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Daring Sarah: Windy City Weddings, #2

Daring Sarah: Windy City Weddings, #2

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Daring Sarah: Windy City Weddings, #2

Length:
314 pages
4 hours
Released:
Nov 10, 2017
ISBN:
9781947595026
Format:
Book

Description

Just his luck, Duncan thought with a scowl as he tied off his sailboat. Sailed all night through a deadly storm, and when he finally reached port, some leggy blonde was stalking him from the pier.

Too bad for the gold digger. He wasn't there to play – his player days were over. He was there to take an old lady tourist to tea.

"You have to be nice to the American woman," Duncan's sister had insisted. "She's very sad just now. She's a widow."

Fine. He'd be nice to the sad old widow. But this young beauty, this willowy creature who looked delicate enough to bloom, he didn't have to be nice to her. He just had to somehow get past her on the pier without getting caught up in any of her schemes. In times past, he might have enjoyed a bit of a flirtation, but not anymore. He knew the damage a woman like this could cause. He was done with it all now, and good riddance.

So he gave her the old up-and down look. What a great figure she had, not that it mattered. She couldn't tempt him. He made sure to scowl as he barked an insult at her. "Not interested."

Next thing he knew, she was delivering an insult right back to him.

With an American accent.

American.

And naming his sister while she was at it.

Oh, no.

This was the American widow?

Some widow.

Released:
Nov 10, 2017
ISBN:
9781947595026
Format:
Book

About the author


Book Preview

Daring Sarah - Kayla Drake

Chapter 1

Rush University Medical Center

Chicago

Sarah had begged Helen to meet her anywhere but the hospital cafeteria. Too many memories, none of them good. But Helen had patients to see and limited time for lunch, and it was their last opportunity to meet before Sarah boarded the plane to Glasgow.

Fourth floor. Sarah braced herself as the elevator doors opened, and the hospital crowd swarmed around her in the vast lobby. White coats. Green and blue scrubs. Family members looking exhausted and distracted—she’d been one of them once. Not so long ago. Almost a year, almost exactly a year. Did she still look that pale? That drawn? She'd hardly recognized herself in the mirror by the time Jeff died. But that was nearly a year ago. Maybe she didn’t look that bad anymore. Maybe the worst of her grief lines had smoothed out, and her color had returned, and she looked like a healthy, normal, 28-year-old woman.

Guilt speared her. Which was worse, looking like a widow or looking normal? At what point was it okay to feel young and pretty again? Soon she’d be a widow longer than she’d been a wife. So unfair. Jeff was dead, and here was the place he’d died, and she was worried about whether she needed blush on her cheeks. And she wore a yellow shirt, too. A happy color. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Ugh. Stop that, Sarah. She should be anywhere but here in this hospital again, especially now. This place was messing with her head.

A flash of red curls peeped through the crowd in the cafeteria. That was Helen by the soup tureens. She wore her white coat. Another difficult memory, Doctor Helen Mackenzie in that damned white coat, though they'd managed to add some more positive memories, too, after Jeff had been buried. Lunches, phone calls, a friendship almost like a lifeline that Sarah had clung to in the depths of her grief. Helen had been there every day while Jeff fought to live. Helen had been there when he died. More than anyone, she understood what Sarah had been through in those endless days. She’d become almost like Sarah’s safe zone though they rarely spoke of Jeff anymore.

Now Helen smiled a bright greeting, something that would be perfectly suitable in their usual meeting places but seemed tone-deaf in this setting. No. That was wrong. Helen worked here, and Helen was fine. Sarah was the one with the bitter memories nipping at her heels.

You're lovely! Helen looked her up and down. Have you lost weight? You're perfectly slender. This was her standard greeting, made charming by her Scottish accent.

You know I haven't. But you have. Another part of their ritual. Comforting. It almost normalized the hospital setting.

They filled bowls with soup—split pea for Helen, mulligatawny for Sarah—and carried their trays to a nearby table.

