The e-mail came while I was trying to figure out how to connect my hair-dryer adapter.
OK, so you’ve been in England for what…seven hours, now? my friend Cait wrote. Have you met any men yet? How come you haven’t written to me? You’re a writer, for Pete’s sake, so write! Tell me everything! Every single detail!
I just got here, I wrote back, giving up on the adapter. I’m tired, the only man I met was a street person who hit me up for a pound by promising to write my name in urine on the sidewalk, and I’ll tell you more when I have something to tell.
Two minutes later there was another e-mail waiting. Was the street guy cute? Did you watch him write your name? Did he spell it correctly?
Not cute, I replied. No, I didn’t stay, and boy, will I be glad when you start dating again!
I turned off my laptop, changed into my party wear, looked longingly at the bed, and with a tired sigh, grabbed my purse and headed down to where the action was.
“Katie Wilson? Here’s your bag. There’s a cocktail party this evening,” the Murder in Manchester registration woman told me as she shoved a book bag in my hands before tossing me a printed program. “You have to buy your own drinks, but everyone will be there. You’re an author, correct?”
“Yes,” I agreed, still stunned with jetlag. It was a ten hour flight from Seattle to London, and I had to catch a train to Manchester from Heathrow, leaving me more than a bit comatose after…my mind balked at trying to figure out how long I was past due sleep. “Yes. Author. Katie. Drinks.”
“Then you’ll want to be at the party. Everyone will be there,” she repeated, and leaned sideways to see the person behind me. “Next!”
I clutched my book bag full of books, promotional materials, and conference related items and shuffled off to find a spot to sit and let the fact that I was in England soak in. I found a deep, comfy chair in a corner of the hotel lobby and parked myself there, intending on browsing through the mystery conference material to familiarize myself with the events of the weekend. After struggling for half an hour to keep my eyelids propped open, I decided that a few minutes resting my eyes were in order before I had to go dazzle everyone at the cocktail party. Surely, I thought as I snuggled back into the chair, I wouldn’t actually sleep. Not in a busy lobby. Not in a strange country. I’d just rest and recharge my batteries for the party.
I woke up to the feeling of someone stuffing a tissue under my cheek.
“Oh, you’re awake. I’m sorry if I woke you, but you were sleeping so soundly and that blouse looks as if it’s made of silk…”
I blinked at the short, elegantly spoken white-haired lady who was bending over me.
She fluttered the tissue at me and stared pointedly at my shoulder. I looked. There was a huge saucer sized damp mark.
“Oh, great, I drooled on myself!”
“That’s why I was trying to tuck this under your chin. I do hate to see such a lovely blouse ruined. The embroidery on it is quite exquisite. You’re American?”
I took the proffered tissue and tried to mop up the big drool mark. “How humiliating! I save up for years to come halfway around the world on a dream trip only to slobber on myself in public on my first day here. Yes, I’m American. Thank you for the tissue, but I think it’s too late. I can’t go to the cocktail party with a big old slobber mark on my shoulder!”
“No, indeed,” the white-haired woman agreed. “Such a shame, too. The detail on the embroidery is lovely. Beaded, as well.”
“It was made just for tonight,” I mourned with her.
“You’ll probably want to hurry if you intend on having time to meet people at the party,” she suggested as she started off toward the elevators. “I just came from there and I don’t believe it is scheduled to last much longer.”
“Hell!” I swore as I glanced down at my watch. I had slept three hours! With my mouth open! Drooling! Where everyone could see me! I slunk out of the lobby and escaped to my room, did a quick change from my lovely beaded, hand-embroidered silk blouse into a plain black one, ignored the wrinkles in my pleated wool skirt, and dashed back downstairs to the party.
“Deep breath,” I told myself as I stood in the doorway and assessed the situation. “Probably no one saw you sleeping. Probably no one will recognize you at all. Probably no one will talk to you and you’ll spend a long, lonely weekend by yourself, an outcast, a pariah, a public drooler.”
