Scotland to the Max
Book 3 in the Trouble Wears Tartan series
Maxwell Maitland is willing to travel to Scotland if that’s where the next big development project takes him, but when he gets to the site, nothing goes according to plan. Single mom Jeannie Brodie is on hand to smooth out problems with the locals, but she creates utter chaos in Max’s highly organized, schedule-driven heart.
Enjoy An Excerpt
The luggage carousel went around twenty times before Max Maitland permitted himself to swear. “The damned things aren’t here.”
“Beg pardon, sir?”
Max almost couldn’t understand the guy, so thick was his burr, but the Edinburgh Airport Security uniform spoke clearly enough, as did the way he’d hovered at Max’s elbow for the last five rotations of the baggage conveyor.
“My luggage has apparently not come up from London with me,” Max said.
“Did ye cam tru Heat-row, then?”
Fatigue, the mother of all headaches, and towering frustration made translating difficult. “I beg your pardon?”
“This way,” the man said. “We’ll fill out a wee lost-bag ticket and have ye on yerr way in no time a-t’all.”
Max’s suitcases were far from wee, because he was all but moving to Scotland, or that was the plan. He dealt with waiting in line—his favorite thing to do—to get the form to fill out.
He dealt with explaining the obvious to an uninterested public servant—his very most favorite thing to do.
And to add a splash of kirschwasser to his I Hate To Travel sundae, the person assigned to meet him had apparently bailed.
“Yer heid painin’ ye, laddie?” the lady at the coffee counter asked. She looked to be about eighty years old, maybe five foot one in her orthotic shoes, and Max would not have tangled with her on a bet.
Your head paining you, laddie?
“Something awful. I don’t enjoy flying, and thunderstorms at Dulles meant a three-hour delay before we took off.”
“Isn’t that always the way? Now you listen to me. Go through those doors and make a wee stop at the apothecary. We have much better over-the-counter remedies than you do in the States. You tell the man Annie MacDuie sent you, and you need something for your head. Go on now, and the luggage folks will send your bags along as soon as may be.”
Clucking and fussing was a universal dialect, particularly when done by blue-haired ladies.
“Thank you, Annie. I appreciate it.” Not everyone would have been as kind to a stranger, but then, Scotland was reputed to be one big tourist trap, a postcard outside every window, a quaint whisky distillery in every glen.
Every wee glen.
Whatever a glen was. Max was counting on Scotland’s tourist appeal, and on its recession-resistant economy. His faith in its over-the-counter pain meds was another matter. He picked up his backpack and wandered off in the assigned direction, letting the hum and bustle of foot traffic pass around him.
Though the hour was nearly noon in Scotland, the sun had barely risen in Maryland, and Max felt every second of the circadian dislocation. He couldn’t call Maura at this hour, he didn’t feel like breakfast, and how in the hell did a guy get a hotel room at eleven in the morning?
He got out his cell phone, that’s how.
“Mr. Maxwell Maitland?”
The voice was soft, female, and accented. Max beheld a petite blonde whose eyes were the same blue as… the little flowers that grew next to sidewalks. Began with a p.
“Jeannie Cromarty.” She stuck out her hand. “Sorry I’m late. Uncle Donald was supposed to be here, but the flight delay meant some shuffling about on our end. Did your bags not arrive?”
Her voice had a lilt to go with the burr, a musicality not entirely a product of the accent. To a man deprived of sleep and dislocated by five long time zones, that voice was soothing.
Max had to shift his knapsack to shake hands. “My suitcases are supposed to be catching up to me. I wasn’t sure where I’d be staying tonight, so all the lost-luggage people have is my cell.”
“They’ll find you,” Jeannie said. “I’ve never known them to fail, though sometimes they take a day or two. How was your flight?”
He made chitchat the best he could, which was not very well. Jeannie had a graciousness about her, though, an ease that had Max relaxing despite exhaustion and travel nerves. She spoke more slowly than Max was used to. Didn’t fire off sentences like a lawyer being paid by the syllable.
“Is that the drugstore?” he asked as they passed one of the airport shops.
“The pharmacy, we call it. Did you need something?”
Max needed about three solid days of sleep—after he called Maura—and a protein shake. “Something for a headache. One of the ladies at the coffee shop said you have good over-the-counter meds here—better than in the States.”
