Reed Savage stood on the shoulder of Castle Road and watched
the tow truck driver hook up the rental car. The car, its
headlights pointing drunkenly to the night sky, had slipped
off the icy road into a culvert. Reed hunched his shoulders
against the Connecticut wind. Here, at the base of the hill,
the road seemed suddenly steeper than he remembered.
"Sure ya wanna walk it?" the tow truck driver asked.
Reed nodded and slung his backpack over his shoulder. "I'm
sure. If you'd drop my bags at the Bea and Bee that would be
The tow truck driver accepted his fee and a tip to cover the
bag delivery then climbed up into the cab of his truck. A
spray of sleet spit across Reed's hiking boots as the truck
A few steps later, Reed regretted his decision not to hitch
a ride and head straight to the bed and breakfast. The road
was worse than he'd first thought, but he'd promised Logan
Sinclair he'd be on time for dinner, and he was already an
The December wind stung Reed's cheeks, but he could see a
glow up ahead. He doggedly trudged toward the lights, up the
only real hill in Savage Bay. The road was slick enough to
skate on, the shoulder little better. When he finally
crested the hill, relief washed over him.
Welcoming strings of twinkling lights gleamed on a set of
stone pillars, the left one etched with Sinclair House and
the date, 1752. Sinclair mansion was more like it. Two
huge wreaths hung on the iron gates.
And then he saw her.
Reed stood in the shadows and admired the slim figure in
jeans, a white down vest and hat, who had slipped through a
small gap in the gates. She chopped at the ice where the
automatic gates met, swearing like a stevedore.
Logan's baby sister. Reed grinned. It had been seven years
since he'd seen her. She'd been a cute and mouthy college
freshman then. It was good to see some things hadn't changed
in Savage Bay.
She whooped with delight as the gates swung open. She said
something into the gizmo that allowed visitors entry to the
property, bending over to do so.
Before he could call out to her, she trotted off to the
little John Deere snowplow sitting on the grassy verge
inside the gates, stowing her shovel behind the seat. He
remembered riding the mini plow with Logan. Usually too fast
to do much good—and often drunk.
He hoisted his backpack higher on his shoulder to cross the
road, then paused. A car was coming up the hill. Fast. The
headlights swept across him. A limo.
As the limo swung into a wide turn, he thought, It's
going to hit me.
He jumped back. One moment he was standing, swearing at the
driver, the next he was wheeling his arms to remain upright.
He lost the battle and slid off the road, cracking his head
on the rock lining the culvert. He lay there stunned for a
second before he realized the culvert held several inches of
icy water. He struggled to his feet and clawed his way back
onto the road bed.
Someone grabbed his backpack and helped him up. It was Kara
"He almost killed you," she said.
"Yeah." He tugged off his glove and put his hand to his
forehead. Luckily, his baseball cap had taken the brunt of
the fall, the bill now bent.
"Oh, you're bleeding." She bit her lip. "Come with me."
Before he could answer, she'd wrapped an arm around his
waist and was hauling him across the road.
"You're bleeding," she repeated.
She managed him to the plow. He suppressed a grin as she
half heaved him onto the seat beside her.
"I'm so sorry. You could've been killed."
"Not your fault," he said.
"My guest. My fault," she answered shortly, then prattled on
about loving a white Christmas, but not the ice that came
with it, her voice as shaky as the old plow bumping over the
Reed realized that she was nervous, that she hadn't
recognized him. He supposed his beard must have thrown her
off. He didn't have the strength to rectify the matter. His
energy had oozed away as if connected to the blood dripping
into his eye. He'd been sitting in airport lounges for two
straight days. He was dirty, tired, and hungry.
The limo blinded him as it barreled back down the drive,
forcing Kara to swerve onto the lawn.
"Moron!" she yelled and nearly dumped him out the side
trying to regain control of the plow. He said a silent
prayer and resisted an urge to grab the wheel.
As Kara pulled into the circle in front of the house and
parked, he stared. A huge Christmas tree stood in the center
of a landscaped plot, decked out as if it were on the White
House lawn, its green and red lights shining through a lacy
drape of snow. He dragged himself out of the John Deere,
hauling his backpack after him.
