Coming soon!FragileHeartsEbook

The eighth book in the Loch Lannick series will be available from the 31st of July 2021. Scroll down for a sneak peek…

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Chapter 1

Jess’s gaze had been fixed on her favourite colleague from the moment he’d walked into the staffroom. After a two-week break from work, getting back to seeing him on a daily basis felt like being given water after a trek through a desert. Her eyes lapped him up. Eventually, he turned and looked right at her, raising a hand to wave across the room. Butterflies took flight in her stomach. His smile always did that to her. In reply, she made a jerky hand movement that started as a wave but ended with her touching her forehead. Apparently she’d lost control of her limbs. She dropped her chin to her chest, hoping he wouldn’t catch the burn of her cheeks. 

After more than six months working at Portree High School, she should really feel more comfortable in the staffroom, but every day felt like her first. Her co-workers were pleasant enough, but at twenty-three years old she was the youngest member of staff. It was her first teaching job and she’d moved from Aberdeen for the position. To start with it had felt like an adventure, but she soon felt lost and overwhelmed. It hardly felt like any time since she’d been a secondary school pupil, and now she was a teacher. 

Imposter syndrome had kicked in as soon as she started the job and wasn’t showing any signs of subsiding. Even though she knew she was perfectly qualified to teach, the voice in her head constantly told her otherwise. It was hard to say whether the voice was louder when she was in the staffroom, surrounded by colleagues who were far more qualified and experienced than she was, or when she was standing in front of the pupils, wondering if they could sense her fear. 

Her cheeks still felt flushed when someone sat heavily beside her, making the couch cushion sink. Now she was going to have to make polite conversation. 

“Do you want to be friends?” the young woman asked. Her lips were coated in red lipstick and her eyelashes were so dark and long that Jess wondered if they were fake, though they didn’t look unnatural. She was smartly dressed and her blonde hair was styled in a neat bob. 

Jess squinted at her in confusion. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I’m new,” she said, her bright lips stretching to a wide smile. “First day today. I don’t know anyone, but I was thinking that it’s a school and back in my schooldays it was easy to make friends. You just set your sights on someone and waltzed up and asked them. I chose you because you look young and fun. I’m Ava, by the way.” She thrust her hand out.

“Jess,” she replied, shaking the woman’s hand and trying to judge her age; she guessed Ava was a few years older than herself, maybe late twenties. “Are you taking over from Theresa? In the office?”

“Yes. It’s just a temporary position. She wants to come back after maternity leave. I’ve done a lot of office work and tend to jump from one temp job to another. I worked in a school once before but it was a few years ago, and that was a primary school. So what do you say, will you take me under your wing and help me get settled?”

“I’m pretty new myself,” Jess said. “I feel as though I’m still figuring things out too.”

Ava leaned in and lowered her voice. “You can at least give me the lowdown on the other staff.” 

Automatically, Jess’s eyes strayed across the room, searching him out. 

“I wanted to ask about those two,” Ava said, following her gaze. 

Jess chastised herself for being so obvious. “What about them?”

“They’re cute. Tell me everything you know. Who’s the one on the right?”

“Chris Duffy. Sports teacher. He’s okay but he’s quite arrogant.”

“I should have known he’d be the sports teacher. I guess you can get away with being a bit arrogant when you look like that.”

Jess shrugged; he definitely wasn’t her type. 

“What about the other one? He’s probably arrogant too with an arse like that?”

“Oh my God!” Jess snorted a laugh and felt her cheeks heating up again. 

“Come on! Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed how well his jeans fit.”

Jess had absolutely noticed how good he looked in the jeans and shirt combo that was his standard work attire. 

“I bet all the young girls love having him as a teacher,” Ava went on. “It would definitely have given me a positive attitude towards school if I got to look at him every day. Not sure I’d have learnt much, though. It’d be hard to concentrate on anything other than his bum!”

“Stop it!” Jess said, putting a hand over her mouth.

“Tell me about him then. Give me all the juice.”

“Rory Kennedy. English teacher.”

“And?” Ava glared at her. “What’s he like? Does he love himself?”

“No.” Jess smiled. “He’s not arrogant at all. He’s lovely.”

“I’m not sure what this says about me, but I think I’d rather he was arrogant. I like a bad boy.”

“He’s definitely not a bad boy.”

“Is he single?”

