”
“I might as well come along.” Darach tried not to look eager but failed miserably. “Once Katya sees what you’ve done, she’ll kill you, and someone will have to cart your body back to Ma and Da.”
“Your support brings a tear to my eye.”
“Always happy to help,” Darach said with a grin.
“The place has changed,” Katya told her best friend as they drove slowly through her hometown.
“Really?” Denise Abebe looked skeptical. “I feel like I’ve fallen into some sort of time warp. There’s an old milk van back there delivering glass bottles to doorsteps. I didn’t realize people still did that. And what’s with the fashion? That’s the third woman I’ve seen in a shapeless polyester coat and nylon headscarf.”
Katya grinned at her fashion-obsessed friend. “You could have stayed in London, you know.”
“And miss the fireworks? I think not.” Denise angled the rearview mirror to check her hair, then patted her glorious Afro until it met her satisfaction. “I need a trim. Is there anyone in this backwoods town who can style black hair?”
“How would I know? It’s been ten years since I’ve been home.”
Ten years filled with travel, adventure, hard work, and sometimes hardship. But in the end, she’d done what she’d set out to do. She’d found and bought a plane just like her great-grandmother used to fly in the Second World War, and she’d learned to fly so she could pilot it.
This was the last leg of her journey to restore Anya Klimova’s forgotten history and establish her legacy in the country that’d become her home. Katya intended to use the classic plane to give something back to the community that had given her great-grandmother a second chance at life. She wanted everyone to be as proud of Anya as she was. Unfortunately, she had to get past her ex-husband to make it happen.
“Is it just me,” Denise said, “or is there an unusual number of good-looking men wandering around this town? Dear Lord! Is that Josh McInnes?” She twisted in her seat to stare out the back window.
“Who?” Katya kept her eyes on the road.
“Who? I despair of you sometimes. Josh McInnes. American singer. Does stuff like Sinatra. He’s gorgeous and sings like sex-on-a-stick.”
“I wasn’t aware sex-on-a-stick could sing.”
“Once you hear him, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.” She flopped back into her seat. “What’s he doing in the Highlands?”
“Again, I wouldn’t know because I’ve been gone ten years,” Katya said, enunciating each word slowly.
“Being back makes you bitchy,” Denise grumbled.
But it didn’t. It made her soul sing. Katya felt able to breathe for the first time in years. The tension in her shoulders eased, and she found herself sinking into her seat with a smile on her face.
Of all the places she’d seen on her travels, nothing compared to Scotland. To home. The glow of the afternoon sun warmed the emerald and violet of the hills around the town. The loch’s surface danced with sparkles, and the crooked white houses that made up the shops lining the high street were awash with golden light.
She opened her window wide and took a deep breath. It was the scent that really made it home. Warmed heather and peaty soil, cut grass and pine, and the bite of crisp air after it skimmed across the surface of the loch. Nowhere on the planet had the same scent.
Nowhere but home.
Denise’s voice stirred her from her thoughts. “I’ve seen a bakery, a sweet shop, an ice cream café, and a fish and chip shop advertising deep-fried curry. Apart from the fact I don’t even know how you’d deep fry a curry, I’m wondering if there’s anywhere in town that sells vegetables.”
Katya couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we can dig up a carrot or two for you.”
“Yay,” Denise said drolly. “So, will you point out your ex if you spot him?”
“I won’t have to. I’m sure Brodie will crawl out of the woodwork soon enough.”
Katya wasn’t about to admit she’d already spotted him in the crowd lining the cobblestone road. A split-second glimpse out of the corner of her eye had been enough to make her palms sweat and her heart race.
Conditioning. At least, that’s what she was telling herself. It made sense that her body would react to the sight of him. It’d been doing exactly that since she’d turned fourteen.
Denise smacked Katya’s arm to regain her attention. “You’ve already seen him, haven’t you? Where is he?” She craned to see out of all the windows. “Which one is he?”
“We’ve passed him.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
Uh, because she’d been physically unable to speak? Katya cleared her throat and shrugged. “It wasn’t important.”
“You are such a liar. And a bad one at that. Now tell me, how did he look?”
“Like Brodie.” Only more so. Katya felt her cheeks burn.
He’d filled out—broader shoulders, leaner face, more compact muscle. The boy stripped away to reveal the honed man. Part of her, the part that wanted to feel justified in what she did, had hoped he’d gone to seed. She’d imagined him with a beer belly and receding hairline, but it wasn’t to be. The boy she’d married had been beautiful, but the man he’d become was sex personified.
And he could have been hers.
If she’d stayed.
“You can’t fool me,” Denise said. “I know you too well. It’s normal for your ex to affect you, especially physically. Call it muscle memory. The body’s used to doing what the body does around them.” She waggled her eyebrows, making Katya laugh.