Sinclair House was three stories of cedar shakes and
multiple chimneys. Its collection of additions spoke of its
age and the prosperity of each successive Sinclair. The
house had at least twelve bedrooms and as many bathrooms. He
knew some of the furniture was original to the house. He
also knew anything tacky in Sinclair House had been bought
by Logan's mother, who thought leopard spandex was stylish.
Kara darted around the plow to where he stood and took a
firm grip of his arm.
"Now, just come with me. Don't let anyone intimidate you.
They're just my family and a few friends. I'll explain what
happened, and then we'll get you fixed up. Mrs. Costa, our
housekeeper, is better than any nurse, any day."
It was starting to amuse him that Kara didn't know him, so
he clamped his tongue on a retort that Mrs. Costa was also
the best cook in town, and he needed some of her ravioli way
more than her bandages.
All the smells of Christmas assaulted Reed as Kara drew him
inside. Pine, baking pies, bay candles, a real fire.
Then he saw a blur of faces as Kara's guests crowded into
the foyer. He locked gazes with Logan Sinclair who stood in
the back of the group. He was in full Scottish mode from
kilt to glass of whiskey in his hand. When he saw Reed his
Reed gave Logan a quick wink and shake of the head, tipping
his head in Kara's direction. A look of puzzlement crossed
his friend's face, but he brought the glass to his lips
instead of speaking.
Kara patted Reed's arm. "Logan, Julie, this man was almost
run over by Iain's limo. It was Iain's limo wasn't it? Where
Julie, the middle Sinclair sibling, with long dark hair
swept up into a ponytail, said their guest was unpacking.
Kara pulled Reed away from the staring group who didn't seem
to recognize him either though he knew them all. Kara
hustled him down a hallway that led to the kitchen. He
squelched along in her wake.
Mrs. Costa, affectionately known as Mrs. C by everyone,
stood at the stove, stirring something that smelled like her
famous red sauce. Unlike Kara, Mrs. C appeared almost
unchanged in appearance. Still a fireplug of a woman though
some gray salted her short black hair.
"This poor man was almost run over." Kara repeated her story
as she pulled off her gloves and scarf. When she tugged her
hat off, her auburn hair fell in vibrant disorder about her
His senses went on alert as if he'd downed a gallon of
coffee. She tossed her vest onto a hook by the kitchen door,
revealing a snug red top decorated with tartan bows.
Kara Sinclair was all grown up.
He kept his thoughts to himself, aware he was under the
scrutiny of a woman who would smack him with her wooden
spoon just as quickly today as she had when he was ten. The
housekeeper's glance bounced between Kara and him as Kara
continued to babble.
Why was she so nervous?
When Mrs. Costa smiled and shook her head, Reed figured she
recognized him and also found it amusing that Kara thought
him some homeless guy walking the roads on Christmas Eve.
Kara hadn't actually called him anything as rude as homeless
guy, but it was there in all her sweet references to his
need for care. And maybe something to eat. And maybe some
clothes if Logan could spare them as they were of a size.
Mrs. Costa slapped her spoon into Kara's hand, saying
simply, "Watch the pot."
The housekeeper led him to her personal bathroom that was
part of her suite of rooms off the kitchen, and helped him
out of his wet coat. He tucked his ruined Vancouver Canucks'
cap into the pocket.
"How you doing, Reed?" Mrs. C patted his cheek and continued
on before he could answer. "You do look like something the
cat dragged in. I think we should get you into some dry,
warm clothes before we treat that cut. A shower ought to
take care of most of your problems." She stepped closer,
examining his face. "What really happened?"
As she pulled out towels and turned on the water, he
unbuttoned his flannel shirt. He realized Logan hadn't
mentioned his visit to Mrs. C either. When Logan said
something was a secret, he really meant it. "Just what Kara
"A fall in a culvert doesn't give you bloodshot eyes."
"Oh, a whole forty-eight hours of bad preceded the fall.
Ten-hour delay in Vancouver. Missed my connection in
Chicago, took half a day to get another flight to New York.
