The first book in the Loch Lannick series will be available from the 21st November 2019. Scroll down for a sneak peek…
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Leana Mackenzie was a couple of hours into her shift at the Old Inn – a quaint public house in the sleepy village of Lannick on the Isle of Skye. The middle-aged guy sitting at the bar was a regular and had been drinking steadily since they had opened that morning. As far as drunk people went, Russell was easy enough to deal with. He swayed from time to time and occasionally mumbled something incoherent. Leana had asked him politely to leave about five minutes earlier. Usually she’d have left him to it, but they were expecting a coachload of tourists and he made the place look untidy.
“Sorry,” she said, firmer this time. “You’ve had enough for today. Go and sleep it off and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’m fine,” he muttered. “I’ll have one more.”
Glancing across the bar, Leana exchanged a look with the landlady, Mary. Leana was best friends with Mary’s daughter, Lexie, and had been since their first day of school. When Mary gave her the nod, Leana took hold of Russell’s arm and pulled him to his feet. Leana was twenty-two years old and a petite five foot three inches. She was blessed with a metabolism that meant she could eat whatever she wanted and never put on any weight. Her small frame didn’t hinder her in dragging Russell across the pub and shoving him out the door. He towered over Leana, but didn’t put up much resistance as he was marched out of the pub.
“Ah, come on,” he pleaded outside the door. “One more drink. I won’t be any trouble.”
“Sorry, Russell. I’m cutting you off.” Leana’s Scottish accent became more pronounced the louder she got. “Get yerself home and into bed. You’ve had enough for today.”
It was easy enough to swing him around, and with a gentle kick she propelled him along the driveway. Her eyes widened slightly when she noticed the crowd of tourists looking at her. They parted to let Russell stumble through.
With her widest smile, she gave an over-the-top curtsy. “Welcome to the Old Inn,” she said without missing a beat. “If you’re looking for a true Scottish experience you’ve come to the right place.” She opened the door and beckoned them in. “We’ve a wide selection of local beers and whiskies, all brewed and distilled on the Isle of Skye. Come on in and have a try.”
There were about twenty people in the group, and she greeted them all cheerfully as they filed past. Then she slipped inside and round the bar to help Mary and her husband, Angus, serve the sudden influx of customers. Leana was in her element when the pub was busy. It always gave her a bit of an adrenalin rush. She’d been working there since she turned eighteen. Angus and Mary were in their early sixties, and were like second parents to Leana. She couldn’t imagine better people to work for.
“Been to the distillery, have you?” she asked a grey-haired man as she poured him a pint of local ale. The Lannick Distillery was only a few minutes’ walk from the pub, and it always drew tourists to the village. Besides the distillery and the pub, Lannick boasted a small shop and a smattering of houses, but not a lot else. There was a cafe down by the loch that was a little too hidden away to draw much passing trade besides hikers on the wonderful ribbon of a path which edged the water.
The grey-haired man leaned on the bar. “We were booked on a tour of the distillery,” he said. “But there was a mix-up with the booking. So now we’ve got two hours to kill before the tour. The guy at the distillery suggested we come down here for a drink, but it’s going to be an interesting tour if everyone’s spent two hours in the pub first.”
“Maybe you could fit in something else while you wait.” Leana set the beer in front of him. “Make the most of your time.”
The guy glanced along the bar to another man, who was staring at his phone. “Our tour guide says there isn’t much to do around here.”
“Hmm.” Leana glanced away as she stifled a grin. “They’ve two hours to kill,” she called to Mary. “Can you think of anywhere nearby they could visit?”
Mary paused from pouring drinks and let out a slow breath. “There’s the Glasshouse, I suppose.”
“The Glasshouse is a lovely spot,” Leana agreed. “And it’s a beautiful walk along the river. I might head down there myself later. It’s a gorgeous day for it.”
“What is it?” a woman at the bar asked.
“An art gallery with a cafe,” Leana told her. “Isla’s a local artist. She lives right there so you can often catch her at work. And it’s on the shore so the views are fantastic.”
“It sounds wonderful,” the woman said, while a few others murmured their agreement. “And we can walk there?”
“Dead easy,” Leana said. “Drop down to the loch at the back of the pub, turn right at the shore and it’s a gentle twenty-minute stroll.”
“It’s only a tiny cafe,” the tour guide said, tapping on his phone. “I’m not sure they’ll cater for tour groups.”
Leana smiled sweetly to disguise her annoyance. She wasn’t about to let him ruin her plans. “I’ll call ahead,” she told the group. “They’ll be happy to have you. The inside of the cafe’s small, but there’s plenty of outdoor seating.”
“Oh, let’s do that,” a woman said. “It sounds perfect.” She turned and called to the rest of the group to drink up.
Fifteen minutes later, the pub was empty again.
“We made a neat little profit there,” Angus said as he hovered over the till.
“You’re welcome,” Leana said cheekily.
Mary chuckled. “Proper little con-woman, you are!”
“I’m not conning anyone.” Leana walked around the bar to collect the dirty glasses. “It’s hardly my fault their tour was delayed.”
