Wild Rose by Sherrie Hansen

wildroseWhen Ian MacCraig tries to capture the thief who is stealing artifacts from his kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, the last thing he expects to find on his video is a woman engaging in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses.

Rose Wilson is mortified to learn that Digby, the online friend she met for what she thought was a harmless rendezvous, is a common criminal.

Now that Ian, the board of Wilson Enterprises, the constable, and half the town have had a glimpse of Rose in all her naked glory, it seems even her family looks at her differently. What remains to be seen is how far Ian will go to defend Rose’s honor and if the church ladies will forgive Rose now that they know who she really is… and if Rose can believe she’s worthy of someone as good and kind as Ian MacCraig.

Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig… a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?

Chapter One

Rose Wilson turned away from the wind that whistled across Loch Awe in a futile attempt to keep her hair from being blown into a tangled knot.

Something nipped at her ankle and she reached down to swat it away. Pesky midgies.

Ouch! Her hand scratched against the thorny stem of a thistle. One more thing. As if the sticky wicket she’d gotten herself into hadn’t already worked her into enough of a dither. She glanced up at the lofty spires of St. Conan’s Kirk. If she were at all religious, she might think God was trying to tell her something.

Where could he be? It had been nigh on three years since she’d stood waiting, and waiting, and waiting at Robert’s and her favorite restaurant. When he never showed up, she’d been angry – thought he’d gotten too busy at work, forgotten she was waiting, or, worse yet, remembered and blown her off.

How could she have known he was dead?

Here she was again. So it was a kirk and not a restaurant. A man she didn’t know all that well instead of her husband. The emotions felt the same. She was peeved. So peeved she could almost forget what it was like to feel abandoned, to hurt so badly she could barely keep her head about her.

She took a deep breath and tried to relax. Would she ever get over being scared that something horrible had happened every time someone was a wee bit tardy?

She peeked through the hedge and tried to see round the bend that led to the village. What were the odds that two men she was supposed to meet would die en route to their rendezvous point? She paced up and down the path that led to the kirk, squelching her nervous energy only long enough to look at a bee dipping into a rhody that was a lovely shade of lavender. And then, she was back at it, scanning the roadside for Digby’s car, checking the time on her mobile every few seconds, and imagining the worst.

She’d been waiting for an hour – plenty long enough for Digby to get there even if he’d been temporarily detained at work, gotten a speeding ticket, or stopped by the mini-mart to buy her flowers. Besides, the man had a mobile.

She clicked hers open and pressed the green button twice. Still no answer.

Where could he be? And why now? Was it because she’d been too intimate with him? Not intimate enough?

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

She blinked and looked in the direction of the voice, but the sun was in her eyes, and all she could see was a soft sheen of light backlighting the silhouette of a very tall man. Too tall to be Digby. She raised her hand to her eyes to shade the light but the sun was still blinding, clinging to his head like a halo.

“Forgive me,” the man said, just as she saw his collar, the white square gleaming brightly between the black, and thought, shouldn’t it be me saying that?

“Sorry to intrude,” he continued. “I couldn’t help noticing that you seem to be looking for someone.”

So much for her and Dig having the place to themselves. Of course, as of this moment, there wasn’t a “them” anyway, so it mattered little if they had privacy. Besides, she had been going to tell him that they couldn’t do it again, that it was too soon, that what had happened shouldn’t have. Not yet. That didn’t mean she didn’t want to be alone with him, to do something. She probably did, eventually. Just not so much, or quite so fast.

“I’m waiting for a friend,” she said.

“You’ve still plenty of time,” he said. “Worship doesn’t begin for another half hour.”

The sun wasn’t in his eyes, but behind him, illuminating her face. She knew, even without being able to see his eyes, that he could read hers perfectly.

“I didn’t realize…”

“We’ve a small but active congregation,” the man said, extending his hand. “Ian MacCraig. St. Conan’s pastor.” He nodded at a stone cottage with windows rimmed in tiny stones. It was mostly overgrown with creepers. She had assumed it was unoccupied.

