Fully aware that she was losing the argument from sheer absurdity, Maddy crossed her arms under her breasts and lifted her chin, determined to go down fighting. “You take that back right this minute! Refusing to have anything to do with another man named Billy does not make me a chicken.”
Eve Gregor—her supposedly very best friend—rolled her eyes. “I’m not implying you’re a chicken, he is. And his name is William.” She suddenly shot Maddy an eager grin. “But I’ll give you a manicure if you come over to supper tonight and call him Billy to his face. Or Bill. Or even Willy.” Eve leaned on the counter, obviously warming to the idea. “And I’ll throw in a pedicure if you wear your short shorts.”
Maddy dropped her arms to her sides in surprise. “Are you forgetting that he threatened to spank me if I ever wore those shorts again? Right after he walked up, stark naked, and kissed me in front of half the men in town? I don’t care if he is Kenzie’s friend; William Killkenny is an uncouth, outrageous, lecherous brute.”
Eve dismissed Maddy’s concern with a laugh as she walked from behind the counter. “William wouldn’t really spank you; he was just blustering because your short shorts had been driving him crazy with lust all week.”
“But I hadn’t even met him before he walked out of that library carrying your mother, so how in hell could I have been driving him crazy with lust?”
Eve started rearranging the shrunken supply of bread and pastries on the table of her woodstove shop and bakery, and shrugged. “There must have been two dozen men who showed up to help rebuild our house and barn, so it’s possible you simply didn’t notice William.” She glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “But the men all sure as hell noticed you and Susan.”
Maddy pounced on the chance to change the subject. “Speaking of Susan, nobody’s seen her since last Wednesday. I checked at the bank, but she never showed up for work on Monday, after her vacation. So I drove to her house last night, just to make sure she wasn’t lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of her stairs, and the place looked as if she hadn’t been there in days. All her plants were wilted, and there was a package from Victoria’s Secret on her doorstep that was still soaked from the rainstorm we had three nights ago. I think we should file a missing person report or at least talk to the sheriff. What if something terrible happened to her?”
When Eve said nothing, Maddy straightened the sign on the banana bread with a frown, wondering why her friend didn’t appear at all concerned about their friend. “I’m beginning to see why Susan feels so desperate to have a man of her own,” Maddy continued. “She’s been missing for six days, and nobody even noticed. Can you imagine being that alone in the world?” She nudged Eve with her hip. “I know she acted bitchy toward you when you moved back to Midnight Bay, but how can you not be worried about her?”
“Because not only do I know that Susan is on a mountain in western Maine, I also happen to know that she’s up there with Hamish MacKeage.”
Maddy slapped her hand to her chest in surprise. “Susan ran off with Hamish?”
Eve nodded. “I guessed as much when they both turned up missing last Wednesday, so I asked Robbie MacBain to check it out when he went home. He called Thursday evening and told me to quit worrying, because he’d spotted the two of them at an old cabin he owns up on West Shoulder Ridge.”
“Susan ran off with Hamish?” Maddy repeated, utterly shocked—and downright appalled. “Why, that no-good rotten witch! I can’t believe she managed to hook her claws in one of those sexy, seemingly intelligent MacKeage men.”
“Hey, two seconds ago you were feeling sorry for her.”
“That was before I knew she actually had the nerve to run off with one of them.” She shook her head. “Poor Hamish; by the time Susan lets him come up for air, he’ll be ready to swear off women forever.”
“It’s more likely Susan is the one trying to come up for air,” Eve said with a giggle. “Last Wednesday, just before we realized Mom was missing, Robbie MacBain warned me that he wouldn’t put it past any of his MacKeage cousins to steal you or Susan away if one of them took a serious liking to either of you. And sure enough, Hamish stole Susan.”
“Are you saying he kidnapped her?”
Eve’s grin widened. “Kenzie assured me she wouldn’t be protesting too long, once Hamish gets done with her.”
Maddy snorted. “Does your husband think all Scots are God’s gift to women?”
