The New Jersey mob arrived in the Scottish Highlands four months after Jena Morgan. The three men strutted down Invertary high street, looking for something—or someone. Dressed like cast members of The Sopranos, the men fit in about as much as a shark would blend at a pool party.
Jena didn’t spot them straight away. The famous go-go dancer was too busy haggling with the owner of the local hardware store.
“Please.” She wasn’t above pleading. Or flirting. She batted her eyelashes at the old man. He laughed. “I’m desperate and I can’t afford your quote. It’s going to rain and I need to patch the holes in the roof before I end up swimming around the house.”
“This is Scotland, Jena, it’s always going to rain. Rain does not constitute a desperate need.” Gordon Stewart folded his arms over grey, paint-splattered overalls and grinned. The sparkle in his eye told her he was eager for her next argument. It was a dance they did every time she came into his store.
Brenda, Gordon’s wife, came in from the back of the store sipping a mug of tea. “Stop messing with the girl; give her what she needs. She’s got enough on her plate sorting out the wreck she lives in without dealing with your dodgy sense of humour as well.”
Brenda winked at Jena, who beamed back. Part of her wished Brenda would adopt her. If she’d had parents like the Stewarts she might have developed the ability to make smart decisions. Instead she’d grown up with a missing father and a mother obsessed with becoming the next Mariah Carey.
“Look,” Jena said to Gordon. “We both know I can’t afford the full price. What about a payment plan?”
He shook his head, earning an elbow in his ribs from his wife. He grunted at her before stroking his grey beard. It was his thinking pose. Jena crossed her fingers behind her back.
“Fine,” he said. “How about you give me what you can afford and then work here two mornings a week to make up the difference?”
Brenda nodded her encouragement.
Jena’s jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious. I don’t know what half this stuff is.”
“I know.” Gordon laughed so hard he had to wipe tears from his eyes. “It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I read somewhere that laughing can add years to your life. Having you around will make me immortal.”
“Gordon!” Brenda scowled at him. It had no effect.
Jena took a deep breath. “Okay.” Like she had a choice. She pointed at him. “But you’re delivering the materials for free.”
“Done. You start in the morning.”
“And you supply lunch.”
“Only if you don’t eat that rabbit crap.”
“I eat anything.” She couldn’t afford to be fussy. “I’ll see you in the morning.” She pulled the heavy door open and cool October air made her skin tingle. “You evil old blackmailer,” she muttered, and heard him laugh.
Waving at Brenda, Jena stepped out into the high street and was stunned anew at the picturesque quality of her new home. Streets lined with crooked whitewashed buildings, quaint little shops and a cobble-stoned road. All surrounded by emerald-green hills and reflected in a gentle blue loch. She took a deep breath and felt something settle within her. Her whole life she’d wanted a proper home, a place to belong, and she’d finally found it.
And that was when she saw them. The three men who were looking for her.
She almost fell on her backside scrambling to get back into the hardware store. “Going out the back way,” she shouted, sounding more than a little hysterical.
She passed the stunned faces of the store owners as she ran straight through the shop and out the back door.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no…” She stumbled her way up the back alley in three-inch neon pink wedges, grateful she’d worn her lowest heels to town.
Her heart almost burst from her chest when she spotted her destination—the ancient grey Presbyterian church. Someone called her name. She didn’t turn to see who. Instead, she picked up her pace, flying up the street on legs toned by years of dancing.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no…”
It took all her upper body strength to pull open the heavy church door.
“Coming through,” she shouted at the vicar as she ran past him into the ladies’ toilet.
“Jena?” His voice carried after her.
She slammed the old wooden door, bolted it and wedged a chair under the handle. Then she sank to the floor, curled her knees to her chest and rested her cheek on them. This was not happening. It was a hallucination brought on by too much DIY and not enough Pop-Tarts.
There was a thump at the door. She squealed before smacking her hands over her mouth.
“Jena, what do you think you’re doing? Is this some weird American thing I don’t know about?” It was the vicar, sounding grumpy—as usual.