I girded my mental loins and stepped into the room, dodging scattered tables and smiling hopefully at the groups of people clutching drinks as they laughed and chatted amiably, all the while searching desperately for other lost souls like myself who didn’t know anyone there. I searched in vain, but my family code has always been that appearance is everything, so I slapped a confident I’m not scared to death of being half-way around the world in a room full of people I don’t know and can barely understand, oh no I’m not smile on my face and marched over to the bar to ask for something without alcohol. I’m not at my best when I drink. I flush and get silly and very, very sleepy, which is not at all the sort of impression one wishes to make at a gathering of one’s peers.
As I turned away from the bar I noticed a man next to the door leaning up against the wall watching the crowd.
“Aha,” I muttered to my tonic and lime, “someone else who doesn’t know everyone here. A very large someone, too, with a marvelous white woolly sweater.”
A woman nearby glanced over her shoulder at me standing in front of the bar talking to no one.
“I’m writing dialogue,” I told her. “Mentally. And… er…out loud, of course. I’m a writer. We do that.”
She pursed her lips in a pained expression of disbelief, and made sure not to make eye contact with me for the rest of the evening. I shrugged and turned back to give the old once over to the guy standing against the wall.
He really was a sight to make the mouth water—a big, burly sight in a lovely sweater and dark brown corduroy pants, but what intrigued me was the expression he wore: this was plainly a man who was not having fun. He looked bored to tears and kind of lonely standing there holding up the wall all by himself. I decided it was my duty to further Anglo-American relations by helping him, so I wandered over in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner, flashed him a I’m not flirting with you, just being friendly, all in the furtherance of goodwill between nations, and not at all because you are an extremely dishy man smile, and parked myself next to him.
We stood that way for about five minutes, just watching the crowd, me sipping on my tonic and lime, he occasionally peering morosely into a pint of beer.
“Tch!” he said finally, making that curious noise of derision that only the Scots seem to make, and drained the last of his beer. “You read mysteries then, do you?” he asked me without turning his head.
I almost melted on the spot. I had lucked out and how! A Scot. A real live, woolly sweater wearing, brogue- thick-enough-you-could-trot-a-horse-on-it, Scot. Right next to me! My knees went a bit weak.
I love Scotsmen. I love everything about them—I love the way they talk, I love the way they dress, I love that wonderful little noise they make in the back of their throat, and I love the way they smell. Yes, it’s true, they have a smell all their own, and it’s glorious. To me, Scottish men smell like the outdoors, with an overtone of bagpipe and an amusing little hint of something wild and craggy and utterly indefinable.
There I was, half way around the world, friendless, alone in a room full of people who, judging by the enthusiasm they greeted one another, all knew each other on a level approaching that of biblical, and standing next to me was a Scot.
Oh, be still my heart.
“Yes, I do read mysteries,” I answered with what I hoped was an insouciant smile, wishing all the while I could just jump him and be through with it. “But I also write.”
“Ah, do you now? And what would you be writing?”
The man’s voice rumbled, positively rumbled. My knees went even weaker. I clutched the wall in a desperate attempt to keep from slipping to the floor.
“Um.” My mind went blank. What was the name of the book? Come to think of it, what was my name? “I write mysteries. My last book was The Death of Artemis.”
I watched closely to see if he recognized it. He didn’t. I sighed. “I take it you read mysteries as well?” I asked politely.
My knees slipped a bit further. He actually said aye. How on earth could I resist a man who said aye as casually as I would say potato? I couldn’t. I melted even more. It was a bit confusing, this instantaneous overwhelming attraction, but who was I to question fate? I pushed him to the top of my fantasy men list, and smiled encouragingly.
“Aye, I read a fair bit.”
“Ah.” No one ever claimed I was the queen of conversation. “Who do you read?”
That’s a legitimate question at a mystery convention. Everyone swaps favorite authors, garners recommendations of new authors to read, and takes notes on who to avoid. The Scot listed a few familiar names, but most were new to me. I asked him about the ones I didn’t know, and he told me what they wrote, who was good, and who was great. Most were Scottish writers, but there were a few Brits in the bunch, and one American (not, I was disappointed to note, me).