I'm ever so sorry to drag you here. Helen shook out her paper napkin before laying it across her lap. Couldn't be avoided. My schedule this week, you can't imagine. And I'm so very grateful to you for carrying these trinkets to my family.

I'm glad to do it. It's the least I can do after all your help planning this trip. This trip was her upcoming vacation to the golf courses of Scotland, Jeff's dream trip, the trip he would never take—but Sarah would take it for him. Only one of them still lived, so it was up to her to fulfill his dreams now.

Helen removed a clear plastic bag from her white coat’s deep pocket and handed it to Sarah. In it were two small wrapped packages, roughly the size of bracelet boxes, and two letters in white envelopes. Their addresses are on the envelopes. The purple box is for my grandmother. The gray is for my brother.

Sarah scanned the neat handwriting on envelopes. The one for the grandmother had a street address and apartment number in Troon, Scotland, one of Sarah’s destinations. It was the site of one of the golf courses Jeff had dreamed of playing someday. She would tee off in his memory on the one-year anniversary of his funeral. Not that her game would do his memory any justice, but it might help her feel close to him again. She could almost hear him now—ease up on the grip, keep your elbows straight—and then he would stand behind her, warm and vibrant and solid, and wrap his arms around her to show her the proper swing.

Maybe she'd better not think about that now.

The other envelope listed c/o Troon harbor master as the address.

What does this mean? Sarah pointed at the envelope.

Oh, didn't I tell you? My brother lives on a boat. Just find the harbor master and he’ll help you flag down Duncan. He moors right in Troon near Gran, but he does tend to disappear on us. Helen's brown eyes closed briefly, more than a blink but less than an outright battle for self-control. He has that wanderer's soul. Gran usually knows when he's leaving and when he'll be back, but the rest of us....

Where does he go? Sarah conjured a hazy Scottish map, Troon on the west coast, loads of islands nearby, not that she could remember any of them specifically. She was still a bit iffy on her Scottish geography.

To sea. Helen frowned at her soup bowl and then cast an anxious look at Sarah. You will try to deliver that to him, won't you? Don't just leave it with Gran. He knows you're coming. I told him to expect you that evening. I told him to look after you.

I don't need looking after. Good lord, did Helen still see her as a limp puddle of tears? She might be a widow, but she had moved past the helpless stage. I have my maps and my reservations and my guidebooks all on my phone. I know the timetables for the trains. I have the apps for the taxi companies. He doesn't need to babysit me.

Babysit? That isn't what I meant. Of course you can manage all that. I meant, I asked him to show you around a bit. Not to babysit you, of course not. Helen reached across the table and brushed Sarah's hand. The contact felt strange. Nobody touched her anymore. She might as well live inside a giant bubble. Helen's hand was red and chafed from constant washing, but Sarah felt only warmth and kindness in that brief, gentle touch.

Something ruptured deep inside her, and tears burned the back of her throat. Oh, no. It had been weeks since the last time she'd cried like this. She’d thought she was done with these sudden onslaughts. I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Yes, you do. Helen's voice was soothing, not the doctor voice but the friend voice. "You haven't been back here since—well. Since. You're coming up on the one-year mark. That can't be easy."

None of this is easy.

Of course not.

They say the first year is the worst. A hopeful concept, and one Sarah wished would come true.

Sarah, I think you’ve handled it as well as anyone could expect.

Sarah wiped the dampness from her cheeks and crumpled her napkin. I just want it to be over. I thought I should go to his grave on the anniversary, but I can’t. I just can’t. I have to get past this. I have to put half a continent and an ocean between me and that cemetery. It’s the only way.

I think it’s a brilliant idea.

I’m finally starting to feel okay again. Not good, but just not so desperately miserable all the time. I don’t want to fall back down into that dark place.

Then don’t.

The silence stretched between them as Sarah struggled to cool down. Just breathe. She’d been through worse, and this little burst of emotion faded easily in the calm silence at the table. This was one of the best things about spending time with Helen. Sometimes, they could just be quiet together. Calm. What a comfort this new friendship had been, in ways big and small, over the past brutal year.

