Harry Boyle fell in love with Magenta when he was eight years old. It happened in the sandpit of the local primary school. The five-year-old girl had been building the biggest sandcastle Harry had ever seen. He’d paused beside her, wondering if he should give her tips on how to make it more structurally sound, but he’d learned the hard way to keep his super brain to himself.
“Hairy Boil,” one of the class bullies shouted behind him. “You going to play with the wee girls now?”
There was laughter.
Magenta looked up at him with huge golden eyes, her honey-coloured pigtails askew and full of sand. She blinked several times as she studied him. “That’s a funny name. You don’t look hairy.”
Harry took her comment seriously, as he did most things. “They’re making fun of my name. It’s Harry Boyle.”
She scowled. “That’s mean.” She studied him a bit more before nodding to herself. “Do you want me to punch them for you?”
Harry’s mouth fell open at her words. He looked over his shoulder at the group of boys who were still pointing at him and laughing, then he looked back at the fairy in the sandpit. He would have laughed too if she hadn’t been so serious. The bullying had gotten worse since his brother Flynn had gone to secondary school, and as much as he would like someone to stand up for him, he didn’t think a five-year-old girl was the best protector to pick.
“They’ll get fed up soon and annoy someone else,” he said.
“I don’t mind hitting them.” She shrugged and turned back to her castle.
Harry couldn’t take it anymore. “You need to reinforce it, or it will collapse.”
She eyed him thoughtfully. “How?”
Harry sank to his knees beside her and showed her how to make the castle stable.
And that’s how his friendship with Magenta started. Of course, back then she was still called Maggie Fraser. It wasn’t until she was thirteen, and Harry was in university, that she dyed her hair black, bought a giant tub of eyeliner and started calling herself Magenta. Harry had come back to Invertary for the holidays to find his friend replaced by a sullen Goth who’d looked him up and down slowly, smirked and turned away from him. She’d never turned back.
And Harry had never stopped loving her.
“She’s the reason you’re making us pack up and relocate to the middle of nowhere?” Rachel didn’t make any effort to hide her disgust as she pointed at the lingerie shop. Magenta could be clearly seen through the shop window.
Harry looked at his business manager. He’d met Rachel in the university cafeteria when he was sixteen. His big brain had meant that he was years younger than his fellow students and socially out of his depth. Rachel had felt sorry for him and had pretty much adopted him as her pet—at least, that’s what it had always felt like to Harry. She’d been older and wiser at nineteen, not to mention she was studying the much more socially savvy business studies course. The friendship had stuck, and eight years later, Rachel was the face of Harry’s programming business. And he was grateful for it.
“Her name is Magenta, and she’s not the only reason we’re moving to Invertary.” He glanced around his hometown, with its rows of quirky white and grey crooked houses and cobblestone roads. Heather-covered hills cradled the town, while the cool loch sparkled beside it. “Look around, Rach—this is much nicer than London.”
She stuck her tiny nose in the air and folded her arms over her designer blue business suit. Everything about Rachel was polished and expensive. She’d once told him her shoes cost more than his car. Every time he looked at them, he wondered why.
“You know how I feel about this,” she said. “It might be pretty up here in the Highlands, but our business contacts are in London and Europe.”
“We can conference call. Skype. Fly in for face to face. I don’t see the problem. This isn’t Outer Mongolia. It’s Scotland.”
“You can’t network over the phone. You do that face to face, over lunch or a casual drink after work. None of which we can do here.”
“I don’t do that stuff anyway,” Harry pointed out.
“No, but I do.” She flicked her manicured fingers in the direction of the town. “What am I supposed to do here while you’re communing with your laptop? This town is stuck in the fifties. It doesn’t even have a decent clothes shop. And you want to drag everyone up here. The team will go insane inside of a week.”
“No they won’t.” Harry sighed. “As long as they have internet access, they won’t care. It’s only you who’ll miss the London scene. I told you. You can stay there. We’ll work it out.”
“Who will you bounce ideas off if I’m not here?”
“I can call.”
“It won’t be the same.” She patted the tight bun that held her auburn hair.
He couldn’t argue with that. For eight years she’d been his sounding board, and he wasn’t sure how he’d function without her. Rachel let out a dramatic sigh.