“I’m Katie,” I said, holding out my hand, extremely pleased I remembered my own name in the face of such distraction as unbidden, overwhelming lust.
“Iain,” he replied, taking my hand in his. His fingers were warm and strong around mine, and I let him hold my hand while I gazed at him with a smile that I hoped indicated polite interest, but feared came out as a smut- riddled leer.
“Iain,” I said, trying not to dwell overmuch on the pleasure I was receiving from the feel of my hand in his. “That’s a nice name. I take it you’re from Scotland?”
“Aye, I’ve a sheep farm in the Highlands.”
“Ah.” My wellspring of conversation dried up as I stared at his big hand holding mine. A few scars stood out white against the tanned darkness of his skin, giving his hand character and depth I didn’t think possible in a mere extremity. Reluctantly, or so it seemed to my bemused self, he released my hand, leaving me to transfer my stare to his face.
“So,” I said, rallying the few wits I had left, “is this your first mystery conference?” I almost cringed at the inanity of my question, but was simply unable to summon anything resembling intelligent speech when he was looking at me with those lovely dark eyes.
“Aye, my sons gave me this.” He waved his beer around to encompass the room. “As a birthday present because I read so many mysteries.”
Sons. Where there were sons, there were usually mothers.
“How very thoughtful of your sons,” I said, glancing covertly at his left hand. There was no ring, but that could mean anything and nothing.
“They’re good lads,” he agreed, taking a pull on his beer.
“Indeed. And your wife is…?” I peered around as if hoping to discover her, which was, of course, the last thing I truly wanted.
“I’ve no wife,” he said, the lines around his eyes crinkling slightly as he smiled.
I smiled back. “Too subtle?”
“No, I prefer a woman who can say what it is she has on her mind.”
I turned my smile into a little resigned moue. “That won’t be a problem with me. So, tell me all about Scotland. I’ve always wanted to go there.”
We had a nice conversation, or rather, he had a nice conversation; I was alternately palpitating and twitching whenever he spoke. His voice was very deep, rumbling around in the big chest housed in that lovely sweater, finally spilling out with an accent you could almost taste. Despite the fact that my hormones kicked in upon hearing that voice, it was his eyes that were my doom, ensnaring me, trapping me, making me a slave to their mysterious depths. Iain had lovely eyes, lyrical eyes, wise, deep, dark eyes. Warm, sultry brown eyes you wanted to teeter on the brink of, then fall into. Dark, dark eyes with lovely little gold and black flecks. I loved watching his eyes when he spoke, enjoyed how his laugh lines crinkled up whenever he smiled, and spent several minutes imagining all of the ways I’d like to kiss around those eyes. Amongst other locations.
I won’t say there were little heart shaped bubbles popping over my head at that point, but it was a close thing.
“How are you enjoying England, then?” he asked.
“Eyes,” I breathed, drowning in his.
“Aye, you’ve a lovely pair.”
“Hmm?” I blinked and tried to yank my attention from fantasies that featured the dishy Scot, two feathers, and a small jar of pitted olives.
“Your eyes. They’re lovely.”
“So are yours,” I replied, blushing madly, and quickly steered the conversation away from my unseemly instant physical attraction to him. We chatted for about an hour, Iain talking books, me murmuring agreements, saying whatever it took to keep him talking. I positively wallowed in the glory of his voice rolling around me, deep and dark and full of Scottish mystery. Occasionally he’d throw me completely, his accent just too new to my ears. I’d back him up and have him repeat whatever it was I didn’t understand.
“The lads at the Twa Brithers—”
“What?” I interrupted him.
“Let’s break that down, shall we? Twa as in…?”
“Twa.” He held up two fingers.