Jess chewed her bottom lip, mulling over the question. “Sort of,” she finally said. 

“What on earth does that mean?”

“It’s complicated. I’m not really sure what the situation is—” 

“He’s coming over,” Ava said excitedly. “Oh my goodness, that smile has made my insides all quivery. Act naturally!”

“That’s an oxymoron,” Jess said, remembering a conversation she’d had with Rory a while back when she’d been helping him come up with oxymorons for one of his lessons.

“Oh no. Are you a brainy type? I suppose that was inevitable. It’s a room full of teachers after all. Do you teach English too?”

“No. Chemistry.” 

“Wow. Super brainy. No wonder you think I’m a moron!”

“I didn’t say that.” Jess laughed at the teasing in Ava’s eyes. “I said it’s an oxymoron. If you’re acting, it can’t be natural. Therefore acting naturally is an oxymoron.”

“Yeah, I get it.” Her eyes drifted to Rory. 

“Hey!” He beamed at Jess as he perched on the arm of the couch. “Nice tan! I guess the sun was shining in Italy.”

“Yeah, it was great.”

“You’ve been in Italy?” Ava asked. “How lucky are you?”

“I went with my sister,” Jess said. 

“It was weird not seeing you for two weeks.” Rory gave her shoulder a squeeze. The physical contact made her feel shaky. 

“This is Ava,” she said in a bid to shift the attention away from herself. “She’s taking over from Theresa in the office.”

“Nice to meet you.” Rory leaned across Jess to shake Ava’s hand and introduce himself. The whiff of his aftershave was heavenly, and Jess had to restrain herself to stop from leaning closer into him. 

“Jess has been filling me in on the staff,” Ava said with a mischievous glint in her eye. “Telling me who the morons are!”

Rory slipped from the arm of the couch into the small space beside Jess. “I thought we agreed that he’s just old and set in his ways,” he whispered. “Calling him a moron might be a bit harsh.”

“I wasn’t saying anything bad about anyone.” She shifted in her seat but there wasn’t much room, and Rory’s leg remained pressed against hers. 

“She hasn’t mentioned me yet then?” he said. “You’ve not had her complaining about me dragging her to the pub on Friday nights?”

Ava grinned. “There hasn’t been any mention of the pub, although I have to say I’ve never needed dragging to any bar.”

“There are a bunch of us who go for drinks on Fridays,” Rory said. “Celebrate making it through the week. You should come with us. You’ll definitely need a drink after your first week here.”

“You’re worrying me,” Ava said. “Jess had me thinking it was a decent place to work, but now I’m not so sure.”

“I’m kidding. It’s great really.” He gave Jess’s leg a nudge. “Remember our first week? You got so drunk on that first Friday night out.”

“The hangover still haunts me.” She smiled at the memory. “We started working here at the same time,” she told Ava.

“We bonded over being newbies together,” Rory added. 

“Sounds cosy.” There was a hint of mischief to Ava’s voice. “Oh, no. The boss is here. Am I supposed to be at her side with a clipboard or a notepad or something?”

“She’s really nice,” Jess said, looking at the head teacher, Imogen Corley, who’d just walked in. 

“She’ll mingle for a few minutes,” Rory said. “Then you’ll get your formal introduction and we’ll all give you a little clap to welcome you.”

“That sounds embarrassing!”

“It is,” Jess said, remembering how self-conscious she’d been when she was the new member of staff. At least Rory had been in the same boat. Imogen looked their way and beckoned to Rory. 

“What have I done?” he said out of the corner of his mouth as he stood up. “I always feel as though I’m about to get into trouble whenever she wants to speak to me.”

“Yeah, right.” Jess rolled her eyes. “You’re the teacher’s pet!”

“See you later,” Rory said and left them alone again.

Ava turned to face Jess. “Okay, spill the beans. Are you and he together?”

“No,” Jess said, shocked by the question.

“Are you sleeping with him?”

Her cheeks felt as though they were on fire. “No. Why would you ask that?”

“Because of the chemistry between you. You seem to have a very friendly relationship.”

“Well, we are friends.”

“Don’t try and tell me that’s all. Come on. Tell me the real story …”

“There’s nothing to tell.” Jess looked across the room to where Rory was chatting to Imogen Corley. He was a lovely guy and a good friend.

Sadly, that really was the whole story.