“That, we do. I’ll show you.”
Jeannie explained the situation to the guy at the register, and Max soon had a bottle of water, a banana, and some pills. He waited until he was sitting on the wrong side of Jeannie’s compact car to eat the banana and take the pills.
“Have you been to Scotland before?” Jeannie asked as she maneuvered the vehicle through the airport traffic.
“Never, but I’m looking forward to renovating Brodie Castle, and if that means spending a year in Scotland, then I’ll spend a year in Scotland.” Hopefully, no more than that, and Max would make many, many trips home during that year. “Have you ever been to the States?”
“Oh, aye. Back in college. Went for some sunshine. Winters here can be so very dark.”
Max had figured the shorter hours of daylight into the project schedule, though floodlights could turn night into day, for a price.
“Are we driving up to Aberdeen today?”
The whole business of driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car, and road signs not being the same was disorienting. Jeannie handled the car with easy confidence, but part of Max wanted to close his eyes—and wake up in western Maryland.
“That was the plan, but that plan assumed you and your luggage would arrive together. How about if you stay in our holiday cottage in Perthshire tonight, and we’ll travel on to the castle tomorrow?”
Max had purposely arrived on a Friday morning, so he’d have a weekend to shake the jet lag.
Hanging out in a quiet cottage would be a fine way to go about that.
“Sounds like a plan. Tell me about Brodie Castle.” If she was a Cromarty, then she was a cousin of some sort to the Scottish earl—Elias Brodie—who owned the castle. His lordship was at present kicking his handsome heels on one of the finest patches of farmland Maryland had to offer and enjoying wedded bliss with one of Maryland’s finest farmers.
“The castle is lovely,” Jeannie said. “We’ve had many a wedding there. It’s been in the family for at least a thousand years, though of course, the earliest structure was a mere round tower. Elias was mostly raised in the baron’s lodge, which sits at the foot of the castle hill, and any family member who’s at loose ends has been welcome to bide with him there. You can rattle around that old place for a week and not find the front door. Uncle Donald calls it the Plaid Purgatory, though he was born there.”
She prattled on, about Queen Victoria, the local council, and the Pipe Band, while Max struggled to keep his eyes open. The last thing he saw before falling asleep was a pair of great silver horse heads rearing up from the river immediately beside the highway.
Elias Brodie had warned him that Scotland would make him daft but happy. Apparently, the daft part came first.
Cousin Elias’s scheme became clear the instant Jeannie laid eyes on Max Maitland.
The American was gorgeous, and not in a pretty, manscaped, gym-rat way. Maitland was tall, broad-shouldered, and trim, a perfect wedge of manhood topped with dark hair, sky-blue eyes, and a voice that was made for issuing commands to underlings and whispering naughty suggestions in bed.
He’d reached that stage of maturity where his looks wouldn’t change much for decades. His features were weathered around the edges—crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, a complexion that had spent whole summers in the sun. The slight wear only made him more attractive, a man in whom all traces of the boy had been swallowed up by hard work and ambition.
Perhaps Uncle Donald had taken a notion to find Jeannie her rebound romp, in which case, Jeannie would be disowning her uncle—again. She’d purposely stepped away from the castle project, for any numbers of reasons. Max Maitland’s fine broad shoulders would be reason number 376.
Jeannie had driven past the Falkirk horses before she realized Mr. Maitland had fallen asleep. He hadn’t put the seat back, hadn’t snored, hadn’t done anything other than go silent and close his eyes. She had recently made the acquaintance of bone-deep, relentless exhaustion herself, so she let him rest.
Little more than an hour after leaving the airport, she navigated the fern-bordered driveway to the cottage and shut off the car’s engine.
Jeannie got out of the car, came around, and opened the door on his side. She shook his shoulder, which was like trying to shake a four-hundred-year-old oak.
“Mr. Maitland, we’ve arrived at the cottage.”
His eyes opened, just that. “Apologies for napping. Where exactly is this cottage?”
Jeannie stepped away so he could unfold himself from her car. “The property sits on the banks of the River Tay in rural Perthshire. We’ve a lot of big trees, great fishing, and gorgeous views of the Highland Line. Also proper beds to sleep in. Come, I’ll show you.”