Hit snow on I-95. And to top it off, I slid off the road at
the bottom of your hill. I've walked Castle Road so many
times, I just told the tow truck to go.
"Just as I got to the top of the hill, the limo came up. You
know the rest." He pulled off his t-shirt. "I think Kara
assumes I'm some bum who needs shelter on a cold winter's
night. I can stay in the stable if you have no room here at
Mrs. C handed him a pink plastic razor and smirked. "The
horses would mind. You stink."
Reed smiled and took the razor and the hint. "So who's the guy with
"Oh, that would be Iain MacLeod. His father married Mrs.
Sinclair last week. Iain's here to meet the Sinclair side of
the family while his dad's honeymooning in Bali."
"Mrs. Sinclair got married again?" He stared at the
housekeeper in disbelief.
"She's Mrs. Charles MacLeod now. Married a genuine highland
laird this time complete with a castle in some remote part
of Scotland. Fourth time's the charm."
Reed began to shiver from the wet jeans and really wanted to
drop them and get in the shower, but Mrs. C wasn't budging.
Instead, she stood like a guard by the door and stared at him.
Two could play this game. He waited.
"What are you doing, Reed?" she finally asked. "Why aren't
you down in the village with your family?"
He didn't owe Mrs. C an answer, but he figured she wouldn't
be the only one to ask why he was at Sinclair House on
Christmas Eve and not at home. He might as well give his
answer a dry run. "If Logan didn't tell you I was coming,
then he's planning a surprise. You know Logan and his
Mrs. C frowned. "That's no answer."
He placed his hands on her shoulders and kissed her cheek.
"It's all I'm saying."
"Your dad will be so hurt."
He saw only concern in her eyes, not condemnation.
"I'll be stopping over there, just not tonight."
"Promise me, Reed. I know they really miss you, especially
Reed turned Mrs. C to the door. "You overestimate my
She sighed and finally left him alone. He dropped his wet
jeans on the floor, then thought of the housekeeper's
formidable wrath and folded them neatly on a little bench.
At last, he stood under the shower spray. The hot, stinging
water worked out some of the kinks in his back from sleeping
in airport chairs. He also figured it was cleaning the cut
on his face and that was a good thing as Mrs. Costa was
brutal with an antiseptic.
As he contemplated the choices of peach or lilac body wash,
he wondered for the fourth or tenth time why he had accepted
Logan's invitation to dinner on this particular night. It
only raised questions he didn't want to answer. The fact
he'd chosen not to stay with his family might raise some
eyebrows, but let them speculate. It wasn't anyone's
business but his, and it wasn't as if he'd had an invitation
They'd parted in acrimony and except for his sister, Tracey,
who was a Facebook fanatic, they'd done little except
exchange the obligatory birthday and holiday gifts and cards
in the seven years he'd been gone.
He closed his eyes as the water sluiced over him and
conjured the very alluring package that Kara Sinclair had
become. She'd metamorphosed from a cute kid into a beautiful
woman. Long legs. Great ass. Perky breasts. And that lush,
"Down, boy," he muttered, shutting off the thoughts along
with the water. This was Logan Sinclair's baby sister.
Reed wiped the steam from the mirror and contemplated his
reflection. Mrs. C was right, he looked like something the
cat dragged in. And gnawed. And discarded. He picked up the
Ten minutes later, when Reed opened the bathroom door and
contemplated the clothing Mrs. C had spread out on the bed
for him, he threw back his head and laughed for the first
time in forty-eight hours.
Kara fisted her hands on her hips and glared from her
sister, who was perched on the arm of the sofa, to her
brother who stood before the fire, his arm propped on the
mantle. "I don't care if the man could be an ax murderer,
Logan, he almost got killed at our gates. The least we can
do is feed him. It's Christmas Eve. We have enough for an army."
They were in the family room away from the other guests, who
were helping Mrs. C in the kitchen. The family room was part
library and part television room.
Logan lifted his chin in the infuriating way he had when he
was going to be stubborn. "What do you think, Julie?"
Julie shrugged. She was wrapping her ancient—and
beloved—lab Max's collar with a red plaid ribbon. "He
sure looked like an ax murderer to me, but it is Christmas Eve."