“Oh, two. Silly me!” I gave him a fatuous (and infatuated) grin. He smiled back, chuckling his sexy chuckle as he repeated the second word again until it penetrated the thick fog of lust circling my head. “OK, you were down at the Two Brothers…is that a pub?”
“Aye,” he nodded, and continued to tell me an anecdote about a local author.
I listened to that lovely voice, my entire body humming in response to him, but it wasn’t just his accent that sent shivers down my spine, it was the cadence in his voice and the way his body moved when he spoke. He described the opening scene of a book to me, throwing his whole body into the telling. Now, you might think that would be an impressive undertaking for a man six feet six inches tall. It was—but at the same time it wasn’t. He wasn’t clumsy in the least. All that walking around the fields and hefting sheep had obviously given the man muscles. Even at his age—mid forties, I was guessing—he was exceptionally fit. And he moved—well, he moved, with an innate sense of grace lacking in most men.
At that point, the lust began to clear and something far more profound settled in. I was in serious trouble, but I didn’t know it.
What I did know was that my conversation with the delicious Scot had to end at some point. The evening would draw to a close, we would part, I would talk to others, and life would go on. Only I didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to talk to anyone else, and didn’t want to move on and forget him. I was in the process of being bemused, and it’s just not that easy to pull out of a partial bemusement and switch your attention to someone else. Regardless, I smiled brightly as Iain returned from the bar with another pint for himself and a cup of coffee for me.
“You’re sure you’d not like a glass of wine?” he asked as I clutched the coffee to me.
“No, no, coffee is fine, coffee is good. I need the caffeine. I’m a bit jet laggy still.”
He nodded and took a sip of his beer, those deep, dark, sexy eyes of his twinkling with a devilish glint that made me want to do wicked, wicked things to him. With my tongue.
“Aye, I saw you earlier. You looked a wee bit fashed then.”
“You saw me earlier?” How could I have possibly have missed this delicious large hunk of man? It wasn’t possible! I shook my head. He nodded back.
“‘Twas in the lobby. You were sleeping.”
Oh, no! Not the lobby! Not when I was…
“Sleeping very soundly,” he added, eyeing my blouse speculatively. Aaaaaack! He had seen! He had seen me drooling all over myself! My unfettered lust for the dishy Scot weakened significantly in the ensuing embarrassment.
As I was mentally cringing and about to explain that I normally don’t sleep in public, let alone sleep with my mouth open and vast cascades of saliva flowing free and wild, a thin, balding man with a handlebar moustache stopped next to me.
“Good evening. I was told you’re the American author on my panel. I’m Daniel Johannson.” He held out his hand, a pleasant smile on his lips. I wanted to smack him. How dare he interrupt my lovely conversation with Iain? Who cared about a stupid panel when there was serious ground to be made up with the dishy Scot?
“Katie Wilson,” I dutifully replied, and even more dutifully slapped a smile on my face as I shook his hand. He edged around in front of me, more or less pushing Iain to the side. What a rotter! “This is Iain,” I added, and took a step nearer to him.
“Evening,” the man greeted Iain with another smile. “I don’t recognize you. I take it you’re not an author?”
“No, I’m not,” Iain said, giving me a long look. “As you’ve business to talk, I’ll be on my way. It was a pleasure to meet you, Katie.”
“Likewise,” I said, my heart dropping to my loafers as he glanced quickly around the party, then shrugged slightly and left the room. “Well, hell!”
“Nothing,” I answered, my eyes on the door in case Iain changed his mind and came back. He didn’t though, and I was hard put to maintain polite conversation with Daniel since I resented him heartily for interrupting my little tête-à-tête with a much more interesting man, but I did refrain from snapping his head off much in the manner of a peeved praying mantis, a fact which surely must merit me some sort of cosmic brownie points.
He discussed the upcoming panel, then introduced me to some of the other authors, but despite having come all the way around the world just to meet my British peers, I didn’t enjoy myself. The evening had lost its warm glow.