He fetched his knapsack from the back of the car and followed Jeannie into the cottage. The family art history professor—Liam Cromarty—had designed the place as a sort of earthbound tree house. The windows were large and many, the footprint simple. Downstairs consisted of an open area that was half kitchen, half living room, and a back room mostly used as a craft and pottery studio with a half bath under the stairs. Upstairs was a master bedroom, two full baths, and a bedroom-cum-office. Both bedrooms had skylights, balconies, and views of the river.
Mr. Maitland opened and closed the front door twice and fiddled with the latch mechanism. Jeannie’s Welcome to Scotland speech hadn’t riveted his attention, but a doorknob did.
Engineers. Jeannie had fallen in love with one and realized her mistake too late to prevent substantial damage. The sooner she could turn Mr. Maitland over to Uncle Donald, Cousin Liam, or the river fairies, the better.
“The cottage is my little project to manage.” Also Jeannie’s only reliable source of income at present. “We had a cancellation this weekend, else I’d be putting you up in a hotel.”
“It’s…” He set his backpack down and peered around. His gaze traveled over the paneled ceiling, picture windows, hardwood floor, fieldstone fireplace, and shiny kitchen appliances. “Solid. Quality first, the only way to design.”
Not pretty, not inviting, not cozy or cheerful. Solid. Jeannie had rushed to make time to put the bouquets of variegated tulips about the place—one on the coffee table, a bud vase in each bathroom, another bouquet in the master bedroom—and Mr. Maitland pronounced the cottage solid.
“The castle is very solid,” she said. “You’ll have a grand time renovating it. May I fix you some lunch?”
He left off admiring the fireplace, his gaze suggesting the hint of irony she’d tossed at him had hit its target. “You don’t need to wait on me, Jeannie.”
Harry would have been telling her exactly what he wanted on his sandwich and how to make it—mustard on one piece of bread, mayonnaise on the other.
“I’m hungry. Making two sandwiches instead of one is no bother. Have a look upstairs, and I’ll see to lunch.”
“I have some protein bars.”
“Which will doubtless keep until Christmas and taste just as awful when you do choke them down. Upstairs, Mr. Maitland. Grab a shower if you like. The towels are laid out.”
He picked up his knapsack. “Are all Scottish women so bossy?”
“We have to be. We share the country with Scottish men and their offspring.”
Jeannie opened the fridge, expecting she’d had the last word—for now—but Mr. Maitland plucked a pink and white tulip from the bowl on the table.
“Thank you, Jeannie Cromarty. I’m hungry, tired, and far from home, and your hospitality is much appreciated.” He disappeared down the hall, knapsack over his shoulder, tulip in hand, but first he fired off a slight, weary smile.
That smile hinted of sweetness, humor, and even—as it reached his eyes—shyness. Jeannie stared after his retreating figure—jeans covering long legs, coattails covering what was doubtless a muscular backside.
He turned and pointed with the tulip. “You will please not allow me to nod off again. I’ll never get sorted out by Monday if I take another nap.”
“Away with you,” Jeannie said, waving the bread knife. “I’ve sandwiches to make, and I do not take well to men telling me what to do, Mr. Maitland.”
The smile came again in a faint echo. “Call me… You can call me Max, if that suits.” Then he disappeared up the steps.
Under her breath, Jeannie called him several different things, but not Max.
The cottage hinted of fairy tales and honeymoons, which Max appreciated in a professional sense, though he had no personal use for either. The forest beyond the picture windows was dotted with spectacular conifers, ancient hardwoods, and all manner of soft, leafy undergrowth.
The lot would be a nightmare to clear. The tree-save plan alone would go on forever, though the views from the balconies and porches were just a few gnomes short of postcard-perfect. Somebody had done a good job of designing a dwelling that suited the land and finding land that suited the purpose of the dwelling.
Max glanced at his phone, but it was still too early to call Maura. She wasn’t merely a creature of habit, she was its devoted acolyte.
He used the bathroom to freshen up—he’d shower later—and inspected the choice of bedrooms. Like the rest of the cottage, the master bedroom was simply furnished—king-size bed, dresser, two reading chairs—and the outdoors was invited in by virtue of big windows, a balcony, and a skylight.
