Four months earlier, London
Callum McKay sat on the floor with his back to the wall and looked at the wreckage he’d wrought. His TV was shattered, spreading glass across the room. His books were in shreds. There was a KA-BAR knife sticking out of what was left of his leather sofa. And every piece of wooden furniture in the room had been smashed.
Feeling no regret, Callum clasped the neck of a bottle of Glenfiddich. He brought the whisky to his lips and drained what was left. One swallow emptied it and he tossed it into the mess in front of him, watching with some satisfaction as the bottle smashed.
He was done.
He wanted to burn the place down. Let the flames take it all. And him along with it. But he’d need to find his damn legs if he wanted to get up and finish the job. His blurred gaze caught sight of the prosthetics he’d thrown across the room after he’d collapsed against the wall.
A dry laugh erupted from him. He’d have to drag himself over broken glass to get to his legs—if he wanted to get up. Which he didn’t. Because, he was done.
Totally fucking done.
He was done pretending he was useful. Done pretending he was normal. Done acting as though his life was the same as it’d been before his legs were blown off in Afghanistan. Before he’d become half a man. Before he’d become a liability to his team.
His head landed back against the wall, with a thump he barely registered, and his eyes focused on the ceiling. The pristine, white ceiling. It was perfect. And that was wrong. He didn’t want anything around him that was perfect. Unblemished. Unspoiled. Whole. He should have trashed the ceiling along with the rest of the room.
A loud thumping sound disturbed his thoughts, and it took a minute to register it was coming from the door and not from inside his head. Callum ignored it, as he’d been ignoring every well-meaning visit from his team for days. No. Not his team. Not anymore. Because he was done.
The banging got louder and Callum frowned in the direction of his front door. They’d get fed up and leave. They always did. No one wanted to risk facing his wrath. That thought caused another mirthless laugh. He was a bloody cliché. A grumpy-arsed Scot who terrified women and children. He reached for his whisky before remembering he’d finished the bottle.
“Open the door.” The shouted order snagged Callum’s dulled attention. He almost jumped to comply—before he remembered that he’d need his legs to do it, and that Lake Benson was no longer his SAS commander, or his business partner. Because Callum was done—he just hadn’t told anyone yet.
“Callum,” Lake snapped the words. “Open the door.”
“Go to hell,” Callum roared.
He heard muttered voices and scraping. Bloody, stubborn Englishman was picking the lock. Callum didn’t care enough to try to stop him. Anyway, what could he do? Nothing. That’s what. Because he was fucking useless.
The heavy door swung open and the room was suddenly flooded with light. Callum squinted against the glare. He could just make out the solid shape of Lake filling the doorway.
“It’s time for this to end.” Lake said.
“Get the hell out of here and leave me be,” Callum said.
“Too many people have been leaving you be.” Lake strode into the room, glass crunching underfoot. He crouched beside Callum, his forearms resting on his knees. “You’re a mess.”
That struck Callum as particularly funny and he started giggling, like a schoolgirl.
“And drunk,” Lake said in disgust.
Callum’s attention was snagged by the sound of movement in the debris that used to be his home. The women. Elle and Julia. Members of his team who smothered him with their pity.
“I’ve got his legs.” Elle waved something in the air, but all Callum could see was her shocking blue hair.
“Don’t touch those! Get out of my house!” Callum reached for something to throw at her.
A strong hand stayed him.
“Give the legs to me,” Lake said.
They were ignoring him. As if he wasn’t a person anymore. For a minute, he forgot where he was exactly. In his head, he was back in hospital being poked and prodded by the team fitting his prosthetics. A team that was more interested in the tech than the person who’d wear it. He’d felt invisible. A project. A pathetic, problem to be fixed.
“Get out, get out, get out, get out!” His rage made him dizzy and he tilted, slipping down the wall.
Strong hands pulled him upright again.
“Leave us,” Lake ordered and the room cleared.
Of course they listened to Lake. He was whole. He wasn’t an invalid. He wasn’t half a man. Callum stared down at what remained of his legs. Hating the sight of them. Hating that there were nothing but stumps where his knees used to be. Hating that he couldn’t see his feet, but could damn well feel them. That constant searing pain that never went away. That constant reminder of who he used to be.
“You get out too,” Callum spat the words at Lake.