Their new stepbrother, Iain MacLeod, entered the room and
must have heard their discussion.
"I feel very responsible for the man's injuries," Iain said.
"Exactly." Kara sensed an ally in this unknown stepbrother.
She examined Iain MacLeod. Tall and drop-dead gorgeous, with
a sexy Scottish burr in his voice, he'd been here less than
an hour, yet looked pretty much at ease as he sank into an
armchair and stretched his long legs toward the fire. He had
dark blond hair, hazel eyes, and a roguish smile. Then she
frowned. He was going to make a formidable opponent if he
sided with Logan on anything. "Where's your kilt?" she asked.
Iain lifted his eyebrows. "I never wear a kilt."
Logan grinned. "We'll see about that."
He'd rolled his white dress shirtsleeves over his forearms
and looked every inch a highlander who could toss a caber or
throw a hammer and win his clan the top prizes in the local
Logan loved Christmas and had been orchestrating their
Christmas Eve celebrations since their father had died
twelve years ago. He called it Feast of the Seven Fishes
Logan glanced over Kara's shoulder, and she saw he was
struggling not to smile. She whipped around.
The man standing in the doorway, his arms folded over his
chest, looked anything but homeless.
Kara felt the heat rise on her cheeks as she realized she
was likely the only person besides Iain who hadn't
recognized this man. "So much for sheltering ax murderers,"
The heat on her cheeks deepened as Reed greeted Logan and
Iain with a warm handshake and Julie with a hug. When Reed
turned to her, she kept her distance.
"You look much better." The words came out more stiffly than
"I hope you're not disappointed." He smiled.
A jolt of sensation ran through her. His smile could power
the town of Savage Bay, she thought. He still had
sun-streaked brown hair, but he'd shaved and looked nothing
like the bearded and scruffy man she'd rescued.
But still . . . she should have known him. And he should
have introduced himself when it was obvious she didn't.
Why had he been hiking Castle Road on Christmas Eve?
Reed had left town right before she'd left for college. He'd
gone into the Marines, and then formed a construction
company operating in the Pacific northwest. Looking him
over, she thought that time and experience had hardened him.
He might be smiling, but she imagined when he stopped, he'd
look as hard as the muscles hinted at by one of her
brother's shirts . . . and kilts.
Reed wore a kilt as well as Logan did, right down to the
sporran and socks. He wasn't wearing shoes so she figured
that was why he'd been able to come up behind her so quietly.
"Why couldn't you guys just wear jeans like everyone else?"
"Then the Highland part of the Feast wouldn't
make sense, now would it?" Logan wrapped his arm around her
neck and squeezed.
Her cheeks felt as red as her holiday top.
"How's your head?" she managed to ask.
Reed's right cheek was swelling. There was a laceration on
his temple that Mrs. Costa had closed with a neat row of
He touched the long cut with the tips of his fingers. "Mrs.
C thinks I'll live."
Logan punched Reed in the upper arm with his fist. "Let's
eat. I'm starving."
Kara noticed that Mrs. C had not only helped Reed Savage
with his head wound, she'd also rearranged the dining room
table to accommodate another guest and penned him a place
card in her elegant script. Kara found herself beside her
new stepbrother and across from Reed. Logan sat at the head
of the table as he always did, with Mrs. Costa at the foot.
Their mother had not been present for Christmas since their
father's death, preferring any sunny locale to Connecticut
in the winter. As Kara looked around the table, she realized
there had always been friends, old and new, for the Highland
Feast, but never her mother. Her absence at Christmas had
long ago become a dull ache, but tonight, with the new
stepbrother at the table, all Kara's resentments threatened
to boil up. She clamped them down, shook them off.
Logan stood up. "I think I should make some introductions."
As everyone groaned, he frowned. "For Iain's sake. And I'll
be fast. Don't touch that lobster until I say so." He aimed
the last at Julie who looked at the ceiling in feigned
"On my right," Logan continued, "is Julie, middle sister,
animal lover, pain in the ass." Julie raised her
wine glass in a mock toast.
"Our newest victim is Reed Savage. Best friend. Vagabond Guy."
Reed raised his beer.
