“You’ll figure it out.” Her mother smiled gently. “You’re smarter than anyone I know.”
“Book smarts isn’t going to help me with this.”
In all her twenty-five years, Samantha had never been anywhere outside of Georgia. Her focus had been on graduating first in her class from Mercer University and being the youngest research scientist in the world. Her specialty was hematology, and it was why she’d been offered a position with a large pharmaceutical research company in Edinburgh. But the thought of moving from her small town just outside Savannah to Scotland was overwhelming, particularly since she was painfully shy.
Samantha checked her watch. “Pepper was supposed to call me a while ago. She promised to help.”
“She’s probably running late at work.”
“More than likely.”
Pepper Brooks was Samantha’s best friend and a self-confessed hippy. Well, sort of. Her mother certainly was, hence the name “Pepper,” but Samantha was convinced there was an uptight snob buried deep within her friend somewhere.
Pepper had moved from California to Savannah in second grade and had attached herself to Samantha immediately. Which was fine by Sam—she needed someone to be her voice. Even at seven, Sam figured out that Pepper was a protector. She was happy to let Pepper fight her battles for her…even if she didn’t always agree with Pepper’s methods. They had been inseparable ever since.
Admittedly, Sam was much less shy than she had been as a child, but she still had difficulty speaking her mind to strangers. Her family and Pepper were a different story. Most days, she gave as good as she got.
“I swear, Mom, I don’t know how she can go to school, work full time, take care of her horse, and then find time for a sanity break.”
“I have a feeling her horse is her sanity break.” Her mother wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze. “But she is pretty amazing.”
“No doubt,” Sam agreed. “What time’s Dalton going to be here?”
Sam frowned. “Why so late? New lady?”
“Who knows?” her mother grumbled. “I’ve given up trying to figure out what your brother’s doing with his personal life.”
Dalton had been a high school football star and was now the most eligible bachelor in their small community. He owned a chain of high-end car dealerships around Savannah, and with access to any car on the lot, his playboy status was unbreakable.
“Sammi!” The unmistakable voice of Pepper could be heard from the foyer.
“Speak of the devil,” Samantha said as she stepped to the hallway railing. “Up here.”
Pepper glanced up at Samantha. Her hair was scooped into a messy bun on the top of her head and shone in the foyer light. She was the polar opposite in looks and personality of most of Samantha’s friends, and Samantha adored her. Pepper made friends easily and could talk to anyone about anything. Petite and blonde, she was the epitome of a southern belle, without a southern bone in her body. She’d wrapped a bandana around her head and, with her overalls, she looked like a forties pinup girl.
“You look like you’re dressed for World War Two.”
“You like?” Pepper rested a hand on her hip and chuckled. “It’s laundry day.”
Samantha’s mother leaned over the railing. “Come on up, honey, and I’ll check on dinner. Will you join us?”
“Yes, please! Thanks, Mrs. Moore.” Pepper waved a piece of paper in the air as she jogged up the stairs, two at a time. “You’re never going to guess what’s happened!”
Samantha laughed. “You won the lottery and are going to join me in Scotland.”
Pepper bobbed her head. “Yes.”
Samantha snorted as she made her way back into the bedroom. “You’re hilarious.”
“No, seriously. Not the lottery, per se, but I got into MGA.”
Pepper handed her the notice. “I auditioned for MGA. In Edinburgh. They accepted me. I’ve committed to their one-year advanced course.”
“MGA?” Samantha skimmed the letter. “Performing arts? Seriously? Pepper, this is a lot of money. How are you going to pay for this?”
“I have almost eight-thousand saved.”
“To train Jonesy for the trials!”
Pepper waved her hand dismissively. “Trials, shmials.”
“I thought winning the Olympics was the most important thing in your life. Or at the very least, getting away from your mother while you’re training him. He’s the reason you haven’t dated or done anything outside of school or work for three years.”
“Priorities change, I guess.” She shrugged. “And, technically, I will be getting away from her…all the way across the ocean.”
“What about Jonesy? You were essentially the midwife to his mother. You’ve raised that horse since birth.”
Pepper’s composure slipped, but she pulled it back…a little too quickly. “It’s just a year. I’ll have no problem finding a nice young girl to look after him for me. And Mom can look after Rover.”
Sam recalled the discussion of what to name Pepper’s rescue pup. It came down to either Rover or Fido.