“You might be able to intimidate the civilians with your bad attitude, but all it does is piss me off. Now put these legs on so I can help you get out of this mess.” Lake cocked an eyebrow. “Unless you want me to carry you.”
Lake stared at him in reply.
The stubborn bastard would sit there until he got his way. With a snarl, Callum snatched a prosthetic from his former friend and tried to line the cup up with his stump. It wasn’t possible. Everything kept moving. His stump kept slipping out. His hands wouldn’t work properly. And his rage grew again. He lifted the leg, ready to throw it across the room. Lake snatched it from his grasp.
“You’re too drunk to do it.” He looked behind him and raised his voice. “Joe. Get in here.”
“No!” Callum shoved Lake. He rocked back but didn’t topple.
Callum wished he’d remembered to bring a weapon home. He could have shot the bastard.
“And we’re all grateful you aren’t armed,” Lake said as he stood, making Callum realise he’d been thinking out loud.
“I should shoot you, you interfering bastard. You dragged me into this mess. This team. You should have known I’d be no use to them. I’m a fucking liability. I almost got them killed in Peru.”
“Almost doesn’t count.” Joe stood beside Lake. “You’re talking garbage. Which figures, because that’s what you smell like.”
“Fuck off,” Callum said again, and the American paid about as much attention to him as Lake had.
“It’s going to take the two of us to get him into bed,” Lake said to Joe. “He might need to be restrained. He’s a violent dickhead when he’s drunk.”
“Get out!” Callum roared. “I don’t want you here. I don’t want your help. Or your pity. Leave me alone.”
The two men ignored him as, between them, they scooped him up. They carried him in a sitting position, their arms under his thighs and around his shoulders—as if he were a child or an old invalid.
Callum swung his fist and managed to connect with Lake’s jaw.
Lake’s eyes darkened. “You hit me again and I’m going to hit back. You got it?”
Like he gave a crap. “Bring it on, English.”
An arm clamped across his forearms holding them in place.
“Hurry,” Joe said. “He’s strong.”
Callum shouted obscenities until he felt the veins in his neck bulge and his head grew light. Suddenly, the cool cotton sheets of his bed were at his back.
“Get his legs,” Lake said. “Put them on the chest, I’ll put the wheelchair beside his bed. He’s less likely to throw the wheelchair at us. If he wants his legs he can roll over and get them.”
Callum grabbed his alarm clock and lobbed it at Lake’s head. His aim was off and the clock hit the wall and shattered.
Cold eyes caught his. “I will knock you out.” Lake’s voice was icy calm.
“Bring it on.” Callum made a fist and waved it in threat. “I can take you. You arrogant English bastard.”
Joe shook his head and left the room. Callum could hear voices coming from the other room. All of his damn team were there. All of them. He’d locked himself away from them. And they were there anyway.
“I don’t want them in here,” he told Lake.
“What the hell do you want?” Lake folded his arms and glared down at Callum.
The question knocked the wind out of him. He sagged back into his bed and stared at the ceiling. But he didn’t see it. He saw his past. The part of his life that was never coming back. The part where he knew who he was and what he could do. The part where he’d felt invincible.
“I want out,” he said. “I’m done being part of Benson Security. I want to go home.”
To Scotland. To die.
Present day, the village of Arness, Scotland
Isobel Sinclair should have contacted the authorities the first time she saw the boat sneaking into the cove. But she didn’t. She should have called when there was a storm during the boat’s third visit, and the crew lost some of their baggage on the rocky path up to Arness. But she didn’t. Instead, she’d gathered their lost cargo, called it her own and sold it to help pay off her ex-husband’s debts.
Which made her a thief, just like him.
And her thieving was the reason she still didn’t call in the authorities the time the boat turned up in the dead of night, and there was shouting in the darkness. Or the time she’d seen evidence that someone had been dragging something heavy over the beach.
No, she’d never called the authorities. Not once. Even though she knew the boat brought nothing but trouble each time it snuck into shore.
But she should have called, because the boat had come back.
And this time, they’d left a body behind.
“What are we going to do with him?” Isobel’s youngest sister, Mairi, stared down at the man.
The dead man.
“I suppose we should bury him,” Agnes, one of their middle sisters, said.
“We can’t bury him here.” Isobel gestured to the rock-strewn beach. “Even if we do manage to dig a hole, the tide will unearth him in a day or two.”
