The fifth book in the Loch Lannick series will be available from the 28th of August 2020. Scroll down for a sneak peek…
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The third time Lexie glanced across the room she felt an irrational pang of annoyance that Nick still hadn’t noticed her.
“Are you sure I can’t get you something alcoholic?” Craig, the barman, asked.
“I’ve got the car,” Lexie replied, turning back to him. She was perched on a stool in the Merchant Bar, waiting for a friend. She’d spotted Nick as soon as she’d walked in but he seemed to be on a date and only had eyes for the woman he was with. Which irritated Lexie far more than it should have.
“How long have you been teetotal for now?” Craig asked.
“I’m not teetotal. I just stopped getting drunk.” It had been her New Year’s resolution and amazingly she’d stuck to it. For ten months there’d been no drunken nights or one-night stands. Lexie was a reformed character. Sort of.
Craig busied himself polishing glasses. “Did you find yourself a boyfriend or something?”
The idea amused her and her lips drew into a smile. That would be a step too far. Perhaps next year her resolution would be to change her relationship status. She wasn’t quite there yet.
“Why does there need to be a reason to cut down on drinking?” she asked.
“I don’t even see you out in Portree much these days.”
“My partying days are behind me.” Not that Portree was a big party scene, but on the Isle of Skye it was about as good as it got. Lexie took a sip of Coke and scanned the room. It was quiet for a Friday night.
“Shame,” Craig said.
Slinging his cloth onto his shoulder, he leaned towards her, his forearms resting on the bar. “I miss our sleepovers.”
“I thought you had a girlfriend?”
“I did, but we split up. So if you felt like resuming our relationship …” His eyebrow twitched suggestively.
“I’m not sure what we had could really be classed as a relationship.”
He straightened up. “I think friends with benefits is a valid relationship status these days. Especially for commitment-phobes. Saves them from being celibate.”
The look he gave her made her squirm. “I’m not …” She paused, pondering which of his indirect accusations she could deny. Celibate was hard to argue with recently. She also didn’t want to admit to being a commitment-phobe. It wasn’t that she was scared of relationships, just that she wasn’t daft enough to risk getting hurt. Why make your happiness dependent on someone else? As far as Lexie was concerned, avoiding relationships was sensible.
Craig went to serve a customer, chuckling to himself as he went.
“Sorry I’m late.” Ruth dropped her oversized handbag on the floor and slid onto the stool beside Lexie. “Ooh, Craig’s working. Let’s stay by the bar all night and admire the view. He’s bloody perfect, isn’t he?”
“I suppose he’s okay.”
“He’s gorgeous. And I heard a rumour he’s single again.”
“Are you after him? He’s always had a thing for you.”
“I’m off men.”
“That’s been going on for a while now. Are you still not drinking either?” Ruth tipped her head in the direction of Lexie’s Coke.
“That’s annoying. I feel like a lock-in. A bit of after-hours drinking and dancing would be fun.”
Lexie smiled. They’d ended so many nights with a private party with the bar staff. She didn’t particularly miss it. And she definitely didn’t miss the hangovers, or the feeling of not being sure where she was when she woke up.
Craig wandered back along the bar, asking Ruth what she wanted to drink and making idle chit-chat while he poured her a glass of wine.
“Save any animals today?” Lexie asked when they were alone again. Ruth worked as a veterinary nurse at the local vet’s practice. She and Lexie had met a few years earlier when they’d both been spending far too many nights in the pubs of Portree. These days they met up once a month or so for a catch-up.
“I had the day off,” Ruth said. “I finally got around to giving my flat a good clean. I’ve earned a drink.” She raised her glass before taking a long swig. “What’s been going on with you?”
“Not much. I’m still working at the activity centre, but everything’s slowing down for the season.” It certainly wasn’t Lexie’s favourite time of year. After the bustle of the summer months, September always seemed to drag. “I’m only working there at weekends now. After the school holidays next month, I’ll be back to just working at the pub for the winter.” Automatically, she swivelled on the stool. “Nick’s over there.”
“Who’s Nick?” Ruth asked, then turned to look.
“You know, we used to see him around all the time.” Her smile faded as she watched him reach across the table and put his hand over his date’s. The intimate gesture made her feel queasy. It was ridiculous; she’d known Nick for ages and he absolutely wasn’t her type.
“He’s the teacher at the college?” Ruth asked. “The geeky guy? Didn’t he used to date one of your friends?”
“Yeah. Isla Mackenzie.” Lexie was best friends with Isla’s sister, Leana, and also good friends with their younger sister, Elspeth.
She waited for Nick to look over, but he was too busy gazing into the eyes of the woman opposite him.
“I’ve seen her around too,” Ruth said. “Who is she?”
“Meghan.” Lexie forced herself to turn away from them. “She works at Elspeth’s cafe in the summer. But she went back to London a few weeks ago. I don’t know why she’s back again.”
“Seems pretty clear to me. I take it they’re an item?”