She let out a shaky breath. Her hands fell to her knees.
“I’m claiming asylum,” she shouted.
There was a pause. “You’re claiming what?” the minister boomed.
Jena pulled her iPod out of her handbag, inserted her earbuds and pumped up the volume. She needed some Taylor Swift. Life was always better with Taylor.
There was more thumping. Jena closed her eyes and pretended that she hadn’t seen her ex-boyfriend walking up Invertary high street.
And he definitely wasn’t flanked by two goons.
With that thought, she closed her eyes and let Taylor work her magic.
Matt Donaldson, Invertary’s entire police force, was already fed up with his day and he’d only been working for twenty minutes.
After dealing with yet another missing cat report, he’d been called out to the Presbyterian church. He found the ancient vicar blocking the main door, glaring up at three huge strangers. It didn’t take a genius to spot that two of the men were muscle-for-hire. Although the fact one of them wore a T-shirt with the word “goon” on it helped clear things up. The third guy was obviously the boss. He looked like he’d walked straight off the set of an American mob movie. His black suit screamed custom made. The black silk shirt beneath it was open at the neck, where it flashed the obligatory gold chain. As Matt approached, Mr Suit grinned unnaturally white teeth and splayed his hands in a conciliatory gesture. The afternoon sun glinted off his pinkie ring.
Matt cocked an eyebrow at the guy, before dismissing him as he turned to the aging vicar. “What’s going on?”
“The new American girl has locked herself in the toilet. She’s claiming asylum.” Reverend Morrison pointed to the men. “These three want to have a word with her. They were chasing her up the street when she barrelled in here.”
“Frank Di Marco.” The guy in the suit held out his hand. Matt didn’t take it. Frank shrugged like it meant nothing. “Jena is my fiancée. We had a disagreement and she moved country. We’re reconciling.”
Matt didn’t buy his harmless buddy routine. “Aye, I can tell by the way she’s hiding in the toilet that she’s eager to reconcile.” He nodded to the goons. “You brought a couple of bodyguards with you to talk to your fiancée?”
Another wide smile, just as fake as the first. “These are friends of mine.” He pointed at the guy wearing the goon T-shirt. “That’s Joe; the big guy is Grunt.”
“Grunt?” Matt looked at the big guy. He grunted. Matt nodded. That answered that.
Joe folded his arms over his joke T-shirt. His eyes betrayed an intelligence that wasn’t obvious in his boss.
“So.” Matt rubbed his chin. “If this is a misunderstanding, why didn’t you visit Jena at her home instead of chasing her into a church? Better yet, why not call her and set up a meeting?” He hardened his eyes. “Preferably somewhere public.”
A muscle ticked at the edge of Frank’s jaw. “I don’t have her number; she changed phones when she moved. Get her to call me, will ya? Tell her I’m real eager to see her.” He put on his black sunglasses, even though the day was overcast. “Good meeting you, officer.”
Frank nodded to his men, turned and sauntered back down the high street. Matt could have sworn that Joe smothered a grin as he passed.
“What the hell was that?” Matt muttered.
“Although I don’t appreciate the language, I’m with you on sentiment. Looks like our newest resident is in it up to her eyeballs.”
Matt allowed a small smile. “In what exactly, vicar?”
“Why, manure, boy—thick, smelly manure.”
Matt let out a sigh. Jena Morgan was currently number one on the list of reasons he’d compiled for why he needed a proper police job. One far away. In a city where real crime happened. Where he wasn’t called out to talk strange American women out of toilets.
“Did you ask her why she’s claiming asylum? Maybe tell her that her actions aren’t legal? That the church doesn’t offer any more protection than she’d find in the pub?”
“Are you comparing the house of God to the local pub, son?”
Matt grinned. “I’ve heard better sermons in the pub.”
The vicar smacked him on the back of the head. Matt rubbed it, but chuckled at the same time. “Have you talked to Jena or not?”