“I imagine Susan is thinking so right about now.”
“So you’ve known about her running off with Hamish for five days, and you simply forgot to share that juicy bit of gossip with your very best friend?”
Eve’s grin turned into a scowl. “It’s hard to share juicy gossip with someone who’s never around. I keep inviting you over to dinner, but you keep declining.”
“That’s because I wanted to give you newlyweds some privacy. You and Kenzie have only been married six days.”
Eve rolled her eyes again. “Privacy? We have an old priest, my mother, and a boisterous Irishman living with us, not to mention a spoiled-rotten harbor seal pup that keeps trying to get into the house. What’s one more? No, two more; I distinctly remember inviting Sarah, too.”
“Yeah, like I’d expose my sweet, innocent child to Killkenny. He was buck naked when he walked out of the library, Eve. But instead of having the decency to ask the paramedics for a blanket, he was more interested in threatening me.”
“Oh, will you get past that? I told you, William is not going to spank you.” Eve arched a brow. “Likely because he knows you’d clean his clock if he tried.”
“Damn right I would.”
“So, will you please come to dinner tonight?”
“I don’t know.” Maddy crossed her arms under her breasts again, this time to ward off a sudden chill. “The man gives me the creeps. His hair is longer than mine, for crying out loud, and his beard pretty near suffocated me when he kissed me. The guy not only acts like a caveman, he looks like one, too.”
“But he’s such a tall caveman. Come on, you have to admit he’s got one hell of a ripped body. And I have a feeling he really likes you.”
Maddy glared at her. “That’s the creepiest part. I’ll have you know that I heard a noise outside our house Sunday night, and when I shut off my bedroom light and went to the window, I saw a man going into the woods. And the next morning I found a collection of seashells on my back porch.”
“What makes you think William is the one who left them?”
“They were arranged to spell out my bonny sweet lass. And if that wasn’t bad enough, yesterday I caught him outside the nursing home talking to one of our male residents in the garden. But when I went out to ask him what in hell he was doing, he scaled the six-foot fence as if it were knee-high and was gone.”
Eve’s eyes widened. “You think he’s stalking you?”
Maddy was glad to see that her friend was finally taking her seriously. “You got a better definition for what he’s doing?”
“Then all the more reason to come to supper tonight and confront him.” Eve touched her arm. “That’s what the Maddy Kimble I know and love would do.”
Maddy balled her hands into fists at her sides. “You’re right. Since when have I started letting some full-of-himself man scare me off?” She stormed to the door, but then stopped to look back at Eve. “And I will bring Sarah with me tonight, if only to let her see me in action.” She shook her head. “She hasn’t said anything, but I think Sarah is being bullied at summer rec. And seeing me stand up to Killkenny just might help her do the same for herself.”
“She’s being bullied? Then you need to talk to the head of the summer recreation program. They must have a policy for dealing with bullies.”
Maddy sighed. “I’m sure they do. But if I make an issue out of it, Sarah will be mortified. And besides, I don’t think it’s any one kid in particular; I think a whole bunch of the little snots started teasing her after she got back from her trip with Billy’s parents.”
“Are they jealous that Sarah got to spend three weeks in a fancy motor home?”
Maddy smiled sadly. “What kid wouldn’t be jealous, considering the farthest most of them have ever gone is Ellsworth? But I think they’re really teasing her about the fact that her daddy knocked up an eighteen-year-old over in Oak Harbor.”
“So it’s true, then?” Eve whispered. “Billy got another woman pregnant?”
“An eighteen-year-old,” Maddy repeated. She snorted. “Apparently my ex-husband’s sperm only works on barely legal girls. Billy got me pregnant on my eighteenth birthday, but when we tried to give Sarah a brother or sister a couple of years later, he suddenly started shooting blanks.”
Eve held her hands over her gaping mouth. “What are you going to do?”
Maddy shrugged. “Privately, I am sincerely praying that this marriage works out for him. And publicly, I’m telling everyone that Sarah is going to be a flower girl at their wedding.”