Mairi looked up at the steep rocky path behind them, the only route down from the bluff where the tiny town of Arness sat. “We’ll never get him back up there. He looks like he weighs a ton.”
“And he’s wet.” Agnes nodded. “That makes you heavier.”
“Aye,” Mairi said. “Water retention.”
Isobel and Agnes stared at their sister.
“What?” Mairi said.
With mirroring shakes of their heads, Agnes and Isobel turned their attention back to the body.
“How do you think he died?” Agnes said.
“I suppose we should look him over and see if we can tell.” Isobel didn’t like the thought of touching the man, let alone examining him for clues as to his cause of death.
“Does it really matter how he died?” Mairi said. “I mean, it isn’t going to change the fact that he’s dead. Or that he was left here by the boat people.”
“The boat people?” Agnes looked towards heaven and seemed to be counting to ten. Again.
Mairi shrugged, her long red hair shifting with the movement. “What else are we to call them? And he was left here by the boat crew. Isobel saw them while she was spying.”
Isobel adopted her patented ‘haughty eldest sister’ look—it helped take her mind off her shaking hands and the fear gnawing at her stomach. “I wasn’t spying. I was looking out of my window and saw them carry him off the boat and dump him here.”
“You were looking out of your window with the aid of binoculars,” Mairi reminded her.
She had a point. “What I don’t get is if these boat people are so keen on going unnoticed, then why are they dumping bodies on the beach?” Isobel said. “I mean, they only come in the dead of night. And we know they’re up to no good.”
“Smuggling,” Mairi said with a decisive nod.
Agnes walked around the prone man, looked back out at the choppy waters behind them, then up at the hill leading to town. “Do you think they meant for him to be swept out to sea? Or to be eaten by the crabs?”
“If they wanted him to be swept out to sea, why not dump him out there in the first place?” Isobel said. “And I don’t think half a dozen crabs are enough to eat a full-grown body. At least not fast enough to get rid of the evidence.”
“Even then,” Mairi said “there would still be the bones.”
They nodded in agreement, and Isobel couldn’t help but notice that her sisters were struggling to hide their shaking hands, just as she was doing.
“I think we should call the police.” Seeing as Agnes wasn’t the most law-abiding member of the family, it said a lot that she was the one to suggest calling them in.
“I can’t.” Isobel tugged at the sleeves of her oversized purple cardigan and wrapped her arms around herself. “They’ll find out that I sold the stuff I found, rather than reporting it to them in the first place.”
“I told you, you shouldn’t have gone to the pawn shop in Campbeltown,” Mairi said. “Too many people know us there.”
“I wanted rid of it fast.”
Plus, she’d needed the money to pay off the loan shark who was hounding her over her ex-husband’s debt. Seeing as the man couldn’t find Robert, he’d decided to make Isobel pay in his stead, with cash or her body, making it clear that her family would suffer if she didn’t comply. That was the reason Isobel’s moral judgement had been silenced when she’d found the stolen goods on the path—the thought of handing over her body to pay her ex-husband’s debt, made her ill. But she’d do it, if she had to. She’d do just about anything to make sure her kids were safe.
“Enough of this.” Agnes crouched down and turned the body over.
He flopped onto his back and the cause of death was instantly clear. There was a wide, gaping slit where his throat used to be.
“I think I’m going to be sick.” Mairi covered her mouth and turned her back on the body, making gagging sounds as she did so.
“Don’t,” Agnes ordered. “You know I’m a sympathetic puker. If you start vomiting, we’ll both be doing it.”
Isobel ignored her sisters as she stared at the body. It was the most horrifying thing she’d ever seen. She swallowed hard. “You can’t accidentally slit your own throat, can you?”
“No.” Agnes was firm.
Aye, that would have been too much to hope for.
There was a scrambling noise from the bluff behind them. The women yelped and spun, to see their remaining sister coming down the rocky path.
Isobel put her hand to her chest. Her heart was racing hard. “You nearly gave me a heart attack,” she chided her sister.
Donna rushed up to them, her blonde hair flying out behind her. “Sorry. What’s so urgent we had to meet in the dark on the beach? Did you find more of their bounty?”
It was then she saw the body. The colour drained from her face, she turned and promptly vomited. Which, in turn, made Agnes vomit.