Reverend Morrison threw up his hands in disgust. “I tried. It’s impossible. She’s singing at the top of her lungs. Something about shaking herself all night long. I can’t get through the door. You’re going to have to deal with this.”
Matt smothered a groan. “Do you have a spare key for the toilet?”
“Son, that door is about a million years old. I didn’t even know it locked.”
“Brilliant.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Will it bother you if I kick it in?”
The vicar laughed. “No, but it might bother you when you break your toes. The door is several inches thick.” He beamed with pride. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
“Window?” Matt was quickly losing what little patience he had left.
The vicar pointed to the side of the church. “You’ll know you have the right one when you hear the toneless wailing.”
The vicar was right. It didn’t take long to zero in on the right window. He could hear singing, or wailing, coming from inside the room. The window was level with Matt’s shoulders and it wasn’t locked. He peered into the darkened room, but couldn’t see Jena. The ladies’ toilet was the old-fashioned type, combining a room for women to wait and fix their makeup with a room for them to do their business. Matt could only see a portion of the waiting room. With a sigh, he heaved himself up and launched his body into the room.
He turned the corner and found Jena sitting on the floor beside the main door. His breath stuttered in his chest, as it usually did when he saw the woman. It was easy to understand why the men of Invertary were falling over themselves to date her. Unfortunately, after about ten minutes in her company, you also realised why none of those first dates led to a second—the woman was chaos personified. He’d never met anyone so easily distracted and accident-prone. She was a one-woman weapon of mass destruction.
But she was stunning. Waist-length honey-brown hair that fell in waves over golden skin. Curves, voluptuous but toned, that made a man itch to touch her. Her lips were the colour of a ripe peach and just as lush. But it was her eyes that undid him. Wide eyes the colour of warm honey. Eyes a man could melt into. He shook himself from the daze she induced.
Matt crouched down in front of Jena and tapped her knee.
Her shriek had him covering his ears.
“Stop that right now!” Matt watched as comprehension dawned in those sinful eyes. It was followed closely by relief.
“Matt.” Her shoulders sagged. “I’m sorry, I thought…” She looked around nervously. “You startled me.”
“Yeah, I got that from the screaming.” Matt stood. “Come on, we need to get out of here.” He turned towards the door.
“No.” Jena scrambled to her feet. She pulled the earbuds from her ears and stuffed them into her massive canvas bag. “I claimed asylum. I’m staying here. I have water. A toilet. I can order pizza and they’ll deliver through the window. I’m all set.”
Matt took a deep breath and looked down at her. In her platform shoes, the top of her head made it just past his shoulders. She blinked up at him, wide-eyed and earnest. It took him a minute to figure out who she reminded him of, and then it hit him—the cat from Shrek. He closed his eyes for a second to regroup.
“Number one.” Matt held up a finger. “This is Invertary. There is no pizza delivery. Number two. You can’t claim asylum. There’s no such thing.”
“Of course there is. I saw it on TV.”
“Those are political asylum seekers. Generally they register with the government, who then reviews their case. They live in houses the councils provide. They don’t hole up in church toilets.”
She seemed confused. The cutest little lines appeared between her brows. “I didn’t see that show. I was talking about the movies. Clint Eastwood. That sort of thing.”
He stared at her as his brain rebooted. “You mean cowboy movies. Westerns?”
She smiled widely. “Exactly. But if you need me to register, hand the paperwork through the window and I’ll sign it.”
For a minute he was tempted to give up on the conversation and leave her in the bathroom. “Jena, those movies aren’t real. They’re fiction.”
“Those movies are based on historical fact. They have to research them and stuff.”
“They’re also based in America. You’re in Scotland. Even if they were real, we don’t let you claim asylum in churches over here. Come on, it’s time to leave. The Weight Watchers group meet in half an hour and they like to use the toilet before the weigh-in. They won’t be happy to find the door locked.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “How would you know something like that?”
“I have a mother and two younger sisters. I know everything there is to know about needless weight loss and insane diets. Now, let’s get out of here.”