“You want Sarah to be in the wedding?”
“Of course I do. She needs to be included, if only to know that she’s just as important to her father as his new baby. Jeesh, you’re acting as if you expect me to be embarrassed or something.”
“What do you have to be embarrassed about?”
“Maybe that Billy replaced me with a younger woman?”
Eve was back to rolling her eyes. “Oh, for the love of—Everyone knows that you left him. And this woman can’t be considered a replacement if it’s been six years since your divorce. Hell, I had barely been divorced six months when I married Kenzie.” She cupped her slightly bulging belly and grinned. “And I got knocked up before my wedding, too.”
Maddy gave a dramatic sigh. “Sperm just runs rampant in Midnight Bay.” She looked at her watch and then opened the door. “I have to get back to the nursing home. I’ll pick up Sarah when I get off work, and we’ll be on your doorstep in plenty of time to set the table.” She started to step onto the sidewalk, but immediately scurried back inside and headed for the rear office. “Speaking of the devil,” she muttered, rushing past Eve. “Kenzie and William just pulled up. I’m leaving the back way.”
“Jeesh, come on,” Eve said, running after her and grabbing her arm. “Now’s your chance to confront him.”
Maddy brushed down the front of her nursing scrubs and then tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m a mess.”
“What do you care, if you’re going to read him the riot act for stalking you?”
She took a deep breath and smiled tightly. “I promise I will tonight, right after supper. But instead of being covered in other people’s body fluids and looking like something the cat dragged in when I do, I intend to be dressed like a woman he’ll think twice about messing with.”
“Omigod,” Eve said, covering her mouth again. “So you are going to wear your short shorts tonight.”
“No, I’m going to dress like a schoolteacher!” she said, poking fun at her friend. “And I’m going to waggle my finger in Killkenny’s face just like old Mrs. Bean used to do, and tell him—Oh, shit!” Maddy cried when the bell over the front door gave a cheery tinkle. She immediately bolted out the back door, leaping a pile of old pallets as she made her escape.
“Cluck-cluck-cluck!” Eve called after her with a laugh, watching Maddy sprint down the back alleyway. The woman might be acting as though William Killkenny’s far from subtle pursuit offended her, but Eve suspected Maddy was secretly thrilled.
Though probably not nearly as thrilled as she was. Maddy was her best friend, and it was important to Eve that she also find happily-ever-after.
Well, she was her best friend after Kenzie. But husbands didn’t really count—especially when they were ancient enough to believe that a woman should be deliriously happy living on Old MacDonald’s farm.
Which Eve was. Deliriously.
And she wanted Maddy to be deliriously happy, too.
Preferably with William.
Not only did William have the potential to be Maddy’s desperately needed knight in shining armor, but Eve had a more selfish reason for wanting to see them become a couple. William was actually a ninth-century Irish nobleman whom some vindictive old witch had turned into a dragon twelve hundred years ago, and the poor guy could probably use some happiness of his own. He’d somehow managed to travel through time to this century in hopes that Kenzie could help him lift the curse, and now that he was a man again, keeping William’s past a secret from Maddy was just about killing Eve.
She desperately needed someone to talk to about the strange things that had been happening in Midnight Bay over the last few months—not the least of which was that she was married to a time-traveling, eleventh-century highland warrior!
Maddy wasn’t stupid, and would eventually figure out that it wasn’t until Kenzie and Father Daar had moved to town that Midnight Bay had started experiencing scientifically unexplainable . . . stuff. Like the fact that several reputable people in town swore they saw a dragon walking down Main Street last Wednesday, and watched it carry Eve’s mother into the library—only to have William Killkenny walk out carrying Mabel just after a flash of blinding white light had filled the building.