"Next to Reed is Cindy . She's runs Whimsey. That's a shop,
Iain. She's also the one who decorated our house from top to
bottom. Mòran taing, many thanks, Cindy. Did
I say that okay?" Logan directed his question on his Gaelic
pronunciation to Iain who grinned and gave a sheepish shrug.
Cindy blushed and ducked her head. Reed whispered something
in her ear, and Cindy's flush deepened. Kara didn't like the
flair of jealousy that stabbed her. Cindy was one of Kara's
best friends, but she was also petite and ethereal. Kara
suddenly felt large and gawky; she hid her hands in her lap.
Logan continued his introductions. "Cindy's next to her mom,
Bea Hamilton, the Bea of the Bea and Bee where tourists
hive to enjoy themselves."
While everyone groaned, Logan spoke over them. "On my left
is our new stepbrother, Iain. A MacLeod." Logan paused and all as
one they said, "There can be only one."
Everyone except Iain laughed and banged the table with their
fists, Reed as well. The line was from one of their favorite
old movies, Highlander. Kara figured someone
would explain it to the puzzled Iain after dinner. Or maybe not.
Logan continued. "On your left, Iain, is Kara. Baby sister,
another pain in my ass."
Kara wanted to say something clever, but her mind was blank,
so she did as the others had, raised her glass and smiled.
"Brian Taylor is next, wearing his grandfather's black watch
kilt. He's one of our town's finest. I won't say finest at
what. Some legends need no explanation."
Kara watched Brian fake an exaggerated leer. He was another
man who looked great in his kilt. He was also a great
kisser. She smiled into her wine glass, remembering a time
in high school when she and Brian had done some mutual
research on the art of kissing.
"Next to the legendary Brian is Mrs. C's daughter, Rose.
We're glad, as usual, that she can join us. For Reed and
Iain's sake, Rose's husband always volunteers his Christmas
vacation time to Doctors without Borders. He's somewhere in
Peru right now, so we're looking after Rose for him."
Mrs. C patted her daughter's hand.
"Last, but never least, the star of the evening, Gina Costa."
Everyone cheered. She stood briefly and curtsied, holding
out imaginary skirts as she was wearing yoga pants and a
Logan lifted his wine glass. "God bless us everyone. Let's eat."
Brian reached for one of the covered serving dishes, but
snatched his hand back when Mrs. Costa coughed. She said a
proper grace then asked the men to remove the covers. Her
cheeks pinked as everyone oohed and ahhed over the bounty of
food before them.
Lobster, King Crab legs, clams casino, shrimp, scallops
grilled with brown butter and herbs, salmon flown over
directly from Scotland by Iain's father, and Mrs. C's
signature crab cakes vied for space on the table with sides
of salad, ravioli, meatballs, and garlic bread.
Kara watched Iain stare, his wine glass halfway to his
mouth, as everyone grabbed. At any other meal, the dishes
would have been passed in a calm and orderly fashion, but on
feast night, it was every man and woman for themselves.
Rose, the Hamiltons, and Brian had been coming to the feast
for the last three years and knew what to expect. It took
Reed only a moment's delay to leap in and fight for his
share of the food. For the next quarter hour chaos reigned.
"Thank God Iain didn't bring haggis," Reed said, sliding a
portion of salmon onto her plate.
"Shhh!" Kara said.
Reed wagged his eyebrows at her, and she suddenly felt shy
of him. He'd been a relentless teaser when she'd been
growing up, calling her Beanpole or Barely There Sinclair.
It had taken her a couple of years to realize he'd been
referring to her flat chest and not her collection of teddy
He was way too attractive in the candlelight. The flickering
candles etched intriguing shadows across his face. The cut,
a bruise forming along with his swollen cheek, only added a
Beyond the dining room archway, dangling from the foyer
chandelier, hung mistletoe. Reed's seat placed him in line
with that chandelier. The mistletoe appeared to be hanging
over his head. She'd never noticed how
well-shaped his mouth was.
The room was suddenly hot.
Everyone gathered in the family room, the men by the
fireplace, and Logan raised a toast to Mrs. C and her
fabulous feast. "Here's to our real mom," Logan said.