Mary howled with laughter.
“All right, all right.” Leana placed the glasses on the bar. “I might have had a hand in it.” Her dad worked at the distillery and they’d engineered the little detour for the tourists to drum up business. “It’s not hurting anyone,” she argued. “I’m helping local businesses. And I make sure the tourists have a great time. Everyone’s happy.”
“Your mother and Elspeth might not be,” Angus said, “if you don’t get yourself over there and start making sandwiches.”
“True.” Leana headed for the door. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
It was only a few minutes to the Glasshouse in the car – along the main road a little way and then half a mile on a winding side road. Leana slowed the car when she reached the property where she’d grown up. By the gate, a sign announced “The Glasshouse: family-owned cafe and shop”. The writing was formed with shards of sea glass in varying shades of green. They were set on a slab of driftwood that had been painted bright white. Beneath the eye-catching sign was a notice which politely advised customers to leave their cars up on the road.
As she drove through the gate, Leana glanced to the right. The whitewashed gatehouse had been a rambling, rundown building until recent years when a family friend had moved in and renovated it. Logan was like a brother to Leana, and she was happy to see his transit van parked in front of the gatehouse. According to the advert on the side of the van, he was a painter and decorator, but there weren’t many odd jobs Logan couldn’t manage. Leana swung her car in beside the van just as he stepped out of the front door.
“Logan!” she called in a sing-song voice as she got out of the car.
“No,” he said gruffly, opening the door to his van. “I’ve got to get back to work.”
“Oh, come on.” She reached him in time to block him from closing the driver’s door. “You’re a Mackenzie, and Mackenzies pitch in.”
“I’m not a Mackenzie,” he said, glaring at her.
“You practically are. We love you like our own, so you’re an honorary Mackenzie whether you like it or not.”
“I only nipped back between jobs,” he said. “I’ve got work to do. I’ll see you tonight.”
“But it’s the first proper day of the season. We need all hands on deck. All I’m asking is an hour of your time.” She fluttered her eyelashes, but he only raised an eyebrow. “Ach, come on,” she said sternly. “Help out for an hour.”
She took a step back as he hopped down from the van.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered as he moved past her. “What do you want me to do?”
“Can you put your kilt on?” she asked.
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Get the wee man in a kilt. If you’re gonna make me dress up, you can get Arran in on it too.”
“I’ll try,” she said. He paused, filling the doorway with his broad frame. At twenty years old, Logan was two years younger than Leana. He had been an honorary member of the Mackenzie family since he was twelve, when he’d been transferred to Lannick High School, where Leana and her sisters had attended. The house he’d grown up in with his dad was a half-hour drive across the island. Consequently, he’d spent many afternoons with the Mackenzies while he waited for a lift home from school.
Leana was one of three girls, and her dad had been happy to have another man around. He claimed he wasn’t quite so outnumbered when Logan was there.
“Hurry!” Leana shouted at Logan when he lingered in the doorway, looking like he was contemplating further protests. “I reckon we’ve got ten minutes before they arrive.”
He muttered something in reply as he turned to go inside. She didn’t catch the words, but from the tone she gauged it to be less than polite.
With a burst of anticipation, Leana hurried down the gentle slope of the gravel driveway to her childhood home. It was a large but cosy house in the same style as the gatehouse – a whitewashed building with a slate roof. A large garden stretched out at the front of the house with a selection of picnic tables for visitors to the cafe.
The garden led to the rugged path which snaked around Loch Lannick. Beyond that were black rocks which sank gradually into the calm waters. The shore and accompanying path were part of the Crown Estate, meaning the end of the Mackenzies’ garden was open for the public to walk across.
Leana’s youngest sister, Elspeth, had spent years saying they should open a cafe and take advantage of the foot-traffic. She’d finally got her wish, and they’d added a large conservatory to the side of the house for the project a couple of years earlier. It had a small kitchen at the back, though Elspeth baked most of the cakes each morning in the comfort of their parents’ large homely kitchen.
Beside the conservatory was a wooden summerhouse displaying the artwork created by Leana’s sister, Isla. The place was a treasure trove of handmade goods. Tourists went crazy for the jewellery made from sea glass. It was amazing the things Isla could create from shards of glass that had been pummelled smooth by the sea. She was a talented painter too and was a genius at recreating the beauty of local scenes in watercolour.
Leana’s mum, Christine, was waiting in the doorway to the cafe.
“They’re on their way,” Leana said excitedly as she kissed her mother’s cheek. “About twenty of them, I reckon.”
“The coffee’s on and the cakes are ready,” Christine said calmly. She was fairly unflappable. Twenty tourists demanding refreshments certainly didn’t faze her.
Waltzing past her mother, Leana went into the cafe and found Elspeth filling up napkin dispensers for each table.
“Can I put my nephew to work?” Leana asked.
“He’s not even two years old,” Elspeth said without looking up. “I think it might violate child labour laws.”
“All he has to do is wear a kilt and look cute.”