And really, Eve didn’t know how Kenzie expected her to keep coming up with excuses as to why violent storms destroyed only their farm, why men suddenly stepped out of the ether buck naked, and why everyone on the farm was fawning over some silly harbor seal pup. And if she couldn’t tell Maddy that the newest rumor about a mermaid being spotted just ten miles out in the Gulf of Maine was true, she was going to explode! What was the fun of knowing that magic truly existed if she couldn’t share it with her very best friend?
“Is there a reason you’re standing in the back door, clucking like a chicken?” her husband asked, sliding his arms around her from behind. “Wait, don’t tell me,” he whispered against her ear, his voice filled with amusement. “Ye have the urge to tell the world that you’re hatching our son.”
Eve turned in his embrace and smiled up at him. “I was clucking at Maddy for running away when she saw you and William drive up.” She leaned sideways to look behind him. “Speaking of the devil, where is he?”
“Headed for the library with a list of books on modern home building Mabel suggested he get.” His arms tightened when Eve gasped and tried to get free. “Ye needn’t worry; your mother explained the library rules to him.”
“It’s not William I’m worried about, it’s Maddy. She’s headed back to work, and he’s the last person she wants to run in to.” She glared up at him. “Did you know he’s been stalking her?”
Kenzie kissed the tip of her nose with a laugh. “Nay, wife, I believe he’s courting her.”
“Taking her on a date is courting; lurking outside her house at night and going to her place of work is stalking. He’s overwhelming her, Kenzie. And if he doesn’t back off, he’s going to ruin any chance he might have of winning her heart.” She patted his chest. “And since you did such a great job of winning my heart, I think you should have a talk with him about modern courtship.”
“Oh, no, you don’t,” he said, setting her away with a fierce glare. “I am not getting involved in Killkenny’s love life. And neither are you. If anyone has any chance of influencing that hardheaded bastard’s behavior, it’s Maddy.”
Eve fought to hide her smile. Her husband was such a warrior, and talking to another warrior about matters of the heart appeared to be against some manly code. “So you don’t have a problem with bailing William out of jail when he’s arrested for stalking? And you’ve come up with a way to explain what he’s doing here in America without a passport or any proof whatsoever that he existed before last Wednesday?”
“What are ye talking about, woman? What’s a passport?”
“It’s a document stating that William Killkenny is who he says he is and that he’s here in America legally.” She frowned at him. “Come to think of it, you don’t have any documentation stating that you exist, either.”
He pulled her back into his arms, his golden gaze locked on hers. “I believe the babe you’re carrying is proof enough that I exist,” he drawled.
“But how did you get your driver’s license?”
“I showed them a copy of my birth certificate.”
Eve arched a brow. “And they didn’t have a problem that it said you were born in Scotland in the year 1047?”
“No, because it says I was born in 1977. And I have an immunization record, an entire set of school records—including something ye call a bachelor’s degree—and even citizen papers.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “How did you get all those kinds of documents?”
He lowered his mouth to within inches of hers. “By magic,” he whispered, just before he kissed her.
As soon as he finished—which was way too soon for her liking—Eve rested her head against his chest with a sigh. “Then you’d better have your brother the wizard conjure up some documents for William, too.” She suddenly leaned back. “Wait, where is William getting the money to buy the land surrounding Dragon Cove and build his house? It’s got to be costing a small fortune.”
“Matt gave him the money.” He sighed, hugging her to him again. “As it seems my brother has resigned himself to supporting the displaced souls I help return to their true natures.”
“Yeah, well, I wish you’d hurry up and return that harbor seal to her true nature,” Eve muttered into his shirt. She tilted her head back to look up at him again. “How are all these displaced souls finding you, anyway? Did you staple pamphlets in every century or something?”
“Or something,” he said with a chuckle.
Eve blinked up at him. “You actually advertised? Saying what: Need Help Lifting a Curse? Call 1–800-SOUL-WARRIOR? Kenzie, if we’re going to keep having all these desperate . . . creatures showing up here, we’re going to have to find a way to keep them contained.”
“We?” he asked, lifting a brow. “And just when did you join my team?”
