Margaret popped a hot chocolate onto her boss’s desk with a cheeky smile. She had news, but it looked like Esme’s was more pressing. ‘Nothing a few melty marshmallows can’t take care of, I hope.’
Esme whirled round in her chair with a glowery frown. Not her usual demeanour. Oops. Maybe it really was a disaster. Margaret’s news should definitely wait.
Making the most of her Scottish lilt, she crooked a finger and said, ‘C’mon, girlie. Out with it.’
Esme looked out the window, bleary with rain, and sighed, ‘I can’t believe it’s going to be Christmas in three months.’
‘Ach.’ Margaret waved away the forlorn comment. ‘It’ll be snowy and gorgeous before we know it. We’ll be in our glad rags, raking in money for this year’s charity, and all will be well.’
She dropped into the chair next to Esme’s desk and felt the job-offer letter shift in her back pocket. She might not be here come Christmas, but Esme didn’t need to know that straightaway. ‘C’mon now. Tell your bestie what’s going on.’
‘It’s the ball.’ Esme dropped her head into her hands.
‘The Christmas charity ball?’ It was the fanciest event Margaret attended each year. Correction—it was the only event she went to each year. Black tie, anyway. Long-term broken hearts had a way of setting the bar too high. It was the only explanation she had for her abysmal dating life. It wasn’t like she pulled out her heels to work here at the Canine Therapy Centre. In other words, a certain blue-eyed, black-haired Scott Campbell had a lot to answer for. She gave Esme’s arm a squeeze. ‘What’s wrong? Is the venue already booked?’
Through her fingers, Esme moaned, ‘Worse! So much worse! The charity I was going to support has just been shut down as a front for money laundering.’
Margaret’s plan to tell Esme about her job offer evaporated. ‘Canine Companions for the Elderly?’
This was bad. Esme was a strictly by-the-books kind of woman and the annual Christmas charity ball she hosted was attended by Scotland’s wealthiest elite. Asking for donations to a fraudulent charity would be devastating for her. As one of two heirs to the Heatherglen Castle Estate, she was vividly aware the public eye was on her. Apart from the obvious—living in a castle—Esme was not one to flaunt her very serious wealth. It was one of the many reasons being her friend was so easy. That, and she was one of the only other thirtysomethings in Cluchlochry who was still single and loved a good chick-flick binge on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Speaking of which… ‘You up for a bit of box-set action this weekend?’
Esme shook her head. ‘I’d love to, but with this mess to sort out and the Christmas Carnival coming up, I’m going to be tied to the office.’
Outside Esme’s office, the door opened into the main reception for the Canine Therapy Centre followed by the sound of muffled male voices.
One was Haimish, the young lad from down the village doing work experience. The other was…strangely familiar. Goosebumps familiar.
No. Couldn’t be. More likely someone from the vet’s surgery next door. Silly little tricks her mind was playing on her, most likely. The hope-springs-eternal kind.