Mrs. C's eyes glittered. "Since my Herb died, you've all
been my family and Rose's. Thank you for including us all
these years. Now, not another word or I'll cry."
They were all in that zone of stupor that follows too much
food, too many rich desserts, and too much alcohol. Kara
wanted to pop the button on her jeans but didn't dare.
Reed cornered her by the tree. "I have to say you all went
way over the top this year. I've never seen such incredible
The family room was the most personal of the decorated rooms
on the ground floor. It was lined on three sides with
shelves laden with books collected through the years by
generations of Sinclairs. The room had a huge fireplace and
French doors to a flagstone patio. There were greens
everywhere, tucked among dozens of Christmas cards.
Stockings, knitted by Mrs. C, hung from the mantle. There
was even one for Max.
The tree was decorated with what Kara called "family
junque." The ornaments ranged from those Julie, Logan, and
she had made in grade school to those given as gifts by
family and friends throughout the years. She loved the
memories accompanying each one.
She had made old-fashioned garlands of popcorn and
cranberries for this tree to go with the sentimental nature
of the ornaments. "We've always taken the holidays very
seriously, but Cindy deserves the credit, she did most of it."
"Yep. She's hoping to get a few decorating jobs out of it
for next year. She made a lot of the stuff, and you can see
it all up on her website."
"How about a tour?"
"May I tag along?" Iain asked, coming up behind her.
"Why not? The more, the merrier," Reed said, sitting on an
ottoman and lacing on his hiking boots that Mrs. C had
cleaned for him.
Disappointment stabbed her at Reed's reply. For a moment,
she'd been contemplating being alone with him. He stood and
picked up his beer, meeting her gaze as he took a long pull
from the bottle.
Desire zinged through her blood. There was just something
about a man in a kilt. Then she looked down at the mug in
her hand. Or maybe it was just too much wassail. She put her
mug on a side table.
The men followed her as she took them through the string of
rooms on the ground floor—front parlor, breakfast
room, sunroom, music room, dining room, ending in the foyer
with Julie's collection of antique Santas. Swags of greens,
masses of pine cones, poinsettias, ribbons and baby's breath
draped the staircase arching to the upper levels.
Iain rocked on his heels, his hands tucked into the back
pockets of his jeans. "A cozy place, you have here," he said
in his Scottish burr. "Warm. Like your family."
"You live in a castle, don't you?" Reed said.
Iain nodded. "Built in 1665, during the Restoration."
"Modernized, I hope." Reed hooked his arm around Kara's
shoulders, and her heart beat faster. His arm was warm and
"Still a drafty pile of stone. I prefer my flat in Edinburgh."
The two men discussed the mild winter Iain had left in
comparison to the icy and snowy Connecticut one, but Kara
had trouble concentrating. Was it the wassail or the arm
draped so casually over her shoulder?
Mrs. C called for everyone to gather around the piano for
"Oh, no." Reed groaned. He turned to Iain. "None of the
Sinclairs have a drop of musical talent despite a fortune
spent on lessons."
Their piano was an antique pump player, and they had scores
of rolls, many holiday-themed. Kara could hear someone
plinking on the keyboard.
"Hope you can carry a tune," Reed said.
"How quaint," Iain murmured.
Kara stiffened. "We Sinclairs like to sing."
"Off-key." Reed swallowed the last of his beer and set the
bottle between two Santas.
Iain shook his head and trailed away in the direction of the
Reed gripped her around the waist, swinging her around to
face him. He lifted his chin, and she looked up at the foyer
She tried to back away, but as she did, he pulled her even
closer, his sporran the only thing separating them.
Why was she resisting? She relaxed
"Have I thanked you for saving my ass?" he said softly.
"Not yet." She could barely get the words out. Her breath
was trapped somewhere in her chest.
He kissed her. His lips were warm, gentle, a whisper on
hers. He eased back a moment and stared at her, his eyes
Heat shimmered between them. She pulled his head down.
The second kiss was completely different. Hard. Demanding. A
tangle of tongues.
Her insides quivered. It was not a mistletoe kiss. It was
aggressive. Then it gentled and felt like an invitation. And