He took the smaller bedroom because it boasted that loveliest of all interior design features, an ergonomic workstation with a flat-screen monitor, complete with a modem/router flashing its blue light in welcome to the rhythm of Max’s heartbeat. He’d set down his knapsack, taken the oh-so-comfy office chair, and put his fingers on the curved, illuminated keyboard when Jeannie called up from downstairs.
“Lunch is ready!”
Damn. “On my way.”
He brushed his hand over the top of the sleek monitor—I’ll be back, sweetheart—and prepared to make small talk over sandwiches.
Jeannie had made four sandwiches, not two, and opened a bag of chips. The table was set with coordinated place mats, dishes, and mugs all in the same cheerful pink, purple, white, and yellow colors as the tulips. A bowl of apples, clementines, and bananas sat beside a plate of brownies, and abruptly, Max felt famished.
Also homesick, which made no sense. “You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”
Jeannie set a carton of half-skim milk on the table and regarded him with a quizzical smile. “You are my guest, Mr. Maitland, and you are in Scotland to develop one of the finest hospitality venues in the Highlands, if your press release is to be believed. Why wouldn’t I show you the same welcome I show every visitor at this cottage?”
Max could look at a set of plans and see the finished site. He could scan a spreadsheet and spot the error without having to consciously do the math. When it came to people… He’d erred with Jeannie, not badly, but the same way somebody who wasn’t a native speaker would occasionally square-peg an idiom into a conversation.
“If I eat lunch, I’m usually sitting at my desk, swilling coffee and gnawing—”
“A protein bar,” Jeannie said, taking a seat. “Tell me about your plans for the castle.”
What Max had developed for Brodie Castle was more than a plan. He had a dream, fueled by necessity and determination.
“Brodie Castle will take advantage of the follow-on potential generated by the Scottish tourist industry,” Max said, laying his napkin across his lap. “People will see Scotland when they’re vacationing and go back to the office ready to attend any conference, any industry workshop, any off-site gathering held here. I’ll give them the venue that combines professional association and recreation, with first-rate conference facilities and endless interesting activities, all in a genuine Scottish castle.”
Jeannie pushed the plate of sandwiches at him. “If you announce that plan to Uncle Donald, he’ll sabotage the whole project, and don’t think he can’t do it.”
Max bit into a sandwich made on actual saw-off-one-slice-at-a-time bread. The meat was lightly smoked and also appeared to have been carved rather than processed beyond all recognition.
“Uncle Donald is my mandatory family board member?”
“I declined the post myself. Uncle Donald is a ferocious advocate for family history,” Jeannie said, picking up her sandwich. “As stubborn as they come, knows all the castle history, though he’s a Cromarty rather than a Brodie, and he’s been keeping an eye on the project since the late earl signed the first contracts. He’ll have some questions for you and a few suggestions, or he’ll declare the whole business a crashing bore and you won’t hear from him until the fish stop biting.”
The emphasis she put on the word suggestions was a bit too cheerful. “Is this the condemned man’s last meal, Jeannie?”
“Of course not. We’ve supper and breakfast to get through.” She took a bite—not a nibble—of her sandwich.
Elias Brodie had warned Max that Scottish humor was different. “Every development project meets with resistance because change can be scary. That goes with the territory.”
“Change involves destruction,” Jeannie replied. “When change destroys a place I’ve known and loved since infancy, Mr. Maitland, I’m not afraid, I’m furious. Go carefully or go home—a friendly warning.”
He’d finished his first sandwich. She offered him the plate that held seconds.
“Fruit for me,” he said, choosing a clementine. “Though the sandwich was very good.”
The brownies sat not a foot from Max’s elbow, looking gooey and delicious. He knew better than to indulge, because a hit of sugar on top of jet lag was just plain stupid. Then too, taste seldom matched appearance with pretty desserts.
“I’ll show you the paths before I leave,” Jeannie said, “and give you the number for my mobile.” She used a long “i” for mobile.
“I’ll need directions to this place, if the luggage guy is ever to find me.”
“Good point. I can leave those too, though it’s simple enough. Two miles past the village shinty pitch, you look for the fairy mound in the cow pasture on your left. Take the second right beyond that and turn off at the first lane. The sign is in Gaelic and nailed to the redwood stump.”