“Why this girl? I don’t see anything special about her. I mean, she works in a lingerie shop and she obviously has no idea how to dress. She didn’t even finish school. How are you supposed to have a conversation with her?”
Harry shook his head. Rachel’s issues were for Rachel to deal with.
He cocked his head at the shop behind them. Eye Spy was a security company run by ex-SAS member Lake Benson. It was no secret that Harry specialised in security programming, and Lake thought there might be some benefits in a working relationship. So far their meetings had gone well.
“You go in,” he told Rachel. “Tell Lake I’ll be in in a minute. I’m going to talk to Magenta.”
“Fine. I hope it goes better than the last three times you’ve tried.”
“Couldn’t be worse,” Harry mumbled as he walked over the street to Kirsty’s lingerie shop.
“Here he comes again,” Kirsty said from her spot at the window. The ex-model turned to Magenta, who was unpacking a new line in thongs at the back of the shop. “How about this time you let him talk to you instead of doing your best to scare him off?”
Magenta rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to talk to him. Just because we were friends when we were kids, doesn’t mean I owe him anything now.”
“That’s harsh. Even you can be more polite than that. I’ve seen it. I know it can happen.”
“I’m busy,” Magenta said. “Tell him to come back later.”
“You tell him. I can’t. It’s like kicking a puppy.”
Only if the puppy was over six feet tall, muscled in a lean way and had sexy silver eyes. Magenta clamped down on her thoughts. So Harry had grown up pretty. So what? She still didn’t want to deal with him. She heard the bell over the door and felt her body tense. Why the heck didn’t he go back to London, where he belonged?
“Hi, Magenta.” His deep voice seemed to rumble and vibrate throughout her body.
Taking a steadying breath, she turned towards him. “What can I do for you, Harry?”
She kept her face expressionless, and was grateful that she’d opted for her thigh-high platform boots this morning. She needed the extra height to stop from gazing up at him.
“I thought we could get together tonight. Eat. Talk about old times.” He wore a grey T-shirt with Einstein’s head on it, and Magenta wondered if Einstein would be proud that he adorned T-shirts and bobblehead dolls.
“Sorry, Harry, I’m busy.” She took a step back towards the box of thongs she’d been unpacking.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Kirsty scowling as she wagged a finger. Magenta ignored her.
“Tomorrow, then.” He thrust his hands into the pockets of his faded blue jeans. Magenta knew he was worth a lot of money. It’d been the talk of the town that Harry had sold a program he’d developed to the UK government for millions. It almost made her smile to see he was still wearing his old, tatty jeans. Clothes were never something Harry had noticed as a kid. Not like the designer-clad sidekick he’d dragged to town with him. Everything about her screamed money and class. Magenta frowned at yet another reminder that she would never travel in the same circles as Harry.
“I’m busy for the foreseeable future,” she told him.
“Is there a way you can get un-busy?” His smile almost made her crumble. He somehow managed to pull off sexy and sweet at the same time.
“Harry,” she said on a sigh. “I don’t want to get together and rehash our childhood. I don’t want to get together full stop. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but you just need to suck it up.”
Any other man would have tucked tail and run at such a blunt rejection. Not Harry. Bloody stupid man. Harry smiled and took a step towards her.
“Well, I would suck it up, if I believed you. But I don’t. So how about you clear some time in your busy schedule for me?”
“Not going to happen.” She swallowed hard and thrust a handful of pink underwear at him. “You might as well make yourself useful while you annoy me. Sort these into sizes.”
Harry looked down at the silky thongs then gave her a wicked smile. “See, this is why we need to spend time getting to know each other again.” He moved forwards, crowding her space. “You think handing me lingerie is going to make me turn red, stutter and run. But I keep telling you. I’ve grown up. I’m not the kid you knew.” He took another step towards her, making her breath hitch and her body vibrate at his nearness. “Lingerie doesn’t scare me, Magenta. Neither do you.” His voice was a low, sexy rumble that woke up her erogenous zones. “I like lingerie.” He held up a thong. “These would look good on you.”
Magenta sucked in a breath. “Time for you to go, Harry.” She was pleased that her voice sounded as sharp as usual.
He placed the underwear on the counter beside her. “I’m not giving up. You and I have unfinished business.”
With that, he turned and sauntered out of the shop. Magenta let out a long, slow breath.
