A visit to the Highland games goes awry for Alasdair Buchanan when his cousin abandons him in the crowd. His guide dog is terrible at describing the sights, but he does a great job of finding the river. Too bad Alasdair has no clue where that river is in relation to his cousin’s apartment.
When Trisha Wright stops to speak with him in her angelic voice, Alasdair is certain his cousin did him a favor by abandoning him. Trisha loves the Scot’s flirtatious ways and basks in his compliments, but she can’t shake the fear that he’ll hate her when he learns the truth about her—a truth everyone can see but him.
Mid-June — Fort Wayne, Indiana
Cheerful voices surrounded Alasdair Buchanan as he strolled through the Highland games, following the occasional dull thud of a caber hitting the ground. Strains of lively music floated on the warm breeze and stirred him clear through his Scottish soul. A wee bit of home in this foreign land brought him a small measure of comfort in a disconcerting environment.
Although he imagined the games to be a colorful event, to him it was as black as a cloudy midnight on a Highland moor. Ay, ’twas strange indeed to sense everything yet see nothing.
The crowd thickened and Foster planted his big furry paws in the grass, refusing to move a centimeter. Try as he might, Alasdair could not get his guide dog to take another step, even though his cousin, Trevor MacLachlan, tugged his arm and attempted to lead him forward.
“You stubborn cur,” Alasdair muttered under his breath. Raising his voice he addressed his American cousin, who had released his arm. “Trevor, what’s in front of me?”
No response. Alasdair sighed and fought back his rising uneasiness. He knew his cousin to be unreliable, but surely Trevor wouldn’t have left him alone in a crowd such as this. Not when he knew Alasdair had never even been to Fort Wayne until he arrived two days ago.
Alasdair strained his ears, listening for his cousin’s voice. All he heard were unfamiliar voices and a loud speaker crackling to life with the result of the last caber toss. Foster’s stubborn refusal to move only added to his uncertainty. Trevor knew he didn’t handle crowds well, had sworn to stay close since neither Alasdair nor Foster knew the area. So where was he now, when Alasdair needed him to explain his dog’s refusal to take another step?
The training he had gone through to get Foster sprang to mind. He sighed and quit resisting the pressure the dog applied to his harness. “All right, Foster. Have it your way.”
The golden retriever-lab mix guided him to the right instead of the left like Trevor had wanted. The crowd thinned out, and Alasdair breathed a little easier. Fewer people meant less chance of accidentally knocking into someone.
Finally. He turned toward Trevor’s voice, and Foster turned with him. “What happened back there?”
Trevor’s voice came from right in front of him. “You mean when your dog stopped? There were a couple of coolers in front of you. I tried to lead you between them, but I guess your dog thought there wasn’t enough room.”
Somehow, Alasdair trusted the dog’s judgment over his cousin’s. “So, where did you disappear to?”
“To catch up with Mindy.”
“Hey, Alasdair,” Trevor’s girlfriend said in her nasally voice. “Nice kilt.”
“Thank you.” He had a feeling she wanted to say skirt, but he smiled anyway. It hadn’t taken him long to learn that few, if any, in Indiana understood his preference for the traditional Highland kilt over trousers or blue jeans. Few Scots understood it either. His own cousin was first generation American and thought Alasdair mad for preferring a kilt over a pair of jeans. The traditions of the Highlands ran strong in Trevor’s blood, but it appeared modern Western society was stronger.
“Listen,” Trevor said, his voice nonchalant, “Mindy and I are going to meet up with some friends. I know you probably want to hang out here a while longer, so I’ll see you at home. You remember how to get there, right?”
Alasdair tamped down his rising temper. Why had his cousin even bothered to come if he was just going to leave not an hour later?
Trevor grabbed his hand and pressed a key into it. “Here’s the key so you can get in. Have fun!”
On his own in a strange country when he couldn’t see a blasted thing. Right. “Trevor, wait.”
But it was too late. His cousin’s footsteps blended in with dozens of others, leaving Alasdair with only his thoughts and his dog for company.
“I hope you know the way to Trevor’s,” he grumbled as he tucked the key in the leather sporran at the front of his kilt. “Because I have no clue where we are.”
With his dog guiding him around obstacles, he wandered through the fair a little longer. It just wasn’t the same without his sight or at least someone to describe the scene. Not that Trevor had done a smashing job, but his bare-bones description had been enough to help Alasdair imagine the scene based on memories from before the fall that had blinded him.
He stopped, completely disoriented as he tried to figure out which way to go. Equal amounts of sound and food smells came from every direction, giving him no clues as to his best option. Anxiety rose to the surface like the Loch Ness monster coming up for a peek at the tourists; the same anxiety he often experienced when alone in a crowd.
He drew in a calming breath, catching the scents of crushed grass, some kind of fried dough, and more types of perfume, cologne, and soap than he could count. “Foster, you can take the lead. Go to Trevor’s flat.”
He didn’t expect the dog to know how to find Trevor’s place, but as he’d hoped, Foster led him out of the noise and confusion. They crossed a grassy expanse, and the sounds of the Highland games faded to a pleasant background noise. A hushed yet familiar sound filled his ears, and he took a deep breath of the clean scent as the dog stopped.
