The fourth book in the Loch Lannick series will be available from the 31st of May 2020. Scroll down for a sneak peek…
Pre-order your copy here:
The highly anticipated date wasn’t off to a good start. Somehow Elspeth Mackenzie managed to smile at yet another photo on Henry’s phone. She’d had such high hopes for the evening, but now she was looking at pictures of Cedric, the pet hamster.
At least she didn’t need to feel guilty for not disclosing her single-parent status prior to the date. After all, Henry had chosen not to mention Cedric.
She always found it difficult to know when to let guys know she had a child. Mentioning two-year-old Arran prior to dates meant the date might not even go ahead – as she’d recently found out when a very cute guy had been chatting her up in a bar, only for him to lose interest when Arran had come into the conversation. To be fair, no one expected a nineteen-year-old to come with that amount of baggage.
When the tall, handsome Henry had asked her on a date after they’d got chatting in the pub the previous Saturday night, she’d chosen not to mention Arran. They’d been messaging back and forth over the week, so it wasn’t as though she hadn’t had a chance, but he’d seemed really sweet in the pub and she was keen to at least go on one date with him.
Exchanging messages with him had been a bit of a thrill and she’d been excited for their date. Arran was staying at her parents’ place so she could really let her hair down without having to worry about being woken at the crack of dawn by a lively toddler.
Now she sat in the Antlers Bar, sucking a mojito through a straw, wasting a child-free evening by looking at hamster pictures. Cedric definitely should have been mentioned prior to the date. Not that hamsters were a deal-breaker for Elspeth. Hamster obsessions, on the other hand, rang alarm bells. And this was definitely an obsession.
“Lovely,” Elspeth said, her gaze flicking over Henry’s shoulder as she gave up on her attempt to feign interest. The photos were all the bloody same. Poor Cedric had a worse social life than her – he never went anywhere.
“Look at him on his wheel,” Henry said, his eyes firmly fixed on the phone. “It’s a video, this one. Watch this …”
With a sigh, Elspeth pulled her own phone out. “Did I tell you I have a little boy?” She held up a picture. Arran was way more interesting than Cedric. The photo was taken inside the cafe that Elspeth ran in Lannick on the west coast of Skye. Her little angel beamed into the camera as he devoured a slice of her homemade chocolate cake.
Henry’s brows knitted together. It was hard to tell why exactly he was so perturbed. Was it the fact that Elspeth had a child, or that she’d redirected the conversation from Cedric?
He squinted at her phone. “He’s yours?”
“Aye. Cute, isn’t he?”
“How old is he?”
“Two and a half.” She smirked. “Same as Cedric.”
“Wow.” He picked up his pint and gulped at it. “You must have been young when you had him …”
“I got pregnant at sixteen.” She was fairly sure she’d never uttered that sentence with as much pride. “Had him at seventeen.”
“Quite young then,” he muttered, reaching for his pint again. “Is his dad on the scene?”
“No, he’s not.” Elspeth’s mind tortured her with an image of Arran’s father. Her chest felt tight as she flicked between the urge to laugh and cry. Would she ever be able to think about him and not miss him? “I’ve got a terrible headache,” she blurted out, pushing thoughts of the past aside. “I’m sorry, I think I’m going to have to go.”
“Oh, right. Okay.” Henry frowned as she picked up her coat and pulled her bag onto her shoulder.
“I’m sorry to rush off.” She was being rude but she didn’t care. All she wanted was to get out of there.
“It was lovely to meet you. I’ll be in touch.” She hurried away, knowing that she definitely wasn’t going to be in touch.
As she stepped out of the pub onto the main street in Portree, Elspeth cursed herself. Maybe she should have given Henry more of a chance. In recent months she’d thrown herself into dating and had endured several similarly disappointing evenings. She always blamed the guys, but it occurred to her that they might not really be the problem. Maybe it was the fact that she compared everyone to Arran’s father, who she’d built up to be the perfect guy in her head. Dating was supposed to stop her from thinking about him, but it seemed to be having the opposite effect.
Shivering, she zipped up her coat and set off down the road. Thankfully, spring was just around the corner. Elspeth would be happy for some warmer weather. It meant there’d be more customers visiting her little cafe. Business was always quiet in the winter, but tourist season would soon hit and bring an influx of holidaymakers with money to spend. Maybe that would distract her from her non-existent love life.
She stopped outside the gift shop on the main street and pressed the bell for the flat upstairs. When the door buzzed open she trudged up the steep staircase.
“I thought I wasn’t supposed to call for another half hour?” Nick said as he waited in the doorway. Her sister’s ex-boyfriend had become a good friend to Elspeth. When she’d finally moved out of her parents’ place and into the cottage on their property, Nick had been stuck for a place to live and had stayed with her and Arran for a while. Elspeth had felt slightly bereft when he’d moved to his new flat in Portree a couple of months ago.
“I overestimated how well the date would go.” She gave him a brief hug then moved into the kitchen, peeling her coat off as she went. Nick had been her escape route if she needed to end the date. She’d given him strict instructions to call her after forty-five minutes. If things were fine, she’d ignore the call. If not, she’d answer and fake some sort of emergency. It wasn’t the most original plan, but it would have worked if the date had got that far. She hadn’t anticipated being sick of Henry after ten minutes.
