The ninth book in the Loch Lannick series will be available from the 30th of November 2021. Scroll down to read chapter 1…
Lexie batted her eyes open when Nick announced they were home. She hadn’t been asleep, just pretending she was to avoid having to make conversation.
“Thanks for driving,” her mum said, patting Nick’s arm when they all stepped out into the pub car park.
Her dad nodded solemnly. “You’re a good, safe driver.”
Nick came over to Lexie and slipped an arm around her waist. He lowered his face to her ear. “Did you hear that? Your dad gave me a compliment.”
“He must be going soft.” Lexie shifted her weight and rubbed a hand over her rapidly expanding middle.
“Is she kicking?” Nick asked eagerly.
“No. The drive lulled her to sleep. No doubt she’ll wait until I want to go to sleep and then start kicking like crazy.”
“You’ve been asleep for the past two hours,” Nick pointed out, leaning into her so she got a whiff of his aftershave. He’d removed his jacket and tie for the drive home and had undone the top button on his white shirt.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” she said quietly.
“Thanks a lot. You just left me to deal with your dad going on and on.”
“He’s upset,” Lexie said. “Apparently he deals with that by blethering on about inane stuff. The trick is to pretend to be asleep.”
Nick quirked an eyebrow. “I haven’t figured out how to do that while driving.”
“Are you coming in for dinner?” Angus called as he ambled towards the pub.
“Yeah,” Nick replied, taking Lexie’s hand and following her parents.
Inside the pub, Leana was pulling a pint and gave them a sympathetic smile over the beer tap. “How was it?” she asked.
Lexie adjusted her stretchy black dress as she perched on a bar stool. “It was okay, I suppose. As far as funerals go.”
“Has everything been all right here?” Angus asked.
“All quiet.” Leana set the pint of ale in front of the regular at the end of the bar.
“Good.” Angus poured himself a whisky and wearily scanned the pub.
“Why don’t you go upstairs?” Mary said to him. “I’ll bring some food up. You look worn out.”
“Aye. I might do that.” He thanked Nick again for driving and wandered away.
“Do you think he’s okay?” Lexie said, looking to her mum.
“It’s difficult for him. I’m just thankful they sorted things out before Wesley passed.”
“It seems cruel that Angus reunited with his brother after all those years and then he lost him,” Leana said.
Mary sighed and slipped her coat off, then went to the kitchen to organise food for them.
“Were there a lot of people at the service?” Leana asked Lexie.
“Quite a few. Grandad had a lot of friends from the social club. His friend Bill was really upset. He’d been with him when he died and thought he should have been able to do something.”
“Not much you can do for a massive heart attack,” Nick said. “But at least he wasn’t alone.”
Leana reached across and squeezed Lexie’s hand. “Was Shannon there today?”
“Aye.” It was the first time Lexie had seen her birth mother in almost ten years.
“Did you talk to her?”
“Yes. It was weird. She stood and made polite conversation with us for a while. That will probably be the last time I see her. Which is a good thing, I guess.”
“It must be so hard to process,” Leana said, distracted by a group of people walking in and approaching the bar. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she said as she moved to serve them.
Lexie turned to face Nick. “I hate that Shannon knows I’m pregnant.”
“She’s not worth worrying about,” Nick said. “Like you said, you’ll probably never hear from her again now.”
Lexie swiped at the tears that spilled down her cheeks. “I should be happy about that. But part of me still wishes she cared enough to want to be in contact. And I really can’t understand what sort of person has no interest in their grandchild.”
Nick slid a hand onto her stomach. “This little one will have plenty of doting grandparents. She’ll be loved to bits and spoilt rotten.”
“I know.” Lexie put her hand over his. “I keep telling myself that I don’t want someone like her in our child’s life anyway. But my hormones are a mess and my emotions are all over the place. Everything’s confusing.”
Nick nodded. “It would be weird if you made it through your grandad’s funeral and seeing your birth mother again without it being difficult.”
“I’m so glad I’ve got you,” she whispered, pulling on his shirt collar to draw him closer. “You look really hot in your suit, by the way.”