“Not that I know of.” Lexie had noticed them being friendly when she’d seen them in the pub over summer, but she didn’t think there was anything going on between them. Nick was friendly to everyone. But it seemed as though she’d missed something.
They changed the subject, chatting about mutual friends. A quarter of an hour later, Nick appeared beside Lexie.
“I didn’t see you come in,” he said cheerfully.
“Hi.” Lexie smiled. “I thought Meghan was back in London?”
Nick nodded. “She’s just visiting for a couple of weeks.”
When they looked across at her, Meghan raised a hand to wave. Lexie returned the gesture.
“Out for a wild night?” Nick asked once he’d ordered drinks from Craig.
“No. I’ve got to be at work tomorrow.”
After paying for the drinks, Nick gave Lexie a half-hearted smile and walked back to Meghan.
“She must be keen,” Ruth said. “Coming up from London to see him is a lot of effort. They look like a good couple, though. She looks mousy.”
Lexie had never thought of Meghan as mousy, not that she knew her very well. She’d always seemed quite outgoing. In fact, it was a little odd that she’d not come over to say hello to Lexie. Even though they weren’t friends, she’d seen Meghan around enough. She’d always come across as jolly and sociable. It was slightly annoying, actually.
Lexie couldn’t help but glance across the room again. They sat close together, completely focused on each other as they chatted.
“He asked me out once,” she said as she turned back to the bar.
“Nick did?” Ruth put a hand over her mouth as she choked. “I bet that was awkward.”
“He’s a nice guy.”
“Exactly! Not really your type. Plus, he’s kind of scrawny. What did you say to him?”
Lexie shrugged. “Not much.”
“Craig keeps looking at you,” Ruth said. “He’s so into you.”
“Craig’s single and sexually frustrated.”
“And you don’t want to take advantage of that fact?”
“Been there, done that.” She sighed and rattled the ice cubes in the bottom of her glass.
“More drinks, ladies?” Craig asked.
“I’ll have another wine.” Ruth turned to Lexie. “Are you sure I can’t persuade you to get drunk with me? I feel like letting my hair down, but it’s no fun on my own.”
“No.” Glancing over her shoulder yet again, her eyes landed on Nick. He leaned close to Meghan, taking her hand again. New couples were the worst. It was enough to make you want to vomit.
“Are you sure?” Craig held the bottle of wine up to her.
“Oh, sod it. Go on then.”
“Yay!” Ruth clapped her hands together. “I got my drinking buddy back.”
“Just one glass.” Lexie forced herself to stop looking at Nick. “Thanks,” she said as Craig put a glass of wine in front of her. She clinked her glass against Ruth’s before taking a few long gulps. Craig winked at her and wandered away again.
Lexie was on her third glass of wine when Nick came to say goodbye.
“Are you leaving already?” She patted the stool beside her. “Stay and have a drink with us.”
Nick glanced at Meghan. “Do you fancy another drink?”
She said a quick hello to Lexie before replying to Nick. “I want to go. But I can get a taxi if you want to stay …”
“No, don’t be daft. I’m quite happy to go.” He put a hand on her back, then turned to Lexie. “I’m driving back to Lannick if you want a lift?”
Hmm, did she want to be an awkward third wheel for half an hour in the car with Nick and his date? Not really. “I’m staying for a wild night with Ruth!”
“Will you be okay getting home?” Nick asked. “I can give you the key for the flat if you want?” He had recently bought a house in Lannick, just a few doors down from Lexie’s place. But he still had his rented flat in Portree while he made the new house liveable. It was pretty rundown.
“How long have you still got the flat for?”
“I have to give the keys back at the end of the month. I’m going to finish clearing it out tomorrow. There’s not much left but there’s a bed or the couch to crash on.”
Nick had his keys out and began to twist the single key away from the rest.
“We can have a party at Nick’s place,” Ruth said. “Drink all his alcohol!”
“You’ll be sorely disappointed by the alcohol supply. There’s really not much there at all.”
“Are you staying at the new house tonight?” Lexie asked, then cursed herself. She was trying to figure out if he was going home with Meghan, but she was fairly sure her investigative technique wasn’t exactly subtle.
“Yeah.” He smiled and held out his key.
Lexie’s gaze flickered between Nick and Meghan. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Craig, leaning against the sideboard behind the bar, watching her.
“I’m actually okay.” She pushed Nick’s hand away when he offered her the key.
“Oh.” His cheek twitched. “Are you going to get a taxi home?”
“I’ll figure something out.” She took a swig of her wine. “Nice to see you,” she said to Meghan, her words coming out slightly slurred. “Enjoy your visit.”
“Are you sure you don’t want the key?” Nick asked.
“Definite.” She caught Craig’s eye and flashed him a flirty smile.
“See you around then.”
“Bye!” she called without looking at him.
“Can I tempt you to shots?” Craig asked.
Lexie forced a smile. “Aye. Go on then.”