Helen cradled her coffee cup between both hands but left it untasted on the tray. Listen, maybe this isn’t the right time for this, but—well, speaking of falling into dark places.

Sarah stilled. She’d never heard that note in Helen’s voice before. She sounded almost nervous, not at all the composed doctor with the flawless bedside manner. What’s wrong?

Wrong? Nothing. Helen sighed deeply. I just—well, the thing is, my brother Duncan has been in a bit of a dark place himself. Maybe it’s not fair to ask you to check up on him, seeing how you’re in a bad patch yourself. But if you could see him and spend a bit of time with him and try to maybe sense how he’s doing—I haven’t seen him myself in over a year, you know. Gran says he hasn’t come out from the thunderclouds yet. But I think I hear something a little different in his voice these days. She shrugged. I don’t know. I’m not even sure what I’m asking you for.

It’s not so difficult. This time Sarah reached across the table to brush Helen’s hand. What a switch. She’d almost forgotten what it felt like to try to reassure or comfort someone else. What a dark hole she’d been trapped in. And Helen, of all people, the composed and gracious Helen asking her for help, that was something new. You want me to look in on your brother and see how he’s doing and report back to you.

Aye, that’s it. Helen stared at her tray. But I should warn you, he can be a bit of a growly bear.

A growly bear? Is he going to maul me?

Helen laughed. No, nothing like that. He’s not violent. But he has his black moods, and you don’t need to suffer through that sort of thing on my behalf. If he gets snarly, just walk away from him.

Is that what you would do? Walk away from him? This didn’t seem at all in keeping with Helen’s character. Helen had stuck by Sarah no matter how hard she’d sobbed, no matter how bitterly she’d railed against the fates that robbed her of her husband after just one year of marriage. Helen had never once just walked away from any of that.

Sometimes. He doesn’t always leave me with a choice. With that, Helen picked up her soup spoon and dug into her cooling bowl. Oh, Sarah, you’re such a sweet thing. Let’s not talk about my doom-and-gloom brother anymore. Don’t worry about him at all. What time does your flight leave?

Chapter 2

The Sea of the Hebrides

Aboard the Yellow Card

Damn his sister and her interfering ways. He could be halfway to Sweden by now. He could be in the vast empty space between Ireland and Iceland. He could be anywhere on the water, alone and free, but for Helen’s demands. Instead, he was back on Scotland’s west coast, aiming for Troon to entertain Helen’s American widow friend whose name he couldn’t even recall. Just what he didn’t need. In full summer. Tourist season.

And with a squall blowing up, too. The weather here was always changeable, though, so the squall would pass to fair skies just as easily as fair skies had yielded to a storm. All he had to do was ride it out. He checked the hatches and the pumps, one eye on the black clouds about to hit him. The wind gusted sharply and his boat heeled. Time to reef the sails. Past time, probably.

The first cold drops splashed his head. Exhilarating. He turned his face up to the sky, closed his eyes. The wind tore at his clothes and hair. He could aim for Iona, take shelter in the island’s little harbor. The village was a safe haven, few tourists, little likelihood anyone would recognize him. The pub at the top of the pier served a great plate of lamb chops, too. But then he wouldn’t get to experience this—the wind, the rain, the swells, the magnificent challenge of it all. Alone on a boat, man versus the sea. One of the oldest battles in human history, and still one a man could lose. All the technology in the world couldn’t save him if he made the wrong kind of mistake. He’d made plenty of mistakes in his life—that was why he’d named his boat the Yellow Card, because he’d been warned for errors but he was still in the game. There was no more room for error. One bad mistake, and he’d be out altogether. Red card. He didn’t want one of those.

They pitched and rolled, Duncan and the Yellow Card together, his team, the only team he played for anymore. He kept the speed low but not too low. He had to make it to Troon for this meeting or Helen would have his arse. Fine, he’d get to Troon, meet the old widow, and maybe introduce her to Gran. The pair of gray hens could swap tales of the good old days, and both Helen and Gran would probably thank him for it. Then he’d be back to sea where he belonged.

