Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two of HER SCOTTISH CEO.
American artist, Marcie Winters, is sitting on the shore of Loch Leven in the Western Highlands of Scotland painting the scene in watercolors. Greg McInnis, photographer and CEO of his family's publishing business, recommended the site to Marcie the day before.
An hour later, as Marcie put the final touches on her painting, a car pulled up behind her. A door opened and shut. She didn’t look back; she wanted to finish before the clouds won their battle with the sun. Feet crunching gravel warned her someone approached. Then she felt him behind her, watching.
“Hello, Greg,” she said without turning. “Come to see if I took your advice?”
“How’d you know it was me?” He sat down next to her, a seriously professional camera slung across his broad chest, Bobby in his arms.
“I just did.” She scratched Bobby under the chin, then looked up into Greg’s eyes. He looked concerned. “You suggested this place, and you wanted to see my landscapes.” He looked so good with his wind-ruffled hair. A long-sleeved, dark blue T-shirt stretched across his muscled back as he leaned forward to put Bobby down to wander off and sniff the shrubs, pee on the rocks and take a drink from the loch. “Am I right?” she asked.
“Partly. I do want to see your landscapes, especially this scene; it’s one of my favorites. But I also regretted suggesting it when I remembered how isolated it is. I wanted to be sure you’re all right.”
“How chivalrous you are. I’m not afraid to sit alone, particularly in a place like this. I’d be more nervous sitting alone in the middle of some Glasgow neighborhoods.” Her racing heart was almost making her breathless.
He reached for his camera. “May I shoot you while you paint?”
That was a first. People often asked her if they could watch, but no one had ever wanted to photograph her. The wind whipped her hair, making her time in front of the mirror that morning wasted effort. She reached up to refasten a barrette.
“Don’t. I mean, don’t be conscious of the camera. I like how the wind plays with your hair. Just be you, ignore me.”
Hardly. She could never ignore him. He was too… too everything. She returned to her work, conscious of him standing, moving, crouching, coming in close. The camera’s electronic noises were easier to ignore than he was. Her cheeks burned. He made her smile. He made her self-conscious. He made her aware.
Done with the painting, she handed it to him. He sat next to her and compared it to the scene before him. “Superbly executed. Your colors and values are perfect.”
He returned the painting and she stowed it in her bag with care.
He stood and held out a hand to her. “There’s a pub at Kinlochleven. Follow me, I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Okay.” She let him help her up, any excuse to feel his strong but gentle grip that warmed her to her toes.
As she put her bag in the car, the wind flung her hair across her face. She tucked it behind her ear and looked out over the loch again. Dark waters rippled, forming miniature whitecaps. “This is a beautiful spot. I will always remember it. So quiet, so wild and untouched.”
“Aye. But not untouched, just not overdeveloped.”
When Marcie turned to look at Greg, he was photographing her again. She made a silly face and slid into her car. He climbed into a white, mud-splattered Land Rover and she followed him to Kinlochleven, a little beyond the end of the loch.
They parked off the main street and walked to the pub. Weathered, wooden picnic tables with red and white-striped umbrellas flapping in the breeze lined the pavement out front. Greg had put on a lightweight jacket against the wind, his camera over one shoulder. He probably took it with him wherever he went, the way she always kept a sketchbook with her.
Marcie wore a sweater and a raincoat and was still cold. The temperature seemed to drop one degree with each cloud that scuttled over their heads. She sat with Bobby at her feet and people-watched while Greg went into the pub. Walkers and hikers ambled the streets with packs on their backs. A light drizzle started and was carried under the umbrella on the wind. A quiver of excitement tickled Marcie as she anticipated time with Greg in this quaint Scottish village. She hugged herself.
He returned with two glasses filled with amber liquid topped by a half inch of foam. “You cold?”
“No, not at all,” she lied.
“I thought I saw you shiver. We can go inside.”
“No, it’s nice here. I like to watch the people.” She took a sip.
“This’ll warm you. It’s locally brewed. Do you like it?”
“It’s good. A bit stronger than I’ve had before, but good flavor.” She looked under the table where Bobby lay on his master’s feet. “He’s sure a quiet little dog. Or exceedingly well behaved. He hasn’t barked once at the strangers.”
“His previous owners had him clipped.”
“They had his larynx clipped. He has no voice,” he said.