She grabbed his arm. “I can’t leave. I…” She looked around, maybe hoping that an excuse would present itself. At last her shoulders slumped and she seemed resigned. “There’s someone in town looking for me and I need to hide. Or run.” A thought occurred to her. Her eyes went wide. “Wait a minute. Are you going to arrest me? Did he send you in here to take me to the big house?” Her brow scrunched. “No, that can’t be it. He wouldn’t send in the cops.” Her face went white. “Those have to be Rizzoni’s men he’s got with him. There can only be one reason he brought mob lackeys to Scotland.” She took a deep breath. “He’s going to kill me. I claim asylum.”
With a screech, she ran into a toilet stall and locked the door.
Jena slammed the toilet lid down and sat on it. She was going to die. She knew it. Why else would Frank come all the way to Scotland? It wasn’t as though he loved to travel. He thought New York was too far to visit, and that was only a two-hour drive from Atlantic City.
“Jena.” Matt sounded like he was gritting his teeth.
Jena felt instantly guilty. It wasn’t his fault she’d brought all this trouble to town. He was doing the best he could, but a small-town cop in the Scottish Highlands wasn’t equipped to deal with the Atlantic City mob.
“Tell me what’s going on right now.” His commanding tone sent shivers down her spine. Still, she didn’t answer.
“Jena? Why did you think I was going to arrest you? Why do you think Frank wants to kill you?”
Jena chewed down on her thumbnail before stopping when she remembered she would never be able to afford another manicure.
Matt sucked in an irritated breath. “I’m ten seconds away from ripping that door off its hinges, dragging you to the station and putting you and Frank Di Marco in a room until someone tells me what’s going on.”
Nausea assaulted her at his words. At least she was in the right place if she wanted to vomit.
“Jena. Talk. Now. Why do you think your fiancé is going to harm you?”
She sat up straight. “Fiancé? What fiancé?”
He let out an exasperated sigh. “Frank Di Marco.”
Jena shot to her feet and pointed at the door. “He is not my fiancé. He’s a cheating man-whore, that’s what he is. He’s never even proposed. Not that I would have accepted. But there has to be a proposal for there to be a fiancé.”
“Okay, so he isn’t your fiancé. Why would he say he is?”
“Insanity?” She was pretty sure that was the underlying reason for everything Frank did.
“Tell me what’s going on or I can’t help you.” A vision of Officer Donaldson’s deep blue eyes looking all earnest and stern flashed in her mind. She wavered.
“Can you have him kicked out of town? Maybe deported?” She tried not to sound too hopeful.
“Possibly. If I know the truth.”
Jena bit her bottom lip as she shuffled foot to foot.
“It will be okay.” The cop’s soothing brogue almost undid her. “Tell me what the problem is. Trust me, Jena.”
Jena felt herself cave. She took a shaky breath, grateful she was telling her stupid story from behind a door where she couldn’t see the judgment in his eyes. “Frank and I lived together for a while. He cheated on me with a series of strippers. I’m pretty sure they were all called Candy.” She couldn’t keep the snide tone out of her words, which made her feel ashamed. She was better than that. She was better than Frank Di Marco. “Anyway, when I found out about the strippers, I lost the plot a little. I kicked Frank out of the house, sold everything we owned and used the money to move here.”
She took a deep breath while waiting for his reaction.
“Okay, so far I’m not hearing anything that has me worried. I don’t see why the man would come all this way to get revenge over you selling his stuff.”
She bit her bottom lip. “I also sold his perfectly restored 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle. He loved that car more than anything. Definitely more than me.”
There was a pause. “You sold the man’s classic car?”
Jena frowned at the door. “Should I have hit it with a baseball bat and set fire to the seats instead?”
“Point made. Carry on.”
Jena rolled her eyes. Men and their cars. “That’s all there is to tell. Once everything was gone, I surfed the net looking for a new place to live. I remembered my mom talking about Invertary—she’s a huge Josh McInnes fan and gives me updates on what he’s doing. Next thing I knew, I was looking at the town website. Then the town’s real estate site. After drowning my sorrow in a bottle of tequila, I bought a house.” She paused. “And here I am.”