Mairi started making gagging noises. “I’m okay, I’m okay.” She held one hand up, pressing the other to her stomach. “I can hold it.”
“What a relief,” Isobel told her.
Mairi shot her an irritated look. “I told you not to call Donna. She’s vegetarian.”
“I didn’t expect her to eat him.” Isobel glared back at her.
“That’s just gross,” Mairi said, and gagged again.
Isobel threw her hands up in disgust. “Why did I bother calling any of you? You’re no use at all. We have a situation here and all you’re doing is being sick.”
“It’s not like we can help it,” Agnes said, looking decidedly green.
“Some warning would have been good.” Donna swayed in place. Her eyes were on the water instead of the man.
“I did warn you when I called. I said,” Isobel spoke through gritted teeth, “come quick, there’s a dead body on the beach.”
“I thought you were joking,” Donna said.
“About a dead body?” Isobel practically shrieked.
“Right.” Agnes held up her hands. “Everybody calm down, this isn’t helping. It’s getting light, and we need to deal with the body. It’s not like people use this beach, but if someone did come down here, they’d call the police.” She looked at Isobel. “And seeing as your house is the closest, you’d be first on their list to interview.”
“That wouldn’t go well,” Mairi said. “Your whole face goes red when you lie and you start stuttering.”
“Then you just blab the truth and apologise for trying to lie,” Donna added.
“Which means you’d get arrested for fencing stolen goods.” Agnes nodded. “Something we’re trying to avoid.”
“Are you all about done?” Isobel put her hands on her hips and glared at them. Was this really the time to bring up every single one of her flaws? “The kids will be awake soon. We need to deal with this now.”
They all stared at the man.
“I’ve never seen a dead body before,” Mairi said. “They look so lifeless.”
“Idiot.” Agnes smacked Mairi on the back of the head.
“What was that for?” Mairi rubbed her head.
“For being an idiot,” Agnes said. “Now focus. Do we leave him here? Cover him and come back later to bury him? Bury him now? Or move him somewhere else while we think things over?”
“I think we need to move him. It would be too hard to bury him here and we couldn’t guarantee the tide wouldn’t unearth him later.” Isobel felt weary. She was sick of the stress in her life. Sick of dealing with other people’s messes. Sick of struggling every single day, just to survive. “Whatever we do, we need to do it fast, before the kids wake up. Either way, I want him off the beach. Jack sometimes comes down here with his friends after school and I wouldn’t want them to find the body.”
“You could put him in the freezer in your garage,” Donna said. “It still works, doesn’t it?”
“Aye, but it’s old, full of rust and smelly,” Isobel said.
“I don’t think he’ll care,” Donna said.
“What do we do with him once he’s in the freezer? We can’t leave him there forever.” Isobel gnawed at her bottom lip and wondered how her life had come to this point.
She was a single mother of two, with two failed relationships behind her, a mountain of debt she hadn’t personally accumulated, a minimum wage job in the village shop and an ever-growing list of crimes under her belt. It was not how she’d imagined life would be at the grand old age of thirty-two.
“We need advice. We need someone who knows what to do with a dead body,” Agnes said. “We need an expert.”
“I’m not calling the police.” Isobel was adamant. She was the only stability her kids had. She couldn’t even think of risking it.
“I wasn’t thinking of the police,” Agnes said. “I was thinking of an outlaw.”
“Yes!” Mairi clapped her hands and grinned. “Great idea Aggie.”
“No.” Isobel shook her head. “No. Just no.”
Donna placed her hand on Isobel’s arm. “Don’t dismiss this idea just because you fancy the man. He used to be in the army. He’s bound to have seen dead bodies during conflict. He must have an idea what to do with them.”
“I-I don’t f-fancy him,” Isobel protested, but nobody was listening. No, she just dreamed about him every blooming night. What was it with her and bad boys? Hadn’t she learned her lesson by now? Why couldn’t she find a nice six-stone weakling of an accountant to fall in love with?
“It’s well known he’s dangerous,” Agnes said. “Old man McKay used to tell everyone that his grandson was deadly. He was in the Special Forces. He knows about dead bodies.”
“Plus,” Mairi said. “There’s a security company watching him—covertly.” She whispered the last word as though it had special powers. “That must mean he’s on the other side of the law now, which means he won’t report us to the cops.”