A smile crept over his face before he kissed her. “How about we eat quick and go home for an early night?” he murmured against her lips.
* * *
As Elspeth and Rory approached the Old Inn, the door swung open and Lexie and Nick walked out. Their formal attire reminded Elspeth that it had been Lexie’s grandad’s funeral, and she felt a pang of regret that she’d forgotten to message her.
“How did it go today?” she asked.
“It was okay,” Lexie said with a shrug. “I’ll tell you all about it another time. I’m really tired now.”
“I’ll bet.” Elspeth stepped closer and laid a hand on her bump. “You’re getting big. Has she been kicking a lot?”
“Yeah. Usually when I sit down or want to sleep.”
“I remember that. Arran was the same. He used to wedge his feet under my ribs until I felt like they were going to break. It’s such a weird feeling.”
Nick smiled at Rory. “Friday night date night, is it?”
“Aye.” Rory grinned. “A wild night at the Old Inn.”
Elspeth curled her fingers around his. “I said we could go somewhere else if you wanted.”
“I just want a pint and an early night,” he replied through a yawn.
“Have a good night,” Lexie said. They all called goodbye as they set off in different directions.
“I can’t wait until the baby arrives,” Elspeth said as they walked into the pub. “It’ll be so nice having a tiny baby to cuddle.”
“How long has she got left?” Rory asked.
“Three months.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe a bit less. She’s due in January.”
Rory yawned again once they were settled at a table with their drinks.
“Our Friday nights out are becoming less and less imaginative,” Elspeth remarked. When the weekly date nights had started up six months previously, they’d spent their time trying different restaurants and bars. Once, they’d even done a weekend trip to Inverness. The alone time had been good for them as they slowly repaired their relationship, but inevitably they’d slipped back to the easy option of a few drinks in the local pub.
“Next week we can do something different.” Rory rubbed at his neck. “Work was hectic this week. I’m done in.”
“I wasn’t complaining. I’m happy whatever we do.” She squeezed his hand, and they spent an hour chatting about their respective weeks over food and a couple of drinks.
They’d just decided to go home when Rory’s phone buzzed with a message. “It’s Chris,” he said as he read it. “Asking if I want to go out with them next week. It’s his birthday.”
Elspeth presumed he was referring to his old colleagues from Portree High School. “Where are they going?”
“The Merchant Bar. It might be a laugh to see all my old co-workers. I’ve been saying I’ll go over and catch up with them one Friday ever since I left.”
“Instead you’ve been stuck on boring dates with me,” Elspeth said lightly.
He smiled at her. “Can we switch date night to Saturday next weekend?”
“You can come out on Friday too if you want?”
“With your old workmates?” she mused.
“Is that a problem?”
“No.” She was sure he could read her mind and knew she was wondering if one ex-colleague in particular would be there. “I just don’t know them very well. It’s probably best if you go alone.”
“Are you going to be annoyed with me for going?”
She gave a small shake of the head. “No. You should go if you want to.”
“I feel as though you’re going to be weird about it.”
“Why would I be weird about it?”
“Because Jess will probably be there.”
“Should that be an issue for me?”
“No.” He leaned on the table. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t be.”
“It’s not an issue,” she said, hoping she sounded convincing. Rory had sworn that there was never anything between him and Jess. They’d been good friends in the time he and Elspeth had broken up but that was all. Elspeth’s flicker of jealousy at the mention of Jess was completely irrational. “You should definitely go out with them,” she said, reaching for his hand. “I promise not to be weird about it.”
“Why don’t you come too? We haven’t had a night out in Portree in ages.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said, then stood and pulled her coat on.
Stepping out of the pub, Elspeth glanced over at the bunkhouse and felt a flutter of nerves. “Where are you staying tonight?” she asked. Their arrangement of living separately had made sense when they first got back together, but now Elspeth saw it as an indicator that their relationship still wasn’t quite on track.
“I’ll come back with you if that’s all right?”
The relief was instant. Tonight, she wouldn’t have to pretend she was fine with them going back to separate houses, to sleep in different beds.
“Of course it’s all right,” she said, as they set off home. “It’s always all right.”