“Don’t worry, any residual muscle memory connected to Brodie will evaporate as soon as he starts talking.” Katya well remembered how his negativity dampened her libido.
“Uh.” Denise pointed down the road. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing, or is sleep deprivation making me hallucinate? I knew we shouldn’t have driven all night.”
Katya lifted her gaze and groaned. “I told them not to do this.”
But, as usual, her family hadn’t listened to a word she’d said. Instead, they’d decided to welcome her home in their own special way—which involved everyone in the local amateur dramatics club.
“I don’t know what I’m looking at here.” Denise was wide-eyed with bewilderment. “You’ll need to translate, because my fine English backside doesn’t get this at all.”
Katya slumped in her seat. “See the banner?”
“How could I miss it?”
She had a point. Strung right across the street, it was wide enough to make Katya worry the plane might get tangled in it when they drove underneath.
“It says, ‘Katya MacGregor—Saved from the Fairies,’” Denise said. “In glitter.”
“My mother loves glitter. I think she got a bulk deal on it at some point, and now it goes on everything.”
“Focus.” Denise pointed at the banner. “Explain.”
“Okay, so there’s a Scottish folk tale about a man Rory Macgillivray who the fairies seduced into partying, and he couldn’t escape. His intrepid family saved him by literally dragging him out of his yearlong party.” She cast Denise a droll look. “Mum came to London last month and told me not to let the big city suck me in. Said it was all just smoke and mirrors, and it was time to come home.”
“Oh!” Denise burst out laughing.
“Yeah, oh.” She pointed at the little round ball of a woman barreling toward them and waving dramatically. “You’ve already met my mother. I think she’s playing the part of a fairy.”
“You think? She has wings.”
“In my family, wearing wings could mean anything.”
“And the guy dressed in traditional Scottish gear, looking like he’s just stepped out of wardrobe for The Highlander? I suppose he’s playing the father.”
“No, that is my dad. And that’s how he dresses every day. He says trousers are bad for his parts because they cut off the circulation.” Katya paused. “He’s an artist.” Really, that was the only explanation she had for him.
“Who’s the old man with the goat?” Denise gestured to an older man sitting on a deck chair at the side of the road.
“My grandfather. That’s his pet goat, Isla.”
“Any idea why Isla’s wearing a tutu?”
“She’s supposed to be a fairy?” Katya guessed as she slowed the truck to a halt.
Her mother plastered herself to the driver’s door, arms outstretched as though trying to embrace the truck. “My darling, my baby, my long-lost daughter has come home at last!” she called to the crowd before looking up at Katya, who peered down from the window at her mother. “Come, child, we have prepared a feast for your return. It has been far too long since I’ve seen your beautiful face.”
“Hi, Mum.” Katya didn’t bother pointing out that they’d spent the weekend together in London not a month earlier. Delia Savage, who’d once played a corpse in an episode of Taggart and was in the middle of another grand performance, was rarely affected by logic. “You do know that the fairies took Rory? If you’re welcoming me home, you should be dressed as my mother.”
“What kind of costume would that be?” her mother hissed. “This one is much more fun. And later, once we’ve all had some dinner, the group and I are going to perform fairy dances. Just like the jig Rory was forced to dance when he was taken.” She pointed at the rest of the amateur dramatics club, who waved excitedly.
“How do you know what dance he did?” Denise called, squishing into Katya’s space to grin down at Delia.
Delia winked up at her. “A fairy told me.”
“Don’t encourage her.” Katya pushed Denise back into the passenger seat.
Denise opened her mouth to speak, but whatever she was about to say was lost in the wail of an electric guitar.
Katya hung her head. “That’s my brother and his band.”
In her eagerness to get back to Invertary, she’d conveniently forgotten that her family still lived there. Was it too late to turn the truck around and return to London? She’d be more than happy for the fairies to seduce her there if it meant not having to suffer another Savage family performance.
As the crowd started to sing, Denise grinned. “Is that…?”
“Aye. They’re murdering John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’”
“I’ll admit, I’m not familiar with Scottish folklore, but I’m pretty sure none of the stories would include a John Denver song.”
“Welcome to Invertary,” Katya said as Isla the goat escaped and took off down the high street toward the loch, her sparkly blue tutu bouncing as she ran.
Out May 29. Preorder Now!!
5 People reacted on this
It’s excellent. Can’t wait to be back in Invertary!
I’m not patient, I want to read the book!
Hi! I’m a huge fan. Lovely to see a new book being released in May; I’ve already pre-ordered. And excited about the next Benson Security story. Will order that as soon as I can. But, tell me please, is another Red Zone book coming? I loved the blending of genres.
Be safe, be well, & keep on writing!
Yes! It’s just a matter of time, but I promise there are more Red Zone books coming. 🙂
It’s been along wait. So excited!