“I didn’t know he was being watched.” Donna’s eyes went wide. “Maybe talking to him isn’t such a good idea.”
“I spoke to the woman who was setting up cameras,” Isobel said. Of course she was going to grill a stranger who was setting up CCTV in the street, in the dark. “She showed me her ID and said he wasn’t dangerous to the town. He isn’t a criminal. She said he’s only dangerous to bad guys.” And then the blue haired woman had laughed. It wasn’t reassuring. Neither was the fact she was wearing a Wonder Woman t-shirt and a pair of pink glittery Doc Martin boots. “She gave me her business card, in case I was ever worried about anything.”
“Maybe we should call the security company instead?” Mairi said. “We can ask them what to do.”
Agnes groaned. “I can just imagine that conversation— ‘Hello, we have the body of a stranger in our freezer and we’re looking for suggestions on what to do with it.’ Aye, that will go well.”
“It was only an idea,” Mairi frowned at Agnes.
“Whatever,” Agnes said. “I think our best bet is the outlaw. You said he’s huge and there are weapons lying around in his house. He’s obviously used to dangerous situations. I bet he’d know what to do with the body. You need to ask him for help.”
Isobel had been delivering groceries to Callum McKay’s house for almost four months and she’d only seen the man three times. All three times, he’d scared the life out of her. Rage covered him like a shroud. But there was also something about the man that made her heart ache for him. Maybe it was the utter desolation in his eyes, or the fact that the only people she’d seen near him, had been from a security company that was hiding in the dark. She’d never met someone so completely alone. And so brutally raw. He was the embodiment of her own personal weakness—the tortured bad boy, with muscles like Thor. She didn’t have to be massively self-aware to realise that he was the last person she should approach for help. No, for the sake of her own sanity, it was best to keep far, far away from the man.
“Honey,” Agnes said with sympathy. “We don’t have a lot of options here. Either you get help from someone who knows what to do with a body, or you keep the guy frozen in your old chest freezer for the foreseeable future.”
“Aye,” Donna said. “And what if this is just the beginning? What if the boat people dump more bodies? We need a plan. We need advice.”
“Or we need to start our own crematorium business,” Mairi said.
“Think of the kids,” Agnes said. “This is getting worse every month. We’re in way over our heads. We need help. If this guy can help, then great. If not, we’ll try something else.”
Isobel’s heart sank. Agnes was right. They were out of options. Staying away from Callum McKay had become a luxury she couldn’t afford. And it wasn’t as if she wanted to start a relationship with the man. No, she just wanted advice on what to do with the dead stranger who’d been dumped on her beach.
“You can do it,” Donna said softly. “We have your back.”
Isobel blinked back tears, as love for her sisters overwhelmed her. She didn’t know how she’d survive without them. She needed to talk to Callum for their sakes. This situation with the mysterious boat was well past the point of being dangerous and they were getting in deeper every month. No, they weren’t, she was. And she was dragging her sisters down with her.
“Okay, I’ll talk to him.”
“You’ll be okay, honey,” Agnes said.
“Just keep your hands off him,” Mairi advised. “Maybe you could call him instead of talking to him face to face.”
That caused Agnes to smack her again. “She isn’t going to jump the man, idiot.”
There was a pause as all three sisters gave her speculative looks. Isobel threw up her hands in disgust. “So I have a type. So what? It’s not like I’m going to throw myself at him and offer to sleep with him in return for his help.”
There was a shuffling of feet as her sisters cast sidewards glances at each other.
“Thanks a lot,” Isobel said. “Good to know you have so much faith in me.”
“You tend to get physical without thinking it through,” Donna said gently.
“I only did that once,” Isobel protested. And ended up pregnant and alone at seventeen because of it.
Her sisters stared at her.
“Fine. Twice.” And she had the ex-husband from hell to show for that little slip in self-control.
“If it’s any consolation,” Mairi said. “I’ve totally learned from your mistakes.”
“No. It’s no consolation. Now do you three think you could stop analysing my past mistakes long enough to help me get this body off the beach?” She looked at the sliver of light on the horizon. “Sun’s coming. We need to get him to the garage and into the freezer before the kids wake up.”
“This is going to be gross,” Mairi said. “I’ll need to burn my clothes after this.”