With the flip of a switch, the weather radio crackled to life. Bad news. This storm would turn keen before it passed. It was too late now to tuck into Iona. Colonsay was his next best option, but the worst of the storm would be over before he made the harbor there. Never mind. Sail on.

The heavy rain was cutting into visibility. He knew where he was—these waters were as familiar to him as his childhood home’s back garden. He knew where the hidden dangers lay. But that didn’t mean he’d be able to see them coming. What to do? A bit of drag would slow him down, but that was safest, so he looped a rope and tossed it into the foamy sea. He could sail all night to make up the time, thread the needle through the Sound of Islay to shave some distance off the journey. Still be in Troon to meet Helen’s old widow, take her to a tourist pub for a much-needed dram or two. Or ten. Sleep it off at Gran’s. Eat something other than a fish he’d hooked over the side of his boat. This could be good, actually, and it beat the alternative, which was missing Helen’s widow and having to hear his sister’s moaning for the next several decades.

But he shouldn’t take the old woman to a pub. He wasn’t even sure if American widows did such things. Did they? Anyway, last time he’d been in a tourist pub in Troon during the high season, some drunken knob had spent the whole night marveling that Duncan was standing on two legs. I saw that hit you took, lad! Never thought you’d walk again! Knees cannae bend that way! Over and over, for hours, he’d followed Duncan from stool to table, shouting at random strangers, Aye, pals, here’s Duncan Mackenzie, remember him? Remember tha’ hit he took?

Awful.

Christ, what was he thinking, going to Troon now? What was Helen thinking, sending some old woman at him like this? She should know better. Of all people, she should know. And her assurances—Americans know nothing about footballers—didn’t exactly soothe him. The woman might not know him, but that wouldn’t spare him the onslaught from strangers.

The Yellow Card crested a swell easily. The down slope, that was the tricky bit. He tried to hold the crest a minute longer, just a minute longer, fighting the wind and the wave. Brilliant. He had it. Wind, rain, wave, boat, and man—it all came together in one perfect moment to make the blood zing through his veins. Best rush in the world. He had this one. He owned it.

As he started to ease the Yellow Card over the crest, his damned mobile rang. How in the name of all that was holy could he be getting a signal now? Was he nearer to shore than he realized? He checked his instruments. Christ. Off course. Must be the wind pushing the Yellow Card harder than he realized. Easy enough to correct, though, because he’d caught it soon enough. The mobile rang again, and he checked the screen. The main office from his old football club. How did they always manage to find his mobile number? Why did they even bother anymore?

With an impulsive grunt, Duncan chucked the phone into the churning, black sea.

Chapter 3

Ever join the mile high club? the man in the next seat murmured.

Sarah paused in the act of fishing through her handbag for one of the two sleeping pills Helen had prescribed for the flights there and back.

Do not look at him. Do. Not. Look. At. Him.

Because, baby, a girl as pretty as you could make any man fly without leaving the ground.

She looked.

Ugh. What a creep. Lanky gray ponytail. A single gold hoop in one ear. A red Hawaiian shirt stretched tight over his paunchy belly.

Why don’t we get drunk and screw? he sang at her with a leer.

Sarah reached up to push the call button, and the flight attendant appeared almost instantly.

Please tell me I can switch seats. Sarah pointed at her neighbor. I think this man is drunk.

Am not! But he slouched down into his seat with a scowl.

I’m sorry, we’re all full. The attendant leveled a look at the ponytailed creep. But I’m sure everything will be fine here, right?

He merely sniffed in response.

Jeff should be in the seat next to her, not this horrible man. Sarah put the sleeping pill back into her handbag. No way was she going to make herself unconscious next to this guy. She tucked a blanket around her legs, trying to barricade herself against any inadvertent contact from the creep, and pretended to sleep. But every time her neighbor shifted in his seat, her breath caught in her chest and her heart stuttered with panic. So much for preventing jet lag.