She gave her hand, took his, and was surprised by his warmth. “Rose Wilson.” Her hands had been perpetually cold ever since Robert had died. The only reason she’d come to meet Digby in the first place was to get warm. But holding hands with Digby didn’t even compare to the heat this man radiated.

“I’m not from Lochawe. Just up for the day from Glasgow.”

She turned just enough to get the sun out of her eyes and looked up into his face. And started to melt. Warm times ten. Honest, intelligent eyes, longish hair the color of butterscotch. Wide shoulders perfect for shielding a companion. A genuine, concerned smile tinged with the slightest whisper of what? Guilt? Her mind flipped back a page. Forgive him for what? For startling her? For intruding on her reverie? For being concerned enough to acknowledge her presence? To see if she was in need of someone to talk to?

He had such a beautiful aura about him. So serene. So utterly masculine. She felt like she was in a dream, or starring in a film. She resisted the urge to pinch herself. The vicars she knew were old and gray – most, gone completely bald.  This one – Ian, wasn’t it? – didn’t fit any of the pastoral images she held in her mind.

Pastor Ian’s eyes blinked wide open a split second before she felt a movement to her left. A stream of men streaked towards them, guns drawn. She could see them out of the corner of her eye. What the devil was going on?

In the moment it took to comprehend that they were slowly being surrounded by armed constables, her mind, ever agile, jumped to the conclusion that Ian must be a convict, recently escaped. Oh – my – God. No doubt “Ian” had killed the real vicar while he slept. It would have been a simple matter from there to don the poor gent’s clothes. He was probably planning to take her as a hostage so he could escape across the border to England, make his exit on a ferry, and disappear on the mainland. It was the only explanation she could fathom.

That was when she realized he was still holding her hand, smiling at her with all the sincerity in the world. The man certainly didn’t look like a convict. Perhaps he’d come to St. Conan’s for sanctuary.

“Step away from the pastor.” A voice boomed through a megaphone.

She looked at Ian and dropped his hand, fully expecting the constables to rush him once she’d safely backed away.

Instead, two strong arms wrenched her from behind, pulled her hands behind her back and slapped on a set of cuffs.

“What on earth?” she said, nearly toppling over from the shock of her capture.

Ian looked even more apologetic that he had before, with a little relief mixed in. Forgive him for what? For this? Had he called the police on her?

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” she cried. “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but there must be some mistake. I’m Rosalie Wilson from Glasgow,” she tried to explain when she wasn’t struggling to stay on her feet, bucking this way and that as they pulled her over the rough terrain.

“She had nothing to do with the actual theft,” the vicar was saying, following close at her side. “She was already gone when her man stole the artifacts.”

Her man? Digby? What were they talking about? Digby wouldn’t…

“You said she was on the tape,” the constable said.

“The earlier part, when they were…” the vicar stammered.

The man holding her cuffs snickered.

Oh, God. They couldn’t have a tape of her and Digby. Could they?

“Do you want us to call you a barrister?”

“No,” she said, sure of that at least. If Robert’s solicitors ever found out, or his sons, or the press…

Oh, God. How mortifying! How could she have? She’d risked Robert’s good name, his reputation, and his millions, and for what? To feel a man’s touch for a mere five minutes?

A man who appeared to be the ring leader of the hooligans who were herding her towards the car leaned against the vehicle with an amused expression on his face, and looked at her… her…  her breasts.

If she’d been blessed with the opportunity to get her hands on Digby at that moment, they’d have had reason to arrest her.

The little weasel! She certainly hadn’t meant to get intimate with him when she did, but not because she hadn’t trusted him. My God. She’d taken up with a common thief, a con man, a criminal.

And the tape. How humiliating! Never in a million years had she ever dreamed… to have had her lowest moment recorded…  and seen by who knew how many people.

The vicar rushed alongside her as the constable’s men whisked her to the car, with – oh, God – bars on the back windows. “Is there a family member, a friend you’d like me to call?”