“I might vomit again,” Donna said.
“Get a grip,” Agnes snapped, “And take an arm or a leg each.”
With each of them clutching a limb, the four sisters carried the dead man up the hill to Isobel’s house. Donna and Agnes were only sick twice.
Callum McKay had found hope in an unlikely saviour—eighty-nine-year-old Betty McLeod. The cuboid-shaped woman, with her signature hairnet, but no hair, and tartan tent dresses, was the scourge of the Highlands. She had the personality of a rabid hyena and the moral compass of a campaigning politician. But for some reason, in spite of her failings, or maybe because of them, Lake Benson had practically adopted the woman. He called her his pet Hobbit, she called him son. As far as Callum knew, Lake had been the only person on the planet Betty wasn’t out to mess with—until him.
Callum wasn’t sure what he’d done to acquire her interest in his life, but it seemed there was no getting rid of her. And heaven knows, he’d tried. She’d come with Lake on one of the days he’d visited to check up on Callum, when he’d first moved into his grandfather’s old house in Scotland. She’d barrelled through the door, cackling like a witch when he told her to go to hell. Then she’d taken a look around, and said, “Son, it looks like I’m already there. This place is a pigsty. Make me a cup of tea. Lake’s got the cake. Then tell me why you’re trying to kill yourself and what I can do to help.” From the evil glint in her eye, Callum was pretty sure she meant help to end his life and not help to stop him.
For some reason, Callum had made the tea. He now had weekly phone calls from Betty, where she told him he was being an arse and discussed euthanasia methods with him. As far as therapy went, it was probably enough to get them both committed.
“Why the hell didn’t you answer the phone earlier?” Betty said by way of hello when Callum picked it up this time.
“I was busy.” For once, he’d hadn’t been busy staring at his gun and wondering if this was the day he was going to put the barrel in his mouth and pull the trigger.
“Doing what?” Her aged croak of a voice was like sandpaper on his eardrums.
“None of your bloody business.”
She laughed and Callum shook his head.
“Did it involve some self-pleasure?” she said. “If it did, film it next time and send it to me. I need to make the most of the years I have left.”
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“What do you want?”
Callum caught sight of movement out of the kitchen window. Someone was coming down his drive. A very familiar someone. His heart began to beat faster at the sight of Isobel Sinclair. She’d been delivering his groceries for months now, but he’d rarely met her in person. It had been a deliberate move on his part, forced by self-preservation. Everything about Isobel called to him, making him want to drag the curvy woman into his lair and spend a few hours forgetting his life with her body. And that was something he couldn’t let happen. He’d learned the hard way that he was better off alone.
“I’m phoning to see if you’re dead,” Betty said, dragging his attention back to her call. “Still with us, I see.”
“Why do you sound disappointed?”
“We’ve already established that I think you’re a big pansy arse for even thinking about offing yourself. I’ve been through a helluva lot more in my lifetime than you have, and I’m still standing. You need to suck it up and get on with the life you’ve been given.”
Aye, so she’d told him. On numerous occasions. Callum wondered yet again why he bothered to pick up the phone when she called. “What have you endured that’s worse than having both your legs blown off?” He should have kept his mouth shut. It was an amateur mistake. One he’d only made because he was distracted by the curvy woman walking towards his house.
“You don’t know loss and agony until you’ve had a hysterectomy, son. Don’t even get me started on what a double mastectomy feels like.”
“No.” Callum rushed to interrupt. “Let’s not get you started.”
He was still dazed from the visit when she’d offered to flash her boobless chest at him, in order to show him it was still possible to live a good life with missing body parts. Or as she had said, “So you’ll see that you can still be sexy when there’s stuff missing. Being boobless hasn’t slowed me down any. Ask the vicar.” Then she’d given him a toothless grin—because she’d lost her teeth in Lake’s car. It had taken the two men working together, to get her under control. Callum was still traumatised just thinking about it.
“I need to go,” Callum said, his eyes on Isobel as she let herself through his gate. There were no groceries in her hands. This wasn’t a delivery. Immediately, every instinct he had went on alert and he noted every detail about her.
She was paler than usual and her dark hair, tied in a twist, was nowhere as neat as she normally kept it. She looked around furtively, as though afraid someone was watching.
Or, she was afraid of him.