“What happened?” Nick asked, squeezing her shoulder as he moved past her to get to the fridge.
Elspeth sank into a rickety wooden chair at the kitchen table. “Cedric happened.”
Holding up a beer, Nick looked at her questioningly. She nodded.
“Cedric?” he asked, popping the tops off the bottles.
“His pet hamster.”
“Oh!” He snorted a laugh as he sat opposite her.
“Yeah.” She tapped her bottle against Nick’s then gulped at it. “I’m actually wondering if it was a set-up. Maybe his friends were somewhere in the bar, and they had bets on how many hamster photos he could show me before I got up and left.”
Nick covered his mouth with his hand as he snorted again. “How many was it?”
“Far too many. I got out photos of Arran. For once I was hoping to scare a guy off with my child.”
“Did it work?”
“I’m not sure. I said I had a headache and ran away.”
“Maybe he was just nervous. You can’t really judge a person in ten minutes.”
She shook her head. “He doesn’t have room for me in his life anyway. Cedric has his heart. Who am I to come between a man and his hamster?”
Nick almost choked on his beer. “That sounds so wrong!”
Dropping her head to the table, Elspeth fake cried. “Why can’t I find a normal guy and go on a nice date?”
“You will.” He ruffled her hair. “You’ve gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.”
“That’s very cheesy, Nick.” Swatting his hand away, she smoothed down her hair. “I thought we were working on that?”
He leaned back in the chair. “I think I’m just a cheesy guy. There’s no hope for me.”
“Aren’t we pathetic?” She checked the time. “It’s Friday night. We should go out. See if we can find any frogs to kiss.”
“I can’t be bothered.” He looked pointedly at his jogging bottoms and stained T-shirt. “I’d have to get changed.”
“So we’ll stay in and watch more nature documentaries?” Elspeth did her best to sound bored by the idea. Secretly she loved the documentaries that Nick had got her into.
“There’s one about the Arctic that we haven’t watched yet.”
“Attenborough?” she asked. Sad that she now had a ranking system in her head for presenters of nature documentaries.
“Of course. It’s Friday night! We’ve got to treat ourselves.”
Elspeth’s phone vibrated and she pulled it from her pocket. “It’s Lexie.” She scanned the message but purposely didn’t say anything. It was always fun to watch Nick try to act casual whenever Lexie was mentioned.
“What’s she up to?” he asked, clearing his throat.
“She’s in the Merchant Bar. She must have decided to hang around in Portree after she drove me over here.”
“She drove you to Portree?”
“For your date?”
He raised his eyebrows. “That was nice of her.”
Elspeth nodded her agreement. “How many are we up to? Like eight?”
“I’m losing count,” Nick said. “And I hate to say I told you so …”
“No you don’t. You’re thoroughly enjoying this.”
“But she keeps doing nice things. That means she’s a nice person.”
“She does seem different these days,” Elspeth admitted.
Lexie had been best friends with Elspeth’s older sister Leana since they were kids. In recent years, Elspeth had developed a friendship with Lexie too. It mostly revolved around drunken nights out, which suited her. Lexie was a reliable drinking buddy and a competent wing woman when Elspeth wanted to meet guys. The fact that she was completely self-centred had never been a big issue in their friendship.
What did annoy Elspeth was the way Lexie treated Nick. Poor Nick had been obsessed with Lexie for a while and was getting his heart well and truly stomped on. Just when Elspeth had told him that Lexie wasn’t a very nice person and he could do much better for himself, Lexie had randomly started doing good deeds. Nothing major. She definitely wasn’t going to be in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.
For example, she’d held the door for Nick instead of letting it swing in his face, and another time she didn’t laugh when Elspeth tripped walking out of the pub. This evening she’d offered to drive Elspeth to Portree for her date.
“According to your count she’s done eight nice things this year,” Elspeth said. “We’re almost four months into the year. I reckon I do eight nice things a day, so I don’t think we need to give Lexie too much credit.”
“It’s not like her, though,” Nick said, with an odd spark of excitement in his eyes.
“Don’t do that!” Elspeth whined. “Don’t get your hopes up that she’s going to be a changed person and fall in love with you. If she doesn’t love you by now, she never will. And if it takes her so long to realise she loves you, she doesn’t deserve you anyway.”
“Aw. You’re so sweet and protective.”
“Whatever. Are we going to watch this documentary or what?”
“No. I’m going to shower and we’ll go to the Merchant Bar.”
“You’re pathetic, you know? And if I tell Lexie you’re coming she’ll run away before we arrive.”
“She won’t.” He gulped at his beer and stood up. “She’s warming to me. Last time I saw her she smiled and said hello.”
“You didn’t count that as a good deed, did you?”
He looked thoughtful. “I don’t think so. Should we? We’ll say nine?”
“No! Go and get showered, you numpty!”
“Can you choose a shirt for me?” he called back to her. “My mum says blue brings out my eyes.”
Elspeth smiled to herself. The date had been a washout but at least she had Nick to keep her amused.