Eve arched a brow right back at him. “I believe I was drafted the night I rescued you from that cliff.”
He hugged her to him again. “Aye, I remember that night quite well.” He gently pulled her rounded belly into his. “It was the night ye not only saved my life but conceived my son.”
“Our son,” she said with a sigh, melting against him. “And you only remember our lovemaking as an erotic dream.”
“A rather vivid erotic dream.” He also sighed. “I’m finding the problem isn’t breaking the curses of those who seek me out but what to do with the displaced souls once they become themselves again.”
Eve looked up at him. “But I thought the plan was for William to help you fight the evil forces that keep following them here?”
He nodded. “That is the plan. And being a skilled warrior who relishes a good fight, Killkenny will be invaluable to me—that is, if I don’t run him through with my sword first out of sheer frustration. I’m afraid he’s embracing his new life a little too eagerly. Everything about this century fascinates him, and he’s trying to experience it all at once. He’s insisting I take him to buy a truck today. And are you aware that he and Mabel have eaten in just about every restaurant within fifty miles?”
Eve giggled. “William is Mom’s new pet project, and she’s having the time of her life explaining how everything works.” She glanced up with a smile. “She’s a born teacher, and . . . and I think helping William is actually keeping her in the here and now. She rarely has bouts of confusion anymore.”
Kenzie kissed her forehead and stepped back with a grimace. “Aye, she’s even offered to teach him to drive. And she has been a great help with our newest lost soul.”
“Speaking of which, there are rumors going around town that someone saw a mermaid out in the Gulf—which means our harbor seal isn’t always fur and whiskers when she’s out of our sight. Can’t you at least lock her in the barn during the day, before one of the local fishermen catches a spoiled-rotten mermaid in his net?”
“I can’t, Eve,” he said, his eyes turning pained. “She stops eating whenever I do. According to Fiona, the pup is running from an abusive man, and that’s why she came looking for me. It’s a wonder she even lets me near her, considering how much she fears men.”
Eve snorted. “Personally, I think she’s playing you. And I think she’s playing your sister, too. She won’t tell Fiona her name or where she came from or what century, yet she was pretty quick to say some evil man is chasing her just as soon as she learned Fiona isn’t all that fond of men herself.”
“The pup’s not faking her desperation, and the energy searching for her sure as hell is real. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m thankful Killkenny will be living just across the cove. Which brings us back to him and Maddy. I want you to leave them to figure out their own courtship, like you and I did,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back.
Eve felt a lecture coming on. She clasped her own hands behind her back, taking immediate, evasive action. “How much longer are you going to pretend that you love sleeping in my bed, in the house?”
That certainly did the trick; he dropped his hands to his sides and frowned at her.
Eve stepped into his arms and focused on toying with a button on his shirt so he wouldn’t see her smile. “I bought a baby monitor today, so we can camp down by the ocean and still hear what’s going on in the house. I know you’re having a hard time adjusting to being a man again, and I don’t want you fighting your old nature,” she whispered, finally looking at him, her eyes shining with all her love. “And . . . well, I’ve discovered that I like sleeping under the stars with you.”
Instead of a lecture, her husband kissed her again, this time quite thoroughly.
© 2010 Janet Chapman
Maddy Kimble has no time for a suitor—not with caring for her spunky nursing home patients, her shy nine-year-old daughter, her widowed mother, and her rebellious teenage brother. William Kilkenny’s stunning lack of modern dating protocol doesn’t help. The man is uncouth and outrageous—a towering, drop-dead, breathtakingly hot warrior. Who refuses to give up.
William is secretly a ninth-century Irish nobleman formerly trapped in a dragon’s body. All Maddy knows is that lately, she can hardly resist the urge to lose herself in his powerful arms. But as their uncontrollable passion grows, eerie occurrences in her small coastal Maine town begin to rouse Maddy’s suspicions about her lover. He begs her to trust him, but how can she surrender—body and soul—when she fears the danger he poses to her yearning heart?