“What is wrong with you?” Kirsty flicked her russet-coloured hair out of her eyes before glaring at Magenta. Kirsty had cut it after her accident years ago, but now she was letting it grow out. “You two used to be inseparable. Now you won’t even talk to the guy.”
“That was a long time ago. People change.” Magenta turned her focus back to the underwear as she quietly worked at getting her body back under control.
“Yep, they do. And Harry has changed for the better. You may as well give in and meet with him. See what he wants. You might actually enjoy hanging out with him again.”
“Yeah, right. And pigs might fly over Invertary dropping free bacon on everyone.”
Magenta turned her back on her boss and concentrated on her work. She didn’t know why Harry was so interested in spending time with her. She’d made sure to burn the bridges between them when she was thirteen. It had ripped her apart, but she’d known that it was the right thing to do. For both their sakes.
“How did it go?” Lake asked as Harry let himself into the security shop.
Harry used his hand to mime a plane flying, crashing and exploding.
“That good, huh?” Lake’s mouth twitched as it tried to smile.
“Isn’t it time you gave up?” Rachel said. “It’s obvious she isn’t interested in you.”
They were sitting at a round conference table in Lake’s back room. Harry pulled out a chair, flipped it, straddled it and leaned on the backrest. “She’s interested. When I bumped into her sister a few months ago, she told me Magenta used to write our names together in hearts all over her books. She said Magenta still keeps a scrapbook about me. She’s interested, all right. She’s just scared.”
There was cackling from the corner. “Not a lot scares that lassie,” Betty said.
Harry grinned at the eighty-seven-year-old. Betty had always fascinated him. She was known for her lies, her sick sense of humour and her willingness to meddle for entertainment’s sake—and she didn’t give a damn who knew it. Lake had inherited Betty when he’d bought her shop, and seemed to treat her like some sort of mascot. She was currently installed in her tatty old armchair, feet on a stool, reading a magazine. Harry cocked his eye at the magazine title—Survivalist Now. He gave Lake a questioning look.
Lake’s lip twitched. “She saw that movie with Will Smith, the one where zombies take over the world. Now she’s preparing for a zombie apocalypse.”
“Aye, you laugh now, son, but you’ll tell a different story when they’re out to eat your brains, and the only thing between you and being somebody’s snack is the preparation I put in.”
Harry stifled a grin as Betty turned her attention back to him. “You need to stop trying to talk to that girl in the shop. You need to get her alone somewhere. A lingerie shop is no place for a heavy discussion.”
“Getting her alone is hard. She’s either at the shop or in the house she shares with the twins.” He shuddered. Dealing with his twin cousins was worse than dealing with the UK government. “Plus, I asked her out to dinner tonight and she turned me down flat.”
Betty shifted in her chair, then tugged her hairnet down over her mostly bald head. “That’s where you’re going wrong. You don’t ask her to go out with you. You surprise her when she’s alone, preferably in a place where she can’t run away.”
“Please tell me you aren’t taking relationship advice from Lake’s Hobbit,” Rachel said.
“Hey,” Betty snapped. “Lake’s the only one allowed to call me that.”
Rachel rolled her eyes dramatically. “Can we please go back to London, where we belong?”
“Aye.” Betty gave Rachel the evil eye. “Send her back. She’s too stuck up to fit in here.”
“So,” Harry said loudly to ward off a counterattack from his business manager. “Got any suggestions on how to get her alone?”
“Well, it just so happens that I do.” The look on Betty’s face was pure mischief. She was clearly up to something, but Harry was too desperate to let it worry him. “Saturday afternoon, Magenta is going into the old mine to take some pictures. She’ll be alone. I reckon you should make a picnic and surprise her there.”
Huh. That wasn’t a bad plan. He looked at Lake, who shrugged. “I wouldn’t take relationship advice from Betty either,” he said, making Betty grin with pride.
“That’s my boy,” she told him.
“So where in the mine is she taking photos?” Harry asked.
Betty gave him a toothless grin. “I can’t rightly explain it. Best if you pick me up on Saturday and I’ll show you the way. There are a lot of mine entrances; it’d be easy for you to go to the wrong one.”
“It’s a deal,” he told her.
“Idiot,” Rachel said.
Lake just grinned.