Erase and Rewind - Chapter 1

Caitriòna Wallace slowly opened her eyes and stretched her arms over her head with a sigh, wiggling her toes. She peeked through the window at the waning darkness outside. It was still early, but it was time to get up. Her quests were scheduled to leave today, which meant an earlier breakfast.

She threw the covers off and slowly sat up in her bed. She rolled her shoulders, stretched her neck from side to side, lifted her hands and rolled her wrists, lifted her knees up one at a time and rolled her ankles. Fully awake, she stood and padded, barefoot, to the window and opened it. The view, even after almost two years of seeing it every single day, still took her breath away. No matter the season or the weather, the view was always spectacular.

This late autumn morning has created another masterpiece. The fog was trailing its wisps along the banks of the river Spean on the back of her house, the sun gilded the peaks of the Grey Corries and Aonach Mor...It was the tip of the tail to the Indian summer they’ve been enjoying this year, but the chilly bite to the air and the color of the sky above the Nevis Range clearly showed the sunny days were over. Winter was coming, and with it snow and biting cold wind from the sea and along the Caledonian canal. Her guests have been lucky with their stay in Lochaber and apparently have also chosen the best day to leave.

She smiled wistfully. It was the end of another season for her B&B. The Lochaber Inn catered more to the leisure and hiking crowd than to the skiing enthusiasts, who would flock to the Nevis Range resort as soon as enough snow fell. She still got an occasional skier or snowboarder looking for affordable accommodation, but since she only had two guestrooms available, groups veered more toward the hotel than guesthouses and B&Bs. Which suited her quite well. She disliked snow puddles on her hardwood floors. And there was plenty of work to be had with Maura at the hotel needing extra pairs of hands with housekeeping chores or in the pub.

There was always something do to earn a living in Spean Bridge even with no guests around. Cait certainly wouldn’t starve this winter.

Λ

She’d waived the Murdochs, a lovely couple in their late fifties, good-bye hours ago. She’d cleaned their room, done the laundry, scrubbed the wooden floors she was so proud of, and with just an hour of daylight to spare, made her way to the hotel for her and Maura’s weekly dinner date.

“Come in from the cold, lassie,” Maura McGinnis exclaimed as soon as Cait opened the kitchen door. “Winter sure is coming,” she continued as she helped her out of the coat, “and it will bite.”

Cait smiled. If she were honest, it was already biting. She was already making mental plans of searching for her woolen scarf and cap. The tips of her ears felt like they were on fire. “How are things, Maura?” she asked, kissing the older woman on the cheek.

Maura sighed something in Gaelic, then pushed her down into a chair. “I hoped for few weeks of calm, at least until the first snow, but no, I have a group checking in three days henceforth. A pre-wedding celebration, or so the girl, who made the reservation, said on the phone.”

“A hen party then?”

Maura shook her head. “You would think so, but no. It’s a mixed group. And an uneven number. Eleven people. How am I supposed to negotiate that?”

“You’ll manage, as always, Maura,” Cait assured her.

“Aye, that I will.” A deep sigh. “Och, but eleven. And some are not very friendly with each other, so they faxed me the details. I felt as if I was playing a board game trying to decipher everything.”

Cait laughed. “A pre-wedding party where not everybody goes along? Is the bride pregnant or something?”

“I preferred not to ask.” Maura placed two plates with delicious-smelling trout on the table and indicated for Cait to dig in. “I remember the days where hen and stag parties were held separately, but I guess Americans do it differently.”

Cait swallowed a bite of trout, fighting the urge to moan at the sublime taste. “Americans? What are they doing in Scotland this time of year? Summer is long gone, and the skiing season hasn’t started yet.”

“That I did ask. So when they arrive and gossip starts, I’ll have the advantage.” Maura winked. “Apparently the bride’s father was of Scottish descent.”

“Ah,” Cait nodded. “She’s exploring her roots.”

Maura grimaced. “She could’ve done that in summer and without the groom and bridal party as an entourage.”

“But what do we know,” Cait continued with a chuckle. “We’re just a bunch of savages who nobody understands and whose men wear skirts.”

“And nothing underneath, don’t forget that one, lass.”

Cait sighed wistfully, remembering the first time she confirmed that sometimes Scots truly wore nothing underneath their kilts. “Who could forget?”

“Aye, your man does know how to wear his tartan, but get your mind out of the gutter, I’m eating here.” Maura paused, then winked. “I’m also a widow, so don’t bring out the envy in me.”

“Sorry,” Cait said, fighting a smile. “Will you need any help with the guests?”

“Kaylee and I can manage, darling.” Maura patted her hand. “You’ve had a busy season. Relax for a while, enjoy your freedom while you can, breathe in some fresh air. I’m sure that when Alex returns, he won’t leave you out of the house for days.”

Cait felt her cheeks flame as Maura laughed. Two years ago, she would’ve taken offense at the insinuation, at the gossip, at the wiggling of brows everybody kept giving her ever since she’s succumbed to the charms of Alexander Cameron. However, she wasn’t that uptight girl anymore. She’d come to see Maura as a second mother, she’d come to know the local folk, and she’d learned that they meant nothing bad with the teasing and innuendos. They cared about her, and they wanted to see her happy. She’s only recently learned that they’ve all played some part in Alex’s offensive of her heart, they’ve all played matchmakers, so, as far as she was concerned, they were entitled to feeling smug. They never crossed the line, and they were genuinely happy for her. For them both.

She laughed with Maura, and the two women spent the rest of the dinner bantering and teasing each other as Cait gave silent thanks to whomever was keeping an eye on her from above. Thanking them for helping her find this safe haven. She was finally content, relaxed, and free. She was finally safe.


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