‘Margaret!’ Esme wailed. ‘Are you even listening? Charles is going to go mad if this gets out!’
Margaret made sympathetic noises, trying to shake off the weird sensation that she’d just heard the one voice she’d thought she’d never hear again out in the reception area. ‘What Charles doesn’t know won’t kill him. He’s always off in Charles World half the time anyway, so there’s plenty of time to fix it.’
Esme’s older brother was a neurosurgeon who definitely preferred thinking to talking. He would’ve been a brilliant glowering romantic hero in a costume drama if cutting-edge medicine wasn’t his thing. He’d be quite the catch if she fancied the tall, dark and silent type. Instead, alas, she liked the talk, dark, adrenaline junkie type. The types who were impossible to pin down to a small Scottish village.
‘True.’ Esme swirled her finger through a chocolatey marshmallow, her eyebrows diving towards one another as her brain tried to unpick the problem. ‘It just… It reminds me so much of…back then.’
‘Back then’ was a dark time for Esme. Life had blown up in a big way and they’d gone through dozens of tissue boxes.
Margaret decided to can the job offer. Chance of a lifetime? Absolutely. Just like when Scott went off to Canada. Well, a bit different. Her sister was at university now. Back then, the idea of leaving her parents to help her wheelchair-bound little sis had been a no-brainer. It had ripped her heart out to tell Scott she had to stay in Scotland while he did his wildfire fighting training. But she’d believed him when he said he’d be back in six months.
She also thought she’d wanted the job, but now that she had the offer? It served as a reminder of how much she loved the life she’d rebuilt here when Scott made it crystal clear he wouldn’t be coming back.
There was no way she could compete with helicopters and mega forest fires and who knew what else Canada had to offer.
Never mind the fact that working for the Highlands Rescue Squad had been their shared dream when she and Scott had first met. He was a firefighter. She was a qualified vet nurse. A match made in heaven. Within months they’d had their futures perfectly mapped out. Train with the rescue squad, breed dogs for mountain rescue—just the sort who had found her sister when she’d fallen off her horse on a cross-country yomp—and start a family of their own.
For four incredible years they’d worked towards that goal. Then Scott was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Big pay cheques. Bigger fires to fight. A chance to be a smokejumper.
She swallowed back the bile-laced memories.
She’d had offers, too. Offers she’d refused because her family had needed her. So she’d waited—prayed, actually—for Scott to come back as promised. First one, then two years slipped by. Then that one solitary email arrived making it very clear he was never coming back.
…there’ll always be a place for you in my heart…
Who wanted a place in a heart that was black with lies?
After a month of incredibly ugly cries, she’d pulled her socks up and asked Esme for a full-time job here at the Canine Therapy Centre, determined to grow a spine, save some money and leave the perfectly perfect cocoon of Heatherglen Castle Estate one day. That day could be now, but…her friend needed her. Her best friend. And if Margaret had learned anything over the years, loyalty was a rare commodity. One to be cherished at all costs. She mentally crumpled the job offer and gave her friend a hug.
‘Listen, Ezz. We’ll sort it. Before you know it, this will be nothing more than a tiny little blip.’ She bit her lip and looked away. That was what she’d told herself four years ago when the love of her life had boarded a long-haul flight to Canada with a promise to come home six months later. Margaret tipped her head towards the castle. ‘With Christmas coming up, Mrs Renwick will be starting her trial runs on biccies soon. They’ll cheer us up.’
Esme gave a conspiratorial laugh. ‘Three months and counting.’ She straightened herself up in front of her computer screen. ‘Let’s just hope Santa finds us a perfect charity as an early pressie.’
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