“Oh no. Poor thing. He can’t be a watch dog.”
“He lets me know if he’s suspicious or alarmed.” Greg reached down and caressed Bobby’s ear, then sat up, both arms on the table. “Would you like to go for a walk? There’s a foot path from here to Gray Mare Falls. It takes half an hour there and back.”
“I’d like that.” The day was getting better and better.
When they finished their beer, Greg put Bobby on a leash. The little dog skipped between them as Greg and Marcie walked in a feather-light sprinkle through the small village. Across the River Leven they turned toward the mountain that hugged the glen’s north side.
“For a hundred years aluminum smelting supported this area. When the plant closed, the town reinvented itself. Now it caters to outdoor tourism.”
Marcie looked up at Greg as he told her the area’s history. A stray sunbeam refracted in the water droplets clinging to his damp, curling hair. His eyes changed from chromium green to olive green as the clouds opened further. She studied his face, more interested in the line of his jaw, the arch of his lips, and the texture of his skin in the sunbeam than in what he said. Studying people’s faces was her job as an artist, wasn’t it?
“There’s a rainbow.” He pointed behind her, then raised his camera.
She turned to look but the clouds closed again and it was gone. The bright spot of her trip would likely be gone, too. Greg would probably be going back to his home in Inverness soon and she would be moving on to Fort Augustus and Loch Ness. Alone. Alone hadn’t bothered her much before, but now alone sounded so… lonely.
So much for hoping there would be time to get to know each other.
They weren’t the only ones on the trail to the waterfall. A family with three small children stopped to examine some plants. An elderly couple bickered as they strolled the path. Two teenagers scampered off and on the trail, disappearing into the gorge ahead. Greg picked Bobby up as the little dog strained to take off after the teens to join in their fun.
“This is beautiful,” Marcie said when they stopped at a viewpoint. The scenery excited her and she took several snapshots, which she could paint from back home in her studio where she’d finish a few of the more detailed paintings. Of course she didn’t actually have a home or a studio since her breakup with Joel. But she wouldn’t think about that now.
She looked up at Greg and smiled. “I’m glad you suggested this.”
They followed wooden steps down the fern-blanketed hillside, crossed a wooden bridge, then followed a path to the foot of the waterfall in a narrow canyon. Bobby squirmed in Greg’s arms and he let the little dog down to explore.
Water tumbled from a crevasse above their heads. Gray rock turned black from the waterfall’s spray. Green lichens thrived in the dampness, mottling the rocks with fantastic patterns. The falls flared at the base, resembling a wind-blown mare’s tail. Bits of rainbow, stolen from the intermittent sun, danced in the waterfall’s spray. The water rushed over rocks and tree roots on its way to join the river. Beech and yew trees grew above the ferns. Marcie took a deep breath, memorizing the herbaceous fragrances as mist from the waterfall fell softly on her face.
After several minutes, they headed back the way they had come. Just below the steps that would take them to Kinlochleven, where the path narrowed, a racket of stomping feet and youthful whoops surprised them. Greg pulled Marcie effortlessly off the path with an arm around her waist. They lost their balance on the rocky dirt and Marcie landed against his chest as several teen-agers raced down the steps and past them to the waterfall. Alarmed, but feeling safe within Greg’s arms, Marcie didn’t move. She liked leaning into him. She felt his warmth spread through her as if she were standing next to a campfire. It took all her will power not to wrap her arms around him and lay her head on his shoulder. Would she ever get another chance to be so close? When she looked up she found him studying her, his gaze a caress. When his eyes dropped to her mouth, her heart rose to her throat. She thought he might kiss her. How astonishing would that be?
Then she was astonished as he lowered his head and his lips touched hers in a soft, warm exploration; brief, but memorable, making her incapable of movement except to lift her head and do a little exploring of her own. Then she did wrap her arms around him and felt his circle her.
Bobby tugging at his leash brought them both back to their surroundings. Greg touched a forefinger to her lips and smiled. And she learned another of his emotions: desire. She took a deep breath, unwound herself from him and stepped back to the path. He took her hand and they climbed the steps. It was a cliché, she knew, but Marcie felt as if she floated up those steps.
“Let’s explore the village,” Greg said. “Then we’ll have something to eat.”“Okay.” She wasn’t cold anymore.