“Pepper.” Samantha handed her back the letter. “What’s really going on? You’ve always said that acting and singing was for fun and would never take priority over becoming a vet. I’m still not clear on how you’d be able to finish veterinary school and train for the Olympics at the same time…but then again, you’re the dreamer.”
“You make that sound like it’s a bad thing.”
Samantha shook her head. “Not at all. I envy it and you know it. Spill.”
“I can’t just want to join my best friend for an adventure in a land full of sexy men?”
Samantha smirked. “You assume all Scottish men look like Ewan MacGregor.”
“And you assume they all look like Gobber the Belch.”
Samantha giggled. “Is it weird we went to see How to Train your Dragon and we don’t even have kids?”
“No, because we took Chelsea’s kid as a cover…she got a free afternoon, and Chase got to see a movie with his favorite spice.”
“Okay, you have me there, but still, what’s really going on?”
“Nothing. Really. My mom’s just driving me crazy.”
“You’ve been home for less than a month,” Sam pointed out.
“I know. At least she passes out drunk more nights than most, but still, I probably should have stayed at our place.”
Pepper waved her hand dismissively. “I’m the one who can’t stand the thought of living alone. It’s not your fault. But I do need to make a change.”
Samantha sighed. “Yeah, you should get out of there, but don’t you think this is a bit drastic?”
“Nope, not at all. I just want to go somewhere where there’s no drama.”
Samantha couldn’t stop the laugh. “So you’re going to drama school.”
“How about we halt this fascinating conversation and I’ll help you finish packing?”
“Okay, okay. You’re off the hook for now. Just give me some notice before you arrive. I’m assuming I’ll have to find a two-bedroom place to rent, huh?”
“I’ll take the couch,” Pepper said. “I’m not picky.”
Samantha choked in response. “Says the woman with champagne taste on a beer budget.”
“Oh, I at least have enough to spring for the sparkling wine.”
“Nice. Let’s get to work.” Samantha went back to the first bag she’d packed, thinking she could leave some of the clothes behind, but reluctant to part with any of her shoes.
* * *
Dr. Kade Gunnach sat behind his large mahogany desk and stared at the data in front of him. It wasn’t promising. A knock on his office door elicited a frown, but he knew the inevitable couldn’t be avoided. “Come in.”
His brothers Brodie and Connall pushed inside and sat in the chairs across from his desk.
Brodie leaned forward and settled his arms on his knees. “So?”
Kade rubbed his forehead. “Nothing.”
“At all?” Connall asked.
Kade shook his head.
“Shite!” Brodie stood and made his way to the bank of windows facing the university.
Connall dropped his face into his hands. “Have you told Fi?”
Fiona Gunnach was their only sister and the baby of the family.
“No,” Kade said. “I thought Brodie could do that.”
“Hell no.” Brodie turned from the window, his hands in his pockets, an indication he was trying not hit something or someone. “Con should. He’s the only one she won’t kill…well…and Angus.”
“What’s the next step?” Connall asked.
“I’ve already hired someone…at a significant cost, but she’s the best in the world,” Kade said.
“Who?” Connall asked.
“Her name is Dr. Samantha Moore. She was top of her class and the youngest graduate of her university in a hundred years.”
“Where’d you find her?” Brodie asked.
“I didn’t. Duncan did.”
“Obviously. But from where?”
“Is she one of us?” Connall asked.
Kade shook his head.
“An outsider, Kade?” Connall snorted. “What about Angus?”
Angus McFadden was their sister’s fiancé and one of the most talented doctors on staff.
“Angus did what he could, but he’s not the best, Con. She is.”
Brodie narrowed his eyes. “How do you know that?”
“Because Duncan spent six months trying to get her.”
Brodie swore. “You can’t be serious.”
“I gave Angus a year, Brod. He’s one of us and has a vested interest in finding a cure for Fiona’s sake.”
“So she probably knows, then,” Connall said hopefully.
Before Kade could answer, the buzz of his intercom sounded and he pressed the button. “Yes, Anna.”
“Your sister’s here, Dr. Gunnach.”
Kade glanced at his watch. “She’s early. Go ahead and send her in.”
Before he’d hung up with his assistant, Fiona sailed into the office. “Och, it’s bloody hot in this building.” She wore a sleeveless blouse and he noticed her skin was pink and blotchy.
Kade glanced at the thermostat in his office. Fifteen degrees Celsius…well below the danger threshold.
Fiona’s dark, shoulder-length hair swung across her flushed cheeks as she dropped her purse on Kade’s couch. She clapped her hands and then settled them on her hips. “All right, brothers, Angus said you had news.”