There was silence for a minute. If it wasn’t for the sound of his breathing, she would have thought he’d left her.
“Let me get this right. You sold everything the guy owned, without his knowledge, and bought a house in Scotland with the proceeds?”
She felt her cheeks burn. “I had a holiday in Paris too. But bear in mind that he isn’t really a guy. He’s a scum-sucking man-whore.”
For a moment she heard nothing, and then deep laughter echoed throughout the room.
“Remind me never to piss you off,” the cop said between gasps.
Jena frowned at the closed door, wondering what the correct response was to that statement.
“Am I going to be arrested for selling his stuff?” It had been worrying her.
“You didn’t do it in Scotland, Jena.”
“Will they extradite me?”
The cop started laughing again. “I only talked to Frank for a couple of minutes, but I figure the cops in Atlantic City will give you a standing ovation rather than charge you with theft. I don’t know much about American law, but in Scotland if you live with someone for a couple of years you’re considered to be in a common-law marriage and your property is shared. Over here the stuff you sold would have legally belonged to you too.”
“I did put a lot of money into our relationship. I kept us afloat for years while Frank tried to make it big.”
“Well, there you go, then. Can you come out of the toilet now?”
“I can’t leave here, Matt. Frank must be here for revenge. He’ll want his money back. Along with his car. And I don’t have either.”
“Come out of the toilet, Jena. I’ll deal with Frank.”
She cracked the door open and peered up at him. Instead of the usual disapproval, his eyes were sparkling with amusement. It wasn’t an improvement.
“Let’s get you home,” he said.
She shook her head. “He has to know where I live. I can’t go back there.”
“Are you afraid he’ll hurt you?” His features turned to stone. “Has he ever hurt you?”
“No.” He didn’t look convinced. “No, he’s never lifted his hand to me.”
“Then why are you afraid? Why not just talk to the man?”
“Didn’t you hear me in there?” She gestured to the toilet stall where she’d spilled her guts to him. “He’s here with Vince Rizzoni’s boys.”
Matt held up his hands in exasperation. “So?”
“They’re the mob. Frank got into bed with the guy about a year ago—along with every other skanky woman in stilettos on the East Coast.”
His huge hands clasped her shoulders. “Focus, Jena.”
For a few seconds she was too mesmerised by his perfectly squared jaw and deep-set eyes to focus on anything other than the man in front of her.
“You were telling me about Frank and the mob,” he prompted.
Jena felt herself blush. “Yeah, he started hanging with Vince’s men. He changed. Became harder, more cagey. He kept secrets, other than the women. I didn’t like the men who started to visit. Some of them scared me.”
“Those guys here today, were they the ones visiting?”
She shook her head. “Other guys. Rougher. I felt like I didn’t know Frank anymore. I was worried and he wouldn’t listen to me. He’d get angry. Real angry. I would like to think he isn’t capable of harming me, but he changed, and I don’t know for sure what he’s capable of now.”
Matt let out a heavy sigh. “Okay. There’s no need to worry. You aren’t in America anymore. The mob doesn’t have a lot of pull here. I’ll deal with Frank and find out what he wants.”
“I think it’s best if I stay here until you have a chat with him.”
“You can’t hide in here.”
Jena disagreed. She wasn’t proud. She could definitely hide. Hiding was exactly what she needed to do. She took a step back into the toilet stall and slammed the door shut.
“Thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it, and I hate being rude like this, but I think it’s best if I stay here until you sort out Frank.”
“Jena.” Matt’s tone was a threat.
Jena swallowed hard as she put her earbuds back in place. She’d do something nice for the cop later as a thank you. Something that didn’t involve money, as she had none. She’d bake him cookies but she couldn’t cook. Maybe she’d teach him to dance? Everybody could use some dancing skills. Yeah, that was a great idea.
She sat on the toilet lid, tuned out Matt’s shouting and let Taylor Swift’s voice calm her racing heart.