“Are you going to shoot yourself? Is that why you need to go?” Betty asked.
“Not today, Satan, not today.”
“Good, then can you finish that bowl you’re making and send it to me, so I can give it to Kirsty? I need something to bribe her with.”
That was enough to pull his attention away from Isobel. Just. How the hell did she know he was woodturning? His eyes scanned the room and he cursed under his breath. There was a tiny camera fixed in the corner of the wall near the ceiling. Bloody Elle, she’d bugged him. Of course she had. The staff of Benson Security had no concept of personal boundaries.
“I’m going to kill them,” Callum muttered. Right after he found every bloody surveillance toy on his property.
“Can you do it after you’ve finished the bowl?”
“I can’t believe you lot have been watching me. What have you been doing? Sitting around, eating popcorn and monitoring the sad sack in Arness?”
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist. There’s no camera in the bathroom. I argued for one, but everybody kept saying that was an abuse of your privacy. They wouldn’t let me watch the night-time feed either.” Betty’s voice turned wicked. “Is it true you sleep in the nude?”
Callum shuddered. He couldn’t even think of anything to say to that. As soon as the call ended, he was going to remove every damn camera and shove them up…
“…Kirsty would like it,” Betty said pulling his attention away from his plans. “She likes all that arty-farty crap. And she’s banned me from the security office so I need to bribe my way back in. Can you send it to me this weekend? Before you kill yourself?”
Callum didn’t have the energy to follow Betty’s logic. Isobel was at his door and his house was full of cameras, so that his ex-colleagues could spy on him. He sure as hell didn’t have the time to ask Betty what she’d done that was bad enough to get her banned from Benson Security’s Invertary office—the woman practically lived in her armchair in the corner of the reception area.
“I’m hanging up now,” Callum said as Isobel rang his doorbell.
“Don’t die before you finish the bowl,” Betty shouted, “and put a bow on it. Make it fancy before you send it. Kirsty’s in a foul mood and a bow would definitely help.”
With a shake of his head, Callum ended the call. He had more on his mind than Betty’s pathetic attempt to pay off Lake Benson’s wife. It wasn’t going to work anyway. Kirsty had grown up in Invertary. A deep distrust of Betty had been bred into her from birth.
Callum stared at the door as Isobel rang the bell again. If he opened it, he’d be opening himself up to whatever problem the woman obviously had. He didn’t do that anymore. He didn’t get involved with other people’s problems. And he sure as hell wasn’t someone who could help her.
Through the frosted glass, he saw her shift in place before she rapped the door with her knuckles. Callum broke out in a cold sweat. Part of him itched to pull open the door and offer his help. The rest of him knew that what little help he could offer wouldn’t be of much use.
Isobel knocked the door again, this time, it was a much more timid tap. As though she was losing her confidence. Callum held his breath as his heart pounded. She would soon get fed up and go, taking her problems along with her. That’s what he wanted. Aye. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans. Aye, he definitely wanted her to take her problems elsewhere.
Through the window, he watched her step back, look at the door and chew at her bottom lip. She wrung her hands in front of her. All colour had gone from her face. Her usually pink cheeks were pale. Slowly, her eyes closed, she nodded and turned, heading back down the path.
And just like that, something inside of Callum, something he’d thought long dead, snapped into action.
“Damn it to hell!”
He shot a one-fingered salute at the camera and then lunged for the door.
Isobel turned away from the old house, torn between feeling relief and disappointment that the Arness Outlaw wasn’t home. It was probably for the best. She’d been going over what to say all the way to his house, which was a fair walk along the bluff from her place, and she still hadn’t come up with a way to casually mention the dead man in her freezer.
“What do you want?”
The sudden, terse words made Isobel squeak and trip over her own feet. She righted herself fast, and spun to find Callum McKay standing in his open doorway. And just like that, her mind emptied of all rational thought.
“Well?” The word rumbled out of him in a menacing growl.
Isobel looked up at the man. And up. She almost had to crane her neck to look him in the eye. At just over five foot, Isobel was used to looking up at people. What she wasn’t used to, was feeling so incredibly vulnerable while she did it.
With his arms folded over his tight, grey t-shirt, making his already over-sized shoulders bulge, Callum McKay looked like everything the villagers whispered about him—outlaw, bad boy, marauder, stealer of virtue…
“You going to talk or just stare at me?” Even his voice was pure, rough whisky.
