Scott pulled his truck into his ‘usual’ spot outside the Canine Therapy Centre.
Funny how he’d been meeting Margaret for afternoon dog walks for just a few weeks and it already felt routine. In a good way. Good, he supposed, because it meant seeing that smile that lit up his chest like a warm fire. Today he had news. He hoped she was as happy about it as he was.
‘Hey, you.’ Margaret came out from round the back of the stables with a small pack of hounds—all on leads, all perfectly obedient. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something slightly reserved about her greeting.
He crossed to her for a kiss and received a nice peck on the cheek instead.
A car pulled into the lot behind them and a tall, dark-haired man wearing specs got out with a broad smile. ‘Alright, Margaret? Is Esme in?’
‘She’s in with a client, Charles. If you give it a couple of minutes, she’ll be done. There are some of Mrs Renwick’s trial Christmas biccies in reception if you’d like.’
Charles nodded at Scott. ‘New employee?’
Scott stepped forward, hand outstretched. ‘Friend of Margaret’s,’ he corrected. ‘Scott Campbell.’
When Charles had left, Scott took a few of the dog leads from her, then gave her free hand a squeeze. ‘You okay?’
‘What?’ she asked.
‘You seem a bit…distracted.’
‘Ummm…’ Her eyes shifted over to where Charles was heading back to the castle, a whistled tune travelling in the wind behind him. ‘Sorry.’ She looked back at Scott as if she hadn’t heard what he’d said. ‘That was really weird.’
She blinked. ‘Did you see how smiley he was?’
Scott looked over his shoulder and saw Charles disappearing behind the huge entry doors. ‘Is that not normal?’
She shook her head. ‘Nope. Not even remotely.’
‘Guess he had a nice day at work.’
‘He’s been at a conference down in England somewhere.’ She continued to frown at the castle.
‘Isn’t it a good thing that he’s in a good mood?’
‘Yes, of course, but…he hasn’t been this chirpy in years.’
‘Any particular reason?’
She ticked things off on her fingers. ‘Lots. Brother died in combat, father had a heart attack, family responsibilities, the list goes on. The man bears the mantle of responsibility like a cloak of doom… Looks like he’s realised you can’t fix the past. Maybe he’s finally moved on.’
A light bulb went off in Scott’s head. That had been his problem, too. Donning a cloak of responsibility no one had asked him to wear. Losing himself on a journey no one had asked him to take. Margaret hadn’t asked for a house. She’d asked for him. He put his hand in his pocket and felt the ring box against his fingertips. Was he waiting, yet again, for his life to be in an exacting order before he proposed? Or was it the case that, as much as he loved Margaret, they simply weren’t right for one another anymore? There was only one way to find out.