“Great, you found the river. Good boy, Foster.” Alasdair sighed and wondered about the possibility of finding a merciful soul willing to help a lost, blind Scot back to his irresponsible cousin’s apartment.
As he thrust his fingers into the short black hair he hadn’t seen in nearly four years, he heard the whisper of footsteps approaching on his left. He turned toward the sound as the faint scent of strawberries reached his nostrils, confirming it wasn’t Trevor taking pity on him.
The footsteps stopped beside him, and an angelic female voice with a drab American accent spoke. “That’s a pretty dog. What’s its name?”
“Foster.” Alasdair’s pulse quickened. The lass sounded close to his age of twenty-four and drop-dead gorgeous. Of course, she could be fifty and ugly as sin, but a pretty voice affected him now the same way a pretty face had when he could see. “I’d let you pet him, but he’s working. When he’s off his harness, he’s the friendliest dog you could ever hope to meet.”
“Well, now, you’re certainly not from around here.” The teasing lilt in her voice made him wish he could see if there was a matching twinkle in her eyes—eyes he would love to know the color of. “Did you come all the way from Scotland just to visit our Highland games?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No, I came to visit my cousin. We came to the games together, but he abandoned me for his girlfriend.” Something about the young woman prompted him to make a vaguely humiliating request. He laced it with a humorous tone to help protect his pride. “I don’t suppose you’re the kind o’ lass who would take pity on a blind old Scot, are you?”
Her laugh sounded as clear and light as a crystal bell. “Old? You? Not hardly. You can’t be any older than me, and I’m only twenty-three.”
“Ah, lass, I hate to tell you, but you’re wrong.” He grinned as he imagined her eyes widen in surprise. “I’m twenty-four.”
“I stand corrected.” Her amusement brought a smile to his heart. This lass was definitely to his liking. “So, why do you want me to take pity on you?”
Now for the embarrassing part. “I’m lost. I haven’t a clue where I am, other than standing in the grass by a river.”
“You’re in Wilson Park, with St. Mary’s River in front of you and the Highland games behind you. Clinton Avenue is a few hundred yards to your left and Lafayette Street is nearly as far to your right. A few feet to either side of you are maple trees full of brilliant green leaves.”
For the first time since arriving in America, he lost the disorientation. And the lass’ descriptions gave him hope she might wander through the games with him. With her telling him about the sights, he might be able to form an accurate image in his mind.
“Thank you.” He smiled in the direction of her voice. If only he knew how tall she was, then he could be sure he smiled at her face rather than over her head or at her shoulder. “My name’s Alasdair Buchanan, by the way.”
“Trisha Wright,” she said in the voice he could listen to for hours.
He started when she touched his arm, then he realized she was taking hold of him to lead him. How dare this stranger, no matter how gorgeous she was, assume he needed to be led like a dog? He wasn’t above asking someone to guide him if necessary, but to do it without his permission was just plain rude and irritating beside.
Then the warm touch of her fingers on his bare forearm broke through his annoyance. Oh, how right her delicate hand felt on his arm. Her shoulder brushed him and he realized she had to be at least ten or twelve centimeters shorter than his nearly two meters of height. And from the strength in her hand and the wiry muscles in her arm, she likely had a lithe build; the perfect complement to his wide shoulders and well-toned muscles, which his grandmother claimed made him look every inch the Highland warrior, especially in his kilt.
“So,” Trisha said, “where did you want to go? I grew up around here, so I can probably find it easy enough.”
He remembered his previous plan to go back to Trevor’s. Spending time with Trisha sounded much more appealing. “If you don’t mind describing the sights to me, I’d like to explore the games a while longer. ’Tis nice to find a wee bit of Scotland in this foreign country, even if no one else shares my accent.”
She hesitated, giving him plenty of time to kick himself. He’d pushed too hard, scared her off wanting to assist him, let alone spend time with him. But she was the first lass since the accident to treat him like a man rather than someone to be pitied. He missed spending time with the fairer sex without having to worry she’d treat him like an invalid. The way Trisha had taken his arm felt so natural, as if she’d been doing it for years… as if she belonged at his side.
Before he could apologize and extricate himself from the awkward situation he’d put them in, she spoke. “Okay. I’d kind of like to see the festivities myself. And who better to see this ‘wee bit of Scotland’ with than a brawny Scot?”
He chuckled at her poor attempt to imitate his accent. She didn’t mind showing him around? So much the better. “Lead on, lass. But I’ll warn you now, if you think I should go one way and Foster wants me to go another, I’ll follow my dog.”
She laughed and patted his arm, sending fire through his veins. “I don’t blame you. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing much better than I do.”
When they reached the crowd, she did a bang-up job of describing the colorful scene he had assumed was there. From tartans and clan banners to the tents and people around them, she described everything in such detail he could see it in his mind’s eye. It was a lovely image.
And the best part of it all, aside from having the bonniest lass in the city on his arm, was that for the first time since waking up blind in the hospital, he felt completely at ease in a crowd.