Isobel blinked a couple of times, trying to pull herself out of the daze the man had put her in. The cloak of danger hung heavily on him. He was a man who was used to being the strongest, meanest threat around. Isobel wasn’t sure if knowing that made her want to run from him, or to him.
She licked her very dry lips and forced out some words. “You’re Callum McKay.”
She fought the urge to cringe. For an opening line, it wasn’t that impressive. But what else could she say? You’re the sexiest, most terrifying man I’ve ever met and I think I just ovulated from being in your presence. Oh, and by the way, there’s a dead man in my freezer.
His eyes narrowed, drawing her attention to the harsh planes of his face. He’d been chiselled out of granite and the sculptor had been too intimidated by the result to polish him. Callum McKay was all rough edges and solid power. And he was waiting for her to say something else.
“I’m Isobel Sinclair.”
He frowned. “I know that. What I don’t know, is what you want?”
To be naked and at your mercy?
Isobel smacked her palm over her mouth before she realised she hadn’t said the words aloud. Her face began to burn and she actually considered running from Callum and taking her chances with the police.
She peeled her fingers from her mouth one at a time and tried to smile. She was pretty sure it only made her look more manic. Casual, she told herself, be casual. You can do this.
“So, I hear you were in the army?”
Oh, that was not the right thing to say. If Callum was scary before, he was downright terrifying now. Every muscle in his body turned to steel. His eyes were glacial and his lips thinned.
“Where did you hear that?”
Isobel swallowed hard. “A-around.”
“And what’s it to you?”
Isobel took a step back and felt a bush poke into her rear. It hurt, but she didn’t step forward again. “J-just being friendly. Neighbourly. You’ve been here a few months and I-I thought I should welcome you…s-seeing as you’re here alone…and you…you know…don’t go out much.” Her face was burning up now and with every tiny lie she told, her stutter got worse. In desperation, she reached for something to say that was truth. “I live along the bluff.” She pointed in the direction of her house. “On a clear day, I can see Ireland from my house.”
Kill me now!
Callum stared at her as though he was trying to figure out a puzzle that involved her. Isobel started to back up again before she remembered she was already in the bush. The silence became so heavy it was hard to breathe.
“Did you see any conflict?” she blurted. “In the army, I mean. Y-you must have seen some interesting things. I’ve a-always been really i-interested in guns and other a-army stuff. Tanks! T-tanks are especially c-cool. And big. Tanks are big. And don’t have any w-windows. I-I’ve always w-wondered how the s-soldier could see to drive…w-without windows…in a tank…with tank-sized g-guns. You must know a lot about g-guns. A-and tanks. A-and…” she cast around for anything at all she could remember about the army. Anything! “…and c-camouflage…” Honestly, it took all her self-control not to groan loudly and run away as fast as her legs could carry her.
Callum didn’t move, he didn’t speak, he only watched her as she dug her hole deeper with every word.
“I-I hear there are d-different types of camouflage f-for different environments.”
He stared at her with that blank expression.
Isobel swallowed hard. “I-I had a pink camouflage dress o-once.”
“Not m-much use for p-pink in the army, though…” She forced a laugh and it morphed into something quite hysterical that she had to work hard to stop.
“So,” she cleared her throat. “I thought, maybe, y-you’d like to c-come to my house and h-have tea and talk about army s-stuff.” She looked at him hopefully. Desperately.
Callum’s chin jerked upwards as though she’d struck him. His cheeks coloured with what she knew was rage.
“You’re one of those women then,” he poured disdain into his words. “The kind that thinks combat is sexy. Do you get hot hearing battle stories? Are you hoping I’ll show you my scars? You’re out of luck, lady. I don’t sleep with army groupies. You want to get off with a soldier, look elsewhere.”
It was Isobel’s turn to feel like she’d been slapped. “What? No!”
Callum shook his head at her. “Clear out before I lose my temper.” He turned his back on her.
Isobel rushed forward, but was held back by her top getting snagged in the bush.
“It’s not like that. That’s not why I’m here.”
He strode into the house, ignoring her.
Isobel panicked and did what she always did under pressure. She blurted the truth.
“There’s a dead body in my freezer and I don’t know what to do with it!”
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