She felt her cheeks burning just imagining what the vicar must think of her. “There’s no one.” Which was a shame. She could certainly have used a hug and a little moral support about then. But she could hardly ring up her mum, or Kelly and Kevin, and tell them she’d been arrested, or that her new boyfriend had turned out to be a criminal, or that she’d been caught on some sort of tape, probably half-naked, her legs spread wide like some common hussy.

“Will you come?” She turned to the vicar and watched as his cheeks flushed even redder.

“I’ll get my auto and follow you to the station.”

The constable shoved her shoulder into the car and nearly shut her foot in the door in his hurry to lock her in the cramped back seat.

“Good thinking, assuming you’re planning to make a confession,” he sneered.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” she said, knowing she had. But not what they thought. She hadn’t stolen a thing. What she had done was to throw her whole life down the crapper.

* * *

“I’ve only known Digby for a fortnight or two,” she said for the twentieth time. “We met on the internet. I was widowed almost three years ago, and I felt like I was… was…” She struggled to go on. “I felt like I was ready to start seeing someone again.” Someone who hadn’t known Robert. Someone who didn’t know Robert Junior and Rodney. Someone who didn’t know she sat on the board of directors of an endowment worth millions. Someone she could trust to love her for herself. She gulped another belly full of air, rank as it smelled in the constable’s office, and tried not to give in to the urge to sob.

The man who’d been interrogating her for the last two hours asked her again what Digby’s last name was.

“The emails I received from him were from Digby Bentworth. I had no reason to think it was an alias. I didn’t ask to see his driver’s license. I trusted him.”

More of the same odd questions, asked over and over again. They were trying to break her down. Couldn’t they see she was already broken?

“No. I never went to his home. No. I never shared a hotel room with him. No. I never entertained him at my home.” She set her jaw stubbornly. “As I’ve told you dozens of times already, we had only just met. What happened in the grassy spot under the flying buttresses was a fluke – the first time we’d ever, I’ve ever—”

“Hasn’t this gone on long enough?” Ian MacCraig came to her defense, as he had several times over the last two hours. “The woman is clearly telling the truth. If ye’ve got no evidence to the contrary, I kindly suggest you let her go.”

The interrogator ignored the vicar. “So you had no idea that your lover was stealing architectural relics from the church?”

“He was not my lover! And no! We’d met at the church twice before. The first time we visited, I admired the copper rabbit drain spout and the stained glass windows, and the interesting architectural detailing. The second and third times, I evidently didn’t look up, or I certainly would have noticed that they were gone.”

This brought another round of snickers.

She rose to her feet and planted her hands on her hips. What she wanted to do was to curl up into a ball and cry herself to oblivion. “Yes, I was on my back. But I’m sure if you review the tape, you’ll find that I had my eyes closed through most of the afore mentioned proceedings.”

“Too busy seeing fireworks,” one of the deputies commented.

“Seriously, gentlemen. Is this really necessary?” The vicar stood and squared off with the constable. “If I’d known what disrespect you were going to show Ms. Wilson, I’d have deleted the first half of the tape before I ever showed it to you.”

The catcalls and responses that followed were so gross that she forced herself to block them out.

“I must insist that you cease this vulgarity immediately,” the vicar demanded loudly. “If not for Ms. Wilson’s sake, then for mine.”

She thought their fact-finding mission was about to start all over again, but this time, when their hoots and laughter died down, she was told she was free to go, provided she didn’t leave Scotland, and with the stipulation that she would make herself available for further questioning as the need arose.

“I’ll drive her back to her car.” The vicar volunteered, securing her purse and ushering her to his vehicle.

“Thank you,” she said as they drove the few short miles to the kirk. The rhododendrons lining the road beside the parking spot she’d so innocently chosen were still in full bloom, but the colors had dulled, and several of the blossoms had wilted in the hot sunshine.