“Well, hello to you too.” Kade rose to his feet and made his way from behind his desk. “Where is your fiancé?”
“He’s in the lab. Where else would he be?”
Kade was about to deliver a retort when his sister’s eyes widened and she took three quick breaths. He stepped toward her, but Connall was faster and caught her just as she collapsed.
“Brodie, ice—now!” Kade snapped as he moved Fiona’s purse so that Connall could lay her on the sofa.
Brodie waved his hand and the freezer door flew open. With another flick of his wrist, icepacks began to hurl themselves at Kade.
“What the hell happened, Kade?” Brodie snapped.
Kade shot him a look of annoyance, even though he knew Brodie’s question was somewhat rhetorical. He and Connall packed the ice around Fiona.
Kade felt Fiona’s forehead as he took her pulse. Grabbing his stethoscope, he laid it over her chest. She was warm and her heart was racing, but as the ice began to cool her down, her heart rate slowed to normal. He waited for her to take a deep breath and then get through the inevitable coughing fit, indicating she was going to be okay, before helping her to sit up. “You all right?”
Fiona groaned and nodded.
Kade’s office door flew open and Fiona’s very frazzled fiancé rushed into the room. “Fi?”
Fiona rubbed her forehead. “I’m all right, Angus.”
Angus sat beside her on the sofa and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Turning accusing eyes on the brothers, he asked, “What happened?”
Kade held a hand out to Brodie, who looked about ready to kill his sister’s significant other. “We don’t know, Angus. She was only here a few seconds before she collapsed.”
Fiona took a deep breath and squeezed Angus’s knee. “I’m all right, sweetheart. I just overheated.”
“How could you possibly overheat in this weather?” Angus laid his hand on her forehead. “It’s barely seventeen degrees outside and even cooler in here.”
She pushed his hand away and rose to her feet. “I don’t know.”
Kade closed the door and advanced on his sister. “Fiona, where were you?”
She stared down at her engagement ring.
“Damn it!” Angus snapped.
“What?” Kade asked.
“Angus,” Fiona admonished. “We’ll talk about it when we’re alone.”
Connall grasped his sister’s arm. “No, you’ll talk about it now. What the hell were you doing before you came here?”
“You were at the library, weren’t you?” Angus accused.
Kade swore. “Fi, I thought we’d been over this.”
She scowled at her brother. “No, you went over it.”
Without comment, Brodie retrieved a power bar from Kade’s stash in his desk and handed it to his sister. She thanked him and opened the package.
“How long has this been going on?” Connall asked.
“Six months,” Angus answered, and then turned to Fiona. “You promised you’d stop. It’s not safe.”
She frowned. “When did I ever say I’d stop? I promised I’d be careful, but I never said I’d stop.”
“Fiona, the library isn’t temperature controlled and the tunnels are worse,” Brodie pointed out. “What the hell were you thinking?”
The private rooms below the city were known to very few people and housed many of the secrets and historical information passed down from generation to generation of Scots. The only way in and out was through hidden passages and tunnels that were often a good ten to twenty degrees warmer than the outside temperatures.
Fiona jabbed a finger toward him. “Don’t you dare speak to me as though I’m an idiot, Brodie Gunnach. I know exactly what I’m doing and you have no say in it.”
Angus sighed. “But I do. You are not to go there again.”
Kade shook his head. No one told his sister what to do and lived to tell about it.
Fiona’s eyes narrowed and she took a quick breath through her teeth. “We are not bound, Angus McFadden. You have no dominion over me.”
“Fiona, I’m sure Angus wasn’t—” Connall started.
“Don’t!” she snapped. “Ganging up on me right now will not go well for you.”
Connall raised his hands in surrender and took a step back.
“Fiona, you need to eat.” Kade leaned against his desk and crossed his arms.
She waved the power bar. “I am!”
He raised an eyebrow and then turned to his brothers. “Con, why don’t you and Brodie head on back to your offices. I’d like to talk to Fiona and Angus alone.”
“You’re playing chieftain now?” Fiona snapped, but took another bite of the power bar.
“Verið varkár,” Angus warned.
“She doesn’t need to be careful, Angus.” Kade waved his hand dismissively. “She’s in no danger.”
Connall and Brodie left the office, and Kade spent the next thirty minutes attempting to stop Fiona from her dangerous pursuit, but at the same time, impressed by what she’d found out.