By the time she made it to the spa hotel on Sunday morning, Glasgow time, the last thing on her bleary mind was her planned walking tour of the city. Instead, she face-planted onto the bed without even taking her shoes off and fell into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

At some point, a noise in the hallway startled her to consciousness. She edged her feet, still in their shoes, toward the carpet but didn’t rise.

Why did she have to wake up?

Sleep was a consolation, and it had been elusive for the past year. So she found the sleeping pill in her purse in the bed beside her, swallowed it without water, and kicked off her shoes before burrowing into the immense, soft bed. Why not? Her days in Glasgow were meant to be free days. No golf outings for Jeff until she reached Troon. She could do whatever she wanted between now and then, and sleeping on that five-star mattress seemed like the best possible option.

When she woke, daylight was seeping in around the edges of the curtains. She stretched against the smooth, warm sheets. Wow, did she feel great. That had been a really solid nap, and she felt surprisingly well rested. It must have been near to dinner time now. She’d probably slept a full six or seven hours, and only got up the once. A new record for the widow Williams.

But when she looked at the clock on the night table, it read 12:35. Daylight. So it was only shortly after noon. What time had she arrived at the hotel? Eight? Nine? She couldn’t even remember. She rose and traded her mussed airplane outfit for the thick white guest robe the hotel provided. She could still make her walking tour if she hurried. A shower, a snack from the lobby gift shop, and she’d be ready to go. She clicked on the television.

Here are Monday’s headlines, the announcer said.

Monday?

Wait. She wasn’t used to the accent, and maybe she’d heard that wrong. Monday and Sunday could sound alike.

She called down to the front desk. Can you tell me the correct date and time?

July the seventh, 12:45 p.m.

July the seventh.

Monday.

Had she really slept twenty-seven hours? Good lord, she’d slept twenty-seven hours. That sleeping pill was like a little miracle. She hadn’t felt this well rested since—well, since the late-night call that had changed her life forever. And ended Jeff’s.

Monday, July the seventh. One year ago today, he’d still been alive, if they could call that alive. One year ago today, she’d had to face the most difficult decision of her life and sign the papers that would turn off the machines. She’d waited for Jeff’s parents to leave the hospital—they’d known what was coming, but it seemed kinder not to do it in front of them. She’d asked the hospital staff to wait, to give them just a little more time with the shell of flesh that had once been their son. Her husband.

So Monday, July the seventh, one year ago today, she’d spent in agony, watching the second hand move around the face of the wall clock, waiting for Jeff’s parents to say goodbye and go home, waiting for the moment when, with one sweep of the pen across a legal form, she would end her husband’s life.

She opened the curtains and looked down at the city street. Cars, people, bicycles. None of them knew her pain. Had any of them ever needed to sign away someone’s life? One year ago today—

But wait. Was it really a year ago from right now? Was it Monday at home? The time changed. Back home, people were still abed in the dark. Right? Right. Maybe.

The invisible clamps eased their hold on her chest. She could breathe. It wasn’t Monday. Not quite yet. Still night at home, still not Monday morning, and she was well-rested in Glasgow instead of struggling to sleep in Chicago. She was far away in Glasgow, in a five-star hotel, the most luxurious place she’d even seen in her life, paid for by the settlement and the life insurance. She could order anything she wanted from room service. Anything at all. Have a massage in her room if she liked. A pedicure. Anything. She didn’t have to leave this golden little nest until it was time to go to the train station tomorrow. She was under no obligation now, and it wasn’t quite Monday at home yet. And by the time it was Monday at home, Monday here would be nearly over. It would hardly even be Monday at all.

As she walked to the desk where the services menu would surely be stored, her step felt lighter than it had in—well, in almost exactly one year.

Chapter 4

Troon Harbor

Sarah couldn’t find a harbor master or even a place where a harbor master might have an

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