“He was never going to see me again, was he?” She’d opened the car door and was toying with the idea of getting out of the vicar’s car, but hadn’t acted on it. The horror of the day’s events was just sinking in, and she felt numb, deflated, humiliated and dazed.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that not everything the man told you was true.”

“But some of it? I mean…” Her voice trailed off. “He didn’t need or ask for my help in committing the crime. He didn’t involve me in any way. Can I safely deduce that his feelings for me were true, that what he said about me was independent of the lies he obviously told about the rest of his life?”

The vicar said nothing, probably wisely, but sat quietly, allowing her to talk.

“He said he loved me. He said I was beautiful.”

“And truly, you are,” the vicar said.

“You think so?” she asked, as dully as the once bright rhodies.

“I haven’t a doubt.”

“Thank you,” she said in a voice that sounded absolutely piteous, even to her.

“I know the constable and his men were a bit unkind,” the vicar said, “but the truth is, much of what Digby told you may have been the truth. In the days to come, as the shock wears off, if you should remember anything pertinent – a comment spoken in an offhand moment when the chap’s guard was down – please contact the constable, or if you prefer, me.”

“No offense meant.” She looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time since the nightmare began. “But what I’d really like is to forget the whole thing ever happened.”

“I’m sorry you had to be subjected to an interrogation, Rose, sorrier yet that you had to learn these sort of unpleasant truths about someone you’d grown close to.”

“It’s me who should be sorry,” she said, looking deep into his eyes and seeing forgiveness, not censure. “I’m so ashamed – not only of what I did with Digby, but that you were put in such an awkward position because of my actions. And sorry that you missed your church service.”

“Don’t worry about me,” the vicar said. “I’m told the organist organized a hymn sing. All is well. Although I’ve no doubt everyone is upset by what happened.”

“Again, I am truly sorry for everything that’s transpired.”

“There’s no need,” he said once more, his blue green eyes sizzling with compassion.

“I suppose you have probably heard – and seen – worse.” She tried to move her legs, but they just didn’t seem to want to go.

“Much worse, as a matter of fact. So not to worry.”

“Are you – could you – if you could grant me forgiveness-”

“No.” He said it firmly, as though there would be no changing his mind. “That would not be my place. I’m not here as your pastor.”

His collar said otherwise, but she didn’t press the issue. She hadn’t been to confession since before she’d married Robert. If it came right down to it, it made little sense to worry about one innocent romp when there was a whole list of other infractions unaccounted for.

He had such an earnest face. “If you do remember anything at all, please ring me up immediately… If it weren’t important, I wouldn’t ask you to revisit the horror of what happened today, but the truth is, St. Conan’s has been struggling financially for some time now. There’s been talk of ceasing our worship services by summer’s end if donations continue to dwindle. The congregation is dear, but they do not have much money to pay me, or to do the maintenance and upkeep the church requires. Losing whatever cash was in the donation box – and the artifacts – has proven very disheartening to all of us.”

“I understand.” And she did. Rose swung one, unfeeling-as-wood leg out of the car.

The vicar pressed a card into her hand. Once again, she was startled by the warmth of his touch.

“Do you think Digby knows what happened here today? That he was watching from afar?”

“Anything is possible. The important thing is that if you should hear from Digby, you must contact the authorities immediately so they can sort things out.”

“I promise.” Rose nodded and mustered her strength. She could do this. The vicar squeezed her hand and a few moments later, she was driving toward home.

***Sherrie Hansen lives in a 116-year-old Victorian house in northern Iowa who, just like her, got a second chance when she rescued it from the bulldozers grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Wild Rose is Sherrie’s sixth novel to be published by Second Wind Publishing, and the first of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels. (Blue Belle will be released later this year and Shy Violet sometime next year. “Thistle Down,” an eShort prequel, is currently free or 99 cents online.) She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL and University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband, Rev. Mark Decker, is a pastor and Sherrie’s real life hero. She enjoys playing the piano with their worship team, needlepointing, renovating and decorating historic houses, traveling, and going on adventures with her nieces and nephews.

Click here to buy: Wild Rose

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