Her description was as casual as it was incomprehensible. “I deal well with maps,” Max said. “Diagrams, drawings, charts.”
“Right.” Jeannie picked up a small square of brownie. “Engineers love their schematics.”
True, but somehow not a compliment.
She gave the brownie her full attention. When she bit off a portion, she closed her eyes and chewed slowly, a woman in transports. For some reason, this reminded Max that once upon a long time ago, he’d enjoyed sketching. If the project went well, maybe he’d find time to send Maura some landscapes.
Or he could attempt to sketch a few portraits. Jeannie Cromarty enjoying a brownie would make an interesting study. For the time it took to consume one brownie, she was a sybarite in jeans, flannel shirt, and battered running shoes. She gave off an air of tidiness, otherwise. A competence that included graciousness warmed just enough to count as genuine rather than professional. Max liked competent women if they pulled their share of the workload and didn’t play games.
He was fairly certain Jeannie did not like him, or didn’t like the notion of developing the castle, which amounted to the same thing. She was pretty—Viking-blue eyes, golden hair that brushed her shoulders, and a light, friendly voice.
Not a hint of flirtation, though, for all she was romancing that damned brownie.
“What will you do with yourself this afternoon?” she asked.
“Dump email and voice mail, do some more research on the financial ecosystem surrounding the castle, review the status reports that are supposed to come in every Friday at close of business.”
In Maryland, that had been easier, because close of business in Scotland was five hours ahead of close of business on the East Coast. Then Max had had plenty of time to take Maura out for dinner and, for a short time, put aside the whole week’s frustrations and challenges.
Maura would miss him—she had assured him of this repeatedly, which made calling her soon imperative.
“You’ve likely had one hour’s sleep in the past twenty-four,” Jeanie said. “Can’t that email nonsense wait?”
That nonsense was Max’s livelihood. “If I nap again, I won’t acclimate as quickly.”
“Right.” Jeannie patted his hand. “You have a year at least to acclimate, but why put off until Monday what you can accomplish by overtaxing yourself today?”
She rose and took her plate to the sink. Her comment hadn’t been judgmental so much as… a lament. For him, for all the fools who failed to have a life beyond the next project deadline. If the castle renovation went well, Max might acquire the luxury of sharing her perspective.
Perhaps she’d also been lamenting her own circumstances? This cottage, modest though it was, occupied a corner of the hospitality industry in a country that thrived on tourism. For the high season at least, Jeannie was likely kept busy.
“A hike by the river sounds like a good idea,” Max said. “I need to move, and the natural light will help get my circadian rhythm synced to local time.”
Jeannie ran water over her plate while Max ate his clementine and longed for a brownie that tasted as good as it looked.
“We can hike, or we can go for a daunder,” Jeannie said, “because it’s a beautiful day to stroll by a lovely river, and all those emails, voice mails, and reports will be there when the sun has set.”
Max brought his plate to the sink. “Along with a hundred new ones.”
“If a hundred people feel entitled to intrude on your peace in the space of an afternoon, Mr. Maitland, you need an assistant.”
She was… right.
She also smelled good up close, woodsy with a hint of mint. A scent to pipe into a designer hotel’s conservatory. Max passed her his plate and used his phone to make that note.
They tidied up in companionable silence, the brownies going into the bread box. Jeannie washed the dishes by hand rather than using the dishwasher, and Max got the job of shaking the place mats out on the deck.
“So the birds can enjoy the crumbs,” Jeannie said, tearing off a pinch of bread and crumbling it onto the place mat Max held.
Maybe wasting bread on birds was a Scottish good-luck custom. Max did scroll through his email and voice mail while on the back terrace and found nothing marked urgent. He’d cleared the decks in every possible regard to prepare for traveling, but to manage the development of a property was to live in a minefield, especially on Fridays.
Jeannie came out onto the terrace and folded the place mats Max had draped over the rail. “Letting the folks back home know you’re safe and sound?”
“Making sure I have reception.”
“Let’s make sure you have a little fresh air.” She marched off down the steps and into the lovely, leafy forest.
Max jammed his phone into his pocket and followed her.
Order your copy of Scotland to the Max!
End of Excerpt
Scotland to the Max is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
September 18, 2018