“You’re an adult, Katie,” I lectured myself later, when I was in my hotel room finishing the task of unpacking. “You didn’t spend all that time and money saving for this trip just to moon over a man you’ve known for all of an hour. Cease this pouting and get over this infatuation!”
The lecture didn’t do me any good, they seldom do. For some reason I was unable to explain even to myself, meeting the Scot had rocked my world back on its heels. I didn’t quite understand what had happened, but I knew it was something momentous.
Love at first sight strikes some people like that… daft, that is.
I didn’t stop thinking about Iain that night, not when I was talking with other authors at the party, not when I was taking a shower later and wondering if he liked faux-auburn haired women of medium height and no outstanding physical attributes, nor did I stop thinking about him when I lay in bed and listened to the sounds of the hotel settling into sleep.
I thought about him the next day as I went from panel to panel and listened to mystery authors and fans talk.
I thought about him when I went out to dinner that night with Daniel and his group of cronies, only partially paying attention to the publishing gossip and mystery talk, my mind more consumed with wondering whether I hadn’t imagined the whole, hormone-stirring episode with a non- existent Scot.
I thought about him every time I spied a tall, dark haired man.
It’s disgusting, I e-mailed my best friend Cait the second day of the conference. I feel like a schoolgirl with her first crush. I just can’t stop looking for him. I can’t stop wishing I could talk with him again. I keep trying to figure out what it is about him, what makes him so intriguing, why he’s having this affect on me, but all that sort of analysis does is end up in smutty fantasies. I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE BUT THE DISHY SCOT!
Cait responded almost immediately with a request for full details, and her approval to go ahead and give in to my lust.
Just exactly how dishy is DISHY? she wrote. What’s he look like? Was he wearing a kilt? What did he have on under his kilt, and don’t tell me you didn’t look, I would have looked for you. Stop angsting over your lust, it’s not like you’ve gotten any in the last decade. So go ahead! Live a little! If you fancy this guy, jump him! You did bring raincoats with you, didn’t you? I TOLD you to bring raincoats!
Condoms were the least of my worries. I argued with myself a lot that day, repeatedly pointing out to my saner self that I was a mature adult, I had been married before, I had fallen in love and fallen out of love. I had engaged in mild infatuations in the past, and they always ended up the same. I told myself to stop mooning about and get on with my life.
I think I had more conversations with myself that day than I did with anyone else. I didn’t enjoy either. I didn’t enjoy much of anything, and that made me even angrier.
“Oh, Katie,” one of my newly made acquaintances called after me the next morning as a panel ended and everyone was filing from the room. “We’re going out to dinner tonight, and we thought as you were at a loose end you might want to come with us.”
“Not unless you’ve got a Scot named Iain in your pocket,” I mumbled softly, then thanked the woman and declined.
“Honest to Pete, I am the grand champion of idiots!” I chastised myself a few minutes later in the ladies’ room where I was trying to make myself look presentable for my upcoming panel, always a challenge when you are cursed with waist-length hair that never heeds the desire for it to stay confined. It wasn’t my hair that bothered me as I stared at my reflection, it was the sour look of discontent that try as I might, I just could not erase. “I am wasting my precious few days of vacation by walking around all grouchy and unhappy because the object of my temporary and doomed-from-the-start fascination is not to be found. What a boob! What a maroon! What a…what a pitiful and hopelessly smitten person I am.”
Chastisements seldom do much to buoy the spirit, and this instance was no exception. I swallowed my misery and obediently followed the moderator into the panel room, prepared to discuss writing a mystery series to the best of my abilities. My fellow panelists were all well-known, respected members of the profession. They were intelligent and witty and had things of great import to share with the audience.
I, on the other hand, sat at the end of the long speaker’s table and said little. I responded to questions when they were asked of me, and tried to look intelligent, but I know I failed. I didn’t have anything to say. Not anything related to the subject of discussion, not anything the people in the audience wanted to hear. Not anything that would make sense.
Instead, I sat like a lump and never once took my eyes off the man sitting in the back row. Iain had come to my panel. And he smiled.