Elspeth smiled gently. “If you can get a kilt on him, go ahead.”
Leana beamed and called out to her nephew, who’d ducked under a table when she walked in. The giggling was something of a giveaway, but Leana played along.
“Do you know where he is?” Leana asked Elspeth loudly.
“I’ve not seen him,” Elspeth deadpanned.
He dived out from under the table and shouted “boo” as he launched himself at his aunt’s leg.
“There you are!” Leana ruffled his shock of red hair, then crouched to his level. “I need you to help me with something, okay?”
He nodded solemnly.
“I’ll find his kilt,” Leana said, going into the kitchen at the back of the conservatory. From there, a connecting door led into the main house.
When Elspeth had fallen pregnant at sixteen, the whole family had been in shock. They’d got over it pretty quickly. Arran was a wanted and welcome addition to the Mackenzie clan. Elspeth managed to make being a single parent look like a doddle most of the time.
Leana found the kilt and hurried back downstairs. The bagpipes in the cafe were only used for decoration, but she grabbed them from the shelf, along with the portable speaker in the corner. She passed the kilt to Elspeth and headed outside.
“You’ll never get Logan playing those things,” Elspeth shouted after her.
Leana turned and walked backwards for a few steps. “Watch me!” She grinned as she headed down to the shore. There was a cottage down by the water. Isla lived there when she wasn’t at university in Dundee. At the moment she was back for her three-week break over Easter. She was sitting on the jetty, gazing out over the water with a sketch pad in her hands. Her fine blonde hair blew gently in the wind. She was the only Mackenzie woman who didn’t have red hair, and Leana had always been a little jealous of her for that.
The dog lay on the jetty beside her. Jasper, the German shepherd, was Logan’s dog really, but he followed Isla everywhere. Isla liked her own space, and the dog seemed to be the only company she could tolerate a lot of the time. To protect tourists from venturing too close, Logan had erected a wooden sign beside the cottage which read: Artist at work. Do not disturb! It had blown over in the wind, and Leana put the bagpipes on a nearby picnic table so she could use two hands to try to get the wooden signpost back in the ground.
“Move.” Logan’s voice rumbled beside her, and she darted out of the way just as he brought a mallet down to firmly plant the sign back in the ground.
“You scrub up well,” Leana said as she gave him a quick once over. He always looked good in a kilt.
“Where would you like me?” Logan said, tilting his head. “Dancing a jig? Singing a song?”
“Don’t be daft.” She slapped his arm playfully, then picked up the bagpipes and thrust them at him. “Sit by the water and play a few tunes. The holidaymakers will go mad for it.”
He shoved the instrument back at her. “I couldn’t play those things even if they were in working order.”
“Just sit on the rocks and I’ll hide the speaker beside you. You only have to look like you’re playing. No one will be able to tell. Come on. They’ll be here any minute.” She grabbed his shirt and pulled him over to the rocks.
“This is really embarrassing,” Logan said as he found a place to sit. After setting the speaker beside him, Leana scrolled through her phone and set the bagpipe music playing. It blared through the speaker and she lowered the volume slightly. “And I have to listen to this racket,” Logan added, shaking his head.
Leana ruffled his dark hair, then bent to plant a kiss on his cheek. “Love you, Logan.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing it,” he called as she scurried away.
The first few visitors were appearing round the shoreline, and Leana made a dash for the kitchen. Leaning against the counter, she chuckled to herself. After the slow winter months, it felt good to be busy again.
Five minutes later, her mum came in with the first sandwich order. Leana was busy in the kitchen for the next half an hour. When the food orders were all taken care of, she went through to the house and peeked out of the window at the bustle outside. Lots of people were taking photos of Logan, and no one seemed to notice he wasn’t actually playing the bagpipes.
After an hour, the crowd moved on, back the way they’d come, eager for the tour of the distillery.
“Did everything go okay?” Leana asked as she joined her mum and sister in tidying up the tables outside.
“Perfect,” her mum said.
“I need a nap now,” Elspeth added. “And can you please tell Logan to shut up?”
Leana shook her head. “Why hasn’t he turned the music off?” She marched to the shore, where Logan was skimming stones with Arran by his side. “Hey!” she shouted over the music blaring from the speaker. At the same time, she noticed Isla standing in front of the cottage, red in the face.
“I said switch it off!” Isla screamed. “How can I concentrate with that noise?”
“I think Isla’s enjoying the music,” Logan said with a smirk. His eyes darted to Isla, who shouted something about killing him. The words had little effect as he continued to casually throw stones into the water.
Leana switched the music off. “She loves you really,” she said, giving Logan a friendly nudge as she caught him gazing at Isla, who’d gone back to her sketch pad.
“That’s a vivid imagination you’ve got.” His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I need to get back to work now, if you’ve got no objections.”
“None at all. I better get back to the pub.” She glanced at her watch. Just a few hours until her shift finished. “I’ll see you for dinner.”
“Any particular reason for summoning the whole family?” he asked.
She grinned mischievously. “You’ll find out later.”